2 Peter | The Voice 7.50: December 10, 2017

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The Second Letter of Peter

Peter’s time to remain on the earth was short. He felt compelled to provide some final reminders and exhortations for Christians. To this end he wrote what we deem the second letter of Peter.

The second letter of Peter is the twenty-second book in modern editions of the New Testament; it is often categorized as one of the “catholic” or universal letters or epistles. Simon Peter is identified as the author in 2 Peter 1:1; the letter provides no evidence to determine whether he wrote it personally or dictated it to an amanuensis. Almost all scholars reject Petrine authorship of 2 Peter; of all the books of the New Testament, 2 Peter has the least attestation in early Christian writings. Origen is the first recorded witness to explicitly speak of 2 Peter, and he himself testified to the doubts some had in its authorship; Eusebius placed it among the antilegomena, disputed writings, although he recognized that most considered it authentic (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiasticae 6.25). Associations between 2 Peter 2:1-22 and Jude 1:3-25 have been noted; many presume that one is dependent on the other, although it remains possible that the Lord had a similar message to send out through each. And yet it seems that the Apocalypse of Peter, a second century document, is dependent on 2 Peter; Origen’s doubts are not sufficient for him to consider the letter inauthentic. It is possible to see indirect allusions to 2 Peter among some second century Christian authors, but their lack of explicit citation in light of their affection for 1 Peter may be notable. It would seem to be more difficult to explain why a clearly later pseudepigraphal letter from Peter would maintain wide acceptance as an authentic letter than it would be to explain why its explicit use came later. Therefore, we ought to recognize the majority opinion that 2 Peter comes from Simon Peter himself while recognizing the existence of disputes about it throughout history. Peter began by writing to those who have a like precious faith, which would be all Christians; yet in 2 Peter 3:1 he spoke of his letter as the second he wrote to his audience (2 Peter 3:1), which would narrow the audience to the Christians of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Roman provinces spanning much of what is today Turkey (1 Peter 1:1). He most likely wrote 2 Peter from Rome, likely not long before his martyrdom in the middle to late 60s (64-67?). Peter wrote to provide a final message of assurance to Christians regarding their faith and hope, warning against the influence of false teachers and to maintain patience while awaiting the Lord’s return.

Having begun with a standard epistolary introduction (2 Peter 2:1-2), Peter exhorted his audience to be strengthened in their faith and confidence in prophetic witness (2 Peter 1:3-21). According to Peter, God has granted all things about life and godliness to us through His divine power in the knowledge of Christ, and thus Christians ought to strive to make their calling and election sure through diligence in developing faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love, and thus enter God’s eternal kingdom in Christ (2 Peter 1:3-11). Peter intended to continue to remind Christians of these things as long as he lived, even though the time of his departure was near, so they could continue to be encouraged in them after his passing (2 Peter 1:12-15). Peter assured his fellow Christians: they had not been deceived by myths or fables, for Peter was an eyewitness of the glory of Jesus, particularly in His transfiguration, and they could be strengthened as well by the word of prophecy, not given by a prophet’s think-so, but inspired of God and carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21; cf. Matthew 17:1-5).

Peter then warned Christians about the infiltration of false teachers (2 Peter 2:1-22). As there had been false prophets in Israel, so there would be false teachers among Christians, bringing in destructive heresies, promoting lasciviousness and greed (2 Peter 2:1-3). God did not spare angels when they sinned, the world in the days of Noah, or Sodom and Gomorrah, but spared Noah and Lot the righteous; therefore, God will deliver those who are His from temptation, and keep the wicked under punishment until judgment (2 Peter 2:4-9). Peter decried these false teachers as animalistic, craven, blasphemous, revelrous, adulterous, unproductive, following the way of Balaam, enticing unstable Christians, promising them liberty, but returning to the bondage of iniquity (2 Peter 2:10-19; cf. Numbers 22:22-33). The last state of these false teachers was worse than if they had never known the way of truth and righteousness (2 Peter 2:20; cf. Proverbs 26:11)!

Peter wished to remind Christians about the warnings of the apostles and prophets: mockers following their own lusts would come, wondering why the Lord Jesus had not yet returned, and all things continued as before (2 Peter 3:1-4). Peter reminded them of the swift destruction of the world in the days of Noah by flood, and promised a future destruction by fire (2 Peter 3:5-7). A long time is nothing for God; the Lord is not delayed, but patient, not wishing for any to be condemned, but sought people’s repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9; cf. Psalm 90:4). Peter envisioned the day of judgment as the destruction of the current heavens and earth with great heat and encouraged Christians to live in holiness and righteousness, looking forward to a new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13).

Peter began to conclude by encouraging Christians to strive to be found in peace, pure and blameless before Jesus at His coming (2 Peter 3:14). Christians must consider the patience of Jesus as salvation, as Paul had also written; Peter commended Paul’s writings, recognizing the difficulties in understanding certain things Paul wrote which many twist and distort to their own condemnation (2 Peter 3:15-16). Christians must be careful lest they fall from their steadfastness into the error of the wicked; they must grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:17-18a). Peter concluded with a short doxology, glorifying Jesus (2 Peter 3:18b).

Christians do well to gain encouragement and heed the exhortation of Peter’s final words. May we seek to make our calling and election sure, on guard against false teaching, striving for peace and growth in faith, holiness, and righteousness, eagerly awaiting the return of the Lord Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Americanism Vs. Christianity | The Voice 7.49: December 03, 2017

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Americanism Versus Christianity

For two thousand years Christians have lived under many different earthly rulers and nation-states. Many Christians today live as citizens of the United States of America. America has provided many blessings for Christians: we have not known much persecution and have enjoyed general religious tolerance for many years. We have freedom of speech and freedom of religion; we can freely promote the faith and distribute materials regarding the Gospel boldly. Many today live in other nation-states and under different rulers who do not provide these freedoms or benefits. We should not only be thankful for the benefits which come from living in America, but above all things to be sure we take full advantage of them so as to advance God’s purposes to further His glory.

Nevertheless, contrary to the belief of many, the United States of America does not represent the Kingdom of Christ on earth. God no doubt has provided blessings upon the United States, and likely has some plan or intention to accomplish in and through it, but we have no justification to suggest that God has chosen or favored the United States of America over any other nation-state, or that citizens of the United States of America maintain special standing or benefit before God. Even with all its benefits, the United States of America is a nation-state among nation-states: it has risen, it maintains power, but one day it will also fall (unless the Lord returns first). And yet the Gospel of Christ will remain; Christians serving in His Kingdom will endure (1 Peter 1:23-25).

