Criswell Theological Review 1.1 (1986) 3-29.

          Copyright © 1986 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission. 









                                    ROBERT B. SLOAN

                         Baylor University, Waco, TX 76798



To do research on the book of James is to weary of reading Luther's

dictum about its being a "right strawy epistle." That remark not only

tells us more about Luther than it does the book of James, but it has

influenced the interpretation of this epistle since the time of the

Reformation. The book has become better known for its omissions

than its affirmations. Indeed, the latter are tacitly feared as anti-Pauline

and thus more often defended than declared. To be sure, what is not

(apparently) in the book of James may be at first striking. There is no

mention of the cross, Christ's triumph over the powers of evil, the

resurrection, the gift of the Spirit, or baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Most noticeable perhaps among the omissions in this NT book are

frequent references to Jesus and His Christological titles.

            But James must be appreciated in its own right. It does not show

its best colors against the background of a Lutheran-style Paulinism.

The so-called problems of the theology and/or Christology of the book

of James are, it seems to me, more matters of the paradigms and

methods with which it is examined than its supposed sub-Christian

qualities. Seen, for example, in connection with other NT books such as

Matthew and Hebrews (to say nothing of Paul under a better light) the

book of James acquires a better field from which its own hues may be


            Though given the form of an epistle the book of James is frequently

referred to as Christian wisdom literature. However that may be in

terms of genre questions, it is certainly clear that James has a very

practical orientation. That is, James is concerned not so much with

evangelistic questions as with issues related to the practice of the faith.

Because of its orientation, therefore, the theological implications of the

book are often more implicit than explicit. Though implicit, however,


4                      CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW


the traditional theological views of the book are nonetheless very real.

One does not have to look very long or very hard at the sometimes

casually expressed theological categories and/or allusions in James to

realize that this book is certainly worthy of a rightful place within the

canon of sacred books which comprise and reflect the earliest (and

normative) Christian and apostolic theology.


            I. James and Early Christian Theological Traditions


            Though often assumed and not clearly expressed, it is clear that

the practical exhortations in James are undergirded by the earliest

categories and theological traditions of the apostolic church. Though

by no means exhaustive, the following observations should suffice to

suggest the underlying theological structures that are operative for the

author of this epistle.


The Use of Traditional Texts, Illustrations and Phrases

            James shares with a number of other NT writers the use of the

Abraham stories as a model of faith/obedience (2:21-23). Paul of

course makes extensive use of the covenant promises to Abraham (and

Abraham's subsequent trust) in Romans 4 and Galatians 3. The author

of Hebrews likewise finds in Abraham a very congenial model of faith,

obedience and hope (6:13-20; 7:1-10; 11:8-12, 17-19). Of course,

Abraham as a model of faith was not unknown in Judaism, and that

alone, it could be argued, is sufficient to account for James' use of it.

But, as we shall see later, James' use of the Abraham stories seems to

represent a dialogue with an already existent Christian use of Abraham

as a model of faith. In this connection it is interesting to note that both

Jas 2:23 and Rom 4:3, in their quotation of Gen 15:6 (  ]Epi<steusen de<

 ]Abraa>m t&? qe&?, kai> e]logi<sqh au]t&? ei]j dikaiosu<nhn), agree in reading

(against the LXX)   }Epi<steusen de<  for kai> e]p. While Philo also has the

same reading, what we may in any case be encountering here is the

traditional Christian variant of the text.

            As a further example of the Christian use of OT texts in James, it

may be noted that the use of Lev 19:12-18 throughout James1--though

having no doubt its own unique nuances--is in a common vein with the

use of that same passage in Matt 5:43-48, and especially 22:39 (par.

Mark 12:31). With regard to the latter passage (Matt 22:39, par. Mark

12:31), it should be noted that the commandment to "love your

neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18) is referred to as second only to the


            l See L. T. Johnson, "The Use of Leviticus 19 in the Letter of James," JBL 103

(1982) 391-401.

                        Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES       5


commandment of the Shema (Deut 6:4, 5). The exegetical tradition

whereby Lev 19:18 and Deut 6:4, 5 were combined may no doubt be

attributed to Jesus himself.  Not only, however, was the connection not

lost in either the Matthean or Markan traditions, but neither apparently

was it lost in James who likewise affirms, though in separate (but not

unrelated) passages, the theological implications for the Christian of

both the Shema (2:19) and the second commandment (2:8).

            Another example of traditional Christian exegesis in James is

found in the joint use of the Rahab and Abraham stories. Though it is

difficult to tell whether there is any literary dependence between James

and Hebrews, the clear fact is that both made use of Josh 2:1-16 by

way of alluding to Rahab as an OT model of faith.2 Though issues

related to literary dependence, dating, origin and the definition of

faith/hope are very complex, what seems nevertheless to be clear is

that the use of both Abraham and Rahab as models of faith is to be

attested only in Christian traditions, i.e., Heb 11:8-12, 17-19, 31; Jas


            James also shows a number of early Christian exegetical affinities

with 1 Peter. In quoting rather literally the Septuagintal reading of Prov

3:34, Jas 4:6 agrees with 1 Pet 5:5 in substituting qeo<j for the LXX's

ku<rioj. This particular minor agreement (followed apparently by the

author of I Clem 1:30), though theologically insignificant in terms of

the meaning of the text, again illustrates the affinity of James with other

early Christian materials. Similarly, Jas 5:20 and 1 Pet 4:8 reflect a

common early Christian interpretive/sermonic use of Prov 10:12, where

we read, "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions." The

common interpretive and exegetical traditions reflected in James and

1 Peter are evidenced again in 1:10, 11 and 1 Pet 1:24 where the former

clearly alludes to, and the latter explicitly quotes Isa 40:6, 7. Finally, we

may note merely in passing that the use of Amos 9:12 in Acts 15:17

seems to have found further Christian use in Jas 2:7. While not

exhaustive, the above instances of OT use by James in common with

other traditional uses of those same passages in primitive Christianity

reflect at a deep level the thoroughgoingly Christian frame of reference

within which OT Scripture was appropriated by James.

            Not only in the use of Scripture does James show itself to be of a

piece with other early Christian theological communities, but it is also

heir to (and perhaps also the ancestor of) a number of phrases and


            2 Discussion of dating and literary dependence with respect to James and Hebrews

maybe found in B. W. Bacon, "The Doctrine of Faith in Hebrews, James and Clement of

Rome," JBL 19 (1000) 12-21; F. W. Young, "The Relation of 1 Clement to the Epistle of

James," JBL 67(1948) 339-45; and D. A. Hagner, The Use of the Old and New

Testaments in Clement of Rome (SuppNovT 34; Leiden: Brill, 1973).


6                      CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW


expressions that seem to have been part of the common theological

stock of early Christianity. Though the similarities of James with other

NT books are too numerous to delineate exhaustively,3 the following

parallels of thought and expression between James and the Pauline and

Petrine traditions of the NT will demonstrate the congenial nature of

the theology of James within the framework of early Christianity.

            First, taking the two traditions together, we may note that (as

P. Davids in his recent commentary has shown4) there is a rather

impressive similarity of thought and language that exists between Jas

1:2-4 and Rom 5:2b-5, on the one hand, and 1 Pet 1:6-7 on the other.


            Rom 5:2b-5                           Jas 1:2-4                                1 Pet 1:6-7

            3. knowing that                      3. knowing that                      7. so that the

                tribulation                              the testing of                          testing of

                produces per-                         your faith                                your faith,

                severance                               produces                                 more precious

                                                                perseverance                          than gold which

            4. and persever-                                                                                     perishes

                ance a tested                      4. and let per-

                character, and                         severance have                       through testing

                tested character                     a mature result                       by fire,


            5. and hope does

                 not disappoint                                                                       may be found

                                                                 so that you may                     to result in

                 because the love                    be mature and                        praise and

                 of God has been                     complete lack-                      glory and honor

                 poured out within                  ing in nothing.                       at the revela-

                 our hearts through                                                                tion of Jesus

                 the Holy Spirit Christ.

                 who was given to us.

Also, James shares with Pauline and Petrine traditions the common

early Christian expression often found in baptismal and/or ethical

contexts regarding the "putting off" of sin and/or the old way of living

(1:21; Rom 13:12; Eph 4:22; Col 3:8; 1 Pet 2:1; cf. Heb 12:1). Finally, all


            3 The dated but still masterly work of J. B. Mayor, The Epistle at St. James: The

Greek Text with Introduction Notes and Comments and Further Studies in the Epistle at

St. James, 3rd. ed. (London: MacMillan, 1913), may profitably be consulted regarding

the literary relationship of James to other parts of the NT and, indeed, to earlier (both

biblical and non-biblical) materials. See especially LXXXV-CXXVII.

