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Background on James
Guided Bible Study


Background on James

Elsa Tamez Commentary on James
The Scandal of James

Link to James as Wisdom
A Word for the Wise

Link to James and Eschatology
The End is at Hand

James and Spiritual Wholeness Not Yet Available
Finding Spiritual
Wholeness in James

James View of the World
James' View of
The World

Worship Resources Not Yet Available
Worship Resources
STILL TO COME

James 2: Faith and Works

James jumps right in to the major points in this letter! Chapter two is about partiality, the law, and the need to live out our faith. James provides examples that are scathing attacks on believers who claim that works are not important. Elsa Tamez finds in chapter two a message of hope for the poor, but also an attack on most Churches in the United States. How does your congregation read James 2? What is James calling your congregation to do?

Study Chapter Two
James 2:1-13 Partiality | James 2:14-26 Paul | Top of Page
Link to Next Page: Chapter Four Previous Page: Chapter Two

Guided Bible Study
Using the Guided Bible Study | Introduction
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
I Artwork, Link to Introduction 1 Artwork Link to Chapter 1 Study 2 Artwork Link to Chapter 2 Study 3 Artwork Link to Chapter 3 Study 4 Artwork Link to Chapter 4 Study 5 Artwork Link to Chapter 5 Study

1. James and Partiality (estimated time: 50 minutes)
James is concerned with how his community is showing preferred treatment to the rich. Do we show preferred treatment to the rich today? How about to other groups of people? This exercise is from the Episcopal Church Anti-Racism Initiative, but looks at discrimination of many sorts.

Supplies
Discrimination Questions
Commentary on James 2:1-13 for each person or group
Commentary on Oppression by Elsa Tamez

Experiential Activity: Discrimination Line Up
Have your group make a single line across the middle of an empty space. There should be room to step back or forward about ten steps, everyone is facing the leader. Let the group know that you will ask them to take one step BACKWARD for every statement that is true, one step FORWARD if the statement is not true. Remind the group that this exercise is about very personal experiences and each person may choose to step or not based on their own understanding of the question and willingness to share. A person may choose not to step on any question.

Watch the movement of the group before asking the next question; allow time for indecision and comments. About half-way through ask the group to notice the line-up before continuing. You may need to add items that are appropriate to your specific community.

  1. I have been discriminated against because of my ethnic heritage.
  2. I have been discriminated against because of my race.
  3. I have been discriminated against because of my accent.
  4. I have been discriminated against because of the region of the US I am from.
  5. I have been discriminated against because of my gender.
  6. I have been discriminated against because of my immigration status.
  7. I have been discriminated against because of my political views.
  8. I have been discriminated against because of my income level.
  9. I have been discriminated against because of my age.
  10. I have been discriminated against because of my disability.

Before ending the activity, ask your group if there is an item they wish you had listed. Allow people to step forward and back based on those additional items. Ask the group to take a moment to see where they are in the line-up before they return to their seats. (15 minutes).

Discussion Questions
In the large group, take about 5 minutes to get people's reactions to the exercise.

  • How did it feel to respond to these questions?
  • How did it feel to end up where you ended up in the line-up?
  • Were you surprised by any of the results?

Study the Text
Break into groups of 3-6 people. Read James 2:1-13 aloud, along with the commentary provided. Discuss the example James provides of the person with gold rings and the person with dirty clothes. Include Tamez commentary on oppression if you like. (30 minutes).

James 2:1-13
James Chapter 2 provides an interesting example of how scriptural meaning is changed if we read too small a piece at one time. It is possible to see James 2:1-7 as a message about partiality, and then to read verses 8-13 as a separate theme: keeping the law is important. But if verses 1-13 are understood as a single message we see that James finds the partial treatment in his story/example as a serious breech of the law. Verse 9 becomes critical in creating the link; it is clear that offering the poor man a seat on the floor is as grievous a sin as adultery and murder. For James oppression of the poor is not simply impolite, partiality breaks the law to love your neighbor as yourselves.

Scholars debate where this story of partiality takes place. Traditionally it was understood that the person with fine clothes and the person with rags were entering a place of worship. In this interpretation the phrase Judges with evil thoughts in verse 4 is not a literal image, but rather a metaphor for each of us sitting in judgment of visitors. More recent scholarship has proposed that the space may be a judicial session, with judges present, perhaps for settling a dispute between two members of the community (M99). This would increase the irony of verses 6 and 7, for they are giving extra respect to the very person who is bringing them to court.

