The Brother of James Ossuary?

Well, not really… Actually, according to the producers of Jesus Family Tomb, the ossuary of Jesus, son of Joseph has been found. I’m in the throes of thesis writing, so I can’t do any research on the topic now. In the meantime, be sure to keep an eye on Ben Witherington’s and Scot McKnight’s blogs for reasoned interactions with these “new” findings:

Sirach’s Elijah in James

Tim Brookins at Scripta de Divinis is posting a great series on Jewish intertestamental literature. His last post highlights the Wisdom of Sirach (hat tip M. Goodacre). In his post, Brookins highlights a few parallels between Sirach and the NT, including one parallel in James:

Eccl. 15:11-13, James 1:17

  1. Ecc. 15:11-13 – “Do not say, ‘It was the Lord’s doing that I fell;’ for he does not do what he hates. Do not say, ‘It was he who led me astray;’ for he has no need of the sinful.”
  2. James 1 – “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.”

The NA27 has no less than 110 references to Sirach in its margins, 11 of which are in James. I’ve not seen a full length treatment on the influence of Sirach on the New Testament, and the only work that I know of that is completely focused on Sirach’s influence on James was written by Antonius Boon and published in 1860. (PDF available**). Are there any Latin scholars out there with time and the desire to translate it? (Don’t all email me at once!)

One slice of my thesis looks at Sirach 48:1-11, Sirach’s “praise” of Elijah and its relationship to James 1:1 and 5:17-18:

1 Then Elijah arose, a prophet like fire,
     and his word burned like a torch.
2 He brought a famine upon them,
     and by his zeal he made them few in number.
3 By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens,
     and also three times brought down fire.
4 How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
     Whose glory is equal to yours?
5 You raised a corpse from death
     and from Hades, by the word of the Most High.
6 You sent kings down to destruction,
     and famous men, from their sickbeds.
7 You heard rebuke at Sinai
     and judgements of vengeance at Horeb.
8 You anointed kings to inflict retribution,
     and prophets to succeed you.
9 You were taken up by a whirlwind of fire,
     in a chariot with horses of fire.
10 At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined
     to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,
to turn the hearts of parents to their children,
     and to restore the tribes of Jacob.
11 Happy are those who saw you
     and were adorned with your love!
     For we also shall surely live. (NRSV)

This passage is fascinating for several reasons, but for the purposes of my thesis, I am particularly interested in v. 10, where Sirach references the concluding words of Malachi:

5 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse. (4:5-6 NRSV)

The second half of Sirach’s quote broadens the mission of the eschatological Elijah by dropping Malachi’s “[to return] the hearts of the children to their parents” and adding “to restore the tribes of Jacob.” Sirach blends Malachi’s prophecy of Elijah’s return with Isaiah’s description of the Servant’s mission:

6 It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
     to raise up the tribes of Jacob
     and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
     that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (49:6 NRSV)

This blending of the Servant’s and Elijah’s mission is striking. Sirach is known for having little emphasis on eschatology, but here in his praise of Elijah he not only mentions Malachi’s prophecy but develops it further. Elijah is to restore the exiled tribes of Jacob. In a vivid prayer for national vindication, this hope of restoration was voiced earlier in Sirach:

10 Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time,
     and let people recount your mighty deeds.
11 Let survivors be consumed in the fiery wrath,
     and may those who harm your people meet destruction.
12 Crush the heads of hostile rulers
     who say, ‘There is no one but ourselves.’
13 Gather all the tribes of Jacob,
16   and give them their inheritance, as at the beginning. (36:10-16; see Sirach 36:1-22.)

Scholars have questioned the originality of this eschatologically minded prayer, as Sirach wrote during the reign of Antiochus III – during a time of relative peace for the Jews. J. J. Collins suggests that it was added during the Maccabean crisis. Either way, the prayer was most likely a part of Sirach before the first century A.D.

This hope for the restoration of Israel is bound to be important for our understanding of a letter addressed to “the twelve tribes of the dispersion.” James writes to a people who while still “dispersed” are the firstfruits of the reconstituted twelve tribes. Given Sirach’s description of Elijah’s eschatological mission, I do not think it coincidental that James ends his letter citing the prophet as an example for his readers. That James may have in mind the eschatological expectations of Elijah is made plausible given the following:

First, the last chapter of James is dripping with eschatological anticipation. James instructs his readers to wait patiently for the coming of the Lord as a farmer waits for the former and latter rains. The community is to “strengthen their hearts” as the Lord’s coming is near, and they are not to grumble or swear, lest they face the condemnation of the Judge “standing at the doors.” James concludes this chapter in a no-less eschatological manner. The community is called to pray regardless of circumstances. Their prayer, confession of sins and anointing in the name of the Lord brings healing and salvation – marks of the Kingdom inaugurated by James’ brother. Finally, James explains that those who return a sinner from their wandering ways saves them from death.

Second, James seems to cite Elijah as an example in a way that would perk up the eschatological anticipation of his audience. Note how James does not cite Elijah’s healing of the widow’s son. This would seem to be the most obvious and logical example from the prophet’s resume given that James is teaching about prayer and healing. Instead, James cites Elijah’s prayer for drought and rain. This makes sense if one notices that James’ account of Elijah is sandwiched between two teachings concerning sin and repentance. In vv. 13-16 healing (both physical and spiritual) occurs in the community in the context of righteous prayer, repentance and confession. In vv. 19-20 the community is exhorted to actively pursue those who wander, calling them to repentance and saving them from death. Elijah’s drought fits this theme beautifully, as it was the result of Israel’s sin. The drought was lifted only after Israel’s repentance. That James puts this historical episode in eschatological terms is seen by his description of the drought’s length – 3.5 years (a number ripe with eschatological symbolism). Also, the drought and rain imagery evokes the rain imagery that James used to describe the coming of the Lord in vv. 7-8.

