A fragment of an ancient manuscript, probably dating back to the 1st century, has recently been discovered, which contains a large portion of the ancient New Testament epistle of James – the first 13 verses of the second chapter. However, this manuscript differs considerably from all other copies of James’ epistle, in that other words are interspersed among the words of the canonical epistle. It appears that while our canonical epistle contains only the words of James himself, this newly discovered document also has the words of the persons whom James is addressing. It seems to be a dialog and I will attempt to translate it below as such. Though it seems clear who the parties are in the dialog, I have labeled the two speakers with a Jas for James and an Int for interlocutor.
Jas: “My brothers don’t have your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with favoritism” (verse 1).
Int: “We agree brother James, favoritism is a no-no. It would be incompatible with that Law of Love that Jesus was always talking about.”
Jas: “For if a man wearing gold rings and flashy clothes enters into your assembly … (verse 2a),
Int: “Ah, yes, brother James. Doesn’t happen often. You know, those rich folks are very busy people. But when it does happen we will be sure to show him the love of Jesus. We’ll actually love him more than ourselves.”
Jas: “… and a poor man wearing filthy clothes also enters” (verse 2b),
Int: “Yes, that does happen. You know our assembly isn’t located in exactly the best neighborhood.”
Jas: “and you look at the one wearing the flashy clothes and you say, ‘You sit here in a good place’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there’ or “You sit here under my footstool” (verse 3),
Int: “Yes, yes!” That’s exactly what we’d do. You can never be too careful about people like that filthy smelly guy. We get quite a few of those. You have to put them somewhere you can keep your eye on them.”
Jas: “haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil motives?” (verse 4)
Int: “James, you apparently don’t understand. That rich guy deserves preferential treatment. After all, he earned his money. He worked hard for it! And we here in this assembly can sure benefit from a guy like that. We’re not the wealthiest congregation you know. We could use a little trickle down. And as for that poor guy, for one thing he could clean up a little to come to church. Soap is cheap! And besides he probably doesn’t even have a job. Lazy. Probably on drugs. Welfare. Food stamps. He looks like he could even be an illegal! If he doesn’t like where we tell him to sit, he can just find another place to worship – with his own kind.”
Jas: “Listen my beloved brothers, didn’t God choose the poor of the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom that He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor!” (verses 5, 6a)
Int: “I thought that that just meant the spiritually poor. You know, those people who know they need Jesus. I don’t think that means worthless people like this guy. We’d never dishonor someone who’s really spiritually poor.”
Jas: “Aren’t the rich the ones who oppress you and personally haul you into court?” (verse 6b)
Int: “I wouldn’t call their actions oppression. And those of us who get hauled into court probably deserve it!”
Jas: “Don’t they blaspheme the beautiful Name that is called on you?” (verse 7)
Int: “Well, yes – but aren’t we supposed to love them as ourselves like Jesus said? Aren’t we fulfilling His Royal Law?”
Jas: “If you really fulfill the Royal Law according to the Scripture, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself, you’re doing fine. But if you practice favoritism, you’re committing sin and are convicted by the Law as transgressors” (verses 8, 9).
Int: “I don’t understand. I did love the rich guy as myself. Isn’t that enough? Do you
expect me to treat that other worthless bum in the same way? Aren’t there limits to this love business?”
Jas: “For whoever keeps the whole Law, but stumbles in one point has become guilty of the whole thing. (For He who said, ‘Don’t commit adultery’ also said, ‘Don’t commit murder!’ Now if you don’t commit adultery, but do commit murder, you’ve become a transgressor of the Law) (verses 10, 11).
Int: “Let me get this straight. You’re saying that the Law of Love is kind of like the Law of Moses. If those under that Law broke one rule they were guilty of breaking the whole thing. Are you saying that if I don’t love every person I meet in the same way that I showed love to that rich guy, I’m guilty of breaking the Law of Love? Wow! That’s bizarre!”
Jas: “So speak and behave as those who are going to be judged according to the Law of Freedom! For judgment is merciless to the one who didn’t show mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (verses 12, 13).
Along with this discovery there was also a smaller fragment containing a few more verses, with the same format.
Jas: “If a brother or sister is without clothes and in need of daily food …” (verse 15).
Int: “I’d say to him, ‘Get a job! Then you can feed and clothe yourself! Why should you come to me?’ God helps those who help themselves.”
Jas: “and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and fed and you don’t give them what they need for their body, what good is that?” (verse 16).
Int: “Like I said … “
The remainder of the fragment is missing. However, now that this document is published, it should change our thinking about how to deal with the “poor.”