The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 1

Introduction to the Series

In this series, we will be focusing on the words that Yeshua spoke while He was with us and after His Ascension. We will be looking at His words as best we can in chronological order using “The Narrated Bible in Chronological Order” by F. LaGard Smith. [1] While going through the Synoptic Gospels, I will focus more on Mattityhu’s version with appropriate references to Mark and Luke. As usual, I will be using the “Complete Jewish Bible” by David Stern for the actual quotes, unless otherwise noted. Please permit me to set the stage.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water. ~ B’resheet 1:1-2

The Hebrew phrase translated unformed and void connotes a desolate, uninhabitable place. Why would the author describe God’s new universe like this? Some believe God intended to show us His progressive approach through creation. The following verses certainly do show God using a process.

But it seems that something else has happened between verses 1 and 2 because disorder and darkness do not reflect the character of God. Someone else arrived on the scene, and his name is HaSatan. We get few details of HaSatan in this chapter (Ezekiel 28:12-19; Isaiah 14:12ff, and Revelation provide more), but it appears that his rebellion plunged the earth into darkness (see Luke 10:18). Fortunately for humanity, even when HaSatan is active, God has a plan to save. The Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water, ready to bring order out of chaos.

In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things came to be through him, and without him, nothing made had being. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not suppressed it. ~ Yochanan 1:1-5

I confess that I get chills every time I read these verses. In his prologue to the Good News, Yochanan sets forth both the Messiah’s divine and human origin and nature. Contrary to modern Jewish opinion, which holds that the Messiah is to be human only, numerous Jewish sources speak of the supernatural features of the Messiah. The Messiah existed before all creation (compare Yochanan 17:5). In fact, He was involved in creation (Colossians 1:15-17, Messianic Jews 1:2-3). The Talmud also teaches the Messiah’s preexistence.

The beginning of the Good News of Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of God. ~ Mark1:1

Rather than emphasizing the events leading up to Yeshua’s public ministry in terms of genealogy and family roots (as so Mattityahu and Luke) or in terms of its theological foundation (as does Yochanan), Mark focuses on its actual beginning. The good news is the gospel of the fulfillment of God’s promises. In the Tanakh (Isaiah 40:9, 52:7; and Nahum 1:15), the good news is connected with the saving intervention of God to help His people. Yeshua HaMashiach proclaims the gospel, but the good news is the report about Yeshua in a secondary sense. Mark communicates both at the beginning and the end of his Gospel (Mark:1-2 and 15:39) that Yeshua is the Son of God.

In our next post, we will start our journey by examining the actual Red-Letter Words of Yeshua.

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[1] Copyright 1984 by Harvest House Publishers. I highly recommend this edition as it tells the story of all 66-books of the Bible in the order they were written. It’s like reading a non-fiction novel from beginning to end. Citations are placed in the margins so as not to disrupt your reading.

Epistle of Ya’akov ~ 5:13-20

The Prayer of Faith

13 Is someone among you in trouble? He should pray. Is someone feeling good? He should sing songs of praise.

Here, along with 1:5–8 and 4:3, is Ya‛akov’s teaching on prayer, while verses 14–20 deal specifically with healing prayer.

14 Is someone among you ill? He should call for the elders of the congregation. They will pray for him and rub olive oil on him in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer offered with trust will heal the one who is ill—the Lord will restore his health, and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

The Lord heals the sick among His people, according to this passage, in response to the prayer offered with trust. Healing was one of Yeshua’s three central ministries (Matt. 4:23–24), and He promised that His followers would do yet more outstanding works than He did (Yochanan 14:12). In addition, the Ruach, whom He has sent to his followers (Yochanan 15:26), grants to some gifts of healing (1C 12:9, 30).

Rub olive oil on him is not merely a ceremony; in biblical times, olive oil was medicine (Isaiah 1:6, Luke 10:34), and being anointed with oil was considered physically pleasant (Psalms 23:5, 133:2–3).

16 Therefore, openly acknowledge your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Roman Catholics take this verse as a scriptural ground for their sacrament of confession to a priest.