As my Bible college professor, Dr. Dippold would say, “So what?”

James places his Epistle between eschatological bookends. The community to which he writes is evidence of God’s restorative power – bringing together the twelve tribes of Jacob. These tribes are still dispersed. There is still a final consummate restoration to come, but the restoration envisioned by the prophets (and by Sirach) has already begun. The mission of Elijah, according to Sirach, was both to restore the community (turning the hearts of the fathers towards their children) and to restore these twelve tribes. This newly restored community is given an Elijah-like charge in vv. 13-20, calling the rest of the twelve tribes and the world to repentance. James reminds his readers that Elijah was simply a man, lest the community fears this to be too lofty a mission. After all, Sirach could ask of Elijah “Whose glory is equal to yours?” But while reminding his readers that Elijah is human, he also hints that they have the potential to be a community of eschatological Elijahs, calling the world to repentance. This community of prophets is evidence of the reign/rain of the soon coming Lord, as bodies and relationships receive healing as a result of a prophetic community’s prayer.

**Many thanks to Gordon-Conwell graduate – Jonathan Moo for obtaining a copy of this rare work from one of the Cambridge libraries. (Jonathan’s the son of Douglas Moo. The apple did not fall far from the tree.)

God of the Word

James 1:19, 26; 3:1-11

     My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. . . . 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
     3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
     3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
     7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
     9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (NIV)

James spends a good deal of time concentrating on how we speak. William Baker wrote his dissertation on the topic of “Personal Speech-Ethics in the Epistle of James,” and its length is testimony to the importance of this topic for James. While in a meeting this morning, I began to wonder: What kind of God requires us to control our tongue? What in God’s nature would see this as an important thing? What does James’ instructions on speech reveal about God’s character? What about our own character?

I think that James’ ethics, even his speech-ethics say something about his theology (contra those ‘Dibelians’ who dismiss James as having “no theology”). That theology and even anthropology could be inferred from James’ speech-ethics is perhaps evident in his statement “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (I love the awkward drama of the KJV: “. . . these things ought not so to be.”) James acknowledges that we have been made in God’s image. Our lives are to reflect God’s image, and we are to acknowledge God’s image in others when we speak to them. This connection between God’s image and ethics is not new to James. Indeed, God commanded Noah:

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man (Gen 9:6).

We are not to curse other humans for the same reason that we are not to murder them — all are created in God’s image. There’s a certain resonance here with Jesus’ injunction in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matt 5:21-22).

Here murder and improper speech are grouped together. (Note also the use of γέεννα in Matt 5:22 & Jas 3:6.) By stating that humanity’s status as the image of God is grounds for us not to “curse” one another, James closely associates this “cursing” with murder (as in Gen 9:6). Jesus similarly heightened the command against murder to include the prohibition of hateful speech (or even silent hate harbored in one’s soul against another). In both instances Jesus and James are addressing the contradictions of the double-minded. One form of double-mindedness says that everything is OK with my hatred or poisoned speech as long as I don’t actually kill anyone. Another form of double-mindedness says that it’s OK to degrade people as long as I praise God every Sunday morning (after all, my praising God surely outweighs the degradation and death that I spoke into x, y or z’s life.) Of course, no one consciously thinks such thoughts, but by the time we get done angrily chewing out x, y or z, we’ve done it without thinking.

James 3 and Genesis 6 note that man is made in God’s image. The first image of God was given dominion over all creation. He named the animals, tended the garden, and was even given a companion co-created in the image of God. But one day they would both be done in by the forked tongue of a serpent. Shamed by his sin, Adam’s own tongue lashed out against Eve. Then their son – made in their fractured image – murdered his brother. Ever since, fractured images of God have tried to dominate creation – only to be dominated by their own serpentine tongue.

The last and final image of God beamed the likeness of the Father of lights – the Father who gives only good gifts without reproach. This image, bright though he was, was extinguished with hatred, mockery and murder, but he rose victorious and crushed the serpent’s head. He calls us to bare the same image of the Father of lights. He calls us to bring good gifts to this world without reproach. He calls us to reflect to others the singular love that the Father has for us. To speak in hatred is to create an incompatable dissonance with the image we are are recreated to bare.

For James the importance of this Genesis imagery is perhaps evident in his choice of words in a few spots throughout his tract. By his will and the word of truth, we are “the firstfruits of his creation” (ἀπαρχήν τινα τῶν αὐτοῦ κτισμάτων; 1:18), but the man who knows the law, but does not do it is like a man who forgets “his natural face” (lit. “the face of his genesis” τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ; 1:22), and the slanderous tongue sets on fire “the cycle of nature” (lit. “the cycle of genesis” τὸν τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως; 3:6).

Humanity as the firstfruits was created as the pinnacle, the best of God’s creation—created in his image (3:9) and given dominion over “every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature” (3:8). As beings made in God’s likeness, James calls his readers to imitate God. Sophie Laws has observed two themes in the Epistle of James, “the oneness of the character and activity of God, and the condemned duplicity, desired wholeness, of man.”* James explicitly states that it is because we are made in the image of God, that we are not to slander our brothers and sisters (3:9). And while it is not explicitly stated, the contrasting statements of God’s integrity and man’s duplicity show that for man to live an ethical life, he must imitate God. The Creator is the one “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:18), and we as his likeness, should have neither double-minds or forked tongues.

