Doug Moo, who wrote the excellent commentary on James in the Pillar series, a while ago taught on the book at the Master’s Seminary. I’ve listened to the first lecture and in typical Moo style he is clear and helpful regarding the introductor matters of James. I imagine the rest of the lectures to be just as good.
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).”
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):
- James and Paul wrote independently of each other
- Paul responded to James (and his followers)
- Paul agreed with James but with clarification
- James responded to Paul polemically
- James seeks to clarify Paul’s argument
- 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.
One of the major themes weaved throughout the book of James is the idea of “wholeness.” Often in our translation the word for wholeness (τέλειος) is translated as “perfect.” This is an unhelpful translation because it gives that connatation that James is just calling for a sinless morality. James envisions wholeness as a life that is characterized by both doing and being. We cannot “do” without “being” and likewise we cannot “be” without “doing.” Richard Bauckham, in his excellent book on James, lays out five ways that James speaks of this wholeness:
- Integration – The whole self is devoted to God. This includes the heart (thoughts, feelings, will), tongue (speech), and hands (deeds). One cannot worship God with his heart but lack proper speech ethics. In the same manner, one cannot do good deeds without a heart devoted to God. For James, this type of person is a “double-minded” person who is not fully devoted to God. Wholeness as integration is also a community excersise. Someone cannot be completely devoted to God without being person “characterized by peaceable, gentle, considerate, caring, and forgiving relationships (Jas. 2.13; 3.13, 17; 4.11–12; 5.16, 19).”
- Exclusion – The whole person is one who excludes values and actions that doesn’t make up a τέλειος type person. One cannot be devoted to the world and God but must choose one or the other (Jas. 4.4).
- Completion – This is related to the integration since according to James a person cannot be halfway devoted to God. A whole person is one who has faith but also deeds (Jas 2.14–26), endures completely (Jas 1.2–4, 12; 5.7–11), and not only hears the words of God but also does them (Jas. 1.22–25).
- Consistency – Bauckham argues that consistency is “another way of considering the first three.” These aspects cannot be done intermittently but must represent a consistent life that is completely devoted to God.
- Divine Perfection – We can only be a whole person because “God himself is characterized by wholeness and consistency.” Just as God himself is whole so too should we be a people characterized by wholeness. God is completely devoted to himself (holy) and for his people this means that they are completely devoted to him (Dt. 4.4–6).
The theme of wholeness pervades the book of James. It is also a key theme in the Gospel of Matthew. This also ties in nicely with a virtue ethic understanding of Paul and especially the Sermon on the Mount. I hope to explore these themes more closely in the future but for now I leave you with a final excerpt from Bauckham’s book:
Wholeness is a goal towards which one can move only in relation to a center which is already whole and from which one can gain wholeness. This means moving in one direction rather than others. It means rejecting values and behavior which are inconsistent with the goal. It means refusing all the idolatries which dominate and diminish human life in favor of the one love which can truly liberate and include all that Is good.
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. 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):
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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
- 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:
- Not By Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon
- A Canonical History of the New Testament Catholic Epistles Collection
- Early James Traditions
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. ↩
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).” ↩
Dale Allison notes:
Alcoholic Anonymous is one of the most remarkable movements of modern times. Countless individuals throughout the world have benefitted from the 12 Steps Program and its many offshoots — Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, etc. And without for the most part knowing it, beneficiaries owe a large debt of gratitude to James. For this NT letter was of key importance to the founders of A.A., who stressed again and again that ‘faith without works is dead’. Indeed, the book of James was so popular among early members of A.A. that some wanted their fellowship to be called ‘The James Club’. Furthermore, Jas 5:16—’confess your sins to one another’—directly inspired the famous and effective strategy of requiring members, when meeting together in small groups, to share honestly their failing with one another.
