The question of authorship of this epistle is somewhat complex. The relatively weak external evidence, the difficulty of determining which James is in view, as well as the possibility of pseudonymity and redactional stages, render any discussion of authorship a bit untidy. Our approach will be to discuss the internal evidence (including evidence from the rest of the New Testament), the external evidence, more recent critical discussions, and finally, alternative theories of authorship.
In 1:1 the author identifies himself as “James, the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” No other identification is given. The NT mentions four men bearing the name of James.1 It is probable, though not certain, that the writer of this epistle is to be identified with one of them.2 The four who are called James in the NT are listed here, as candidates for author of this epistle, in ascending order of probability.
a. James the father of Judas (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13), “possibly otherwise identified with Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus, to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot (Mark 3:18; Matt. 10:3).”3 Apart from the fact that he is the father of an obscure apostle, nothing else is known about this James, rendering him a rather unlikely candidate as the author of a work to “the twelve tribes” in which his simple self-description is assumed to be understood by all.
b. James the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; 15:40 [here called James the Younger]; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13) is an unlikely candidate for similar reasons: he is an obscure apostle, mentioned only in lists of apostles and disciples.
c. James the son of Zebedee and brother of John (Matt. 4:21; 10:2; 17:1; Mark 1:19, 29; 3:17; 10:35; 13:3; Luke 9:28; Acts 1:13; 12:2) is an important figure in the Gospels,4 less so in Acts due to his early death as a martyr under Herod Agrippa I no later than the spring of 44 CE (Acts 12:2). It is precisely this early martyrdom which argues against identification of this James with the author of our letter. Although it must be admitted that he could possibly be the author of the letter, he “probably died too early to leave any literary remains . . . ”5 Further, there is a good possibility that Herod’s persecution of Christians, which began with James’ execution, is in the background of, and provides part of the occasion for, this epistle; given such a presupposition, James the brother of John cannot have been the author. Finally, there is nothing compelling on behalf of this James: prominent though he was in the Gospels, he is mentioned only twice in Acts (the second mention records his death; Acts 12:2). Thus in contrast to the fourth James, this James does not seem to have had sufficient recognition in the early church to have written an encyclical letter with an unqualified self-designation.6
d. James the Lord’s brother (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Gal. 1:19; called simply James in Acts: 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; and in 1 Cor. 15:7), mentioned only twice by name in the Gospels (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3), he rises to prominence after Pentecost. Arguably, James became the de facto leader of the Jerusalem church sometime before A.D. 44,7 and was one of two leaders Paul met with in Jerusalem three years after Paul’s conversion (Gal. 1:19). The assignment of this James (also known in later church traditions, starting with Hegesippus, as “James the Just”) as author of the letter has been the traditional view. Guthrie8 summarizes six reasons as to why this James is the most likely candidate:
1) The author’s self-identification points to this James, “for it is evident that a well-known James must have been intended, and as far as the biblical record is concerned, the Lord’s brother is the only James who appears to have played a sufficiently prominent part in early Christian history.”9
2) The author’s Jewish background, both in terms of his use of the OT (including a few quotations, numerous allusions, and several illustrations), and in other, more subtle ways (e.g., traces of Hebrew idioms behind his otherwise polished Greek; Hebrew prophetic style, etc.).
3) Similarities between James and Acts: James’ speech in Acts 15 contains many striking parallels in language with the epistle of James. For example, caivrw is found in Jas. 1:1 and Acts 15:23 (and elsewhere in Acts only in 23:26); Acts 15:17 and Jas. 2:7 invoke God’s name in a special way; the exhortation for the brothers (ajdelfoi) to hear is found both in Jas. 2:5 and Acts 15:13. Further, not-so-common individual words are found in both: ejpiskevptesqe (Jas. 1:27; Acts 15:14); ejpistrevfein (Jas. 5:19 and Acts 15:19); threi'n (or diathrei'n) eJautovn (Jas. 1:27; Acts 15:29); ajgaphtov" (Jas. 1:16, 19; 2:5; Acts 15:25). Though short of conclusive proof, this is nevertheless significant corroborative evidence.
4) Similarities with the teaching of Jesus: “there are more parallels in this Epistle than in any other New Testament book to the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels.”10 The parallels to the Sermon on the Mount are especially acute:11
Joy in the midst of trials
Exhortation to perfection
Asking for good gifts
Hearers and doers of the Word
The whole law to be kept
Blessings of mercifulness
Blessings of peacemakers
Friendship of the world as enmity against God
Against judging others
Moth and rust spoiling riches
The prophets as examples
The point Guthrie attempts to draw from this is that the author probably heard the Lord himself.12 However, this would not prove that James, the Lord’s brother, was responsible for the epistle (for the son of Zebedee would be just as likely a candidate). Further, the earliest stratum of the Jesus traditions is, in some ways, impenetrable. That is to say, we have no easy and infallible test for determining whether an author was an eyewitness and heard Jesus himself or whether he was merely a recorder of primitive oral tradition. Nevertheless, to be fair to Guthrie, it seems that he is affirming the veracity of the traditional authorship against a late (ca. 90s) non-Jacobean authorship. In this regard, his point is indeed well taken, for the oral tradition of the dominical sayings which James uses shows no dependence on any of the written Gospels.13
5) Agreements with the NT account of James: Not only is he seen as leader of the Jerusalem church in Acts 15, but he is also seen as a champion of the continued validity of the law, in some sense at least. “His outlook was correspondingly limited. The full freedom of the gospel had not yet reached him. He lived in an age of transition.”14 This portrait of James by Luke corresponds well with James’ statements about the law in the epistle (cf., e.g., 1:22-25; 2:8-13), as well as with the obvious authority with which he writes his letter.
6) The conditions within the community: “The community appears to belong to the period before the fall of Jerusalem. The oppressors are wealthy landowners, who, after the siege of Jerusalem, virtually ceased to exist in Judaea . . .”15
In sum, the internal evidence is relatively strong—especially when considered cumulatively—for James, the Lord’s brother, as the author of this epistle. And in light of the rather weak claims of the other candidates, the relative strength of this James moves him beyond a reasonable doubt.
The epistle of James is first mentioned by name by Origen, who apparently regards it as scripture. Eusebius and Jerome also cite it as scripture, and apparently accept it as from the hand of James, the Lord’s brother. Eusebius, however, classes it among the antilegomena and Jerome seems to imply that another wrote in James’ name or later edited the work. Before Origen, however, there does seem to be a definite strain of allusions to James in early Christian writers, especially Clement and Hermas.16 Whether these writers allude to James or whether all three borrow from a common pool of wisdom motifs cannot be demonstrated either way.17 But the generally negligible attestation for James may well be due to a cause other than inauthenticity: “While the evidence certainly allows for theories which entail late, nonapostolic authorship, a theory of limited interest in and circulation of the epistle would also explain the evidence.”18
Its limited circulation would be due no doubt to the fact that it was sent to Jewish Christians of the East Dispersion.19 And its limited interest would be due to several factors: (1) it does not claim to be apostolic; (2) it is not controversial—i.e., it is not the kind of document which could be used in the second century battle against the gnostics; (3) it lacks the dynamics, passion, and persuasiveness of the Pauline letters; (4) it is neither christological nor theological in its thrust, but merely ethical; and (5) in the one place where it does appear to be theologically oriented (2:14-26), it seems to contradict the theology of the Pauline Hauptbriefe.
In sum, in light of the fact that there is no good reason to consider the work pseudonymous, its limited recognition must be due to reasons other than inauthenticity. The traditional view, that James the Just, the brother of our Lord, is the author, stands as most probable over against any other James and over against any claim of pseudonymity.
