James 1:5 and Joseph’s Grove
Written by John Carson
James 1:5 is a wonderful Bible passage.
- "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." (James 1:5)
When read in its context, it gives hope to believers. How does the Mormon church view this passage?
First prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith Jr., said of James 1:5 in Pearl of Great Price (considered Mormon scripture):
- "Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine...." (Joseph Smith - History 1:12)
Seeing that Joseph Smith claimed the impact of this verse from James' Epistle came so powerfully to him, it would be expected that he would have interpreted such a passage in the most correct manner. How did Joseph Smith view James 1:5? Did he apply this Scripture within its intended purpose?
Joseph Smith went on to say:
- ".... the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible...." (Joseph Smith - History 1:12)
That a proper understanding of James 1:5 is important, I definitely agree with! An improper understanding of a particular verse can throw off an individual's understanding of the other passages that surround it. The harmonization of Scripture with Scripture is key to knowing if a Bible student is on the right track. If a verse is used in a context not supported by the surrounding verses, it is a passage used 'out of context', which often leads to a destructive path. So, is it serious? You bet it is!
But before we check out the Biblical context of James 1:5, let's see how Joseph Smith used it.
- "My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join." (Joseph Smith - History 1:18) (emphasis mine)
These accounts from Pearl of Great Price shows Joseph Smith, after reading James 1:5, went to a grove to acquire knowledge from God about information ("to know which of all the sects was right"), and to acquire knowledge about an action ("that I might know which to join"). There's nothing wrong with a 14 year old boy going into a wooded area to pray to God for guidance about confusing issues and life choices. The issue at hand is this: Was this how James 1:5 was to be understood... that seeking God for wisdom was for gaining knowledge about whether any particular religious sect was right, and which to join?
Let's check the context of this first chapter of James:
Who was the Epistle of James written to? Was it written to believers, or to those who do not yet believe?
- "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." (James 1:2)
It was not written to those who did not yet believe, but to all who already belonged to Christ. In particular, this section of James' Epistle was written to fellow Christians when they experience all sorts of temptations. Verse 14 reads:
- "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust."
So right away we see that asking for wisdom had everything to do with dealing with a believer's own inner personal struggles with temptations. James 1:5 has nothing to do with acquiring knowledge about others. A Mormon reading this might interject, "The struggle the young Joseph Smith was faced with, was to choose what was right. That's why he inquired of God. He didn't want to make the wrong choice."
Again, there's nothing wrong with that in itself, but to apply this verse in such a way stretches it out of its context. Seeking guidance about whether someone else is right, or about who to follow is not what James was talking about here. He was talking about reasons why we should "count it all joy" when we are faced with various temptations (verse 2). Would it be a joyous experience for a young teenager to be confused about who is right about God and not certain about where he belongs? Of course not.
What reasons would the Christian have to "count it all joy" from facing various temptations?
When a Christian is faced with a temptation, he/she can "count it all joy" knowing that "we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God!" (Hebrews 4:14), and that we can "therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:16). The Christian need not despair when temptations come because, "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13). A believer can "count it all joy" when faced with temptations because there are blessings in the enduring. In James' Epistle he wrote:
- "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12)
Through trusting the Lord during trials and temptations, God grants the believer patience to endure:
- "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." (James 1:3-4)
Our walk with God becomes closer and sweeter, where the believer can say:
"The LORD is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart exults,
And with my song I shall thank Him." (Psalm 28:7)
Now when we consider James 1:5 within this context, we see that when believers are faced with temptations and trials, their first act is to appeal to God. They can have full confidence that God will give them the wisdom they need. The rejoicing comes with knowing that God Almighty is exalted and glorified through trust, and the patient enduring He provides to those who belong to Him.
Joseph Smith used James 1:5 as if it meant gaining wisdom from God was to acquire knowledge about others. Mormons are thankful for Joseph Smith.
James 1:5 actually teaches those who belong to Christ should seek wisdom from God to endure trials and temptations. To God be the glory!
A wonderful thing really did happen to a 14 year old boy when he went to pray in a grove of trees. Read what happened in: