Saturday, May 9, 2009

James - An Introduction

Able Shepherd has kindly provided us with this introduction to the book of James.

James has been controversial for a number of reasons. When reading the book of James, it is a challenge to define what genre of literature it might be. It could be:
a) A letter
Yet when compared to other letters in the New Testament it omits a number of features we might typically expect:
• An introductory blessing
• Personal address / context
• Conclusion
• Doxology
• Emphasis / focus on the cross
• Mention of the Holy Spirit
• Detail about Jesus and the Lord’s supper
• A tightly defined target / receiving body of believers

b) Wisdom literature
Certainly wisdom is an important theme (James 1:5, James 3:13-18), it pervades the subject matter (teaching on themes of faith and perseverance under pressure) and its literary form. Yet there are aspects which do not sit well with wisdom literature:
• It is letter like (even if unusual)
• Usually with wisdom literature, the difference between God’s people and humanity is very slight – in James, God’s people have a distinctive.
• It features an eschatological flavour, which is unusual for wisdom literature.

c) Paraenesis (exhortation / encouragement)
With such literature, and in general:
• The author is unimportant
• The presentation lacks continuity or development
• Links are made by repetition of words rather than by means of real connection of thought (much like a stand up comic can be gifted at making what appear to be random connections)
• The situation addressed is general rather than specific

Notwithstanding this, James is perhaps the most quoted letter in the New Testament. It is popular for three reasons:
a) James introduces many vivid and compelling metaphors
b) It is intensely practical
c) It is quite radical and uncompromising

Most commentators favour either an early date (42-60 AD, if the brother of Jesus wrote it) or a late date between 80-140 AD. General consensus though would seem to favour the early date.