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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Religious Teaching.

1. Wisdom Theology.

The letter grows out of the OT and intertestamental wisdom traditions. God who created the world will also bring it to eschatological completion in a new creation. The work of God in creation, salvation, and new creation forms a unity mediated by divine wisdom.

2. Christology.

James can speak about Jesus in the same way as he speaks about God (Karrer 1989 ). Jesus is not only the promised Messiah (christos) but also Lord (kyrios). Apparently, the author does not reveal all that he knows about Jesus (Mussner 1987: 250–3), but the letter may even see in him the incarnation of God's pre-existent wisdom. The teachings of Jesus are treated as the ultimate revelation of wisdom.

3. Eschatology.

The letter anticipates the Second Coming of Christ in the near future who is pictured as judge like the Son of Man in the Enochic and the Synoptic traditions. This expectation implies belief in the resurrection of Jesus.

4. Anthropology.

Portraying the eschatological goal as human perfection, the author is not a perfectionist or illusionist. He sees clearly that believers can do wrong and need repentance and forgiveness. Following the Jewish idea of the ‘evil inclination’, for James sin is not only an act of human decision, but a cosmic power.

5. Soteriology.

Since it seems quite unsure that James reacts directly against the theology of Paul (Johnson 1995: 111–16) the letter should primarily be understood on its own terms. The OT as interpreted and supplemented by Jesus is the ‘perfect law’. But salvation cannot be obtained by a fulfilment of this law alone, since the members of James's community are also prone to fail. God's forgiveness is necessary, but how it is mediated is only hinted at. Spiritual rebirth by God's free will and word, baptism in the name of Jesus, submission to God, prayer and repentance all play their part (Konradt 1998 ). There might be allusions to Jesus' vicarious suffering as the Servant of the Lord, but James concentrates on the warning that there is no relation to God without an elementary ethical commitment to human beings. With his emphasis on loving God and one's neighbour inspired by Jesus' double commandment James comes near to the Pauline ‘faith working through love’ (Gal 5:6 ), but he lacks Paul's deep theological definition of faith. For James belief in the existence of God and, using older terminology (cf. 1 Cor 12:9; 13:2 ), belief in his miraculous power is also faith. Paul's stress of the sovereignty of God has a certain parallel in James's emphasis on the election of the poor and humble.

6. Ethics of Speech.

In an age of ideology and media propaganda it is appropriate to remember that disputes and even wars often start with words. The truly wise know to govern their tongue.

7. Poor and Rich.

Today the letter attracts theologians from the Third World since in following the teaching of Jesus, James is very critical of the rich. Nevertheless, salvation is not guaranteed by bad material circumstances but is obtained by loving God and one's neighbour.

8. Testing and Suffering.

Believers must make a difference between temptations caused by their own evil desires and God's testing especially through oppression and persecution. Suffering should create anticipated eschatological joy.

9. Prayer.

There are two main functions of prayer, namely to ask for wisdom and to obtain healing. Prayer should connect the believer with God and meet his elementary needs without guaranteeing material wealth. The author lived with Jesus' promises on prayer.

10. Judaism.

The Jewish character of James is so strong that in former times some scholars hypothesized an only secondarily Christianized Jewish document (similarly Ludwig 1994 ). But this overlooks how strongly James is embedded in Jesus' teaching (Deppe 1989 ) and early Christian tradition. If rather early, the letter might have been read also to some synagogue congregations not yet decided about the new Messianic faith (Schlatter 1932: 62). James is an interesting example of Jewish–Christian dialogue. The letter shows the deep roots of the Jesus movement in the OT and also in Jewish Wisdom and Apocalyptic without denying its own identity, that of belief in the Messianic fulfilment.

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