ICC New Testament Commentary





Hollis Professor of Divinity in Harvard University



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A Commentary like the present draws frankly from its predecessors, just as these in their turn used materials quarried by earlier scholars, whom they do not name on each occasion. The right to do this is won by conscientious effort in sifting previous collections and reproducing only what is trustworthy, apt, and instructive for the understanding of the text. If new illustrations or evidence can be added, that is so much to the good.

So far as I am aware, the solution I have given of the textual problem of 1:17, the “shadow of turning,” is strictly new. It is a matter of no consequence in itself, but acquires interest because it bears directly on the relation of the Sinaitic and Vatican manuscripts, and because Dr. Hort candidly recognised this reading of א and B, as hitherto understood, to present a grave, although unique, obstacle to his and Dr. Westcott’s theory.

To some other discussions, of the nature of detached notes, in which material is freshly or fully collected, I have ventured to call the reader’s attention in the Table of Contents. It may also be not improper to remark that the account of extant ancient commentaries on James in Greek and Latin (pages 110-113) runs counter to some recent statements.

The explanation offered of “thou” and “I” in 2:18, which seems to me to solve the problem of that passage, is not strictly new, but has been overlooked in most current works on the epistle. In the light of modern geographical knowledge the reference in 5:7 to “the early and latter rain” gains a greater importance than has generally been observed.

The summary of the epistle (pages 4 f.) may make more clear and intelligible than I have been able to do elsewhere the measure of unity which the epistle shows, and the relation of its parts.

A marked defect of this commentary, although one not peculiar to it, is that its rabbinical illustrations ought to be fuller. The glaring technical inconsistencies in the mode of referring to such passages as are cited will betray at once that they are drawn from various secondary sources and not from original and systematic research. It would be a great service to New Testament scholars to provide them with a new and adequate set of Horae hebraicae, and nowhere is the need so great as in James and the Gospel of Matthew.

These two writings are sources from which a knowledge of primitive Palestinian Christianity can be drawn, and they represent a different line of development from that of the Hellenistic Christianity which finds expression in Luke, Paul, and John. The grounds of the distinction are other than those which the Tübingen School believed to have controlled early Christian history, but they are no less clear or far-reaching. A just understanding of these tendencies requires a sound view not only of the origin and meaning of the Epistle of James, but of its history in the church. And here the critical question is that of the Shepherd of Hermas. The view stated below that Hermas betrays no knowledge of James and is not dependent on him was forced on me, I am glad to say, by the study of the facts, against a previous prejudice and without at first recognising where it led; but it is in truth the key to the history. If Hermas really read the Epistle of James so often that he knew by heart its most incidental phrases, now working them into his own writing and again making them the text for long expansions, the place of the epistle in early Christianity becomes an insoluble riddle.

The notes on textual criticism in the commentary are intended to treat chiefly those selected variants which make a difference in the sense; the materials employed do not ordinarily go beyond the apparatus of Tischendorf. I hope later to treat the criticism and history of the text of James in the light of all the evidence, including as nearly as may be the whole body of extant minuscule Greek manuscripts.

To many friends who have helped me in countless ways and from great stores of thought and knowledge I would gratefully express the obligation that I owe them.

James Hardy Ropes.

Harvard University.



Blass = F. Blass, Grammatik des Neutestamentlichen Griechisch, 21902.

Blass-Debrunner = A. Debrunner, Friedrich Blass’ Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Griechisch, vierte vöilig neugearbeitete Auflage, 1913.

Bultmann = R. Bultmann, Der Stil der Paulinischen Predigt und die kynisch-stoische Diatribe (Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments, 13), 1910.

Burton Moods and Tenses = E. D. Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek, 41900.

Buttmann = A. Buttmann, A Grammar of the New Testament Greek, Thayer’s translation, 1876.

DB = Dictionary of the Bible.

DCA = W. Smith and S. Cheetham, A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, 1893.

EB = Encyclopœdia Biblica, 1899-1903.

Gebser = A. R. Gebser, Der Brief des Jakobus, Berlin, 1828.

GgA = Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen.

Goodspeed, Index = E. J. Goodspeed, Index patristicus, 1907.

Hadley-Allen = J. Hadley, A Greek Grammar for Schools and Colleges, revised by F. D. Allen, 1884.

Harnack, CaL = A. von Harnack, Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius (Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius, Zweiter Theil), 1897, 1904.

Hatch, Essays = Edwin Hatch, Essays in Biblical Greek, 1889.

