It is one of the most beloved books in the Bible. Although it was not accepted by some in the earliest days of gathering the canon of Scripture, James is one of the most sacred and practical books on how to live the Christian life. It is written in the Hebraic mindset as the books of Hebrews, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude. To truly understand James, one needs to know the difference between Hebraic thought and Greek thought. In this introduction, we will see the difference between these two thoughts and how to better understand James’ writing.
First, according to the Greek mindset, life is sacred and secular while in the Hebraic mindset life is simply sacred. This means that the Greek mindset sees life as something sacred in its humanness. Humanity is the ultimate and it is sacred for this reason. According to the Hebraic mindset, life is sacred because there is One who has given us life, namely the God of the Bible.
Next, mother earth and nature are god in the Greek mindset while the God of the Bible is the Creator and is separate from creation. In the Greek mindset we are part of nature and therefore are tied only to this world or universe and it is mother earth or nature that rules us. Ultimately, man is god in his own right and determines all that he thinks, says, and does. In the Hebraic mindset, while being transcendent, God is also near to His creation. He is something other than creation because He created all things. In the Hebraic mindset, there is no such thing as “mother earth.” Moreover, God has called men to subdue the earth and all that is in it. Man is to rule the earth and have dominion. The Greek mindset says that the earth rules us.
Third, man is the measure of all things in the Greek mindset. Man determines his own destiny, determines who he is, what he wants to be, and how he wants to live life. His truth is his truth as it is man who establishes truth; relativism or subjectivism is the mantra. In the Hebraic mindset, truth is determined by God and His Word is the measure of all things. There is no error or falsity in God, therefore truth can only come from God and no where else. All things are measured according to the truth of God and His Word.
Fourth, the Greek mindset says that one ought to know himself. Whatever is in the inner self is of most importance. As Freud would say, we need to learn the id, the ego, and the superego to truly understand ourselves. On the other hand, Hebraic thought says that we need to know God. In knowing God we come to learn that we do not even understand ourselves because our hearts are deceitfully wicked, but God knows us perfectly well. We learn that God sees all while we only see in part. We learn in Hebraic thought it is God who udnerstands us and knows us perfectly well.
Next, in Greek thought manual labor is considered vulgar while in Hebraic thinking trades are honored. All rabbis would learn a trade as is exhibited in the life of Paul the apostle who was a rabbi as well as a tentmaker. Greek thought says that the elites deserved to be served by the servants while the Hebraic thought says that we are to serve one another no matter the station in life in which we find ourselves.
Finally, Greek thought teaches that education is for knowledge and for knowledge sake. Knowledge is king. the more you know the better off you will be because you will understand that man is the measure of all things, that life is secular, that mother earth or nature is god, and that you can learn to be served instead of serving. In the Hebraic mindset, education is for wisdom and character building. We learn what God says in His Word and we learn how to live our lives in such a way that we serve Him and others. We learn to love not only ourselves, but to love others and to serve them. We learn how to live a life that is lovely, honorable, noble, peaceable, reconciliatory, just, humble, and meek. We learn how work is something that is good and it is good to serve others.
When we come to the Epistle of James, we discover that it is written not in the Greek mindset; rather, it is written in the Hebew mindset. It has sixty different imperatives teaching us how faith and obedience work hand in hand in our relationship with God and with others. James is truly a portrait of faith.
*Series on the Epistle of James