This week, my Bible study partner and I have shifted gears and are studying a book in the New Testament. While there is much more to learn from looking at God patterns in the Old Testament, we decided to tackle something different for this fall. We are studying the James’ letter “To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad” (James 1:1, NASB). We will be using the NavPress LifeChange series book on James to guide our study.
In the introduction, there is some discussion as to when this book was written. Many scholars over the years have assumed that this book was James’ rebuttal to Paul’s writings about the inclusion of Gentiles without conforming to the Jewish Laws. However, there is a whole school of thought on this that says this letter may have been the first letter written by anyone, dating it before Paul’s writings.
The different views were supported by various sources, but I’m leaning towards believing it was written earlier than later. One reason for this is because, as quoted above, the letter was written to Christian Jews (people belonging to the twelve tribes). Early on in the development of the church, it was primarily made up of Jews, the gospel not having yet made it to the Gentiles (primarily after the great disbursement of Jews out of the city of Jerusalem). Paul was still in his “Christian infancy” then and hadn’t yet written any of his letters.
I’m open to what further study may reveal, but for now I’m going to approach James from the perspective of what James wanted the early Jewish Christians to know. Quoting my Bible study partner, I would describe James’ purpose for writing this letter as, “Encouragement to the scattered Jewish believers to obedience and focus on God.” This involved continually circling back to point its readers back to this question: “Where’s your focus?” As I continue to read and study James, I’m going to keep that question in mind and jot down a few notes for each section about what James thinks the early believers should be focusing on – and take those things to heart as the things I should also be focusing on.