Jr, Dale C. Allison. James (ICC): A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (International Critical Commentary). Cri Int edition. Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013, 109 ↩
Many thanks to Baker Academic for providing this free review copy
John Painter and David deSilva contribute to the one of the latest additions to the Paideia Commentary Series. Painter, who wrote the James portion, has written numerous books and articles on the person of James and has also on the Johannine epistles in the Sacra Pagina series. DeSilva has written numerous publications covering the New Testament and other Second Temple Judaism literature.
Goals of the Series
The Paideia Commentary Series is a somewhat newer series that tries that has three goals:
- Give contemporary students a basic grounding in academic New Testament studies by guiding their engagement with the New Testament texts
- Reflect the facts that the texts of the New Testament are literary units shaped by the educational categories of ancient writers and readers
- To form the theological convictions and moral habits of the individual authors
Both Paint and deSilva do a great job of bringing their expertise of the subject to a level that is easy for the beginning student to take in. This is not at all to say that the commentary is “fluffy” or “easy” but it is to say that it is clear and articulate on the issues. Instead of assuming one’s knowledge of “scholarly” terms these are often times defined and described showing the importance of different ideas. Another excellent feature is the use of “mini excursuses” that describe in detail particular ideas. These are excerpted out in an easy to read form that does not take away from the flow of the commentary itself. See image below
Each author covers the basics that most commentaries cover (authorship, date, genre, theology etc.) in a compact form that is easy to digest. Painter says that even though there is much connection with early Jesus sayings it does not seem that James, Jesus’ half-brother, did not actually write the letter but is rather a pseudonymous letter written after his death. deSilva posits that the letter of Jude does not “fit characteristics associated with postapostolic writings” and is presumably written by Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, in the latter stage of his life (181–182).
One of the strengths of the Paideia series is that it is not a “verse by verse” commentary but rather analyzes larger units together. This serves two useful purposes: 1) it allows the student to easily see the overview and complete message of each book 2) allows the authors to deal more easily with the final literary composition of each book. I found this approach to be well suited for the purpose of the commentary. By doing this it allows the authors to give adequate space to each literary unit and not have to become superficial in its analysis by going verse by verse in a shorter commentary.
Overall, I would highly recommend this commentary to both students and pastors. Any student or pastor that is beginning their study in either one of these books would be well advised to read through this commentary at the start of their study to be able to adequately grasp the books as a whole. The Paideia series is a welcome addition to the plethora of commentary sets out there that helpfully analyzes not only the cultural background and literary devices used but also the themes and theology of each book of the New Testament.
From the back:
In this addition to the well-received Paideia series, two respected New Testament scholars offer a practical commentary on James and Jude that is conversant with contemporary scholarship, draws on ancient backgrounds, and attends to the theological nature of the texts.
This commentary, like each in the projected eighteen-volume series, proceeds by sense units rather than word-by-word or verse-by-verse. Paideia commentaries explore how New Testament texts form Christian readers by:
- attending to the ancient narrative and rhetorical strategies the text employs
- showing how the text shapes theological convictions and moral habits
- commenting on the final, canonical form of each New Testament book
- focusing on the cultural, literary, and theological settings of the text
- making judicious use of maps, photos, and sidebars in a reader-friendly format
Students, pastors, and other readers will appreciate the historical, literary, and theological insight that John Painter and David deSilva offer in interpreting James and Jude.
Many thanks to Baylor University Press for this free review copy. You may purchase this text here.
“provide a convenient reference tool that explains the syntax of the biblical text, offers guidance for deciding between competing semantic analyses, deals with text-critical questions that have a significant bearing on how the text is understood, and addresses questions relating to the Greek text that are frequently overlooked or ignored by standard commentaries, all in a succinct and accessible manner.”