A Paper on James 1:18

Here’s a paper I wrote back in 2003 on James 1:18. It’s available in PDF as well.

James 1:18: Creation and Redemption,


James M. Darlack

Advent 2003

Opening up a systematic theology book, one would be unlikely to find columns of references to the Epistle of James in the index. The epistle is not known for its intricately woven theology. Instead it is prized for its clearly articluated ethics. When James has been the topic of theological discussion, the discussion of faith and works seems to crowd out any other subject. In fact, it is when James does theology, that his apparent contradiction to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith is condemned and his writing deemed an “epistle of straw.” James does, however, engage in constructive and orthodox theological thought, although he maintains an ethical focus. Karl Barth, states that at least one “glorious saying” in James “ought to have been enough in itself to prevent Luther from calling James an “epistle of straw”[1] That saying is James 1:18, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (rsv). What would cause Barth to reverse the sentence spoken over James by Luther? Barth appraises:

This is what Christendom and every Christian is in terms of what he may have before others in his own personal life in virtue of his vocation. He is a firstborn of God’s creatures, a first-fruits reaped and gathered from the field of the world. He is truly great as such.[2]

James 1:18 densely gives James’ opinion of where man stands in relationship to God as his creator and redeemer and the to the rest of creation.

Creation or Redemption?

F. J. A. Hort, in his posthumously published commentary, outlined the various interpretations of the verse based on the referent of hêmas: Does hêmas refer to men and women as recipients of God’s word of creation? Israel as recipients of God’s word of revelation? Or Christians as recipients of the Gospel?[3] That hêmas can be interpreted in three discrete ways is a testament to the dense theological language that James uses in this verse.

James introduces the verse, “Of his own will” (boulêtheis). Meaning “to plan on a course of action,” boulomai is used of both man and God, though thelô is more common in reference to deity.[4] James, however, makes no such distinction between thelô and boulomai, as he uses the latter for the deliberation of both God (1:18; 4:15) and man (2:20; 3:4; 4:4). That creation is the result of the active will of God is seen in the Psalms, as God “makes whatever he wills” (panta hosa êthelêsen epoiêsen; Ps 115:2 [lxx 113:11]; 135:6 [lxx 134:6]). Later, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon asks, “How could anything have continued if you had not willed it?” (pôs de diemeinen an ti ei mê su êthelêsas; 11:25). Hort states that boulêtheis refers back to Gen 1:26, where God deliberates, “Let us make man in our own image.”[5] In the NT, the elders of John’s Apocalypse declare that it was “through the will” (dia to thelêma) of God that creation “existed and was created” (sou êsan kai ektisthêsan).[6] Elliott-Binns notes that the above passages do not necessitate that boulêtheis refers to God’s willful creation of man, given that redemption can also be “of the will of God.”[7] John 1:12–13 bares remarkable similarity to the thought of James: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born (egennêthêsan), not of blood nor of the will (thelêmatos) of the flesh nor of the will (thelêmatos) of man, but of God.” The concept is repeated in Eph 1:5, “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (kata tên eudokian tou thelêmatos autou). Given the lexical background above, the deliberate will of God precipitates both creation and redemption.

It was the will of the Father of lights to give birth (apekuêsen) to us. Apokueô occurs in the New Testament only here and in verse 15. This signals that James is contrasting God’s deliberate birthing of the community to sin’s birthing of death. The feminine image of God giving birth is present in the Old Testament: God asks if he had “conceived” (hrh) or had “given birth to” (yld) Israel (Num 11:12), while in Deut 32:18 Yhwh is directly referred to as “the God who gave birth to [Israel].” Ropes rejects that apekuêsen can refer to creation, because creation is never “birthed” in the OT, and it is much more natural to associate it with the “re-birth” of redemption (see above John 1:13; 3:3–8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7, 8; 5:1, 4; Titus 3:5).[8] Of particular interest is 1 Peter 1:3 and 23. Peter declares that by God’s great mercy we have been “born anew” (anagennêsas; v 3), while in v 23, he informs his readers that they “have been born anew (anagegennêmenoi), not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (dia logou zôntos theou kai menontos).” He expounds upon the quality of this “living and abiding word of God” by quoting from Isaiah 40:7–8 lxx, “The grass withers, And the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever” (v 24–25). He further identifies this word as the “the word which was preached to you” (to rhêma to euangelisthen eis humas). The parallels between this passage and the setting of James 1:18 are striking. Both James (1:11) and 1 Peter quote from Isaiah 40:7–8, and while Peter finishes the Isaiah’s description of fading flowers and withering grass with the contrasting endurance of God’s word, James does not mention God’s “word” until 1:18, in a context of God’s giving birth! Peter mirrors James’ line of thought in the following context, as he admonishes his readers to “put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander,” and “Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk” (1 Pet 2:1–2). While James admonishes his readers to “put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (1:21). Such parallels would seem to indicate that James had in clear view the same “new birth” that was enacted by God by the “word that was preached.”[9]

As Ropes mentioned there is only a hint of birthing language in OT being used for creation, where it refers to the mountains being “born” (yld; Ps 90:2). Philo, however, writes, “knowledge having received the seed of God, when the day of her travail arrived, brought forth (apekuêse) her only and well-beloved son, perceptible by the external senses, namely this world” (De Ebr. 30).[10] So, while not stating that God gave birth to creation, Philo does associate creation with the image of birthing. Elliott-Binns also mentions a citation from the Tanhuma on Exodus 4:12, where God tells Moses, “I am making you into a new creature, as in the case of a woman who conceives (horah) and gives birth.”[11] Hence apekuêsen is a metaphor of both God’s creative acts and his redemption of Israel and the Church.

