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

Canonicity.

1.

The parallels between James and 1 Peter are to be explained not by literary dependence but by the use of common Jewish-Christian material. At the turn of the first to the second century James was possibly known to Clement of Rome and the Roman Shepherd of Hermas, two writers heavily indebted to Jewish Christian traditions. At the end of the second century Irenaeus of Lyons, who was a native of Asia Minor, seems to have used James, but there is no trace of the letter in Tertullian's works. According to Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 6.14.1) Clement of Alexandria wrote a commentary on all the Catholic Epistles at the turn of the third century, although in his preserved works James is not clearly cited. But at the beginning of the third century Clement's pupil Origen explicitly cited Jas 2:26 as scripture (PG 12.1300). In the first half of the fourth century Eusebius wrote that formerly the authenticity of the letter was strongly disputed, although in his time it was read in most of the churches (Hist. Eccl. 2.23.25; 3.25.3). Probably the Jewish Christian origin of James had complicated its acceptance.

2.

The letter is not included in the Muratorian Canon, compiled around 200 CE in Rome possibly by Hippolytus. But this can be due to the fragmentary nature of the list, since Hippolytus seems to have known James. The letter was part of the canon lists of Athanasius of Alexandria (367 CE), Innocent of Rome (405 CE), and the North African provincial synods of Hippo (393 CE) and Carthage (419 CE), but possibly already of the lists of the synods of Laodicea (360 CE) and Rome (382 CE).

3.

Luther expressed severe doubts about its canonicity as James seems to contradict Paul's doctrine of justification by faith (Rom 3:20, 28; 4:16; cf. Jas 2:24 ). This position is still strongly defended (Lautenschlager 1990; Klein 1995 ). Together with other disputed writings (Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation) Luther placed the ‘epistle of straw’ at the end of his famous German translation of the NT from 1522. However, the letter was accepted without reservations by Calvin and the Reformed churches. In 1548 the council of Trent affirmed the canonicity and expressed its doctrine of justification in terms of James. The Common Declaration on Justification by the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches from 1998/9 tries to bring together the different NT perspectives. James is part of the NT of the Orthodox churches, but was included in the Syriac Bible only since the fifth century. This seems astonishing in view of the influence of Jewish-Christian traditions in Syria. Apparently, the letter was sent to a very limited number of Greek-speaking communities.

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