NIV 2011 and James 3:1

So, I’ve not really followed very closely the whole controversy/hubbub about the NIV 2011. It has something to do with dissatisfaction with the TNIV*, but I won’t get into that.  In my humble opinion, they should just call this next revision “Tomorrow’s NIV”. . .  JK. Folks are calling it the NIV 2011, among other things. The text is now available online for all to see (;

Robert Slowley has put online a handy comparison of the original NIV, the TNIV and the NIV2011. John Dyer made a similar tool.

So, given the new release of the text, I decided checked out the differences in the Epistle of James (given that I’ve spent a little time studying that book in the past).

One thing I found particularly ‘interesting’ is the translation of adelphoi in James. The author of James uses this  word throughout the letter to address his audience. He particularly punctuates the epistle with reference to adelphoi mou (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 5:12, 19). In the original NIV, this phrase, adelphoi mou is consistently translated “my brothers”.

That’s an OK translation. The problem is that while the Greek word, adelphos, in the singular generally refers to “a male from the same womb” or “brother”, in the plural it can also refer collectively to a group of both brothers and sisters (male and female). Adelphos can also refer more ‘metaphorically’ to a person “viewed as a brother in terms of a close affinity”, rather than by virtue of being ‘from the same womb’ (BDAG, s.v. ἀδελφός). Of course the precise meaning of adelphos in any given instance is determined by context. If, for instance, you know that a group of individuals being referred to are both male and female, you’d assume that adelphoi means either “brothers and sisters” (siblings) or perhaps “folks associated closely with each other.”

Given this understanding of adelphos, particularly adelphoi (the plural), the TNIV consistently translated adelphoi throughout the Epistle of James as “brothers and sisters.” This makes sense. It is highly unlikely that James would have addressed only males of “the twelve tribes of the dispersion” (1:1) who came from the same womb. He was most likely using the term more metaphorically to refer to those with whom he shared a close association (they were, after all, a part of the same twelve tribes), and just as likely he was referring to both men and women.

Once upon a time in English, one could simply say “brothers” and folks would pretty much understand that both men and women were being referred to. (Growing up, I memorized a lot of the KJV so I was familiar with this inclusive* ‘brothers’ language . . . Shakespeare was a lot easier for me than for the other kids in high school.)  Nowadays, given the way language has shifted over the years, folks might have a hard time with this. If you refer to “brothers” it would pretty much be assumed you were speaking to an all (or mostly) male crowd. So, James is addressing more than just the men in the congregations, why should we leave our ‘sisters’ out?

Well, the NIV2011 retained the TNIV’s translation of adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” in all places but in 3:1. Here is the Greek text and the English translations in the NIV family tree:

  • NA27 Μὴ πολλοὶ διδάσκαλοι γίνεσθε, ἀδελφοί μου, εἰδότες ὅτι μεῖζον κρίμα λημψόμεθα.
    Mē polloi didaskaloi ginesthe , adelphoi mou, eidotes hoti meizon krima lēmpsometha
  • NIV Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
  • TNIV Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
  • NIV2011 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
So, I’m a bit befuddled. Where did the translators of the NIV2011 get the phrase “my fellow believers”? It’s simply not in the text. James uses adelphoi mou the same as he does elsewhere in the epistle–to address his listeners as a whole. He uses adelphoi to do so, implying a close connection. I guess that “my fellow believers” gives the sense of this close affiliation, but there’s a difference in ‘feeling’ between “fellow believers” and “brothers and sisters.”
Throughout James, the NIV2011 uses “brothers and sisters” to translate adelphoi mou, (see the translation footnote a in 1:2) but in this context, the translation gives no clue that he’s using the same form of address. There is another thing to consider: James talks a lot about ‘faith’ and ‘belief’.* Given the NIV2011’s translation in 3:1, if I didn’t know any better, I’d assume that Jimmy was using one of those ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ words. He did after all just get done preaching about the importance of faith/belief backed up by works. I can imagine a well-meaning-and-observant Sunday School teacher having an “Ahah! moment” reading this translation. James just gets done talking to the folks about the nature of true belief, and then he lovingly refers to his addressees as “fellow believers.” Problem. He is not.