James’ community is given birth by a word of truth (logô alêtheias). Hort contends that the absence of the articles with logô alêtheias indicates that James was not speaking of revelation,[12] but elsewhere admits that the ommission of articles is common in cases where brevity is necessary.[13] The anarthrous logos alêtheias in Psalm 119:43 (lxx 118:43) and Test. Gad 3:1 stands for the law, while in Prov 22:21, Eccl 12:10 and the Pss. Sol. 16:10 it means “truthful speech” in a context of wisdom. Logos alêtheias in 2 Cor 6:7 most likely refers to the Gospel, while with the article, the Gospel is clearly the referent (Eph 1:13, Col 1:5 and 2 Tim 2:15). Thus, Mayor contends that logos alêtheias was a vox technica for the Gospel in early Christianity and rejects that it could refer to creation.[14]

While it is is certainly plausible that James has the Gospel in mind (see above discussion of 1 Peter), contrary to Mayor, creation could also be in mind. The creative divine fiat is a common theme in both Judaism and Christianity. Referring to the Genesis account, the psalmist writes:

By the word (tô logô) of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth (tô pneumati tou stomatos autou)…he spoke (eipen), and it came to be; he commanded (eneteilato), and it stood forth (Psalm 33:6–9 rsv; see also 148:5).[15]

In intertestamental literature creation exists by God’s word as well. Aseneth declares in her prayer of confession, “you, Lord, spoke and they were brought to life, because your word, Lord, is life for all your creatures” (su, kurie, eipas kai panta gegonasi, kai ho logos ho sos zôê estin pantôn sou tôn ktismatôn; Jos. Asen. 12:3).[16] While, in a hymn of praise Judith declares, “thou didst speak, and they were made” (sou. . . eipas kai egenêthêsan; 16:14). God’s creative word also forms the ground for Solomon’s prayer for wisdom:

O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things by thy word (en logô sou), and by thy wisdom (tê sophia sou) hast formed man, to have dominion over the creatures thou hast made (sou genomenôn ktismatôn), and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me the wisdom that sits by thy throne, and do not reject me from among thy servants (Wis. Sol. 9:1–4 rsv)

This passage is of particular importance because God’s logos and his sophia are both the means of his creating man and the rest of creation. The New Testament also speaks of God’s creative word. The classical texts are John 1:3, where “all things were made through [the Word], and without [the word] was not anything made that was made” (rsv), and Hebrews 11:3, where it is stated that “the world was created by the word of God” (katêrtisthai tous aiônas rhêmati theou).[17]

We are created “in order that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creation” (eis to einai hêmas aparchên tina tôn autou ktismatôn). The lxx uses aparchê to translate r’šyt “first, best, firstfruits” (19x), trwmh “contribution” (39x) and chlb “fat, choicest part” (5x).[18] The aparchê stood not only for the first in priority, but also the first in quality, dedicated unto God. Metaphorically, Jeremiah described Israel as “holy to the Lord, the first fruits (archê/r’šyt) of his harvest” (2:3).[19] A strikingly similar phrase is used by Philo, who states that God has mercy on Israel because “they have been dedicated to him, the Creator and Father of all, as a sort of first-fruits (tis aparchê) of the whole human race” (De Spec. Leg. 4.180). It is undoubtably used in a similar metaphorical sense of Christians by Paul in Rom 16:5 and 1 Cor 16:15, where individuals are called the aparchê of the believers in their geographical locations.[20] In Rev 14:4 the chaste followers of the Lamb are “redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb.” The image of firstfruits picks up eschatological connotations elsewhere in Paul, as Christ is called the aparchê of those who sleep (1 Cor 15:20, 23) and similarly, the prôtotokos ek tôn nekrôn (Col 1:18). Such an eschatological usage is grounded upon the cultic significance of aparchê—faithfulness in offering God the firstfruits guaranteed the rest of the harvest (Prov 3:9–10). Hence, Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection guarantees the resurrection of the Church. Similarly, Christians are also said to have the firstfruits of the Spirit in Rom 8:23, a guarantee of “the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us” (Rom 8:18). Hence, James’ readers are said to be either chronologically the first of creation or qualitatively the best of creation.

Rabbinic exegesis related the concept of firstfruits closely to creation.[21] Answering the question, “For whose sake did God create heaven and earth?” The Tanhuma links God’s creation “in the beginning” (br’šyt) with Jeremiah’s description of Israel as the “beginning/firstfruits” (archê/r’šyt) of his harvest (Gen 1:1, Jer 2:3), concluding that God created the world “for the sake of Israel.”[22] Perhaps the same thought lies behind Ezra’s plea, “O Lord,. . . you have said that it was for us that you created the world. . . If the world has indeed been created for us, why do we not possess our world as an inheritance? How long will this be so?” (4 Ezra 6:55–59).[23] Sirach’s “Prayer for Deliverance” (36:1–17 [lxx 36:1–16) picks up similar themes as well:

Gather all the tribes of Jacob, and give them their inheritance, as at the beginning (ap’ archês). Have mercy, O Lord, upon the people called by thy name, upon Israel, whom thou hast likened to a first-born son (prôtogonô). . . Bear witness to those whom thou didst create in the beginning (tois en archê ktismasin sou), and fulfil the prophecies spoken in thy name (rsv 36:11–15 [lxx 36:10–14]).

