The Sabbath School Bible Study Guide is published by Pacific Press Publishing Association, which is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The current quarter's edition is shown above.
Official Adventist Resources for week 1:
Support this project
If you would like to support this website, please click on the following link to donate online or you may mail your check to: Life Assurance Ministries, PO Box 905, Redlands, CA 92373. Mark your check "Bible Studies."
Fourth Quarter 2014 (October–December)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF JAMES
Week 1: September 27–October 3
COMMENTARY ON JAMES, THE LORD'S BROTHER
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Day One, Sabbath Afternoon, Sept. 27: Introduction
For today we will focus on this introductory statement in the quarterly lesson:
‘The letter of James gives us one of the earliest glimpses of Jewish Christianity before it disappeared in the fog of Jewish-Christian controversies and before the marginalization of the Jews by the predominantly Gentile church of the second century and beyond.’
The underlying assumption of Adventism is that the purity of first century Christianity was soon lost only to be partially restored during the Protestant Reformation with Seventh-day Adventism being a fuller return to the roots of early Christianity. Orthodox evangelical Christianity insists that an individual can only resolve these controversies through the personal leading of the Holy Spirit with the Bible as the only source for knowing and understanding God’s written inspired truth.
While this epistle does give a glimpse of early Christian life and there certainly were controversies that needed to be resolved there seems to be some unwarranted assumptions expressed in this lesson phrase. These controversies arose during the transition of Jewish converts raised under the Old Covenant and Mosaic Law into the freedom of the New Covenant. Whereas the real modern day controversy is between the doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination versus orthodox protestant Christianity centered on the purpose of the Old Covenant Mosaic Law. In Adventism sin is defined as ‘transgression of the law’ meaning the ‘eternal moral code’ of the Mosaic Law. This claim is made under the unbiblical assumption that only the ceremonial parts of the Mosaic Law were made obsolete with the eternal moral law defined by the Ten Commandments still being valid. The bible does not separate the Old Covenant law into categories nor does it separate the law from the covenant it was contained within. Jesus announced, on the night he was to be betrayed, a New Covenant which was to replace the Old Covenant in fulfillment of this Old Testament prophecy:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,·not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.·And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34)
We are to no longer teach the commandments of God from within the framework of the Old Covenant Mosaic Law. Instead God’s eternal law is now written on the hearts of those who have been redeemed under the provisions of the New Covenant. The Epistle of James lays out what the world should be able to see in the behavior of New Covenant Believers who now have the law of God written on their hearts under the indwelling leading of the Holy Spirit. This was resolved during the early years of the Christian faith only to resurface again by the Seventh-day Adventist movement following the traumatic events of 1844.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ·For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.·For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
The Mosaic Law is the ‘law of sin and death’ we are no longer under. The ‘law of the Spirit’ sets us free from the ‘law of sin and death’. Since sin and death existed before the giving of the Mosaic Law which was given over four hundred years after the unconditional promises made to Abraham it should be obvious that sin and death could not be the transgression of law that didn’t yet exist, Gal. 3:17.
Gentile believers are not the ones who marginalized the Jews. The Jews, as a whole, did that to themselves by their rejection of Jesus Christ as their Messiah out of the harness of their hearts:
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith;·but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.·Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:30-33)
Day Two, Sunday, Sept. 28: James, the Brother of Jesus
The identity of James, the author of the epistle of James, is the topic for today’s lesson.
Here are quoted some of the things said in the lesson:
While it is not in dispute that this particular James was the brother of our Savior Jesus Christ much of what is said in the lesson of who was are mere assumptions which are not supported by Scripture.
Scripture, all Scripture and nothing but Scripture should be the foundation for this lesson. Scripture tells us nothing about the personal life of James other than he was one of the siblings of our Savior Jesus Christ. It is unethical and not appropriate to offer these kinds of speculations and imply that this is ‘bible study’.
According to scripture Jesus was the ‘first born’ and oldest son of Joseph and Mary. Speculating anything else is unwarranted. Even though we have good reason to believe James was a younger half-brother to Jesus, James doesn’t even mention this in his epistle.
Day Three, Monday, Sept. 29: James, the Believer
The Apostle Paul refers to James as the Lord’s brother who was now one of the apostles:
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.·But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (Gal. 1:18-19)
In the book of Acts this gathering of believers included the sons of Mary, indicating James was there with them:
All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:14)
The simple fact is that we have extremely little biographical information about James the brother of Jesus. We should avoid the practice of attempting to fill in what we really do not know with mere speculations.
It is generally understood that, this James was the brother of our Savior Jesus Christ and the author of the Epistle of James. He was a Believer and a recognized leader of the Christian faith.
Here is one statements related to him in the lesson that does not come from Scripture:
“Several years after this event (a.d. 58), when Paul brought the collection for the poor in Jerusalem from the various churches, the delegates from each church in turn laid the offerings at the feet of James (see Ellen G. White, Sketches From the Life of Paul, pp. 208, 209).”
The biblical passage in question, Acts 21:17-26, makes no mention of the offerings they (Paul and those who came with him) brought to the church in Judah. It is also uncertain as to who it was that arrived in Jerusalem with the Apostle Paul. The ‘we’ in verse 17 does indicate that the author of the Book of Acts, who is believed to have been Dr. Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke, was one of those that was with Paul as this appears to be a ‘first person’ account.