Guthrie lists six arguments against the traditional view:20
a. The Greek is too good for a Galilean peasant. Greek grammarians generally recognize James‘ Greek as among the most refined in the New Testament.21 It is indeed “paradoxical that one of the most Jewish letters in the New Testament should have been written by an author apparently so much at home in the Greek language . . . ”22 This refined Greek “has presented the most difficult problem to those who believe that James, the Just, a Galilean Jew, wrote the book . . . ”23 But in order for this argument to have force against the traditional view of authorship, a number of assumptions must be made: (1) Galilee was either not a bilingual region or, in the least, Aramaic was the language one learned first; (2) James could not have learned (or polished his) Greek as an adult; (3) James did not use an amanuensis; (4) this letter did not go through some sort of hellenized revision before publication.
Against these assumptions is considerable evidence: (1) More and more scholars are coming to the conclusion that first century Palestine—especially those locales heavily occupied by Roman troops and/or involved in commerce with the outside world—was thoroughly bilingual. Dalman, Silva, Sevenster, Gundry, Howard, Argyle, Colwell, Hughes, Porter, Meyers and Strange, etc. are but a few who have done significant research in this area. Indeed, the conclusion of some is that Greek was the primary tongue, Aramaic (or Hebrew) the secondary—some even concluding that Aramaic was spoken only by the Sadducees and those who inhabited Jerusalem.24 Suffice it to say that the verdict is not yet out as to how well the Jews of first century Palestine in general—and James in particular—would have known Greek.
(2) It is indeed possible that had James not learned Greek as a child, he could have picked it up as an adult. A number of factors could have contributed to this, not the least of which was the necessity to be a mediator between the two factions of the early church. The possibility of learning Greek or honing his Greek skills as an adult finds an analogy in Josephus and, perhaps, John the son of Zebedee.25
(3) There is the greatest probability that James used an amanuensis. The use of an amanuensis for all the New Testament epistles, except for Philemon, 2 Peter, 2 John and 3 John, is indeed quite likely. Longenecker points out that
The Greek papyri . . . indicate quite clearly that an amanuensis was frequently, if not commonly, employed in the writing of personal letters during the time approximating the composition of the NT epistles. They also suggest that at times a letter was composed without secretarial help, particularly when sent from one member of a family to another and/or where the contents were of a more intimate or informal nature.26
The papyri evidence which Longenecker and others have put forth may imply that for many of the epistles an amanuensis cleaned up the Greek to some degree, so that the particular style of the mind behind the work is somewhat shaped and altered by another’s hand. If that is the case with James, then there is hardly any necessity for James to know Greek well; he merely needed to employ a learned scribe. Further, that an amanuensis was at work may explain both the terse style which lacks the periods of literary Greek (for the scribe may have cleaned up the Greek, but would not have substantially rewritten it) as well as the stray Semitisms which occasionally “slip by.”27
(4) Increasingly, scholars are coming to the conclusion that James went through one or more revisions before it took on the form (its final published form) in which we now see it. This hypothesis needs careful examination, which will have to wait our final section on authorship (alternative views to the traditional one).
In sum, if any one of the four assumptions can be successfully challenged, then there should be no problem with seeing James the Just as the author of this epistle. The strongest cases against these assumptions seem to be numbers one and three (i.e., James was bilingual, having grown up in Galilee; and James used an amanuensis who may have cleaned up any glaring traces of unGreek idiom). And the evidence for both arguments is continually increasing to such a degree that it would not seem prudent to abandon Jacobean authorship in the face of it.
b. The author does not claim to be the Lord’s brother. (This and the following arguments are not nearly as weighty as the first consideration. They can, therefore, be dispensed with quickly.) Guthrie points out that “the apostle Paul recognized that knowledge of Jesus Christ in the flesh was no longer important (2 Cor. v. 16) and the same consideration would lead the Lord’s kinsmen to refrain from claiming any advantages due to family times with Him . . . [James’] reference to himself as a “servant” is far more becoming.”28 Indeed, the brother of Jesus should be the first to recognize that a physical relationship to Jesus was, in itself, worthless (cf. Mark 3:31-35; cf. also John 8:31-47).
c. The author makes no reference to the great events of our Lord’s life. This is clearly an argument from silence. Must we assume that in every document from nascent Christianity all of the great doctrines have to made explicit? Likewise, must we assume that every eyewitness of the Christ event had to parade his own experiences before his readers in everything he wrote? If James were writing a gospel, his omission would obviously be less explicable. But if the occasion for this letter is more rooted in ethical concerns, this accusation is groundless.
d. The concept of the law in this epistle is said to differ from what might be expected from James. James seems to view the Law in its ethical obligations rather than in its ritual. “There is a curious silence regarding the burning question of circumcision with which James was so deeply involved.”29 But if this letter is dated before the apostolic council of Acts 15—where circumcision surfaced as the issue of the hour—one would not expect to find mention of it.30 Further, by viewing the Law in ethical terms, James is simply emulating Jesus—and it has already been mentioned that the teachings of Jesus have made a heavy impact on the content of this letter.
e. The author’s relation to other New Testament books is said to be unfavorable to James, the Lord’s brother. This argument has two subpoints: (1) there are a few literary parallels between James and other NT books, which the majority of scholars believe show that James depended on the other works and, hence, was written later than during the lifetime of the Lord’s brother; (2) James 2:14-26 seems very much to interact with (and attack) Paul’s doctrine of justification—hence, James must have been written after Galatians and Romans.
(1) General parallels. In response to this first point, there are actually very few parallels between James and other NT books (a parallel with 1 Peter could be made best, and there is no unanimity of opinion as to who copied whom or whether both authors drew on a common source—whether written or, more likely, a common spiritual milieu).31 Any arguments based on literary dependence, when the material is so sparse, can only be a secondary consideration at best.
(2) (Antithetical) Parallels with Paul. Regarding the second point, it does indeed seem likely that James is interacting with Paul’s doctrine of justification in 2:14-26. It is rather doubtful that Paul is reacting to James, as Guthrie would have it,32 for not only did he claim to be in agreement with James on this issue (Gal. 2:9-10), but Paul’s doctrine of justification is not isolated to a single passage, but is interspersed throughout his letters. On the other hand, James’ discussion of the issue is in one pericope and has all the earmarks of a polemical diatribe. Some scholars argue that James and Paul are not at all talking about the same thing.33 Once again, this seems to be an overly facile expedient (especially in light of the cluster of Pauline-like terms in 2:14-26—e.g., faith, works, righteousness, salvation, as well as the broader concepts of how one is saved, etc.), motivated more than likely by a desire for harmonization. Even Kümmel seems motivated by this, for he sees “a real theological problem, because Paul and James are both in the canon of the NT and therefore are both witnesses of revelation . . . ”34 In light of the great possibility that James is, in some sense, reacting to Paul’s doctrine of salvation, does this not remove James the Just as the probable author? No. In order to demonstrate this, a brief exposition of Jas. 2:14-26, followed by some general principles and comparisons, are appropriate.
