James, a transitional primer echoing the words of Jesus and Proverbs to Jewish people

This is a draft version of an article I am writing on James. It is not yet finished, but has enough information in it so far that it can be valuable as is until I can finish it. Last updated 3-23-2023


I have been thinking about the book of James for a long time. Specifically I attended a translation workshop on the book, helped Mixtec speakers translate it into Tezoatlán Mixtec and Ayutla Mixtec of Mexico and have checked the book as a consultant in several other Mexican languages. All the preparation, exegesis, study, translating, checking, etc. brought about having a number of questions about the book and its purpose. The most basic issue, and a key to resolving many of the other questions and translating the book accurately, is trying to determine who James’ intended audience is.

Some of the answers to this question of the target audience, and the ways it has affected how I understand James’ purpose for writing this book are significantly different than many commentaries I studied and sermons I have heard. So as a result of helping to translate James into two different Mixtec languages, consulting it in various other Mexican languages and further studies, I will share some of these unique conclusions. If in the end you do not agree with my conclusions, that is of course fine, I just ask that you consider the book from this unique perspective.

Who is James writing to?

As mentioned, a key to understanding the book of James is trying to determine who he is writing to. Who is his audience? Many seem to interpret James as if he were writing like Paul, focusing on Gentiles, specifically Christian gentiles. However the thesis of this paper is that his principle audience is Jews, as he states from the very beginning in 1:1: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” Literally he says he is speaking to Jewish people.

Some have taken this phrase as his way of speaking of the “new” Israel, with Christians as the people God has now chosen as His special people. Adding to this interpretation, they say, is that at James’ time, there were not twelve tribes of Israel. Ten had been carried away to Assyria around 720 BC, and only two confirmed tribes are left. However, the fact that James adds, “scattered among the nations” could cover even some people from the “lost” tribes, some of which, though living far away, may still retain some of their Jewishness, and who are still heirs in a special way of the promise God made to Abraham.

Many of the issues James brings up in this book deal directly with the problems that the Jewish people were experiencing as they lived in a Greco-Roman culture. More and more Jewish people, especially those living far away from the religious center of Jerusalem, were moving farther away from the law and the basic moral tenets of being Jewish and were conforming to the world. A prime example of a group of people doing this, even though they were living in the heart of Judea, were the Sadducees, more of a political group than religious who were conforming more to the Greco-Roman culture than being faithful to the law and teaching of Moses.

Much of Paul’s teaching is to keep new Christians from being led away by false teachings and temptations, but the fact is that the same was happening to significant amounts of Jews moving away from the law, especially the moral law, and living like the pagans. The difference between the teachings of James and Paul will be discussed in more detail later, but suffice to say Paul is mainly speaking to Gentiles while James’ message is directed to his fellow Jewish people, focusing his letter on their Jewishness, and not necessarily aiming everything at Christians, specifically Christian gentiles.

James can be viewed as a transition primer, or a bridge from being a “good” Jew to leading them to faith in Jesus. He treats the most basic parts of faith in God, obeying God and living as God taught. James is taking on the misguided idea that just because they are Jews, they are God’s people and saved, without regard to how they live. Like Jesus said in John: “Don’t think that since you are descendants of Abraham, that you will escape.” He wants the listeners to live like God wants, like their ancestors had taught them, without overly focusing on Jesus. Yet!

To get their lives right according to what their Jewish faith teaches, he wants to start with the right foundation. James sets the firm foundation: to follow the two greatest commandments, just as Jesus taught them: “To love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” It would be nice to see James, part 2, where one might expect that he would get to the main point, writing more directly so that they will realize that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that is in the Old Testament, and guide them to give their lives to Him. Then they would understand, as Hebrews explains, and as Paul shows with many OT prophesies, that Jesus is the only way to become right with God.

In fact, if would be more logical if James came before Hebrews in the New Testament. James prepares them to have a closer relationship with God, to obey Him and to love Him and others, then Hebrews goes “straight to the chase” about how Jess is the whole point of the Old Testament. James essentially wants them to be like the Bereans, to search the Scriptures and find that Jesus is the truth, the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

What are the causes of the problems James addresses?

We can theorize of what influences are affecting the people James is speaking to. If they are living where there are synagogues and significant influences of legalism and the type of issues that Jesus faced with the Pharisee and Sadducees, then the people may be going “through the motions” of obeying the law and traditions outwardly, but not living for God in their daily lives, their hearts being far from him. The more likely scenario would be that these Jewish people are living among the Gentiles and are drifting away and being corrupted by the Gentiles just as had happened to their ancestors. Could they be falling into idol worship and many of the sins that the Gentiles revel in?

