James: The Apostle of Faith/David P. Scaer/Wipf and Stock/New York/republished 2004/209pp/Finished 10/1/07/Rating: 10
In August I attended Bishop Rick Painter’s mens retreat in Prescott, AZ, where Bishop Fred Fick taught on the book of James. “OK. Well…OK…”, I thought, “any Bible study will be good and it will be great to see all the guys.” WOW was I setting my sights low! First, Bishop Fred is just such an incredibly good teacher. Secondly, he was using this book as his basis of teaching. Scaer’s book on James may well join a select group of five or six as the most significant I have ever read. Seriously!
Now, what I’m about to describe to you doesn’t sound too earth shattering, but it is. And the more you think about it and study out the implications, the more important it becomes. Here, in a very tiny nutshell, is the gist of the book:
1. The Epistle of James is the first book of the N.T. written. Before any of the Gospels. Before Paul’s writings (even before Paul’s conversion!). It was written shortly after the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, and before the Gospel was proclaimed to the Gentiles, while the church was still a Jewish entity (in short, the book of James was written between Acts 8 and 12). This means that when James seems like he’s making reference to something from the four Gospels, he isn’t. He’s making reference to JESUS himself, and the Four Gospels may indeed be depending on James (in fact Scaer suggests that Matthew specifically is a Jacobian Gospel, just as Mark is Petrine and Luke is Pauline). This means that James is not a “corrective” for people who have misunderstood Paul’s writings on grace – but that James is writing about grace and faith BEFORE Paul even comes along! This means that Paul references James, not vice versa.
2. Perhaps an even more startling insight is that James is written, not as a general epistle, but to a specific audience: priests (presbyters) who had been part of the Jerusalem Church, now scattered as a result of the persecution, and trying to tend to the scattered flock of believers that had once lived in Jerusalem but were now spread out in Judea, Samaria and other places. Scaer shows that the term “brothers” is a Jewish phrase specifically for religious leaders (check it out in the book of Acts!). So, here is Bishop James writing a pastor’s manual to priests under his direction who had no Gospels, no New Testament books at all, only the Old Testament to fall back on, and a strong temptation to be legalists. The epistle then becomes a corrective, not for misunderstood grace, but for misunderstood law. And it becomes a top notch directive for pastoring people.
I wish every deacon, priest and bishop would read this book. Thanks, Bishop Fred for sharing with me this treasure.
Thanks for the kind words. Frankly, the book is so astounding in research and presentation that it truly speaks for itself.