Christians must never be deceived by the powers and principalities of the world to attempt to wrap the cross of Christ in the Stars and Stripes of America. The goal of Christianity is not the attainment of the “American Dream”; one can be a perfectly fine citizen of the United States of America while remaining disobedient to the purposes of God manifest in the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:21-23). While many aspects of American governance and culture may be commendable, many other aspects of the United States of America stand in variance against the values of the Kingdom of God in Christ. We do well to explore some of these points of divergence.

If there is a national religion in the United States, it is the pursuit of the “Almighty Dollar.” In America everything has its value and price; Americans seek to monetize more and more aspects of life. While Christians ought to work to make a living, they also must find contentment in whatever they have been given (Ephesians 4:28, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, 1 Timothy 6:6-8). Far too many Americans have fallen prey to the idolatry of covetousness, believing the accumulation of money and things will provide solace, comfort, and strength, and have pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

One does not have to travel far in the United States to perceive the power of its patriotism and nationalism. Americans often prove excessively proud of their country, its ideals, and its heritage; many remain convinced that the United States of America is exceptionally the best at almost everything. Christians ought to be thankful for the benefits and blessings they enjoy as citizens of the United States of America and use those benefits to the advancement of God’s purposes (1 Timothy 2:1-3); to find value in one’s identity as an American is not automatically a bad thing. Unfortunately, however, Americans all too easily fall prey to overweening pride: it is easy to attempt to justify, rationalize, or excuse the evils done by past generations and presume that the United States has always been in the right when it has acted. What Paul and John says about people in Galatians 6:3 and 1 John 1:8, 10 is true of such a view of the United States of America: its people have sinned, and to deny that sin is to be self-deceived and a liar. Americans can be easily seduced into thinking that American lives are worth more than the lives of people in other countries; while we certainly understand that any nation-state must consider the interests of its own people above the interests of others, Christians must confess that each and every person has equal value as a child of God and can obtain equal standing before God through faith in Jesus (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, 1 Timothy 2:4).

These trials, and many others, all stem from the root of selfishness. The American ethos has prized the “self-made man” and the “lone ranger”: indivdiualism is highly prized and exalted in the United States and has grown ravenously in recent generations. While Americans have become sharply divided in their politics as of late, both sides attempt to prove themselves the champions of individual freedom and liberty on some issue or another and portray the other side as involving the government in your personal business. Americans have always looked askance at inherited authority or authority figures; Americans do not like being told what they should do. God loves each individual person and wishes for their salvation (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4); nevertheless, in the Kingdom of God, emphasis on individualism is decried as selfish ambition, and runs contrary to God’s purposes in Christ (cf. James 3:13-18). Jesus died for all mankind to be reconciled to God and to one another; oneness in relationship demands concession, compromise, humility, and the willingness to consider the interests of others greater than our own (Matthew 20:25-28, John 17:20-23, Philippians 2:1-4). Christians are to obey earthly authorities, recognizing that they all have power because God has given it to them (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18); they must privilege their citizenship in the Kingdom of Jesus over any other loyalty (Philippians 3:20-21). One cannot be in Christ unless one is part of Christ’s body, which is manifest on earth as the church (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 12:12-28, Ephesians 1:22-23, 2:18-20); in Christianity, a “self-made man” lives under a delusion, and a “lone ranger” is easy pickings for the Evil One (Galatians 6:3-4, 1 Peter 5:8).

We Christians who live as citizens of the United States of America have a choice: we can be Christian Americans, wrapping the cross in the flag, establishing our purpose as “re-Christianizing” America, and emphasize our identity as Americans, or we can be American Christians, obeying our elected officials, paying taxes, and being the best citizens we can, but recognizing that our short time on earth is best spent attempting to advance the purposes of the enduring Kingdom of Jesus and manifesting less concern for the fate of the particular nation-state under which we live. American Christians can find commendation in Scripture (Philippians 3:20-21); no such commendation can be found for Christian Americans. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that whatever America is or does is best for the Kingdom of God; we must be on guard against the idolatrous tendencies of covetousness, patriotism, nationalism, and individualism. May we serve God in the Kingdom of Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

History of the Bible I | The Voice 7.48: November 26, 2017

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History of the Bible, I: Toward Canonization

God has spoken and made known His will and purposes through His servants the prophets and ultimately through His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1). The prophets, the Apostles, and their associates preserved those messages from God in the pages of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-17). The Scriptures are of the greatest importance and value for those who wish to know what God would have them think, feel, and do. Can we have confidence in the validity of the Biblical text as it has been handed down? We do well to explore the history of the Bible, and begin with the movement toward canonization of the text.

“Canonization” is the process of establishing the books which are legitimately part of Scripture as opposed to the writings of men, between those inspired by God and those produced through human endeavor. The Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, had been written from 1400 through 420 BCE. Its final canonical form as we have it today was established in the first century of our era, but its general outline had been recognized long before. It is true that many later works were also translated or written as part of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament: these works, which would become the Apocrypha, were recognized as “deuterocanonical” in antiquity, thus not inspired. Only far later, toward the end of the first millennium CE, did anyone begin considering the Apocrypha to be inspired Scripture, and that only in Roman Catholicism.

The New Testament was written between 30 and 100 CE by the Apostles and their associates, all inspired by the Holy Spirit to set down the preaching and teaching regarding Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, lordship and kingdom, and eventual return (Matthew 18:18, John 20:30-31, Ephesians 3:1-7, etc.). Once the Apostles and all the people of their generation passed on, none remained who had seen Jesus in His life, death, or resurrection; nevertheless, their testimony remained, proclaimed by Christians who had been taught by the Apostles or their associates (cf. 2 Timothy 2:1-2), and on the basis of what the Apostles and their associates had written in the books which would become the New Testament. They constantly referred back to what the Apostles had taught and cited or quoted passages from all sorts of New Testament books.

Yet by the second century many heresies had arisen; some claimed authority on the basis of texts other than the New Testament (e.g. the Gnostics, who wrote all kinds of treatises in the names of the Apostles), while others cast aspersions on the legitimacy of certain apostolic witnesses (e.g. Marcion, who accepted only Luke’s Gospel, Acts, and some of Paul’s letters). Early Christians would have to establish the authoritative texts on which to establish the truths of the faith and its practice, and quickly.

