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42

CHAPTER IV.
THE PERSONS ADDRESSED IN THE EPISTLE;
THE JEWS OF THE DISPERSION.

"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion, greeting."—James i. 1.

THESE words appear to be both simple and plain. At first sight there would seem to be not much room for any serious difference of opinion as to their meaning. The writer of the letter writes as "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," i.e. as a Christian, "to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion," i.e. to the Jews who are living away from Palestine. Almost the only point which seems to be open to doubt is whether he addresses himself to all Jews, believing and unbelieving, or, as one might presume from his proclaiming himself at the outset to be a Christian, only to those of his fellow-countrymen who, like himself, have become "servants of the Lord Jesus Christ." And this is a question which cannot be determined without a careful examination of the contents of the Epistle.

And yet there has been very great difference of opinion as to the persons whom St. James had in his mind when he wrote these words. There is not only the triplet of opinions which easily grow out of the question just indicated, viz. that the letter is addressed 43 to believing Jews only, to unbelieving Jews only, and to both: there are also the views of those who hold that it is addressed to Jewish and Gentile Christians regarded separately, or to the same regarded as one body, or to Jewish Christians primarily, with references to Gentile Christians and unconverted Jews, or finally to Gentile Christians primarily, seeing that they, since the rejection of Jesus by the Jews, are the true sons of Abraham and the rightful inheritors of the privileges of the twelve tribes.

In such a Babel of interpretations it will clear the ground somewhat if we adopt once more2424   See The Pastoral Epistles in this series, pp. 285-6. as a guiding principle the common-sense canon of interpretation laid down by Hooker (Eccles. Pol. V. lix. 2), that "where a literal construction will stand, the farthest from the letter is commonly the worst." A literal construction of the expression "the twelve tribes of the Dispersion" will not only stand, but make excellent sense. Had St. James meant to address all Christians, regarded in their position as exiles from their heavenly home, he would have found some much plainer way of expressing himself. There is nothing improbable, but something quite the reverse, in the supposition that the first overseer of the Church of Jerusalem, who, as we have seen, was "a Hebrew of Hebrews," wrote a letter to those of his fellow-countrymen who were far removed from personal intercourse with him. So devoted a Jew, so devout a Christian, as we know him to have been, could not but take the most intense interest in all who were of Jewish blood, wherever they might dwell, especially such as had learned to believe in Christ, above all when he knew that they were suffering from habitual oppression 44 and ill-treatment. We may without hesitation decide that when St. James says "the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion" he means Jews away from their home in Palestine, and not Christians away from their home in heaven. For what possible point would the Dispersion (ἡ διασπορά) have in such a metaphor? Separation from the heavenly home might be spoken of as banishment, or exile, or homelessness, but not as "dispersion." Even if we confined ourselves to the opening words, we might safely adopt this conclusion, but we shall find that there are numerous features in the letter itself which abundantly confirm it.

It is quite out of place to quote such passages as the sealing of "the hundred and forty and four thousand ... out of every tribe of the children of Israel" (Rev. vii. 4-8), or the city with "twelve gates, ... and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel" (Rev. xxi. 12). These occur in a book which is symbolical from the first chapter to the last, and therefore we know that the literal construction cannot stand. The question throughout is not whether a given passage is to be taken literally or symbolically, but what the passage in question symbolizes. Nor, again, can St. Peter's declaration that "ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (1 Pet. ii. 9), be considered as at all parallel. There the combination of expressions plainly shows that the language is figurative; and there is no real analogy between an impassioned exhortation, modelled on the addresses of the Hebrew prophets, and the matter-of-fact opening words of a letter. The words have the clear ring of nationality, and there is nothing whatever added to them to turn the simple note into the complex sound of 45 a doubtful metaphor. As Davidson justly remarks, "The use of the phrase twelve tribes is inexplicable if the writer intended all believers without distinction. The author makes no allusion to Gentile converts, nor to the relation between Jew and Gentile incorporated into one spiritual body."

Let us look at some of the features which characterize the Epistle itself, and see whether they bear out the view which is here advocated, that the persons addressed are Israelites in the national sense, and not as having been admitted into the spiritual "Israel of God" (Gal. vi. 16).