In contrast to Paul, who is speaking to Gentiles who grew up doing these types of sins, and who see nothing wrong in doing them, James is speaking to people who theoretically know how God wants them to live, whose law, assuming most know more or less what it says, prohibit all these sins. But quite possibly, because of Gentile influence and sinful natures, they are dabbling in these pagan sins. The Jews are mostly aware that they are breaking God’s laws when they sin like this, while the Gentiles think it is all normal to live such a life.

As a result, James purpose in writing the book is to lead them back to even the most basic teachings of how God wants them to live and to relate to Him. Every single verse in James is directly related to his purpose. With the overall goal of eventually bridging this to faith in Jesus.

“If the several passages referring to Christ were eliminated, the whole epistle would be as proper in the canon of the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament. In fact, the epistle could be described as an interpretation of the Old Testament law and the Sermon on the Mount in the light of the Gospel of Christ” (Unger’s Bible Handbook, p. 783)


Related to this question of who James is directing his letter to is the concept of “brothers”, a word he uses at least fifteen times in this short book. (1:2a: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers,”) As a translation consultant, I check what are known as back translations, where someone from a minority language translates the text of the revised and checked translation of a Scripture book “back” into Spanish. For example, a translation in Mixtec may say, “Kúꞌu̱ nda̱ꞌo ini Ndios saꞌa̱ ña̱yuu ndéi ña̱yuú yóꞌo”, and the back translation would be: “God loves very much the people of this world.” I have seen a number of back translation of “brothers” which say, “brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus.” Now this would be okay if it was a letter written by Paul to Gentile Christians, but, is it okay for the book of James which I posit was written to Jewish people, many of whom where not Christians, or at the very least, immature Christians with extremely limited knowledge of Jesus?

It was very common for letters written from a Jewish writer to other Jews to use the term “brothers.” In the New Testament, when one of the apostles is speaking to a group of fellow Jews, it is common to use brothers. In Acts, Peter uses this kind of relational vocative a number of times, for example: Acts 2:14: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem”, 2:22: “Men of Isrel”, 2:29: “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried”, in 3:12 “People of Israel….” 3:17: “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” 4:8: “Rulers and elders of the people!”

While it is true that brothers is also used in Acts to refer as “Christian” brothers, fellow believers, in the context of James, it seems more appropriate to assume that he is writing mainly to fellow Jews, his people, his brothers (and sisters). James, in Acts 15:13 addresses the Jewish assembly with the following way: “Brothers, listen to me.”

Paul is an interesting case in Acts, for many times he knows that he has a mixed audience, speaking to both Jews and Gentiles. In 14:16, in the synagogue, he starts out saying: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!” Then in vs. 26: “Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles,”. Then as he comes to his “climax” he combines them all by saying, “Therefore, my brothers,”. In Acts 22:1, as he is about to share his testimony in Jerusalem to mainly Jews, he starts out saying: “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.” And in 23:1, defending himself before the Jewish council: “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” Finally in 28:17: Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers,”.

(Proverbs is addressed from 10 on, My son.

Paul compared to James

Paul speaks mainly to the Gentiles in the majority of his letters, with a focus on confronting false teachings, many which come from the Judiazers, and trying to build up the church to maturity. Romans is usually the book many point to where Paul seems to have a mixed audience in mind, trying to explain what God did through Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles, with some sections an obvious message to the Jews, and others to the Gentiles.

In considering how the audience and themes James is focusing on is very different than the isues Paul was addressing, it is valuable to discuss Paul’s message to the Gentiles, since James, as has been noted, is not focusing on the Gentiles, but the Jews. Paul has a two part program when speaking to the Gentiles. First and foremost is to present Jesus as the only way to God, God’s way to become right with Him, the perfect sacrifice for sin who died in our place. While we were yet sinners He died for us. He reconciles us to God, He is our righteousness, the fulfillment of all the OT prophecies. He is the foundation, the most basic part of the message. The only faith that leads us to God and eternal life is in Jesus. Trust in Him!

However, Paul is dealing mostly with Gentiles whose whole life have been the complete opposite of doing God’s will, a lifestyle of abandonment to sin and mostly ignorance or disdain for what God commands, coming out of such a pagan background. Paul knows they need a transformation of the heart and mind, not only to put their trust and faith in Jesus but also the power to live a life pleasing to God. He knows and teaches that this is only possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Because of the radical change needed from their old life to their new life, they also are in desperate need of solid teaching on how to live. Throughout Paul’s letters he has at least twelve lists of three or more sins that his experience with the Gentile people he has ministered to need the most correction. Every such list except for one includes at least three sexual sins (James does not deal directly with sex) , and they all also include many relational sins, how to get along, especially when you have new immature congregations that include both Jews and Gentiles, a significant clash of cultures and backgrounds.