(a) Brief Exposition of James 2:14-26. It is our belief that James is reacting to a perverted “Paulinism”—i.e., the slogan of the Pauline churches that faith alone saves. Surely this would have trickled down and affected all the churches in the early decades after Pentecost. But if none of Paul’s canonical letters had yet been written, Paul’s true doctrine could easily have been garbled, especially when it was heard second- or third- hand. (Indeed, since the Pauline slogan is so garbled in Jas. 2:14-26, it is all the more likely that neither Galatians nor Romans had yet been penned.) James is thus not reacting to Paul, but to a perversion of Paul’s teachings. As Ropes puts it:
[James] is repelling the practical misuse which was made, or might be made, of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone in order to excuse moral laxity. James shows no comprehension of what Paul actually meant by his formula; but the formula itself is foreign to him and he heartily dislikes it.35
In its context, James has just warned against partiality toward the wealthy. The temptation to appease the rich (perhaps both rich merchants and the wealthy high-priestly families)36 was all the greater because James’ audience was apparently on the financial fringes of society. In light of this, it would be quite convenient to adopt Paul’s slogan of sola fide without embracing its true content—as an excuse for not helping the poorer members of the believing community.37 Consequently, one might loosely say that chapter 2 can be broken down in two parts: Christians’ attitudes toward the rich non-Christian and Christians’ attitudes toward the poor Christian.38
Jas. 2:14-26 can be broken down into three sections: one illustration (vv. 14-17), and two arguments: one rational (vv. 18-20), the other biblical (vv. 21-26).
(i) Illustration: A Poor Christian (14-17). James first argues that one who lives by the slogan of sola fide, if he does not care for the misfortunate within the believing community, cannot be saved. He does not yet explain what he means by faith, which awaits the next section. It seems that he never explains what he means by “save.” In light of the well-worn Jewish idea of salvation as having especially an eschatological focus, it is best to interpret this in the same manner: James is saying that one whose faith has no works is one whose faith is not sufficient to save him from hell.
(ii) Rational Argument: Demons’ Faith (18-20). Although there are numerous problems with the content of what the supposed objector says, it seems best to see him as arguing that one can be saved either by faith or by works. James rebuffs this view (v. 18b) by saying that it is impossible to divorce the two.39 He then argues that demons divorce the two in that they only do one—believe. Yet, they have hell as their eternal home. Here he defines what “unsaving” faith is (implicitly, at least): a faith which cannot save is one which is doctrinally correct (demons’ belief), but one in which there is no personal relationship, nor any works. What then is saving faith? James answers this in the final section.
(iii) Biblical Argument: Abraham, Rahab (21-26). For his positive argument, James uses two illustrations from the OT. First, Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac (21). His faith could not be divorced from works, but cooperated with it (22). That Abraham’s faith preceded his works is implicit in two ways: (1) works perfected his faith (22) and (2) the scripture which said he had faith (Gen. 15:6; Jas. 2:23) was fulfilled by his works. That saving faith is more than intellectual assent, and indeed more than faith + works is seen in James’ last comment in v. 23—“he was called God's friend.” Thus, saving faith implies a relationship to God—it involves “trust in,” not just “belief that,” or even “belief that,” plus “work for.” James summarizes by saying that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (24). This is the clearest statement against the Pauline slogan of sola fide (cf. Rom. 3:28—“a man is justified by faith, apart from works of the law”). It should be kept in mind that James is not reacting to Paul directly, however, for he uses every key term differently. By “works” James means “charitable deeds.”; Paul means “works of the law”; by “justified” James apparently means either vindicated before men, or eschatologically justified, while Paul has a forensic idea in mind (an idea which is foreign to virtually every other NT writer); and by “faith” James distinguishes unsaving faith from saving faith, while Paul seems to speak primarily or exclusively of the latter (both would agree that “belief in” and not just “belief that” is the essential ingredient of saving faith).
Lest one think that heaven is reserved only for those with the moral qualifications of Abraham, James hastens to add another illustration. Rahab, too, was saved (ejdikaiwvqh—justified, vindicated) when she helped the spies get away (25). James reminds his audience that Rahab was a prostitute—yet she was saved. There is no evidence in the text that her lone deed erased her sins; rather, her belief in God did—and it is evident that this was a genuine belief because she acted on it. Both illustrations link faith and works together in such a way that it is unthinkable that one could please God without both. Yet, faith preceded works in each illustration. James concludes with an analogy (26) which ought not to be made to walk on all fours: a dead faith is surely the same as a faith which never was alive.40
(b) Principles and Comparisons from Jas. 2:14-26. To highlight what James is addressing and not addressing, eight theses will be given.
(i) James does not deny the necessity of faith, only its adequacy.
(ii) James is addressing the fruit of salvation, while Paul is addressing the root of salvation.
(iii) In keeping with other biblical writers, James does not use “works” as a criterion for judging others, but as a criterion for judging oneself.
(iv) For James, the faith which does not save is intellectual assent; for Paul, the faith which does save is a heart-response to God’s call—it is trust in, not just belief that. Thus, they are not talking about the same thing.
(v) For James, “justified” means either “vindicated” or “eschatologically justified”; for Paul, it means “declared righteous.” Thus, they are not talking about the same thing.
(vi) For James, “works” means good deeds—charity, Christian love, etc; for Paul, it means works of the Law which some see as necessary for salvation, rendering the cross-work of Christ as less than adequate. Thus, once again, they are not talking about the same thing.
(vii) James seems to look at how our spiritual status is seen and approved/disapproved by others, while Paul looks at how it is seen and initiated by God.
(viii) Both James and Paul would agree with the statement that genuine, saving faith results in works. Or that sola fide, properly understood, means that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is not alone.
In conclusion, as Davids aptly points out, “James uses every significant term pivsti", e[rga, dikaiosuvnh, with a differing and more ‘primitive’ meaning than Paul.”41 Consequently, “to argue that James directly attacks Paul is to argue that James is a consummate blunderer, for he fails to meet Paul’s arguments at all and instead produces a work with which Paul would have agreed!”42 It is our conclusions, therefore, that James argued against a perverted Paulinism before the canonical Pauline letters had been composed.43 And this of course points to James the Just as the author—and at an early period.
Guthrie lists six alternate theories regarding the origin of the letter.44
a. The epistle is pseudonymous. “The most damaging criticism of this kind of theory lies in the simplicity of the description of the author and in the lack of adequate motive.”45 That is to say, any later writer wishing to claim James’ authority would certainly speak more eloquently of James—the very ambiguity in the title renders this possibility less than likely. And his motive for claiming James’ authority for a piece which is primarily ethical, rather than doctrinal, seems unrecoverable.
b. The epistle was originally anonymous, later attributed to James. Not only does this suffer from the same criticisms as the pseudonymous view receives, but it also has the additional problem of a late start in life: that is to say, it starts out as anonymous, then becomes pseudonymous. “In the period when spurious apostolic works began to be prolific, particularly in support of Gnostic ideas, the vigilance of the church was much too intense to allow such a work as James to slip through its net.”46 Not only this, but if James is a second century work, why are its parallels with Paul and the Gospels so inexact, resembling the pre-literary period of the church?