            4 P. Davids, The Epistle at James: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC;

Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1982) 66. Though we do not supply the Greek texts here,

even the English translations suggest an impressive similarity of thought and language.


                 Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES          7


three traditions speak of a glorious crown to be received (1:12; 1 Cor

9:25; 1 Pet 5:4; see also Rev 2:10, 3:11).

            Considering the Pauline traditions alone, the following (randomly

chosen) parallels of thought and expression may be noted. First, both

Paul and James are convinced that it is the poor and lowly who have

received the mercies of God (1 Cor 1:27; Jas 2:5). Second, though the

cross and resurrection are not explicitly mentioned in James, they are

surely implicit in the reference in 1:18 to the gospel as "the word of

truth" (lo<g& a]lhqei<aj), which reference moreover is quite common in

the traditional Pauline literature and may be noted in 2 Cor 6:7

(without the article, as in James), Coll:5; Eph 1:13; and 2 Tim 2:15.

Third, it may be noted that Jas 1:18 refers to the people of God as "first

fruits" (a]parxh<) and thus is of a piece with similar expressions in the

Pauline literature whereby the people of God are either said to possess

"the first fruits of the Spirit" (Rom 8:23; cf. 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:14) or

are themselves as missionary products called "first fruits" (Rom 16:5;

1 Cor 16:15; cf. Rev 14:4). Fourth, both James (2:10) and Paul (Gal 5:3)

speak of the holistic demand that is related to the keeping of the law.

            Regarding the parallels of thought and language between James

and 1 Peter the greetings of both works refer to the scattered people of

God (1:1; 1 Pet 1:1). Second, both traditions think of the Christian as

both free and a slave (1:1, 1:25, 2:12; 1 Pet 2:16). Finally, while we

observed above the common use of Prov 3:34 in both Jas 4:6 and 1 Pet

5:5, what also deserves to be noted is the immediate exhortation in both

subsequent contexts for the believers to submit to God while at the

same time resisting the devil (4:7; 1 Pet 5:6, 8). Further parallels of

thought and language between James and other NT materials could be

adduced, but these are enough to demonstrate that James moves

comfortably in the world of expression that was broadly characteristic

of primitive Christianity.


The Use of an Epistolary Greeting

            The form of an epistle was the most popular form of early

Christian literary communication. Though on every other ground the

book of James would seem not to be an epistle, the very fact that what

in other regards appears to be something akin to wisdom literature

and/ or an early Christian sermon is put within the form of a letter

reflects the consciousness on the part of the writer that he himself is

within an established literary tradition. Other literary forms were

available to our author. He chose, however, to address his readers via

the form of an epistle and thus placed himself within a common

(indeed, the most popular) genre tradition of early Christianity.


8                      CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW


Faith as an "Entry" Term

            Recent works by E. P. Sanders5 and H. Raisanen6 have popularized

questions of "getting in" (or "entry") and "staying in" ("maintenance").

That is, Sanders and Raisanen have pointed to, especially with regard

to the "righteousness" word group in the NT, the differences between

Judaism and Christianity with regard to what it takes to enter into the

people of God and what is required to remain a member of God's

chosen ones. If it is true, as Raisanen has suggested, that "faith" was

likely not used in Judaism to refer to the experience of "entry,"7 then

the use of "faith" in Christian literature as a word closely related to the

beginning of and/or entry into Christian experience is a uniquely

Christian term. In this respect it must be noted that "faith" in James is

often used as a "maintenance" term (1:3; 2:1, 5). However, not only do

these so-called "maintenance" references presuppose faith as an entry

experience, but there are some passages which use "faith" in exclusively

that way (i.e., as an "entry" term). The discussions of "hearing" and

"doing" (1:1-29) and the relationship of "faith" and "works" (2:14-26)

are central in this regard. The "hearing" that is but temporary--like a

man who "looks at his natural face in a mirror," but quickly forgets

what he looked like upon turning away from the mirror--is "self-

deluding" and "worthless," being the opposite of the "humble receiving"

of the word of truth which alone can "save" (1:21-26). Thus, it is

exactly like the "faith" of 2:14-26 that is merely professed, but "has no

works," and thus cannot "save" (2:14). The faith that saves is the faith

that humbly receives "the word of truth" (1:18, 21) and proves itself by

works to be that of a "doer of the word"; which is why our author can

argue in the intervening passage of 2:1-13 that "your faith in our Lord

Jesus Christ, the glorious One," cannot be expressed with elitism.

Instead, the readers must show themselves to be "fulfillers" of the

"royal law" (2:8) just as the genuine "doer" is the one who looks intently

at the "perfect law" (1:25); as we will see below, both expressions, the

"perfect law" and the "royal law ," are tied together in synonymity by

the mutually qualifying expression, "the law of liberty" (1:25, 2:12).

The basic point to be made here, however, is that for James the faith


            5 Sanders' thought can be best traced out in four of his works: "Patterns of Religion

and Rabbinic Judaism: A Holistic Method of Comparision," HTR 66 (1973) 455-78; Paul

and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977); "Paul's Attitude toward the

Jewish People," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 33 (1978) 175-87; and Paul, the Law,

and the Jewish People (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983).

            6 H. Raisanen, "Galatians 2.16 and Paul's Break with Judaism," NTS 31 (1985)


            7 Ibid. 546.


                Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES               9


that "saves" is a "humble receiving" (of the "word") which is defined in

terms of "doing" and "works." Such a faith is, to use Sanders' termi-

nology (about which I actually have some misgivings) the experience

of both entry and maintenance.


Early Christian Eschatology         

            The eschatology of James is not unlike other expressions of early

Christian eschatology (which have both present and future elements)

in that the blessings of heaven are already being experienced--"blessed

is a man who perseveres under trial"--and yet await a final con-

summation--"he will receive the crown of life"--no doubt at the

"coming (parousi<a) of the Lord" (1:12; 5:7). In this regard, the same

imminent expectation of the Lord's return that is to be found throughout

the NT (Mark 13:33-37; Rom 13:11,12; 1 Pet 4:7) maybe attested also

in James (5:8). Nor is the early Christian connection between ethics and

eschatology (Matt 25:31-46; 1 Cor 15:58; 1 Thes 4:18; Phil 3:17-21; Col

3:4ff.) missing in James, for the references in 5:7, 8 to the imminent

return of the Lord are precisely for the purpose of exhorting moral

perseverance on the part of the readers. In addition, the early Christian

belief that final judgment will be based on works8 (cf. Matt. 25:31-46;

Acts 17:30, 31; Rom 2:5-16, 14:10-12; 1 Cor 3:13-15; 2 Cor 5:10, 9:6,

11:15; Gal 6:7; Col 3:25; Eph 6:8; 1 Tim 5:24-25; 2 Tim 4:14; 2 Pet

3:8-13; Rev 20:11-15) is also strongly implied in James (4:11, 12;

5:1-5, 9).


The Use of Dominical Sayings

            The authoritative status of the sayings of Jesus was a common

perception in primitive Christianity. The very existence of the gospels

and the communities out of which and for which they were produced

is rather straight-forward evidence of the fact that the words of the

Master assumed an authoritative role and function within the earliest

Christian fellowships. The gospel of Matthew, especially, reflects (and

no doubt also encouraged) the extensive use of the sayings of Jesus

within the earliest periods of Christian confession. The fact that

Matthew is regarded as--if not the first--then at least the most wide-

spread and extensively used of the four gospels in early Christian

worship reinforces this point.

            Though it was a commonplace in NT studies of several decades

ago to remark the paucity of references to the ministry and teachings of


            8 See the recent and excellent work of K. Snodgrass, "Justification by Grace--To the

Doers: An Analysis of the Place of Romans 2 in the Theology of Paul," NTS 32 (1986)

72-93, on this very interesting dimension of NT soteriology/eschatology.




