The Twelve Tribes
Updated: Mar 1
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting, James 1:1.
The above verse is the normal starting place for placing the book of James outside of doctrine intended for local churches today. By most (not all) of the reasoning I hear on excluding James from current doctrinal consideration as it should apply to local churches, this verse is front and center. They see the opening verse as a fulfillment of the Apostle Paul's statement in Galatians 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.
As we saw in the last post just because Paul and the other apostles divided their spheres of influence doesn't mean that each preached a gospel so distinct that it could not avail if preached to the wrong group. In the sense that James had a commission and a burden for his fellow Jews, it makes perfect sense that he would address a letter to them.
I have heard it reasoned that since no one knew where ten of the tribes of Israel were, that James's reference to them must be for the future. They reason that as proof that it is a book written for saints in the great tribulation. Yes, ten tribes had lost their identities. Those things happened when poor records were kept. That is what was taking place in Ezra 2:62,63. The people were there but could not prove their identities.
Yet, the Apostle Paul assumed that they were still around. He spoke of them to King Agrippa. 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 26:27. He spoke of them in the present tense. They were there, mingled in the population. The Holy Ghost knew who they were and could identify them. Look at Anna's tribe; And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser, Luke 2:36.
When I read James, I know that I am not one of the twelve tribes. I also know that my name is not Timothy, but I read his two books anyway. My name is not Philemon, but I read his book. I am not from Colossea, but I read their book. I am not from Thessalonica but I read their two books. I am not from Philippi, but I read their book. My name is not Titus, but I read his book.
So, it isn't really the opening line of James that signals that it is not for us. Too many people will circle back to Galatians 2:9. "Paul was to us! James and Peter are to the Jews!" I am not such a fool as that I don't know that a Jew and a Gentile needed to be approached differently. The Apostle Paul himself said so.
1st Corinthians 9:20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
1st Corinthians 9:21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
When I read a letter written specifically to Jews, I expect to find the tenor of that letter to be different than a letter written to Gentiles. I also know that these letters were written in a time of transition when some Jews and some gentiles already had salvation through believing the promises of God as they stood prior to the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The synagogues visited by Paul always had gentiles in them. These are people who needed a transition. The disciples of John the Baptist (who Paul identified as believing) had never heard of the Holy Ghost in Acts 19. They are just such an example.
Throughout the Apostle Paul's ministry he was on the lookout for people who needed the laying on of an Apostle's hands to make that transition. For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established, Romans 1:11. This was written by the same Apostle Paul who wrote; And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power, Colossians 2:10.
Romans 1:11 is a transition verse written in the Pauline epistles. I have enough spiritual maturity to understand that even though Paul laid hands on men to get the Holy Ghost after the time in which he had started his epistles, and even though he sought out others to imbue them with spiritual gifts, I do not need such. I am complete in Christ. I was brought to repentance, saved, born again and given a complete and perfect salvation after the death, burial,and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I am aware that there were people to whom those graces came but were parsed out as events unfolded. Both Paul's and the other Apostles' writings deal with such people. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.), John 7:39. There are transitions in every writer's letters.
The last great proof to those who would exclude James from being an epistle for churches today is supposed doctrinal issues. We will deal with those soon.