Home | Contents | Timelessness of James | Authorship | Objections to James as author | Could James have known Greek? | Dating | >
The epistle of James is one of those apparently timeless
documents that could be dated almost anywhere
and which has indeed been placed at practically every point in the list of New Testament writings. Thus Zahn and Harnack writing in the same year, 1897, put it first and last but one - at an interval of nearly a hundred years! It contains reference to no public events, movements or catastrophes. The 'conflicts and quarrels' it speaks of are the perennial ones of personal aggressiveness (4.1f.), not the datable wars and rumours of wars between nations or groups. Its calendar is determined by the natural cycle of peace-time agriculture (5.7) and the social round of petit-bourgeois society (4.11-5.6). There are no place names, and no indication of destination or dispatch, whether in address or greetings. In fact there are no proper names of any kind except that of James himself in the opening verse and stock Old Testament characters like Abraham and Isaac, Rahab, Job and Elijah. As a form of literature too it stands in that almost undatable tradition of Judaeo-Christian practical wisdom which includes Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Qumran Manual of Discipline, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Didache. Yet though the links, backwards and forwards, are evident, there is no decisive evidence for literary dependence in either direction that could fix the epistle of James in time or space.
The only clear frontier which this stream of tradition crosses is that between Judaism and Christianity - and even this boundary is less marked here than in any other genre of literature. Indeed there is general agreement that James is only just across the line, and some have argued that originally it belonged on the Jewish side of it.
There are only two explicit references to Jesus Christ (1.1; 2.1), and it has been held - without the support of any textual evidence - that these are interpolations. However scholars from very different standpoints agree in thinking that the Christian character of the epistle is much more pervasive of the whole than anything that could be added or subtracted by isolated phrases.
It is manifestly Christian, yet the marks of difference are not emphasized nor the lines of demarcation clearly drawn.
This absence of any clear-cut frontier between Christianity and Judaism introduces the first of many points at which the epistle is primarily significant for what it does not mention or contain. And these have chronological implications as important as the specific references that we look for and lack. Arguments from silence are notoriously suspect, but cumulatively they can be impressive as pointers. One or two things not referred to may be insignificant and explicable. But when none of the indicators are present which we should expect from a particular period we may be reasonably confident that we should be looking elsewhere.
The lack of opposition, or indeed distinction, between Christianity and Judaism is in marked contrast, for instance, to the gospel of Matthew, with which it has so much else in common. There are no signs such as we noted in that gospel of the church having to formulate or justify its own stand over against the main body of non-Christian Judaism. There is no polemic or even apologetic directed towards Judaism - merely attacks on the exploiting classes in the manner of the Old Testament prophets or of Jesus himself. There is no sense of 'we' and 'they' such as we find, say, on the subject of sacrifice in Heb.13.10 ('our altar is one from which the priests of the sacred tent have no right to eat') or fasting in Did. 8.1 (where 'the hypocrites' keep the second and fifth days of the week, Christians the fourth and sixth). Still less is there any indication of a permanent breach with a Judaism desolated by national defeat, such as marks the Epistle of Barnabas. Not only does the fall of Jerusalem receive no mention (for which arguably there would be no occasion), but the reference to rich landowners withholding the wage of their reapers (5.1-6) is noted by many commentators as reflecting a situation in Palestine which disappeared for good with the war of 66-70. And it is Palestine which such climatic and social conditions as are mentioned would suggest is the background of the writer, whatever the location of his readers. Though many of the allusions would be relevant throughout the Mediterranean, some have been seen to apply more peculiarly to Palestine (e.g., 1.11; 3.11f.; 5.7, 17f). Thus, the reference to 'the former and the latter rains' (5.7), so familiar from the Old Testament (Deut.11.4; Jer.5.24; Joel 2.23; Zech.10.1), would seem to point specifically to the climate of Palestine and southern Syria.
The author appears to be a Christian
voice addressing Israel, like one of its own prophets or teachers, from within.
Indeed it has seriously, but not I think convincingly, been argued
Even when the inspiration of James' message is clearly the teaching of Jesus, there is no suggestion of its being offered or defended on his authority. In fact never once - in contrast with Paul's usage - is a 'word of the Lord' appealed to or cited.
Even the source of the opposition that Christians have to face is not apparently organized Judaism (as in Paul), let alone the civic authorities (as in I Peter) or the state machine (as in Revelation). Those who 'drag you into court and pour contempt on the honoured name by which God has claimed you' (2.61.) are doubtless Jews; but they are attacked not because they are Jews (as already in I Thess.2.14), but because they are rich. The readers of the epistle are harassed and oppressed, facing 'trials of many kinds' (1.2), yet in the same way that the righteous poor always are, and the reassurance given is that of the psalmist that 'the rich man shall wither away as he goes about his business' (1.11). Christians indeed are particularly subject to such treatment because of 'the name' (2.7; cf. Acts 5.41) - yet apparently, as in Acts (24.5, 14; 28.22), as a sect or party within Judaism com-parable with αἱρέσεις of the Sadducees (5.17) or Pharisees (15.5; 26.5). In fact there is nothing in James that goes outside what is described in the first half of Acts. There too it is the Jewish aristocracy that opposes this new lower-class movement (Acts 4-5) and it is 'the women of standing who were worshippers' together with 'the leading men of the city' who are incited to persecute it (13.50). The court actions against Christians (James 2.6) do not go further than anything des-cribed in Acts 8.1, 3; 9.2 (cf.26.iof.); 11.19 - intact, not as far. For the πειρασμοί in James seem to come, not from any wave of terror or organized persecution, but from the regular opposition which any Christian must be prepared to expect and accept with patience and joy, as part of that faithful belonging to the true Israel of God to which the epistle is addressed.