Whether coming to court or to worship, the poor person in dirty clothes uses the Greek word for filth; the implication is of absolute poverty. James 2:15 mentions a naked brother or sister; James may mean for these two verses to be linked. For Tamez this is further evidence that the poor are members of James’ community. The rich either are not part of the community, or possibly, the community is changing to include more wealthy people, and James is opposed to this change (T26).

Another interpretation is that James is referring not only to the materially poor, but to anyone who is humble or meek, to those who are poor by the judgment of the world (M107). In the first century those who lack honor and prestige would be considered poor by the leaders of the society. James 2:5-7 echoes the blessing of the poor in the beatitudes—Luke uses blessed are you who are poor, but Mathew 5:3 uses poor in spirit. Perhaps James 2:5 is still another interpretation of Jesus’ original preaching: has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith. In all three examples the reward for the poor is the kingdom.

The Greek basileia in verse 5 means kingdom and is closely linked to basilikos in verse 8. The Royal Law is most certainly the law of the Kingdom of God (Johnson 194). The scripture quoted is Leviticus 19:18. However it is unlikely that James means to limit the Royal Law to the love commandment. The term law typically would refer to the whole of law, rather than to a specific detail. If by royal James means supreme it is possible that he is elevating this law above others (M111). James continues by mentioning adultery and murder; these are from the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:13-14). Note also that Matthew has Jesus make a similar argument in Matthew 5:21-26. We also find the law summarized by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40 as love of God (as in James 1:12 and 2:5) and love of neighbor (as in James 2:8).

What is certain is that love of neighbor, for James, is a command to treat the poor with integrity. God has promised the poor the kingdom and the church can offer them no less.

  • In your church today, who are the people with gold rings and the people with dirty clothes?
  • How do we show that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves?
  • Does your congregation and/or the church in general do this well?
  • What do we mean today when we talk about the law?

Resources (Link to full Bibliography for web site)
Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James in The Pillar New Testament Commentary, DA Carson, general editor. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000).

Elsa Tamez, The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works Is Dead. John Eagleson, translator. With Study Guide by Pamela Sparr. (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002).

Study Chapter Two
James 2:1-13 Partiality | James 2:14-26 Paul | Top of Page

Guided Bible Study
Using the Guided Bible Study | Introduction
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
I Artwork, Link to Introduction 1 Artwork Link to Chapter 1 Study 2 Artwork Link to Chapter 2 Study 3 Artwork Link to Chapter 3 Study 4 Artwork Link to Chapter 4 Study 5 Artwork Link to Chapter 5 Study

2. James and Paul (estimated time: 75 minutes)
Luther argued that James contradicts Paul, but the view of the church for many years was that they were simply dealing with different circumstances. The heart of the problem is here in Chapter 2 where James insists in verse 16 and again in 26, that faith without works is dead. What does James mean? What does Paul mean? What do we as Christians today do with this message?

Supplies:
Chart Paper and Markers
Bulletins from a recent worship service, one for each person
Pens or Pencils for each person
James and Paul Commentary
James and the Old Testament Commentary
Commentary on James 2:13-26
Hand out of Biblical References

Experiential Activity
Hand out copies of the bulletin from a recent worship service. Ask each person to label each part of the service as pertaining to faith or works. Categorize any announcements or other notes in the bulletin as well. If some items are not faith or works that is ok, but try to label most things. Once almost everyone is done, have people pair up to compare their findings. Discuss any differences. (10 minutes.)

In the large group post the words FAITH on one piece of chart paper, and WORKS on another. Ask the group what these words mean about Christian faith. Write down all answers without challenging them. Leave these charts posted for the text study. (5 minutes.)

Study the Text
Before breaking out into small groups to look at the text, take about 15 minutes to go through the text and provide some background for the group. Explain that the quote of Deuteronomy 6:4 inferred in James 2:19 is the opening of the Shema, the basic statement of faith for Judaism.