Apart from such psychologists as Menninger and Mowrer, secular psychology obscures personal responsibility for sins by calling them “neuroses” or “problems.” Comparison of this verse with modern secular psychology reveals these three points:

  1. Openly acknowledge. Communication of one’s inner life is fundamental to psychoanalysis and other forms of verbal psychotherapy.
  2. Pray for each other. Secular psychology offers group therapy and doctor-patient relationships, but nothing has healing power comparable to praying to God. But sinners must repent of sin to have their prayers heard (Isaiah 59:1–2).
  3. So that you may be healed, healing of sin involves not only confessing and repenting, intending to stop sinning, and stopping.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Compare Leviticus 26:8, Deuteronomy 32:30, Psalm 91:7. [1]

17 Eliyahu was only a human being like us, yet he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and no rain fell on the Land for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the Land produced its crops.

See 1 Kings 17:1 and 18:42–45. These do not mention Eliyahu’s prayer, but an Aggadah [2] in the Talmud does:

Eliyahu prayed and received the keys to the rain and stopped the heavens. (Sanhedrin 113a) [3]

19 My brothers, if one of you wanders from the truth, and someone causes him to return, 20 you should know that whoever turns a sinner from his wandering path will save him from death and cover many sins. ~ Ya’akov 5:13-20 (CJB)

Causing a brother to turn from sin is the most fantastic form of healing since it saves him from spiritual death. Compare Ezekiel 33:14–16, 1 Yochanan 5:16–17, and 1 Kefa 4:8.

Stay tuned in for the next topic we will be exploring beginning on October 20th.

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[1] Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary.

[2] A compendium of rabbinic texts covering various topics in the Talmud and Midrash.

[3] Ibid.​

Epistle of Ya’akov ~ 5:7-12

Patience in Suffering

We learned in our last post that the oppressors would be punished, but the oppressed have to wait on God rather than take matters violently into their own hands. This exhortation did not mean they could not speak out against injustice; it only forbade violence and personally hostile speech (5:9) as an appropriate solution to injustice. Oh, how we have forgotten this in our society today.

So, brothers, be patient until the Lord returns. See how the farmer waits for the precious “fruit of the earth”—he is patient over it until it receives the fall and spring rains. You too, be patient; keep up your courage; for the Lord’s return is near.

Until the Lord returns, anticipates an end to all exploitation and suffering. Consequently, the oppressed should exercise self-control in their reaction to their oppressors. “Fruit of the earth” is a quotation from the b’rakhah (blessing) said before eating berries or vegetables, “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the universe, creator of the fruit of the earth.” This is the blessing that Yeshua spoke over the wine during the Last Supper.

The fall and spring rains reference the climatic pattern in Isra’el, where the bulk of the rainfall comes between November and March. Harvest here becomes an image of the day of judgment, as elsewhere in Jewish literature. The Lord’s return is near, follows up his remark that this is the acharit-hayamim as we learned in verse 5:3 in our last post.

Don’t grumble against one another, brothers so that you won’t come under condemnation – look! The Judge is standing at the door!  This repeats the warning of 4:11–12.

10 As an example of suffering mistreatment and being patient, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of Adonai.

Most Tanakh prophets faced significant opposition for their preaching, some faced death. Jewish tradition had amplified martyrdom accounts even further; hence no one would dispute Ya’akov’s claim. Virtuous examples were an essential part of ancient argumentation.

11 Look, we regard those who persevered as blessed. You have heard of the perseverance of Iyov (Job), and you know what the purpose of Adonai was, that Adonai is very compassionate and merciful.

The perseverance of Iyov (Job), and you know what the purpose of Adonai was, is reflected in Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” “to justify the ways of God to man.” Iyov’s troubles began when God chose to answer HaSatan’s challenge by permitting him to touch Iyov’s possessions and person, except that he could not take Iyov’s life (Job 1–2). Iyov persevered in the face of all his losses and pains, magnified by the unhelpful advice of his “friends” (Job 3–37). In the end, God vindicated himself and proved to Iyov that only God had the power and wisdom to deal with HaSatan.

12 Above all, brothers, stop swearing oaths – not “By heaven,” not “By the earth,” and not by any other formula; rather, let your “Yes” be simply “Yes” and your “No” simply “No,” so that you won’t fall under condemnation. ~ Ya’akov 5:7-12 (CJB)

Yeshua taught similarly at Matthew 5:33–37. We dare not take an oath if we do not know what tomorrow will bring because it is such a serious commitment. The law required a person to be true to an oath they had taken (Lev 19:12). A person should avoid invoking God’s name in a false oath.