The wording of the address, to 'the Twelve Tribes dispersed throughout the world' (1.1), has been variously interpreted. It recalls the phrase in Acts 26.7, 'our twelve tribes', for whose hope Paul, as a Christian and a Jew, saw himself on trial, and of which Jesus had appointed his apostles 'judges' (Matt.19.28). The διασπορά does not appear here, as in John 7.35, to be contrasted with metropolitan Judaism, nor, as in I Peter 1.1, to stand for scattered Christians, many if not most of whom had never been Jews (cf. I Peter 2.10). Like 'the twelve tribes that inhabit the whole world' in the Shepherd of Hermas (Sim.9.17.1f.), it is a way rather of describing 'the whole Israel of God', for whose peace Paul prayed (Gal. 6.16). James is addressing all who form the true, spiritual Israel, wherever they are. And he can address them in such completely Jewish terms not because he is singling them out from Gentile Christians but because, as far as his purview is concerned, there are no other Christians. In Zahn's words, 'the believing Israel constituted the entire Church ] - and that was true only for a very limited period of Christian history.
There is no suggestion throughout the
epistle of a Gentile presence.
Even the peripatetic businessmen who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go off to such and such a town and spend a year there trading and making money', are evidently Jews (like Aquila and Priscilla) who, as pious Israelites, should preface their plans with the phrase, 'If it be the Lord's will' (4.13-17). There is no discussion of the Christian's relation to heathen masters, such as concerns Paul (Col.3.22-5; Eph.6.5-8) and Peter (I Peter 2.18-20). Even within the church there is no sign of a Gentile mission, no mention of its claims, no evidence of the conflicts and tensions arising from it. Above all there is no hint of Judaizing, as opposed to Jewish, attitudes. For these become relevant only in the context of a demand that Gentile Christians shall 'live like Jews' (Gal. 2.14). There is not a mention in the epistle of the issues that formed the heart of this controversy - of circumcision, dietary rules and ritual law. There is no discussion of the Christian's attitude to the temple, the sacrifices, or 'the customs handed down ... by Moses' (contrast the altercation in Acts 6.13f.). Equally there is no reference to the characteristic dangers of a Gentile environment such as fornication and the pollution of idols (Acts 15.20).
We are dealing with Jewish abuses and temptations. As Knowling says,
The sins and weaknesses which the writer describes are exactly those faults which our Lord blames in his countrymen ... the excessive zeal for the outward observance of religious duties, the fondness for the office of teacher, the false wisdom, the overflowing of malice, the pride, the hypocrisy, the respect of persons.
They are the faults which John the Baptist and Paul also found characteristic of the Jew, the fatal trust in religious privilege and the gap between profession and practice (Matt.3.7-10 and par; Rom.2.17-24). The sins attacked are not particularly sophisticated, nor such as could have arisen only in second-generation Christians. There are no warnings against relapse or loss of early love, which feature so markedly in Hebrews and the Apocalypse and even in Galatians. There are no signs of heresy or schism, as are inveighed against in the later Paul and the Johannine epistles; no marks of incipient gnosticism, ψυχική (3.18), and in the use of τέλειος (1.4, 17, 25; 3.2). But none of these need imply anything more than can be found in the Jewish wisdom literature or in Philo or, for example, in I Cor. 2.12-14; 15.44-6. Cf. particularly Ropes, ad locc.] whether speculative or even, as we might expect in this epistle, moral (with the tell-tale swing between asceticism and licence), such as is characteristic of Jewish Christianity in the latter half of the New Testament (Colossians, the Pastorals, the epistles of John, Jude and 11 Peter).
On the doctrinal side, there is equally
no sign of christological sophistication or controversy.
'Our Lord Jesus Christ
of glory' (2.1) is the epistle's most theologically advanced statement.
is no reference to the death or resurrection of Christ,
and one is left with
what one commentator describes as 'the impression of an almost pre-crucifixion
A 'patient and stout-hearted' trust is urged in the speedy coming of the Lord (5.7-11), but there is no elaborated eschatology nor any hint of reappraisal prompted by the delay of the parousia. Equally there is no preoccupation with doctrinal orthodoxy -rather its depreciation (2.19) - and no defence of 'the faith once delivered', such as marks the Pastorals and Jude. Indeed, as Ropes points out,
The post-apostolic notion sometimes ascribed to James, of Christianity as a body of doctrine to be believed ('the faith', 'fides quae creditur'), and correspondingly of faith as an 'intellectualistic' acceptance of propositions, is not at all the 'dead' faith of which James speaks. The demons' faith in one God stands, in fact, at the opposite pole from this 'intellectualism'; for as a faith in God's existence and power it is sincere and real, its fault lies in its complete divorce from love or an obedient will.
