Ben Witherington on James the Sage

Ben Witherington has posted a rather long excerpt from his forthcoming commentary on James.

There is a reason James, like Paul, calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ, and not his secretary or scribe (grammateus). He too has received revelation, and he too has insights to share, and new perspectives on previous wisdom teaching including that of his brother.

I’ve wondered about James’ and his view of wisdom as somthing that “comes from above.” J.A.Kirk, in his article “Meaning of Wisdom in James” (NTS 16 [1969]: 24-38), states that “wisdom” in James functions in a similar way to the Holy Spirit in the writings of Paul. Peter Davids takes a similar stand (NIGTC 51ff.), while Bill Baker has argued against it (“Wisdom in James and the Spirit: Are They the Same?” Paper read at the 56th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, November 17-19, 2004). I’d like to study this concept in more depth, as I wonder what a “wisdom pneumatology” would contribute to our understanding of the early church’s encounter with the Holy Spirit. As a Pentecostal, I’ve found that we quickly pick up the prophetic paradigm to explain the early believers’ experience of the Spirit, and rightly so. What would examining a wisdom pneumatology add? On the other hand, those who look at James are all too quick to label the work simply as “wisdom lit.” This ignores the prophetic themes that work their way into the text. This is one area of my current thesis (on James 5:17-18). James appropriates apocalyptic and prophetic imagery to describe the current situation of his community. His writing would be quite at home in sections of Isaiah or Malachi or Amos.

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