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Of the three men named James in the New Testament, which one wrote the Book of James? And another question: Is James actually a Hebrew name anyway?
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Maurine and Scot Proctor have spent extensive time in the Holy Land, researching the life of Christ. They have taught the New Testament in the Institute program for many years and have written books and numerous articles on the life of the Savior.
Join our study group and let’s delve into the scriptures in a way that is inspiring, expanding and joyful.
Of the three men named James in the New Testament, which one wrote the Book of James? And another question: Is James actually a Hebrew name anyway?
Hello, we are Scot and Maurine Proctor and this is Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast, today on the book of James. Our title is “Be Ye Doers of the Word, and Not Hearers Only.”
The New Testament tells us that there were three leaders in the early Church named James. The first that leaps to mind, of course, is the James of Peter, James and John group, who were the First Presidency of the Church and who accompanied the Lord both to the Mt. of Transfiguration and further in than the rest of the apostles at the Garden of Gethsemane. We know this James well, and the other two James less well.
James and John are brothers, called the Sons of Zebedee, and both were fisherman. This James died fairly early in our story, murdered by Herod Agrippa around A.D. 44.
The second James is sometimes called James the Less, and is another member of the Twelve, whom we don’t know much about. The third James is the half-brother of Jesus, apparently the oldest of the children born after Jesus. He is listed as the first of Jesus siblings in Matthew 13:55—James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas, and his sisters who are not named.
From John 7:2-5, it appears that James did not originally believe that his brother was the Messiah, but at some point had a powerful conversion experience and Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15:7 that James was one of the people to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection. He became an apostle and the first bishop of Jerusalem. Paul calls James one of the “pillars” of the Church (Galatians 2:9). Josephus tells us “that Ananus assembled the Sanhedrin of the juges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others…he delivered them to be stoned.”
The first James was killed before this book was written, so scholars agree that it was James, the brother of Jesus who wrote this epistle.
Many say they see echoes of the Sermon on the Mount in the book of James, with each verse densely packed with life lessons. In fact, hear the echoes of the Sermon on the Mount in this verse from James:
For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth (James 1:11)
And then this verse from the Sermon on the Mount:
“If God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, ashall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30)
What is surprising is that if you had lived at the time of Jesus, you would not have called James, James, but instead the Hebrew name Jacob or (Ya’akov). Jesus’s apostles would have been called “Peter, Jacob, and John.” James is not a Hebrew name. In German Bibles, for instance, James name appears as Jacob. This happened because of linguistic evolution. In early Latin texts his name was rendered as Iacobus, then in Mid-Latin it became Iacomus and eventually James.
When we think of the book of James, our minds jump directly to James 1:5 because it is the scripture that burned in Joseph Smith’s heart and led him to a grove in New York.
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.”
Elder Bruce R. McConkie says, “this single verse of scripture has had a greater impact and a more far reaching effect upon mankind than any other single sentence ever recorded by any prophet in any age. It might well be said that the crowning act of the ministry of James was not his martyrdom for the testimony of Jesus, but his recitation, as guided by the Holy Ghost, of these simple words which led to the opening of the heavens in modern times.”
One unknown farm boy, unremarkable in the world’s eyes, took this scripture seriously and his answer transformed our world.
We call scriptures like this that have led to remarkable revelations “trigger scriptures,” because reading the scripture triggered additional understandings from the heavens and opened the doors for greater things. Joseph read James 1:5 and received the First Vision. While he was working on the translation of the Bible, that we call the JST, Joseph was reading John 5:29 that says the dead “shall come forth; they have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” and he” marveled” and “meditated upon these things (D&C 76:18,19). Was there more to know? This led to the unfolding to Joseph and Sidney Rigdon of the vision of the three degrees of glory or Section 76.
Likewise, President Joseph F. Smith, the prophet, was reading the third and fourth chapters of Peter, about the Lord preaching unto the spirits in prison, and the transcendent vision concerning the Savior’s visit to the world of spirits opened to him.
Reading these scriptures triggered revelation for Joseph Smith and Joseph F. Smith.
I like what Joseph said about James 1:5. “Never did any passage of scripture acome with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know.”
