In which we encounter “the word of truth”

by Craig on December 27, 2010

What in the world does this verse mean?

“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.

Yeah.

I know.

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.”

That’s nice.

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

λόγῳ ἀληθείας

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)…

logo alaytheeas

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.

Good.

Simple.

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.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Wolf December 27, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Craig I think James is saying that Jewish believers by the will of the Father and through the Spirit are the first believers of Christ. I think it implies that Jewish believers are to be greater examples to Gentile believers because of this. I love this study keep it going brother. Learning a lot. I have not thought about Greek in 15 years. I love it.

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Craig December 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I love it when I learn a new perspective. You are so right. They were the first believers, they are first in the long line. And it would motivate them to be better examples to the Gentile believers around them. Our faith being both Jewish and Christian. They understood so much of the underlying story of the Gospel in a way Gentile believer couldn’t. I really thank you for that Scott. Brilliant. I am grateful you for taking the time and shared it with me. God Bless.

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Debbie December 27, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Loving learning about the word of truth here in the post and the comments! :) Craig, wish I was learned and could add something, but . . . ha! So I’ll just keep reading and thanking you!

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Craig December 27, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Deb, you are learned, you keep forgetting I read you and learn from you all the time. You don’t ever need to add a thing, if you have a reaction to what I wrote, or a feeling of some sort – share whatever. No pressure. That you are here – that’s my blessing. God Bless.

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Anonymuss December 27, 2010 at 4:36 pm

I think I will line up behind Debbie, Craig. I am finding both views fascinating at this point…but, to echo Deb, my Greek is in the creek, pretty weak, mostly bleak, so will just have to wait and peek… at what you speak…the next time! (hastily erecting a tomato shield as I type!)

Lately, I have been finding it fascinating to discover when ‘Word’ means Jesus and when it means actual words, scripture, etc. That is partly why this particular study of yours holds me, though it is not an identical study.

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Craig December 27, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Very poetic A :) Good thing you have your shield up. As always I’m just really happy you are here – despite – the – was that poetry????? God Bless. And thanks.

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Anonymuss December 27, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Nope. No poetry here, Craig. Just creek-speak, gutter-utter, things that make one shudder, etc. Diving for cover behind shield now!! Ugggh!

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Joyce L Gibson December 27, 2010 at 10:15 pm

You’ve given me something to chew on. I’ve given my life to simplifying truth to fit the understanding of young children, so I appreciate the challenge you set before me. Now I am eager for your insights into the rest of the verse and I am hoping you’ll show how verse 18 follows verse 17.

By the way, I responded to yesterday’s nessage but must have missed the SUBMIT key and lost it! Sorry.

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Craig December 27, 2010 at 11:59 pm

I think that 17 provides a little “God is big, really big” context for 18. It’s kind of like in Genesis where there are “two” accounts. The first being the macro account, the stars, the big creation – then the more personal one where he makes people. Verse 17 is the big focus – and then 18 gets personal.

Then I have to keep in mind always that James is “wisdom writing” like Proverbs – sometimes there’s a section where it all goes together – but just as often — if not more often – he flits from one wisdom saying to the next. Hope that helps. If not – ask me again till I get the answer right :)

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