When we make a comparison with the Apostolic Fathers the positive traits which give definite character to the thinking of every one of them are all lacking in James.
The same applies if we put to the epistle another test of later development, namely, the state of concern for liturgy and the ministry. In contrast again with the Didache, there are no instructions about worship or the sacraments, and James' 'manual of discipline', to use Reicke's designation of its brief finale in 5.12-20,contents itself with simple injunctions on swearing, ministry to the sick, mutual con-fession, prayer, and the reclamation of erring brothers. There is no reference to orders of Christian ministry like bishops and deacons (contrast Phil.1.1, the Pastorals and again the Didache), merely to elders (5.14), which were evidently taken over direct from Judaism (cf. Acts 4.5, 8, 23; 6.12; etc. of Judaism; 11.30; 14.23; 15.2; etc. of the church), and to teachers (3.1; cf. Acts 13.1; Heb.5.12). But the last do not seem to be part of a hierarchy of ministries (as e.g. in I Cor.i2.28; Eph.4.n; Did. 13.2; 15.1f.; Hermas, Vis.3.5.1 et passim). Rather James' injunction against wanting to become teachers seems to be more in line with Jesus' quashing of the desire to be called 'rabbi' and 'teacher' and thus win honour from men (Matt. 23.6-11). 'The greatest among you', Jesus goes on, 'must be your servant' (23.12); and it is simply as 'a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ' (James 1.1) that James, even though he does stand in the relationship to them of teacher (3.1), chooses to address his readers. The simplicity of the address suggests no crisis of authority or need to resort to credentials, such as Paul was driven to at Corinth. Its unaffected spiritual directness is all part of the uncomplicated but decisive message he conveys. Like his master, he speaks with authority: he does not cite authorities - not even that of his master.
Yet there is no doubt that it is Jesus'
particularly as found in the Sermon on the Mount and the Matthean
that lies behind everything James says.
But he appears to be quoting from or referring his readers to no written book (in contrast, again with Did. 15.31., 'as you find in the Gospel'). No case can be demonstrated for literary dependence on our gospel of Matthew
(or indeed on Luke and John). His contacts rather are with the pre-Matthean Palestinian tradition. As Ropes says with some perceptiveness, 'James was in religious ideas nearer to the men who collected the sayings of Jesus than to the authors of the Gospels': what is conspicuous, for all the common matter, is the 'omission of some of the chief motives which have produced the Synoptic Gospels'.[James.sg.]
Indeed, James exhibits not one distinctly marked individual theological tendency which would set him in positive relation to any of the strong forces either of the apostolic or of the post-apostolic period.
These words have still greater
significance today than when Ropes was writing at Harvard during the first
For almost all the 'motives' and 'tendencies' subsequently fastened
on by the form critics and redaction critics appear to have bypassed James.
influences - kerygmatic, apologetic, polemical, liturgical and the rest - which
have rightly been seen as selecting and shaping the traditions about Jesus to
the uses of the church can scarcely be illustrated by any convincing examples
from this epistle.
Factors such as Jeremias isolates as moulding the parabolic
teaching of Jesus, like allegorization,
or the changed situation of the church in the Hellenistic world, or the Gentile mission, or the delay of the parousia, do not feature in James. Even the evidence for common catechetical patterns, which should above all be relevant to his subject-matter, is far weaker than in the other New Testament epistles. In the essay of over a hundred pages which Selwyn devotes to this in his commentary on I Peter, the material he can garner from James is extraordinarily meagre. In his central section on the General Catechumen Virtues he admits that 'James is difficult to bring into the picture' and the common citation in I Peter 5.51. and in James 4.6, 10 ofProv.3.34 ('God opposes the arrogant and gives grace to the humble') and the conclusions drawn from it 'can be accounted for without reference to any underlying code'. ] The remaining scattered verses containing topics in some way common to other New Testament epistles (James 1.3, 12, 18, 21, 27; 3.13-18; 4.71.; 5.7-11) provide no evidence for the teaching patterns to be found, for example in I Thess. 5, Col. 3, Eph. 5-6, and I Peter 5.
The one issue of controversy which could, on the face of it, be used to place the epistle within the developing life of the church is the debate between faith and works in 2.14-26. But the reference of this is far from self-evident, as the divergence between the commentators has shown. Some have seen it as a direct reply to Paul's teaching on justification by faith; others, since it so crudely misinterprets him, as a riposte from a later age when the controversy was no longer under-stood. On the other hand, others have viewed the relationship just the other way round, with what Paul says in Galatians and particularly in Romans as a rebuttal of James; while yet others have seen no direct connection between them at all.