HDB = J. Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible, 1898-1902.

Heisen = H. Heisen, Novae hypotheses interpretandae epistolae Jacobi, Bremen, 1739.

Herzog-Hauck, PRE = A. Hauck, Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche, begründet von J. J. Herzog, 1896-1913.

Hort, “Introduction,” “Appendix” = B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek: Introduction, Appendix, 1881, 21896.

JE = The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901-6.

JTS = The Journal of Theological Studies.

Krüger = K. W. Krüger, Griechische Sprachlehre für Schulen, 41861-2.

Leipoldt, GnK = J. Leipoldt, Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons, 1907-8.

Lex. = J. H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1886.

L. and S. = H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 71883.

Mayor = J. B. Mayor, The Epistle of St. James, 1892, 21897, 31910.

Meyer = Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar über das Neue Testament begründet von Heinr. Aug. Wilh. Meyer.

J. H. Moulton, Prolegomena = A Grammar of New Testament Greek. Vol I. Prolegomena, 1906, 31908.

NkZ = Neue kirchliche Zeitschrift.

NTAF = The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers by a Committee of the Oxford Society of Historical Theology, 1905.

ol. = olim (used to indicate Gregory’s former numeration of Greek Mss., in Prolegomena, 1894).

OLBT = Old-Latin Biblical Texts, 1883—.

Pauly-Wissowa, RE = G. Wissowa, Paulus Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft; neue Bearbeitung, 1894—.

Pott = D. J. Pott., in Novum Testamentum Grœce, editio Koppiana, Göttingen, 31816.

SB = Studia biblica et ecclesiastica; Essays chiefly in Biblical and Patristic Criticism, 1890—.

Schmidt, Synonymik = J. H. H. Schmidt, Synonymik der griechischen Sprache, 1876-86.

Schurer, GJV = E. Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi, 41901-9.

Taylor, SJF = C. Taylor, Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, 21897.

Trench, Synonyms = R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, 121894.

TS = Texts and Studies, Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literature, 1891—.

TU = Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 1882—.

Vg = Vulgate.

Westcott, CNT = B. F. Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, 71896.

Winer = G. B. Winer, A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament, Thayer’s translation, 21873.

Zahn, Einleitung = Theodor Zahn, Einleitung in das Neue Testament, 31906-7.

GnK = Geschichte des Neutestamentlichen Kanons, 1888-92.

Grundriss = Grundriss der Geschichte des Neutestamentlichen Kanons, 1901, 21904.

The commentaries named on pp. 113-115 are frequently referred to by the author’s name.

The page numbers sometimes given with citations from Philo are those of Mangey’s edition.

The Psalms are regularly cited by the Hebrew numbers, both for Psalms and verses.




The Epistle of James is a religious and moral tract having the form, but only the form, of a letter. It contains counsels and reflections on a variety of topics relating to personal character and right conduct, but attains a certain unity from the writer’s own traits of sincerity, good sense, and piety, which are manifest in every paragraph. The epistle has been assigned to many dates and several places of origin, and is held by many to be a genuine writing of James the Lord’s brother; but it is probably the pseudonymous production of a Christian of Jewish origin, living in Palestine in the last quarter of the first century or the first quarter of the second. The precise limits of the period within which it was written cannot be determined.

The epistle reflects the conditions of Jewish life in Palestine, and almost all the ideas have their roots in Jewish thought, but in much of the language, style, and mode of expression generally, and in some of the ideas, Hellenistic influences are unmistakable and strong. The interweaving of the two strains contributes much to the freshness and effectiveness of the epistle as a hortatory essay.

Our first certain knowledge of the book is from two sources of about the same date; namely, Origen (c. 185-c. 254) and the pseudo-clementine Epistles to Virgins, written in Palestine in Greek in the early decades of the third century. After Origen the Epistle of James seems soon to have become widely accepted in the Greek church as a part of the N. T. In the West the translation into Latin, made before 350, gives the earliest evidence of acquaintance with the epistle by Latin-speaking Christians. In Syria the Greek original was known as early as the latter half of the fourth century, and it was first translated into Syriac (as a part of the Peshitto) in the early part of the fifth.