Here the sage refers to Israel as those whom God created at the beginning—literally in the beginning of his creatures—and links creation with hopes of the eschatological renewal of the tribes of Jacob. It is important to observe that James addresses his letter tais dôdeka phulais tais en tê diaspora (1:1), and concludes it, instructing his readers to imitate Elijah, whom Sirach stated was “to restore the tribes of Jacob” (48:10).[24] James 1:18 is set within an eschatological inclusio, that echoes Sirach’s hopes of Israel’s restoration—a hope grounded in Israel’s creation.

God—Man—Creation: James’ Biblical Theology

As seen in the discussion above the words penned by James in v 18 easily evoke images of creation and redemption. So can it be that James has both in mind? One thing that is clearly seen in v 18 is that James is speaking of his reader’s relationship to both God and to creation. It may be helpful to explore other texts that have this triad, God—man—creation, in mind. It has been asserted that James had the Genesis account in the background of his mind as he penned vv 13–18.[25] James’ reference to the “Father of lights,” evokes the first fiat of the Creator, “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3). God creates the lights in the heavens to “regulate the day and night,” while in vv 26–28 God creates man to “have dominion” over the inhabitants of the earth. Boulêtheis has been taken to refer to the preceding inner-deliberation of the Creator, and man as aparchên tina tôn autou ktismatôn refers to his place of dominion over creation.[26] James’ reflection on the creation acknowledges its fallenness. The progression of desire, sin and death (vv 14–15) echoes the temptation, fall and punishment of Adam and Eve (Gen 3). It is interesting to note that James counters his reader’s faulty assumption that God is the source of sin and temptation by pointing them to the “Father of lights” (v 16) who “gave birth” to them “by a word of truth” that they could be a “first fruits of his creation” (v 17). The Psalmist similarly reflects upon the relationship between man, God and creation as he looks upward:

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor. Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet (Psalm 8:3–6).

God as creator is acknowledged by the Psalmist and man’s dominion over the earth is a theme that runs parallel with the majesty of the moon and the stars. A similar juxtoposition of the heavenly host and man is made in Psalm 19. The ordered heavens “declare the glory of God” (vv 1–7), while the Torah is praised as “perfect” (vv 8–10), and is shown to serve as the basis of man’s ordered life (vv 11–14). Note that after highlighting man’s birthed relation to the Father of lights and his creation, James admonishes his readers to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save” their souls (v 21), and likens that word to the “perfect law, the law of liberty” (1:25). Of course, James’ discourse on temptation (1:13–18) is preceded by his teaching on wisdom, a term often synonymous with Torah (1:5).[27]

James’ affinity with the teachings of Jesus ben Sirach has already been noted above.[28] Spitta mentions that Sirach’s deliberation about the source of man’s propensity for evil (15:11–20) underlies much of James’ discourse in vv 13–18. Sir 15:14, which states that God “created man in the beginning (ex archês), and. . . left him in the power of his own inclination,” is analagous to man being created as the firstfruits of creation.[29] One could also link Sirach’s injunction “Do not say it was [God] who led me astray (eplanêsen)” in 15:12 with James’ command, “Do not be deceived (Mê planasthe)” in 1:16. Immediately following Sirach’s discussion of man’s evil inclination, he recounts God’s history of punishment for sinners (16:1–14). He then counters the the sinner’s excuse, “I shall be hidden from the Lord” (16:17) by expounding upon the omnipotence of the Creator as seen in the grandeur of his creation (16:18–30). He introduces an exposition of the order of the heavenlies by stating “The works of the Lord have existed from the beginning (ap archês) by his creation, and when he made them, he determined their division” (16:26). He then describes the orderliness of the heavenlies prior to describing the state of man:

He arranged his works in an eternal order, and their dominion for all generations; they neither hunger nor grow weary, and they do not cease from their labors. They do not crowd one another aside, and they will never disobey his word. After this the Lord looked upon the earth, and filled it with his good things; with all kinds of living beings he covered its surface, and to it they return.

The Lord created man out of earth, and turned him back to it again. He gave to men few days, a limited time, but granted them authority over the things upon the earth. He endowed them with strength like his own, and made them in his own image. He placed the fear of them in all living beings, and granted them dominion over beasts and birds (Sirach 16:27–17:4).

The eternal order of the heavens is again juxtaposed with a description of man’s relationship with creation.[30] Is it possible that James, in speaking of the “Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” is evoking images of heavenly order, prior to his explanation of man’s God-birthed relation to creation? The parallels between Sirach and James are enhanced further as Sirach notes that the the Torah was given to man as a part of his ordered existence, “He bestowed knowledge upon them, and allotted to them the law of life. He established with them an eternal covenant, and showed them his judgments” (17:11–12; cf. Jas 1:25).

Given these parallels between Sirach and James, a creation setting for James 1:18 is readily apparent. Especially given the verse’s juxtaposition with the “Father of lights” in v 17 and the preceding discourse on temptation (vv 13–15). But as seen above, in the discussion of James’ similarities with 1 Peter, the theme of redemption is strong in v 18 as well. It is clear that both James and Peter quote from Isaiah (Jas 1:9–12; 1 Pet 1:24–25; Isa 40:6–8). Donald Verseput has compared James chapter 1 to 4Q185, another text that quotes Isaiah 40, and sees logô alêtheias of Jas 1:18 as an “echo” of the “word of God” in Isa 40:8.[31] Thus, he correctly asserts that v 18 is closely tied to vv 9–12, but he is wrong to deny it any cosmological significance, given the entire content of Isaiah’s prophecy. Immediately following Isaiah’s description of the enduring word of the Lord, he paints a picture of coming restoration with the colors of creation. The one “who will gather the lambs in his arms,” (v 11), is the one “who has measured the the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance” (v 12). Isaiah then condemns the futile idolatry of Israel comparing idols made of created matter to the “the one who sits above the circle of the earth” (vv 16–22). Next he recapitulates the imagery of withering grass in his description of the judgment of the princes and rulers of the earth (vv 23–24), and the Holy One asks, “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him?” (v 25). He responds to this rhetorical question with a command that sounds like Psalm 8 in the imperative:

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hid from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable. (40:26–28).