This process was not as late or as contested as is often portrayed. By 200, by 200 CE, only a very few dared to question the authority and authorship of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1/2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1/2 Thessalonians, 1/2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, 1 Peter, and 1 John. Some contested Hebrews on account of its anonymity, and Revelation on the basis of its abuse by heretics; 2/3 John are short, which may explain why we see few references to them. 2 Peter is the only book to be seriously questioned in terms of its apostolic origin, but even then, few ultimately quarreled with its inclusion into the canon. A few early Christians believed in the inspiration of some later writings, including 1 and 2 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Epistle of Barnabas.

Early Christians did not arbitrarily or haphazardly decide which books were inspired versus which ones were not. They used very sensible guidelines. Of great importance was authorship: who is claimed to have written the text? Is there any evidence from previous testimony to justify the claim? Was this person truly inspired to write the text? Was the author an Apostle, or an immediate associate of an Apostle, and thus does the text maintain the seal of apostolic authority? Does the work bear the hand of the Holy Spirit, or does it betray the hand of man?

Early Christians wrestled with these questions for the next few hundred years. By the middle of the fourth century, most rejected 1/2 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, and many others because they did not meet most of the criteria for canonization. Serious doubts existed about Barnabas being the real author of the Epistle of Barnabas; it was thus not inspired but pseudepigraphical. Most believed 2 Clement was pseudepigraphical as well, although few doubted that Clement actually wrote 1 Clement, perhaps even in the late first century (70-100?); nevertheless, it did not bear the mark of inspiration. The Shepherd of Hermas, and others, had devotional value, but were written far too late to be inspired (middle of the second century or later).

Many early Christians believed Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews; those who disagreed still believed its author to be a person in Paul’s entourage (Barnabas or Apollos), and the hand of the Holy Spirit is manifest in it. Revelation’s inspiration was never in doubt; the question was its abuse by heretics. In the end, the quality of its inspiration was sufficient to seal its place in the canon.

In 367, Athanasius, “Bishop” of Alexandria, sent out a Festal letter to the Catholic churches of the west and east, and within its pages set out the books of the New Testament, correlating with our own today. This same list was “ratified” by the Third Council of Carthage in 397 CE, effectively closing the canon of Scripture.

Claims that the “Catholic church” decided upon the Bible in the fourth century, therefore, overstates the evidence. The general contours of the New Testament were never in doubt; later councils simply ratified what has been generally agreed upon for centuries. Many of the apocryphal and pseudepigraphal works written between the testaments and soon after the New Testament have been preserved; we today can read them and come to a better appreciation as to why early Christians recognized them as uninspired. We have every reason to maintain confidence in the inspiration of the books of the Old and New Testament!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and Fear | The Voice 7.47: November 19, 2017

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The Christian and Fear

Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously declared, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The line made for a stirring call to action, but the human experience suggests its substance is suspect. If are honest with ourselves, we must recognize our constant struggle with various fears and the temptation to live by them.

Fear can be manifest in many ways. We think of fear primarily in terms of terror or reverence. We can become terrified in the middle of an experience (e.g. at a haunted house, watching a horror movie, finding ourselves in a dangerous environment), or be terrified at the prospect or threat of an experience (e.g. being harmed or rejected, reliving trauma). We also can maintain respect for a person or institution in a reverential way, enabling obedience so as to not experience unpleasant consequences. But fear can also exist underneath the surface, energizing insecurities, anxieties, and even in general attitudes or dispositions.

Fear remains a complex and primal phenomenon, and one not altogether evil. God made humanity with a built-in fear response conditioning, and for good reason: humans all too often allow their brains to get ahead of their physical abilities. A person becomes afraid when he or she perceives danger, real or perceived, often instigating the “flight or fight” mechanism so as to survive. There is such a thing as a healthy dose of fear, helping us recognize our limitations, and not act in self-destructive ways.

Nevertheless, as with all things, the fear impulse has been corrupted because of the fall (Genesis 3:1-23, Romans 5:12-21). By its nature fear motivates and paralyzes: while fear can motivate good behavior and paralyze us away from bad behavior, all too often fear motivates ugly and ungodly behavior while paralyzing us from pursuing the right and good way. Fear has become the choice weapon of Satan, the powers and principalities, and plenty of humans, for people all too easily will capitulate to your desires if you manipulate them based on what they fear. How many times have people assented to or even participated in heinous evil, all because they were driven by fear? How many times has the good been left undone because those who were in a position to do so justified themselves in their fear?

It would be nice and easy if Christians were to always uphold reverential fear while avoiding all terrors, but neither Scripture nor life is that simple. Christians must exercise proper discernment to know when to show proper reverence, when to listen to the fear impulse, and when to persevere despite fears. Christians must revere authorities empowered by God in Christ, including government (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-17); above all things Christians must revere God Himself (2 Corinthians 7:1, Ephesians 5:21). And yet Christians must not show reverence to the gods of this world (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:19-33, Revelation 2:20); while Christians must show proper honor to earthly authorities, they are not justified in showing so much reverence to them as to no longer honor God in disobedience against His purposes (Acts 5:29, Revelation 13:1-18, 14:12). The one commandment given more than any other in the Scriptures is “do not fear” (e.g. Matthew 10:31, 1 Peter 3:14): God would have us put our trust in Him and to not give in to the fear impulse so as to do the wrong or not do the right. But why would the command to not be afraid prove more necessary than any other? We often find ourselves afraid, for the fear impulse is basic, primal, and almost reflexive, and there remain circumstances when the fear impulse is valuable, keeping us from acting foolishly, rashly, and warning us of possible dangers or temptations (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Christians do well to speak to their fears. On the surface this may seem strange; how can we communicate with our fears? They cannot respond, no? And yet what we must really do is to seek to understand why the fear impulse has been raised. We must never automatically think, feel, or act in any given way because we have become afraid: we are more likely than not going to be led into sin if we give into our impulses. Instead, we must explore why we have become afraid. What is the danger we fear? Why are we afraid of this matter or circumstance? Is our fear at all justified, or is it rooted in our deep-seated anxieties and insecurities? If we think, feel, or act on this fear, will it motivate us toward righteousness and paralyze us against evil? Or will we be motivated toward evil and paralyzed against the good? Only through such discernment can we think, feel, and act in ways which can glorify God through or despite our fears.

