Tag Archives: allison

Book Review: Dale Allison – James (ICC Series)

Many thanks to T&T Clark for this free review copy



Dale Allison, James, T&T Clark, 2013, 848pp., $130 (Purchase)

Dale Allison, Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, has written the new standard on James. This is not surprising given his past publications such as the ICC commentary on Matthew, Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present, and numerous books on the historical Jesus. This commentary is going to set the new standard in scholarship on the letter of James.


The commentary itself is massive covering 848 pages (the introduction alone is 108 pages). Despite its length Allison has a way of writing academically but also engaging. He never seems to stray from his argument and his sentences short and pithy. His attention to detail and the breadth of information that he covers is staggering. One of the unique aspects of his commentary is his focus the history of interpretation and reception of James.

This is refreshing for a commentary that prides itself as “unapologetically continues the ICC tradition of pursuing historical-critical issues (1).” Allison argues that examining the reception history of a passage is not only valuable to the task of exegesis but can also just be interesting for the commentator and reader.

The rest of the introduction covers common topics found in all commentaries such as authorship, sitz im leben, genre, structure, and more. In short, Allison argues for a pseudepigraphon (see this PDF for a more detailed summary of the arguments for and against Jacobean authorship) from 100–120 AD, which was written “for a group that still attended synagogue and wished to maintain irenic relations with those who did not share their belief that Jesus was the Messiah (43).”

The genre of James, Allison argues, is a “didactic letter” that is also “parasitically oriented (74).” The letter of James is meant to “remind rather than inform” the hearers (75). The goal of paranesis is to remind the hearers how to live out the philosophy or religion that is being taught. The letter of James is meant to exhort its hearers “that disallow discussion and instead call for obedience(76).”

Commentary Proper

The commentary proper is set up in three parts: history of interpretation, overall analysis of passage, and finally a verse-by-verse commentary. Similar to his commentary on Matthew, Allison provides more than enough background and analysis for the average scholar. For those wishing to pursue more analysis than what is provided, his extensive use of sources will provide an aid.

Example passage: Faith and Works (James 2:14–26)

This is one of the more hotly debated passages within the New Testament. Does James contradict Paul? Does Paul contradict James? Allison explains six ways the reception of this passage has been analyzed (426–428):

  1. James and Paul wrote independently of each other
  2. Paul responded to James (and his followers)
  3. Paul agreed with James but with clarification
  4. James responded to Paul polemically
  5. James seeks to clarify Paul’s argument
  6. James is reacting to a negative “antinomian” reading of Paul.

As one reads through this analysis the reader will be greeted by interpretations of Augustine, Gregory the Great, Venerable Bede, Origen, and many others (along with copious footnotes of sources for further study).

In the exegesis section Allison outlines six different methods that scholars have more recently used to analyze James 2:14–16. He then continues to examine the similarities that this passage has with Paul such as δικαιόω in the passive + ἐκ, ἐξ ἔρων, and other parallels. Allison concludes that we (in line with his proposed sitz im leben) should read this directed at two groups: Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews. Christian Jews would have seen James’ polemic as correcting a “misrepresentation of Christianity” that some outside the community held. Secondly, non-Christian Jews would have seen a Christians do not put “belief above works (456).” Allison then continues with his verse-by-verse analysis of the passage in light of this argument.


In usual Allison fashion he leaves no nook and cranny untouched and covers the wide range of scholarly arguments concerning Jacobean authorship. One of the imitable aspects of his discussion on authorship is the way he shows the weakness of arguments in favor of his own position. Too often in the academy scholars will pile on arguments that agree with their conclusion even if they are weak. Allison on the other hand provides helpful critiques for positions that argue both for and against his conclusions. I still hold, along with most of the early Church Fathers, an early date for James and the brother of Jesus as the author.