We may begin with the truth in the last
It is natural, in view of later controversy, to assume that what we
are overhearing is an internal Christian debate.
But in the first instance
James, here as elsewhere, is evidently taking up an attack, begun by Jesus and
the Baptist before him, on the inadequacies of contemporary Judaism.
hearer of the word without doing the works, or claiming the heritage of Abraham
without the fruits to show for it, or merely saying 'I go' or 'Lord, Lord' - these are the failings
constantly con-demned in the gospels (Matt.3.8-10; 7.16-27; 12.33-5; 21.28-31; 25.31-46; etc.). The debate about what
'justified' a man before God was already being argued within Judaism, and
Jesus' words about this (Matt. 12.37; Luke 16.15; 18.14) precede the
controversy within the church.
Was it works (as in Prov.24.12 and Jer.32.19) or was it faith (as in Gen. 15.6 and Hab.2.4) that would see a man through at the last ? The inseparability of the two for salvation is stressed in I Mace. 2.5 if. (where first among 'the works' of the fathers is cited, as in James, Abraham's faithfulness in temptation) and later in II Esd.7.34; 9.7; 13.23.
We now know that the Qumran community interpreted Hab.2.4 ('the righteous man will live by being faithful') to include both deeds and faith in the teacher of righteousness as the interpreter of the law (1 Q pHab.8.1-3). The discussion in James takes its place within the ongoing Jewish and Christian debate as to how to combine the conviction, on which Paul was equally insistent, that while a man might be justified through faith he would be judged by works. And the faith from which James, like Jesus (cf. Mark 5.34; 9.23; 11.22-4; etc.), takes his departure is the common Jewish faith in God (2.19, 23). He is not, like Paul, contrasting the works of the law with faith in Christ (Gal. 2.16). He is saying, with Paul, to his fellow-Jews that 'it is not by hearing the law, but by doing it, that men will be justified before God' (Rom.2.13); that being a Jew has value 'provided you keep the law; but if you break the law, then circumcision is as if it had never been' (2.25); and that 'the true Jew is the one who is such inwardly, and the true circumcision is of the heart' (2.29). He is also insisting, as Paul does, to Christians that 'the only thing that counts is faith active in love' (Gal. 5.6), 'faith that has shown itself in action' (I Thess.1.3; cf. I Cor.13.2); for 'faith divorced from deeds is barren ..., lifeless as a corpse' (James 2.20, 26).
Yet though the starting-point of the debate is Jewish and the common ground is indisputable, it is difficult to believe that there is no connection with the Christian battle Paul is waging in Galatians and Romans. This is especially true when in Rom.4.at. and James 2.23f. Paul and James cite precisely the same scripture, 'Abraham put his faith in God and that faith was counted to him as righteousness' (Gen. 15.6), and draw from it diametrically different conclusions. The question arises, Who is answering whom? - though the degree of correspondence (let alone of mutual understanding) is not such as requires one to have read the other or be quoting from his epistle. It is impossible to be dogmatic on this (and the interrelationship will obviously depend on wider judgments about dating and authorship). But I am impressed by Mayor's contention that Paul's reasoned argument in Rom. 4.2-5 (that 'if Abraham was justified by anything he had done, then he has ground for pride', whereas the very word 'counted' excludes any notion of credit) reads more intelligibly as an answer to James rather than vice versa. As a reply to Paul's position James' argument totally misses the point; for Paul never contended for faith without works. But as a reply, not indeed to James, but to the use made of him by the Judaizers in a subtly different context (that of the basis of salvation for Gentiles'), the argument of Rom.4 is very effective. If, as Mayor says, James is writing after Paul,
How inconceivable is it that he should have made no attempt to guard his position against such an extremely formidable attack! Again if St James was really opposed to St Paul and desired to maintain that man was saved, not by grace, but by obedience to the law of Moses, which was incumbent alike on Gentile and on Jew, why has he never uttered a syllable on the subject, but confined himself to the task of proving that a faith which bears no fruit is a dead faith?
The answer to this last question, as
the whole of the rest of the epistle bears out, is that James is not concerned
with the controversy between Jews and Gentiles in the church.
Yet, whatever its
original intention or context, what he had to say clearly was brought into and
applied to that controversy.
In fact it has plausibly been suggested that, when
'certain persons who had come down from Judaea began to teach the brotherhood
that those who were not circumcised in accordance with Mosaic practice could
not be saved' (Acts 15.1), what they were doing, 'without' indeed, as James and
the apostles say, 'any instructions from us' (15.24), was pushing to its
logical conclusion teaching like that in James 2.10: 'If a man keeps the whole
law apart from one single point, he is guilty of breaking all of it.'
rate it is certainly in reaction to 'certain persons come from James' (Gal.2.12) that Paul has later to insist that 'no man is ever justified by doing
what the law demands, but only through faith in Christ Jesus' (2.16).
argument depends on the assumption that the epistle is by the same James and is as early as its primitive features
top The issue of authorship can be postponed no longer.
The sole indication of who the writer
was is the bald greeting in 1.1:
'From James the servant of God and the
Lord Jesus Christ'.