§ 1. The Purpose and Contents of the Epistle

(a) Purpose

The writer of the Epistle of James has in mind in his counsels the general needs of such Christians as he is acquainted with or of whose existence he is aware. The epistle does not treat of the special concerns of any particular church nor owe its origin to any specific occasion. The author addresses any Christians into whose hands his work may fall and touches upon subjects of wide and general interest. It cannot be said that the epistle has any more specific “purpose” than the general aim of edification. In the selection of topics the writer was governed partly by his own special interests at the moment, partly by what he drew from his own experience of the life about him as to the needs of human nature in general. Doubtless here, as always, the impulse to expression arose from the consciousness of having something to say which by its freshness either of form or substance would interest readers and strike home. There is no attempt in the epistle to give a full or systematic account of the author’s ideas on any subject.

(b) Contents

Like the ancient Wisdom-literature of the Hebrews, with which (in spite of entire difference of style) the writer probably shows some familiarity, much of the epistle is in aphoristic form. Such sentences, having their meaning complete in themselves, gain comparatively little illumination from the context; they are the well-rounded and compact results of whole trains of previous thought, and are successful in suggesting these to the reader’s mind. In trying to interpret by a paraphrase, or to show the connection of ideas, it is difficult to avoid ascribing to the writer what he has not said, and elaborating thoughts hinted at, rather than fairly implied, by the text (cf. the full and instructive Paraphrases of Erasmus, and the attempts to summarise the epistle found in the commentaries and the books on Introduction).

The aphorisms are not generally isolated, but are gathered in paragraphs; and these often have unity and show connection and progress of thought. The paragraphs are grouped loosely under more or less definite points of view, and in chs. 2 and 4:1-5:6 we find an approach to the fuller discussion of a topic from various sides. In some instances the connection between smaller divisions is made by the skilful use of the same or a similar word at the close of one sentence and the opening of the next (thus, 1:1 f. χαίρειν, χαράν; 1:4 f. λειπόμενοι, λείπεται; 1:12 f. πειρασμόν, πειραζόμενος; 1:21 f. λόγον, λόγου; 5:16 f. προσεύχεσθε, δέησις; cf. the connection made by 3:14-18 between the divergent subjects of chs. 3 and 4). It is noteworthy that in the later chapters, where there is more continuity in the flow of thought, this method of “capping” sentences rarely occurs.

Beneath the whole epistle plainly lie two pervading and strongly felt principles: (1) the hatred of sham of every kind; (2) the conviction that God and the world are incompatible as objects of men’s allegiance. Neither of these principles could serve as a title to the tract, but they bind its somewhat miscellaneous contents together in a sort of unity.

These general characteristics recall the spirit of the Hellenistic diatribes, among which the Epistle of James seems to find its fittest literary classification. There, as here, the aim to pierce through appearance and pretense to reality is a leading motive, and in the first two chapters of James we read what Christian earnestness thought it worth while to say on this favourite theme of the sometimes superficial or possibly flippant, but commonly serious even if unconventional, Greek popular street preacher;* while James’s discussion, in his last two chapters, of the two incompatible aims of human striving also treats a familiar topic of these moralists.†

These contacts make more intelligible the structure of the epistle. Familiarity with these great discussions, which had been given in public for centuries, would cause contemporary readers to see fitness in a series of topics which to us seem incongruous, to recognise the naturalness of transitions which strike us as awkward and abrupt, and to detect a latent unity which for us is obscured by the writer’s habit of making no introductory announcement of his successive themes. It must, however, be emphasised that the writer’s method is hortatory, not expository (about 60 imperatives occur in the 108 verses); his goal is nowhere so definitely formulated in his mind as to forbid a swift and unexpected leap to inculcate some important object of Christian endeavour (so in ch. 5). In such cases we cannot assume completely to trace the real sequence of his thought.

The following summary of the epistle is an attempt to indicate for the several larger divisions the point of view which may have led to the grouping of the paragraphs.

1:1. Epistolary Salutation.

I. 1:2-2:26. on certain religious realities.

(1) 1:2-18. In the formation of character.

(a) 2-4. The real nature of trouble is as an aid to a well-rounded character.

(b) 1:5-8. Real prayer requires unwavering faith.

(c) 1:9-11. Poverty is real wealth.

(d) 1:12. The endurance of trouble brings the crown of life.

(e) 1:13-18. The real cause of sin is not temptation sent by God, but lies within yourself.

(2) 1:19-2:26. In religious instruction and public worship.

(f) 1:19-25. Hearing is indeed better than talking, but the real response to the word of God is not to listen only but to obey.

(g) 1:26-27. Real worship is inconsistent with reckless speech; the best worship is kindly service and inner purity.

