Epistle of James Chapter 5:1-20 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday, August 30, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series

Books referenced here are:

1. The Letter of James, Anchor Bible Commentary, by Luke Timothy Johnson

2. IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, by Craig Keener

3. New International Version Application Commentary: James , by David Nystrom

4. New Testament Text and Translation Commentary, by Philip Comfort

James 5:1
“You rich” makes no concession for righteous rich people, but condemns “the rich” as a class.(Nystrom)

Wail: Greek ololyzontes, it is used in the Greek OT exclusively in laments in response to disasters sent upon people by God (Hos 7:14, Amos 8:3, Zec 11:2; Is 10:10, 13:6, 14:31, 15:2-3, 16:7; 23:1,6,14, 52:5, 65:14)(Johnson)

Miseries: Greek talaiporia, used predominantly of miseries suffered by those resisting God (Ps 13:3, 139:6, Hos 9:6; Amos 3:10; Mic 2:4; Joel 1:15; Hab 1:3; Zeph 1:15; Is 16:4, 47:11, 59:7; 60:18; Jer 4:20; 6:7)(Johnson)

James 5:4
Rare case where the two Greek NT, TR behind KJV and NU (modern critical text) maintain a reading “kept back by fraud”, apesteremenos in favor of the Westcott Hort reading “have been withheld” aphosteremenos. The TR/NU reading is rejected as being influenced by Mal 3:5(Comfort)

Wages were so low in these times that day laborers often depended on each day’s pay to provide food for themselves and their faimilies. (Keener)

In Roman times most land was owned by a small percentage of very wealthy people. Half of Roman Africa was owned by six people; in Trajan’s day forty percent of Italy was owned by seven percent of the populace.(Nystrom)

In Roman times there were three ways to make money:
1.Inheritance: land, which created wealth from cash crops
2.lending at interest
3.marrying money

Wealth in ancient times, far more than today, remained in the hands of a few families in any given territory.(Nystrom)

Notice “reaped”, the work already performed, but wages not yet paid. The background here is plainly Lev:19:13 and Mal 3:5.(Johnson)

James 5:5
luxuoriously: Greek tryphan, which has a positive sense of taking pleasure in something, but came to have a negative sense through Greek moral philosophy, were it implied the vice of wantonness.(Johnson)

Indulged: Greek spatalan, same range of meaning as tryphan, but it is almost always used negatively.(Johnson)

James 5:6
The death referred to here might well be literal, the result of starvation created by withheld wages. Plutarch wrote that Cato considered himself the law on his own lands, even judging capital trials himself and advising all landowners to act as judge and jury on their property. Such attitudes reinforce the reality that Roman was designed to favor citizens, and well-to-do citizens at that. Originally meant to protect the wealthy from having their wealth taken from them through the courts, Roman lawsuit rules became the enforcer of class distinctions between the very poor and the very rich. (Nystrom)

Hard not to see this passage of the apocryphal/deuterocanonical Wisdom of Sirach as background for verses 4-6:(Johnson)
Sir 34:21-27 NRSVA If one sacrifices ill-gotten goods, the offering is blemished; (22) the gifts of the lawless are not acceptable. (23) The Most High is not pleased with the offerings of the ungodly, nor for a multitude of sacrifices does he forgive sins. (24) Like one who kills a son before his father’s eyes is the person who offers a sacrifice from the property of the poor. (25) The bread of the needy is the life of the poor; whoever deprives them of it is a murderer. (26) To take away a neighbor’s living is to commit murder; (27) to deprive an employee of wages is to shed blood.

