Matt Valler's picture

A different story altogether (James)

James is almost certainly written by James the Just (thought to be the brother of Jesus) who led the church in Jerusalem. His was a very Jewish form of Christianity, shown by his opening address to the twelve, scattered tribes of Israel. As with Paul in Romans, James writes in the shadow of the Law of Moses. But reading between the lines, it’s pretty clear that James takes a very different view of justification to Paul. And he writes in part to rebut Paul’s ideas.

As I argued in my post on Romans, when Paul talks about ‘justification by faith’ he doesn’t mean what we generally think he means – normally something around how we get right with God. The question on the lips of the Jews was ‘how are we justified in believing we are the People of God when the Kingdom of God still hasn’t arrived?’ Which is really another way of asking how the dream still has any credibility after 600 years of foreign occupation? The standard answer was: we’ve got the Law. It’s the best blueprint for life and if we keep it then eventually we’ll be vindicated in our hope.

In Romans, Paul challenges the idea that the Law can justify this hope. To cut a complex argument short, he says the Law can’t save you, because the more you cling to it, the more it exposes how much you don’t keep it. But we are justified, he goes on. By faith. Not primarily by our faith, but by God’s faith in Jesus as a hope for our future. We’re justified in believing that we are the People of God because Jesus has redeemed humankind with his life. If Jesus can do it, says God, then so can we!


Community of Readers's picture

Episode #48: Keeping faith

The second half of the book of Daniel exposes a world in a space and time far from the Babylonian governor. This apocalyptic cauldron cooks up an account of Israel's experience that gives meaning to her darkest days. So what insight does Daniel bring to our world of beast-like superpowers? And what new ideas will be birthed as we hammer out the future of our faith?


Monkey's picture

The MonkeyBar Challenge Week 48

Hi everyone,

Daniel begins today as we're on our way out of the prophets. And in the New Testament there's four letters in seven days. Keep it going.

26 Nov: Dan 1:1 – 2:23; Psalm 134:1 – 3; 1 Peter 5:1 – 5:14
27 Nov: Dan 2:24 – 3:12; Psalm 135:1 – 12; 2 Peter 1:1 – 1:21
28 Nov: Dan 3:13 – 4:18; Proverbs 29:1 – 9; 2 Peter 2:1 – 2:22
29 Nov: Dan 4:19 – 5:16; Psalm 135:13 – 21; 2 Peter 3:1 – 3:18
30 Nov: Dan 5:17 – 6:28; Psalm 136:1 – 12; 1 John 1:1 – 2:11
1 Dec: Dan 7:1 – 8:14; Psalm 136:13 – 26; 1 John 2:12 – 2:27
2 Dec: Dan 8:15 – 9:19; Proverbs 29:10 – 18; 1 John 2:28 – 3:10

Have a great week!
Monkey


Community of Readers's picture

Episode #47: Opportunity in exile

Daniel is not just the story of four brave young men. It is a whole new moment in the story so far. Now in the shadow of a foreign empire, how should the people of Yahweh live? In this brave new world, with strange gods and alien customs can Israel survive? Most unlikely of all, could faith in Yahweh thrive?


Matt Valler's picture

When you pass through the waters

I’ve been reflecting recently on the exorcism at Gerasa (Luke 8:26-39) in which Jesus heals a man possessed by a whole horde of demons and the story of Peter at Cornelius' house (Acts 10) in which faith comes to the Gentiles for the first time. They are not stories that seem to naturally go together (even in the account of Luke-Acts of which they are both a part). But perhaps they should. And here’s why.

The thing about this particular exorcism which is almost always ignored is that the scene is laden with Roman imagery. Gerasa was a big Roman military base, whose symbol was a boar - a provocative symbol of anti-Jewish Gentile piggery, a profoundly deep 'uncleanness'. Then the demon is called 'Legion' - the name for an army battalion. It actually makes a lot of sense to tell the story as... In the heart of a highly militarised area, Jesus drives 'Legion' into a herd of pigs and they are drowned in the sea, just like the Egyptian 'pigs' get drowned in the Exodus story - those archetypal imperial gentile oppressors. In other words, Jesus just symbolically exorcised the Romans from the Promised Land! And that's why the people all crapped themselves and begged him to leave (8:37).