(h) 2:1-7. To court the rich and neglect the poor in the house of worship reverses real values.

(i) 2:8-13. For such conduct it is a futile excuse to urge that the law of love requires it.

(j) 2:14-26. Equally futile is it to pretend in excuse that the possession of faith dispenses from works.

II. 3:1-18. on the teacher’s calling.

(a) 3:1-12. Against ambition to be teachers. The teacher is under heavier responsibility than others; yet the tongue (the teacher’s organ) is as powerful as the little rudder in a great ship, as dangerous as a little fire in a great forest, and is untamable.

(b) 3:13-18. The true wise man’s wisdom must be meek and peaceable; such wisdom alone comes from above, and only peaceable righteousness receives the divine reward.

III. 4:1-5:20. worldliness and the ceristian conduct of life contrasted.

(1) 4:1-5:6. Worldliness in rivalry with God as the aim of life.

(a) 4:1-12. The cause of the crying evils of life is the pursuit of pleasure, an aim which is in direct rivalry with God and abhorrent to him.

(b) 4:13-17. The practical neglect of God seen in the trader’s presumptuous confidence in himself; and the futility of it.

(c) 5:1-6. The practical neglect of God seen in the cruelty and luxury of the rich; and the appalling issue which awaits it.

(2) 5:7-20. Counsels for the Christian conduct of life.

(d) 5:7-11. Constancy and forbearance; and their reward.

(e) 5:12-18. The religious expression of strong emotion; and the efficacy of prayer.

(f) 5:19, 20. The privilege of service to the erring.

§ 2. The Literary Type of the Epistle of James*

The character of James as an epistle is given it solely by 1:1 which (see note ad loc.) has the conventional form usual in the opening sentence of a Greek letter. But the address (however interpreted) “to the people of God, in their dispersion” (ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ) implies that what follows is a literary tract intended for any Christian into whose hands it may fall, not a proper letter sent to a definite individual or even to a definite group of persons.

With this corresponds the epistle itself. The author’s treatment of his themes is plainly governed by the conditions of life with which he is familiar, but nothing implies any definite or restricted circle within the Christian church as the persons to whom the letter is sent. The terms used are in part drawn from local conditions, but the exhortations themselves could apply anywhere where there were Christians. As a letter proper would be a substitute for a conversation, so such an epistle as this corresponds to a public address prepared for delivery to an indefinite number of audiences and equally suitable for all of them. A letter proper is written to be sent to the person or persons addressed. A tract is, in more or less formal fashion, published. The same piece of writing might, indeed, be in itself fit for either use; in that case the author’s purpose could be learned only from the form of the epistolary address. But in the present instance neither contents nor address indicates that the letter was ever intended to be sent to any specific church or churches.

On the history of the epistolary form in classical and Christian literature, see R. Hirzel, Der Dialog, 1895, esp. i, pp. 300-308, 352-358, ii, p. 8; H. Peter, Der Brief in der römischen Litteratur (Abhandlungen der phil.-hist. Classe der Kgl. Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, xx), 1901; K. Dziatzko, art. “Brief,” in Pauly-Wissowa, RE, 1899; A. Deissmann, Bibelstudien, 1895 (Eng. transl. 1901), art. “Epistolary Literature,” in EB; H. Jordan, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 1911.

The Epistle as a form of literature, in distinction from its use as the convenient instrument of personal intercourse, seems to have its roots in the Greek literary history of the fourth and third centuries before Christ. Eminent men of a still earlier period had written letters, often long and weighty, and these had sometimes been collected. Such were those of Isocrates, of which some genuine representatives may perhaps be included in the extant collection bearing his name. Especially Aristotle, † 322 b.c., wrote letters, and his tracts of counsel to Alexander and to Themison, King of Cyprus, gained by virtue of their personal dedication something of the character of letters. Epicurus, † 270 b.c., sought to strengthen the fellowship of his disciples by writing letters, of some of which the addresses at least are known to us (πρὸς τοὺς ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ φίλους, πρὸς τοὺς ἐν Ἀσίᾳ φίλους, πρὸς τοὺς ἐν Λαμψάκῳ φίλους, πρὸς τοὺς ἐν Μυτιλήνῃ φιλοσόφους),* and the disciples followed the master’s example. Many letters of this type were by their nature of interest to others than the persons addressed, and when collected and more widely circulated became works of literature.