Highlights of the Baylor Handbook Series
- Concise grammar and syntax explanations of the Greek text
- Linguistic and rare syntax definitions defined
- Presentation of arguments on key grammar and syntactical issues
- Explanation and rejection of deponency
- Translation of each passage
- Easy to use layout
- Interaction with recent scholarship
- Text critical issues explained
- Accessible to students
Analysis of Adam’s Work
Adam succeeds in providing a clear and concise analysis of the grammar and syntax of the Greek text of James. His writing style is short and to the point but also expands his explanations when needed. This allows the exegete to quickly reference Adam for a quick and detailed analysis of the relevant passage. It is helpful for the person working through the Greek text to not be bogged down by erroneous information related to the grammar and syntax of the passage. I found this refreshing when compared to other recent “handbooks” on the Greek text. Adam does not spend much time explaining the meaning of words unless a discussion warrants. For example, in James 2:1 how one understands τῆς δόξης affects how one understands the genitive construct. He gives two quick possibilities and then gives his conclusion.
Throughout the book he also provides insights into discourse features by often referring to Steven Runge’s recent work, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Discourse features are helpful in understanding the flow of thought in any given passage and it is a welcomed addition to the handbook. For example, in understanding the flow in James 1:16 he cites Runge saying, “…(he) astutely notes that ‘the content verse — both the verb and the address form — contributes little to the propositional content. This lack of contribution may explain the difficulty of determining its connection.’ As such, he proposes treating the contraction as a ‘janus verse,’ looking both backward to the origins of sin and death, and forward to the contrasting creation of goodness in humanity (18).”
Comparison to Recent Works
How does this compare to the other similar series from B&H? I found Adam’s book to be more helpful in the analysis of the Greek text of James. While there is a similar focus in both series’ Adam’s commentary is pointed and concise when needed but also offers more detailed explanation on difficult passages. In his definition’s of words he provides a quick gloss and explanation and the reader does not have to sort through the history of a word to come to a conclusion. Overall, I found the Baylor Handbook to be easier and more helpful to use when studying the text of James.
Overall, I recommend this handbook to anyone who is studying the Greek text of James. The size and layout of the book makes it easy to use when studying a particular passage. Adam recognizes the limit to this commentary to solely focus on the grammar and syntax in an accessible manner to any Greek student. The student using this commentary will not only improve their understanding of Greek but will also be able to understand James more fully.
Dale Allison quoting Seneca while writing on the genre of James and the reason why stating the obvious is profitable …
People say, “What good does it do to point out the obvious?” A great deal of good; for we sometimes know facts without paying attention to them. Advice is not teaching; it merely engages the attention and rouses us, and concentrates the memory, and keeps it from losing grip. We miss much that is set before our very eyes. Advice is, in fact, a sort of exhortation. The mind often tries not to notice even that which lies before our eyes; we must therefore force upon it the knowledge of things that are perfectly well known.’
Seneca Ep. 94.25–26
Jr, Dale C. Allison. 2013. James (ICC): A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (International Critical Commentary). Cri Int edition. Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 75 ↩
Dale Allison says…
- History of interpretation is intrinsically interesting and and of itself
- 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
- 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
- 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
- It reveals the plasticity of texts, and how easily and thoroughly they succumb to interpretive agendas.
- 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:
- Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of Scripture see entries:
- History of Effects
- Patristic Biblical Interpretation
- Most of the entries on books of the Bible have a short section on history of interpretation
- Sanctified Vision by John O’Keefe and Reno
- See some of my thoughts on this book here
- Reading the Bible With Giants: How 2000 Years of Biblical Interpretation Can Shed New Light on Old Text by David Paul Parris
- See my review here
- Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present by Dale Allison
- See especially chapter 6, Reading Matthew through the Church Fathers
- Isaiah: Interpreted by Early Christian Medieval Commentators by Robert L. Wilken
- See especially the preface (1–13)
- Matthew in History: Interpretation, Influence, and Effects
- Commentary series dedicated to including history of interpretation:
- Dale Allison, “What I have Learned from the History of Interpretation”, PRS 35 (2008), 237–50.
- Markus Bockmuehl, “A Commentator’s Approach to the ‘Effective History’ of Philippians”, JSNT 60 (1995), 57–88.