I can’t help but wonder about this. Was this simply the slip of the translator’s pen? An oversight in translation consistency? The nuance is slight enough; I think it very well could have been. If it is, it’s an unfortunate slip. James is here admonishing his readers, “Not many of you should become teachers.” If memory serves me correctly,* wasn’t gender and the whole ‘women in ministry’ thing at least tangentially related to the controversies over the TNIV? Why didn’t they use fellow believers elsewhere in the text? The only place where the translators used “fellow believers” to translate adelphoi mou refers to potential teachers. Elsewhere they used somewhat ‘gendered’ language. Were they avoiding explicit reference to brothers and sisters in a place where James may be addressing both brothers and sisters who could potentially be teachers? Was this an attempt to avoid the TNIV feather-ruffle?

My inclination is to believe that this would not be the case. I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt, or at least to believe that there was some other relevant stylistic reason to do this. Still, this made me wince just a little. If anything it provides one of those brave souls who would become a teacher a ‘teachable moment’ in translation theory.

So. That’s my first post in almost a year. I await the darts. 😉

help with an article?

William R. Baker (of Cincinnati Christian University) recently published an article in the Tyndale Bulletin titled “Searching for the Holy Spirit in the Epistle of James: Is ‘Wisdom’ Equivalent?” (TynBul 59.2 [November 2008]). I believe that this is a revision of a paper that Dr. Baker presented at ETS (available at Reclaiming the Mind).

Baker’s article addresses a fascinating take on the the function of “wisdom” in the Epistle of James proposed by J. A. Kirk (“The Meaning of Wisdom in James: Examination of a Hypothesis,” NTS 16 [1969]: 24-38). Kirk proposes that James uses “wisdom” in a way that is “more or less interchangeable with that in which other writers of the New Testament use the concept of the Holy Spirit” (Kirk, 24). Baker takes issue with Kirk’s hypothesis in his ETS paper.

I’d love to get a hold of this article, but this particular issue is missing from the library’s shelf at GCTS! Drat! So, if anyone out there has a copy and can send me a scan, I’ll be your best friend! 🙂

Incidently, Mariam Kamell of The Greek Geek’s Bletherings (and coauthor with C. Blomberg of the “James” volume of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) did her master’s thesis on the topic: “Wisdom in James: An Examination of the Roles of Wisdom and the Holy Spirit” (TREN).

Job in James 5

Patrick Woods of “So Much For Straw” has been blogging on James’ use of Old Testament figures as “verbal icons” [here]. His most recent post focuses upon James’ reference to Job’s patience/endurance (Jas 5:11) [here]. His posts reminded me of some of my own thoughts on this passage, so I figured I’d write a note for the blog… Please excuse the scattered thoughts:

I’ve wondered about the juxtoposition of “compassionate and merciful” with Job in James 5. I think that this is an allusion to the declaration of YHWH in Exodus 34:6 “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” The LXX’s οἰκτίρμων καὶ ἐλεήμων does not completely line up with James’ πολύσπλαγχνός … καὶ οἰκτίρμων, but the gist is there. The self-revelation of YHWH in Exodus 34 is referenced in several places throughout the OT (Neh 9:17, 31; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 110:4; 144:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). James’ use comes on the heals of his description of the eschatological judgment of the rich (5:1-6) and his admonition to the community to endure patiently through present-day trials in light of the imminent arrival of the Lord (5:7-9). The emphasis is upon the patience/endurance of the community in light of temporal and/or physical nearness of the Lord/Judge. In the canonical story of Job, “the end” of the story rests in God’s theophanic ‘nearness’ in the midst of “the whirlwind and clouds” (Job 38:1). The original declaration of God’s graciousness and compassion in Exodus also takes place in the midst of Gods’ theophanic nearness (see Exod 19 for the description of Sinai). I wonder if James is pulling these themes together. Job’s suffering was vindicated in God’s revelation/arrival. The suffering of James’ community will be vindicated in the arrival of the Lord/Judge. The flip side of God’s “mercy and compassion” in Exodus is his promise to “visit the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exod 34:7). For James, the future arrival of the Lord will be characterized by his graciousness and compassion upon those who endure, but his judgment upon those who oppress.

Another reference to God’s graciousness and compassion occurs in Sirach 2:11. The context of this allusion is particularly pertinent to themes found throughout James:

My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing. 2 Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of calamity. 3 Cling to him and do not depart, so that your last days may be prosperous. 4 Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient. 5 For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation. 6 Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him. 7 You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; do not stray, or else you may fall. 8 You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost. 9 You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. 10 Consider the generations of old and see: has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed? Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken? Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected? 11 For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of distress. 12 Woe to timid hearts and to slack hands, and to the sinner who walks a double path! 13 Woe to the fainthearted who have no trust! Therefore they will have no shelter. 14 Woe to you who have lost your nerve! What will you do when the Lord’s reckoning comes? 15 Those who fear the Lord do not disobey his words, and those who love him keep his ways. 16 Those who fear the Lord seek to please him, and those who love him are filled with his law. 17 Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts, and humble themselves before him. 18 Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, but not into the hands of mortals; for equal to his majesty is his mercy, and equal to his name are his works. (Sirach 2 NRSV)