In the same direction led the custom of dedicating books to individuals and so giving the whole book in some sense the character of an epistle.†

The result of all this was that the epistle became a usual form for a treatise, taking a place like that held by the dialogue. The transition corresponded to the changed times and the expansion of Hellenism. Once all higher culture had been concentrated at Athens, and a group there gathered for grave conversation presented the normal relation of author and audience which the book affected to record and perpetuate. Now educated men were diffused in countless centres throughout a widely extended world of Greek civilisation, and the direct method of address was, naturally, by a letter.‡ In the Hellenistic period all the world wrote letters, and many of them were intended for publication. Philosophers (especially the Epicureans and Peripatetics), moralists, rhetoricians, men of science, used this form for their essays, and we hear of epistles on topics medical, mathematical, grammatical, antiquarian, and even, perhaps, amusing. Literary letters of consolation and exhortation “gradually gained the position held by printed sermons and books of practical edification among modern Christians.”*

The rhetorical writers found it necessary to occupy themselves with the principles and rules of this epistolography, and discussed the nature of an epistle and the style proper to it. From this period proceed various treatises on the art of letter-writing,† with their classification of types of epistles (twenty-two kinds are given, later increased to forty-one), on which later works were based.

The Romans, who constituted a part of this Hellenistic world, excelled in the epistolary form of composition, and became “the classic nation for the letter as the Greeks are for the dialogue.”‡ Varro, Cicero, Horace, Seneca are the great names of a vast epistolary literature to which moralists, philologists, jurists, physicians made their contributions, and in which it is often hard to know whether a given letter carefully written on a serious subject was originally intended for publication or only for the person addressed.

From an early time pseudonymous letters were written, with the name not of the real author but of another—usually some famous leader of thought. When Menippus wrote letters of the gods addressed to the Epicureans,§ no one was deceived; in other instances the question of whether or not the author desired to deceive the public is less easy to answer. But in the dialogues of Plato the name of Socrates is used with entire freedom for the exposition of Plato’s own ideas, and a similar use of a great name in “the half of a dialogue” (to quote an ancient writer’s description of a letter"") was natural and equally innocent. Probably, too, the habit of free composition of letters, as well as speeches, incidentally to historical narratives tended to promote the pseudonymous composition of independent examples of both forms. Teachers of rhetoric composed model letters, appropriate to historical characters in assumed situations, and gave out such problems for their pupils’ exercise in the epistolary art. A large proportion of the many hundred letters assembled in the great collection of R. Hercher, Epistolographi grœci, Paris, 1873, are deemed to be such rhetorical models or pupils’ exercises. But, whatever the causes, pseudonymous epistles became common.

Among the Jews of the Hellenistic age, as would be expected, literary epistles were written. Such were the Letter of Aristeas, the Epistle of Jeremy which forms ch. 6 of the Book of Baruch in the Apocrypha, and the Epistle of Baruch to the Nine and a Half Tribes appended to the Apocalypse of Baruch.* All these are serious, but pseudonymous, writings. It is possible that certain of the letters bearing the name of Heraclitus and of Diogenes were of Jewish origin.†

In the Christian church letters as literary works, not merely as private communications, were produced almost from the start. To name no other examples, the epistles of Paul to the Romans and the Ephesians were surely not intended to be read but once, or by one small group of Christians only; the Pastoral Epistles owe their origin to the epistolary tradition; and such a work as the (First) Epistle of Clement of Rome can hardly have been without a larger purpose than to edify the Corinthians to whom it is addressed. The custom of the time is illustrated in the name “Second Epistle of Clement of Rome,” early assigned to an anonymous homily, as well as in the pseudonymous Epistle of Barnabas and Second Epistle of Peter, and in the anonymous Epistle to Diognetus. With the further development of the church, Christian epistolary writings—both personal letters and literary works, both genuine and pseudonymous—multiplied rapidly, and many have been preserved.‡

The epistolary form which James has was thus altogether natural and appropriate for a tract, and is fully accounted for by the literary custom of the time without the necessity of supposing either a real epistolary aim on the part of the author or the addition by a later and inept hand of an alien epistolary preface.* But it throws no light on the actual literary relationships of the document itself, which shows in its contents nothing whatever of the specific character of a letter.