In our next post, we complete our study of Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about The Prayer of Faith.

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Epistle of Ya’akov ~ 5:1-6

Warning to the Rich

Well, we are on the downslope of our review of the Epistle of Ya’akov. Chapter 5 continues his previous thoughts from 4:13–17. They also convey Yeshua’s thoughts recorded in Matthew 6:19–20. Commentaries that understand this condemnation to be directed at nonbelieving Jews (like 2:6–7) feed antisemitism by lending supposed biblical support to the miserly and oppressive Jew’s caricature and misunderstand the prophetic task. In the Tanakh, Psalm 73 and Isaiah 5:8 are similarly critical of the arrogant rich without excluding them from God’s people Isra’el, and there are other similar passages in the Prophets. This paragraph, which addresses the rich directly, must be understood as meant for wealthy Believers, who will read it, not for un-Believers, who won’t. (However, its truth applies to them as well.) [1]

Next, a word for the rich: weep and wail over the hardships coming upon you! Your riches have rotted, and your clothes have become moth-eaten; your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat up your flesh like fire! This is the acharit-hayamim (the end of days), and you have been storing up wealth!

Exhortations to weep and wail was a graphic prophetic way of saying: You will have reason to weep and wail. Clothing was one of the primary signs of wealth in antiquity; many peasants had only one garment.

At the heart of pride is often a love for money – that is, materialism. Ya’akov isn’t condemning money itself. Some of God’s servants were wealthy (e.g., Avraham, Iyov), and money was not their problem. Condemned here is a mindset that turns gold into a god. Ya’akov addressed riches previously (1:10–11; 2:1–4), but in 5:1–6, he rebukes the rich people among his readers whose hearts were devoted to materialism. Theirs is a sin that transcends time. If you live in modern America, you are tempted to be a materialist. [2]

Listen! The wages you have fraudulently withheld from the workers who mowed your fields are calling out against you, and the outcries of those who harvested have reached the ears of Adonai-Tzva’ot.

The wages you have fraudulently withheld compares to Leviticus 19:13, Do not oppress or rob your neighbor; specifically, you are not to keep back the wages of a hired worker all night until morning. (see also Deuteronomy 24:14–15 and Malachi 3:5.) The outcries … have reached the ears of Adonai-Tzva’ot, like those of Avel’s blood (Genesis 4:10) and the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 3:7). God saw the sin in these cases and dealt with it; likewise, He will not ignore injustice toward workers.

The income absentee landlords received from agriculture was such that the wages they paid workers could not even begin to reflect the profits they accumulated. Although the rich supported public building projects (in return for attached inscriptions honoring them), they were far less inclined to pay sufficient wages to their workers. At least as early as the second century, Jewish teachers suggested that even failing to leave gleanings for the poor was robbing them (based on Lev. 19:9–10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19).

You have led a life of luxury and self-indulgence here on earth – in a time of slaughter, you have gone on eating to your heart’s content. You have condemned; you have murdered the innocent; they have not withstood you. ~ Ya’akov 5:1-6 (CJB)

The rich consumed much meat in a day of slaughter; once an animal was slaughtered, as much as possible was eaten at once because the rest could be preserved only by drying and salting. The meat was generally unavailable to the poor except during public festivals.

The picture here is of the rich being fattened like cattle for the day of their slaughter (see Jer. 12:3 & Amos 4:1–3). As often in the Tanakh (Amos 6:4–7), the sin in verse 5 is not exploitation per se (as in v. 4) but a lavish lifestyle while others go hungry or in need is.[3]

In our next post, we learn more from Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about Patience in Suffering.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary.
[2] Evans, T. (2019). The Tony Evans Bible Commentary.
[3] Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jas 5:6).

Epistle of Ya’akov ~ 4:11-17

Warning Against Weariness ~ Part 2

We continue to explore what Ya’akov warns us about growing weary. Ya’akov returns to the specific worldly behavior his readers are following ~ violent speech (see also 3:1–12). He either addresses social stratification within the Messianic community or, more likely, uses brothers in its more common Jewish sense of fellow Jews. Jewish revolutionaries had already begun killing aristocrats, and inflammatory rhetoric was certainly even more common. His general principle was standard Tanakh and Jewish wisdom opposing slander, which many of his readers may not have been considering in this context. The law declared God’s love for Isra’el and commanded His people to love one another; to slander, a fellow Jew was thus to disrespect the law.[1]

11 Brothers, stop speaking against each other! Whoever speaks against a brother or judges a brother is speaking against Torah and judging Torah. And if you judge Torah, you are not a doer of what Torah says, but a judge. 12 There is but one Giver of Torah; He is also the Judge, with the power to deliver and to destroy. Who do you think you are, judging your fellow human being?