This all is complicated by the Judiaizers, who, also knowing how “pagan” the Gentiles are, thinking that Jesus is not enough, are trying to change their “religion”, from pagan to Jewish proselytes, which include a lot of outward rules and laws like circumcision, food regulations, celebrating the Jewish festivals, etc. They are basically treating Jesus as an add-on to making the Gentiles into Jews. Paul rejects this, of course, proclaiming that Jesus is the one and only way to God, and instead of trying to change their lives by changing their religion, he sets out intensely teaching them, “Now that we have faith in Jesus, how then shall we live via the power of the Holy Spirit?” Thus the 12+ lists of the predominate sins he sees them dealing with as he goes from place to place and new church to new church.

James is coming at this from a different perspective. The main people he is writing to, Jews, are the heirs of God’s promises. They have the background of God’s laws and for the most part know how He wants them to live. However, because of some of the factors mentioned earlier, they have drifted away from His perfect law and instructions, be it because of the flesh or Gentile, worldly influence. So he is asking the people to come back to God, to rebuild that foundation that their people have had since Abraham, and as they do this, they will see the need of Jesus. Not Jesus as an add-on to the law, but as the fulfillment of the law, then One the law has been pointing to the whole time. They of course will also need the Holy Spirit to make them new creatures like everyone else, but James writes as though they do have an excellent foundation from which to start from, and if they understand it correctly, it will help lead them to Jesus, both for salvation, and also for a transformed life.

Another interesting point on is that James, though he mentions the law, does not mention any of the ceremonial laws, like circumcision, food laws, festivals, sacrifices, etc. Paul mentions all these things to the Gentiles, but with the point being that they do not have to perform all these because it is not necessary for them to convert o Judaism, but to put their faith in Jesus, and Paul’s instructions and lists help them to know how to live a life pleasing to God. One might think that James, if he is speaking to Jews, might mention them, but his focus in entirely on relationships, their relationship with God (love God), and with other (love your neighbor). It are these moral aspects of the law that James focuses on.

James focuses on their Jewishness like Jesus did

To help understand the form in which James presents his advice and teaching in this book, and to reinforce the idea that it is directed primarily to Jews, consider how Jesus taught his Jewish audience, what things he focused on and said, several which have been already mentioned. Consider especially how Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, people who were sometimes proud, hypocritical and did not always show love to others, issues James is dealing with in this book. Or how John the Baptist spoke to his Jewish audience, or even Peter in Acts, talking to the Jewish people. In James, while some or even many are Christians, he is not focusing on this, he is focusing on their Jewishness, just a Jesus did with the people He spoke to. James is rebuking the people for actions and attitudes which are very similar to the ones Jesus was concerned with.

The following passages represent a few instances where Jesus rebuked the Jewish people in a similar way in which James does:

Hypocrisy: Say you believe in God but do not follow His commands

Mat. 23:23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (Examples in James and/or Proverbs)

Mark 7:6-8: He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.

James 1:22-27, 2:15-17, 3:9-10, 3:14-16, 4:1-6, 4:8, 4:11, 5:1-6

Showing preference

Mat. 23:6: they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synaogues”;

Luke 14:8-10: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.”

Luke 14:12-14: “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward.Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

James 2:1-9, 5:1-6

The concept of faith in James, Paul and Jesus’ teachings

Here is a good place to discuss maybe the most controversial part of James.

2:14-24: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

The problem this passage has caused is based on the misguided idea that James talks about faith in the same way Paul talks about faith in his letters. The previous discussion about Jews and their issues (not Christians per se) being the focus of James’ letter and not Gentile Christians, who are Paul’s main target audience, is why it is so important to understand the great difference between the two authors in regards to audience and goals of their letters. If we suppose that James uses his vocabulary the same as Paul does, then we do his book a great disservice.

The faith that James talks about here is not saving faith, it is a faith that in some ways is closer to belief, as he uses the example of the devil “believing in God” but not serving Him. Jesus Himself said similar things to the Jews when He taught, about how they were not really descendants of Abraham because they did not really believe in God nor follow His commands. In fact, he said the father of the Pharisees was the devil. He said things like them tithing but lacking righteousness, of being hypocrites for so many man-made laws that went against the spirit of what Moses taught. They showed no compassion for the poor, the downtroaden, the “sinners.” They travel across the world to make a convert and this person end of much farther from God than they were to start with. He pointed out the big difference between outwardly keeping the law and having a heart that was far from God. This is exactly what James is doing here. Legalistically keeping the law while having a heart far from God, a heart that does not follow the two commands that Jesus focused on, loving God and loving others, is worthless.