- Robert Louis Wilken, “Interpreting the Bible as Bible”, JTI 4.1 (2010), 7–14
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. ↩
William Varner’s new commentary on James in the EEC Series by Logos is a goldmine of theological treasures. This commentary is extremely thorough and covers a wide range of exegesis from textual criticism to preaching and devotional use. It is not easy to encounter a commentary that addresses all these issues well but from my use of this commentary since its release I can say that Dr. Varner has succeeded. I have encountered a variety of commentaries on James but this one is by far the most thorough. Here is a summary from Logos on the EEC series:
The publication of the EEC by Logos marks the first time a major Bible commentary series has been published in digital form before its print counterpart—and the first time it has been published with a digital format in mind.
Because it will be published by Logos, the EEC will be fully integrated into the most advanced biblical and theological library available anywhere, powered by Logos Bible Software. It will be accessible wherever Logos Bible Software’s platform is available, including Windows, Mac, and iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad. Users who purchase the EEC will also be able to access it online at Biblia.com, and on any future platform where Logos is available.
With the Logos edition, the EEC is completely searchable and full of hyperlinks for easy navigation—including links for Scripture references, cross-references, footnotes, and more. It contains accurate metadata and extensive tagging done by real humans, who understand that when you search for sacrament, results for Lord’s Supper and Communion and Eucharist should appear, too.
The introduction is a standard one covering authorship, recipients, date, occasion, themes etc. One of the strengths is Varner’s outline of James. There has been much debate in scholarship regarding the structure of James, which usually boils down to that James is loosely related. Using discourse analysis he presents a convincing argument for the following structure of James:
Each section of the commentary is generally broken down into nine sections:
- Original Text
- Textual Notes
- Biblical Theological Comments
- Application and Devotional Implications
- Selected Bibliography
Each section is full of information and is very helpful for the exegete. The detail given to each section does not leave anyone wanting from the student needing assistance in the grammar in James to the pastor needing help teaching James today. The selected bibliography at the end of each section is also very helpful.
The end of the commentary includes three excursuses:
- Excursus on Scot McKnight’s Treatment of James 2:18
- Excursus on James 3:1–12: Can The Tongue Really Be Controlled?
- Excursus on Wisdom in James
Faith and Works
On the issue of faith and works being compatible with Paul’s teaching on justification by faith Varner takes the eschatological judgement of works on the last day. Following the argument of both Moo and Beale Varner says that “While James uses “justify” and “justification” to refer to God’s ultimate declaration of a person’s righteousness, Paul uses it to refer to the initial securing of that righteousness by faith.” He shows that this understanding is also used by Jesus in Matthew 12:37 that the believer will be judged based on his works in an eschatological sense. He concludes, “Paul wants to make clear that one ‘gets into’ God’s kingdom only by faith; James insists that God requires works from those who are ‘in.’”
Varner sees no difference between the “word” and “law” in James. In a helpful discussion on these topics he points out that James’ sees the law in the same way that Jesus presented the law in the Gospels. This “Jesus-shaped” understanding of the law allows the reader to see the connection between the “word of truth”, “implanted word”, “perfect law”, “royal law”, and “law of freedom”. He concludes by saying, Some readers may think it is necessary to make a distinction between the various synonyms for “word” and “law” in James. I am convinced, however, that James would not intend a semantic or even theological distinction between the Torah and Jesus’ teaching. James bases his argument on the Torah as it was understood, interpreted, and applied by the new King over the reconstituted twelve tribes, our glorious Lord Jesus the Messiah.” I think the comparison with Jesus’ understanding of the law gives the reader a helpful explanation of what James is talking about.