(1) The writer speaks of Abraham as "our father," without a hint that this is to be understood in any but the literal sense. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?" (ii. 21). St. Paul, when he speaks of Abraham as "the father of all them that believe," clearly indicates this (Rom. iv. 11). (2) The writer speaks of his readers as worshipping in a "synagogue" (ii. 2), which may possibly mean that, just as St. James and the Apostles continued to attend the Temple services after the Ascension, so their readers are supposed to attend the synagogue services after their conversion. But at least it shows that the writer, in speaking of the public worship of those whom he addresses, naturally uses a word (συναγωγή) which had then, and continues to have, specially Jewish associations, rather than one (ἐκκλησία) which from the first beginnings of Christianity was promoted from its old political sphere to indicate the congregations, and even the very being, of the Christian Church. (3) He assumes that his readers are familiar not only with the life of Abraham (ii. 21, 23), but of Rahab (25), the 46 prophets (v. 10), Job (11), and Elijah (17). These frequent appeals to the details of the Old Testament would be quite out of place in a letter addressed to Gentile converts. (4) God is spoken of under the specially Hebrew title of "the Lord of Sabaoth" (v. 4); and the frequent recurrence of "the Lord" throughout the Epistle (i. 7; iii. 9; iv. 10, 15; v. 10, 11, 15) looks like the language of one who wished to recall the name Jehovah to his readers. (5) In discountenancing swearing (v. 12) Jewish forms of oaths are taken as illustrations. (6) The vices which are condemned are such as were as common among the Jews as among the Gentiles—reckless language, rash swearing, oppression of the poor, covetousness. There is little or nothing said about the gross immorality which was rare among the Jews, but was almost a matter of course among the Gentiles. St. James denounces faults into which Jewish converts would be likely enough to lapse; he says nothing about the vices respecting which heathen converts, such as those at Corinth, are constantly warned by St. Paul. (7) But what is perhaps the most decisive feature of all is that he assumes throughout that for those whom he addresses the Mosaic Law is a binding and final authority. "If ye have respect of persons, ye commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. ... If thou dost not commit adultery, but killest, thou art become a transgressor of the law" (ii. 9-11). "He that speaketh against a brother, or judgeth his brother, speaketh against the law, and judgeth the law" (iv. 11).

Scarcely any of these seven points, taken singly, would be at all decisive; but when we sum them up together, remembering in how short a letter they occur, and when we add them to the very plain and simple language 47 of the address, we have an argument which will carry conviction to most persons who have no preconceived theory of their own to defend. And to this positive evidence derived from the presence of so much material that indicates Jewish circles as the destined recipients of the letter, we must add the strongly confirmatory negative evidence derived from the absence of anything which specially points either to Gentile converts or unconverted heathen. We may therefore read the letter as having been written by one who had been born and educated in a thoroughly Jewish atmosphere, who had accepted the Gospel, not as cancelling the Law, but as raising it to a higher power; and we may read it also as addressed to men who, like the writer, are by birth and education Jews, and, like him, have acknowledged Jesus as their Lord and the Christ. The difference between writer and readers lies in this, that he is in Palestine, and they not; that he appears to be in a position of authority, whereas they seem for the most part to be a humble and suffering folk. All which fits in admirably with the hypothesis that we have before us an Epistle written by the austere and Judaic-minded James the Just, written from Jerusalem, to comfort and warn those Jewish Christians who lay remote from his personal influence.

That it is Jewish Christians, and not unbelieving Jews, or Jews whether believing or not, who are addressed, is not open to serious doubt. There is not only the fact that St. James at the outset proclaims himself to be a Christian (i. 1), but also the statement that the wealthy oppressors of his poor readers "blaspheme the honourable Name by which ye are called," or more literally "which was called upon you," viz. the Name of Christ. Again, the famous 48 paragraph about faith and works assumes that the faith of the readers and the faith of the writer is identical (ii. 7, 14-20). Once more, he expressly claims them as believers when he writes, "My brethren, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons" (ii. 1). And if more be required, we have it in the concluding exhortations: "Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.... Stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (v. 7, 8).

Whether or no there are passages which glance aside at unbelieving Jews, and perhaps even some which are directly addressed to them, cannot be decided with so much certainty; but the balance of probability appears to be on the affirmative side in both cases. There probably are places in which St. James is thinking of unbelieving Israelites, and one or more passages in which he turns aside and sternly rebukes them, much in the same way as the Old Testament prophets sometimes turn aside to upbraid Tyre and Sidon and the heathen generally. "Do not the rich oppress you, and themselves drag you before the judgment-seats?" (ii. 6), seems to refer to rich unconverted Jews prosecuting their poor Christian brethren before the synagogue courts, just as St. Paul did when he was Saul the persecutor (Acts ix. 2). And "Do not they blaspheme the honourable Name by which ye are called?" can scarcely be said of Christians. If the blasphemers were Christians they would be said rather to blaspheme the honourable Name by which they themselves were called. There would lie the enormity—that the name of Jesus Christ had been "called upon them," and yet they blasphemed it. And when we come to look at the matter in detail we shall find reason for believing that the 49 stern words at the beginning of chapter v. are addressed to unbelieving Jews. There is not one word of Christian, or even moral, exhortation in it; it consists entirely of accusation and threatening, and in this respect is in marked contrast to the equally stern words at the beginning of chapter iv., which are addressed to worldly and godless Christians.