Jesus in the epistles of the NT, it is now thought entirely possible that

the sayings of Jesus were so integral a part of early Christian catechism

and instruction (perhaps even a part of evangelistic instruction) that

they may have been presumed as familiar to many in the various

churches.9 How far that assumption may be pressed, however, is not

certain. What is clear, at any rate, is that the epistles of the NT are not

entirely without reference to the sayings of Jesus and their presumed

authoritative status. For example, the use of the sayings of Jesus in the

literature of the Pauline churches has been frequently observed (see 1

Cor 7:10, 9:14, 10:33 [par. Mark 10:44], 11:24, 25; 1 Thes 4:15; cf. also

Col 3:16; Gal 6:2; Eph 4:17). More specifically, the impact of the

traditions contained in the Sermon on the Mount upon Rom 12:1-15:7

has been often noted.10 Outside the Pauline traditions we may note that

Mark 13 and the apocalyptic sayings of Jesus reflected therein have

certainly influenced the Revelation,11 and Acts 20:35 (reporting words

of Paul) explicitly cites an otherwise unknown saying of the Lord.

Finally, covering a wide range of NT traditions, we may observe, as

suggested by many,12 that the "stone" passage of Rom 9:32, 33; Eph

2:19-22, and 1 Pet 2:4-10 are based upon the exegetical uses of Isa

8:14, 28:16 and Ps 118:22 as established already by Jesus and reflected

in the synoptic traditions (Matt 21:33-46; par. Mark 12:1-12; Luke


            James is by no means an exception to this common early Christian

practice of employing the sayings of Jesus. It is to be noted, of course,

that James nowhere explicitly cites a saying of Jesus as such, but the

words of Jesus are so very clearly woven into the very structure of

James' instruction that we may conclude that the authoritative use and

status of the dominical sayings for the author of James and his readers

was an unquestioned assumption. James' use of what we call the

Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) is so well known as scarcely to need


            9 G. B. Caird, The Apostolic Age (London: Duckworth, 1965) 73-82; also, C. F. D.

Moule, The Birth of the New Testament, 3rd rev. and rewritten ed. (San Fransicso:

Harper and Row, 1982) 177-99.

            10 So F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Tyn NT.; Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1963) 228; Paul: The Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Paternoster, 1977) 96;

cf. W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Cambridge: Cambridge

1977) 398f.

            11 G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (NCB; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans

1974) 129ff.

            12 R. N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1975) 202-4. The "stone" passages have also received excellent treatment in

K. Snodgrass, "1 Peter 1l.1-10: Its Formation and Literary Affinities," NTS 24 (1977)

97-106; The Parable of the Wicked Tenants [WUNT 27; Tiibingen: J. C. B. Mohr

(Paul Siebeck), 1983].


                Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES               11


demonstration.13 Leaving aside the less certain instances of James'

employment of the Jesus traditions found within the Great Sermon, the

following represent rather clear-cut instances wherein those sayings of

Jesus have found expression in the teaching material of James. Though

the allusions are clearer when looked at in Greek, the following side-

by-side comparison of even the English texts of the relevant passages

from the Sermon on the Mount and James makes clear the similarities.


            Sermon on the Mount                                               James

                   (Matt 5-7)

5:3: Blessed are the poor in spirit,              2:5: . . . did not God choose the poor

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.            of this world to be rich in faith and

                                                                        heirs of the kingdom. . . ?

5:7: Blessed are the merciful, for they       2:13: for judgment will be merciless

shall receive mercy.                                      to one who has shown no mercy;

                                                                        mercy triumphs over judgment.

5:11,12: Blessed are you when men           1:2; 5:9, 10: Consider it all joy, my

revile you, and persecute you, and say        brethren, when you encounter various

all kinds of evil against you falsely, on       trials. . ./Do not complain, brethren,

account of Me./Rejoice, and be glad,          against one another, that you your-

for your reward in heaven is great, for        selves be not judged; behold, the

so they persecuted the prophets who          Judge is standing right at the door./ As -

were before you.                                           an example, brethren, of suffering and

                                                                        patience, take the prophets who spoke

                                                                        in the name of the Lord.

5:34-37: But I say to you, make no             5:12: But above all, my brethren, do

oath at all; Neither by heaven. . ./or             not swear either by heaven or by earth

by the earth. ..or by Jerusalem. . . ./             or with any other oath; but let your

Nor . . . by your head. . . /But let your         yes be yes, and your no, no; so that

statement be, "Yes, yes" or "No, no"            you may not fall under judgment.

and anything beyond these is of evil.

6:19: Do not lay up for yourselves 5:2, 3: Your riches have rotted and

treasures upon earth, where moth and         your garments have become moth-

rust destroy, and where thieves break          eaten./Your gold and your silver have

in and steal.                                                    rusted; and their rust will be a witness

                                                                        against you and will consume your

                                                                        flesh like fire. It is in the Last Days

                                                                        that you have stored up your treasure!

6:24: No one can serve two masters;          4:4, 8: You adulteresses, do you not

for either he will hate the one and               know that friendship with the world


            13 Mayor, James LXXXV-LXXXVII.




love the other, or he will hold to one          is hostility towards God? Therefore

and despise the other. You cannot               whoever wishes to be a friend of the

serve God and Mammon.                              world makes himself an enemy of

                                                                        God./Draw near to God and He will

                                                                        draw near to you. Cleanse your hands,

                                                                        you sinners; and purify your hearts,

                                                                        you double-minded.

6:34: Therefore do not be anxious              4:13, 14: Come now, you who say,

for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care        "Today or tomorrow, we shall go to

for itself. Each day has enough trouble       such and such a city, and spend a year

of its own.                                                      there and engage in business and make

                                                                        a profit."/Yet you do not know what

                                                                        your life will be like tomorrow. You

                                                                        are just a vapor that appears for a

                                                                        little while and then vanishes away.

7:1: Do not judge lest you be judged          4:11, 12; 5:9: Do not speak against

yourselves.                                                     one another, brethren. He who speaks

                                                                        against a brother, or judges his brother,

                                                                        speaks against the law, and judges the

                                                                        law; but if you judge the law, you are

                                                                        not a doer of the law but a judge of

                                                                        it./There is only one Lawgiver and

                                                                        Judge, the One who is able to save

                                                                        and destroy; but who are you to judge

                                                                        your neighbor?/Do not complain,

                                                                        brethren, against one another, that you

                                                                        yourselves may not be judged; behold,

                                                                        the Judge is standing right at the door.

7:7, 8: Ask, and it shall be given to 1:5; 4:3: But if any of you lacks wis-

you; seek, and you shall find; knock,           dom, let him ask of God, who gives to

and it shall be opened to you./For                all men generously and without re-

everyone who asks receives; and he            proach, and it will be given to him./

who seeks finds; and to him who                 You ask and do not receive, because

knocks it shall be opened.                            you ask with wrong motives, so that

                                                                        you may spend it on your pleasures.

7:16,17: You will know them by their        3:10-13,18: From the same mouth

fruits. Grapes are not gathered from           come both blessing and cursing. My

thombushes, nor figs from thistles, are      brethren, these things ought not to be

they? /Even so every good tree bears          this way./Does a fountain send out

good fruit; but the rotten tree bears             from the same opening both fresh and

bad fruit.                                                         bitter water? /Can a fig tree, my breth-

                                                                        ren, produce olives, or a vine produce

                                                                        figs? Neither can salt water produce

                                                                        fresh./Who among you is wise and

                                                                        understanding? Let him show by his


                        Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES   13


                                                                        good behavior his deeds in the gentle-

                                                                        ness of wisdom./ And the seed whose

                                                                        fruit is righteousness is sown in peace

                                                                        by those who make peace.

7:24, 26: Therefore everyone who 1:22-25: But prove yourselves doers

hears these words of Mine, and acts            of the word, not merely hearers who

upon them, may be compared to a               delude themselves./For if anyone is a

wise man, who built his house upon a          hearer of the word and not a doer, he

rock. . . / And everyone who hears   is like a man who looks at his natural

these words of Mine, and does not act        face in a mirror;/for once he has

upon them, will be like a foolish man,        looked at himself and gone away, he

who built his house upon the sand. has immediately forgotten what kind

                                                                        of person he was./But one who looks

                                                                        intently at the perfect law, the law of

                                                                        liberty and abides by it, not having

                                                                        become a forgetful hearer but an effec-

                                                                        tual doer, this man shall be blessed in

                                                                        what he does.


            While numerous other allusions could be suggested, the above are

sufficient to show that the sayings of Jesus are a rich part of the

theology and experience of our author, a fact which places him

squarely within the traditions and practices of early Christianity.


The Knowledge of Pauline Traditions

            J. B. Mayor14 has argued that Paul, in writing Romans, knew the

book of James--a fact which, according to Mayor, accounts for certain

similarities of expression, especially regarding "justification by faith"

and the similar use of Abraham as a model of saving faith (2:14-26).