All the more striking is the abundant illustration which the Epistle of James receives from both the manner and the substance of Hellenistic popular moral addresses, or Diatribes. At least since the time of Socrates, who was at once the revered head of a circle of disciples and a public disputant ready to debate with, confute, and instruct every chance comer, Greek and Hellenistic cities everywhere must have known the public preacher of philosophy and morals as a familiar figure of the street and market-place. In the early fourth century b.c., Diogenes lived at Athens; and his followers (called Cynics from their master’s well-earned nickname of “The Dog”) developed their ethical and social protest against the fetters of convention into a well-marked type of popular doctrine. This original Cynicism, united, as the predominant factor, with other more cultivated and rhetorical influences to produce Bion of Borysthenes (c. 280 b.c.), a pungent sermoniser of whose utterances a fortunate chance has preserved written record, quoted in the fragments of his otherwise unimportant follower Teles (c. 230 b.c.). Later generations (cf. Horace, Epist. ii, 2, l. 60) looked back to Bion as the chief representative, if not the founder, of the style, and the fragments make it evident that an apt form for this preaching had already been created. In the following centuries it is certain that others besides Cynics adopted the same methods, and that the style of the early preachers was perpetuated by a long series of inconspicuous workers; but whatever literary precipitate in written form their discourses may once have had perished in ancient times. In those days, as now, popular moral tracts, although undoubtedly abundant, were generally commonplace and ephemeral. Our knowledge has to be drawn chiefly from later representatives of the type.*

Paul Wendland, Die hellenistisch-römische Kultur in ihren Beziehungen zu Judentum und Christentum2, 1912, pp. 75-96, “Die philosophische Propaganda und die Diatribe”; P. Wendland, “Philo und die kynisch-stoische Diatribe,” in Wendland and Kern, Beiträge zur Geschichte der griech. Philosophie und Religion, 1895; J. Bernays, Lucian und die Kyniker, 1879; R. Bultmann, Der Stil der Paulinischen Predigt und die kynisch-stoische Diatribe (Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments, xiii), 1910; Teletis reliquiae, ed. Hense2, 1909; C. F. G. Heinrici, Der litterarische Character der n. t. Schriften, 1908, pp. 9-12; S. Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, 1904, pp. 334-383; T. C. Burgess, Epideictic Literature (Studies in Classical Philology, vol. iii), Chicago, 1902, pp. 234-241; E. Norden, Die antike Kunstprosa2, 1909, i, pp. 129-131; ii, pp. 556-558.

In Rome under the empire this popular preaching associated itself closely with literary training, and produced, or deeply influenced, works which have survived. From the common characteristics of these later writers and their close resemblance to the meagre remains of earlier times, it is evident that the type early matured its noteworthy traits of popular effectiveness and retained them for centuries without substantial alteration. Stoic philosophy and morals had come to the front as the chief higher influence on the masses, and abundantly used this apt instrument. In Seneca and Epictetus the influence of the popular diatribe is at its height. “The key-note, the most striking colour, of the whole body of writing of the philosopher Seneca is the diatribe-style”;† and the discourses of Epictetus, though spoken to a select circle of personal pupils, are cast in the style of the diatribe. How widely this preaching had pervaded ancient life may be observed from the traces of its large influence in the satires of Horace, Persius, Juvenal, in the orations of Dio of Prusa, the essays of Plutarch, and the treatises of the Jew Philo, as well as in the reports of the utterances of Musonius and other less well-known personages of the same period. Paul at Athens (although not in the synagogues of the Hellenistic cities) must have presented himself to his hearers as just such a preacher as those to whose diatribes they were accustomed to listen: and such must have been very generally the case with the early Christian missionaries. It is not strange that the diatribe had a profound and far-reaching effect on the forms of Christian literature for centuries,* that its influence is clearly traceable in the epistles of Paul, and that it serves to explain much, both of the form and the content, of the Epistle of James.

To the most characteristic traits of the style of the diatribe belong the truncated dialogue with an imaginary interlocutor (often introduced by ἀλλʼ ἐρεῖ τις, ἀλλʼ ἐροῦνται, ἔροιντʼ ἂν ἡμᾶς, or the simple φησί) and the brief question and answer (e. g. Teles, p. 10, lines 6 ff.: γέρων γέγονασ; μὴ ζήτει τὰ τοῦ νεοῦ. ἀσθενὴς πάλιν; μὴ ζήτει τὰ τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ … ἄπορος πάλιν γεγονασ; μὴ ζήτει τὴν τοῦ εὐπόρου δίαιταν). Good instances of both are found in Jam 2:18 f. and Jam 5:13 f. These traits serve well to illustrate the aim of immediate impression, appropriate to popular hortatory address, which has largely controlled the formation of this literary type.