The Rendering of τέλειος
One aspect I think misguides readers in James’ is the translation of τέλειος as perfect. Often times, such as the case here, the explanation of the word describes the way James is using it but the translation is still the word perfect. Perfection in the English language often denotes a negative sense or this moral achievement without any blemish. James uses τέλειος throughout to signify the completeness and totality of what he is talking about. In James 1:4 the word is used to describe the complete nature of the person who endures trials. Using the word perfect in translation hides this meaning and often times gives the reading a negative connotation when James is exhorting the believe to endure because we are to be whole and complete in the same way God is. Varner explains this well by saying, “As τέλειος means “complete,” so ὁλόκληρος means “complete in all its parts,” with no part missing.” Indeed, he rightly compares this passage with Matthew 5:48 and shows that James’ using this word in the same way as Jesus, “to be τέλειος is to be a complete person with integrity, not like the divided man who is about to be described in 1:6–8” This is just a minor quibble and in no way takes away from the commentary itself. I just hope that at some point the translation of τέλειος as perfect in most cases would be abandoned because of the often times negative connotations it brings in that a person must now be “super good” in his actions.
Overall, one would be hard pressed to come across a more complete commentary on James. The strength of this commentary is that Varner thoroughly covers the nitty gritty Greek grammar/exegesis of the text but also provides a biblical theological summary and pastoral reflections. It is not everyday that you can find a commentary that does this well but this one succeeds. Varner’s thorough research and knowledge in the many areas this commentary covers shines throughout. Even where one may disagree with him, Varner is always charitable in his disagreements and provides ample evidence for his own reading. If I were to buy one commentary on James this would be it. You can purchase the commentary here.
William Varner, James, ed. H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris, III and Andrew W. Pitts, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Jas 2:21 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012). ↩
William Varner, James, ed. H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris, III and Andrew W. Pitts, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Jas 2:8 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012). ↩
William Varner, James, ed. H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris, III and Andrew W. Pitts, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Jas 1:4 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012). ↩
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I have been writing a mini-series of Not by Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon by David Nienhuis. I have been summarizing his arguments throughout the book and giving basic initial thoughts and pushback.
- First post: Not By Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon
- Second post: A Canonical History of the New Testament Catholic Epistles Collection
In the second chapter of Nienhuis’ book he goes on to argue that the evidence used for an early dating of James are hypothetical at best and can better be explained by a second century date. He presents a strong case to at least give pause to dating James early. The strength of his case is the observetion that no church father explicitly cites James until Origen in the third century. He states that the “allusions” and “echoes” in writings previous to Origen are overstated based on the assumption that James was written at an early date. This argument is strong given that the prominence of James’ the person was especially high. If this is the case then why do none of the writers explicitly state of a letter written by James or quote him directly? He also notes the many pseudepigraphal works that were on the rise at this time giving high praise to James the person but there is still no mention of any letter that he had written.
In Joseph Mayor’s commentary, he extensively cites many potential echoes and allusions to the letter of James but he does note that it is odd that a letter written so early does not gain canonical status until the third century (lxx) and that Origen is the first to explicitly cite James (lxxxi). Based on these types of arguments Nienhuis says that the burden of proof is on those who say James’ was written early to prove that these authors were referring to the letter of James and not visa-versa. He states that since the assumption that James is written early scholars then assume that later authors used similar language and themes of James.
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 otter 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).” That is to say why would James be extensively used by a book that was very popular (Hermas) then not be used in later writings?
One of my original questions in regard to Nienhuis thesis was how he would argue against the theory that James is using Jesus traditions in his letter. He argues that this doesn’t not necessarily necessitate an early date. Even until the second century Jesus’ sayings were still being used. Even the church fathers do not always explicitly quote from the Gospels but “echo” and “allude” to them. He says that the reason why Jesus is not explicitly quoted is that “James was not writing to Jews of the first-century synagogue; he was writing to a second-century Christian readership in order to promote the essentially Jewish underpinnings of Christian faith and practice (159).” By showing the importance of the Jewish Scriptures in the life of the Christian, the author follows in the steps of Jesus showing the moral and ethical understanding of the law is what should be followed and not the ritual aspects of it.
In the rest of the chapter he shows the rise of the person James throughout many other sources such as The Gospel According to the Hebrews, Hegesippus’ writings (he makes extensive use of these), Iraneaus’ writings, Gospel of Thomas, and others.
He analyzes each work with 5 questions (122):
- How is James named in the text under review?