Most scholars, of course, would no longer agree that Paul had access to

James, but there seems to be little doubt that Jas 2:14-26 represents a

dialogue involving Pauline traditions. It is certainly not necessary,

however, to argue that James is consciously contradicting the great

apostle. In fact, there is nothing in the implied theology of those whom

James opposes that could be supported in the writings of Paul. The

apparent similarity of the opponents' views to certain Pauline expres-

sions makes it probable that James is in fact responding to a kind of

perverted Paulinism. There can be little doubt that Pauline theology

exerted an enormous influence throughout the various centers of early

Christianity in the formative years of the major church traditions.15


            14 Ibid. XCI-CII.

            15 M. Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity,

tr. J. Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983); S. Kim, The Origin of Paul's Gospel (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) especially, 100-36.




Therefore, it should not surprise us that, just as Paul himself had to

combat various antinomian perceptions of his theology (cf. Rom 6:1;

Gal 2:15-21) so there may be standing behind the polemic of Jas 2:14-

26 a kind of misrepresented Paulinism. At any rate, the point that is to

be made here is that, while James does not correct misrepresentations

of Paul in the way that Paul himself would have (and did), his own

language and thought were nonetheless certainly congenial with certain

similar expressions in Paul whereby we read that faith has its expression

in lifestyle (cf. collectively Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 7:19).16


                                                *   *   *                      

            The point to all that has been presented thus far is relatively

simple: the theology of James is not alien to the theological currents of

primitive Christianity as reflected in the canonical literature. Though

some scholars have treated the book of James as if it were merely a

Jewish document to which a couple of traditional Christian references

to the "Lord Jesus Christ'" (1:1; 2:1) were added so as to give it

Christian acceptability, such handling, we are convinced, does no

justice to the almost unconscious use of traditional Christian materials,

phrases and texts at virtually every literary stratum of the book.

Moreover, the theology of James, while often more implicit than

explicit, given its extremely practical bent, is nonetheless real and is

evidenced in the deep structures of our author's thinking and belief. As

we continue by considering the Christology of James, the implicit but

nonetheless real pattern of Christian confession continues to be evident.


                                    II. An Implicit Christology


            What James has to say about Christ lies for the most part beneath

the surface of the practical exhortations in the book. In attempting to

uncover the Christology of James, therefore, we must look not only at

what James says about Christ, but at what James seems to assume

about Christ in the course of his ethical instructions. The following

represents a brief summary of the Christological statements that can be

made as a reflection of the implicit Christological assumptions under-

lying the explicit paraenesis of the book.


Christ the Teacher and Prophet

            We've noted already the impact of the traditions contained in what

we call the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5- 7) upon the thinking of our


            16 Snodgrass, "Justification" 85-87.

                        Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES               15


to author. There is little doubt that the teachings of Jesus had a very great

impact upon James. There is more to be said in this regard but it will be

deferred until we consider the explicit Christological title of "Lawgiver"

as discussed below. What may be remarked here, however, is that the

central (and serious) function of teaching for James (3:1) was no doubt

enhanced by the teaching role our author saw modeled in the life of his

Lord, a fact which, again, is reflected in the extensive use of Jesus'

sayings to be found in this short work. But it was not only the content of

Jesus' teaching that seems to have touched our author, since, for the

author of James, teaching was no mere academic enterprise, but a task

of morally compelling urgency fraught with eschatological significance

(3:1).  In addition to the re-interpreted legal content to which James fell

heir as a Christian teacher, there was the authority, the prophetic

passion of Jesus that was likewise conveyed with the teachings them-

selves. Literary analysis easily suggests the teachings of Jesus as a

primary source for the exhortations of James. If, however, we inquire

further, as to the source of James' prophetic passion and tone, we are

once again thrown back upon the similar and very reasonable explana-

tion of the historical Jesus as the originator, in this case, of the rather

innovative conflation of rabbinic and prophetic roles in early Christi-

anity17 (see Acts 13:1; 1 Cor 12:28, 29; 14:26-33; Eph 4:11; cf. Acts 11:21;

Eph 2:20, 3:5) and especially James (see below). For Jesus to have been

regarded as both "rabbi" and "prophet" is historically unusual, to say

the least, and provides the most plausible explanation for the--again,

unusual--conflation in James of what appears to be wisdom literature

delivered with prophetic tone. The blunt, often harsh remarks of the

historical Jesus directed to either his religious enemies (Matt 12:34;

15:7, 14; 16:4; 21:31; 22:18; 23:1-36; Luke 16:15; 20:41), or, in some

cases, even bitingly delivered to his own disciples (Matt 8:26; 15:16;

16:8-11, 23; 17:17,20; Luke 9:31) is, in turn, likely reflected in the often

searing tone evidenced by the author of James. Just as the Master

himself could call his disciples "friends" (Luke 12:4) or "little flock"

(Luke 12:32) on the one hand and "unbelieving and perverted" (Luke

9:41), on the other, or could even so sternly rebuke his disciples for


            17 See D. E. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean

World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983) 103-6, where the simplistic notion--which

asserts that the prophetic movement ceased and was followed by the rabbinic--is

certainly qualified, though the notion is itself, as Aune concedes, representive of the

opinion of classical rabbinic tradition. Aune does admit that there is a relative re-

emergence of the prophetic movement in and through early Christianity. Indeed, Aune

argues that the rabbinic claim that the prophetic movement had ceased and was

superseded by them (the rabbis) is itself an attestation of the relative resurgence of the

prophetic movement in Christian circles (and perhaps elsewhere).



their moral and/or intellectual stubbornness that they were afraid to

question him (Luke 9:41-45), so James seems unaware of any psycho-

logical or spiritual contradiction in his own references to his readers as

both "beloved brethren" (1:16, 19; 2:5; see also 1:2, 9; 2:1, 14; 3:1; 4:11;

5:7, 9, 10, 12) and "double-minded" (4:8, cf. 1:8), "adulteresses" (4:4)

who are proud (4:6), quarrelsome (4:1) and "judges with evil motives"


            Some of the problematic passages frequently encountered in the

study of James with regard to the identity of those whom he so

severely rebukes--i.e., are they Christians or non-Christians18--may

perhaps be fruitfuily advanced by taking note of this prophetic phe-

nomenon. The seemingly incongruous nature of the various epithets is

as easily explained as a derivative of the tone of Jesus (without omitting

due regard for the author's own personality) as our author's hortatory

instructions are of the content of Jesus' sayings.


The Lord Who Heals and Forgives

            The healing ministry of Jesus seems, for our author, to have

continued into the life of the early church, assuming that the anointing

of the sick with oil "in the name of Lord" (5:14; cf. 2:7 which is

discussed below) is a reference to the name of the Lord Jesus. If that is

so, and the probability seems to lie in that direction, it would then be a

work of the risen Lord in healing that is referred to in 5:15 with the

expression "the Lord will raise him up." If these two references to "the

Lord" (5:14, 15) are indeed references to Christ, then the promise of

forgiveness for the physically stricken one who has also committed sins

(5:15) would likewise seem to represent the work of the risen Lord.

The Lord who heals also forgives. The healing of the afflicted sinner

seems thus reminiscent of the story of the healing of the paralytic

(Mark 2:1-12 and par.) wherein a similar connection between forgive-

ness and healing is evidenced, as is also the Lord's work of "raising"

him up (5:15; Mark 2:11, 12) in response to the effective value of the

faith of others (5:14, 15; Mark 2:5). It seems clear that for James the

historical Jesus continues to work in the community of faith and that,

conversely, the heavenly Lord who works in the worship and experi-

ence of the Christian community is not discontinuous with the historical

Jesus, the memory of whom has not faded and whose words were still

highly regarded.


The Friend of Sinners

            The explicit reference in 2:1 to "our glorious Lord Jesus Christ"

stands in the service of an exhortation against "personal favoritism,"


            18 Davids, James 76-78.


                 Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES               17


Here the injunction not to make "distinctions among yourselves, and

become fudges with evil motives" by showing favoritism to the wealthy

and despising the poor seems to assume the historically based gospel

traditions regarding the fellowship of Christ with sinners. Though the

basic theological appeal in 2:5 to the fact that God has chosen the "poor

of this world to be rich in faith" is not apparently a Christological

reference, when seen in the light of the explicit title that in 2:1

introduces this injunction against elitism, it suggests unmistakably that

it is in fact the ministry of Jesus and His identity with the poor and

outcast that is being referred to by the reference in 2:5 to God's

"choosing of the poor of this world." Put another way, God's "choosing

of the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom" is

a theocentric description for our author of the ministry of Jesus. Seen in

this way our Lord's identity with, and announcement of good news to,

the poor constitutes the implicit historical and/or Christological basis

of our author's ethical instruction here. Not unknown to James therefore

is the Jesus who ate with sinners (e.g., Luke 5:29-32; 7:36-50) and

announced the good news of the kingdom to the poor (e.g., Luke 4:18;

6:20-26; 7:22).