The prophet commands Israel to begin “stargazing,” in order to comprehend the majesty of God—the Creator and Redeemer. Isaiah “has not presented his argument in vv 12–16 as an abstract, independent theology of creation. Rather, the purpose of demonstrating Yahweh’s power as creator is to legitimate the proclamation. . . that Yahweh is able to come as redeemer.[32] It is worth noting that both Isaiah and Sirach respond to the mistake of thinking one can be hidden from God (Sir 16:17; Isa 40:27) with a description of God’s grand creation (Isa 40:26–28; Sir 16:18–17:34). Hence, James responds to his community’s doubts about the goodness of God, by explaining their relationship to him as the God-born firstfruits of creation.

An Ethics of Createdness and the Imago Dei

The difficulty in determining whether James indended to have creation or redemption in in mind as he penned the words of 1:18 has often been the result of a reactionary stance against an opponent’s critical or pre-critical view of the text. Spitta proposed that James was a pre-Christian Jewish document with occasional references to Christ thrown in. Hence he made the case that 1:18 could only refer to man’s creation.[33] Other commentators (e.g. Mayor) reacted against Spitta’s larger claim of a Jewish provenance, and attacked his position on v 18. Such commentators were right to sense the strong redemptive language of the verse, but often excluded any possible allusion to creation. It is however possible, as seen above, to recognize both the creation and the redemption of mankind alluded to in James 1:18. Luke Timothy Johnson remarks:

The impossiblility of deciding exclusively for one or the other of these options is precisely the most important point about James’s theological perspective: The God who is now at work among them is the same as has always been at work, the one God revealed through creation, through covenant, through gospel.[34]

As noted above, James’ letter is set within an eschatological inclusio. In essence, the letter is an instruction manual on how the “twelve tribes of the dispersion” (1:1) are to act in light of the fact that “the Judge is standing at the doors” (5:9).[35] It is important to note, however, that James does not call Christians the “firstfruits of the new creation.” Instead, they are the “firstfruits of this present creation.” He locates his ethics in both eschatological expectation, and in the present condition of man within creation. His is an “ethics of createdness.”[36] R. St. John Parry was correct to assert that for James, “Redemption in the strictest sense renews and fulfils the purpose of creation.”[37]

Man as the firstfruits was created as the pinnacle, the best of God’s creation—created in his image (3:9) and given dominion over “every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature” (3:8). It is in living up to his high createdness, that man’s redemption is evidenced. Hence, as beings made in God’s likeness, James calls his readers to imitate God. Sophie Laws has observed two themes in the Epistle of James, “the oneness of the character and activity of God, and the condemned duplicity, desired wholeness, of man.”[38] James explicitly states that it is because we are made in the image of God, that we are not to slander our brothers and sisters (3:9). While it is not explicitly stated, the contrasting statements of God’s integrity and man’s duplicity show that for man to live an ethical life, he must imitate God. The creator is the one “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:18), and we as his likeness, should not be “double-minded” (1:8; 4:8). Sin, however, has greatly damaged man’s ability live in a manner consistent with his office as the image of God, and James acknowledges this. The man who knows the law, but does not do it is like a man who forgets “the face of his genesis” (to prosôpon tês geneseôs autou) after gazing into a mirror (1:22).[39] Likewise the slanderous tongue “is a fire. . . setting on fire the cycle of nature” (ton trochon tês geneseôs) in 3:6.[40] It is only by receiving the implanted wordthe word of truth—with meekness, as is evidence by our adherence to the law of liberty, that we remember the face of our genesis. It is then that we serve as a firstfruits of creation, born by means of the word of truth.

[1] Karl Barth, The Doctrine of Reconciliation (vol. 4/3.2 of Church Dogmatics; ed. G. W. Bromiley; trans./ed. T. F. Torrance; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1962), 675.

[2] Ibid.

[3] F. J. A. Hort, The Epistle of St James (London: Macmillan, 1909), 31–35.

[4] BDAG, “boulomai,” n.p. Bible Works for Windows. Version 6.0.003s. 2003.

[5] Hort, James,33.

[6] L. E. Elliott-Binns, “James 1.18: Creation or Redemption?” NTS 3 (1957): 148–161.

[7] Ibid., 150.

[8] James Hardy Ropes, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of St. James (ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1916), 166–167.

[9] Luke Timothy Johnson, identifies Isaiah’s “word of the Lord” with James’ “word of truth” based on 1 Peter’s quotation. See The Letter of James (AB 37A; New York:Doubleday, 1995), 191.

[10] Elliott-Binns, 151. All translations of Philo by Charles D. Yonge, The Works of Philo (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993).

[11] Elliott-Binns, 150. Translation from John T. Townsend, Midrash Tanhuma (2 vols.; Hoboken, N. J.: KTAV, 1989), 2:16.

[12] Hort, James, 32.

[13] Elliott-Binns (152) notes Hort’s own comments on diasporas in 1 Pet 1:1 (The First Epistle of St Peter [London: Macmillan, 1998], 15).

[14] Joseph B. Mayor, The Epistle of James (London: Macmillan, 1913), 63.