Review the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac as found in Genesis 22:1-19. James 2:23 mentions Abraham’s righteousness with a quote from much earlier in his life—it is found in Genesis 15:6. The concept of Abraham as a friend of God will be significant again later when James discusses our friendship with God as opposed to friendship with the world. The scriptural reference is from 2 Chronicles 20:7 and Isaiah 41:8. Luke Timothy Johnson notes in the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on James that friendship in first century is not simply that of being “buddies” like today, but rather a very close sharing of material and spiritual things (198). Abraham’s friendship with God implies not just “getting along” but that Abraham is of the same mind as God, living in God’s way, and sharing God’s resources.

Paul also uses the example of Abraham to argue that it is faith, not works that justifies us. See Romans 4:2-5 and Galatians 3:6. James includes a reference to Rahab, who saved the Israelite spies in Joshua 2:1-21. She also is mentioned as one of Jesus’ ancestors in Matthew 1:5. Both Rahab and Abraham are used throughout the Jewish tradition as examples of superior hospitality (Johnson 199)—in contrast to James example of the believer who tells the naked brother or sister to keep warm in James 2:15.

Discussion:
Break into groups of 3-6 for discussion. Read the James 2:14-26 aloud. If you have several groups, have one group use the Tamez commentary below, another use the commentary on Paul and James, while another uses the commentary on James' use of Old Testament texts. Each group will have the same discussion. After about half an hour, spend about 15 minutes in the large group comparing your answers.

  • Describe the relationship between faith and works for James.
  • What is the relationship of faith and works for me personally?
  • What does our worship service say about faith and works?

James 2:14-26
The following Commentary is from chapter 4 “The Angle of Praxis” in Elsa Tamez, The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works is Dead, translated by John Eagleson, Study Guide by Pamela Sparr. (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002). Order this book for your study.

“After the description of discrimination [in James 2:1-13], James continues in chapter 2 with his concern for integrity, situating faith and works together in complementary unity. From a theological point of view, this is the most polemical part of the letter, for he seems to be contradicting Paul’s view of justification by faith alone. In 2:24 James says: “You see now that it is by doing something good, and not only by believing, that a man is justified.” This together with the example of Abraham that he uses, leads us to believe that James knew well the expression “justification by faith.” Some hold that it had become a slogan and that what Paul had meant was being distorted15. For some, justification by faith meant having faith without a commitment to others, without works. James then, is trying to correct this idea by introducing works as an important element in justification.

We do not know exactly what James understand by faith, but he does make very clear what he understands by works. Throughout his letter he refers to the good works continually spoken of in the Gospels as the liberating deeds of Jesus; they are deeds that effect justice. They are the social works that the prophets demand and that are spoken of in the Sinai tradition. Paul, on the other hand, assails that law or system that is followed blindly and enslaves. For Paul the Christian must be guided by grace and faith. At no time does he place the works of justice in opposition to justification. Rather he says they are fruits of the spirit that are born of faith16.

There is nevertheless a clear difference in the two approaches; this difference can perhaps be explained by the two different contexts. For James, faith cooperated with works, and through works faith achieves perfection (2:22). Works justify therefore together with faith (2:24). In Paul the justified is the person who does justice because he or she is guided by faith and not by the law, system, or tradition that enslaves. The problem arises when we ignore the context of the passages. The intention of James, in the first instance, is not to speak about justification. He mentions this only in passing, probably because of misunderstandings of the Pauline phrase “justification by faith.” From our angle of praxis we see that James wanted to emphasize the unity between faith and works as part of the necessary consistency in believing, hearing, saying, and doing. So he begins his reflection with a concrete example linking faith with the practice of justice [James 2:14-17]” (T52-54).

Resources (Link to full Bibliography for web site)
Elsa Tamez, The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works Is Dead. John Eagleson, translator. With Study Guide by Pamela Sparr. (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002).

Study Chapter Two
James 2:1-13 Partiality | James 2:14-26 Paul | Top of Page

Guided Bible Study
Using the Guided Bible Study | Introduction
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
I Artwork, Link to Introduction 1 Artwork Link to Chapter 1 Study 2 Artwork Link to Chapter 2 Study 3 Artwork Link to Chapter 3 Study 4 Artwork Link to Chapter 4 Study 5 Artwork Link to Chapter 5 Study

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All material ©Women's Division, 2002. For permission to use, or to link to our site, contact J. Ann Craig. Unless otherwise noted, articles are by Elizabeth M. Magill, MDiv. 2002 Episcopal Divinity School.