Both sides, as Allison states, have plausible arguments. In my opinion, the weight of Church history, use of Jesus logia, and underdeveloped Christology weigh in favor of an earlier dating. This does not go without questions that I have regarding this position, mainly, if James was a pillar of the church why do we not find use of his writings until Origen? For the other side I would ask how do you explain acceptance into the canon. If apostolic authority is assumed for the texts were the Church Fathers then tricked into believing that the brother of Jesus wrote the letter? Both sides leave these questions unanswered.


To conclude, I highly recommend this commentary for any scholar interested in James. The attention to detail and the wealth of sources leaves one with ample information for study of James. For those interested in the history of interpretation and reception this provides a both/and that is often missing from critical scholarship. Along with historical critical exegesis Allison provides a wealth of reception history both separate from and integrated in the exegesis of the text. This is a rare combination.

Finally, if you are at all familiar with the rest of Allison’s works you will know that this commentary is written in a humble manner. Allison admits when the evidence is scant and recognizes that he does not hold all the answers but will point future scholars in the right direction.

You can purchase the commentary here.

You can download a PDF of the review here.

David Nienhuis on Not Using Parallel Apostolic Fathers’ Writings for the Dating of James

In David Nienhuis’s book, Not By Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and Christian Canon, he argues for a second century date of James. In doing this he does not discuss the alleged parallels and allusions in the Apostolic Fathers (AF) corpus. He argues that since there are no direct quotations in the apostolic fathers collection we cannot “determine the use of James before Origen (30).” At first glance this may seem he is dismissing evidence against his conclusion of a second century dating of James. But he goes on to say that the reason we cannot use parallels and allusions in the AF collection is because there is no way to establish dependence on James. The argument is not solely that since there are no direct quotations then we cannot establish some type of cannection but rather it cannot answer to what kind of connection we can establishs[1]. Nienhuis concludes,

Even if a parallel were to be firmly established, it is often difficult if not impossible to determine which text is in the dependent position.

He then lays out his more “conservative approach” (31):

  1. For allusions and echoes he will examine the surronding context in order to argue for or against literary dependence. Knowledge of the letter of James must be established to regard the parallel as an allusion or echo[2].
  2. A refusal to use a parallel that could be accounted for based on earlier material. He says, “it is unremarkable that both James and Irenaeus refer to Abraham as the ”friend of God,“ because the tradition was widespread in earlier Jewish literature. It is therefore hardly firm enough ground upon which to make a case for Irenaeus’s knowledge of the letter of James.”
  3. He argues that many times patristic writers will explicitly reference material from other Catholic writers but do not reference James when the topic is related. On his use of an argument from silience see my previous post here
  4. Finally, he examines the patristic literature that speaks of James as a person in order to see if a letter of James is reference too. It would seem unlikely for an author to consisently speak of James the person with no mention of a letter that he wrote.

To conclude, it would be easy to assume that Nienhuis dismisses alleged evidence from the AF collection because of no direct quotations but this is only part of the picture. The reason that the parallels are dismissed is because for this reason alone it cannot establish dependence on the Jacobean text.

Currently, I hold to the traditional Jacobean authorship and that the epistle has an early date. I think Richard Bauckham’s arguments are strong in establishing an early date of the letter. That being said I still have unanswered questions, namely, how do we account for the lack of witness to the letter of James before Origen. I think Nienhuis provides a strong argument for not assuming the dependence of James in the writing of the Apostolic Fathers, which means my question of early reception is still unanswered.

For other posts related to Nienhuis’s book see:

  1. Not By Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon
  2. A Canonical History of the New Testament Catholic Epistles Collection
  3. Early James Traditions

  1. One of the stronger arguments for a later writer using James is the author of Shepherd of Hermas’ use of δίφυχος . But Nienhuis argues that since “δίφυχος is used 19x, δίφθχεῖν 20x, and διφυχία 16x that this actually becomes a sub-theme of the book (120).” He goes on to say that “if we accept the notion that the Roman writers Hermas and Clement appealed to James as an authoritative source, we are then forced into the unlikely conclusion that the other was a quotable authority in the Western church by the end of the first century but was somehow subsequently neglected for over 200 years (120).” On this topic see also Dale Allison, James (pgs. 20–25), analyzes all the parallel connections between the two. He concludes that although there are parallels in the text literary dependence cannot be established.  ↩

