Wednesday, November 28, 2012

James 5

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Warning to the Rich (v. 1-6)

Soon your wealth will rot away and be useless to use, you have chosen to amass your treasure here on earth where it will be useless soon. The rich gain their wealth by fraud and exploitation of their workers. You are responsible for the death of Jesus.

The bible clearly does not like rich people, funny then, that the catholic church has amassed so much wealth. Something I wanted to focus on a bit, I summarized that wealth will soon be worthless, I said this because verse 3 contains "You have laid up treasure in the last days". If you are really pushing for this to make some kind of sense, I imagine you would argue that this is talking about your own personal death, but I think it is pretty clear they are talking about the impending apocalypse.

The other problem here, is that all rich people are lumped into one big pile. They all have ill-gotten gains and apparently they are all responsible for the death of Jesus.

With the Catholic church in mind, the following statement from Guzik made me laugh. "[James] now naturally rebukes those most likely to live independently from God: the rich."

Patience in Suffering (v. 7-12)

Be patient and establish your hearts for the coming of the lord, which is at hand. Do not judge each other or you will be condemned. Be an example of suffering and patience like Job.

I like that patience is extolled here. Other than that, I'm not a fan of this passage. It is mentioned a second time that the apocalypse is right around the corner. It also says that suffering is a virtue, and looks toward Job as a role model. As far as I'm concerned, the story of Job is horrible, God lets the devil torture a guy to prove a point.

Apparently, the apocalypse prediction is not wrong, even though it has clearly failed, as according to Guzik 
"James said that in his day that the coming of the Lord is at hand. Was he wrong? No; we should not think as history since Jesus’ Ascension as moving towards a distant brink known as Jesus’ coming. Instead, it has run parallel to that brink for the last two thousand years or so, ready at any moment to head off it."
So apparently the end is near, and it has been for 2000 years. Great logic there buddy. Gill tries to get out of it in a different way, with a vague reference to the idea that for God "a thousand years are as one day". This seems like a pretty lame cop out to me, if correct it also seems that God is terrible at communicating with us, for if he meant that Jesus would return in thousands of years, he should have not told us it is right around the corner when our lifespan is so much shorter than that.

Do not swear any oath by heaven or earth.

As to the "don't swear an oath" thing, I don't get it.

According to Guzik the oath thing refers to making complicated deals with people, which are presumably complicated because they are deceptive. It says to use simple yes and no, and that is apparently what this is referring to. Being unfamiliar with the history, I'm fine deferring to him on this point. And given that, the spirit of this seems good, don't try to swindle people with complicated contracts.

The Prayer of Faith (v. 13-20)

If you are righteous and have faith your prayers have great power. The prayers of the church elders can heal, and the prayers of Elijah caused it to not rain for the and a half years.

This has two ideas in it that are terrible, first is the idea that prayer can do anything. Are we actually supposed to believe that Elijah made it stop raining for three and a half years? If not, at the very least the story is surely supposed to be telling us that prayers is extremely powerful. I definitely think the verse that says church elders can heal with prayer is supposed to be taken literally. Why is this such a bad thing? Because prayers don't seem to work. But the second bad thing about this section is that if your prayers don't work, it is your fault, you must not be righteous enough.

I didn't mention it, but in addition to having the elders pray, they are supposed to anoint the sick with oil. Guzik interprets this as "seeking the best medical attention possible". Are you kidding me? I mean, I'm glad they found a way around the silly rules in the book and are able to still go get proper care, but to say that is what the text means is a hell of a lot of spin.

He also says "Some have interpreted the idea behind save the sick as not specifically being healing, and raise him up as being a reference to ultimate resurrection." Another no lose situation for God. One more quote "The best approach in praying for the sick is to pray with humble confidence that they will be healed, unless God clearly and powerfully makes it clear that this is not His will."

It is quite telling when the Christians trying explain things hedge their bets immediately like this. "God can heal anything, unless he doesn't want to, so if it doesn't work it's not God's fault"

James finishes by stating that bringing back someone who wanders from the truth will "save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins"

Are those the sins of the person saving or the person being saved? My first thought was that it was talking about the person saving, that saving someone will offset some of your own sins. But then I looked again and it is talking about saving his soul, is bringing him back covering his sins? I'm not sure.

Guzik agrees with my first thought, that the person helping the other person gets some sins forgiven for helping him.

For the overview post (If you think I should add or remove stuff from this list please let me know, I think it would make good conversation)


5:7-8 patience is a virtue

"Be patient, therefore, brothers...8 You also, be patient..."


5:3,8 the end is near!

"...You have laid up treasure in the last days."

"...Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand."

5:4-6 All rich people are evil

"the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud... You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence...You have condemned and murdered the righteous person..."

5:16 Prayer is powerful if you are righteous enough

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."


  1. It's funny just how many implicit and explicit references there are to Jesus' Second Coming being right around the corner, huh? :-) It becomes a great study in the power of human rationalization against the obvious, unpleasant facts. Normally the "last days" gets spun to being a reference to that particular era, roughly the equivalent of you or I saying "now" or "today" or "in our times." Likewise, references to Jesus coming "soon" or "quickly" gets turned into a message of just how suddenly and unexpected Jesus' return will be, as opposed to its real intended meaning of being imminent.

    No question; Job is a horrible story.

    As for Elijah, that story starts in 1 Kings 16 with King Ahab of Israel. By that point, the kingdom of the Promised Land had split in two; Israel (Samaria) and Judah, so Ahab was in the kingdom of Israel side. His dad, King Omri, sinned more than any other king of Israel before him, yet Ahab (who married Jezebel) still managed to sin even more than his father. Ahab converted his kingdom to Baal worship.

    1 Kings 17 is where God tells Elijah that he can pray for the epic drought against the kingdom of Israel to punish their wicked ways.

    The story has a fantastic ending in 1 Kings 18, which is worth a read if you have a chance. Elijah convinces Ahab to have a duel between Baal and Yahweh. I don't want to spoil the story too much for you, but let's just say Yahweh kicks butt, and the priests of Baal end up being slaughtered. And God makes it rain, yo!

    Finally, isn't it interesting that James is suggesting that the works you do erase your sins, as opposed to the blood of Jesus?

  2. Oh, and I forgot, I did a post a while ago about the whole swearing thing. Check it out if you want a little more background. :-)

  3. "It becomes a great study in the power of human rationalization against the obvious, unpleasant facts."

    This kind of thing is something I've been thinking about a lot, and it's actually one of the big reasons I'm glad I started looking at the Christian commentaries in addition to reading the bible myself. Sometimes the way things are rationalized by believers is more interesting than the actual source material.

    wow, that stuff about Elijah sounds pretty interesting. For anyone else interested, TWF's summary is here.


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