c. The epistle was by some other James. As we have already mentioned,47 “this is certainly possible, but not probable, for what teacher of so little significance that he is now unknown would take it upon himself to address such a significant portion of the church (i.e., the twelve tribes), let alone in such weighty tones?”48
d. The epistle was originally a Jewish document. Both F. Spitta and L. Massebieau independently (in 1896 and 1895 respectively) arrived at the conclusion that 1:1 and 2:1 were later Christian interpolations, added to a strictly Jewish document. As ingenious as this suggestion is, it suffers several criticisms: (1) text-critically, the only evidence we have of James is as a Christian document. And since we have a plethora of evidence for the NT as a whole (and even James is not lacking its witnesses), to argue that any NT book had a literary history radically different than what is now found in the better MSS is speculation at best.49 (2) If this were strictly a Jewish document, why would the author apparently be familiar with, and approvingly quote, certain dominical sayings now found in the Gospels? As Mayor points out, Spitta’s alleged parallels with Jewish material are less convincing than parallels with the Sermon on the Mount.50 (3) Further, why would he even find it necessary to combat a perverted Paulinism? That 2:14-26 is in this epistle points very clearly, it seems, to an inner-Christian discussion. (4) An interpolation is unlikely at 1:1, because 1:2 seems to key in on a term in 1:1, as a sort of play on words: caravn (“joy”) is alliterative, back to caivrew (“greetings”) in 1:1. This suggests that the two verses originally went together. As Guthrie summarizes, “the text in both these instances does not lead us to suppose an interpolation.”51 (5) If this were strictly a Jewish document, then many of those arguments which are leveled against Jacobean authorship apply with greater force to this hypothesis—e.g., the view of the law in its moral aspects only, the good Greek, etc. (6) Finally, “the whole epistle breathes a Christian spirit, in spite of the absence of specific Christian doctrine.”52
e. The epistle was patterned on the twelve patriarchs. That is, analogous to several Jewish pseudepigrapha such as the Testament of Adam, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, etc., this letter was an address by the patriarch Jacob to the twelve tribal fathers. Thus the epistle was pseudepigraphical, but like several Jewish pseudepigrapha it would have been so understood and accepted. Again, analogous to these pseudepigrapha, Jacob’s sons are represented by the virtues listed in this letter. (The view was originally proposed by Arnold Meyer in 1930.) There are three problems with this view, however. (1) As “ingenious as the theory is, its very ingenuity is its greatest barrier.”53 That is to say, it is so subtle that no one until this century is ever recorded as seeing it. (2) The patriarch’s name, Jacob, as far as I am aware, is always in Koine Greek written as an indeclinable noun, Iakwvb, while the NT James is written Iakwbov". That this letter follows the latter practice seems decisive against the patriarchal view. (3) As Davids points out, “Most of [the] identifications are very weak and the better ones are for Isaac, Rebecca, and several non-Israelite nations—none of them sons of Jacob.”54
f. The epistle incorporates some genuine material. A mediatorial position, most recently articulated by Davids (though around for more than fifty years), is that the letter has gone through at least two stages, one containing authentic material from James the Just, the second stage being a reworking of the material for a later audience by an unknown editor. Davids’ primary argument is that the good Greek of the letter, coupled with a strong Jewish element, is an apparent contradiction of form. “If one wishes to explain the apparent contradiction of forms, it will be necessary to come to some type of a two-level hypothesis for the composition of the work. . . . The hypothesis is quite simple: the epistle is very likely a two-stage work.”55There is much to commend this view, but it still falls short on four counts. (1) As Guthrie points out, “a thing is not true because it is conceivable, but because the evidence requires it, and this can hardly be said in this case . . . If some real connection with James would have been generally recognized, why the need for this theory at all . . . ?”56 (2) In light of the fluid state of amanuenses’ work—i.e., that they either wrote by dictation or entirely rewrote their masters’ statements, or anywhere in between—this theory again seems unnecessary. (3) This flies in the face of James’ apparent use of Paul’s slogan of sola fide—i.e., it seems quite primitive and polemic, based on an incorrect apprehension of its true nature. This would only be true before the Pauline Hauptbriefe had been published and widely circulated. (4) Text-critically, there is not a shred of evidence that James ever had more than one textual history—i.e., that it ever existed in two published forms. Davids’ thesis requires this, however. The only possible way for it to be true (and be evidenced in the MSS) is for itff (Corbeiensis) to reflect the earlier edition,57 but this Latin MS differs from Vaticanus (B) only 21 times and can hardly be supposed to go back to an Aramaic original (due to its late date, translational nature, and otherwise derivative features [as seen in its text for other NT books]).
It is our conviction that the traditional view, that James, the Lord’s brother, authored this epistle, has the least amount of internal problems. And in light of the unanimous (though admittedly not widespread) patristic testimony for Jacobean authorship,58 coupled with the lack of virtually any other view for the first eighteen centuries of the church, this is still the most plausible view.
The date of this short epistle is intrinsically bound up with its authorship. If, as we have argued, this letter is by James, the bother of the Lord, then it must have been written before 62 CE (the date of James’ death).59 Among those who embrace the traditional authorship, two dates are normally advocated: either early (pre-50s) or late (toward the end of James’ life). It is our opinion that an early date best fits the evidence.
1. There is no mention of the fall of Jerusalem, perhaps implying that James was written either before Jerusalem’s destruction or considerably after it.60 (This datum, of course, could fit either date within the traditional view.)
2. There is no mention of the Gentile mission, nor of Gentiles being admitted into the church. This seems to suggest a date before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 (49 CE).
3. The simple church order (viz., only teachers [3:1] and elders [5:14-15] are mentioned, and in an unadorned way)61 tends to suggest an early date, though not much can be made of it.
4. The assembly of Christians is called sunagwghv (2:2), a term everywhere else in the NT used for a Jewish congregation. This very terminology implies (in my mind, strongly) an early period (when Christianity was still very much regarded as a Jewish sect), confirming a date before 49 CE.62
5. The relation of Jas. 2:14-26 to Paul, as we have already suggested, seems to be preliterary. That is to say, James only gives a caricature of Paul’s theology in this section, suggesting that he was arguing with “Paulinism” rather than with Paul. If the author seems not to have had any exposure to Galatians or Romans, the most satisfactory reason for this is that neither Pauline epistle had yet been written. Hence, a date no later than 49 CE.
Admittedly, each individual argument may not be extremely weighty in itself. But the cumulative effect argues for a date no later than 49 CE. But as we suggested earlier (and will develop later), there is a good possibility that Herod’s persecution of Christians, which began with James’ (the son of Zebedee) execution, is in the background of, and provides part of the occasion for, this epistle. If this is true, then a date no earlier than 44 CE—and probably not much later—would be most fitting. It is our tentative conclusion that James was written, therefore, c. 44-45 CE, making it the earliest writing in the New Testament canon.
Evidence for an early date and Jacobean authorship also supports the probability that the addressees were Jewish Christians. In addition, there are other lines of evidence which support a Jewish Christian audience, two of which are as follows.
James opens his letter with the greeting “to the twelve tribes which are in the dispersion.” The term diasporav is normally used in biblical Greek to refer to the scattering of the Jews (cf. Deut. 28:35; 30:4; Isa. 49:6; Jer. 41:17; Psalm 146:2; John 7:35). However, in the NT it can refer to Christians (1 Peter 1:1).63 However, it would be more difficult to demonstrate that “the twelve tribes” refer to Christians in the New Testament, rendering this designation in Jas. 1:1 most probably a reference to Jewish believers.
Two questions still need to be asked: where? and why? The dispersed believers would, of course, be located outside of Jerusalem and perhaps Judea. More than this cannot be said with certainty.64 But since Jews had already been scattered throughout the Roman Empire for some time, and since virtually every major city had a synagogue, it is not unreasonable to suppose that James was writing to a geographically widespread audience going far beyond the reaches of Palestine. At the same time, the difficulty in getting a letter to such a widely diffused audience seems to argue for a Palestinian dispersion.65
As to the reason for the dispersion, two catalysts are distinctly possible: (1) the persecution of the church by Saul in 34 CE (Acts 7–8), and (2) Herod’s persecution in 44 CE (Acts 12). The Jewish Christian communities may have been established due to the first persecution, and their numbers strengthened due to the second. Although Saul’s persecution spread far beyond the reaches of the holy city, Agrippa’s seems to have been more localized. If so, then there is no compelling reason to argue for a non-Palestinian audience for James.
