James, Epistle of
JAMES, EPISTLE OF
Place in the Canon. The epistle of James is one of a number of writings from the first two centuries attributed to James, the brother of Jesus. See also the Protevangelium
of James and the Nag Hammadi Apocryphon of James, the first and second Apocalypse of James. Because of the popularity of the name in the first century, a few modern scholars questions this assumption. Recognition of authorship by James underlies the acceptance of the epistle into the canon. Evidence of its use is late and ambiguous. The first probable quotation (Jas 2.23) is by Irenaeus (AH 4.16.2) around a.d. 180. Circa 250 origen quotes from the epistle as if from scripture (Commentary on John fragment 6). Eusebius (HE 2.23.24–25) refers to James as the first of the General (Catholic) epistles, recognizing its questionable authenticity because "few of the ancients quote it." It is not included in the canonical list of the Council of nicaea in 325. Nevertheless, Athenasius lists it amongst canonical works in his 39th Festal letter (a.d. 367). His judgement was adopted in the West by Jerome and Augustine and from that time its canonical place was secure.
Date and Authorship. James' canonical status was tied to its recognition as an epistle of the brother of the Lord. This position is defended by modern commentators (J. B. Mayor; J. B. Adamson; R. Bauckham) who argue that it emanates from the Jerusalem church before the death of James in a.d. 62. Other scholars recognise a duality in the epistle. There is evidence of a Palestinian socio-economic context (the problem of poverty and wealth) and significant contact with the teaching of Jesus in the sermon on the mount (Mt 5–7). The epistle also has an orientation to the diaspora (1.1) and a somewhat more polished use of Greek than might be expected from James and his Jewish mission in Jerusalem. This suggests the epistle was developed on the basis of tradition from James by a Jewish believer in the diaspora some time after the destruction of Jerusalem (R. P. Martin; P. Davids; J. Painter). A third group of scholars sees the epistle as pseudonymous and coming from the late first, or second century. Though without connection to James, the epistle was perhaps based on a earlier Palestinian tradition (M. Dibelius). In time the epistle came to be understood as addressed to the church in every place by James. In this way it entered the canon.
James and Jesus. Studies have shown a relationship between James and the teaching of Jesus through tradition unique to Mattthew (M) and shared with Luke in the form found in Matthew (QM), especially in the sermon on the mount. The teaching about the benevolence of God in creation (Mt 5.45; 6.26–32 and Jas 1.17) is linked to the demand for greater righteousness in law observance (Mt 5.17–48 and Jas 1.25; 2.8–12; 4.11). Both Matthew and James show a concentration on the inner moral demand of the law. The unique connection between the prohibition of oaths in Jas 5.12 and Mt 5.33–37 provides a basis for recognising more links between the teaching of Jesus in Matthew and the ethical teaching of James.
James and Paul. The teaching about faith and works in Jas 2.14–26 resonates with the theme in Paul, especially in Rom 3–4. James' use of Gn 15.6 (in 2.23) seems to presuppose its use by Paul (Rom 4.3, 9, 22; Gal 3.6). Paul exploits the wording of Genesis which says that Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. James makes no use of the text, arguing that a person is justified by works as well as faith, not by faith only (2.24), denying the efficacy of faith apart from works (2.18, 26). Paul argues that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Rom 3.28; 4.6). While Paul recognises the necessity of faith working through love, he rejects the notion that a person is justified by any work. The argument of James is directed against the language of Paul, but without actually addressing Paul's point of view. James, affirming the graciousness of God in creation (1.17), does not feature the distinctive nature of grace in justification that is found in Paul.
Jewish Wisdom and Paranesis. It is a mistake to see James as a mere moralist. His call to moral action arises from his understanding of God who is without partiality. Love for ones neighbour has a cutting edge in relation to the rich and on behalf of the poor (Jas 2.5). In James' Jewish wisdom, tradition overlaps with Hellenistic paranesis. A major theme concerns control of the tongue, a theme common in Jewish wisdom (Jas 1.26;3.5–8; Ps 34.13; 39.1). Affirming God's goodness (1.16–18), James attributes sin to human passion (1.12–15).
Bibliography: j. b. adamson, James: The Man and His Message (Grand Rapids 1989). w. r. baker, Personal Speech: Ethics in the Epistle of James (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/68; Tübingen 1995). r. bauckham, James (London 1999). m. dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, rev. h. greeven, tr. m. a. williams, ed. h. kÖster (Philadelphia 1976). j. h. elliott, "The Epistle of James in Rhetorical and Social Scientific Perspective: Holiness—Wholeness and Patterns of Replication," Biblical Theology Bulletin 23 (1993) 71–81. d. e. gowan, "Wisdom and Endurance in James," Horizons in Biblical Theology 15 (1993) 145–53. p. j. hartin, James and the Q Sayings of Jesus (Sheffield 1991). l. t. johnson, The Letter of James (New York 1995). "The Letter of James" in New Interpreters Bible, v. 12 (Nashville 1998) 177–225. r. p. martin, James (Waco 1988). j. painter, Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition (Colombia, SC 1997), especially 234–269. w.h. wachob, The Voice of Jesus in the Social Rhetoric of James (Cambridge, Eng. 2000).