Stop speaking against each other! One who speaks against or judges a brother is arrogating to himself the position of a judge, that is, of God, who has the power to deliver and to destroy. The most important part of the Torah is, Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19;18). In saying this, the Torah does not distinguish the righteous neighbor from the wicked one. Yeshua taught that the neighbor could be a Samaritan, that is, someone who is usually the object of adverse prejudgment.

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a city, stay there a year trading and make a profit”!

John MacArthur opines that: Ya’akov does not condemn wise business planning, but rather planning that leaves out God. The people so depicted are practical atheists, living their lives and making their plans as if God did not exist. Such conduct is inconsistent with genuine saving faith, which submits to God. [2]

14 You don’t even know if you will be alive tomorrow! For all you are is a mist that appears for a little while and then disappears. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If Adonai wants it to happen, we will live” to do this or that. 16 But as it is, in your arrogance you boast. All such boasting is evil.

Well, verse 14 is a real downer, but true nevertheless! However, planning is an important ingredient of today’s managerial society, but it is easy for planners to forget that they stand only as God permits – not only their plans, but they themselves. Hence, If Adonai wants it to happen, we will live to do this or that. If we don’t live, what good will the plans do? Don’t boast about tomorrow, for you don’t know what the day may bring. ~ Proverbs 27:1.

17 So then, anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it is committing a sin. ~ Ya’akov 4:11-17 (CJB)

Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it is committing a sin of omission far more serious than the sin of those who are uninformed – as is clear from Luke 2:47–48, 2 Kefa 2:21. Romans 14:23 makes a related yet distinct point. In this specific situation, the sin is to announce plans as if we could control all the circumstances, failing to acknowledge that God is in charge and our plans depend on his will.

In our next post, we learn more from Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about Warning to the Rich.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament: InterVarsity Press.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Epistle of Ya’akov ~ 4:1-10

Warning Against Weariness ~ Part 1

What is causing all the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it your desires battling inside you? You desire things and don’t have them. You kill, and you are jealous, and you still can’t get them. So, you fight and quarrel. The reason you don’t have is that you don’t pray! Or you pray and don’t receive because you pray with the wrong motive, that of wanting to indulge your own desires.

You pray with the wrong motive. There is a heresy current among Believers, which, feeding off the excessive individualism and greed rampant in popular Western ideologies, purports to give God’s approval to selfish prayer. It beckons: “You are a child of God. He is a loving Father who would deny His children nothing. Therefore, you can pray for anything you want, and God will give it to you. Do you want a new car? A bigger house? Fancy clothes? Just ‘ask, and it will be given to you’ (Lk 11:10).” Besides misusing Scripture, raising false hopes, and making prayer a magic charm indistinct from witchcraft, this teaching ignores the fact that a truly loving father does not give his children whatever they ask for; fathers know better than their children what they need and act accordingly. The present verse refutes this selfish philosophy masquerading as biblical teaching.[1]

We will learn more about Ya‛akov’s scathing condemnation of the arrogant rich when we dig into 4:13–5:6.

You unfaithful wives! Don’t you know that loving the world is hating God? Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy! 

You unfaithful wives! In the Tanakh, Israel’s unfaithfulness to God her Ba’al (the Hebrew word means both “lord” and “husband”) is often expressed in terms of adultery and whoredom; see Ezekiel 23; Hosea 1–2, 9:1. Yeshua means the same thing when He calls His generation wicked and adulterous (Mt 12:39, 16:4).

Or do you suppose the Scripture speaks in vain when it says that there is a spirit in us which longs to envy? But the grace He gives is greater, which is why it says,

“God opposes the arrogant,
but to the humble he gives grace.”