Note the themes of testing and endurance/patience (vv. 1-2, 4-5; cf. Jas 1:2-8; Jas 5:7-11). Note also the admonition to “wait” for the Lord’s mercy and not to stray (v. 8; cf. Jas 5:7-11; Jas 5:19-20) and the warning against walking a “double path” (v. 12; cf Jas 1:8). Sirach asks “What will you do when the Lord’s reckoning comes?” (v. 14; cf. Jas 5:1-11). A detailed comparison of James and Sirach (looking for similarities, differences and possible allusions) would be fruitful. Several commentators (Hartin, Davids, Johnson, Frankemölle, Chaine, Cantitat, etc.) have done so in the introductions to their commentaries. Also see Antonius Boon’s 1860 dissertation (unfortunately only available in Latin) and the works by Núria Calduch-Benages.* There are other parts of Sirach that may have had an influence on James’ letter. See some of the discussion in my thesis on Elijah in Jas 5:17-18.

  • *Calduch-Benages, Núria. “Amid Trials: Ben Sira 2:1 and James 1:2.” In Intertextual Studies in Ben Sira and Tobit: Essays in Honor of Alexander A. Di Lella, ed. Jeremy Corley and Vincent Skemp, 255-263. Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 38. Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 2005.
  • ——-. “Ben Sira 2 y el Nuevo Testament.” Estudios bíblicos 53 (1995): 305-316.

Kamell & Blomberg on James

The Zondervan blog, Koinonia has just announced the release of Craig Blomberg & Mariam Kamell’s new commentary on James in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. The series looks like it will have some helpful features that emphasize the structure of the book and the setting of each passage within that structure. Kevin Stern at the DTS Book Blog gives a helpful description.

Over the next five weeks Blomberg & Kamell will be writing posts for Koinonia on the Epistle of James.

I’ve posted on a few of Mariam Kamell’s papers in the past. She blogs at The GreekGeek’s Bletherings.

My Thesis: Pray for Reign: The Eschatological Elijah in James 5:17-18

I just realized that I have not posted a link to my thesis on James 5:17-18.

Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (NIV) Ἠλίας ἄνθρωπος ἦν ὁμοιοπαθὴς ἡμῖν, καὶ προσευχῇ προσηύξατο τοῦ μὴ βρέξαι, καὶ οὐκ ἔβρεξεν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἐνιαυτοὺς τρεῖς καὶ μῆνας ἕξ· καὶ πάλιν προσηύξατο, καὶ ὁ οὐρανὸς ὑετὸν ἔδωκεν καὶ ἡ γῆ ἐβλάστησεν τὸν καρπὸν αὐτῆς.

The title is “Pray for Reign: The Eschatological Elijah in James 5:17-18.” It was finished in May, 2007, in partial fulfillment of my master of arts in New Testament degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.


James uses the prophet Elijah as an example of righteous prayer. This thesis explores the possibility that James may have intended his readers to recognize both historical and eschatological imagery associated with the biblical prophet. First, it shows that in early Jewish literature the eschatological and historical Elijah traditions were not held in isolation of each other. Imagery from descriptions of Elijah’s eschatological return is used to describe the pre-ascension ministry of the prophet, while the eschatological mission of the prophet is described using elements of the historical narrative. Second, the thesis demonstrates that James’ prescript “to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion,” sets a tone of inaugurated and yet-to-be-consumated eschatology, and that the mention of Elijah helps form an eschatological inclusio that frames the letter. Third, the New Testament use use of Elijah’s drought outside of James is explored showing again that elements from the Elijah’s drought in 1 Kings were used in eschatological contexts, and that Elijah’s three and a half year drought, as mentioned by James, is used to illustrate a period of judgment for the sake of effecting repentance in these contexts. Fourth and finally, the images of rain and drought are viewed through an eschatological lens, revealing their role as covenant blessing and curse, and eschatological judgment and restoration. It is concluded that James’ readers could have recognized the eschatological implications of using Elijah as an example of faithful, righteous prayer, and that James assigns his readers a role similar to that of the eschatological prophet. They are called to endure in the midst of eschatological trials and to effect repentance before the arrival of the soon-coming King.