That idea that a scripture comes to you with power and enters with great force into every feeling of your heart. That idea that something you read in scripture could make you ponder and meditate and marvel as we have seen these scriptures do, is a type for us.
President Nelson has asked us to seek more revelation in our lives, and reading the scriptures with this kind of intent and searching is one of our triggers for revelation. Reading and pondering the scriptures opens that door for revelation.
James 1:5 is an equally important message for us. It starts: “If any of you lack wisdom”. That’s addressed to us—because we all lack wisdom on how to manage our lives and how to be. How do we talk to our child who is struggling? What can I do today to bless others? What direction shall I go right now? How do I take care of my body in the best way? How do I find healing for my emotional wounds? How can I be more effective at work? How do I forgive an old offense? What are the solutions to my problems? How do I best serve in my current calling?
We lack wisdom on things of vital import to us. We sometimes feel here on our mortal journey that we are just making this up as we go—for better or worse. Yet, the Lord says, “if any of you lack wisdom.” That’s pretty well everybody. We don’t know what to do or how to be some of the time.
Or much of the time.
Here God, who describes himself as “more intelligent than they all” (Abraham 3:19) invites us to bring our questions to Him whose understanding of our context, issues, problems, situations and blindness are clear to Him. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,
“and upbraideth not” which means, of course, that He won’t be mad at me because I asked. He won’t say, “Well, that was stupid,” or “Come back to me when you have got it all figured out or are more worthy.” He won’t say, “Of all my children, you ask the worst questions.” No, He simply invites us to ask Him for wisdom without shame or embarrassment or the sense that we should have already figured it all out.
I like to remember that when I feel sheepish about what I am not and the simple things that I don’t know. I have an invitation in my hand to talk to my Father about this, who knows all things.
That line ends, “and it shall be given him.” God promises He will answer me. I am empowered. We are empowered.
Then this important counsel is given, “But let him aska in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6) Our faith has to be firm. If we waver, we are unstable spiritually and we are invited to do more work. Solid. Steadfast. Firm as the mountains around us. It is this planted and rooted faith that brings the answers we long for.
And if our faith still wavers, that is the place where we can begin to ask for wisdom. We ask, “How do I grow a powerful faith? Can thou show me the way? Help me to have an inner desire to believe.”
I love what Elder Richard G. Scott taught in this same vain: “Trust in God and in His willingness to provide help when needed, no matter how challenging the circumstance.” That teaching of Elder Scott’s has increased my faith and helped me on numerous occasions.
In James 1:2, Joseph Smith makes an important correction. Instead of saying,
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
The JST reads, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into many afflictions.”
That’s a good change from temptations to afflictions, but it seems hard to count it all joy to fall into many afflictions. Why would we count it joy? Because:
4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be aperfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
These things work your faith and your patience and these two are required to be perfect.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said in an inspired talk called “Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds”.
“The urgings for us not to weary in well-doing contain prescriptions to avoid such weariness. [It is the medicine we need.] (See Gal. 6:9; 2 Thes. 3:13; Alma 37:34.) We are to work steadily, but realistically, and only expect to reap “in due season” (Gal. 6:9).
Not right now?
“We are to serve while being ‘meek and lowly’ (Alma 37:34), avoiding thereby the wearying burdens of self-pity and hypocrisy. We are to pray always so that we will not faint, so that our performance will actually be for the welfare of our souls, which is so much more than just going through the motions. (See 2 Ne. 32:5, 9; D&C 75:11; D&C 88:126.)
Even when righteously chastised or rebuked, we need not faint, for in the correcting is renewing love: ‘My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.’” (Heb. 12:5–8.)
“One’s life, therefore, cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free. President Wilford Woodruff counseled us all about the mercy that is inherent in some adversity: ‘The chastisements we have had from time to time have been for our good, and are essential to learn wisdom, and carry us through a school of experience we never could have passed through without.’” (In Journal of Discourses, 2:198.)
Elder Maxwell continues, “Therefore, how can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’”
Elder Maxwell noted, “Life is so designed that we are to ‘overcome by faith’ (D&C 76:53), not by intellectual acuity or wealth or political prowess.
