The last letter of “The Old Testament”

We read the Gospels as “New Testament” even though they are about a time when the Gentiles and the Jews were two separate peoples (even if both were believers), the Temple is still central, the dietary and cleanliness laws are still enforced, and animal sacrifice is still practiced. What makes them “New Testament” is that they are written after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Even though they record the old world, they are written in the new world.

But I suspect there is one letter in “The New Testament” that was written in the old world by someone who did not completely know how the new world was about to be brought to birth.

In my opinion, James was written before Jesus died. This has nothing to do with any alleged problems with what James writes about justification and good deeds. (The fact he knows nothing about a Jew-Gentile issue in relation to justification is more relevant to my case). The smoking gun is this:

Name any other “New Testament” epistle that encourages believers to endure through suffering without mentioning the death and resurrection of Jesus as a past event that should give them encouragement and hope.

Beyond that, lets remember that the Gospels give us precious little information about what went on during Jesus three-year ministry. We know from the synoptics that Jesus sent out “missions” (a group of twelve and a group of seventy sent out in pairs) to preach throughout Israel. We lean in John’s Gospels that Jesus disciples baptized, that they had to flee from the Pharisaic persecution because they were baptizing, and that the religious leaders excommunicated those loyal to Jesus. The Gospels also show us groups in households where Jesus could go to teach and receive hospitality (such as the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha).

Wouldn’t people loyal to Jesus in different areas, who had received baptism from his representatives, meet regularly for prayer, Bible study, and mutual encouragement? Wouldn’t they invite fellow Jews to join them in the hopes of persuading them?

And could not those who had been cast out of the synagogue view themselves as “diaspora” even if they were geographically still in Israel?

I have toyed with this idea before. Recently, I listened to Jeff Meyers’ lectures on James where he argues that the author is James the son of Zebedee and for an early date. I found the lectures quite good (as well as personally convicting on some issues). But I just think the early date is earlier than he thinks. See also this.

9 thoughts on “The last letter of “The Old Testament”

  1. Pingback: When was James Written? | Resurrectio et Vita

  2. Jason B. Hood

    Fascinating stuff, Mark. My only reservation ATM: I’m convinced that “implanted word” and the like are tied to OT New Covenant language (Jer 31, etc; I think that this element plus final judgment/vindication are the “indicative” for James that replaces what’s often there, namely, death and rez, which as you note aren’t explicitly in play). Assuming that’s the right take, I have a hard time seeing how James would speak this way during Jesus’ life. (I also wonder why they wouldn’t send a letter from Jesus himself.)

    Otherwise, I really like the idea and much of it makes good sense, particularly as it highlights the continuity between Jesus and the early church. It reinforces the need to get theology and instruction from Jesus, not just our attempted Pauline theologies.

    Reply
    1. Mark Horne

      Jason, thanks. I’ve been convinced for some time that the New Covenant begins with the return from exile. This seems to me to be the time reference for Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s prophecies. Also, I believe (contra Wright and… everyone else) that this was Jesus’ view. We see it in the driving out of the Money changers when Jesus appeals to Isaiah: “My house should be a house of prayer for all the nations.” He doesn’t treat this as a future promise but an already-fulfilled prophecy that has since been fallen from (sorry for passive plus ending with preposition).

      So I don’t see the same challenge as you about the New Covenant language. Also, I have already considered interpreting James as warning his audience about becoming the two bad soils in the parable of the sower. We must neither become lovers of the world nor those who rise up and then fall away in persecution (my current opinion is that the rocky soil not only gives way to persecution but also invites such persecution because it “rises up immediately”).

      I don’t know why James would write and not Jesus. He didn’t seem shy about directly dictating to John…

      Reply
  3. Jason B. Hood

    “I’ve been convinced for some time that the New Covenant begins with the return from exile.”
    and
    “He doesn’t treat this as a future promise but an already-fulfilled prophecy that has since been fallen from (sorry for passive plus ending with preposition).”

    This is actually pretty close to my own view, which I developed via Richard Pratt. I’m not (yet) fully convinced that “New Covt” should function this way; I think at present that it’s on offer in (say) Haggai, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, but never attained. I think Daniel 9 suggests that New Covenant simply isn’t going to happen, because of Israel’s disobedience, failure to repent, failure to be The Servant. And so the world is left to wait for True Israel, True Humanity.

    But I teach exactly your point for something like Isaiah 65-66, which most would see as solely future. It’s pretty obvious from vv 17-20 that what Isaiah envisions is very this-worldly…and it’s equally obvious from the greater context that this was never fully attained, and remained something out there in the future awaiting access.

    Reply
  4. Scott Moonen

    Jason, James Jordan devoted a conference lecture to this in the 1999 BH conference — session 7 on “When did the new covenant begin.” I think he also covers it in his book Through New Eyes.

    Mark, I think you first introduced me to that idea back when you were helping me to make sense of Jeremiah 31 contra the credobaptist reading. You pointed out to me that the context clearly points to a proximate fulfillment in the restoration.

    Reply
  5. Tim Gallant

    Hm. I don’t really think that any of the disciples pre-resurrection were thinking of Jesus as “the Lord of glory” (2:1).

    Furthermore, James writes to “be patient. . . until the coming of the Lord” (5:7). I just don’t see him writing that until after the ascension.

    Reply
  6. Tim Gallant

    “Name any other “New Testament” epistle that encourages believers to endure through suffering without mentioning the death and resurrection of Jesus as a past event that should give them encouragement and hope.”

    2 Thessalonians

    (1 Thessalonians is similar; although the resurrection is mentioned, the focus is on the coming of Christ.)

    Reply
  7. todd robinson

    I like the possibilities here. But I still want to keep the softball linguistic connection between Acts 8:1 and James 1:1 (diaspora). Still argues for early date though.

    Also, it seems to me that even the first half of Acts (the Jewish half) is still practically very similar to the OT-ishness of the Gospels, even though in principle Resurrection/Pentecost had changed things, true Israel was still in process of being restored.

    Reply

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