The words James are echoing here are not those of Paul and saving faith in Jesus, but of Jesus Himself, of how true love, faith, trust in God will lead us to serve Him and love others. It will affect our actions. We will not just give the law of Moses lip-service, we will obey it as God directs. The faith here is directed to God, not trying to get them to have faith in Jesus (yet!). Have faith in God! Trust Him! Love Him! Act like you are His people! Move His law from your head and lips to your heart and actions! To obey is better than sacrifice!

All this, as already mentioned, is foundational, it is transitional, to move them closer to God, with the assumption being that in his next letter, put all the focus on Jesus! Martin Luther had a problem with this letter apparently because he was reading it as if Paul was writing. He may have thought differently if he had read it as if Jesus were the One talking, Jesus revealing to the people the heart of God and, in many ways, like John the Baptist, teaching to prepare them for the ultimate truth and power of salvation, which was what He was soon accomplish via the cross and the resurrection. When we read James, let us not read it like we are reading Paul writing to Gentile Christians but read it like Jesus talking to fellow Jews, preparing them to have faith in Him.

Prayer in the Jewish synagogue

Assuming this letter is addressed primarily to Jews and their issues and not directed specifically to Christians, each time James mentions meeting together and about what happens in meetings, he is referring to the Jewish synagogue and not the house churches Paul spoke in and to so much, though of course Paul also spent a lot of time sharing in synagogues. In fact, since many included Jews who formerly had spent their time since childhood there in worship, reading Scripture, prayer, etc., these same patterns were adopted in their Christian form in the house churches. We of course know that in Jesus’ time there was a problem in the synagogues of certain proud people taking the best seats and humiliating those they considered less religious. We see this same favoritism and pride happening in the meetings in the book of James, and he firmly rebukes them for this.

Before adopting the word “synagogue” (place of gathering), these “houses” were known as the “place of prayer.” This began around 250 B.C. but in the first century, “place of gathering” began to replace “place of prayer”, but both were in use during the apostolic age.

This brings us to a passage in James where applying this knowledge is basic to understanding the context. James 5:13-16: Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

While everything mentioned is this passage happened in Christian house churches, it also all happened in synagogues. Prayer, singing songs, calling the elders, confessing sin, praying for others. How does James continue after talking about praying for sick people during these meetings? He gives us the example of a Jewish prophet. James 5:17-18: Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. Many other passages in the Old Testament tell of other similar prayers of Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah prayed for king Hezekiah and he was healed, and so many more. So while this passage in James can apply to house churches, it is the thesis of this paper that this scene is taken from a synagogue.

James is very different than other New Testament books

To show even more some of the differences between James, Paul and other (Gentile-directed) letters in the New Testament, below is a chart of some key words used in a number of NT books of similar size, specifically the keyterms Jesus, Christ and Gospel. The number count is based on the occurrences in the more literal King James version:

Book (KJV)JesusChristGospel
1 Thes18166
1 Tim15171
1 Peter11274

As noted in the chart, the Jesus and Christ are only found twice in the book of James, and both times together. 1:1: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” And 2:1: My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.”

Note that many other words Paul regularly uses are not in this book. At least three of the non-Pauline books also focus their message in on the Jews. Hebrews speaks directly to Jews, but more directly than James, explaining, like Paul, that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Jewish laws and prophecies. The primary audience of Hebrews is obviously Jewish Christians who are suffering.1 and 2 Peter are similar, speaking encouragement to Jewish Christians who are suffering.

References from the Old Testament

Like Paul, James also uses references from the Old Testament in his teaching and correction. James, in Acts 15 and writing the letters to the Gentiles, states that: For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.” The idea being that at least some of the Gentiles who are converts and God-fearers (i.e. Corelius) know a fair amount of the Old Testament and so it can be used to teach certain truths about God to them as well as to Jews. I have mentioned all the similarities to Proverbs. James also lists a number of Old Testament heroes:

Abraham: Someone Paul talks about a lot, in 2:21-23: “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called Godʼs friend.”

Job: 5:11: “You have heard of Jobʼs perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

Elijah: 5:17-18: “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

Rahab: 2:25: “Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road.”

