Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires that spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? James 4:5
The Scripture – When you read this verse, do you simply assume that James is quoting some verse in the Old Testament (Tanakh)? Better check your cross references. You may find some suggestions, but you won’t find any verses that say what James says. Careful reading discovers that James isn’t actually quoting Scripture at all. At least, he is not quoting Scripture in the same way that we think about quotations. So, why does he mention the Scripture here?
There are two important lessons to learn from James’ vocabulary. The first is right on the surface although it is easily overlooked. It is simply this: for James the Tanakh is God’s word. It is the relevant source of authority for understanding what God says about us. What we call the Old Testament, James calls Scripture. It has not been set aside. It has not been surpassed or made obsolete. It has not been abolished. It is still the final rule of faith and practice in the believing community, years after the resurrection of Yeshua. James appeals to the Scripture without hesitation, explanation or justification. What God says in the Tanakh is directly applicable to Messianic believers.
Once that point is settled, we can examine the next discovery. James isn’t actually quoting any particular passage in the Tanakh. He is summarizing a grand theme of the Old Testament. That theme, found throughout the Tanakh, is the righteous jealousy of God over His people. God desires (intensely) that His people act with absolute fidelity toward Him. He is jealous over the fact that He chose us. He desires that the spirit He gave His chosen people directs all their activity toward worship. He will not and does not let us go.
We all know this indubitable fact of spiritual existence, but what James makes clear is that all of the Tanakh is riddled with this divine jealousy and all of it is useful for teaching, instruction and correction. Actually, the fact that James doesn’t quote any particular verse but rather summarizes a consistent theme is of great benefit to us. It teaches us that the early church did not parse out some books of the Old Testament as acceptable and others as unacceptable. The theme of the jealous God is found everywhere in the Old Testament, and as a result, James’ vocabulary endorses the whole of the Old Testament. When James uses the Greek ‘e graphe, he has in mind everything from Genesis 1 to Malachi 4. James’ Bible was the Hebrew Scripture. Its themes, instructions and purposes were valid for his community. That means the Hebrew Scripture was the authority for the early church.
Is it still your authority today?
Topical Index: Scripture, James 4:5, graphe, authority