To suppose that the rich oppressors so often alluded to in the Epistle are heathen, as Hilgenfeld does, confuses the whole picture, and brings no compensating advantage. The heathen among whom the Jews of the Dispersion dwelt in Syria, Egypt, Rome, and elsewhere, were of course, some of them rich, and some of them poor. But wealthy Pagans were not more apt to persecute Jews, whether Christians or not, than the needy Pagan populace. If there was any difference between heathen rich and poor in this matter, it was the fanatical and plunder-seeking mob, rather than the contemptuous and easy-going rich, who were likely to begin a persecution of the Jews, just as in Russia or Germany at the present time. And St. James would not be likely to talk of "the Lord of Sabaoth" (v. 4) in addressing wealthy Pagans. But the social antagonism so often alluded to in the Epistle, when interpreted to mean an antagonism between Jew and Jew, corresponds to a state of society which is known to have existed in Palestine and the neighbouring countries during the half-century which preceded the Jewish war of A.D. 66-70. (Comp. Matt. xi. 5; xix. 23, 24; Luke i. 53; vi. 20, 24; xvi. 19, 20.) During that period the wealthy Jews allied themselves with the Romans, in order more securely to oppress their poorer fellow-countrymen. And seeing that the Gospel in the first instance spread chiefly among the poor, this social 50 antagonism between rich and poor Jews frequently became an antagonism between unbelieving and believing Jews. St. James, well aware of this state of things, from personal experience in Judæa, and hearing similar things of the Jews of the Dispersion in Syria, reasonably supposes that this unnatural tyranny of Jew over Jew prevails elsewhere also, and addresses all "the twelve tribes which are of the Diaspora" on the subject.2525   See Salmon, Introduction to the N.T., p. 502, 4th ed. (Murray, 1889); Renan, L'Antechrist, p. xii.; Ewald, History of Israel, vol. vii., p. 451, Eng. Tr. (Longmans, 1885); Weiss, Introduction to the N.T., vol. ii., pp. 102-3 (Hodder and Stoughton, 1888). In any case his opportunities of knowing a very great deal respecting Jews in various parts of the world were large. Jews from all regions were constantly visiting Jerusalem. But the knowledge which he must have had respecting the condition of things in Palestine and Syria would be quite sufficient to explain what is said in this Epistle respecting the tyranny of the rich over the poor.

The Diaspora,2626   See the immense amount of information collected in Schürer, The Jewish People in the Time of Christ, div. ii., vol. ii., pp. 219-327; also Westcott's article "Dispersion," in Smith's Dict. of Bible; Herzog and Plitt, Real-Encykl., vol. vii., pp. 203-8; and esp. Philo, Legat. ad Caium. or Dispersion of the Jews throughout the inhabited world, had been brought about in various ways, and had continued through many centuries. The two chief causes were forcible deportation and voluntary emigration. It was a common policy of Oriental conquerors to transport whole populations, in order more completely to subjugate them; and hence the Assyrian and Babylonian conquerors of Israel carried away great multitudes of Jews to the East, sending Eastern populations to take their place. Pompey on a much smaller 51 scale transported Jewish captives to the West, carrying hundreds of Jews to Rome. But disturbances in Palestine, and opportunities of trade elsewhere, induced large multitudes of Jews to emigrate of their own accord, especially to the neighbouring countries of Egypt and Syria; and the great commercial centres in Asia Minor, Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, Miletus, Pergamus, Cyprus, and Rhodes contained large numbers of Jews. While Palestine was the battle-field of foreign armies, and while newly founded towns were trying to attract population by offering privileges to settlers, thousands of Jews preferred the advantages of a secure home in exile to the risks which attended residence in their native country.