“Faith also includes trust in God’s timing, for He has said, ‘All things must come to pass in their time.’ (D&C 64:32.) Ironically, some who acknowledge God are tried by His timing, globally and personally!
“Faith likewise includes faith in God’s developmental purposes [for our souls.]… Still, some of us have trouble when God’s tutoring is applied to us! We plead for exemption more than we do for sanctification, don’t we, brothers and sisters?”
That last comment resonates with me—pleading for exemption more than sanctification. How often I have said, “A little ease please.” Elder Neil L. Andersen said, The Savior perceived the strength or weakness in the faith of those around Him. To one, He said approvingly, “Great is thy faith.”1 He lamented to another, “O ye of little faith.”2 He questioned others, “Where is your faith?”3 And Jesus distinguished yet another with, “[In all Israel] I have not found so great faith.”4
I ask myself, “How does the Savior see my faith?” And tonight I ask you, “How does the Savior see your faith?”
Elder Andersen continues “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not something ethereal, floating loosely in the air. Faith does not fall upon us by chance or stay with us by birthright… Faith emits a spiritual light, and that light is discernible.6 Faith in Jesus Christ is a gift from heaven that comes as we choose to believe7 and as we seek it and hold on to it. Your faith is either growing stronger or becoming weaker. Faith is a principle of power, important not only in this life but also in our progression beyond the veil.8 By the grace of Christ, we will one day be saved through faith on His name.9 The future of your faith is not by chance, but by choice.” Elder Neil L. Andersen, “Faith is Not by Chance but by Choice” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2015/10/faith-is-not-by-chance-but-by-choice?lang=eng
James advises us, “But be ye adoers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
And again in James 2 said,
It is interesting that we can hear the truth about how to be like the Savior, and our whole soul says, yes! I want to be like that. But being attracted to the word or enlightened by the word is incomplete if we are not doing the word.
We love the thought of selfless charity, but putting that in our lives is…hard work. Sacrifice moves your heart in a story, but to sacrifice in your life, well is a sacrifice.
Faith and works combine together in a powerful bond. As we have more faith, our works become guided, more potent, more steady and sure. As we do better work, light begins to fill our soul, day by day.
This is in great contrast to the message that Elder Bruce R. McConkie heard a prominent minister, representing one of the largest denominations once say, “I was saved two thousand years ago and there is nothing I can do about it one way or the other now.”
We know differently. So James lists some of the ways we can be doers of the word in James 3, beginning with controlling our anger.
“Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the agovernor listeth.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and aboasteth great things.”
The angry words we say do more damage than we ever imagine.
10 Out of the same amouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.
These are vital words to hear in our angry times. Anger can become a habit, a way of demonizing your enemy, a weapon, a way of getting attention or just the way we do things in a divided society. It has become part of our public discourse. We hear name calling, disdain, and mockery every day of our lives.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton said, “It should come as no surprise that one of the Adversary’s tactics in the latter days is stirring up hatred among the children of men. He loves to see us criticize each other, make fun or take advantage of our neighbor’s known flaws, and generally pick on each other. The Book of Mormon is clear from where all anger, malice, greed and hate come. Nephi prophesied that in the last days the devil would ‘rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.’ (2 Ne. 28:20) By the looks of what we constantly see depicted in the news media, it appears that Satan is doing a pretty good job.” Elder Marvin J. Ashton “The Tongue Can be a Sharp Sword,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1992/04/the-tongue-can-be-a-sharp-sword?lang=eng
It doesn’t have to be this way. As we tell you this next story we are going to play this song featuring Jenny Oaks Baker playing the song that has come to be associated with the Civil War, “Ashokan Farewell.” No one showed how to live above anger better than Abraham Lincoln, and because he did, he turned a divisive world toward peace for all of us. When he was a young lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he was called in to work on a patent trial for McCormick Reaper. However, when the precedings were transferred to Cincinnati, the lead attorneys chose another lawyer, Edwin Stanton, to work on the case. Because he was not told, Lincoln arrived in Cincinnati, prepared for the case, and Stanton not only did not allow him to participate, he referred to him with disdain, calling him names, referring to his long, hairy arms.