There are four circumstances hinted at in the letter which are particularly noteworthy.
a. Jewish Background. Not only do they meet in a synagogue (2:2), but the only credal statement in the epistle relates to monotheism (2:19), and the circumcision controversy so prominent in Paul’s letters to largely Gentile audiences is wholly absent. Further, “the Palestinian background of either the author or the readers or both is seen in the references to the autumn and spring rains in Jas. 5:7, a weather phenomenon limited to the eastern Mediterranean coastal plain and lowlands.”66
b. Poverty. That James’ audience is made up largely of poor folks is obvious from his warnings in 2:1-13 (especially v. 5) and passim. They are either poor “dirt farmers,” tenants who worked the land of the rich (5:1-6), or merchants (4:13-17). Davids points out that
In pre-70 Palestine, then, and to a large extent in post-70 as well, one finds a cultural situation in which the majority of the population consists of peasants subsisting on a small plot of land. The size of their plots and conditions favoring a growing population forced all males but the eldest son into trade (if they were lucky) or unskilled labor.67
What may also be significant is that although occasionally the rich are addressed in this letter, they are never called “brothers.” It would seem, then, that the wealthy are on the fringes of James’ audience, serving primarily as a foil for his ethical instructions.
c. Immaturity. The audience apparently lacked maturity in the faith, as is evidenced by James’ intimation of (1) their failure to “practice what they preach” (1:22-27; 2:8-11); (2) their partiality toward the rich and unwillingness to help the poor believers (2:1-26); (3) their inconsistent speech patterns (3:1-12); and (4) their tendency toward confidence in self rather than confidence in God (4:13-17).
d. Oppression. James’ audience was also an oppressed group. Indeed, it was more than likely because of their poverty, combined with their Christian conviction, that they were oppressed. As Davids declares,
One can picture what this situation did to the church in Palestine. On the one hand, the church naturally felt resentment against the rich. They had “robbed” many of the members of their lands; they probably showed discrimination against Christians in hiring their labor; and they (at least the high-priestly clans) were the instigators of attempts to suppress the church (which was probably viewed as a revolutionary movement). On the other hand, if a wealthy person entered the church or was a member, there would be every reason to court him. His money was seen as a means of survival. Certainly one should not offend him.68
Further, their inappropriate response to the oppression, rather than the oppression itself, is what James condemns, pointing out that they should seek in such circumstances the wisdom and gifts of God. In this James affirms a principle seen elsewhere in scripture: what makes a man of God is not a natural response to a favorable condition, but a proper response to any condition. It is not the circumstances but the response to the circumstances which produces character.
In light of our reconstruction/hypothesis as to authorship, date, and audience, the occasion for this letter can be seen.
1. The persecutions by Saul (34 CE) and especially by Agrippa (44 CE) separated James from his audience via the diaspora. The subsequent diaspora raised the need for correspondence; the reason for the diaspora shaped its contents. The trials these believers were facing would need to be addressed.
2. Simultaneous with Agrippa’s persecution was the prophesied worldwide famine, which seemed particularly acute in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). The resultant (deepened) poverty was doubly bad for Christians living in Palestine, for the wealthy landowners and religious aristocracy would certainly side with Agrippa’s attitude toward Christians. These Jewish Christians’ inadequate response to the rich would call for instruction/correction from their spiritual leader.
3. The believers’ inadequate response to other believers who were particularly hard hit by the famine was fueled by their misappropriation of the Pauline slogan, “a man is justified by faith alone.” “Under financial pressure people tend to hold orthodox belief, but also to grasp tightly to whatever money they have.”69 Rather than seeking to understand what Paul meant, these believers used the slogan as an excuse for not practicing their faith. Rather than understanding the slogan himself, though, James simply sought to show how their application of it made them no better off than demons!
4. The general immaturity of these believers, as evidenced already in their inappropriate responses to trials, the rich and the poor, would help James to fill out the letter with other paraenetic advice. Many pockets of immaturity would have surfaced because of the persecution and famine, though certainly some had already been evident beforehand. Agrippa’s persecution, coupled with the famine, however, would be the final catalyst which prompted the leader of the Jerusalem church to write to his scattered flock.
James emphasizes a faith which is productive in the midst of trials. Put succinctly, the theme of James is “a belief that behaves.”
James opens his letter with a greeting to Jewish Christians who had left Palestine and had scattered (1:1) because of Saul’s and Agrippa’s persecutions.
After this very brief greeting, James is no longer concerned with niceties: the rest of the letter is body—i.e., no thanksgiving for the saints, no final greeting, no benediction. The body has three main parts: enduring trials (1:2-18), applying the Word (1:19–3:18), and witnessing to divine providence before the world (4:1–5:20). Each section begins with a summary, followed by specific details which, to some degree, retrace the summary points in chiastic fashion. But the chiastic pattern is not perfect, for like any good preacher James is more concerned to get his message across and he will not allow an artificial structure to get in the way. In some ways, the argument could be traced via expanding concentric circles (many, for example, see 1:19 as the key to the outline), but this produces less satisfactory results than the approach we have taken.
In the first main section, James speaks about enduring trials (1:2-18). He begins with a summary statement (1:2-8) in which the main theme is on the testing of one’s faith. The key is that to endure trials one must look upward, not outward. In this statement James touches on four points: (1) trust in God’s sovereignty in the midst of trials (1:2); (2) trials produce perseverance and perseverance produces maturity (1:3-4); (3) God gives wisdom and all good things to the one who believes (1:5); and (4) genuine faith must remove doubt (1:6).
James then develops these points in chiastic order. First, the one who doubts is unstable and will receive nothing from the Lord (1:7-8). Second, since God is the giver of all good things, if he has not given the believer wealth, he has given him something else: character (1:9-11). Third, the one who perseveres in his faith (in spite of the circumstances) will be blessed and rewarded with the crown of life (1:12). Finally, the believer ought never to blame God for his temptations or trials (1:13-15), but instead should thank him for his goodness and sovereign care (1:16-18).
The second major section deals with faith as it works out within the community. The mishandling of trials by believers not only does nothing for their faith in God; it also negatively affects the Christian community. (Indeed, it is quite probable that if James’ audience had been heeding the instructions in 1:2-18 the rest of the letter would never have to have been written.) James begins with a summary statement in which he articulates four elements of the obedience of faith: (1) obedient faith is not quick-tempered (1:19-21); (2) obedient faith is not passive (1:22-25); (3) obedient faith involves a tight rein on the tongue (1:26); and (4) obedient faith is impartial in that it even helps widows and orphans—that is, those who cannot repay (1:27).
James then develops these themes in (roughly) chiastic order. First, he addresses the sin of partiality: rather than helping the downtrodden, his audience has been catering to the rich (2:1-13). James paints a hypothetical situation of two men entering the church, one poor and one rich, in which the church shows partiality (2:2-4). The audience is then rebuked both for partiality and for its naivet about the wealthy (2:5-7). Then James gives a biblical argument for showing no partiality (2:8-11), and finishes this section with a restatement of the biblical principle: it is impossible to compartmentalize God’s requirements; therefore, “speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom” (2:12, NIV).