James 5:7
James uses an interesting choice of Greek words for “be patient” here: makrothymein, “be long-tempered”, and while it can be used of “waiting”, in the Greek OT it is most often used of a superior’s attitude to inferiors, especially God’s tolerance of sinful humans. In the NT it is used of God’s attitude as a judge. (Mat 18:6; Rom 2:4, 9:22 1 Tim 1:16; 1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 3:9, 15)(Johnson)

Rain/rains here is actually a likely addition to James’ original “early and latter”, which implies rain, and early colloquialism. Translators today add “rain” to make the meaning clear, just as early Greek scribes did.(Comfort)

Autumn rains in Palestine came in October and November, winter rains (about seventy-five percent of the year’s rain) in December and January. The late rains of March and April finished the growth of crops before the harvest, and were thus eagerly anticipated. (Keener)

Lord’s coming: This likely refers to Jesus as lord, rather than the Father. Greek parousia can mean simply “presence, arrival”, but came to be a term for the official visit of a king or government official. In the NT it is used of the second coming of Jesus (1 Cor 15:23; 2 Pet 3:4, 12 1 Jn 2:28; 1Th 2:19,3:13, 4:15, 5:23; 2 Th 2:1; 2 Pet 1:16). (Johnson)

The illustration on farmers awaiting rain has two points:
1.The fortitude necessary to wait
2.The surety that the rains WILL come. (Nystrom)

James 5:9
The key to this verse is “about/against” each other. Poorer Christians shouldn’t complain about the wealth of the richer members of the church.(Nystrom)

Suffering prophets: Extra-biblical tradition speaks of the sufferings of most of the biblical prophets, but the three biblical examples would be Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

James 5:11
Outcome from the Lord is often taken to refer to death and resurrection of Jesus, sometimes the second coming and reward of believers, but most likely refers to the end of Job as a sign of how God works things out for the good of His faithful in the end, according to Johnson. Nystrom sees the second coming and eternal reward as the point.(Johnson, Nystrom)

James 5:13-18
These verses concern prayer:
v.13= individual prayer
v.14-15 = elders of the church’s prayer
v.16 = prayers for one another
v. 17-18 = Elijah’s prayers (Nystrom)

James 5:13
suffering: Greek kakopatheo, “to suffer misfortune”, not normally used of illness.(Nystrom)

James 5:14
“In the name of the Lord” is perhaps originally just “in the name” as the very reliable early manuscript Vaticanus reads. The assumption is early Christians understood “the name” to imply “Jesus”.(Comfort)

Sick: Greek astheneo, “weakness”. Context of “suffering” in v. 13 and “the sick person” of v. 15 points to this meaning physical illness here.(Nystrom)

Call for the elders: as a body, a class and group of people. A general prayer for healing was part of the Jewish sysnagogue service. Visiting the sick was an act of piety in Judaism that carried over into Christianity.(Keener)

Pray over: Is either to be understood as literally “over, in the presence of” or “toward, for”. Origen and Cyril of Alexandria speak of such group prayer as a proper alternative to magic. (Johnson)

Two reasons for anointing with oil:
1.Symbolic of God’s interest in His people in their struggles
2.Medicinal: olive oil was considered good medicine in ancient times, used to clean wounds, treat gums and teeth, as a laxative, and mixed with honey to salve eyes to improve eyesight.(Nystrom)

Name of the Lord: Jesus, surely. Is this:
1.Literally invoking the name “Jesus”
2.Speaking of the elders as delegates of the Lord
3.As a church, the Christian assembly(Nystrom)

James 5:15
Language like “saved”, “raised”, and “forgiven” leads many people to think of final judgment and salvation, but the context is of a sick but living person. Though there was a common belief in the connection between sickness and sin in early Judaism, Jesus famously brushed aside such considerations in the case of the blind man in John 9:1-3. And not all ills are necessarily healed through prayer, as shown by Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7-10). The NT testimony to sickness and healing is a complex grouping of sin, natural causes, demonic influence, and God’s purposes, and deserves study as a topic all on its own. (Nystrom)

James 5:16-18
There are famous traditional stories of early Jewish sages being able to pray effectively for healing and rain. Indeed the ability to pray effectively for rain came to be equated to raising the dead. Elijah is the OT prototype for such prayer warriors.(Keener)

“Three and a half years” is a figure from tradition, not stated in the Bible, though there is some hint that people believed end time famines would last three years. And the figure is half of the “perfect” number seven, and thus considered a n “evil” number. (Keener)

James 5:19-20
Though there are always some forms of apostasy considered unforgivable in both Judaism and Christianity, in most cases sincere repentance is considered effective for receiving God’s pardon in both religious traditions. (Nystrom)


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