A Wisdom Pneumatology/Christology

            In this matter the Christological implications may well seem to be

very remote, but considering the fact that both the categories of

wisdom and Spirit/spirit are Christological in virtually every other

corner of NT theological tradition, it may at least be noted here that the

category of wisdom is certainly not absent from James and--while it

does not seem to imply directly a Christology--it certainly suggests a

pneumatology, which itself may have had Christological undertones

for our author.19 The notion of wisdom is suggested in at least three

contexts (1:5-8; 16-18; 3:13-18). While the term "wisdom" does not

appear in the 1:16-18 passage the verbal and theological clues (where

wisdom is "of God," "from above," "unwavering," and "good") pro-

vided by the other two contexts in which the term is explicitly used

make it clear that here too our author is referring to wisdom.

            The connection between Spirit/spirit and wisdom in the OT and

other Jewish materials (Gen 41:38-39; Exod 31:3; Isa 11:2; Wisdom of

Solomon 1:6; 7:7,22) is well established. Moreover, that connection is

certainly not lost in the NT. Indeed, in the Pauline writings we see that

wisdom, which in the OT involves the ability to live life under the will

of God, is not only used in passages which draw out the implications of

the divine Spirit for Christian experience (1 Cor 2:1-16; 12:8; cf. Eph

1:17; 3:5, 10, 16), but is also frequently referred to in the absence of


            19 Ibid. 51-54.




other more explicit references to the Spirit, but in ways that are parallel

to what is elsewhere the work of the Spirit in producing a life that is

pleasing to God (Col 1:9; 3:16; 4:5). The synoptic traditions likewise

reflect the connection between wisdom and Spirit. In Luke 11:13 we

read of the heavenly Father who, even more than an earthly father,

gives good gifts--in this case the Holy Spirit--to His children who ask

Him. It is interesting to note that the Matthean parallel (7:11) does not

refer to the Holy Spirit but simply to “what is good” as that which is

given to those who ask the generous Father. Neither synoptic passage

uses the term “wisdom,” but certainly the obedient life of wisdom is in

view. Furthermore, when read in tandem with the wisdom passages in

James and the established Jewish traditions connecting spirit and

wisdom, these synoptic traditions (Matt 7:11; Luke 11:13) seem much

less dissimilar: i.e., the reference to the Spirit being apt in Luke, and

likely implied in the more J ewishly conceived Matthew. Thus, in

Matthew and James the reference to the Spirit seems implied, in Luke

(like Paul) it is more explicit. In all cases, the life that is pleasing to God

is in view. Whereas Paul (cf. also John) has what is often described as a

wisdom Christology, James has, it would seem, analogous to the

synoptic traditions reflected in Matt 7:11 and Luke 11:13, a wisdom


            To what extent James' wisdom pneumatology reflects also a

wisdom Christology is difficult to demonstrate, but it does not seem a

far remove, given what we have seen already in terms of James'

theocentric understanding and ethical use of the ministry of Jesus as

“God's choosing of the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of

the kingdom" (2:5). If Paul's Spirit theology in Gal 5:22, 23 is in some

way a reminiscence of the historical Jesus, then it is not too far-fetched

to ask whether James' wisdom paraenesis may not likewise reflect a

certain understanding of the historical Jesus and/or his life of wisdom

and obedience to God.20 In this connection it is interesting to note that

the implicit Christology thus far uncovered in James is largely depen-

dent on historical traditions regarding the life of Jesus. It has been

assumed by some that the primary residue of the historical Jesus is

found indirectly in the deposit (to be recovered by the variously

applied criteria of form criticism) of his life left in the communities in

the form of his teachings. While none may doubt that the teachings of

Jesus exerted an enormous influence upon the theology and self-


            20 See Davies, Sermon 346-49 and F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians

(NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) 252-61, who suggest the connection for Paul

between the life in the Spirit of Gal 5: 22, 23 and the historical Jesus; note well that Paul's

"fruit of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22, 23) and James' "wisdom from above" (Jas 3:17, 18) are not

at all dissimilar.


                 Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES               19


understanding of early Christianity--James being a primary witness to

that fact--it is nonetheless clear that the life of Jesus as event was not

unimportant,21 especially (see the discussion above of 2:1ff) for James.

Stated in terms of some current discussions, James is not to be thought

of as a way station along the trajectory of a non-kerygmatic Christology

(Jesus the teacher cum holy man) which presumably co-existed with

equal force of tradition alongside the (ultimately triumphant) canonical

and/ or apostolic traditions (of the crucified Jesus who is now the

exalted Lord of the cosmos) and finally emerged literarily in the

Gnostic Jesus of Nag Hammadi.22 For James, as we have seen above

and shall also see in what follows, the exalted Lord is none other than

the crucified Jesus whose life, as well as his teachings, constituted a

normative basis upon which further theological insight (especially

certain legal/paraenetic traditions) could be developed (see the discus-

sion above of 2:1ff).


                                    III. Explicit Christology


            At this point we must observe that whatever else may be said

about the paucity of Christological references in James, they are not

entirely lacking. Furthermore, whatever else one may say about the

composition history of the book of James in terms of its use of Jewish

sources and/ or its character as a piece of first century wisdom literature,

the fact is that the text of James as we have it is explicitly Christian.

Even without the traditional Christological titles, e.g., 1:1 and 2:1 (there

are others: cf. 4:12, 5:9), we have seen enough from this book to know

that it lies within the mainstream of early Christian confession theo-

logically and that it has enough of an implicit Christology to suggest

that, under different literary circumstances, our author could have told

us much more about Christ than he did on this occasion. But the fact

still remains that James is not lacking in an explicit Christology.


Christ and Lord

            The two references to the “Lord Jesus Christ” (kuri<ou [h[mw?n]--

  ]Ihsou? Xristou?: 1:1, 2:1) make use of the most characteristic and

frequently occurring titles for Jesus in early Christianity. The title

“Christ”--while apparently used here as something more akin to a


            21 See the recent study by E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress,

1985), in which the author begins his study of Jesus not with the teachings, but with the

facts of his life, his career, and their consequences.

            22 As in, for example, J. M. Robinson, "Jesus: From Easter to Valentinus (or to the

Apostles' Creed)," JBL 101 (1982) 5-37; "The Sayings of Jesus: Q," The Drew Gateway

54 (1983) 26-38.




name than a title--has not completely lost contact with its Jewish roots

(however good or "Hellenistic" the Greek of this document may be) as

a reference to "Messiah." Though seldom used publicly by Jesus during

the days of his ministry,23 the title "Christ" and/or "Messiah" was one

of the most popular early Christian confessions about Jesus, finding its

functional roots in the ministry of Jesus, its decisive shaping vis-a-vis

the cross of Jesus, and its supreme vindication in the fact of his

resurrection from the dead. In this latter connection it was connected

with the title "Lord" (cf. Acts 2:33-36; Rom 1:4; 1 Cor 1:2f.; 2 Cor 4:5;

Phil 2:6-11; 3:8; Col 2:6; 3:24; 2 Thes 2:1) to form one of the earliest

Christological confessions about Jesus. The background of the term

"Christ" in Jewish messianism as an expression of the predominantly

royal (as opposed to prophetic and priestly) hopes of prophetic/

apocalyptic Judaism quite naturally brought this term into the orbit of

its often closely-associated fellow term "Lord" (and both with "Son,"

cf. Rom 1:4; 1 Cor 15:20-28, 57; Col 1:13-20; 2:6).

            The term "Lord" has been suggested by some to have arisen in the

Hellenistic communities of early Christianity, but its Jewish antecedents

are not to be dismissed lightly. The presence of the term in the several

hymnic fragments incorporated within the NT materials suggests that

the term was part of the very earliest confessions of the Christian faith

and thus may well have its rise and setting within the framework of

Jewish Christianity.24 Whatever its provenance it seems clear that the

term as such is a reference to the kingly status of the resurrected Jesus,

given the early Christian belief that he had acceded to a celestial throne

and was seated (as a ruling and interceding agent)25 at the right hand of

the Most High God. The precipitating cause for the Christian ascription

of Lordship to Jesus seems to have been the belief in His resurrection

and ascension to the right hand of God.26 The use of both of these early

Christian designations with reference to Jesus in the book of James

confirms its rightly perceived status within the mainstream of early

Christianity .