Yet none ought to be deceived: paradoxically, fear is as dangerous an impulse as it is an impulse regarding danger. Fear of condemnation may motivate a person toward righteousness for a time but it rarely proves sufficient by itself to endure to the end (Matthew 10:22). We are all too easily deceived into thinking our ungodly fears are actually justifiable and acceptable; sadly, we are all too easily deceived into thinking that the fears that motivate us do not really exist, or are not fears at all! We must humbly admit the strong power fear has over how we think, feel, and act; we must exercise great care in exhortations rooted in fear lest we prove guilty of manipulation and not persuasion in love. We must recognize fear for what it is and yet grow in our faith and trust in God, confident that the perfect love which comes from above casts out fear (1 John 4:18). As we grow in faith and trust we will have deep-seated fears and anxieties exposed; we must accept that painful experience, continue to grow in faith and trust, and overcome those fears (cf. James 1:22-25). In that growth we will encounter many situations in which we are afraid, and we must learn to overcome that fear and act according to the will of the Lord to the advancement of His purposes.

Fear is powerful, but God is even greater than our fears. May we as Christians not give ground to the forces of evil which would cause us to fear, but overcome all fear in faith in God in Christ, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

1 Peter | The Voice 7.46: November 12, 2017

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The First Letter of Peter

Christians of Asia Minor sought to prove faithful to Jesus. They did good things for others but were persecuted for it. Religious persecution was a new thing for many of them. Peter wanted to encourage such Christians to carry on and understand their circumstances; he wrote to them what we call the first letter of Peter.

The first letter of Peter is the twenty-first book in modern editions of the New Testament; it is often categorized as one of the “catholic” or universal letters or epistles. Peter the Apostle is identified as the author in 1 Peter 1:1; while some scholars dispute this claim, no compelling evidence has been offered to suggest otherwise. Silvanus (Silas) may be his amanuensis (1 Peter 5:12). He writes to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion” in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1): such are Roman provinces that substantially represent the area also called Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). On its surface Peter’s language seems to suggest he, like James, wrote only to Jewish Christians (cf. James 1:1); while Peter will use a lot of “Israelite” language, he seems to be appropriating it to speak of all Christians, for it is hard to imagine any Israelite speaking of fellow Israelites in the way Peter spoke to his audience in 1 Peter 1:18, 2:9. In 1 Peter 5:13 Peter gave greetings from “she that is in Babylon”; while a few suggest Peter is in physical Babylon in Mesopotamia when writing, most understand Peter to refer to either Jerusalem or Rome (depending on one’s view of Revelation). Peter most likely wrote from Rome: he gave greetings from Mark, whom he calls “his son” (1 Peter 5:13), and Paul had encouraged Timothy to bring Mark with him (2 Timothy 4:11), and reliable tradition suggests Paul was in Rome at the time. Similar traditions suggest Mark wrote his Gospel on the basis of the preaching of Peter, and that Peter met his end in Rome in the days of Nero (Papias in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15, 3.30, 6.14; Irenaeus, Against Heretics 3.1; 1 Clement 5; Tertullian, Prescription Against the Heretics 31, Scorpiace 15; Acts of Peter; Origen, Commentary on Genesis 3 according to Eusebius, Ecclesastical History 3.1). Peter’s use of the theme of exile would explain the use of “Babylon”: as Israel endured exile in Babylon, so Christians as the new Israel live in exile in the Roman Empire centered in Rome (cf. 1 Peter 1:1, 17, 2:11, 5:13). 1 Peter was most likely written in the early to middle 60s, 61-65; Peter wrote to Christians in Asia Minor to encourage them in their faith despite the persecutions and challenges they were experiencing from unbelievers.

Peter introduced his letter, as seen above, with a framework to view the Christians of Asia Minor in terms of Israel and the exile and spoke of God in a Trinitarian formula: Father, Spirit, and Jesus (1 Peter 1:1-2). Peter continued with a blessing of God on the basis of the great redemption and hope in which Christians were saved, even if they experienced trials which ultimately would prove their faith, resulting in Christ’s glory and their final salvation when He returns (1 Peter 1:3-9). Many, even angels, wished to learn more about this salvation which has been given to believers in Christ, for the Spirit directed the prophets to write so as to provide encouragement to Christians (1 Peter 1:10-12). And so Christians should set their hope firmly on Christ, living sanctified lives as God is holy, redeemed by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:13-21). Christians ought to love one another fervently, having been born again of the incorruptible seed of the eternal Word of God (1 Peter 1:22-25; cf. Isaiah 40:6-8).

Peter exhorted Christians to put away wickedness and to yearn for the milk of the Word, for they have come to Jesus the precious cornerstone, built up into a Temple; others have rejected Jesus the cornerstone on account of disobedience (1 Peter 2:1-8; cf. Psalm 118:22-23, Isaiah 28:16). Peter then appropriated God’s descriptions of Israel for the Christians of Asia Minor (1 Peter 2:9-10). As the people of God, Christians must abstain from lust, conduct themselves wisely among Gentiles, respect and obey earthly authorities, and to not abuse their freedoms (1 Peter 2:11-17). Slaves ought to obey their masters, even if they are wicked; to suffer despite doing good is honorable in God’s sight, for it is the way of Jesus who left an example in His suffering and death (1 Peter 2:18-25; cf. Isaiah 53:1-12). Having provided specific instructions for wives and husbands (1 Peter 3:1-8; cf. 1 Timothy 2:9-15), Peter exhorted all Christians not to return evil for evil, do good even if it causes distress, make a defense for the hope they cherish with gentleness and respect, and all on account of what Jesus did for them (1 Peter 3:9-17; cf. Psalm 34:12-16). As an aside Peter spoke of Jesus’ obedience, proclamation to spirits in prison, and the importance of baptism for salvation as the opposite type of Noah and the Ark (1 Peter 3:18-22).

Peter warned the Christians how past time suffices for living in sin; those who suffer cease from sin; they should not be surprised when Gentiles persecute them for upholding and doing what is right, but must keep praying, showing hospitality, and serving one another, and they should gladly suffer in the name of a Christian, not as an evildoer, for the day of judgment is near (1 Peter 4:1-18). Christians who suffer must entrust themselves to their faithful Creator while doing good (1 Peter 4:19). Peter would go on with exhortations to elders to lead by example and shepherd faithfully and all Christians toward humility, prayer to God, casting anxieties upon Him, wary of the Devil, drawing encouragement from the similar sufferings undergone by all Christians (1 Peter 5:1-9). God Himself would perfect, establish, and strengthen them after they have suffered for a little while (1 Peter 5:10-11). Peter concluded by speaking of Silas as the one by whom he wrote, testifying of the true grace of God in which they are to stand, giving greetings from the church in “Babylon” and from Mark, and providing a standard epistolary conclusion (1 Peter 5:12-14).