Do you suppose the Tanakh speaks in vain when it says that there is a spirit in us which longs to envy? Bible scholars have had difficulty interpreting verse 6 since it is not an exact quote from the Tanakh. David Stern opines that Ya‛akov appears to be referring to Genesis 4:7, where God says to Cain, If you are doing what is good, shouldn’t you hold your head high? And if you don’t do what is good, sin is crouching at the door—it wants you, but you can rule over it. All understand this to be speaking about HaSatan, who is the evil impulse in man.

Therefore, submit to God. Moreover, take a stand against the Adversary, and he will flee from you.

Take a stand against the Adversary (HaSatan) who stalks about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour ~ 1 Kefa 5:8–9. Although he is the god of this world (2Cor. 4:4), Yeshua has overcome the world (John 16:33). Therefore, if you use Scripture properly (2 Tim. 2:15, Matt. 4:1–11) and employ the other available means of spiritual warfare (2Cor. 10:3–5, Ephesians 6:10–18), he will flee from you. The verse carries the same message as Genesis 4:7 (see above).

Come close to God, and He will come close to you. Clean your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded people!

Come close to God, and He will come close to you, as in Zechariah 1:3 Therefore, tell them that Adonai-Tzva’ot says this: “Return to me,” says Adonai-Tzva’ot, “and I will return to you,” says Adonai-Tzva’ot. Here the initiative for reconciliation is ours; elsewhere, Scripture places it in God’s hands, as at Lamentations 5:21 and Ephesians 2:4–10. Yochanan 3:16 expresses both sides equally.

Clean your hands … purify your hearts. Compare Isaiah 1:15–16: When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even when you make many prayers, I will not hear—for your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Also, Psalm 24:4(3): Who shall ascend into the mountain of Adonai? Who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.

9 Wail, mourn, sob! Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into gloom! 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. ~ 4:1-10 (CJB)

Verses 9-10 explain what is meant by purifying one’s heart in v. 8.

We will learn more from Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about Warning Against Worldliness ~ Part 2.

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[1] Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary.

Epistle of Ya’akov ~ 3:13-18

Wisdom from Above

In this post, we learn that there are two kinds of wisdom. That which is worldly, unspiritual, and demonic produces jealousy and selfish ambition, followed by disharmony and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is from the Father, with whom there is neither variation nor darkness (1:17); it is extolled in Proverbs 8:22ff. Also, compare Isaiah 32:17 and Hebrews 12:11.

You may want to go back to Ya’akov 1:5-8 and review what he said about wisdom earlier.

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him demonstrate it by his good way of life, by actions done in the humility that grows out of wisdom.

The Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh, often employs wise and understanding to describe a person who lives following the insight given by God (Deut. 1:13, 15; 4:6). People demonstrate wisdom if their deeds reflect God’s commands. Those who are wise should demonstrate their wisdom by actions done in the humility that grows out of wisdom.

14 But if you harbor in your heart’s bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, don’t boast and attack the truth with lies!

Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are the opposite of true wisdom as characterized by humility. They are also far different from the righteous character of a jealous God (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24), who appropriately yearns for His honor and the loyal devotion of His people, while the envious yearn for what does not belong to them. Selfish ambition is a divisive willingness to split the group to achieve personal power and prestige.

15 This wisdom is not the kind that comes down from above; on the contrary, it is worldly, unspiritual, demonic.

Worldly, unspiritual, demonic describes behavior that progresses from bad to worse, recalling the list in vv. 5b–6. Such behavior is ultimately earthbound, absolutely sensual as opposed to spiritual, and its origin is in the cosmic powers of darkness.

16 For where there are jealousy and selfish ambition, there will be disharmony and every foul practice.

Ya’akov describes the evil consequences of false wisdom. Earthly wisdom leads to jealousy and selfish ambition, culminating in a troubling situation for Messianic communities causing disharmony and every foul practice.

17 But the wisdom from above is, first of all, pure, then peaceful, kind, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

The virtues Ya’akov lists are predominantly non-selfish and non-aggressive; those who practice these virtues show more concern for others than themselves. They are opposite of the vices described in vv. 14–16.

The answer to the disharmony and every foul practice (v.16) is to seek wisdom from above, which produces character qualities beginning with purity and concluding with mercy (cf. Gal. 5:22–23, where Godly qualities are the fruit of the Spirit).

18 And peacemakers who sow seed in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. ~ Ya’akov 3:13-18 (CJB)

The legacy of those who bring peace rather than conflict is a harvest of righteousness. The fruit that comes from peacemaking in the Messianic community will be the righteous conduct that God will bless.