One witness said that Mr. Lincoln “felt he had been tricked out of the case and the transaction deeply affected him.” Lincoln left insulted and hurt.
This didn’t stop Stanton who was a political rival and a sharp, abusive critic at the beginning of the Civil War, often referring to Lincoln publically as the “original gorilla.”
Still, as president, Lincoln overlooked these many and abiding insults, from the sharp-tongued Stanton, and, seeing that he was one of the most capable men of the day, invited him to be his Secretary of War. During those most crucial days, Lincoln worked side by side with a man who had treated him so poorly.
The abuse didn’t entirely end. When one congressman took an important order from President Lincoln to Stanton, he looked at the idea and said, “Did Lincoln give you an order of that kind?”
“He did sir.”
“Then he was a… fool.”
“Are you calling the President a… fool?”
“Yes, sir, if he gave you such an order as that.”
The bewildered congressman returned to Lincoln to report what Stanton had said about it.”
After a moment’s pause, the President looked up and said, “If Stanton said I was a fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right, and generally says what he means. I will step over and see him.” Wow
The competent Stanton had an irritable nature. To such expressions of natural impatience Mr. Lincoln presented a placid front and bemused tolerance. “He knew how the excitement of the time tried men’s tempers and shattered their nerves. He himself, apparently, was the only one who was not to be allowed the indulgence of giving way.
“On one occasion,…Secretary Stanton was particularly angry with one of the generals. He was eloquent about him. ‘I would like to tell him what I think of him!’ he stormed.
‘Why don’t you?’ Mr. Lincoln agreed. ‘Write it all down—do.”
“Mr. Stanton wrote his letter. When it was finished he took it to the President. The President listened to it all.
“’All right. Capital, he nodded. ‘And now, Stanton, what are you going to do with it?’
“’Do with it? Why, send it, of course!’
“‘I wouldn’t,’ said the President. ‘Throw it in the waste=paper basket.’
“‘But it took me two days to write—‘
“’Yes, yes, and it did you ever so much good. You feel better now. That is all that is necessary. Just throw it in the basket.’”
After a little more expostulation, into the basket it went.
Oh that wonderfully wise Abraham Lincoln. And when he closed his eyes in death, torn by an assassins bullet, it was Edwin Stanton who, at his death bed, said these lasting words about the man who had come to be his friend: “Now he belongs to the ages.”
There is inconceivable power in bridling your tongue. But even more challenging is when that anger becomes part of your home.
Can we suggest a few myths about anger? First, is that anger is a good way to control a child who you want to do something. This is false. Oh, you get a child to do something in the short term for fear of your anger, but in the long term, they remember and your anger is set in their souls. The only lesson you’ve really taught is that anger is a way to get things done—and that is definitely not what we want our children to learn.
Another myth about anger is that we just can’t help it and that somebody else makes us angry. The truth is that we are not such helpless creatures. Our anger is usually a mask for other core issues sorrow, disappointment, frustration, resentment which we vent into anger. We can choose not just to control our anger, but to abandon it.
A myth that haunts many is the idea that we should not have to suffer. If others were only perfect, if God were more attentive to my needs, if only things worked better for me, if only the world weren’t so rotten, then suffering would cease. You might tell yourself that suffering is for other people, but you are so special and intelligent it shouldn’t happen to you. I should not have to be frustrated. The reality is this life poses us difficulties. There are no exceptions to that. We can be frustrated, or we can find strategies and healing from the Lord to best reduce our suffering. Anger is not one of those strategies.
Then there is the myth that I deserve to hold onto anger because of past wounds. The reality is that holding on to past wounds only keeps you as a victim, sometimes taking out your latent anger on those around you. You can deal with past wounds with grace and forgiveness when the Lord helps.
There is the myth that I shouldn’t make mistakes and that I am flawed or stupid or not good enough if I do. This belief foments anger, especially toward ourselves. A more realistic idea is that making mistakes is part of being human and the Lord, knowing we would have weaknesses, has given us grace.
Then there is the fable that I need everyone to love and respect me, and if they don’t I am heartsick and unlovable. This is a deep source of anger amongst some. The truth is we are already loved by God and we can take His lead and love ourselves. I don’t have to care what people think about me and feel insulted if I am overlooked.
