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Adult Sabbath School Lessons

The Book of James

by: Clinton Wahlen

An Epistle of Straw?

The epistle of James has been one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible. In the Leipzig Debate of 1519, Roman Catholic scholar Johann Eck used it to challenge Martin Luther's view of justification by faith alone, insisting that works needed to be added to the equation.

Luther, in response, eventually denied the epistle's inspired authorship, mainly on the mistaken claim that it taught justification by works. In the introduction to his 1522 German translation of the New Testament, Luther indicated his preference for books like John, 1 John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter, which reveal Christ and teach everything that is needful and blessed . . . to know.

His preface to the book of James was even more negative. Luther called it really an epistle of strawbecause it had nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. Although Luther never removed it from the canon of Scripture, he separated it from what he considered the core of the canon.

Luther's emphasis on Paul's epistles, especially Romans and Galatians, and his rejection of James for anything more than devotional value, has influenced a large segment of Christian thinking through the centuries.

Who was James anyway? Was he a legalist, combating Paul's idea of justification by faith by teaching that justification is really by works? Or was he simply providing a slightly different perspective on the subject, similar to the several perspectives on the teachings of Jesus that we find in the Gospels? The answer is, clearly, the latter.

Not all of the Reformers shared Luther's low opinion of James. No less a luminary than Melanchthon, Luther's closest associate, believed that the writings of Paul and James were not in conflict.

James had a firsthand knowledge of Jesus. In fact, his epistle of all the epistles may very well be the earliest Christian writing in existence, and, of all the epistles, reflects most closely the teachings of Jesus that we find in the Gospels. As in the parables of Jesus, imagery from agriculture and the world of finance are abundant. Other important themes include wisdom, prayer, and above all, faith.

James is unique in other ways, too, thereby opening a window for us into some of the struggles that the earliest Christian congregations faced. With envy, jealousy, and worldliness creeping into the fold, there seems to have been societal and cultural pressures that pitted wealthier Christians against poor ones. We also see the great controversy being played out as James attacks counterfeit forms of wisdom and faith.

Most important for Seventh-day Adventists, the epistle of James exudes confidence in the return of Jesus; it also provides crucial perspectives on the law, the judgment, and the Second Coming. Elijah is even presented as a model for us to emulate. This has special relevance for us, as Seventh-day Adventists, who are entrusted with preparing the way for Christ's second advent.

Thus, in some ways, our journey this quarter spans the entire Christian era, as it includes some of the earliest preaching, as well as special insights for these last days.

  Lesson References Mobile
1 James, the Lord’s Brother • September 27 - October 3 Lesson References Mobile Verson
2 The Perfecting of Our Faith • October 4 - 10 Lesson References Mobile Verson
3 Enduring Temptation • October 11 - 17 Lesson References Mobile Verson
4 Being and Doing • October 18 - 24 Lesson References Mobile Verson
5 Love and the Law • October 25 - 31 Lesson References Mobile Verson
6 Faith That Works • November 1 - 7 Lesson References Mobile Verson
7 Taming the Tongue • November 8 - 14 Lesson References Mobile Verson
8 The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom • November 15 - 21 Lesson References Mobile Verson
9 One Lawgiver and Judge • November 22 - 28  Lesson References Mobile Verson
10 Weep and Howl! • November 29 - December 5 Lesson References Mobile Verson
11 Getting Ready for the Harvest • December 6 - 12 Lesson References Mobile Verson
12 Prayer, Healing, and Restoration • December 13 - 19 Lesson References Mobile Verson
13 The Everlasting Gospel • December 20 - 26 Lesson References Mobile Verson


Updated: Oct 10, 2014

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