The Twelves Tribes, Scattered Abroad (8-27-17)

The Bible is composed of books, prose, poetry, and letters better known as epistles. Every one of these works of literature were “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2nd Timothy 3:16). God, in His infinite wisdom, was well aware of the challenges set by the limitations of man’s finite mind, especially in matters concerning spiritual affairs. Because this is undeniably true, it became essential for man to receive “that which is perfect” (1st Corinthians 13:10) and with it “the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2nd Timothy 3:17). However, it is wise not to ignore how God’s Word works, and with whom. These lessons are made abundantly clear by the inspired apostle in his words to Timothy. Peter, in perfect synchrony with Paul, confirms “that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2nd Peter 1:20-21). Observe how both men concur that Holy Writ has a spiritual purpose at its core and not a carnal one. Peter’s description of “private interpretation” is explained by him to be the “untaught and unstable people [who] twist to their own destruction…the Scriptures” (2nd Peter 3:16, addition mine). These “untaught and unstable people” seek to wrongly use Scripture for personal gain through a dishonest presentation built upon human opinion, cloaked in “cunningly devised fables” (2nd Peter 1:16). Second, both inspired apostles agree that only a godly and holy man can be well equipped by the proper use of His Word. This also illuminates the reason why those who erroneously use the Bible are labeled by Peter as “untaught and unstable.” His description does not refer to the amount of Scripture that is in their knowledge, but rather the incorrect application of that knowledge. Using Scripture for personal convenience is undeniably the improper use of it. This tragic practice has always been common in the world. It is the bitter root that has given life to the numerous amounts of false doctrines that have led humanity astray from God. It is the spoon that has stirred the pot into chaos and confusion for centuries. For this reason, James understood the value of patience for a true disciple of Christ. The epistle of James was written in a time when Christianity was in its infancy and found itself surrounded by several threats. Several biblical scholars have surmised that this epistle was penned by James with the intent of encouraging his persecuted brethren to stand fast in the faith. In his salutation, James identifies his readers as “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (James 1:1). Observe the specificity of James’ audience. He establishes that his letter is intended for those “which are scattered abroad.” There are two schools of thought as to whom are the “twelve tribes” that James refers to. The Greek word implemented by the inspired writer is diáspora. According to Thayer’s lexicon, diáspora is used when a person or a group of people have been scattered abroad as a result of a persecution or exile (Thayer, G1290). Thayer further explains that in the New Testament, diáspora was commonly used to speak of the Israelites who had been dispersed among the foreign nations after their captivity. Biblical history reminds us that Israel lived under the rule of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Syria, and Rome for several centuries. During their different periods of living under foreign rule, the people of Israel began to live outside of Palestine. The scattering of Israel was so vast that Luke describes those present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost as “Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). The prophet Isaiah, in speaking prophetically of this day, proclaimed “all nations shall flow to” Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2b). Both inspired men describe the concept of diáspora in connection with the consequence of Israel’s captivity. Thayer continues to state that this word was also used to denote Christians who converted from Judaism, living among the Gentiles. Luke, too, speaks that “at that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). It is wise to recognize that in both uses of the Greek word, it illustrates a dispersion as a result of a persecution. Thus, the first school of thought is that diáspora is used by James to speak of the biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who had obeyed the Gospel and had been spread throughout Palestine due to persecution. However, the second theory suggests that James did not limit his scope to believing Jews only. This thought promotes the idea that James was in actuality directing his words to “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). In using this description of the church, Paul was speaking to both, Jews and Gentiles. Let us not forget that the purpose of his letter to the Galatians was to dispel the false doctrine that the Judaizers were spreading among the brotherhood; a philosophy meant to force the Gentiles to adhere to certain requirements of the Law of Moses. Hence, it is illogical to believe that Paul was using this description to speak literally of Israel. Therefore, it is in this manner that the second school of thought suggests James was using his description. One thing is certain; both theories are speaking of a dispersion related to a persecution. It is no secret that Rome’s deplorable persecution of the first century Christians did not discriminate Jew from Gentile. Since James reveals to his readers “that the testing of your faith produces patience,” there is a high probability that he was not exclusively speaking to believing Jews. It is curious to note that Peter used similar words in his exhortation to a persecuted church (1st Peter 4:13) and that both of these epistles were referred to by first century Christians as the “universal letters.” James understood that the defiance of one’s faith was not reserved only for the believing Jews, nor was it limited only to his time period. This Divine revelation given to us by the pen of James becomes relevant when we understand that “whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, does not have God” (2nd John 9). Those who forsake the doctrine of Christ, do so because of impatience. This is why Peter calls them “unstable,” similar to a house built upon the sand. For this reason, James reveals that he who builds upon the Rock “is the man who endures temptation,” thus confirming that it ishe [who] will receive the crown of life” (James 1:12).

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