We could go on and on with these myths that make us angry, but let’s just end with one. “If I am righteous, good things will always come my way.” Tell that to Joseph Smith who was martyred, Abinadi who was burned at the stake, your angel mother who dies young of cancer. In our eyes life doesn’t always look fair and we can be angry about that. In reality though God always blesses me for the good things I do, there may not be a tally that we can always see. He is transforming us in ways that are not always visible.
Oil of Healing
Maurine, now we come to nearly the last verses of James and we cannot pass them by without commenting, in detail, about something that we might take a little for granted or about which perhaps we don’t have a deep enough understanding. These are verses 14 and 15 of the 5th chapter. Let’s read them together and plumb them a little deeper.
14 “Is any sick among you?” What an obvious question from James! There are always sick among us—sick in our families and among our friends and associates. We never have a time, really, when there are not sick among us. James continues: “Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him [or her] with oil in the name of the Lord.”
Remember, much of James’ teaching is about exercising faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So, he says plainly—if any are sick then exercise your faith and call for the brethren who hold the holy Melchizedek priesthood to come and give them a blessing.
Why do we use olive oil, Maurine, in these priesthood blessings?
Well, the most common answer is: Because it’s so pure or it’s the purest kind of oil. But we know it is much more than that. The olive oil brings us right back to the Garden of Gethsemane—remember—Get shemen means Please of the olive press—and this takes us right to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is not the oil that heals us. We exercise our faith in the efficacy and power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and His ability to heal us—and we can be healed.
That’s right. I never anoint a person’s head with olive oil but that I think about the Garden of Gethsemane and what the Savior did for us there in that place of the olive press—that HE was pressed upon by the great forces of the sins of all mankind who would turn to Him—and that He bled from every pore for us. But it goes even further.
In ancient Israel, oil, shemen, was such a powerful symbol. The oil of Gethsemane would heal both body and spirit. And that same word, Shemen, means fat bull or robust bull—”and the yoke of Israel is broken because of fatness” (Isaiah 25:6; 10:27) a metaphor taken from that robust bull that is so strong that he casts off and breaks the yoke. One ancient metaphor for the Messiah was this robust bull who would break the yoke of sin.
And doesn’t that give us more insight into the oxen that carry the basin or baptismal font in the Temples? They are not only the symbol of the Twelve Tribes of Israel—but they are the very symbol of the Messiah—the Christ—who carries the burdens and the sins of the people as they turn to Him.
I have to say, when I was raised in Missouri I used to work for the local farmers during the summer, mainly bucking hay and working with their Angus cattle herds. One particular week I had to worm an entire herd of about 60 Angus cattle. You know, I had to put each one in a chute, then lock them in the head gate—around their necks—and then put my arm around their heads and shove that giant pill into their throats with a long device that had that giant pill in it. Then I would give them a shot as well and let them go back out to the field.
When we got the one Angus bull in that chute, he was not happy. It took five us to get him in there, wedging a 4 x 4 behind his rump to try to push him in and get him into the head gate. When I tried to push that lever down to lock him in, his neck was so big and so strong, I just could not get it to lock down. He was too big. And then he decided to lift up on the head gate and the entire side of the barn came up off the ground. We decided to let him have worms. My point is: He was strong—so strong that he could indeed be a great symbol of that robust or strong bull that could break the yoke of bondage.
Now, let’s conclude by going back to verse 15 of James Chapter 5:
15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
There it is—the healing of both body and spirit—healed from the sickness and forgiven of sins. I think we underestimate the power and use of priesthood blessings. Again, I will always think about the oil of the Atonement of Jesus Christ when I see the sick anointed with olive oil—and I will always think about that robust bull-the Messiah who is strong enough to break the yoke of bondage when I witness priesthood blessings.
We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this has been the Meridian Magazine Come Follow Me podcast. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for spreading the word about the podcast at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast—that’s latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast.
Next week’s lesson will be: “Rejoice with Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory” and will cover 1st and 2nd Peter.
Have a great week and we’ll see you next time.