1 Peter provides great encouragement for Christians to persevere in faith despite trials, tribulations, and persecutions. We do well to live as exiles of Christ on the earth, seeking righteousness, entrusting ourselves to God in Christ, and doing good even if we suffer for it, and all for God’s glory!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Sexual Assault and Harassment | The Voice 7.45: November 05, 2017

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Sexual Assault and Harassment

These days we are witnessing a sea change in attitudes regarding the dark and pernicious sins of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Such behaviors, once excused or justified as normal behavior, are now being exposed as dark, dehumanizing, and traumatic, having caused untold millions great suffering. It is about time.

Sexual assault and harassment involve unwanted sexual attention and advances in word and deed. Sexual harassment includes anything from catcalling to propositioning; sexual assault, everything from unwanted touch to rape. The number of women who have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault is staggering; men have also suffered sexual harassment or assault from other men or women as well.

The New Testament provides no justification for sexual harassment or sexual assault. Love does not puff itself up, does not act in unseemly ways, and is kind (1 Corinthians 13:1-8); sexual harassment and assault are none of these. Sexual assault and harassment are not at all consistent with any of the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). Any form of rape is sexually deviant behavior; other forms of sexual assault and sexual harassment qualify as lascivious behavior, both of which are condemned as sinful works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21.

People have been sexually assaulted and/or harassed for millennia. The practice has been justified as part of the privileges of power and the corruption of sexual desire (Matthew 5:28): looking at others in terms of sexual property, presuming one should be able to enjoy said sexual property at his leisure. And yet no one has the right to force him or herself on another person sexually, either by word or deed. Husbands and wives are invited to consider the other as their sexual property, not to abuse or force, but to enjoy and cherish in love and kindness (1 Corinthians 7:1-4, Ephesians 5:22-33). Christians must uphold the dignity of each human being, male and female, as having been equally made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27); to consider other people as sexual property is to dehumanize and objectify them, contrary to the purposes of God in Christ!

Christians must denounce sexual assault and harassment as sin and not provide cover or justification for those who commit it. If Christians have committed sexual assault or harassment, they must repent of their sins; if they do not repent, they should be disfellowshipped according to 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Christians have no business excusing those who commit sexual assault or harassment; it is part of the way of the world which leads to suffering, sin, and death (James 3:14-18, 1 John 2:15-17). Likewise, Christians have no right to attempt to shield those who have committed sexual assault and/or harassment from the legal consequences of their behaviors: the same Apostle Paul who told Christians not to take each other to court in regards to civil matters also told them to submit to the authority of the state and its laws (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8). God has given the state, not the Christian, the authority to administer justice on the earth (Romans 13:1-7); those in authority will be called to account for how they exercised that authority, but the Christian will be called into account for how well they submitted to that authority (Romans 14:10-12). In many states those who serve as elders or preachers are considered mandatory reporters and must report to the authorities if they have reasonable suspicion that a child is being physically or sexually abused; Scripture provides no command or principle which would justify not following these laws. Many of those who commit sexual assault and/or harassment are very charismatic people, deceiving not only their victims but also their fellow associates and even brothers and sisters in Christ. We do well to respect God’s hierarchy of authority in these matters.

Christians do well to recognize the pervasiveness of sexual assault and/or harassment in our culture today and to try to show love, care, and compassion toward those who have suffered it. We do well to follow James’ dictum in James 1:19: be quick to hear and slow to speak. We must listen to those who are courageous enough to talk about their experiences of sexual assault and/or harassment, recognizing how much courage, strength, trust, and exposure they show and risk in telling such tragic and traumatic stories. We must prove willing to believe them, giving them the benefit of the doubt, unless compelling evidence exists to the contrary (Romans 12:10, 2 Corinthians 13:1); far too many fear they will not be heard or believed, and are often told as much by those who victimize them. Churches ought to provide love and acceptance to all who have suffered from sexual assault and/or harassment, valuing them as equal and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, giving them space and opportunity for healing and strength (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 14:26, Galatians 3:28). While preachers must exhort women toward modesty in disposition according to 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4, full and complete blame for lust must continue to be laid at the feet of those who do the lusting (Matthew 5:28): no woman ever “deserves” sexual harassment or assault no matter what they wear, and plenty of women have suffered from sexual assault and/or harassment even when modestly dressed. Far too often women will blame themselves for what are actually the sins of their victimizers.

While Christians must firmly condemn sexual assault and/or harassment as sinful, we have no right or reason to write off those who commit sexual assault and/or harassment as irrevocably tainted or lost. Jesus came to save sinners, including those who have committed sexual assault and/or sexual harassment (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:15). Many times those who perpetuate sexual assault and/or harassment have themselves experienced trauma and abuse. Those guilty of sexual assault and/or harassment who repent ought to be given room in the Kingdom of God for their spiritual growth and development, although appropriate safeguards providing the same space for those who may have been victimized are certainly commendable and important. No one, whether victimized or victimizer, is beyond the forgiveness, strength, and hope God offers in Jesus Christ!

For too long and in too many places many Christians have proven complicit in enabling or justifying sexual assault and/or harassment. It was wrong. It should not have happened. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are sinful behaviors. They should be exposed to the light of day. Those who have been victimized ought to receive hope, comfort, and strength; those who perpetuate sexual assault and harassment ought to be exhorted to repentance and compelled to suffer whatever consequences may come about for their sinful behavior. May we visit those in weakness and distress and glorify God in Christ in all things!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Masoretic Text | The Voice 7.44: October 29, 2017

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The Masoretic Text

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew with a few sections of Aramaic. When we speak of the copies of the Old Testament which have come down to us in Hebrew, we are speaking regarding what has become known as the Masoretic Text (MT).

Almost all English translations of the Old Testament, also called the Hebrew Bible, are made primarily from the Masoretic Text. The Hebrew Bible as reflected in the Masoretic Text contains the same number of books as our Old Testament but not in the same order. The Hebrew Bible is also called the Tanakh on the basis of its major divisions in Hebrew: Torah (Law or Instruction; Genesis through Deuteronomy), Nevi’im [the Prophets; the former or historical prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel-2 Kings) and the later prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea-Malachi)], and Ketuvim [Writings; Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the five Megillot or scrolls (Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles]. But why is the Old Testament in Hebrew (and parts in Aramaic) known as the Masoretic Text?