It is also this alone that turns what is otherwise a
pastoral homily into a letter;
for there are no greetings or even a
grace at the end.
There have been those, including Harnack, [Chron., 489f.]
who have regarded the opening verse as a later addition.
But there is no textual evidence for this, and, as many have pointed out, the play on words χαίρειν and χαράν connecting vv.1 and 2 speaks against it. It has found little support either amongst those who would defend the authorship of James or amongst those who would not. There is general agreement too that whether the ascription is genuine or not the James intended must be James the Lord's brother, who alone of the five men of that name in the New Testament is regularly referred to without further specification. As Kummel says,
Without doubt James claims to be written by him, and even if the letter is not authentic, it appeals to this famous James and the weight of his person as authority for its content.
There is no one else who could so speak
without need of introduction or explanation.
Similarly, when the writer of the
epistle of Jude introduces himself as 'brother of James' (1.1), nothing more
requires to be said.
The very simplicity of the address speaks forcibly against pseudonymity.
For if this device was felt to be necessary to give the epistle 'apostolic aegis
it is incredible that he was not described as 'the brother of the Lord' or 'bishop of Jerusalem' or even, as later in the address of the pseudo-Clementine Letter to James, 'bishop of bishops'. If it is reasonable to ask why, if he stood in this special relationship to Jesus, he mentions nothing of his life, death or resurrection, it is still more difficult to explain why such details were not inserted later, to add credence and verisimilitude. For the Gospel of the Hebrews [Hennecke,NT Apoc. I, 165.] elaborates the personal appearance to James, mentioned casually in I Cor.15.7, and the legendary description of James 'the Just' given by Hegesippus shows the lengths that hagiography had reached by the second century. Yet, as Zahn says, the epistle 'does not bring out a single one of those characteristics by which James is distinguished in history and legend.' In fact the argument for pseudonymity is weaker here than with any other of the New Testament epistles. At least the Pastorals and the Petrines are claiming to be written by men calling themselves apostles, and a case can be made for their being put out in the name of authorities from the past to say things that require to be said in the conflicts or controversies of a later age. But why produce a non-polemical Jewish-Christian epistle that is not even taking the position of the Judaizers but simply giving a call, as the neb heads it, to 'practical religion'? And if it was to oppose Paul and all his works, why is he not more specifically attacked and why is there no stress on the unique and unrepeatable status of the writer as the brother of the Lord himself? It would seem easier to believe that it was the work of another completely unknown James.
Before considering the very real objections to the attribution of the epistle to a brother of Jesus, there are the parallels to be taken into account with the Acts story and in particular with the speech of James and the apostolic letter in Acts 15. Much has been made of these and indeed on purely statistical grounds the number of verbal parallels between these brief passages and the short epistle of James is remarkable. ἐπισκέπτεσθαι (James 1.27; Acts 15.14), ἐπιστρέφειν (James 5.19f.; Acts 15.19), ἀγαπητός (James 1.16, 19, 25; Acts 15.25).The initial salutation (James 1.1; Acts 15.34) is used by no other apostolic writer, the only other occurrence in the New Testament being in the address of Lysias to Felix in Acts 23.26. The phrase 'listen, my brothers' (James 2.5) is paralleled in Acts 15.13, 'men and brothers, listen'. The expression 'the ... name which was called upon you' (James 2.7) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament except in the quotation from Amos 9.12 in Acts 15.17. In James 1.27 there is the exhortation to the Christian to 'keep himself untarnished by the world' and in Acts 15.29 the closing injunction, 'If you keep yourselves free from these things you will be doing right.' There are also a number of isolated words in common:
None of these parallels is however
particularly impressive in itself.
χαίρειν is a stock epistolatory greeting in Hellenistic practice.
It is used
frequently in letters in Maccabees, including those by Jews (I Mace.12.6; II
Mace.1.10), and in verbal greetings by Christians in II John 10f. 'Men and brothers,
listen' (Acts 15.13) is again a fixed formula and in fact is more exactly
paralleled in Stephen's speech in Acts 7.2 and Paul's in Acts 22.1 than in
The calling of the name of God upon his people is so regular an Old
Testament usage (e.g., Deut.28.10; Isa.63.19; etc.) as to be
quite unremarkable in a Jewish writer (cf. II Mace. 8.15: 'called by his holy
and glorious name').
The idea of keeping oneself holy or unspotted finds closer
parallels in I Tim.5.2 2 and 6.14 than in James.
Both ἐπισκέπτεσθαι and ἐπιστπέφειν are used in markedly different contexts in Acts and James and represent
in fact characteristic Lukan usage rather than anything distinctive of James;
while ἀγαπητός is overwhelmingly common in all the New Testament epistles (Paul, John, I and II
Nothing therefore can be built on such parallels.
All that can be
said is that they certainly do not stand against the writing of James by
someone in the main stream of apostolic Christianity.
But what of the objections to James' authorship, which to many modern commentators have seemed decisive? They may be considered under three headings.