- What kind of authority is attributed to James in each text?
- How is his piety depicted?
- Some of the sources present James’ as a rather independent figure in relation to Jesus and the broader Christian movement. What standing does he have in these portraits?
- How is James’ murder depicted?
By asking these questions he hopes to give an understanding of the James tradition. By doing this he will be able to show “how the canonical letter of James fits into the broader depiction of his identity and character as it developed over the first two centuries (122).”
Overall, his argument so far is strong and needs to be reckoned with. In his introduction he notes that his thesis cannot be “airtight” because the unprovable nature of historical reconstruction but at least it should give us pause to reconsider the dating and authorship of James. Arguments from silence are always the best arguments but as Nienhuis points out the pervasiveness of the silence in light of the material about the person of James, should give us pause. I am looking forward to the final chapter because he will attempt to show the internal evidence for a “canon-conscious pseudepigraph” writing of James
He interestingly notes that Jerome’s’ De virus illustribus was intended to show the Church was established on historical grounds and that he “anchored every other NT text in the authority of the historic, apostolic tradition” except James and 2 Peter. He says that “he (Jerome) lists traditions attributing Hebrews to Harnabas, Luke, or Clement; and on authority of Papias he explains that 2–3 John were written by John the elder and not the disciple of the Lord. The origins of James and 2 Peter, however, are left afloat in mystery.” ↩
His argument from Hegesippus using Wisdom 2 as a fulfillment to the murder of James the Just and its relation to James is strong. See pgs. 131–135, 150–152. ↩
This is mainly for the people who are currently in Dr. Plummer’s James Exegesis class and are preparing for the final but others may find it useful too.
I created a PDF of all the verbs in James with the definition and parsing. The other PDF is the same except the lexical form, definition, and parsing are removed for easy studying. This is grouped by verse so if you are going through the text you can easily parse the verbs as you go. Sorry the format isn’t the best but it is readable.
Another PDF with all the verbs highlighted from the SBL Greek Text
I had made this vocabulary guide earlier but it will be helpful in studying James too.
I found this helpful summary on the idea of τέλειος (commonly translated as “perfect”) in the Old Testament. Taken from Paul DuPlessis – Τέλειος: The Idea of Perfection in the New Testament (101–102):
It is a totalitarian motive centred in the consciousness of a divine relationship between God and the people of His choice. Whether they are described as “perfect”, “righteous”, “holy”, or “pure”, these attributes go back to the same source and are of kindred character. Only in this sphere of religious truth is it possible to arrive at an impression of O.T. perfection. For the Hebrew it was not an abstract quality or the static summit of endeavor by knowledge and reflection. It consisted of activity, formed a way to be walked and created a dynamic piety governing all outlets of human existence. Such a man was bound by considerations of striving to be in accordance with what he should be in the eyes of Yahweh, Who is holy and pure and Who is Himself the image of what He commands. If a man is firmly rooted in this relationship, he is “whole”, “sound”, “complete”, “perfect.” Thus the safety of the community is secured by the firm grip of an unfettered alliance. Men of this stamp were Noah, Abraham, Joshua, David, Solomon, and others. For all they failings they excelled in unity of heart, and treaded the trail blazed by the commands of Yahweh.
This semester I am taking Greek Exegesis of James with Dr. Plummer. Our final exam is coming up at the beginning of May. In preparation for this I am creating a short, running commentary on the text. For the reader of this blog it may seem that there is no rhyme or reason to what I choose to include but it is primarily covering aspects that I think will be pertinent for my final exam and what I want documented. Also see my post about the Greek vocabulary of James in formatted PDF and a flashcard app for mobile devices. Feel free to post any comments or questions or email me. The translation and notes are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Dr. Plummer.