We will learn more from Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about Warning Against Worldliness.

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Epistle of Ya’akov [1] ~ 3:1-12

Taming the Tongue

These verses can be taken in three ways: addressing topics related to teachers in the Messianic community, as instruction generally applicable to all Believers, or as instruction applicable to both groups in some sense. In these verses, Ya’akov addresses issues related to the dangers of speech.

Ya’akov echoes Yeshua’s emphasis on the crucial importance of the use of words in daily life (Matt. 12:36; Mark 7:20–23). From his discourse on idle faith, Ya’akov proceeded to discuss idle speech. The failure to bridle the tongue mentioned earlier (1:26) is now expanded. As disturbing as those who have faith with no works are those Messianics who substitute words for works. One’s tongue should be controlled. Small though it is, the tongue is powerful and all too prone to perversion and pollution.

Teachers were particularly vulnerable to errors of speech.

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

For other teachers of the Word and me, this is one of the scariest verses in the Word of God. Pray for us who do and for discernment for you that they rightly preach God’s Word.

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

Here, Ya’akov utilizes three images to illustrate that a small thing, like the tongue, can have far-reaching effects. He uses a horse’s bit (v. 3) and a ship’s rudder (v. 4) to convey that those who have control over their tongues have control over themselves. He also uses the image of fire (v.6) to convey that the tongue has great potential for destruction and harm.

Others also compared the spread of rumors to the igniting of what would rapidly become a forest fire. Here the image is that of a tongue that incites the whole body to violence. The boastful tongue plotting harm (Ps 52:1–4) and the tongue as a hostile fire (Ps 39:1–3; 120:2–4; Prov 16:27; 26:21; Ecclus 28:21–23) are old images. The fire is sparked by “hell” suggests where it leads; Jewish pictures of Gehenna, like Yeshua’s images for the fate of the damned, typically included flame.

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,

Every kind beast and birdBeing compared to the elements or creatures of nature would have been particularly degrading to Ya’akov’s audience. Jewish writers often use this comparison to dehumanize and emphasize less-than-human behaviors.

8, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

The tongue … is a restless evil. The Hebrew phrase refers to gossiping, backbiting, rumormongering, slander, and other misuses of speech. The Talmud condemns it severely: it is weighed equally with the sins of idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder. These three sins named are those for which, according to the Talmud, Jew is supposed to give up his life rather than commit. [2]

With it, we bless our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

It is both hypocrisy and folly to bless God during a worship service and then, after the service, to curse someone made in God’s image (see Gen. 1:26–27). If the curse implies the common practice of invoking the name of God against the person, then this is doubly heinous.

10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and saltwater?

Fresh and saltwater … a tongue that dishonors God is not compatible with the speech that honors Him.

12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. ~ Ya’akov 3:1-12 (CJB)

A fig tree … bear olives? It is against a tree’s nature to produce two kinds of fruit. [3] Similarly, a Believer’s mouth is not intended for both evil and good speech.

We will learn more from Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about Wisdom from Above.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] I assume by now that you know that James’ Hebrew name is Ya’akov.

[2] Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary.

[3] Well, that statement may get me into trouble with my gardening or farming friends. That’s why I emphasized nature.”

Epistle of Ya’akov (James) ~ 2:14-26

Faith Without Works Is Dead

Opponents of Brit Hadashah faith claim that it offers “cheap grace” – salvation by merely affirming in one’s mind specific facts or ideas about Yeshua, or through merely feeling good in one’s heart toward God, without doing good deeds. This passage is the classic disproof of that allegation.

The present passage expands upon the ideas we studied in my last post into the general principle that genuine faith proves itself by being expressed in good works. Therefore, mental or emotional faith by itself (v. 17) or faith alone (v. 24), unaccompanied by the right kinds of actions, is dead (vv. 17, 26), barren (v. 20), no better than the so-called “faith” demons have (v. 19) because they know the reality of the spirit world. But only by actions is faith made complete (v. 22) and capable of giving God ground to declare a person righteous (v. 24).