James and Proverbs

Another indication that James is writing with Jewish people in mind is his constant use of terms and ideas of the book of Proverbs. In fact, some have called James the Proverbs of the New Testament. A significant number of the issues the writer of Proverbs addresses are the same issues James addresses. “James is like the book of Proverbs because of its pithy, practical, and pointed counsel regarding the importance of harmonizing one’s walk with one’s talk! Though James is a letter, with its many wise sayings its tone is similar to that of Proverbs.” (f)

Keyterms in James: God (20), Lord (14), faith (16), brothers (15), law (10), Wisdom/wise (7) (3:13-18) Tongue, humble/humility pride/proud, Scripture (4), Religion-Paul does not talk this way. Believe (5)

Truth: James (3), Proverbs (7)

Bless James (3), Proverbs (23)

Proverbs: fear (25), wicked(91) knowledge(40), James know(6)

Anger 27:4, 30:33 and James 1:19-20,

Themes in James, Proverbs, add also from Jesus’ teaching!


The tongue is mentioned a lot in Proverbs and James. Besides talking a lot about lying


6:16: There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes,

a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,

10:19-20: When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value.

13:3 says, “Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.”

15:2: “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.”

15:4: “Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

17:20: A man of perverse heart does not prosper; he whose tongue is deceitful falls into trouble.

18:21: “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the conseuences.”

18:28: Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

21:6: A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare

21:23: “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of troube.”

25:15: Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

25:23: “As surely as a north wind brings rain, so a gossiping tongue causes anger!”

26:28: A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

28:23: He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.

31:26: She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

Also in Proverbs:

Gossip: 11:13, 16:28, 18:8, 20:19, 26:20, 26:22

Lots of verses for: Speak, lips, words, answer

In James:

Tongue 3:1-12

Speak: 1:19, 2:12, 4:11

Word: 1:18-23


James: 3:13-18

Proverbs 59X

God, Lord

James: 14 times in James

Proverbs: (95 times in Proverbs)



Proverbs: 17X faithful, unfaithful

Love lots in Proverbs, in James, 2X those who love God, X1 love others.


James 9X

Proverbs: 23X

Relational problems: i.e. anger, favortism


4:1-2: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.” They Humiliate the poor, (“But you have insulted the poor.”) rich mistreat the poor and their workers, condemned and murdered innocent men, Favoritism: ““Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.

4:11 “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.”

1:19-20: My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

2:1-4: My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

3:9: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

3:14-18 No bitterness and envy in wisdom, peacemakers, impartial, don’t be angry

Add Proverbs relational problems

Anger in Proverbs: (15X) 5:17, 14:4, 15:1, 20:2, 20:16, 21:14, 22:3, 22:24, 27:4, 27:12, 27:13, 29:8, 29:11, 30:33

James 3:2: To say something stupid is the easiest sin to commit, with the least amount of steps to bring it to fruition, it is almost instant. Every other sin needs a few more steps to bring it to fruition. So that is why if a person can top this almost instant sin, they should be able to stop a sin which takes more steps to complete.



1:25: But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

2:8-9: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

2:10-12: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,


8:15: By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just;

28:4: Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them.

28:7: He who keeps the law is a discerning son, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.

28:9: If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.

29:18: Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

31:4-5: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel— not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer,

lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.


Mat. 5:17-19: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Mat. 7:12: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Mat. 12:5: Or havenʼt you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?

Mat. 22:37-40: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Mat. 23:23: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former

Mark 3:4: Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Lk. 6:9: Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

Lk. 16:16: “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.

Jn. 17:19: Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

Jn. 7:23: Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?

Jn. 8:17-18: In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Jn. 10:34-35: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—

15:25: But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’


James (5X should not judge, 5X God is judge) 213 (X2), 4: 11 judgment

Proverbs: King should judge fairly (3X), Judgment (=discernment) 15X

Humble/humility pride/proud


James 4X

Proverbs 3X

Patience/patient (both 4-5X)




James 10X

Proverbs 45X

Mercy about 4 each


James 4:13

Proverbs 27:1


James 5:16

Proverbs: 15:8, 29


James: 2:20: You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?,

4:4: You adulterous people

4:8: Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

4:13: Now listen, you who say

4:14: What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

5:1: Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.

Proverbs: My son(s), others? 1:22, 8:5 you simple ones, 8:4 To you, O men,

Listen… Both have a number of these!



11:28: Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.

18:23 A poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly.

22:1: A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

23:4: Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.

23:5: Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

27:24: riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.

28:6: Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse. 28:11: A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him.

28:20: A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished. 30:8: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.


1:10-11: But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business

2:5-7: Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

5:1-6: Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

Verses of loving God, then verses of loving others

Sex, lots in Paul, lots in Proverbs, not in James?