The Glory and the Name

            We place both of these explicit Christological designations together

here because each reflects the early Christian tendency to use traditional


            23 R. N. Longenecker, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity (London: SCM,

1970) 63-82.

            24 O. Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, revised ed., tr. S. G.

Guthrie and C. A. M. Hall (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959) 195-237; Longenecker,

Christology 120-36.

            25 Acts 2:30-36; 5:31; 7:55, 56; Rom 1:4; 8:34; 2 Cor 5:10; Eph 1:20-23; 2:6; 4:8-10;

Phil 2:9; CoI3:1; Heb 1:3; 2:5-9; 5:9,10; 7:24-26; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; Rev 1:5; 5:5-14.

            26 Longenecker, Christology 128-31.


                Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES               21


names of God with reference to Christ. The term "glory" has a long

pre-history in Jewish history and theology as a euphemism for Yahweh.

As a word that refers, e.g., to the light that could be seen when God

was present in the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exod 40:34), the

temple of Solomon (1 Kgs 8:11), or Ezekiel's vision of the heavenly

throne (1:28),  the term "glory" itself came to mean the presence of God

and thus was widely used in NT traditions as a reference to the

presence of God in Christ,27 and, as such, was also closely associated

with both wisdom and image of God Christology in the NT.28 In Jas

2:1, where th?j do<chj is commonly translated as an attributive adjec-

tive,29 and thus rendered as "our glorious Lord Jesus Christ," the

reference to "the glory" may more properly be seen as a kind of

substantive in its own right. That is, given the use of "glory" as a

euphemism for God, and the Christian tendency to transfer traditional

names of God to Christ, the passage in question could well be translated

"our Lord Jesus Christ, the glory."30 As to the precise import that is to

be given to "the glory," if thus rendered in this reference to "our Lord

Jesus Christ," there can be some debate. It could be argued that "glory"

here is a straightforward reference to Jesus as the very presence of God

and thus, in light of the presence of God revealed in the ministry of the

Lord who had fellowship with sinners (cf. 2:5), the readers must be

certain not to violate God's Christocentrically-revealed nature and/or

continued presence in their fellowship by expressing attitudes of

personal favoritism and snobbery. In this sense a presumption of

familiarity with, if not an intended allusion to, the historical Jesus may

be justifiably deduced from our author's use of "the glory." At the very

least the reference to Jesus as "the glory" would seem to be a reference

to His exalted status at the right hand of God.

            We must note, however, that, even in this latter sense, to confess

His glory is still, for our author, to refrain from a disdain for the poor.

How one gets theologically from the confession of glory to the stated

necessity of solidarity with the poor seems at first psychologically

implausible, but, given the common early Christian association of glory

with suffering (John 12:23-28; 13:31; 1 Pet 4:12-16; 1 Cor 2:8; 2 Cor


            27 Cf. Matt 16:27; 19:28; Luke 24:26; John 1:14; 2:11; 11:40; 12:23-41; 13:21-32; 17:5,

22,24; Acts 7:55; 22:11; Rom 6:4; 1 Cor 2:8; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:4-6; Eph 1:12, 14, 17; 3:16; Phil

4:19; Col 1:27; 3:4; 2 Thes 2:14; 1 Tim 3:16; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:3; 2:7,9; 1 Pet 1:11, 21; 4:11,13,

14; 5:10; 2 Pet 1:3, 17; Rev 5:12f.; 21:23.

            28 Kim, Origin 230f.

            29 So NIV, NASB, and Goodspeed. The KJV, RSV, NEB, TEV, and Living Bible

seem to have opted for a compromise translation, "the Lord of glory," though even thus

the adjectival sense of th?j do<chj appears to have predominated.

            30 P. J. Townsend, "Christ, Community and Salvation in the Epistle of James," EvQ

53 (1981) 116.




4:4-18; Heb 2:5-10), certainly not impossible. Thus, the ease of transi-

tion in James from glory to humility may reflect not only James'

familiarity with the profound theological juxtaposition of the cross and

resurrection in early Christianity, but especially the paraenetic import

of that relationship. In this way we see but another instance of what has

been the pattern throughout this early Christian document, viz., explicit

exhortation based upon, and itself in turn implying, a rather traditional,

primitive Christian theology / Christology.

            Jewish emphasis upon "the name" of God is well attested in

ancient sources.31  In the NT it is especially the Jewish Christian

materials which reflect very great interest in "the name" as a Christo-

logical designation.32 Just as references to "the name" had earlier

become a way to refer to God for Jewish piety, so also the same phrase

became, it seems, a reference in early Jewish Christianity to Christ

himself. In 2:1, our author exhorts his readers not to pay special

attention to the wealthy, for they are the ones who "blaspheme the fair

name" which was invoked “over” the early Christians. This latter

reference to "the name" which was pronounced "over" believers may

well be a reference to baptism. Whether it was in fact the act of

baptism whereupon "the name" was pronounced over the readers of

James' epistle, it is nonetheless clear that we are confronted here with a

Christological reference, for it was no doubt the name of Jesus which

constituted the distinctive identity--the "call"--of early Christians and

was, in the instances suggested by our author, "blasphemed" by their

wealthy oppressors. Just as in the OT the Lord had "called" out for

Himself a people to be his own chosen people (Deut 28:10), so also

early Christians understood their own self identity in terms of the

"Lord Jesus" by whom and through whom they had been called and to

whom they were to give their allegiance. The reference in 5:14 to a

prayerful anointing "in the name of the Lord" has been discussed

above, but may be mentioned again here as another instance of James'

use of "the name" as an unmistakable Christological reference to Jesus

as the distinctive "Lord" whose "name" may be invoked over the

members of the fellowship.


Judge and Lawgiver

            The titles "Judge" and "Lawgiver" represent perhaps the most

significant, explicit Christological titles in the book of James, if signifi-

cance is to be measured in terms of relatedness to the distinctive

message of a given book. All would agree that the major themes of this


            31 Longenecker, Christology 41-46.

            32 Ibid.


                    Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES               23


epistle are tied up with a series of related exhortations that enjoin a

certain legitimating response to the divine oracles. For example, those

who would be "wise" (1:5; 3:13) must be "doers of the word," who look

“intently at the perfect law. . . of liberty" (1:22-25) and thus demon-

strate the saving faith that "works" and is thereby completed or

"perfected" (2:14-26); or, negatively stated and applied to a more

specific situation, one who is guilty of transgressing the "royal law" by

showing "partiality" (2:8-13) and/or "speaking against a brother" (4:11,

cf. 5:9)--thereby arrogantly assuming a posture that stands "against the

law" (4:11)--will thus, as a "transgressor" of it (2:11), come under the

judgment of the one true Lawgiver and Judge (4:11, 12; 5:9). In a work

that for so many scholars apparently defies structure or outline,33 the

seemingly disparate themes of wealth and social preference, evil

speech, wisdom, being a doer of the word and having a faith that works

are all related at a deeper level to an authoritative entity, or entities,

something variously called "the word of truth" (1:18), "the word

implanted" (1:21), "the word" (1:22,23), "the perfect law" (1:25), "the

law of liberty" (1:25; 2:12), "the royal law" (2:8), "the law" (2:9, 10, 11;

4:11 [three times]) and "the truth" (3:14; 5:19), and to a certain

authoritative person, or persons, Someone called "Lawgiver" (4:12;

cf. 2:11), "Judge" (4:12; 5:9), "the Lord of Sabaoth" (5:4) and "the

Lord" (5:7, 8; cf. also 5:10, 11).

            We will seek to identify the "something" and "Someone" mentioned

above by beginning with the latter issue at the point in the text (5:7-11)

where identification seems easiest and then proceeding backwards to

the next obviously related (but more difficult to identify) "Someone"

and "something" of 4:11, 12 and then to the also closely related

"something" of 2:8-13 and 1:18-25.

            The context of 5:1-6 is clearly eschatological. The wicked rich will

answer to the Lord Sabaoth, a divine name implying wrath,34 in the

Last Days (5:3f.). The oppressed "brethren" are then exhorted (5:7-11)

to "be patient. . . until the coming of the lord. . . , for the coming of

the Lord is at hand. . . behold, the Judge is standing right at the door."

The references to the parousi<a of the Lord in 5:7, 8 are difficult to

understand except in the common and virtually technical sense given

the phrase in Christian tradition as a reference to the coming of Christ,

though it must be remembered that the Christophanic language and

expectations of the NT, are, in a certain sense, only a special case of the


            33 So M. Dibelius and Ho Greeven, James (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress,

1976), cited by Davids, James 23.

