3 July 2012

New Creation Theology in James

tetons-snake-riverThe book of James is packed with wisdom themes. Creation and wisdom are closely connected, so we might expect creation theology to be present in James’ writings.

Like the wisdom writers, James alludes to creation to make his points: the surf of the sea, the flowering grass, the sun, all these appear in the first few lines of the letter. Later on, horses, forests and fires make an appearance. But the most significant creation theology in the letter is found at the end of chapter 1.

Against those who portray God as a crafty trickster, seeking his people’s failure, James argues that God’s commitment to his people is seen in his commitment to his creation (as an aside, this is precisely the argument used in Jeremiah 31:35ff). God is the ‘Father of the lights’, an allusion to Genesis 1:3. The great lights, the sun and moon, are constant because God is constant in his giving of good gifts. And the commitment of God to redeeming creation is seen in his bringing new life to humans through faith in Christ. But this is just the beginning of a redemptive process that will embrace all creation.

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (Jam 1:18 NIV)

What this verse doesn’t mean is that those early Christians who James writes to are just the beginnings of God’s church – many more people will become Christians. The Greek word ktisma in the LXX is used to refer to the whole of creation, not just humanity. To argue that suddenly James is restricting its scope to humans only is very strange, but such interpretations are common. One popular NIV study Bible adopts precisely this interpretation, displaying and perpetuating the ignorance of creation theology in the NT that seems so widespread.

The true meaning of the verse is that the redemptive work accomplished through Christ in the hearts and lives of believers in the here and now is just the very first expression of a redemptive purpose which will one day embrace all of creation. It is what Paul writes of in Romans, 1 Corinthians and Ephesians. Our bodies will be redeemed, and the whole structure of the cosmos will be redeemed as the context for eternal life. That is the true goal of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah.

[Christians] have been reborn by the word of truth, the gospel…But redemption does not stop here, for the full harvest will follow the firstfruits and the consummation will include the whole creation.  Peter Davids