On the style of the diatribe, see R. Bultmann, Der Stil der paulinischen Predigt und die kynisch-stoische Diatribe, 1910, where will be found a very full collection of detailed illustrations of the characteristics of these writings drawn from Teles, Musonius, Dio of Prusa, Epictetus, Seneca, and other writers, together with references to the literature on the subject. A brief but good statement is that of Heinrici, Der litterarische Charakter der neutestamentlichen Schriften, 1908, pp. 74 f.

Origen, Contra Celsum, 6, 2, points out the effectiveness of this popular and hortatory quality in Epictetus’s style as compared with Plato: καὶ εἰ χρή γε τολμήσαντα εἰπεῖν, ὀλίγους μὲν ὤνησεν, εἴ γε ὤνησεν, ἡ περικαλλὴς καὶ ἐπιτετηδευμένη Πλάτωνος καὶ τῶν παραπλησίως φρασάντων λέξις· πλείονας δὲ ἡ τῶν εὐτελέστερον ἅμα καὶ πραγματικῶς καὶ ἐστοχασμένως τῶν πολλῶν [i. e. in a plain, practical, and popular style] διδαξάντων καὶ γραψάντων. ἔστι γοῦν ἰδεῖν τὸν μὲν Πλάτωνα ἐν χερσὶ τῶν δοκούντων εἶναι φιλολόγων μόνον, τὸν δὲ Ἐπίκτητον καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν τυχόντων καὶ ῥοπὴν πρὸς τὸ ὠφελεῖσθαι ἐχόντων θαυμαζόμενον, αἰσθομένων τῆς ἀπὸ τῶν λόγων αὐτοῦ βελτιώσεως.

Of the other habitual phrases and modes of expression which give a well-marked and easily recognisable form to the diatribe, very many are observable in James. Thus, such formulas as μὴ πλανᾶσθε (1:16), θέλεις δὲ γνῶναι (2:20), βλέπεις (2:22), ὁρᾶτε (2:24), ἴστε (1:19), τί ὄφελος (2:14, 16), οὐ χρή to introduce a conclusion (3:10), διὸ λέγει with a quotation (4:6), ἰδού (3:4, 5, 5:4, 7, 9, 11), all have either exact or substantial parallels in the recurrent phrases of this literature. The transitions are often made in the same way as with the Greek sermonisers—by raising an objection (2:8), by a question (2:14, 4:1, 5:13), by ἄγε (4:13, 5:1). The imperatives are not only numerous (nearly sixty times in the 108 verses), but, as in the diatribes, are sometimes ironical (5:1, perhaps 4:9). Rhetorical questions (e. g. 2:4, 5, 14-16, 3:11 f. 4:4 f.) are numerous, and 4:1 f. shows the characteristic form of statement by “catechism-like” question and answer. The apostrophe to the traders and the rich (4:13-5:6) is quite in the style of the diatribe, and does not in the least imply that the persons addressed were expected to be among the readers of the tract. Even personifications are not lacking (1:15, 2:13, 4:1, 5:3 f.), although they are less elaborate than in the Greek sermons, where they constitute a favourite ornament. Figures are abundant in all kinds of popular address, but in those of James there is direct resemblance to the diatribes. Some comparisons are conventional, traceable for centuries previous in Greek writers (especially, with others, the rudder, the bridle, the forest fire, in 3:3-6); as in the diatribes, many are drawn from the works of nature, others from the common life of man (1:25, 2:15, 5:7), and they are sometimes double or with repetition (3:3-6, 10-12). Examples from famous individuals are found here, too (Abraham, Rahab, Job, Elijah), and they are, as with the Greek preachers,* stock instances, well-known representatives of the qualities mentioned.

In general the Greek preachers were well aware that in their diatribes they were awakening sinners and inculcating familiar but neglected principles, not engaged in investigating truth or in carrying thought further to the conquest of the unknown.

Not originality but impressiveness was what they aimed at. The argument is from what the readers already know and ought to feel. They appeal to analogy (cf. Jam 2:14-17), to experience (cf. 3:5, 4:1-3), and to common sense (cf. Jas. passim). Harsh address to the reader is not absent in James, and ὦ ἄνθρωπε κενέ (2:20), μοιχαλίδες (4:4) are not unlike the ὦ ταλαίπωρε, μωρέ, stulte, of the diatribe. The writers of diatribes were fond of quotations from poets and sages, but these were used not for proof of the doctrine but incidentally, and often for ornament of the discourse. So is it usually with James (1:11, 17, 4:6, 5:11, 20 for ornament; 2:8 to state an inadequate excuse, which is overruled), in contrast to the frequent use in Paul and Matthew of the O. T. for proof.