            34 Cf. Isa 5:9; sabaw<q is used 61 times in Isaiah compared to 9 other instances in the

rest of the LXX (Davids, James 178).




theophanic hopes of OT religion. By the same token, however, the

largely theocentric language of James cannot be divorced from the

author's (at least implicit) Christology, in which case every theocentric

expression may be Christological. However that may be, the rather

obviously Christological references in 5:7, 8 to the imminent coming of

the Lord mandate a similarly Christological exegesis of the parallel

phrase in 5:9 regarding "the Judge" who is standing right at the door"

(see Matt 24:33; cf. Rev 3:20). It is the Lord Christ who comes (soon) to


            Though most would regard the reference to "Lawgiver and Judge"

in 4:12 as strictly a reference to God--given in addition the likely

allusion in 5:12b to the saying of Jesus (Matt 10:28) about fearing Him

who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna--it is certainly possible

that the reference in 4:12 to "Judge" must be read in the light of 5:9 as

Christological. Certainly Christ the Judge is a common early Christian

motif and it should not surprise us if theocentric language is used to

express it here, as is commonly the case elsewhere in NT tradition

(cf. Rev 6). In that case it is Christ the "Lawgiver" whose law is both

contravened and slandered by the act of judging the brother--a rather

obvious possibility given the allusion here to the dominical injunction

in the Sermon on the Mount against "judging" (Matt 7:1). Using this

identification (i.e., a Christological one) of the "Lawgiver and Judge,"

we will suggest as a working hypothesis that the "law" in question here

is the Torah of Jesus (apparently largely embodied for James in the

Sermon on the Mount traditions). If we are right, it must be seen that

"the law" is thus more than the Mosaic Law, it is the law of Israel as

given and (re-) interpreted by Jesus the great Lawgiver, and as such it

has a strong (though we will not say exclusively) "sayings" (of Jesus)

component to it.

            Continuing to work backwards, we see that the similar passage in

2:8-13 (where again there is an allusion in 2:13 to the dominical saying

of Matt 7:l1), regarding the "judging" of the poor man, means the

guilty party is, again, a transgressor of "the law" (2:9; cf. 2:10, 11). Here

it must be noted that "the law" is also variously called "the royal law"

(2:8) and "the law of liberty" (2:12;  cf. 1:25). Once again it seems more

than plausible to assume that the “law in question here--which is

transgressed by the act of showing "partiality" (2:9), and/or the equiva-

lent sin of showing "no mercy" (2:13)--is also the saying of Jesus (Matt

7:1f.) against "judging." The further allusion here to the Matt 7:2

tradition (in 2:13), where both passages suggest that the injunction

against judging will be eschatologically enforced by a final judgment

that corresponds to the mercy, or lack thereof, shown in this age,

confirms the connection between the references to "the law" in 4:11, 12

and those of 2:8-13.


              Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES        25


            In 2:8-13, however, a further point is made (regarding the holistic

nature of the "law") that adds to our hypothesis that the "law" in James

is not merely OT law but is in fact the "new law," i.e., the Torah of

Jesus. When arguing that the same Lawgiver (“He who said”) who

forbade adultery also prohibited murder, the author's point is that to

violate either ordinance is to sin against “Him.” Patently of course the

One who forbade such acts was God, the Giver of the Ten Command-

ments. But we should not fail to note that it was precisely these two of

the Ten Commandments (though in the reverse order in James) that

received homiletic treatment in the Sermon on the Mount traditions of

Matt 5:21-32. This fact lends support to the notion that James' refer-

ences to the "the law" are not to the Mosaic Law simpliciter, but to the

Law as interpreted and transmitted for Christian tradition by the New

Moses Himself. Of course, this "law" is not, precisely stated, a specific

commandment, but the entire obligation (as interpreted by Christ) of

the elect before God. To break, however, a specific law (or any specific

law), is to be a transgressor of "the law," holistically conceived.

            The "royal law" of 2:8 is likewise not to be understood as a single

commandment--in this case the injunction, "You shall love your neigh-

bor as yourself," Lev 19:18--but as a larger, more comprehensive

entity which is of course consistent with and/or expressed by the

particular commandment of Lev 19:18, a favorite of Jesus as a summary

expression of His teachings vis-a-vis the laws of God (Matt 5:43-48;

Mark 12:31; cf. Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14). This fact further reinforces the

already apparent relationship of synonymity between the three in-

stances of "the law" in 2:9-11 and "the royal law" of 2:8 (it may also be

noted that the same status of equivalence exists for the contextually

parallel phrase, "the law of liberty" in 2:12). Finally, when we consider

the very strong possibility (as suggested by many35) that "the royal

law" is in fact a reference to "the law of the king" (where Christ is the

royal personage in question), we have another significant clue that

suggests the Torah of Jesus--i.e., His preaching and teaching under-

stood as the inspired interpretation of the Mosaic Law--as “the law"

for James. It is the “instruction” of Jesus that is divinely authoritative

and thus may not be ignored with impunity. It is Christ's law which in

James is the "law" that may be expressed by the commandment of Lev

19:18 to love one’s neighbor and therefore precludes “judging” one's


            35 B. Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude: Introduction, Translation, and

Notes (AB; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964) 29; J. B; Adamson, The Epistle of James

(NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976) 115; H. Jochums, "Der Herr cler Herrlichkeit,"

in Christuszeugnis im Nebel des Zeitgeistes: Niciinisches Christusbekenntnis heute

Walter Kilnneth zu Ehren (ed. U. Asendorf and Friedrich-Wilhelm Kiinneth; Neuhausen/

Stuttgart: Neuhausen- Verlag, 1979) 213.




fellow (2:4, 4:11, 5:9) through the merciless acts of partiality (2:9, 13)

and harsh criticism (4:11,5:9). God through Christ is the great and final

Lawgiver and Judge (2:11, 4:12, 5:9).

            Thus far we have argued that "the law" in James is the Torah of

Jesus, i.e., the law of God (the Mosaic Law) as taught by Christ. But

we hinted earlier that this Torah of Jesus was not necessarily exclusively

comprised of sayings traditions from Jesus. The last passage that we

will consider in this connection, 1:18-25, forces us to consider the

possibility that the "life of Jesus" traditions, i.e., the events of His

Christological experience, are also essential to what we are calling the

"Torah of Jesus" in James.36

            We have already seen that James is not unfamiliar with the

historical/event traditions regarding Jesus. This fact is again confirmed

when we examine the tradition critical background of the various

references to "the word" in 1:18-23. The reference in 1:18 to "the word

of truth" takes over, as noted earlier, a rather traditional early Christian

expression for the gospel (2 Cor 6:7; Col l:5; Eph 1:13 and 2 Tim 2:15).

We may also recall 1 Pet 1:22-25 where-though the exact expression

"word of truth" is not found-there is a reference-citing Isa 40:6, 7

which is also alluded to in Jas 1:10, 11--to the faithful "word of God,"

which is called both "the truth" and the "imperishable seed" that

produces "rebirth" and is "the word which was preached to you", i.e.,

the gospel. The ad sensum parallel to this Petrine passage in Jas 1:18,

where the faithful Father has "brought us forth by the word of truth,"

seems clear. The "word of truth" in Jas 1:18 is thus almost certainly

something akin to the traditional gospel of early Christianity. Then, in

1:21, the "word of truth" from 1:18 has become "the word implanted

(to>n e@mfuton lo<gon), which is able to save your souls," a notion again

not unlike the reference in 1 Peter to the gospel as the "imperishable

seed" (spora?j . . . a]fqa<rtou, 1:23) which, in yet another Petrine con-


            36 Certainly OT Torah is not limited to oracular (divine commandment) materials,

but is also based upon historical/narrative traditions. With similar effect, our expression

"the Torah of Jesus," has the dual meaning suggested by the twin life settings of Jesus

and the church. That is, by "the Torah of Jesus," we are deliberately playing upon the

ambiguity of the English "of" so as to refer both to the teachings derived from Jesus and

the apostolic theological traditions about Jesus, particularly the apostolic reflections upon

not only his words, but his life, especially the significance of the cross and resurrection

events (cf. Eph 2:20; 3:4, 5, 9). In so doing we are, at worst, repeating the ambiguity of

NT expression wherein it is sometimes extremely difficult to determine whether the

author intends to refer to historical sayings of Jesus (Jesus tradition) or to early Christian

reflections (Spirit-inspired apostolic traditions) upon the Christ event (see 1 Cor 7:25;

14:37; Col 2:6-8; 3:16; 1 Thes 4:15; 2 Thes 3:6; 1 Tim 4:1-6). At best, we are perhaps

illustrating the inextricable link between the history of Jesus (including his words) and

the inspired apostolic reflection upon that history. In no case do I suspect that the early

church created sayings of Jesus de novo with utterly no regard for the history of Jesus.


               Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES               27


text, can similary produce "the salvation of your souls" (1:9). It seems

clear then that our author is referring, in these "word" phrases of 1:18-

23, to the rather traditional kerygma of early Christianity, i.e., the

message of the cross and resurrection.

            Next, it must be noted that the "word" language of 1:18-23 easily,

indeed, naturally, coalesces into the "law" terminology of 1:25 (and

beyond, i.e., 2:8-13; 4:11, 12; 5:7-11), suggesting thereby the synony-

mous relationship of those two terminological constellations. The fact

that "doers of the word" (poihtai> lo<gou, 1:22) are likened to the man

who "looks intently (o! . . . paraku<yaj) at the perfect law, the law of

liberty" (ei]j no<mon te<leion to>n th?j e]leuqeri<aj), and is thus a "working

doer" (poihth<j e@rgou, 1:25), likewise argues for the synonymous con-

nection for our author between the "word" of 1:18-23 and the "law" of

1:25. Finally, the parallel references in 1:25 and 2:12 to the "law of

liberty" link the various--but equivalent--"word" and "law" references

of 1:18-25 to the several "law" references of 2:8-13; 4:11, 12 and 5:7-11

in such a way that the contextually given expressions not only greatly

overlap, but, in fact, appear virtually synonymous. Thus, in light of the

referential identity of the "word" phrases of 1:18-23 and the "law"

expressions of 1:25 (both of which, then, are to be related to the "law"

passages of 2:8-13; 4:11, 12 and 5:7-11), we may not assume that

references to "law" in James, i.e., what we have called the "Torah of

Jesus," lack any reference to the cross and resurrection, i.e., an "event"

gospel; nor, on the other hand, that the preached "word. . . which is

able to save your souls" lacks didactic demand, i.e., the implications of

the teachings of Jesus.

            While our passage (1:18-25) seems, therefore, to begin (1:18-23)

with rather traditional references to the preached word of the gospel

(or an "event" oriented message) and to end (1:24, 25) with certain

didactic references to "law" (a body of teaching material), such a shift

is more apparent than real. While a shift of some sort undoubtedly does

take place between 1:18-21 and 1:22-25, it is not a shift from gospel to

law, nor even from gospel (the saving events) to Christian law (the

teachings of Jesus). For our author "word" and "law" are synonymous

and both suggest the saving acts and words of God through the person

of Jesus Christ. Thus, the shift in our passage relates not to the

authoritative norm (i.e., whether "word" or "law") to which response

must be given, but to the nature of the response itself. That is, whereas

in 1:21 the "implanted word" (or "the word of truth" from 1:18) must

be “received in humility" (e]n p[rau<thti de<casqe), in 1:22 the language of

response becomes more obviously active, more apparently volitional,

for the readers must be “doers of the word” and not merely “self-

deluding hearers.” The self-deluding hearer is like the forgetful man

who has "looked" (kateno<hsen) at himself in a mirror but quickly




forgets his reflection upon departing. But the effective doer is one who

"looks intently" at "the perfect law, the law of liberty," "abides"

(o[ paramei<naj) by it and thus will receive the eschatological beatitude

of God (maka<rioj . . . e@stai). To what degree the mirror illustration

may be pressed so that "the word" and the man's image and/or the

mirror may be correlated is open to discussion. But what seems clear in

spite of that issue is that "the word" of 1:22, 23--itself an obvious

shortening of "the word of truth" and "the implanted word" of 1:18 and

1:21, respectively--has become "the perfect law, the law of liberty" of

1:25. Thus, our passage does not shift its argument from "word" (or

"gospel") to "law," nor even from "getting in" to "staying in." Rather, it

moves more along the lines of "proclamation" and "legitimation."

            Syntactically and contextually the shift in meaning has rather

clearly occurred with 1:22 (Gi<nesqe de>), but, again, it does not cor-

respond to the shift in terms from "word" to "law," for the "word"

complex of phrases is still being used in 1:22, 23 and the "law" complex

does not begin until 1:25 (from which point it dominates the remainder

of James except for two isolated references to "the truth"-terminology

which falls nearer the "word" orbit of concepts (cf. again 1:18)-in 3:14

and 5:19. Thus, the terminological clues for the shift, expressed in terms

of response, from saving mercy (proclaimed) to authentic salvation

(received) are to be found elsewhere. The theological shift is signalled

terminologically with the introduction of the catchwords for "doers"

(poi<htai) and "hearers" (a]kroatai<). It is in fact this very pair of related

terms in Matt 7:24-27 that introduces the decisive criterion in the

conclusion to the Great Sermon traditions in Matthew whereby the

"wise man" is distinguished from the "foolish man" who "hears" the

words of Jesus but does not "do" them, and thus comes to eschatological

ruin. The source of both James' terminology and legitimating37 criterion

seems clear. But if this connection between the "hearing" and "doing"

of Jas 1:22-25 and Matt 7:24-27 is correct, then we must also notice the,

parallel use of the term "word" (1:18, 21-23; Matt 7:24, 26). Thus, it also;

seems clear, once again--from the same source analysis-that what

James means by "word" (1:18, 21-23) cannot be separated, even

temporarily, from the "words" of Jesus.

            Thus, we are faced with a complex of terms which suggests a rich

variety of emphases. What James means by "the word of truth," or,

"the word implanted," is certainly, if our earlier tradition analysis is

correct, something very much akin to the apostolic "gospel." But that


            37 That the issue in 1:22-25 is '"legitimation" seems clear from such expresssions as

"prove yourselves" (Gi<nesqe) and "delude themselves" (paralogizo<menoi e[autou<j, v.22).

Indeed, "legitimation" could well be a decisive issue throughout the book. Cf. 1:26, 27;

2:14-26; 3:13.


                Sloan: THE CHRISTOLOGY OF JAMES               29


divine word of salvation is itself likewise inextricably linked to a body

of authoritative teachings which itself both proclaims a new order of

life and enjoins an authentic, legitimating response of obedience. In

this way the "word" and "law" of James may be very similar to the

conception of the kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus and reflected

in the synoptic (largely Matthean) traditions. For both James and the

synoptics the proclamation is both gift and demand. It is the gracious

announcement of God's salvation, a salvation that is embodied in the

life and teachings of Jesus and received by authentic response.

            What seems to have found here its final affirmation in our overall

discussion is the fact that the authoritative "something"--i.e., the

"word," the "law," the "royal law" and the "law of liberty"--to which

an obedient response must be made--the response of an "effective

doer" (poihth>j e@rgou, 1:25) or of "faith working with works" (h[ pi<stij;

sunh<grei toi?j e@rgoij, 2:22)--is nothing less than the Torah of Jesus: the

announcement of God's merciful salvation through the appearance of

Him whose gracious words and deeds constitute both the promise and

demand of salvation.

                                                IV. Conclusion

            Perhaps we may conclude these sections on the Christology of

James by suggesting that our author's work is more apparently theo-

centric than Christocentric, but that such a distinction, if rigorously

maintained, fails to do justice to the pervasive substratum of Chris-

tology38 in the book. While much of the NT could be said to contain a

Christocentric theology, James has what we would call (more after the

synoptic pattern?) a theocentric Christology. At any rate, all attempts

to divorce theology from Christology will founder against this book,

for it is God through Christ whose law must be heard and obeyed.

Glearly a Christian work, this example of early Christian literature--a

piece of prophetic wisdom in epistolary form--reflects an author who

thoroughly familiar with certain important life of Jesus traditions,

sayings of Jesus traditions, and the apostolic tradition of primitive

Christianity. This author, who calls himself "James, a bond-servant of

God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," is intent upon calling forth from his

readers a life of true wisdom, a life that hears the word of God through

the person of Jesus Christ and responds with a legitimating obedience

of humility and faith.


            38 Regarding the implicit and/or latent Christology of James, see F. Mussner,

“’Direkte' und 'indirekte' Christologie im Jakobusbrief," Catholica 24 (1970) 111-17; and

R. Obermuller, "Hermeneutische Themen im Jakobusbrief," Bib 53 (1942) 234-44.


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