Using Bible Study Tools: James 1:5-8, an Example
Studying the Bible can be difficult, especially when you encounter passages that don’t seem to square with other teachings from the Bible. Not long ago, I was preparing to teach on James 1:6-7. These verses state that “the one who doubts . . . ought not to expect anything from the Lord” (NASB). Does this passage shut the door on any experience of doubt? Or is there something more going on here?
Christians throughout history have experienced doubt (Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, and C.S. Lewis, just to name a few). Even the Psalms are full of people who experienced doubt. And who can’t relate to that desperate cry of the father, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:23-25)? How then should I teach this passage in James to my class?
Whenever you encounter a difficult passage, a good place to start is by comparing the passage with other versions. I started with several literal translations; I wanted to be sure the difficulty is not the result of a poor translation. I took a quick look at the ESV, NKJV, CSB, and the NIV; the passage is pretty much the same across those translations.
When I looked at a more meaning-based translation, the NLT, something interesting happened. The NLT does not even mention the word “doubt.” Instead the focus is on loyalty: “be sure your faith is in God alone. Do not waver . . .” (James 1:6, NLT). Did the NLT simply water down this verse?
Before dismissing the NLT as a bad translation, I decided to explore why the many respected translators and scholars who developed the NLT had translated the verse as they did. I thought commentaries may offer some insight, but single volume commentaries on James can get pretty expensive—about $30 a book—and they can be technical. Some cheaper quality options include the Tyndale Commentary Series or a single-volume Bible commentary like the New Bible Commentary. The New Bible Commentary (NBC) is only $30, but you get access to the condensed work of the top scholars of today.
I found my answer to this problem in the New Bible Commentary. Peter H. Davids (the author of “James” in the New Bible Commentary) writes, “This kind of a doubter is a person who is not wholly committed to God, but ‘plays it safe’ by praying. Their real interest is in the advancement in this world, but they also want to enjoy some of God’s blessings now and go to heaven when they die.” So, while doubt is being discussed in James, it’s not the type of doubt you may be dealing with personally or at your church.
Teaching the Bible effectively sometimes means you have to dig a little. Good preparation may take some extra work, but the insights you introduce to the members of your Bible study may have a powerful impact on their spiritual lives. It is worth the effort.
Eric Espinoza is a Th.M. student at Gateway and assistant to President Iorg.