Second, James now turns to the issue of passivity vs. obedient faith (2:14-26). In its context, James has just warned against partiality toward the wealthy. The temptation to appease the rich (perhaps both rich merchants and the wealthy high-priestly families)70 was all the greater because James’ audience was apparently on the financial fringes of society. In light of this, it would be quite convenient to adopt Paul’s slogan of sola fide without embracing its true content—as an excuse for not helping the poorer members of the believing community.71 Consequently, one might loosely say that chapter 2 can be broken down in two parts: Christians’ attitudes toward the rich non-Christian and Christians’ attitudes toward the poor Christian.72
James 2:14-26 can be broken down into three sections: one illustration (vv. 14-17), and two arguments: one rational (vv. 18-20), the other biblical (vv. 21-26).
(i) Illustration: A Poor Christian (2:14-17). James first argues that one who lives by the slogan of sola fide, if he does not care for the misfortunate within the believing community, cannot be saved. He does not yet explain what he means by faith, which awaits the next section. It seems that he never explains what he means by “save.” In light of the well-worn Jewish idea of salvation as having especially an eschatological focus, it is best to interpret this in the same manner: James is saying that one whose faith has no works is one whose faith is not sufficient to save him from hell.
(ii) Rational Argument: Demons’ Faith (2:18-20). Although there are numerous problems with the content of what the supposed objector says, it seems best to see him as arguing that one can be saved either by faith or by works. James rebuffs this view (v. 18b) by saying that it is impossible to divorce the two.73 He then argues that demons divorce the two in that they only do one—believe. Yet, they have hell as their eternal home. Here he defines what “unsaving” faith is (implicitly, at least): a faith which cannot save is one which is doctrinally correct (demons’ belief), but one in which there is no personal relationship, nor any works. What then is saving faith? James answers this in the final section.
(iii) Biblical Argument: Abraham, Rahab (2:21-26). For his positive argument, James uses two illustrations from the OT. First, Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac (2:21). His faith could not be divorced from works, but cooperated with it (2:22). That Abraham’s faith preceded his works is implicit in two ways: (1) works perfected his faith (22) and (2) the scripture which said he had faith (Gen. 15:6; Jas. 2:23) was fulfilled by his works. That saving faith is more than intellectual assent, and indeed more than faith + works is seen in James’ last comment in v. 23—“he was called a friend of God.” Thus, saving faith implies a relationship to God—it involves “trust in,” not just “belief that,” or even “belief that,” plus “work for.” James summarizes by saying that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). This is the clearest statement against the Pauline slogan of sole fide (cf. Rom. 3:28—“a man is justified by faith, apart from works of the law”). It should be kept in mind that James is not reacting to Paul directly, however, for he uses every key term differently. By “works” James means “charitable deeds.”; Paul means “works of the law”; by “justified” James apparently means either vindicated before men, or eschatologically justified, while Paul has a forensic idea in mind (an idea which is foreign to virtually every other NT writer); and by “faith” James distinguishes unsaving faith from saving faith, while Paul seems to speak primarily or exclusively of the latter (both would agree that “belief in” and not just “belief that” is the essential ingredient of saving faith).
Lest one think that heaven is reserved only for those with the moral qualifications of Abraham, James hastens to add another illustration. Rahab, too, was saved (ejdikaiwvqh—justified, vindicated) when she helped the spies get away (2:25). James reminds his audience that Rahab was a prostitute—yet she was saved. There is no evidence in the text that her lone deed erased her sins; rather, her belief in God did—and it is evident that this was a genuine belief because she acted on it. Both illustrations link faith and works together in such a way that it is unthinkable that one could please God without both. Yet, faith preceded works in each illustration. James concludes with an analogy (2:26) which ought not to be made to walk on all fours: a dead faith is surely the same as a faith which never was alive.74
Third, James addresses the issue of controlling one’s speech (3:1-12). Two sections are thus implicitly linked together: faith and works and faith and words. Lest his audience think that an obedient faith is obedient only in what it does (2:14-26), James follows this up: faith is also obedient in what it says (3:1-12). He begins, in typical Jewish fashion, with an ad maior a minor argument (from the greater to the lesser). Even teachers need to control their tongues (3:1); hence, one whose tongue is kept in check is a mature man (3:2). Then James launches into a series of analogies. First, even though the tongue is small, this is not an argument against its power: horses’ bits, ships’ rudders, and sparks in the forest are also small, yet they have great power (3:3-6). Second, it is ironic that even though human beings have tamed all kinds of animals, we cannot tame our own tongues (3:7-8). Third, it is just as inconsistent for the tongue to praise God and curse men as it is for fresh and salt water to come from the same spring or the same tree to produce two different kinds of fruit (3:9-12).
Fourth, James concludes this second major section with a note on the wisdom of obedience (3:13-18). This paragraph beautifully caps the second section: just as faith must be impartial, and productive in deed and word, it must also be wise. This “wisdom-motif” has been seen before in 1:5, but the real content of wisdom in 3:13-18 is not related to trials as much as it is to community issues. Thus James uses wisdom as a character goal which comes about by the lack of bitterness, envy and selfishness—all outgrowths of anger (3:13-14); indeed, the proper kind of wisdom is from heaven (cf. 1:16-18), not from earth, and produces a beautiful harvest of good deeds (3:17-18).
Without any transitional conjunction (typical of James), the author begins his third major section: the exercise of faith before a watching world (4:1–5:20). In this section he completes a trilogy: faith directed toward God (1:2-18), faith applied in the community (1:19–3:18), and faith before the world (4:1–5:20). He characteristically begins with a summary statement on the reward of faith (cf. 4:10). This statement includes three points: (1) the prayer of faith (4:1-3), (2) friendship with the world (4:4-6), and (3) the humility of faith 4:7-10), which culminates with the key verse to entire section: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up” (v. 10).
James then fills out this summary section with specifics, though the order here is not chiastic. (A comparison of the two sections rather reveals an A B C/B C A pattern, with several overlaps between paragraphs.) First, he urges the believers to avoid worldly influences (4:11–5:6). This involves three things: (1) Do not judge one another, for only God is judge. In this paragraph James reveals a motif which he has been shaping throughout his epistle: judging is showing favoritism (in fact, it is like what the rich do to the believers [2:1-13]), judging is employing an uncontrolled tongue (3:1-12), and judging is the opposite of humility (4:7-10).75 (2) Do not boast about the affairs of the future for such boasting reveals an independent and presumptuous spirit (4:13-17). (3) The wealthy landowners are then rebuked for oppressing the poor (5:1-6). The rebuke is fraught with eschatological overtones, giving great earnestness to the warning.
Second, James now turns to the oppressed share cropper and implores him to be patient (5:7-12). For the believer, the Lord’s return is a message of hope (5:7-8) just as it is a message of doom to the rich oppressor (5:1). A patient faith refrains from judging (5:9; cf. 4:11-13). James concludes with “the patience of Job” as a biblical illustration (5:10-11) and a reminder not to swear (5:12)—for such swearing is presumptuous (cf. 4:13-18).
In the final part of this third major section of the epistle, James gives admonition about believing prayer (5:13-20). First, he urges prayer on behalf of the sick, pointing out that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (5:16, NIV). Second, he gives the biblical illustration of Elijah as a man of faith (5:17-18). Third, he reminds the believers of their mutual responsibility toward each other (5:19-20).
It is fitting for James to conclude his epistle on the prayer of faith for this once again brings the focus directly on God. He began his epistle with this theme (1:2-8) and now concludes it the same way. Ultimately, a belief that behaves cannot be such a belief unless there is a God who shows grace.