Monkey's picture

The MonkeyBar Challenge Week 47

Hi everyone,

Nearly there, at the end of the year... but this week at the end of Ezekiel. And in the New Testament we're about to whip through a load of smaller letters again.

19 Nov: Ezek 36:1 – 37:28; Psalm 129:1 – 8; James 3:1 – 3:18
20 Nov: Ezek 38:1 – 39:29; Proverbs 28:7 – 17; James 4:1 – 4:17
21 Nov: Ezek 40:1 – 40:49; Psalm 130:1 – 8; James 5:1 – 5:20
22 Nov: Ezek 41:1 – 42:20; Psalm 131:1 – 3; 1 Peter 1:1 – 2:3
23 Nov: Ezek 43:1 – 44:31; Psalm 132:1 – 18; 1 Peter 2:4 – 2:25
24 Nov: Ezek 45:1 – 46:24; Proverbs 28:18 – 28; 1 Peter 3:1 – 3:22
25 Nov: Ezek 47:1 – 48:35; Psalm 133:1 – 3; 1 Peter 4:1 – 4:19

Enjoy!
Monkey


Community of Readers's picture

Episode #46: New vision

Ezekiel is one of the strangest works of the Old Testament. To understand it we have to enter into a different world. Here we journey with the Israelite exiles as they face the departure of Yahweh and marvel at their courage as they find new vision for the future. But the undercurrents matter. Because the vision will shape the future, for good or ill.


Monkey's picture

The MonkeyBar Challenge Week 46

Hi everyone,

It's been a long slog but this is not the time to give up! Keep on swinging and we'll reach the end in no time!! Ezekiel awaits - and Hebrews, then James.

12 Nov: Ezek 22:23 – 23:49; Proverbs 27:15 – 22; Heb 11:1 – 11:16
13 Nov: Ezek 24:1 – 25:17; Psalm 124:1 – 8; Heb 11:17 – 11:40
14 Nov: Ezek 26:1 – 27:36; Psalm 125:1 – 5; Heb 12:1 – 12:13
15 Nov: Ezek 28:1 – 29:21; Psalm 126:1 – 6; Heb 12:14 – 12:29
16 Nov: Ezek 30:1 – 31:18; Proverbs 27:23 – 28:6; Heb 13:1 – 13:25
17 Nov: Ezek 32:1 – 33:22; Psalm 127:1 – 5; James 1:1 – 1:27
18 Nov: Ezek 33:21 – 35:15; Psalm 128:1 – 6; James 2:1 – 2:26

Enjoy!
Monkey


Freed to lead - Philemon

Philemon is, at first sight, an odd little book. Sitting at the fag end of Paul’s letters, it is an obviously personal letter about a personal matter, that appears to be without much relevance to the wider Christian community. Certainly there is nothing to immediately suggest it deserves a place alongside the dense theology of Romans, Galatians or Colossians, or the pastoral importance of Corinthians or Timothy. How, one might ask, did Philemon’s measly twenty-two verses make it into the canon of scripture?

Yet despite these first impression, Philemon it has attracted some grandiose claims. It has been variously described as “the most intriguing and beguiling of all Paul’s letters”, “a ticking time bomb”, a “revolutionary tract”.

So which is it? Irrelevance or importance? Insignificance or consequence?


Community of Readers's picture

Episode #45: Poetic imagination

The psalms possess a power unknown to prose. As they paint pictures with a pulse they expand the Israelites' minds and hearts. But they also reshape theology in deeply creative ways. What do these psalms teach us about imaginative faith? And how can we live them in our modern world?