1. The attitude to the law in the epistle is not, it is said, that which fits the position of James. If by this position is meant the legalistic attitude adopted by Paul's Judaizing opponents, then even at the height of the controversy there is nothing in Paul or Acts to identify James with it. In Galatians Paul distinguishes the attitude of James himself (2.9) from that of 'certain persons ... from James' (2.12). In Acts too it is made clear that James is no Judaizer (15.13-21), and he decisively dissociates himself from 'some of our number' who speak 'without any instructions from us' (15.24). Later also James welcomes the news of Paul's missionary activity and seeks to disarm the misrepresentation of him by his own more zealous adherents (21.18-26).
If, on the other hand, the point of the critics is that 'keeping the law' means for James observing its ritual requirements (as in Acts 21.24), then, to be sure, the emphasis in the epistle is very different. For there the stress is entirely on moral righteousness. If the epistle is set in the context of the controversy described in Acts and Galatians and its crucial passage, 2.18-26, is viewed as James' answer to Paul, then indeed we are dealing not only with quite a different concept of faith but with quite a different understanding of law and works. However, if we set it not against the debate over the admission of Gentiles to the church but against the kind of Jewish formalism condemned by Jesus, then James' understanding of the law is entirely consistent. So far from its being, as Harnack supposed, a notion of law 'which he has distilled for himself', his is that inner delight in the perfect law of liberty which inspired Ps.119 (cf. especially vv. 7, 32, 45) and which Paul himself would have been the first to say was the mark of 'the true Jew' (Rom.2.25-29). Even subsequently circumcision and ritualism were not the heart of the matter for James. When that issue arose, circumcision was waived as a condition of church membership (Acts 15.19, 28), and ritual observance was urged as a matter not of principle but of tact, in a way that Paul himself was perfectly prepared to fall in with (21.21-26). The attitude to the law in the epistle can scarcely therefore be urged as an objection to Jacobean authorship, though it is certainly an argument against placing it in the context of the Judaizing controversy.
2. There is the relatively weak external evidence for the epistle's acceptance in the early church. Yet this cannot, it would be agreed, be decisive against arguments from the internal evidence, since citation and attestation are so fortuitous a matter. Even those like Origen and Eusebius who refer to the doubts about the epistle in parts of the church themselves accept it and use it as scripture.736-9.]
Moreover, the reasons for questioning or neglecting it, whether in the early church or later by Luther, are by no means simply to be identified with the issue of authorship. As Sparks puts it,
The fact that the Epistle is a Jewish-Christian document, whoever wrote it, may have been in itself sufficient to discredit it in the eyes of Gentile Christians; while its essentially practical attitude would inevitably make it seem of little consequence to those whose main interests were theological. Accordingly, its neglect by the early Church is by no means an insuperable barrier to accepting the Lord's brother as the author.
The conclusion must be that this
evidence does not point decisively in either
it cannot be used to establish or to discredit apostolic authorship.
3. Much the most serious objection is the language in which the epistle is written. For it combines being one of the most Jewish books in the New Testament with what has been described as a 'high koine' Greek style. At any stage, indeed, this is a conjunction that requires explanation, and the difficulties do not disappear by relegating them to the second century or an unknown author. But the combination would certainly appear to be made more difficult by the supposition that the author was a first-century 'Galilean peasant'.
This is an issue that will present itself again in the cases of Peter and John, but there it may be softened by putting down the style of I Peter to Silvanus (I Peter 5.12) and the Greek of the fourth gospel (which in any case is not that idiomatic) to a writer other than his apostolic source. These possibilities we shall examine in due course. But in James there is no suggestion of another hand at work. The epistle presents a test case of whether a non-literary lower-class Palestinian in the period before 70 could or would have spoken or written such good (though still limited and Semitic) Greek.It is so seen in the most extensive study of this issue to date, J. N. Sevenster's Do You Know Greek? How Much Greek Could the First Jewish Christians have Known? He devotes virtually his entire introduction to the question posed by the epistle of James.
He dismisses recourse to the hypothesis of a secretary (to whom there is no allusion in any form) as highly improbable. He thinks pseudonymity (in the absence of any deliberate pose) or attribution to an otherwise unknown writer equally unlikely. So he is left with the question, Could James have written such Greek? He assembles and sifts the now considerable evidence from literary and archaeological sources, outside and inside Palestine, at different cultural levels. His conclusion is that there is in fact no reason why Jesus or the first apostles or James should not have spoken Greek as well as their native Aramaic.
It is no longer possible to refute such
a possibility by recalling that these were usually people of modest origins.
has now been clearly demonstrated that a knowledge of Greek was in no way
restricted to the upper circles, which were permeated with Hellenistic culture,
but was to be found in all circles of Jewish society, and certainly in places
bordering on regions where Greek was much spoken, e.g. Galilee.
He argues that Christian Jews often probably had a better knowledge of Greek (certainly they were from the start more cosmopolitan than the Qumran covenanters) and that there is no reason why a church-leader like James (or Peter) could not have taken the trouble, like Josephus, to acquire a reasonable command of literary Greek. Indeed Zahn, who long ago argued strongly in the same direction [INT1, 34-72.],
made the point that Greek-speaking Christians were probably in the majority in the earliest period.