“Masoretic” derives from the Masoretes, the name given to a group of Jewish scribes and copyists of the text of the Old Testament from the 7th through 10th centuries of our era. They had received copies of the Hebrew texts from other groups of scribes who had been copying them since the times the texts were originally written. The Masoretes became famous for their diligence in copying the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, their dedication to checking copies for errors, and so the copies of the text they produced were highly sought and prized. Two prominent families of Masoretic manuscript types exist, named for Masoretes who developed them: ben Asher (from Aaron ben Asher) and ben Naphthali, although the differences among the families are few. The most famous exemplars of the ben Asher tradition feature Codex Aleppo, dated to around 920, which was the oldest and most complete edition of the Masoretic Text until parts were lost in the middle of the 20th century, and Codex Leningradensis, dated to 1008, which now holds that distinction, and represents the base Hebrew text used in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), the modern edition from which almost all English versions today are translated.

The text still bears the name of the Masoretes on account of their diligent work in the masora, a series of markings and notes about the text of the Old Testament and copied all around it in Aramaic. The small or inner masora, often called the masora parva, are written in the side margins of the Biblical text, and feature short comments about the frequency of word usage, potential cross-references, or alternative reading. The large or outer masora, called the masora magna, was written underneath the Biblical text, and involve more expanded comments which would not fit in the masora parva. The Masoretes also developed or preserved all sorts of markings within the Biblical text to assist the reader in pronunciation and cantillation (chanting of the text) and directing the reader to relevant notes on the side. In previous times certain consonants were added to the text to indicate certain vowel markings (called matres lectionis, “mothers of reading”); on top of these the Masoretes developed the vowel marking system within the text used to this day to preserve the vowel sounds used in the reading of the Biblical text.

And so the Masoretes proved excellent textual critics, seeking to uphold the integrity of the Hebrew Bible as handed down to them while attempting to provide necessary corrections and safeguards against any further corruption of the text. We can see them at work in many different ways. The Masoretes fastidiously counted the number of consonants in the text, in whole books as well as in various lines. In so doing they would be able to know if letters or words had been accidentally added or deleted in the copying process. The Masoretes held the text in such high regard that even when they found points in which the Hebrew was manifestly corrupt, they would preserve the text as received but would suggest the reading which they believed made better sense of the text: the text as handed down in such instances is called the ketiv, or “what is written,” and the suggested alternative is the qere, or “what is read.” While the Masoretes were not perfect in their assessments, modern textual critics tend to agree with the Masoretes more often than they disagree in terms of those decisions. The Masoretes were intensely interested in the specific words in the text and how they were used, frequently noting how often infrequent terms are used in the Hebrew Bible and making all kinds of interesting associations between various texts based on the rabbinic tradition which had developed in the years before their efforts.

The Masoretes did their work quite well. Very little was added to the masora after the 10th century; later scribes would simply copy the work of the Masoretes before them. The Masoretic Text remained the gold standard in Hebrew Bibles long after the Masoretes passed into history. The quality of their efforts was validated by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls: most of the copies of the Hebrew Bible found in the Dead Sea Scrolls prove to be the direct ancestors of the Masoretic Text, with convergence often around 90% of the text. We therefore have every reason to believe that the Masoretes preserved the text of the Hebrew Bible as they had received it with almost complete accuracy for over a millennium.

As Christians who gain much encouragement and hope from what has been written beforehand regarding God’s interactions with His people Israel (Romans 15:3), we ought to be thankful for the Masoretes and their diligent work. The Masoretes did well in copying the Old Testament in Hebrew and their efforts in textual criticism to both preserve the text as they had received it as well as to make appropriate corrections and notes regarding the text. The Masoretic Text in Hebrew, in consultation with the Samaritan Pentateuch, Greek Septuagint, Syriac Peshitta, and Latin Vulgate, does well to preserve the Old Testament as written; we have every reason to maintain great confidence in the integrity of the text of the Old Testament, and to learn much from it!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Interpreting the New Testament | The Voice 7.43: October 22, 2017

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Interpreting the Bible: Interpreting the New Testament

Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

Whereas God once spoke through the prophets, He now speaks through His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1). Jesus gave the Holy Spirit and authority to His twelve Apostles to set forth the message of His life, death, resurrection, lordship, kingdom, and return (Matthew 18:18, Acts 2:1-36); their testimony is recorded in the pages of the New Testament (John 20:30-31). If we would learn of Jesus’ life and how we are to live and serve in His Kingdom, we must learn how to read and interpret the New Testament appropriately.

Interpretation begins with reading and understanding the text in its context, considering the author and the message. Before we begin to directly apply passages from the New Testament to our lives, however, we must first establish the level of relevancy of the particular passage to ourselves. A good guideline is to consider all passages relevant to our lives unless the context provides a good reason to the contrary. Many passages are very relevant, such as Galatians 5:18-24, Philippians 2:5-11, and many others: we find ourselves in similar need to our first century forebears to hear these exhortations and act accordingly. Other passages, like Romans 2:17-29 or John 14:1-17:19, prove moderately relevant: the context in each shows that they are written or spoken to a particular audience (Jews and the twelve Apostles respectively) with expectations for them to act or respond in certain ways we could not today, yet we can still gain valuable insights from the message to such persons so that we may follow God properly. Other passages, like Paul’s concluding messages to specific people (cf. Romans 16:1-15, Philippians 4:2-3), have a low relevance level; we can certainly learn from them, but since we cannot greet such people, or exhort those people toward certain forms of conduct, we cannot apply them directly to our lives.

Once we have read and understood a text in context, and have sought to establish how relevant a given passage is to our lives, we may then begin seeking to apply the message to our lives. When we apply the message of Scripture to our lives, we establish Biblical authority for the things we think, feel, say, and do, consistent with Colossians 3:17. Biblical authority is not merely derived from highly relevant New Testament passages; many times, passages that are in the low to moderate relevancy range can help illuminate the authority present within more highly relevant passages. Biblical authority is manifest in three ways: commands, apostolically approved examples, and necessary conclusions or inferences from what has been revealed.

Many times God provides specific directives that are to be followed: Christians either are to do a given thing or not to do it. These are commands, and they are found throughout the New Testament (e.g., Romans 12:1-21, Ephesians 5:1-6:9, etc.). Commands establish precisely what we are or are not to do; we must follow them (1 John 2:3-5).