[15] Later rabbinic tradition carries on this concept. “By ten sayings was the world created” (m. ’Abot 5:1).

[16] Cited by Friedrich Spitta, Zur Geschichte und Litteraturdes Urchristentums (2 vols; Gottigen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1896), 1.45. Translation by C. Burchard, “Joseph and Aseneth,” OTP 1:177–247.

[17] See also the Apostolic Fathers: Herm. Vis. 1.3.4, 3.3.5; Ign. Eph. 15:1.

[18] On aparchê in James 1:18, see F. H. Palmer, “James i.18 and the Offering of First-Fruits,” TynBul 3 (1957): 1–2.

[19] Later rabbinic exegesis grounded Israel’s cultic practice of offering firstfruts to God’s designation of her as his own firstfruits: “I designated you the first; wherefore I commanded you concerning the first” (b. Shabbath 32a).

[20] The occurance in 2 Thess 2:13 is debatable, where א D Ψ have ap archês instead.

[21] C. F. Burney makes the case that Paul’s reference to Christ as prôtotokos pasês ktiseôs in Col 1:15 is similarly linked to Gen 1:1 by means of connecting it with Prov 8:22, where wisdom was fashioned at the beginning (r’šyt) of God’s work (“Christ as the ARCHÊ of Creation,” JTS 27 [1926]: 160–177).

[22] The Tanhuma is an admittedly late work from the 5th to 9th centuries, hence Elliott-Binns discounts it as having any bearing on the text (153). It should be noted, however that this shows the striking possiblity of linking the concept of firstfruits with creation, and similar reasoning is found in Leviticus Rabbah 36:4. Trans. Townsend, 1:6.

[23] B. M. Metzger, “The Fourth Book of Ezra,” OTP 1:517–559. See also 7:11. Of particular interest is the angel’s response to Ezra, “The Most High made this world for the sake of many, but the world to come for the sake of few” (8:1). The first creation was for the sake of Israel and the new creation for the sake of a smaller subset of humanity.

[24] S. Pines denies any eschatological reference in Jas 1:1, given that the twelve tribes are still in the dispersion (“Notes on the Twelve Tribes in Qumran, Early Christianity and Jewish Traditon,” in Messiah and Christos [TSAJ 32; ed. I. Gruenwald; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992], 151–154). Matt A. Jackson-McCabe, however, counters that 1:1 is an “evocative address that. . . both connotes a present state in which the promises of God remain unfulfilled and, especially in connection with a christos, sounds a note of eschatological hope” (“A Letter to the Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora: Wisdom and ‘Apocalyptic’ Eschatology in the Letter of James,” [SBLSP; Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1996], 504–517).

[25] Elliott-Binns, 155; Rendall, 63; Hort, James, 32.

[26] Note that Philo remarks, “We ought, however, not to be ignorant of this also, that it is no proof that because man was the last created animal that he is the lowest in rank, and charioteers and pilots are witnesses of this” (De Opif. 29.87).

[27] The connection between the Torah, wisdom and creation was explicitly seen in rabbinic tradition. Genesis Rabbah equates the wisdom of Prov 8:22 with the Torah, and states that the Torah served as God’s blueprint of creation, “Thus God consulted the Torah and created the world, while The Torah declares, in the beginning God created (Gen 1:1), Beginning (r’šyt) referring to the Torah, as in the verse, The Lord made me as the beginning of His way (Prov 8:22)” (Genesis Rabbah 1:1). See above discussion of the rabbinic linking of br’šyt in Gen 1:1 with Israel as God’s r’šyt in Jer 2:3.

[28] The similarities of both form and content between James and Sirach have been noted by Richard Bauckham, James: Wisdom of James, Disciple of Jesus the Sage (New Testament Readings; London: Routledge, 1999), 74–83.

[29] Spitta, 1.54. A detailed exposition of the doctrine of the “evil inclination” is beyond the purview of this paper, but it has been observed that this doctrine is behind James’ teaching on temptation. See Wallace I. Wolverton, “The Double-Minded Man in Light of Essene Psychology, ATR 38 (1956): 166–175.

[30] Luis Alonso Schökel notes a deliberate comparison between the ordered heavens and the potentially disordered life of man. See “The Vision of Man in Sirach 16:24–17:14,” in Israelite Wisdom (eds. John G. Gammie, et al; Missoula: Scholars Press, 1978), 235–245.

[31] See p. 705 in “4Q185 and the Epistle of James” JBL 117 (1998): 691–707.

[32] See p. 141 in Thomas W. Mann, “Stars, Sprouts, and Streams: The Creative Redeemer of Second Isaiah,” in God Who Creates (eds. W. P. Brown and S. D. McBride, Jr.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 135–151.

[33] Spitta, 1:151–154.

[34] Luke Timothy Johnson, “God Ever New, Ever the Same: The Witness of James and Peter,” in The Forgotten God: Perspectives in Biblical Theology (A. Andrew Das and Frank J. Matera, eds.; Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 211–227. See 218.

[35] Patrick J. Hartin, A Spirituality of Perfection: Faith in Action in the Letter of James (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1999), 52. See also Verseput, who likens James to a “covenantal diaspora epistle.” As such, James imparts “instructions to the dispersed people of God in expectation of divine faithfulness” (702–703).

[36] Schwöbel, 146–172.

[37] R. St. John Parry, A Discussion of the General Epistle of St. James (London: Cambridge University Press, 1903), 24.

[38]Page 301 in Sophie Laws, “The Doctrinal Basis for the Ethics of James,” Studia Evangelica 7 (1973): 299–305.