In this passage, the Greek word ” faith” is pistis, usually rendered “trust” in the Jewish New Testament, as indicated in the last three posts. The word faith is used here because Ya‛akov is speaking about not all of the trust, but just a part of it, the confessional, intellectual part. Ya‛akov brings this out by using restrictive modifiers: such faith (v. 14), faith by itself (v. 17), faith without actions (v. 26; compare v. 20), and faith alone (v. 24); also, he points out specifically that actions must be added to this limited part of faith for faith to be made complete (v. 22).

Ya‛akov and Sha’ul are in complete harmony; both understand genuine faith as an inward acknowledgment of God’s truth which is expressed and flows outward in the form of good works. Ya‛akov’s point is that if good works are subtracted from genuine faith, what is left is barren and dead. Sha’ul’s point is that if legalistic observances are added to or substituted for genuine faith, the results are barren and dead.

Not in Romans, Ephesians, or anywhere else does Sha’ul demean the importance of good works in the life of faith.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no actions to prove it? Is such “faith” able to save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food, 16 and someone says to him, “Shalom! Keep warm and eat hearty!” without giving him what he needs, what good does it do? 17 Thus, faith by itself, unaccompanied by actions, is dead. 18 But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Show me this faith of yours without the actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions!

But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Ya‛akov introduces an imaginary third party, someone, coming to defend an imaginary you who answers “Yes” to the questions of v. 14 and believes that intellectual faith without good works can save him: someone will say that you are the one who has genuine faith and that I, Ya‛akov, have only actions without faith and am trying to save myself by my works (which would indeed contradict Sha’ul at Romans 3:28). My answer to you (and indirectly to someone) is: Show me this faith of yours without the actions! You won’t be able to, since genuine faith is perceived not through talk but through the deeds that issue from it. However, for my part, I, Ya‛akov, will show you my faith by my actions, and you will have to conclude that I am not trying to save myself by my works; instead, my works grow out of my faith and prove that it is genuine faith.

19 You believe that “God is one”? Good for you! The demons believe it, too – the thought makes them shudder with fear!

Do you believe that “God is one”?Ya‛akov’s challenge to his imaginary adversary is: “You may affirm the Shema,” the central creedal statement of Judaism, recited twice daily by every observant Jew. Good for you! – so what? The demons believe it, too, for HaSatan and his minions are thoroughly familiar with Scripture and do not dispute its truth (see Matthew 4:1–11). But such intellectual affirmation is not saving faith, so the thought makes them shudder with fear. For unlike believers joyfully anticipating their eternal glorification with God, they know that an irreversible and dreadful fate in hell awaits them at the Last Judgment (Revelation 20). Also, unlike human skeptics, they know that this hell, with its lake of fire and brimstone, is absolute and not merely a scare tactic used to frighten the gullible.

20 But, foolish fellow, do you want to be shown that such “faith” apart from actions is barren? 21 Wasn’t Avraham Avinu [our father] declared righteous because of actions when he offered up his son Yitz’chak on the altar? 22 You see that his faith worked with his actions; by the actions, the faith was made complete; 23 and the passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled, which says, “Avraham had faith in God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness.” He was even called God’s friend.

It is not without significance that Ya‛akov, in his argument that genuine faith must result in good works, employs the identical verse about Avraham (Genesis 15:6, quoted in v. 23) that Sha’ul uses at Romans 4:3 to prove the complete sufficiency of faith without legalistic observances.

God’s friend ~ A friend, is not one who merely declares his loyalty but who proves it by his deeds. On the subject of friendship, Yeshua told his talmidim, “No one has greater love than a person who lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Yochanan 15:13–14). Avraham’s offering his son Yitz’chak resembles God’s offering His son Yeshua.

24 You see that a person is declared righteous because of actions and not because of faith alone. 25 Likewise, wasn’t Rachav the prostitute also declared righteous because of actions when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another route?

Rachav, the prostitute. See Y’hoshua (Joshua) 2:8–21, 6:25. She is also mentioned at Messianic Jews (Hebrews) 11:31 as one of the heroines of faith. Her example is even more striking than that of Avraham, for her works before her “conversion” were unarguably wicked. Her faith was genuine, for she not only affirmed the God of Israel (Y’hoshua 2:11) but did actions demonstrating her faith when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another route. This was the beginning of a complete change of lifestyle. Mattityahu 1:5 names her as an ancestor of Yeshua the Messiah.

26 Indeed, just as the body without a spirit is dead, so too faith without actions is dead. ~ Ya’akov 2:14-26 (CJB)

We will learn more from Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about Taming the Tongue.