The Apostle Paul commanded Christians to imitate the examples they were given by the Apostles as they reflected Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6-15). Therefore, we can know that if we follow the examples approved by the Apostles in the New Testament, we stand on firm ground and have confidence in our practice. Examples include Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 which indicate that Christians met on the first day of the week and such was approved by the Apostles; we know that we can meet on the first day of the week and also be approved.

At times certain truths are manifest in Scripture by necessity according to what has been revealed even though they are not explicitly spoken. Such are necessary conclusions or examples. In Acts 8:34-39, for instance, we necessarily infer that Philip preached baptism as part of “preaching Jesus” since the eunuch’s response to Philip was a desire to be baptized. Lessons can also be gained through necessary inference, as Jesus indicates by concluding that God is God of the living and not the dead because He “is” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 22:23-32; cf. Exodus 3:6).

Biblical authority ascertained from commands, examples, and inferences is well and good. But what of times when examples prove inconsistent? What about all the things which have changed since the days of the Apostles? For these and many other reasons we must also ascertain the scope of the authority we have derived from the message of the New Testament.

More often than not, the authority provided in Scripture is general in scope, giving a broad outline of authority. Such is often called generic authority. When there is a broad outline of authority there is often liberty in the details. Commands often provide general scope of authority for practicing the command: the command to preach the Gospel, for instance, does not provide specifics on how to travel to preach, and we therefore have liberty in that area (Matthew 28:18-20). Examples often leave many details to liberty: for instance, we know that brethren assembled on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), but we are not told precisely when; therefore, we have liberty to assemble at any time on the first day of the week. Examples also demonstrate a generic scope of authority when they are not consistent: since we see Paul and others going to preach the Gospel in a boat, on a chariot, or by walking (cf. Acts 8:4-5, 29-31, 17:10, 27:1-28:16), the inconsistent examples indicate that we have liberty. Inferences often provide authority in a general way: the inference that we need to help people based on the judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46 does not specify precisely how we are to do so.

At other times God has made known His purpose in a more specific way. Specific scope is often called specific authority. When God has specified a thing, we must follow the specifics without variance, as Hebrews 7:12-14 indicates. God’s specific command to sing would thus exclude the use of instruments (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). Many specific examples, when appropriate, should be followed, as is true with the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

The scope of authority establishes what we can do in matters of silence: if the scope is general and there is silence, God has established liberty; if the scope is specific and there is silence, God has prohibited a matter. We must also show great concern with our liberties that we do not provide reason for offense (cf. Romans 14:1-23, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13).

We can read the New Testament and come to an understanding of God’s purposes for us in Jesus Christ as long as we seek to interpret the text soundly and consistently. May we observe healthy guidelines for interpreting the New Testament and live with Biblical authority for all we think, feel, say, and do!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and the Internet | The Voice 7.42: October 15, 2017

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The Christian and the Internet

Few inventions in technology have so thoroughly transformed life as quickly as the Internet. From a government project in the 1960s to a communication platform for a small but growing coterie of fans in the 1990s, the Internet now commands the interest of billions around the world. Most people now have access to the Internet available at all times through computers or smartphones; we are able to access all sorts of information and communicate with all kinds of people around the world at any moment. The Internet might well usher in the greatest transformation of communication and learning since the development of writing.

For a long time many Christians approached the Internet with great ambivalence and concern. While Christians ought to have many concerns about how the Internet is used, most recognize how essential the Internet has become to modern life and communication. Within this century the yellow pages has become a relic of the past; a local church without a website or some social media presence might as well no longer exist, for who would be able to find out information about its presence and assembly times? Even if a person felt compelled to attempt to avoid using the Internet, their information and many of the processes they rely upon for life and services still do. The question is no longer regarding whether Christians will use the Internet; we now must grapple with how the Christian can use the Internet so as to glorify God in Christ.

Above all things we must recognize the Internet as a tool, a means by which information can be accessed and shared. It has become fashionable to blame the Internet for a host of social ills; while the Internet may facilitate, normalize, or provide easy access to sinful pursuits, all of the underlying desires and temptations existed long before the Internet was created (1 John 2:15-17). Far too often the Internet proves to be a mirror into the soul of those who use it; the ugliness, as well as the beauty, of the Internet simply reflects the ugliness and beauty present in humanity (James 1:23-25). The Internet, therefore, will be for us what we make of it: we decide whether to use the Internet for good or ill and profit or waste. We can learn to master our use of the Internet, or we can be tempted into allowing time on the Internet to become our master (cf. James 1:13-15).

Christians can use the Internet for many good purposes. Christians do well to promote and distribute the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection through websites and social media (Matthew 28:18-20). Christians can associate through social media networks, encouraging one another through spiritual messages and the maintenance of friendships around the country and the world, and able to effectively pray and support others in times of distress and difficulty (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:11-16). Christians can develop private forums in which they can ask spiritual questions of each other, grapple with difficult subjects constructively, and argue out various positions on doctrinal issues, with iron sharpening iron (cf. Proverbs 27:17).

Christians must be on guard against the use of the Internet for evil purposes. For decades pornography has driven the technological development of the Internet, a not insubstantial percentage of Internet traffic is devoted to it; we must diligently strive to avoid such dehumanization of sexuality and encourage each other to do the same (Matthew 5:28, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). If you can think of a vice or a sin, there are groups of people on the Internet who freely practice it and promote it; likewise, the Internet is saturated with false teachers promoting false doctrines, and we must diligently test the spirits to see what is true and false, hold firm to the good, and resist the evil (Romans 12:9, 1 Timothy 4:1-4, 1 John 4:1). It does not take long for us to learn to avoid reading the comments section on any prominent article, for in them we find all sorts of contentiousness, ugliness, and evil spouted forth with great vitriol (Ephesians 4:29, 31).

The Christian must learn discernment if he or she will effectively use the Internet. Anyone with a few dollars can now post a website and disseminate any information, or disinformation, they desire. In past times it proved difficult to access information; these days we are overwhelmed with information, and it now proves difficult to sort out good information from bad, the profitable from the frivolous. Major political and economic forces have learned how to utilize the Internet to influence people’s minds, hearts, and wallets, and often purposely mischaracterize and distort truth in order to advance their agenda. Christians must prove wise as serpents and innocent as doves in such matters (cf. Matthew 10:16): we must learn discernment and not spread disinformation or allow ourselves to be swept away by the propaganda machine of the people with whom we agree, and we must strive to speak truth according to the ways of God in Christ, seeking to honestly set forth what God has made known versus the opinions and doctrines of men.