[39] Gerald H. Rendall, The Epistle of St. James and Judaic Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927), 56; Parry,17–18.

[40] Rendall, 60.


Barth, Karl. The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Vol. 4/3.2 of Church Dogmatics. Edited by G. W. Bromiley. Translated and edited by T. F. Torrance. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1962.

Bauckham, Richard, James: Wisdom of James, Disciple of Jesus the Sage. New Testament Readings. London: Routledge, 1999.

Burney, C. F. “Christ as the ARCHÊ of Creation.” Journal of Theological Studies 27 (1926): 160–177.

Charlesworth, James H. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 2 vols. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1983.

Danker, Frederick William, ed. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Third Edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Elliott-Binns, L. E. “James 1.18: Creation or Redemption?” New Testament Studies 3 (1957): 148–161.

Gunton, Colin. The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

________. The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Hardy, Daniel W. “Creation and Eschatology.” Pages105–133 in The Doctrine of Creation. Edited by Colin Gunton. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997.

Hartin, Patrick J. A Spirituality of Perfection: Faith in Action in the Letter of James. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1999.

Hort, F. J. A. The Epistle of St James. London: Macmillan, 1909.

________. The First Epistle of St Peter. London: Macmillan, 1998.

Jackson-McCabe, Matt A. “A Letter to the Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora: Wisdom and ‘Apocalyptic’ Eschatology in the Letter of James.” Pages 504–517 in SBL Seminar Papers, 1996. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1996.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. “God Ever New, Ever the Same: The Witness of James and Peter.” Pages 211–227 in The Forgotten God: Perspectives in Biblical Theology. Edited by A. Andrew Das and Frank J. Matera. Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

________. The Letter of James. Anchor Bible 37A. New York:Doubleday, 1995.

Laws, Sophie. “The Doctrinal Basis for the Ethics of James.” Studia Evangelica 7 (1973): 299–305.

Mann, Thomas W. “Stars, Sprouts, and Streams: The Creative Redeemer of Second Isaiah.” Pages 135–151 in God Who Creates.Edited by W. P. Brown and S. D. McBride, Jr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

Mayor, Joseph B. The Epistle of James. London: Macmillan, 1913.

Palmer, F. H. “James i.18 and the Offering of First-Fruits.” Tyndale Bulletin 3 (1957): 1–2.

Parry, R. St. John. A Discussion of the General Epistle of St. James. London: Cambridge University Press, 1903.

Pines, S. “Notes on the Twelve Tribes in Qumran, Early Christianity and Jewish Traditon.” Pages 151–154 in Messiah and Christos: Studies in the Jewish Origins of Christianity Presented to David Flusser on the Occasion of his Seventy-Fifth Birthday. Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 32. Edited by I. Gruenwald. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992.

Rendall, Gerald H. The Epistle of St. James and Judaic Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927.

Ropes, James Hardy. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of St. James. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1916.

Schökel, Luis Alonso. “The Vision of Man in Sirach 16:24–17:14.” Pages 235–245 in Israelite Wisdom. Edited by John G. Gammie, et al. Missoula: Scholars Press, 1978.

Schwöbel, Christoph. “God, Creation and the Christian Community: The Dogmatic Basis of a Christian Ethic of Createdness.” Pages 149–176 in The Doctrine of Creation. Edited by Colin Gunton. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997.

Spitta, Friedrich. Zur Geschichte und Litteraturdes Urchristentums. Gottigen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1896.

Townsend, John T. Midrash Tanhuma. 2 vols. Hoboken, N. J.: KTAV, 1989.

Verseput, Donald J. “4Q185 and the Epistle of James.” Journal of Biblical Literature 117 (1998): 691–707.

Wolverton, Wallace I. “The Double-Minded Man in Light of Essene Psychology.” Anglican Theological Review 38 (1956): 166–175.

Yonge, Charles D. The Works of Philo. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993.

2 Stages of James?

Sean du Toit of Primal Subversion has posted about the commonly held view that the Epistle of James is the product of a two stage editing process. Generally the first stage was that James or the original author/orator produced sermons and the second stage editor arranged it into the work we have now. I’m not too well studied in this particular aspect of James, as I’ve pretty much assumed James the Just to be the author.

I look forward to reading more.


James’ OR James’s?


This may be a stupid question, but I’m not too smart nowadays. Which is a correct way of using an apostrophe to make the name “James” possessive? Is it:

  1. James’? See here.


  2. James’s? See here.

One would think that someone who has had “James” as a first name for thirty years would know by now.

Strunk & White’s first rule is

Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ’s. Follow this rule whatever the final consonant.

The Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed., 7.17) follows Strunk & White, but even it indicates that there is “an alternative practice” where the possessive -’s is omitted on all words ending in -s (17.23).

While reading books on James, I find both practices as well. A quick survey of monographs and commentaries on James shows that typically ’s is added to the end of James to make it possessive. Out of about ten books consulted, only Luke Timothy Johnson’s volume in the Anchor Bible simply used an apostrophe.

So, which is best? I’ve always learned the rule as “no ’s on any words ending with s.” Perhaps I need to re-learn elementary English grammar.

Patrick’s Classic on the Historical James

William Patrick, James the Lord’s Brother. Edinburgh:T&T Clark, 1906.

This classic work on the historical James the Just is available at the Internet Archive as a 35MB PDF! I’ve only had time to peruse this work in the past. I’ve had other pressing matters to deal with, but I have planned to scan this work post-thesis, but now I don’t have to. I hope to OCR the text and make it a part of the Old in the New site in html.

Update: A rough OCR version is now available HERE.