Added at the end: Keith Green wrote a pamphlet called “What so great about the Gospel,” saying that until people realize how sinful they are, they will not see their need of Jesus. Maybe that is part of what James is doing. We need to see how far we have gotten from God and His law. Once we do that (and this is what he shows in James), then we will realize our great need for Jesus.

(-Could be used with Muslims.)

{Realm of nature

• Wind-tossed waves of the sea (1:6)

• Withering grass and fading flowers (1:10-11)

• Fire (3:5)

• Fountains of water (3:11)

• Figs and olives (3:12)

• Sowing and harvesting (3:18)

• Early and latter rains (5:7)

• Drought (5:17)} Willmington, Harold L., “What You Need to Know About the Book of James” (2010). . 63. https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/will_know/63

The terms religion and religious appear only five times in the entire Bible. Of these

instances, three are found in James’ epistle:

• James 1:26 (twice)

• James 1:27 The usage of religion in 1:27 is the only reference in Scripture where it is used in a

positive way.

Ecclesiastics: The consequences of living a life apart from God

Why is this book in the Bible?

Some ask why the book of Ecclesiastics is even in the Bible? It is kind of depressing in places. But I believe that is the whole point. One way to summarize the book would be to say: “The consequences of living a life apart from God.” If we just live life and take God out of if, some of the things he expresses in the book would be things that we would experience and feel. And we see “God removed” a lot in this world. Even in our own lives, the farther and farther we get away from God, the more we get depressed, the more we focus in on the injustices, the bad. We begin to see life as a burden instead of seeing God in His creation and His glory in so many things.

Ecclesiastics can also be summarized by stating that it presents a worldview of those who ignore God or leave Him out of their lives. We see this so much in our world today. So much hopelessness, suicides, so much bad that is happening in our world. The sentiments echoed in this book are the philosophy and state of mind of so many people. But thank the Lord that we do have a hope. We have a sure firm foundation. As a result, the things that it talks about that bring fear or despair, they will not affect us if we put our faith in Him.

Intro to the book, the author

Ecclesiastics is the Greek name for this book. It is from the Greek, ekklesia, which means church, or assembly, people getting together to worship. The book also refers to the teacher, the leader, the guide, the sage. He is sharing wisdom from a religious perspective.

There is no consensus as to who wrote the book. Most scholars think it was king David’s son who also became king, Solomon, or that the person who wrote it acted like he was Solomon. As is the case for most of the books of the Bible, many theories are put out there as to who wrote it and why. To continue talking about the book, I will assume it was written by Solomon.

If Solomon is the author

1 Kings 3:7-14 is the good place to start: “Now, O LORD my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”

Solomon’s petition, when God asked what he wanted, was for wisdom to govern this people. God is pleased with this request and promises to give him more wisdom than anyone ever has had or ever will have.  Of course it is not the wisdom that God has, it is finite, and it is for a specific purpose. As we read through the book of Ecclesiastics we see that there are times when Solomon wishes he had even more wisdom. That is seen in quite a number of verses, for there are still many, many things that he does not know or understand, and that frustrates him at times. Again, that is true because the wisdom God gave him was for a specific purpose, and not divine, all-knowing wisdom. It was not to the extent, say, that he could answer all the questions God posed to Job in Job 38-41.

We know that despite all this wisdom, there are examples of him doing some very unwise things, such as at the end of his life marrying many foreign women who worship idols. 2 Kings 11:1: Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. 11:4-6: In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the LORD’s sight; he refused to follow the LORD completely, as his father, David, had done.

Solomon took his eyes off the Lord and put his attention and efforts to the false gods of his wives, and we know that these idols cannot give peace, the kind of peace and comfort that only knowing and serving God can give. Those who turn their back on God can become completely confused. The same thing can happen today as we think of the many false gods of this world that people look to instead of the One True God. These false gods do not satisfy, and can lead people down all kinds of paths that are destructive, and can negatively affect their mental health. We can see that happening to Solomon in this book.

I would like to highlight some of these passages where Solomon is expressing what it is like to life a life without God, without His peace, His joy, His comfort, His hope. He tries to understand the world without considering God, or, as we will see, even at times considering God part of the problem. The “god of this world” can confuse us and make life seem worthless. It is probable that Solomon did not understand much about spiritual warfare, or the role of the devil in this world. It is not talked about too much in the Old Testament, other than Genesis 3, Job 1-2, the passage from Isaiah 14:12, etc. In contrast there are well over one hundred verses or more in the New Testament talking about the god of this world, the prince of this world, the confrontations Jesus had with evil spirits, the power satan has over people (Acts 26:19), the devil, the principalities and the powers, etc. For the most part, the people of the Old Testament did not understand this, thus did not understand why there are so many injustices in this world.