  2. He defition for allusions and echos are as follows: 1) Allusion is a “‘covert, implied, or indirect reference’ to an earlier text, which is intended to remind an audience (consciously or unconsciously) of a tradition or text with which they are presumed to have some measure of acquaintance (30).” 2) An echo “refers to those instances where the possibility of an intentional reference exists, but the parallel is so inexact that it remains beyond our ability to determine with anything approaching confidence (30).”  ↩

Why You Should Study the History of Interpretation

Dale Allison[1] says…

  1. History of interpretation is intrinsically interesting and and of itself
  2. It instills humility by reminding exegetes of how much they owe to those who came before, and of the degree to which they are bearers of traditions
    1. Most of our questions – as well as most of her answers – have been around for a long, long time. Further, much that we think of as new is really old
  3. Careful attention to older commentaries sometimes allows one to recover exegetical suggestions and profitable lines of inquiry that, from a historical critical point of view should never have dropped out of commentary tradition
  4. It reveals the plasticity of texts, and how easily and thoroughly they succumb to interpretive agendas.
  5. Reception history that looks beyond theologians and commentaries… reminds one that biblical texts are not the exclusive property of clerics and exegetes. They instead belong equally to popular piety and to literature in general, and likewise to artists, poets, and musicians

I would also add that if we believe the Holy Spirit guides our interpretation today then we should similarly believe that it was guiding the interprets of the past and this will add much fruit to our exegesis. And to the Church Fathers specifically, many interpreters rely on the Church Fathers doctrinal views (Trinity, humanity/deity of Christ etc.) but reject much of their exegesis and use of texts. It was their exegesis that led to the formulation to these doctrines so we should also value their exegetical insights.

For more of my thoughts on reading the Church Fathers and the importance of history in our interpretation and spiritual lives see this post

Also see Patrick Schreiner’s post 11 Reasons to Study the History of Interpretation

For more on history of interpretation and the Church Father’s exegesis I would recommend the following:

  1. excerpted from Jr, Dale C. Allison. 2013. James (ICC): A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (International Critical Commentary). Cri Int edition. Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2–3.  ↩

Necessary Ending to the Gospel of Matthew


Dale Allison has some helpful remarks regarding the resurrection as the perfect ending to the Gospel of Matthew.

  1. Without the resurrection Jesus’ words are vacant and his opponents exonerated. With it Jesus is vindicated, his cause and authority confirmed, and his opponents disgraced.
  2. The earthquake, the movement from heaven to earth, and the resurrection from the tomb together make the vindication of Jesus an eschatological event. When the Messiah enters into suffering and death and then is raised to new life amidst signs and wonders, he plays out in his own life the eschatological scenario. The end of Jesus is the end of the world in miniature.
  3. The resurrection – the full meaning of which only becomes apparent in 28:16–20 – makes Jesus himself an illustration of his own teaching. He is, like the prophets before him, wrongly persecuted because of his loyalty to God, and he gains great reward in heaven. He finds his life after losing it. He is the servant who becomes great, the last who becomes first.
  4. There is a happy contrast between chapter 2 and 28, the only two places where angels are active participants in the story. In the former the Gentile magi inform Herod and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, including the chief priests, of events surrounding the advent of the Messiah. In the latter Gentile soldiers announce to the chief priests of Jerusalem the events surround the resurrection of Jesus. In the former the king opposes the infant Messiah and tries to kill him. In the latter the leaders counter the resurrection by setting a guard at the tomb, and when that fails by promulgating a false rumor. In the former the faithful magi worship Jesus and rejoice with great joy. In the latter the faith women worship Jesus and go on their way with great joy.

Davies, W. D., and Dale C. Allison Jr. Matthew 19–28: Volume 3. 1st ed. T&T Clark, 2004, p. 673