In a previous thread, I was considering the passage in the New Testament letter of James where he tells us not to be deceived about the gifts of God
We needed to understand that God gives us the “endowments” which help us to maintain our Faith, rather than the temptations which put our Faith
James; Do not be deceived
Then he brings to our attention one more thing that God has done for us.(v18)
“Of his own will he brought us forth by the Word of truth”.
That opening word, “of his own will”, (BOULETHEIS) is not redundant.
It emphasises the ungrudging generosity of what God was doing, and also the fact that he wasn’t pushed into action by any power beyond himself.
But who does James mean, when he says “us”?
Is this about the origin of human life, or is it about the origin of Christian life?
The first explanation works better if these verses are taken in isolation from the rest of the letter.
In the earlier thread, I suggested that v17 might have been used in the teaching of James before it became part of this letter, to emphasise the
uniqueness of God as the Father and source of all things.
This then leads into the declaration that God “brought forth” the human race, through the Word spoken in Genesis, to be “a kind of first-fruits
of his creation”.
This, in turn, could have led into the invitation found in v21, as a call to abandon wickedness and receive “the implanted Word,” the Word of the
gospel “which is able to save your souls”.
There are echoes here of the parable of the Sower; the word “implanted” suggests the seed, while the “rank growths of wickedness” are the
weeds which threaten to overwhelm it.
If this call is based on v17, it’s the same kind of reasoning that Paul used on the Areopagus, when he drew a message of repentance out of the fact
that God “made the world and everything in it” (Acts ch17 vv24-31)
But if we bring these verses into the overall context of the letter, they must be taken in a different way.
This is a pastoral letter, addressed to a community of believers.
The first chapter, up to this point, has been about Faith.
In that context, the “endowments” of v17 have to be understood as Faith-related gifts.
When I was discussing this in the previous thread, I suggested (as I’ve already mentioned) that their purpose is to help us to maintain our
This then leads into a declaration about the beginnings of our Faith.
God gave us the supreme gift when he brought us forth as Christians
through the Word of truth, and in that sense we are the “first-fruits of
creation” (the pick of the crop, dedicated to God).
This, in turn, leads into the instruction found in v21, which implies that that we should continue
receiving the same Word, as an on-going part
of our lives.
However, the word “Therefore”, which appears at the beginning of v21, can be applied in two different ways.
On the one hand, it’s the delayed conclusion of the argument found in v18;
“God brought us life through the Word, and therefore
we need to receive that Word”.
At the same time, it’s also following on directly from the intervening verses, which describe the state of mind capable of receiving the Word.
“The Word cannot be received in an unreceptive state of mind, and therefore
we need to be receiving it with meekness.”
V19 describes the receptive state of mind in terms of “hearing” the Word.
We cannot receive the Word unless we are ready to listen, “quick to hear”.
This goes together with being “slow to speak”, because the sound of our own voice blocks our ears.
Putting the same thing another way, we cannot hear the Word in a state of anger, because “anger” is the outward pressure of personality, hostile
to external things and pushing them away.
In other words, the egotism of self-will is the obstruction which prevents us from receiving what God wants to give us.
The Word can only be heard by the receptivity of “meekness”.
I want to examine more closely the statement in v20 that “the anger of man does not work (OUK ERGAZETAI) the righteousness of God”.
To “work” something is to carry it out, to put it into effect.
Another version of the same word was used in v3, when James said that the testing of our Faith “produces” (KATERGAZETAI) steadfastness.
But what is meant by the phrase “righteousness of God”?
Perhaps the most obvious interpretation is that it is a standard of measurement, the kind of righteousness which God has himself and which we’re
But anger, as the opposite of love, is not part of this righteousness.
That helps to explain how anger, along with filthiness and wickedness, obstructs the hearing of the Word.
But there’s also a more profound possibility.
The phrase could mean the righteousness originating from
God, which we have received from him among the endowments mentioned in v17.
Then “working” the righteousness of God would mean activating and actualising the righteousness which we have received, putting it into active
It would then be another version of the warning found in v22, that we need to be “doing” the Word as well as hearing it
The most obvious time to receive the gift of “God’s righteousness” would be the experience of “new birth”, which seems to be described in
those words “He brought us forth by the Word of truth”.
We find similar language in 1 Peter;
“You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God” – 1 Peter ch1 v23
But in other parts of the New Testament, which might be more familiar, the new birth comes by means of the Holy Spirit.
Thus the advice that is given to Nicodemus is that he needs to be “born of the Sprit”- John ch3 vv5-6’
While the phrase used by Paul is “according to the Spirit” (Galatians ch4 v29).
If these are equivalent phrases, then James is using the term “Word” in the same way that these other writers are using the term “Spirit”.
They have to be understood as equivalent concepts.
This ought to throw some light on what James means both by “hearing the Word”, and also by “doing the Word”.
edit on 13-8-2012 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)