Cycles can be good or depressing depending on your perspective

The book starts out, specifically in 1:4-9, talking about things that, depending on your perspective and heart, can either be amazingly wonderful things that God has created and ordered or really tedious depressing cycles that do not go anywhere or accomplish anything. We can think of these verses as referring to circles. Circles that can be good or depressing depending on your perspective. Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.

“Generations come and go. The sun rises and sets then does it all again the next day. The wind blows south then north, in circles. Rivers run into the sea but it is never full.” How does Solomon view these “marvelous, wonderful” happenings? Wearisome beyond description. Never satisfied. Never content. Repeating itself. All down before! Nothing truly new! This is actually a perspective that some have of this world. Their souls are tainted by all the suffering, injustices and wrong in the world. This is especially true when people leave out God or blame God. Again, this is the main theme of Ecclesiastics. What the world is like, what our life is like, if we leave God out of it all.

Chapter three, in one of the best known passages in the book, Solomon reflects on the cycles/circles of a time for everything: a time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

In English many poems rhyme. In Hebrew, one way to get this type of poetic affect is to use parallelism or contrasts. For example, Psalms is full of this, like God being high and lifted up. Two concepts that are practically synonymous. Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus, among others, also uses Hebraic parallelism. In Solomon’s list here, he is using contrasts to form his poetic prose: born/die, plant/harvest, kill/heal, etc. In the following verses he states that while God does make all things beautiful in His time, he concludes in vs. 12-13 that: there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. Solomon is observing the world, and while He knows there is a God, and He has a plan, much of life seems a burden and so people should try and be happy and enjoy themselves. While the theme is living a life without God, at other times it seems like he believes God has ordained to make life difficult, then at others, that fearing God is the best thing.

If Solomon wrote this near the end of his life, then he knew what it was like to be close to God, and what it was like to be far from Him. But if he did come back to God in the end (which even the evilest king Manasseh did, 2 Cron. 33:12-17), then the book of Ecclesiastics could be understood as being written at times from the viewpoint of recognizing God as God, but at other times, what it is like to live a life without taking God into account. At times we see God in a good light, while at others we note a type of fatalism, seeing God as ordaining a rough life and there is nothing we can do about it, as in 3:10: I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. We see quite a lot of bitterness entwined in this book, bitter at God for the way things seem to happen in this world. Despite His wisdom, many times he still just does not get it!

The heavy burden of having too much wisdom

Another thing that jumps out in Ecclesiastics are all the issues that come to his life because of all the wisdom he has. Usually we think of wisdom as only a positive thing, but there can be a lot of bad side-effects of having that much wisdom. Many of these negative aspects of wisdom jumped out to us as we were working on the translation into Mixtec. For example 1:16-18: I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind. The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.

It says he learned everything from wisdom to madness and folly. He was learning not only good amazing things, but also all the awful stuff that there is to be learned. Another way to state this is: “I know all the good, but I also now know all about the evil and vile things of this world.” This is also a dangerous issue that our world is facing today. All the things we are or can be exposed to via television, the internet, video games, social media etc. Shows like “Criminal Minds” and the like expose us to the most awful sides of human nature. Many dark thoughts and ideas enter into our minds. Not to mention many movies, current events and human behavior that the vast majority of people in the past were never openly exposed to. We live in dangerous times, In that aspect, we are probably more “learned”, shall I way “wise” to such a wide array of goings-on than even Solomon. So many things that in the very recent past we could never have even imagined.

Solomon did not always like all this extra wisdom and knowledge that he obtained either, calling it madness and folly. It is like chasing the wind (especially trying to be as wise as God in a positive way). Such wisdom increased his sorrow and grief. As mentioned earlier, his wisdom was for a specific task, to be a good king, and he would never know “everything”, and that became frustrating to him. But not only that, he would learn things that he probably, like many of us, wished he had never been exposed to. As king, he had to judge cases where he learned some of the worst things that people can do. As 1:18 states, he would had rather been in ignorance of these things than to have to consider all the absolutely dark and evil things that people come up with and do.

This lament about having access to all these things probably includes his own pleasure. I have tried everything, had everything a man could possibly want or desire (the most desirable women, riches, power, fame), but none of it truly satisfies (without God). These are some of the negative sides of wisdom, and most likely something that was weighing on him, especially if he looks at it from a human perspective and not God’s. The same thing can happen to us. All these things we are exposed to can weigh us down and depress us. It is hard to escape from it. As king, Solomon was exposed to the best and the worst that the world had to offer. And it obviously negatively affected him as well. One of the most revealing commercials of our culture, and something Solomon faced, is the mantra: “I want it all, and I want it now.” (Even though there was no Dr. Pepper in Solomon’s time.)