12 Μακάριος ἀνὴρ ὃς ὑπομένει πειρασμόν, ὅτι δόκιμος γενόμενος λήμψεται τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς ὃν ἐπηγγείλατο τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν αὐτόν. 13 μηδεὶς πειραζόμενος λεγέτω ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ πειράζομαι· ὁ γὰρ θεὸς ἀπείραστός ἐστιν κακῶν, πειράζει δὲ αὐτὸς οὐδένα. 14 ἕκαστος δὲ πειράζεται ὑπὸ τῆς ἰδίας ἐπιθυμίας ἐξελκόμενος καὶ δελεαζόμενος· 15 εἶτα ἡ ἐπιθυμία συλλαβοῦσα τίκτει ἁμαρτίαν, ἡ δὲ ἁμαρτία ἀποτελεσθεῖσα ἀποκύει θάνατον.
Parsing of Key Words
The parsing in this passage is straightforward
Definitions of Key Words (BDAG)
- δόκιμος – pertaining to being genuine on the basis of testing, approved (by test), tried and true, genuine
- γίνομαι – has the sense to experience a change in nature and so indicate entry into a new condition . The one who is endures trials becomes approved and…
- ἐπιθυμία – in a negative sense – a desire for something forbidden or simply inordinate, craving, lust
- ἐξέλκω – to drag away, with connotation of initial reluctance, drag away
- δελεάζω – to arouse someone’s interest in something. by adroit measures, lure, entice
- συλλαβοῦσα τίκτει – together means to give birth
- ἀποτελέω – to bring an activity to an end, bring to completion, finish
- Μακάριος – Wallace – (Anarthrous) First Predicate Position: When, however, the same construction has been determined from the context to express a predicate relation, the adjective is in the first (anarthrous) predicate position to the noun (e.g., ἀγαθὸς βασιλεύς = a king is good). Though much less common than the attributive relation, in equative clauses (viz., a clause in which an equative verb is stated or implied), this is not too uncommon.1
- ὅτι – introduces a causal clausal stating the reason for the testing
- γενόμενος – could be a causal participle (because he is approved) or adverbial (when/after he is approved). Either way the result is the same. Varner opts for a sense of both saying, “This causal/temporal clause complex points to the testing nuance of the πειρα – word group rather than the tempting aspect, which is its nuance in Jas. 1:13. Saying that one has stood the test or that he has been approved is actually another way of saying that he endures and does not become a further condition of receiving the crown.”2
- τῆς ζωῆς – epexegetical (appositive) genitive; BDF – The use of the appositive genitive, i.e. of the genitive used in the sense of an appositive, conforms in the NT to classical usage3
- κακῶν – genitive of means (by)
- ἀπείραστός – Varner – The force of the verbal adjective ending in -τος is to express possibility. Coupled with the alpha privative prefix the form then connotes the idea of impossibility4
- τίκτει and ἀποκύει are synonyms just saying “to give birth”. James is not embedding any difference by using two different words.
12 Blessed is the man who endures trials because when he is approved he will receive the crown of life, which is promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say, “I am tempted from God” because God is not tempted by evil and he tempts no one. 14 Each person is tempted when he is dragged and lured by his own desires. 15 Then when the desire is conceived it gives birth to sin and when sin runs its course it gives birth to death.
Enduring trials helps bring about the whole and complete Christian. When the believer endures these trials he will receive eternal life. This continues to show James’ idea of τέλειος. Faith and works are essential, saying one just has faith but doesn’t endures trials is disproving his faith. The believer who is who endures trials because of his faith. The wholeness of God is also present here in that later we will see that God is the giver of ever good and complete gift and here we are told that God is not tempted by evil. God is not divided therefore it is impossible for him to tempt the believer with evil. James shows the double natured aspect of the person because the believer is dragged away by his own evil desires.
Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics – Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 310 (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999). ↩
William Varner, James, ed. H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris, III and Andrew W. Pitts, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Jas 1:12 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012). ↩
Friedrich Blass, Albert Debrunner and Robert Walter Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 92 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961). ↩
William Varner, James, ed. H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris, III and Andrew W. Pitts, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Jas 1:13 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012). ↩
Download the PDF here