“He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:19)
Which birth is James talking about? We know there are two – and The Word is responsible for both.
Does this mean that we get salvation (birth) by hearing the gospel?
And is “the word of truth” secret code for the Gospel?
And what about the firstfruits thing – that’s a harvest thing right? Are all the creations going to be harvested and Christians are the cream of the crop? Or does it have nothing to do with a harvest? And why are we only “kind of” a first fruits? That doesn’t sound very certain.
There’s a whole bunch of stuff going on in this verse. It would make my brain hurt to cover it all in one post – so I think I’ll aim for getting this all sorted out in two.
The “He” is the easy part of the verse. Context tells me that “He” is the Father of lights from verse 18 – from just a few days ago.
But now it gets complicated.
We’ve found out that James is a very Jewish Christian – feet planted firmly in both traditions. This verse is also planted in both traditions. There are two different ways to ferret out the meaning – one has a Jewish flavor- one is non kosher.
And, just so you know, neither one really says what it seems this verse is saying.
I’m thinking the same thing as I type this.
I want to lean toward the Jewish reading of this verse, because the people to whom this letter was written were Jewish Christians. So James would be writing in a way that they would get it. If we go the Jewish way, the verse is saying, “We are created by God. He created all that is by speaking it into being, and we are thus to be offerings to God.”
I like that.
But then I want to lean to the New Testament way because they were just plain old Christian now, and maybe they’d get the New testament way better. The NT way ends up saying, that the people to whom James was writing were, “born again, by means of hearing the gospel, and are the first in a long line of like minded people.”
Well, that’s nice,
I like that too.
Now, the OT speaks of “Word”, and “truth”, but there’s never a “word of truth”. So right off the bat I”m thinking that this is a big hint. But it’s not a big enough hint for whole gob of theologians. So that makes me think twice.
Now, in the NT, we have “word of truth” in other places besides James. And here comes the Greek. You all know I love me some Greek. The words for “word of truth” look like this
and they are pronounced with the proper “Greek chef” accent, like this (remember, the accents are in color – and in this case there’s a hard, lingering “s” at the end)…
It helps if you use your hands.
If you say it a few times, and then look at the Greek, and say it a few more times, you’ll feel smart. I know it works for me. I just did it – and I feel smart.
So what is this “word of truth?
It could just mean telling the truth, like it does in 1 Cor 6:7. Paul says he went about his work in a whole bunch of ways, one of which was “in truthful speech” – literally by the word of truth.
I like that.
Then there’s the big spiritual meaning that’s in Eph 1:13, We were chosen by God, we exist for his praise, and it was by God, that it was possible for us to really hear, “the word of truth, the gospel…”
Then, well after Ephesians is written, Paul writes to Timothy telling him to take care in his preaching of the Gospel. Tim is to teach “the word of truth without deviation.” (2 Tim 2:15)
I’m gonna wrap this up for part one. I’ll let you know now, I’m leaning toward the NT way of seeing this verse – but I’ll wait for part two to hop on one side of the fence or the other. Or maybe I’ll just sit on the fence. That could work.
In the meantime, if there is anything you have heard about this that I haven’t, please share. Together we know more than any one of us. I really want us to share in this learning.