According to the notices of Acts, which are the only sources we have, the membership of the Church from the start consisted predominantly of Hellenists. The first three thousand converts (Acts 2.41) to gather about the personal disciples of Jesus, who were mainly Galileans, were not natives of Jerusalem and Palestine. From the names of their home countries one must infer that the language 'in which most of them were born' was Greek.
And these 'devout Jews drawn from every nation' were permanent residents (κατοικοῦντες Acts 2.5, 14) in Jerusalem, not temporary visitors up for the feast (contrast the παροιλεῖς Ἰερουσαλήμ; of Luke 24.18). Of their seven leaders appointed subsequently (Acts 6.5) only Nicolas of Antioch is described as a foreigner or as a proselyte: they were indigenized, born Jews who spoke Greek. It was only with the growing accession of 'Hebrews' or Aramaic-speaking converts that the 'Hellenists' or Greek-speaking majority felt their position in the church threatened (Acts 6.1). Zahn maintained that it would have been impossible for the early Christian leaders to have fulfilled the immediate duties of their office, such as are described in Acts 8.14-25 or 9.32-11.18, let alone done anything beyond Palestine, 'without a good deal of readiness in speaking Greek' . Certainly James' position, as we see it later in Acts 21.18-29, as head of the church in a city visited by thousands of Greek-speaking Jewish pilgrims would have made this highly desirable, if not essential.
Sevenster's cautious conclusion [Op. cit. 191.] with regard to the epistle of James is that:
Even though absolute certainty cannot be attained on this point; in view of all the data made available in the past decades the possibility can no longer be precluded that a Palestinian Jewish Christian of the first century ad wrote an epistle in good Greek.
Or, as the most recent writer puts it:
There may be valid arguments against the ascription of apostolic authorship to I Peter and James, but the linguistic argument can no longer be used with any confidence among them.
Clearly this is as far as the evidence
from language can take us.
It can prove nothing, but equally it holds open the
possibility of apostolic authorship, and with it of early dating.
So finally we come back to the question of chronology from which we started. There are three main possibilities.
1. The epistle comes from an unknown
Christian (whether or not he is claiming to be James the brother of the Lord)
from the first half of the second century or the end of the first. Harnack
argued [Chron., 485-91.], as we have seen, for a date as late as 120-140 on the ground that the
degeneracy of the church implies a state of affairs comparable only with that
envisaged in the Shepherd of Hermas.
Quite apart from when that document should be dated [See pp. 319-22 below.], I agree with Mayor, in his very astringent analysis of Harnack's position [James, clxxviii-cxcii.], that what he calls this hangover of 'the old Tubingen tradition, from which he has receded in regard to many of the other documents of the New Testa-ment' is incredible. There is no situation in the reign of Hadrian, whether before or after the final Jewish revolt under Bar-Cochba in 132, that begins to fit the many signs of primitiveness noted earlier. Yet a date of 125-50 is still favoured by A. E. Barnett in the article on James in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, on the ground that the author of the epistle knew Romans, I Corinthians, Galatians and Ephesians ('which means that he knew them as members of a pub-lished collection') as well as Matthew, Luke, Hebrews, I Peter, Hermas and Clement! There seems to be no limit to the circularity of arguments from literary dependence.
More soberly, Reicke agreesthat there is no polemic against Paul in the epistle, which must, he argues, have come into existence 'before Paul's ministry, or a considerable time after'. He goes on, 'It is practically impossible, however, that the work is pre-Pauline', and he concludes that it comes from the reign of Domitian, c.90. The absence of any reference to the defeat of Judaism or to the final break between the church and the synagogue (the supposed evidence for which in the fourth gospel is also said to point to the reign of Domitian!) seems to me to make this supposition highly improbable. But what are the reasons he gives for an early date being 'practically impossible'? The first is that 'the persecutions mentioned in 1.2f., 12f.; 2.6; 4.6; 5.10f. refer to Christians outside Palestine, but none are known prior to Paul's time'. But this presupposes that the address to 'the twelve tribes dispersed throughout the world' applies only to Christians living outside Palestine. On the contrary, as we have argued, it would appear to be a designation for 'the whole Israel of God', and the conditions referred to point time and again to those of Palestine. Moreover, the violent persecution that followed the death of Stephen had 'scattered' Christians not only throughout Judaea and Samaria (Acts 8.1, 4) but to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch (11.19). It is to such 'scattered' Christians facing trials of many kinds that the epistle of James is addressed (1.1f.). The other details in the epistle adduced by Reicke as indicating a stage of development 'a considerable time after' Paul's ministry would seem to prove nothing. Denunciations of the rich (1.2-7; 4.13-5.6) are as old as Jesus and as the prophets before him. The need to distinguish between the true wisdom from above and that which is 'earth-bound, sensual and demonic' (3.15) could come from any time in the period of late Judaism. The need to be patient 'for the coming of the Lord is near' (5.8) can scarcely be said to require an advanced date (especially from a scholar who would now put all the synoptic gospels, with their much more specific injunctions, before the Jewish war!), while the instructions about bringing back 'those who stray from the truth' (5.19f.) might have come straight out of the teaching of Qumran or of Jesus.
