A group of us have been on the Isle of Cumbrae staying at the Cathedral of the Isles for the last four days. During our time away we explored the writings of The Epistle of James. It is always a joy to visit Millport and to stay at the Cathedral, which is one of the Episcopal Church's hidden gems. Look it up and you'll see what I mean.
Below is the introduction that I gave to begin the retreat:
a retreat for the Church of the Good Shepherd
based on the Epistle of James
When you first read the Epistle of James it can seem as though it is just a string of random thoughts clumped together by their author in order to create an epistle. In fact some scholars think that this is the case. Martin Luther famously called this epistle an ‘epistle of straw’ . Luther, however, like many other theologians changed his mind on deeper study of this epistle. He discovered a greater depth and cohesion with repeated reading than he did when first read it. This was my initial response years ago to this epistle as well but as time has gone on I have found myself drawn back to this piece of Scripture and have discovered that it contains many pearls of wisdom.
Quite who James was has had theologians debating for centuries but with recent studies it would appear that he was most likely to have been James the brother of Jesus and leader of the Church in Jerusalem. It also seems to be apparent that this epistle was written for a Jewish audience of Christians living outside Palestine because of persecution, sometime towards the end of the first century BCE. As with so many Biblical books the exact origins of this epistle are shrouded with mystery but thankfully not the content it expresses. The Epistle of James, despite being called an epistle or letter is more of a collection of essays grouped together to give the persecuted readers hope and encouragement in their time of need.
The writings of James are considered to be New Testament Wisdom writings akin to those in the Old Testament such as Proverbs and Sirach. If nothing else, as I see it, this epistle is first and foremost a collection of common sense writings. As such it was probably not written for one group “per se” but to many different groups dispersed by persecution. This epistle would have been copied and passed round the various parties as a means of keeping them in touch with each other and offering solidarity in the time of crisis. I suppose this epistle could be compered to a Christmas round robin!
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