Click here for the PDF version.

Epistle of Ya’akov (James) ~ 2:1-13

The Sin of Partiality

This passage is concerned with how Believers, specifically Messianic Jews, treat non-Messianic Jews inquiring about the Brit Hadashah faith. In Isra’el, as in most of the Roman Empire, the rich were oppressing the poor (2:6–7). But the temptation to make wealthy converts or inquirers feel welcome at the expense of the poor was immoral (2:4). The language of impartiality was commonly applied mainly to legal settings. Still, because synagogues served as houses of prayer and community courts, this predominantly legal image naturally applies to any gatherings.

My brothers, practice the faith of our Lord Yeshua, the glorious Messiah, without showing favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your synagogue wearing gold rings and fancy clothes, and also a poor man comes in dressed in rags. If you show more respect to the man wearing the fancy clothes and say to him, “Have this good seat here,” while to the poor man you say, “You, stand over there,” or, “Sit down on the floor by my feet,” then aren’t you creating distinctions among yourselves, and haven’t you made yourselves into judges with evil motives?

Your synagogue is talking neither about a Christian church service nor a gathering of Jewish nonBelievers but a Messianic synagogue. He would not refer to your synagogue and assume his readers were in charge of seating visitors if the Messianic Jews did not control the synagogue. This verse establishes a solid Brit Hadasah basis for modern-day Messianic synagogues, provided they do not exclude Gentile Believers. To do so would raise the middle wall of partition once again, in violation of Ephesians 2:11–16. A Messianic synagogue, while committed to preserving and developing a Jewish rather than a Gentile mode of expressing New Covenant faith, must be open to participation by believing Jews and Gentiles alike, as was Congregation Heart for Isra’el.

Listen, my dear brothers, hasn’t God chosen the poor of the world to be rich in faith (see Matthew 5:3) and to receive the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him? But you despise the poor! Aren’t the rich the ones who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name of Him to whom you belong?

Why treat the rich nonbelieving Jews in some particular way when they are the ones who oppress you and drag you possibly into a beit-din, a Jewish religious court, and insult the good name of him to whom you belong, namely, our Lord Yeshua, the glorious Messiah?

If you truly attain the goal of Kingdom Torah, in conformity with the passage that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

Kingdom Torah is not a new Torah given by the Messiah. It does not make the Mosaic Law obsolete, even though, as Galatians 5:14 puts it, the whole of the Torah is summed up in this one sentence: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (See also Romans 13:8–10.) Instead, Ya’akov means that Kingdom Torah is, in essence, nothing other than the Torah of Moses carried out, by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, in conformity with its own passage that says, Love your neighbor as yourself.”Yeshua was pointing in this direction when He said that this is one of the two mitzvot(principles) on which all of the Torah and the Prophets depend (Matt. 22:40).

But if you show favoritism, your actions constitute sin since you are convicted under the Torah as transgressors.

If you show favoritism, your actions constitute sin, no matter how much faith you claim to have.

The Torah condemns favoritism in another context with these words: Do not respect persons in judgment but hear the small as well as the great; do not be afraid of the face of any man, for the judgment is God’s. ~ Deuteronomy 1:17.

10 For a person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all. 11 For the One who said, “Don’t commit adultery,” also said, “Don’t murder.” Now, if you don’t commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Torah.

A person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all, that is, of breaking all the points of the Torah, as illustrated by v. 11. No one can have a right relationship with God apart from Yeshua. But it is not true that once violating a commandment means that one has broken the Torah permanently and is impossible to repair. That is not what this verse is saying. And it is certainly not true that the Mosaic Law as given was unfulfillable.

12 Keep speaking and acting like people who will be judged by a Torah, which gives freedom. 13 For judgment will be without mercy toward one who doesn’t show mercy, but mercy wins out over judgment. ~ Ya’akov 2:1-13 (CJB)

Therefore, speak and act with the knowledge that you will stand before the judgment of Yeshua one day. Everyone who enters our Kehillahs should experience them as environments of mercy and hope. If you don’t show mercy, don’t expect mercy. If you don’t offer hope, don’t expect hope. Confess any partiality in your life and look for opportunities to show mercy, for mercy wins out over judgment.

We will learn more about Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about Faith Without Works Is Dead.

Click here for the PDF version.