The most wise, but still frustrated for all he still does not understand

7:23-25a states: I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, “I am determined to be wise.” But it didn’t work. Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. This verse really brings out his frustrations of only having limited wisdom, wisdom in order to be able to do what God called him to do, and not all-encompassing wisdom, say like the wisdom God has. His wisdom was to govern the people, but there were boundaries to this wisdom. He was wiser than any person living at that time or anyone who would ever live, but he probably still knew next to nothing about spiritual warfare, the depths of the human heart, the answers to the questions in Job 38-41, how to understand a woman, etc. This was very frustrating to him. He wanted wisdom and deeper understanding about many things which were not part of his calling.

Wisdom is not the most important thing, it does not fill the “void”

He was trying to understand things which surpassed or were outside the boundaries of the wisdom God had given him. Wisdom in and of itself cannot satisfy. It cannot fill the void. It cannot replace God in ones life.  So as he got farther way from God, especially in the later part of his life, wisdom, pleasure and all the things he had access to could not satisfy him, could not fulfill the deepest longings of his heart. The same with us. We all have that “void” in our life that can only be filled by God.  Most try to fill it with so many different things (both healthy and unhealthy), but in the end, we will only feel hollow until we put God in His rightful place in our lives. There are many things that we will never understand until we are face-to-face with the Lord. Then we will realize that all those things didn’t really matter anyway. The only thing that matters is knowing Him and being with Him.

Fear God, you will be better off (than I have been recently)

Another theme of the book is fearing God, a concept mentioned six times.  8:12: But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off.  If Solomon wrote this book, and he wrote it toward the end of his life, then he knows the difference between a life lived fearing God, and one lived not fearing God. A hollow life that follows idols which would indicate a time in his life when he did not fear God. A time when he got completely off-track, and that kind of life would lead to a doom and gloom attitude and viewpoint. But now, near the end, he seems to have come to his senses to say that those who fear God are better off.

Eternal life

One final theme I will mention (and I am leaving many out) is the concept of eternal life. Many passages in Ecclesiastics give us the impression that Solomon did not have a strong belief in or understanding of eternal life. This seems to be true of much of the Old Testament. They almost never refer to heaven like in the New Testament, the place that you are waiting for that will bring you into the eternal presence of God. There are many verses in the Old Testament about going to Sheol, which does not seem to be a very hopeful place to go. Solomon gives us the idea that you might as well enjoy life here since Sheol is not going to be much fun. 9:3-4: It seems so tragic that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate. That is why people are not more careful to be good. Instead, they choose their own mad course, for they have no hope. There is nothing ahead but death anyway. There is hope only for the living. As they say, “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!

If a person lives a life without God, without hope, what do they have to live for? Just enjoy things as much as they can while they are alive? Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. This was not only true in the past, but many people in our day feel the same way. In the face of that worldview, may those who know God be a light to show others that there is another way, there is hope, there is something more once we die. Of course we need to continue to reinforce our own faith, to cultivate a strong foundation so that we do not lose hope when things get difficult.

The most important thing: Best to fear God and obey His commands

Solomon ends the book, after talking about a life lived for the most part leaving out God, or a life seeing God as a burden, by saying what one should do. Instead of doing what I did, do this. This could be considered his final conclusion, his main point of the book. Don’t live life like I did for a while, leaving God out of it and doing my own thing. I had access to wisdom, power, riches, fame and all types of pleasure but lost sight of the most important thing. I got bitter in regards to God.  12:13-14: That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. Life can become very depressing if we focus on the evil, the injustices, the questions that fill Psalms, Proverbs and Job where they ask why do the wicked seem to prosper more than the righteous. We can turn our backs on God and get bitter towards him, like what seemingly happened to Solomon. In spite of what we see with our eyes, let us follow this last advice to fear God and follow His commands and not get captured by the snares of the devil and the worthless things of this world.

The rest of the story

In the New Testament we get the rest of the story, of how Jesus came to show us the truth, to fill us with his Holy Spirit and true wisdom. We can be filled with the power to overcome sin, to serve Him and have the blessed assurance of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. All the wonderful things we have access to because of what Jesus did for us.

May we never attempt, to any degree, to leave God out of our lives or let any root of bitterness take hold of us. Keep following Him, fearing Him, obeying His commands and guarding all that Jesus and the rest of His followers teach us in the New Testament. In this way we do have access to more wisdom than Solomon if we apply it to our lives and keep God as the most important part and never turn our backs on Him.