James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting, James 1:1.
It is fashionable in most many Fundamental circles to relegate the Book of James to a book which has no doctrinal significance to the church. It makes people uncomfortable with what it says. It appears to contradict Paul's writings and it says that it was written to the twelve tribes. When something uncomfortable is quoted from James or it appears to contradict a favorite theology, many are taught to put on their hyper-diapers, go hyper-dispensational and dismiss what was said as being irrelevant for today. They err.
First, let's look at the greeting to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad. I was taught two things about that. I was taught that I am not a Jew of the twelve tribes and therefore it was not written to me, and that no one knew where the twelve tribes were and so the book must have a future connotation.
It is true that ten tribes had lost their identity. They are often referred to as the lost tribes of Israel. This has led to Mormons and other sects trying to identify either themselves, the American Indians or whoever to being those lost tribes. The tribes are not lost in the sense that no one knows where they went. They were lost in their ability to prove their registry. An example of this can be found in Nehemiah. These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but it was not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim, Nehemiah 7:64, 65.
I know that Jews are sometimes found in unlikely places due to the wide diaspora. There have been colonies of Jews found in Burma who until recently were cut off from mainstream Jewry. Likewise the Jews of Ethiopia had lived a nomadic lifestyle for over a two thousand years unknown to most of the world until the mid-1970s. This accounts for some Jews having wandered abroad, but it does not justify claiming that ten tribes are lost.
When the Apostle Paul made his defense to King Agrippa, he claimed that all twelve tribes were up to that time serving God. Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews, Acts 26:7. The Book of Luke clearly identifies Anna the prophetess as being from the tribe of Asher. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity, Luke 2:36.
It is much more accurate to think of the mass of Jews as not being lost, but of being in a state wherein only the Holy Ghost through an Apostle could identify which particular tribe a person was from. James is written to the twelve tribes and Paul assumes that those tribes were instantly serving God day and night. The Holy Ghost was able to look at a person and do what the Urim and the Thummim could do, he could identify the right tribe for that person. The tribes are not so much lost as they are unidentifiable with the accuracy required by Moses's law for distributing inheritance.
The next objection by the hyper-diaper crowd is that since they as Gentiles are not of the twelve tribes, they must not ascribe the letter as being applicable to them. That won't hold up. Look at Paul's greeting to the Colossians. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Colossians 1:1,2. By the reasoning exhibited for James in which a man may say, "that is not for me, I am not of the twelve tribes", the Book of Colossians can be set aside since the same man is probably not from Colosse. Likewise, only people named Timothy should read the two letters written to Timothy. If you are not named Titus or Philemon, you should steer clear of those letters.
By now, the average Dispensationalist is objecting. He may use the greeting in James as proof that the book is not for him, but he rests on the church's recognition of the difference between Paul and Peter's ministries. But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter, (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)Gal 2:9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision, Galatians 2:7-9.
This to them is proof positive that Paul's epistles are to be kept segregated from the others. It is clear from that passage that the Apostles themselves clearly divided their ministries according to their God ordained gifts. To suppose that James, Cephas and John were preaching a different gospel to the Jews than Paul was preaching to the Gentiles is absurd on its face. What James, Cephas and John were doing was preaching the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ to a people who grew up with a fear of God through the law of Moses.
The call for repentance was based on a written law that every Jew knew and mistakenly thought that he was fulfilling. When Peter preached in the early chapters of Acts, thousands responded in repentance because they were already convinced of the truth of God's laws. When Paul preached in Acts 17 at Mars Hill, only a few were saved out of the many thousands. It took Paul from Acts 17:22 until verse 31 to use reasoning to show Gentiles who were ignorant of God's laws that they had violated the second commandment.
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead, Acts 17:22-31.
Very few Gentiles will get saved upon their first hearing about breaking God's laws. Jews were conditioned to be much more sensitive to breaking the laws of God. It took different skill sets and and two entirely different approaches to preach to the circumcision as opposed to the uncircumcision. All too often preachers mistake the Gentiles who frequented the synagogues in the Book of Acts for normal Gentiles. They most certainly were not. They were Gentiles who had been instructed in the laws of God and their hearts were far more tender to the call for repentance. After all, Jesus Christ himself said; Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.Joh 5:46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me, John 5:45, 46.
Paul and the other Apostles realized that each skill set was suited for either the circumcision or the uncircumcision. They divided accordingly. In the next post, we will look at the doctrinal objections people have to accepting the Book of James as being applicable for today.