If therefore the arguments for a later date are not compelling there are two further positions, both of which are compatible with apostolic authorship, though naturally they do not require it.
2. Since there is no reference to the
fall of Jerusalem or the Jewish revolt and since James was put to death in 62,
[Josephus, Ant. 20. 200f. Hegesippus (apud Euseb. HE 2.23.18) says that Vespasian's attack on the Jews (in 67) followed 'immediately' upon it, but this, as we have seen, is probably a case of translating sureness of judgment into temporalimmediacy - or of running together sources. Josephus' circumstantial account of the opportunity afforded by the interregnum between Festus and Albinus is cer-tainly to be preferred. In his Chronicle Eusebius himself dates it in 62.]
this latter date provides a natural terminus ad quem. If the passage about faith and works reflects argument with Paul, then it would seem to come from about the same time as Romans or a little after. This was the position of F.J. A. Hort St James, 1909, xxivf.] and Parry,
who dated James c.60. It has been the mediating position taken by a number of English scholars
and also by P. Feine , whose work Kummel revised and at this point reversed, and by Klijn. It was also the view that I originally accepted. One advantage of it is that it enables us, if we wish to, to think of James as already having been in the Greek diaspora. For in I Cor.9.5 Paul asks, with reference to missionary travel, 'Have I no right to take a Christian wife about with me, like the rest of the apostles and the Lord's brothers, and Cephas?', and it seems he would hardly have put the Lord's brothers before Cephas unless, as in Gal.2.9, they included James. But there is no evidence that James was married, unlike Jude, and it is in any case highly speculative.
The real difficulty of this dating is that it presupposes that James was written at a time (on our reckoning, about that of Ephesians) when the issue of Jew and Gentile in the church and the resulting antagonism between Jews and Christians very much dominated the scene and when Paul, as a direct result of it, lay imprisoned in Caesarea. Yet the epistle makes absolutely no reference even to the existence of the Gentile mission, let alone to the tensions it occasioned for both Jews and Christians. I agree with Reicke in finding this impossible. I am therefore driven, against my initial expectation, to take seriously the third and still more conservative position.
3. This places the epistle of James, as its 'primitive' character at so many points would suggest, very early indeed, before the controversy about circumcision and the terms of Gentile admission. This does not mean that there was by then no Gentile mission, only that it had not as yet become divisive. For there was doubtless a period, as both Paul (Gal. 2.2) and Luke (Acts 13-14) indicate, when missionary work went on among Gentiles on a scale that provoked no crisis of principle. It was only when 'certain persons who had come down from Judaea began to teach the brotherhood that those who were not circumcised in accordance with Mosaic practice could not be saved' (Acts 15.1) that conflict broke out. This can be dated fairly exactly to c. 48. Now James seems to have occupied some position of leadership in Jerusalem, if not from c. 35 (cf. Gal. 1.19), at least since 42 (or at the latest 44) when Peter went into hiding (cf. Acts 12.17, 'report this to James'). But the indications are that the epistle is more likely to belong to the end of this period than to its beginning. To address a pastoral homily to the whole church (such as it then was) presupposes that James had already established the spiritual authority to do so, without having, apparently, any need to assert it. The argument too whether justification is by faith or works, even if conducted still within a Jewish frame of reference, could very well reflect garbled reports (cf. Gal. 2.4) of 'the gospel' that Paul 'preached to the Gentiles' during his first mission of 47-48, which he subsequently felt it desirable to clear, privately, with James and the others in Jerusalem (Gal. 2.2). Moreover, if anything in James' letter (e.g., as we have suggested, 2.10) had been taken to mean that Christians must observe the whole law or nothing - and the need for an official denial (Acts 15.24) makes this more than possible - then it is likely to have been written not long before the incident of Acts 15.1. Perhaps therefore we should date the epistle of James early in 48 - not later, and possibly a year or so earlier: let us say 47-8. In this case the similarities of language with James' speech and the apostolic letter in Acts 15, though not probative, are certainly interesting.
This early dating has had surprisingly persistent support. Mayor argues for it strongly, citing many earlier writers, including B. Weiss and Zahn.Knowling also supported it, adding other names . More recently it has been favoured in a notable series of articles by G. Kittel, and also by Heard , Michaelis and Guthrie . The problem of a letter written in Greek to an audience inside as well as outside Palestine remains. But it is no more difficult then than ten years later, and we shall return to this question in connection with the fourth gospel. If, as we argued in the previous chapter, the gospel of Matthew, whose tradition is closest to that of this epistle, was also beginning to take shape, in Greek, in a similar milieu at the same time, then the epistle of James will no longer be an anomalous exception. It can take its natural place, alongside other literature in the process of formation in the second decade of the Christian mission, as the first surviving finished document of the church.