What is more troubling is that lessons such as this have been written under the guise of being ‘bible study’ but have included questionable non-biblical supporting references from someone who is known to have plagiarized her writing from non-inspired sources.
Furthermore, this very same Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-21) that Paul was standing before years earlier resolved the issue of whether or not Gentiles and Jews who worshiped in predominantly Gentile churches had any need to follow the commandments of God as they were expressed in the now obsolete Old Covenant Mosaic Law.
James’ summary at this council:
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,·but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.·For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21)
Any conclusions we make concerning whether or not to pattern our lives after anything found within the Mosaic law of the Old Covenant as we study the Epistle of James must conform to what James said here to the Apostle Paul and those with him.
Day Four, Tuesday, Sept. 30: James and the Gospel
This is the first sentence of the Ellen White quote used in the lesson to set today’s theme:
“Unfortunately, perhaps because of Luther’s influence, many Christians have been unable to see the important message James’s epistle contains.”
The following statement taken from the lesson reveals one of the great errors of Adventist theology:
“As we will see, the act of believing, in itself, is of little avail; true faith car-ries certain recognizable credentials. That is, true faith will be revealed in the life and character of the believer.”
The deception of the above quote is that even though one could agree with everything said it does not address the question of; what is true faith or what is the source of true faith? Yes, another person should be able to tell you are a Christian by the way you behave. Yet, it is certainly possible to behave ‘in the right way’ and not be in the kingdom of God. Jesus clearly said you must be “born again” (John 3:1-21) before you can join the kingdom of God. And, Jesus said that it is not possible for a sinner to do anything to cause this to happen. The outward demonstration of Christian living is the result of having true faith founded solely upon the gospel message of Jesus Christ and his gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit who causes our dead human spirit to be born again.
James in this epistle does not define what the gospel is or how to become a true Believer since they are already Christians who don’t need to learn what they already know and have experienced in their own lives. At the times when the Apostle Paul appeared before the Council of Jerusalem, of which James was an important member, the Council fully supported the ministry and preaching of Paul. The Epistle of James simply puts forth practical advice on the conduct of those who are Jewish true Believers with the implication that Gentile Believers would do well to follow the same instructions.
Day Five, Wednesday, Oct. 1: To the Twelve Tribes Scattered Abroad
Speculation is made concerning the meaning of the phrase; “the twelve tribes” as in “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion”.
The lesson phrase “so, “the twelve tribes” probably refers to Christians as a whole” is a bit of nonsense. While Gentile Christians can find much in this epistle to apply to their lives it was originally and Specificatlly addressed to the needs of Jewish Christians who have embarked upon a whole new way of living to encourage them in their New Covenant spiritual growth. In Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, it always uses this phrase to refer to the twelve tribes of promise of the nation of Israel. And, in the “Dispersion” could only refer to the Hebrew people scattered abroad from their homeland.
The lesson refers to Acts 15:1-6 about whether or not Gentile Christians needed “to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses” which was something already not being required of the Gentile Believers. Keep in mind that unless you were circumcised you were not allowed to keep any part of the Law of Moses. Nor could you claim any of the promises God made with the Hebrew people under the Old Covenant given at Sinai. The Apostle Peter had this to say at this council:
And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.·And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,·and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.·Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?·But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:7-11)
The Gentiles were saved apart from being circumcised and keeping the Law of Moses. Peter declares none of the Hebrew people have ever been able to keep this law and he says even “we” (Jews) are saved in the very same as the Gentiles. God does not have a double standard. All those who are saved are saved for one reason only. Their sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, 1 Cor. 15:1-5 & Gal. 1:9.
Day Six, Thursday, Oct. 2: James and Jesus
Today the Epistle of James is being compared to The Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew by providing three sets of verses where we are expected to summarize the words of Jesus versus what is recorded by James.
It is interesting how both Jesus and James said some of the same things however this is not a summary of what either Jesus or James had to say.
A summary means to take into consideration everything thing said by both Jesus and James and then attempt to reduce their words into a short statement of what each is teaching. One should first analyze all of the major points found in the Sermon on the Mount before comparing that to what is recorded in the Epistle of James.
We have reason to expect the teaching of Jesus and James to have important commonalities however this isn’t what is being accomplished. It would be like saying apricots and oranges have commonalities because they are both fruit and have the color of orange. Another person could respond by saying; “Well one has a center pit and the other has many seeds, so what”?
The lesson author has the appearance of having an unstated agenda but does provide what appears to be a good reference for those who wish to pursue research on this theme.
Day Seven, Friday, Oct. 3: Further Study
Instead of being a ‘further study’ of this week’s introduction to the Epistle of James today’s lesson focuses on a quote made by Ellen G. White.
Please read this quote in the lesson and then compare it against what Scripture actually has to say.
Here are the actual biblical references alluded to in the Ellen White quote:
And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” (Mark 6:4)
In the above verse nothing is said about what his family may have been thinking or saying. While the passage found in Luke 4:14-30 does give us more information about how Jesus was received in his hometown, it adds nothing about the reaction or thinking of his own family when Jesus read this passage to the gathering at the synagogue:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; (Isaiah 61:1-2)
Then Jesus said; “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”, Luke 4:21. By this Jesus declared he was the Messiah. It was for saying this that he was rejected by the townspeople who attempted to throw him down a cliff.
Scripture does not support the things Ellen White said about the brothers of Jesus. Scripture alone must be our source for knowing the inspired truth of God.