I. Salutation (1:1)
II. Enduring Trials (1:2-18)
A. Summary/Main Theme: The Testing of Faith (1:2-6)
1. Faith in God’s Sovereignty (1:2)
2. Faith and Perseverance (1:3-4)
3. Faith and God’s Gifts (1:5)
4. Faith Vs. Doubt (1:6)
B. Specifics (1:9-18)
1. Faith Vs. Doubt (1:7-8)
2. Faith and Finances (1:9-11)
3. Faith and Perseverance (1:12)
4. Faith and Fatalism (1:13-18)
III. Applying the Word: Faith Within the Church (1:19–3:18)
A. Summary/Main Theme: The Obedience of Faith (1:19-27)
1. Anger Vs. Obedience (1:19-21)
2. Passivity Vs. Obedience (1:22-25)
3. Speech and Obedience (1:26)
4. The Impartiality of Obedience (1:27)
B. Specifics (2:1–3:18)
1. Partiality Vs. Obedience (2:1-13)
a. Summary (2:1)
b. Hypothetical Situation: Rich and Poor Enter the Assembly (2:2-4)
c. Rebuke for Showing Partiality (2:5-7)
d. Conditions of Obedience (2:8-11)
e. Principle (2:12-13)
2. Passivity Vs. Obedience (2:14-26)
a. Summary (2:14)
b. Hypothetical Situation: Impoverished Believer in your Midst (2:15-17)
c. Rational Argument: Demons’ Faith is Passive (2:18-20)
d. Biblical Argument: Abraham’s and Rahab’s Faith is Active (2:21-25)
e. Principle (2:26)
3. Speech and Obedience (3:1-12)
a. Summary: The Tongue as a Measure of Maturity (3:1-2)
b. Argument by Analogy (3:3-12)
1) Analogy One: The Tiny Tongue (3:3-6)
a) Bits in Horses’ Mouths (3:3)
b) Rudders on Ships (3:4)
c) Sparks and Forest Fires (3:5-6)
2) Analogy Two: The Tamed Tongue (3:7-8)
3) Analogy Three: The Forked Tongue (3:9-12)
a) Praising and Cursing (3:9-10)
b) Fresh and Salt Water (3:11)
c) Schizophrenic Produce (3:12)
4. The Wisdom of Obedience (3:13-18)
IV. Witnessing to Divine Providence (4:1–5:20)
A. Summary/Main Theme: The Reward of Faith (4:1-10)
1. The Prayer of Faith (4:1-3)
2. Friendship with the World (4:4-6)
3. The Humility of Faith (4:7-10)
B. Specifics (4:11–5:20)
1. Avoiding Worldly Influences (4:11–5:6)
a. Slander in the Community (4:11-12)
b. Boasting about Tomorrow (4:13-17)
c. Warning to Wealthy Oppressors (5:1-6)
2. The Patience of Faith (5:7-12)
3. The Prayer of Faith (5:13-20)
1 Although most scholars believe that only four men in the NT bear this name, Martin asserts that “no fewer than six or seven persons known to the New Testament writers carry the name of James” (James, xxxi). Martin’s basis for this is that James the younger (Mark 15:40) is to be distinguished from James the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18), and James the brother of Judas (or Jude; cf. Jude 1) is to be distinguished from James the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19). Martin does not mention the seventh James.
2 More accurately, we could say that the author wishes himself to be identified with one of them, for if this were a pseudonymous work the author would of course not be identified with any James. Against the notion of pseudepigraphy, we need only mention that the very ambiguity of 1:1 mitigates any attempt at deception for a pseudepigraphical writer would certainly make a better effort at identifying which James he was attempting to emulate. Added to this is the fact that “the absence of motive for a pseudonymous production such as James is a strong argument against it. If the letter is merely a moralizing tract, why did it need James’ authority and why should he be chosen?” (Guthrie, 742).
As to an unknown James (a view Moffatt held), Davids points out that “this is certainly possible, but not probable, for what teacher of so little significance that he is now unknown would take it upon himself to address such a significant portion of the church (i.e., the twelve tribes), let alone in such weighty tones?” (6). Nevertheless, we should guard ourselves against the overly facile assumption that the authors of all the NT books must be well known or mentioned elsewhere within the pages of the canon. Each case must be examined on its own merits; in this case, Davids’ point of a broadly based audience does indeed seem sufficient to cancel out an unknown figure.
4 One interesting feature of the Gospel records is the fact that John usually plays second fiddle to James: e.g., in Mark 3:17 we read of “the sons of Zebedee, James and his brother John” (cf. also Matt. 4:21; 10:2; 17:1; Mark 1:19; 13:3). Although this may be due to James’ more central role in the apostolic band, or to his being older than John, it is just as likely that his martyr’s death in 44 CE secured for him such prominence. Still, it must be said that he was never an insignificant apostle for not only was he part of the “inner circle” (Peter, James, John), but Herod singled him out for execution no doubt because of his ongoing prominence.
6 The simple self-designation of Jas. 1:1 is not at all in keeping with the NT description of James the son of Zebedee, but conforms very much to the NT pattern in describing James the brother of Jesus (cf., e.g., Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; 1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 2:9, 12; and probably Jude 1). In other words, the brother of the Lord was known, from early on, merely as James in both Pauline and non-Pauline circles. This was never true of James the son of Zebedee.
7 Acts 12:17 records Peter as singling out James from the rest of the church, as though he were its leader.
11 It should be noted that James does not verbatim quote the words of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew, but rather summarizes the teaching of the Lord or puts it in different words than what is recorded in the Gospels. This fact probably suggests that James is writing during the oral period, before the Gospels were penned.
13 The parallels with Matthew are given because Matthew records more of the Sermon on the Mount than does Luke and James’ wording is closer to Matthew’s than to Luke’s (where the parallels exist in both Gospels). This probably indicates that James came from the circle(s) as did Matthew, nothing more. Indeed, some scholars (e.g., K. Aland, B. H. Streeter) dispute that James’ allusions are more like Matthew than Luke.
17 “ . . . the allusions have a problem: they consist of the common use of rare vocabulary, the common treatment of similar themes, or the common use of similar ideas. They do not consist of the common use of syntactical units large enough to absolutely prove dependence of the one on the other” (Davids, 8).
19 One of the interesting things that New Testament textual criticism has taught us is that the voluminous transmission of the New Testament text was due largely to the work of Gentile scribes, for both apologetic and liturgical reasons. James and Revelation would least fit the criteria of such supply and demand; it is no wonder then that they are the least copied books of the New Testament.
24 Although this conclusion seems too bold, it is not insignificant that even the most thoroughly Jewish of the NT documents (James, Matthew, Hebrews) were all written in Greek. Attempts to find a Semitic Vorlage behind any document (individual dominical sayings being the lone exception) have all fallen shipwreck on the rocks of early textual evidence. In this light, the Sanhedrin’s statement about Peter and John (Acts 4:13) that they were “unschooled and unlearned” (ajgravmmatoi kai; ijdiw'tai) most certainly refers to their lack of Rabbinic training, not their inadequate knowledge of Greek (a view, which though quite popular, has absolutely nothing to commend it culturally or contextually)! And the fact that no one at Golgotha (either sojourners or locals) is recorded as understanding Jesus’ quotation of Ps. 22:1 (cf. Matt. 27:46-47; Matthew even translates this for his audience!) suggests that perhaps Greek had become the lingua franca even of Palestine. On this point it is a tantalizing suggestion that the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman might have taken place in Greek, because in John 4:25 the woman is recorded as saying, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called Christ.” Why she would add the Greek translation if the conversation took place in Aramaic is quite puzzling. And to suggest that this is John’s editorial addition flies in the face of all his other well-defined editorial interjections.