The Christian must exercise self-control and discipline on the Internet (cf. 1 Peter 4:7). We must avoid the temptation to gratify lusts, to spend all our money, and to dedicate most of our time to the Internet. We can easily find ourselves distracted by the Internet for hours at a time. We may find it difficult to get substantive work done, or maintain or cultivate real life relationships, all because we have spent too much time on the Internet. For their physical and spiritual health Christians ought to establish some discipline in terms of their Internet use and know when to step away to refresh themselves, dedicate themselves to the work and study of God’s purposes, and interact with fellow Christians and members of their community (1 Corinthians 6:12, Galatians 6:10, 2 Timothy 2:15).

Within a short time the world has become dependent on the Internet. As Christians we must find ways to use the Internet to glorify God in Christ and to build one another up in Christ; we must strive to avoid temptations to sin, develop the ability to express ourselves according to righteousness, and develop self-control and self-discipline in our use of the Internet. May we strive to glorify God in Christ in all we do, online and offline!

Ethan R. Longhenry

James | The Voice 7.41: October 08, 2017

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The Letter of James

Exhortations to faithfulness prove always prescient for Christians. James felt compelled to provide many such important exhortations to his fellow Jewish Christians throughout the Roman Empire who would listen; we cherish his instruction as found in the letter of James.

The letter of James is the twentieth book in modern editions of the New Testament; it is often categorized as one of the “catholic” or universal letters or epistles. Its author calls himself James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1). While some have suggested he is James the son of Zebedee or the other Apostle James, the author does not identify himself as an apostle. The author of James is most likely James the Lord’s brother, also known as James the Just. He became a believer in Jesus in His resurrection; he gained prominence as an elder in the church of Jerusalem, considered a “pillar” of the faith by Paul, and highly influential in the church in Jerusalem, and therefore has the authority and standing among Jewish Christians to write such a letter (cf. Acts 1:14, 12:17, 15:13, 21:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:7, Galatians 1:19, 2:9, 2:12, Jude 1:1). Scholars are divided regarding whether James wrote the letter or not; Martin Luther infamously cast aspersions on the canonicity of James, no doubt on account of the discomfort caused by James 2:14-26 and its indictment of faith only. We have no reason to doubt the letter’s authenticity. James wrote to the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion” and his language provides no evidence of appropriation for another audience (James 1:1); therefore, he wrote a general letter to all Christians of Jewish descent throughout the Roman Empire. Since the same Gospel was preached before Jews and Gentiles, and much of James’ exhortations are consistent with all Jesus had taught, we recognize the validity of James’ instruction for believers among the nations as well as for those among the Jews (cf. Galatians 2:6-9, 3:28). James the Lord’s brother had already gained prominence by 44 (cf. Acts 12:17); the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus testified regarding his death in 62 by unjust trial and stoning at the hands of the Sanhedrin under Hanan the High Priest after the Roman procurator Porcius Festus died but before his successor Lucceius Albinus could arrive (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.9). The Letter of James was therefore most likely written between 44 and 62; it may be the first, and most assuredly among the first, of the books of the New Testament to be written. James wrote to Jewish Christians around the world to exhort them toward greater faithfulness according to the teachings of the Lord Jesus.

Any attempts to categorize or provide much of a contextual frame in James’ letter prove highly speculative. After a standard epistolary introduction (James 1:1), James exhorted Jewish Christians to be thankful for trials and their subsequent development of faith and to pray to God for wisdom in full faith, not doubting (James 1:2-8). The rich ought to humble themselves in their transience and the poor to trust in their exaltation in Christ; those who endure trial are blessed; God does not tempt anyone, but all are tempted by their desires; every good gift comes from the Father, in whom there is no variation, and who brought believers forth by the word of truth (James 1:9-18). Christians must be quick to hear and slow to speak and anger; man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness; believers must both hear and do the Word, for those who hear only are self-deceived; religion is only as good as control of the tongue; pure and undefiled religion demands visitation of the marginalized and avoidance of sin (James 1:19-27).

James continued by exhorting Christians to show no partiality when practicing the faith: in the assembly the rich were being honored, while the poor were set aside, which is transgression; those who transgress in one aspect of the Law are guilty of the whole of it; judgment is merciless to the unmerciful (James 2:1-13). James proceeded to thoroughly demonstrate how faith without works is dead: Christians cannot just speak a thing and assume it is done; even demons believe God is one and they shudder; Abraham justified by works as well as faith; believers are not justified by faith alone; as body apart from spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).

James warned Christians about teaching: they will endure a stricter judgment (James 3:1). Any who might bridle the tongue is a mature believer, but no man can fully tame the tongue; James set forth the dangers of the tongue and asked how believers could bless God but curse man with the same tongue (James 3:2-12). James contrasted the worldly, demonic wisdom of selfish ambition and jealousy with the godly wisdom from above of patience and gentleness, exalting true peacemaking (James 3:13-18).

James condemned the Christians for their quarreling on account of their passions: they desire, they ask for things to spend on their passions, they do not receive the spiritual blessings for which they have not asked; they are adulterous, trying to be friends with the world and God at the same time (James 4:1-4). Instead God would have believers draw near to Him, to resist the Devil, and to humble themselves (James 4:5-10). Christians ought not judge one another, but leave judgment to God (James 4:11-12). Christians should not boast in arrogance, for their lives are but a vapor; they ought to qualify all they plan in terms of God’s will; to know the right thing and to not do it is sin (James 4:13-17).

James ripped into the wealthy that oppress the poor and warned about imminent judgment (James 5:1-6). Christians suffering do well to remain patient and not grumble against each other, deriving strength from the example of Job and the prophets, and to not swear (James 5:7-12). James provided exhortation to those in specific circumstances: the suffering should pray, the happy should sing, and the sick should call for anointing by the elders and to be healed by their prayer (James 5:13-15). Believers should confess their sins to each other and pray for each other; Elijah proved a powerful example of the power of prayer (James 5:16-18; cf. 1 Kings 17:1, 18:1, 41-46). James concluded his letter with encouragement to bring back lapsed Christians, for those who do so save their souls and cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).

For generations Christians have drawn much strength and edification from the letter of James. All can grasp his practical wisdom and do well to apply its message to their lives. May we all heed the Word of truth and find salvation in God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry