Well this is another change of pace, somewhat poetic and not what I expected at all, stuck among all these letters. I can see why it’s sometimes considered Wisdom Literature; its style would fit in with Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. It’s certainly full of advice and what the author considers to be wisdom. As with other books of this genre, there’s some Good, some Bad, and some Ugly. But not so much Ugly in this one.
The Good: V 2-4 basically suggest that one’s strength of character has an opportunity to grow in the face of adversity. Or more commonly, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. V 10-11 – yup, and perhaps more wealthy Christians ought to heed this. V 19-20 (minus the god part). V 22-27 – wow, too bad more Christians don’t read and follow this advice. The author clearly has some hypocrites in mind when he wrote it.
The Bad: In v 5-8 the author expects wisdom to come from god and if we just trust god we will be wise. Nuh-uh. Wisdom comes from human effort and experience. V 9 – Nice thought, but I don’t think many people actually in this position would agree. V 12 sounds to me like another exhortation to put up with suffering in this life in hopes of an afterlife.
V 13-15 are a mixed bag. V 13 makes me laugh because it’s true, but not in the way the author intends. It’s true because god is imaginary. V 14 is true – temptation does come from our own desires, but that’s not always a bad thing, and it doesn’t always lead to harm, and sin is just a religious construct anyway, so that’s a moot point. V 17 – no, what is good and perfect usually comes from human effort and cooperation; or just from nature.
The Ugly: For once I didn’t find anything ugly in this chapter – that must be a first for the Epistles.
Wow – this whole chapter is Good! In 1-13 the author advocates social justice and rants against hypocritical churches, and boy, are there ever Christians today who need to read this! But funny thing; I just did a google search for quotations and memes from the James, and guess what, I came up almost empty. Nothing from this chapter worth bothering to share. Why do you think that is? Do Christians conveniently ignore this little book tucked away among the lesser-known epistles? According to the SAB, evangelicals Protestants don’t much like the book of James, although they are loathe to admit that; and I believe it, because I’m pretty sure that evangelicals constitute most of the people who create all those pretty memes with bible quotations that circulate on social media, so if they ignore this book, that would explain why there are so few. Wow.
In v 14-26, “James” attacks the idea that salvation can be by faith alone (a staple of Paul’s writings). And James pretty much nails it, mocking the argument by noting in v 19 that even devils can believe in god, but so what? Does that make them any better? In v 21-26, James cites examples of OT figures whose actions proved their faith, and I don’t much care for the choice of Abraham again. But heck, I’m in a good mood after reading so much drivel, so I won’t complain too much.
The Good: V 1-12 make a poetic and eloquent speech about the importance of controlling one’s tongue. Be sure to read it. In short – be careful what you say, because words can hurt. In the KJV, v 7 makes it appear that the author believes that every kind of bird, beast, and reptile is tameable, but maybe that’s just because it’s worded poorly; hard to say. Modern translations correct this, with ‘people can tame all kinds of animals…’.
The Bad: V 13-18, about wisdom, contain a lot of wisdom, but couched too much in the supernatural. Separate that out, and the good advice remains. For example, in v 15, jealousy and selfishness may be harmful and unkind, but they are not ‘demonic’. And again, wisdom does not come from god; it comes from human experience, effort, and understanding.
The Good: The best verse in the chapter is the last one, that knowing what one ought to do, and neglecting to do it, is bad (but I wouldn’t describe it as sinful, though).
The Bad: This chapter starts out well enough, with admonitions about jealously and fighting. But then we get “Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.” (v 2-3 NLT) Don’t you wish it were that easy! Does anyone – even believers – think it’s that easy?
V 6 quotes scripture “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The SAB notes that there is no such verse in the bible, but the NLT cites Proverbs 3:34 “The Lord mocks the mockers but is gracious to the humble”, and also cross-references 1 Peter 5:5. Close enough?
V 7 – again, to me this suggests ‘be like the ant’. Don’t worry, be happy. Not very sound survival advice.
V 11-12, about judging, is a mixture; I can’t decide whether to put it under good or bad. The message about not judging your neighbors is fine, but I don’t care for “But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.” That seems to stymie critical thinking, and it smacks too much of the Christian ‘shut up and do what you’re told’ rhetoric seen in conservatism and fundamentalism.
Likewise v 13-16 is good advice but for the wrong reasons. It’s certainly true that life is fleeting and that we can never be certain what tomorrow will bring. The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. But the reasons for that have nothing to do with the supernatural. And while boasting about one’s plans may be foolish (don’t count your chickens), it’s certainly not evil.
The Ugly: V 4, asserting that friendship with the world automatically makes one an enemy of god. Here we go again, advocating isolation from the ‘out-group’. From what we’ve read so far, I really thought James was better than that.
V 7-10 I don’t care for all this self-abasement and self-inflicted guilt. Humble yourselves, you sinners… etc. What for? A common theme in Christian teaching – persuade people that they are broken so that the church can fix them.
The Good: V 1-6 – A graphic rant against the filthy rich who got that way on the backs of their workers. No wonder there are few memes based on James – it attacks the very people who love to quote the rest of the bible (ie the passages that suit them).
The Bad: V 7-11 Put up and shut up. Be patient, no matter how much you are suffering, and quit yer bitching about it – Jesus won’t be much longer! Yeah, we’ve heard this line for about 2000 years now. V 12 is one of two passages in the bible prohibiting the taking of oaths (the other is Matthew 5:34-37). What’s the big deal?
The Ugly: V 11. “The Lord was kind to Job at the end, for the lord is full of tenderness and mercy”. WTF! Yahweh took away everything Job had and everyone Job loved. And at the end he ‘replaced’ Job’s children like that was supposed to put everything right. (One child is just as good as another, right?) And for that Job was supposed to be grateful. Anyone who holds this despicable story up as a good example of anything should experience Yahweh’s ‘tenderness and mercy’ first-hand as far as I’m concerned.
V 17-18 – Correlation does not equal causation.
V 13-16 “James” promises that prayer will help overcome hard times, heal the sick, and ensure that sins are forgiven. He should be sued for false advertising and malpractice.
OK, overall, James was so-so. Based on my recollections, it had a lot less Ugly in it than probably any other book in the bible (I am so not gonna review all my notes to check that impression.) It definitely had a lot less Ugly in it (as I remember) than books that are known for being good, like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. So I have to give it a big thumbs-up in comparison. And I did find a couple of memes. But notice there’s nothing from chapter 2, which was so critical of the hypocritical churches? Notice how the popular quotations stick to the ‘safe’ verses???