On the other hand, we are not prepared to argue that Aramaic was unknown, or that it was not the primary language of some of the writers of the NT. By analogy, growing up in southern California, less than one hundred miles from Mexico, several of my friends knew Spanish quite well. Their knowledge had nothing to do with learning the language in school (which we all did). It had everything to do with their immediate contacts. Learning a foreign language has as much to do with one’s trade and immediate associates as with one’s locale.
25 This latter analogy (a dubious one, in my mind) is on the twin assumption that (1) John wrote both the Fourth Gospel and Revelation and (2) John wrote Revelation first (by some thirty years) and improved his Greek between the writings of both books. I wholeheartedly reject the second assumption, and even have my doubts about the first.
27 The first two chapters of Luke are analogous to this for this extended prologue is filled with Semitisms and Septuagintisms, even though the rest of the book is very good Koine Greek. It is almost self-evident that Luke did not care to rid (or was not conscious of) all the Semitisms which were in his source in these first two chapters. If such is the case with Luke, then it is not a case of petitio principii to say that James’ amanuensis did not care to rid all the Semitisms which James dictated.
30 Circumcision did indeed seem to be an issue in Galatians which, in our opinion, was also written before the Jerusalem council. In Gal. 2:12 “certain men from James,” who believed that Jews should not eat with Gentiles, and were advocates of circumcision, came to Antioch. We are not told, however, that they officially represented James’ position. In fact, it is likely that they were overzealous in their representation, just as many of Paul’s churches overzealously misunderstood his doctrine of grace. Therefore, Gal. 2:12 cannot be used as proof of James’ view of the law any more than the Corinthians’ lifestyle can be used as a living example of Paul’s understanding of grace.
32 “On the whole, probability favours rather more the view that Paul is acquainted with a perversion of the kind of teaching which James reflects rather than that James is safeguarding against a perversion of Paul” (Guthrie, 739).
36 See Martin, lxii-lxvii. He argues, for example, that “The high-priestly families who owed their tenure in office to Herod were not Palestinian Jews but powerful families imported from the Diaspora who looked to Rome to maintain them in office and were ill-famed for the exploitation of the poor generally and the lower priests in particular”(lxvi). See also his excellent discussion on “The Piety of the Poor” (Armenfrmmigkeit) on pp. lxxxiv-lxxxvi.
37 This might find analogies in the Corinthian church which took its freedom to an extreme, or even in the practice of many modern Christians who, when they find that tithing is not applicable for NT Christians, decide to stop giving altogether.
38 It would be a mistake to say that James makes a virtue out of the necessity of poverty (as Davids thinks he does [41-47]); rather he seems to use “poor” as a general term including all victims of any sort—financial, social, political, religious (in the intertestamental period a “close association of piety with poverty made ‘the poor’ either a name or a popular self-designation of pious groups who felt oppressed” [Davids, 43]). But in the early decades before the war with Rome, the wealthy were either the religious aristocracy, wealthy landowners, or merchants—all of whom had long-time associations with avarice and greed (cf. Martin, lxxxv). To some degree, James may well be drawing a caricature of the wealthy, somewhat similar to the modern American caricature of lawyers and doctors. If this is the case, then James is not arguing against wealth per se (see especially 4:13-17 where the goal of accumulating wealth is not what is wrong; rather the sense of absolute control over one’s destiny is condemned)—instead, he is speaking metonomically (the greedy wealthy representing all the wealthy) because in his culture, not only was there a massive dichotomy between the rich and poor, but also there were very few rich with decent morals.
40 By arguing that this faith was once alive and therefore does indeed save (so Zane Hodges et al.) not only contradicts the entire thrust of this passage but makes the figure do more than it was intended. If it is possible to speak of “dead stones,” without implying anything other than lifelessness, then it must be possible to speak of faith in the same way. Furthermore, Hodges’ view proves too much: were not the demons at one time good angels? And if so, did they not have a faith which was alive? If so, why are they not saved?
43 Although we quote Davids approvingly, he does not agree that James is reacting to a perverted Paulinism, but is rather “refuting a Jewish Christian attempt to minimize the demands of the gospel . . . ” (ibid.). What he does not adequately deal with, in our opinion, is the remarkable cluster of Pauline-like terms in one pericope—even to the point of a direct counter to the slogan that “a man is justified by faith alone, not by works [of the law]” (Rom. 3:28) with “a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24).
60 Too much could be made of this, however, since it is difficult to think of an occasion in which Jerusalem’s destruction could be utilized in this little work. If James were a theological treatise in which the superiority of Christ over the old Mosaic covenant were a key theme ( la Hebrews), such silence would be deafening.
63 Note also the cognate verb, diaspeivrw, with reference to Christians in Acts 8:1, 4; 11:19.
64 Acts 8:1 speaks of the dispersion created by Saul’s persecution of the church as extending to Judea and Samaria. Acts 11:19 refers to diaspora evangelists traveling as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, though this text does not say that the “Sauline” diaspora extended to such regions, just that Christians who were already dispersed went this far.
70 See Martin, lxii-lxvii. He argues, for example, that “The high-priestly families who owed their tenure in office to Herod were not Palestinian Jews but powerful families imported from the Diaspora who looked to Rome to maintain them in office and were ill-famed for the exploitation of the poor generally and the lower priests in particular”(lxvi). See also his excellent discussion on “The Piety of the Poor” (Armenfrmmigkeit) on pp. lxxxiv-lxxxvi.
71 This might find analogies in the Corinthian church which took its freedom to an extreme, or even in the practice of many modern Christians who, when thy find that tithing is not applicable for NT Christians, decide to stop giving altogether.
72 It would be a mistake to say that James makes a virtue out of the necessity of poverty (as Davids thinks he does [41-47]); rather he seems to use “poor” as a general term including all victims of any sort—financial, social, political, religious (in the intertestamental period a “close association of piety with poverty made ‘the poor’ either a name or a popular self-designation of pious groups who felt oppressed” [Davids, 43]). But in the early decades before the war with Rome, the wealthy were either the religious aristocracy, wealthy landowners, or merchants—all of whom had long-time associations with avarice and greed (cf. Martin, lxxxv). To some degree, James may well be drawing a caricature of the wealthy, somewhat similar to the modern American caricature of lawyers and doctors. If this is the case, then James is not arguing against wealth per se (see especially 4:13-17 where the goal of accumulating wealth is not what is wrong; rather the sense of absolute control over one’s destiny is condemned)—instead, he is speaking metonomically (the greedy wealthy representing all the wealthy) because in his culture, not only was there a massive dichotomy between the rich and poor, but also there were very few rich with decent morals.
74 By arguing that this faith was once alive and therefore does indeed save (so Zane Hodges) not only contradicts the entire thrust of this passage but makes the figure do more than it was intended. If it is possible to speak of “dead stones,” without implying anything other than lifelessness, then it must be possible to speak of faith in the same way. Furthermore, Hodges’ view proves too much: were not the demons at one time good angels? And if so, did they not have a faith which was alive? If so, why are they not saved?
75 This is mentioned not as an isolated case, but as an example of the difficulty of outlining James, for he simply does not compartmentalize his thought. All attempts to find a tight organizational scheme are doomed to failure.
76 This outline was stimulated especially by F. Vouga, L’Eptre de s. Jacques, 18-23, though it has been extensively modified. Nevertheless, it should be noted that James is notoriously difficult to outline, as it is both an occasional epistle and virtually NT wisdom literature. Any outline, therefore, is somewhat artificial.