At the time when this Epistle was written three chief divisions of the Dispersion were recognized—the Babylonian, which ranked as the first, the Syrian, and the Egyptian. But the Diaspora was by no means confined to these three centres. About two hundred years before this time the composer of one of the so-called Sibylline Oracles could address the Jewish nation, and say, "But every land is full of thee,—aye and every ocean."2727   Πᾶσα δὲ γαῖα σέθεν πλήρης καὶ πᾶσα θάλασσα. And there is abundance of evidence, both in the Bible and outside it, especially in Josephus and Philo, that such language does not go beyond the limits of justifiable hyperbole. The list of peoples represented at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, "from every nation under heaven," tells one a great deal (Acts ii. 5-11. Comp. xv. 21, and 1 Macc. xv. 15-24). Many passages from Josephus might be quoted (Ant. XI. v. 2; XIV. vii. 2; Bell. Jud. II. xvi. 4; VII. iii. 3), as stating in general terms the same fact. But perhaps no original 52 authority gives us more information than Philo, in his famous treatise On the Embassy to the Emperor Caius, which went to Rome (c. A.D. 40) to obtain the revocation of a decree requiring the Jews to pay divine homage to the Emperor's statue. In that treatise we read that "Jerusalem is the metropolis, not of the single country of Judæa, but of most countries, because of the colonies which she has sent out, as opportunity offered, into the neighbouring lands of Egypt, Phœnicia, Syria, and Cœlesyria, and the more distant lands of Pamphylia and Cilicia, most of Asia, as far as Bithynia and the utmost corners of Pontus; likewise unto Europe, Thessaly, Bœotia, Macedonia, Ætolia, Attica, Argos, Corinth, with the most parts and best parts of Greece. And not only are the continents full of Jewish colonies, but also the most notable of the islands—Eubœa, Cyprus, Crete—to say nothing of the lands beyond the Euphrates. For all, excepting a small part of Babylon and those satrapies which contain the excellent land around it, contain Jewish inhabitants. So that if my country were to obtain a share in thy clemency it would not be one city that would be benefited, but ten thousand others, situated in every part of the inhabited world—Europe, Asia, Libya, continental and insular, maritime and inland" (De Legat. ad Caium xxxvi., Gelen., pp. 1031-32). It was therefore an enormous circle of readers that St. James addressed when he wrote "to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion," although it seems to have been a long time before his letter became known to the most important of the divisions of the Diaspora, viz. the Jewish settlement in Egypt, which had its chief centre in Alexandria. We may reasonably suppose that it was the Syrian division which he had chiefly in view 53 in writing, and it was to them, no doubt, that the letter in the first instance was sent. It is of this division that Josephus writes that, widely dispersed as the Jewish race is over the whole of the inhabited world, it is most largely mingled with Syria on account of its proximity, and especially in Antioch, where the kings since Antiochus had afforded them undisturbed tranquillity and equal privileges with the heathen; so that they multiplied exceedingly, and made many proselytes (Bell. Jud. VII. iii. 3).

The enormous significance of the Dispersion as a preparation for Christianity must not be overlooked. It showed to both Jew and Gentile alike that the barriers which had hedged in and isolated the hermit nation had broken down, and that what had ceased to be thus isolated had changed its character. A kingdom had become a religion. What henceforth distinguished the Jews in the eyes of all the world was not their country or their government, but their creed, and through this they exercised upon those among whom they were scattered an influence which had been impossible under the old conditions of exclusiveness. They themselves also were forced to understand their own religion better. When the keeping of the letter of the Law became an impossibility, they were compelled to penetrate into its spirit; and what they exhibited to the heathen was not a mere code of burdensome rites and ceremonies, but a moral life and a worship in spirit and truth. The universality of the services of the synagogue taught the Jew that God's worship was not confined to Jerusalem, and their simplicity attracted proselytes who might have turned away from the complex and bloody liturgies of the Temple. Even in matters of detail the services in the synagogue prepared 54 the way for the services of the Christian Church. The regular lessons—read from two divisions of Scripture, the antiphonal singing, the turning towards the east, the general Amen of the whole congregation, the observance of the third, sixth, and ninth hours as hours of prayer, and of one day in seven as specially holy—all these things, together with some others which have since become obsolete, meet us in the synagogue worship, as St. James knew it, and in the liturgies of the Christian Church, which he and the Apostles and their successors helped to frame. Thus justice once more became mercy, and a punishment was turned into a blessing. The captivity of the Jew became the freedom of both Jew and Gentile, and the scattering of Israel was the gathering in of all nations unto God. "He hath scattered abroad; He hath given to the poor: His righteousness abideth for ever" (Ps. cxii. 9; 2 Cor. ix. 9).


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