Other traits of style show resemblance. As in the diatribes, there is a general controlling motive in the discussion, but no firm and logically disposed structure giving a strict unity to the whole, and no trace of the conventional arrangement recommended by the elegant rhetoricians. The method of framing the sections in by a general statement at opening and close is to be seen in James at 1:2-12, 19-26, 2:17-26, 3:11-12, 13-18. The characteristic methods of concluding a section are found: by a sharp antithesis, 1:26, 2:13, 26, 3:15-18, 4:12; by a question, 4:12, 5:6; by a quotation, 5:20; by οὐ χρή, 3:10. A key-word often runs through a passage, or is repeated so as to give a sense of reference back; so πειρασμός 1:2-14, σοφία 3:13-18, ζῆλος 3:13-4:2, χαλιναγωγεῖν γλῶσσαν 1:26, 3:2, λόγος 1:18-23, νόμος ἐλευθερίας 1:25, 2:12, κρίνειν 4:11, 12.

Like a diatribe, the epistle begins with a paradox (1:2) and contains others (1:10, 2:5). The general principle that popular estimates of values are false and must be reversed underlies James as it does the Greek sermons. Wherein true wealth consists was a favourite subject of their exposition and prompted many paradoxical turns; in James it has given rise to a passage not without its difficulties (1:10-12). Irony is not lacking (2:14-19, 5:1-6), though it is of the serious, never of the flippant, order.

Of course, any one of these traits of language, style, and mode of thought could be paralleled from other types of literature. What is significant and conclusive is the combination in these few pages of James of so many of the most striking features of a specific literary type familiar in the contemporary Hellenistic world. The inference from details is confirmed by the general tone and character of the whole epistle—direct, plain, earnest, sensible—lively, even on occasion descriptive and dramatic (cf. 2:1ff.), full of illustration and concrete application—not aiming at profundity of speculation, popular and hortatory throughout.

The traits referred to in the above paragraphs are many of them observable in the epistles of Paul, who betrays large influence from the style of the diatribe. No writing of Paul’s, however, comes so close to the true type of this form of literature as does the Epistle of James. Paul, a many-sided thinker, also follows other, very different and not always readily identifiable, models, and in his general tone displays far more passion and far more boldness of thought than the admirable, but quiet, simple, and somewhat limited, writer of our epistle. For the resemblances and differences between Paul and the diatribe, see Bultmann, op. cit. pp. 64-107.

It is, to be sure, true that some differences from the diatribes preserved and known to us can be observed in James, and in view of the strong and pervading resemblance these are of significance. They show how the specific character of this Christian Jew led him to develop the type of these tracts. The most striking difference is the greater seriousness and restraint of tone. Nothing in James could entitle it to be described as σπουδαιογέλοιον. The characteristic diatribe had more of the laugh, and it was usually a bitterer laugh than would have been possible to the high-minded but friendly preacher who here speaks to us. The diatribes were abundantly humorous, often trivial, and sometimes verged on the coarse. Again, James, as a Christian preacher, addresses his readers as “brethren,” “beloved brethren,” whereas the Greek preacher thought of individuals, addressed them in the singular, and was not bound to them either by love or by the bond of a common brotherhood. The habit of scolding the audience and the world at large and of ridicule and abuse in general was a peculiarly vivid and permanent trait of the Cynic diatribe.* James shows a certain contact with it in his serious warning (4:1-12) and in his apostrophes (4:13-5:6), but his usual tone is mild, and one might almost suspect that the injunctions to emphasise the gentle nature of true wisdom (3:13 ff.) were aimed in direct condemnation of the Cynic’s rough and censorious habit. In view of Jam 5:12, it is worth notice that for the frequent oaths, which give a picturesque, if slightly vulgar, force to the language of the diatribes, we have here no substitute.

Again, the comparisons used by James are more limited in range than those with which the diatribes are crowded. His seem conventional and, with few exceptions, slight, in comparison with the fulness with which every side of human life—clean and dirty—is mirrored in the comparisons of the Greeks. In particular, the figures from ways and customs of organised society—the arena, the theatre, the market-place, war, handicrafts—and from the practises of Greek religion are lacking. He seems to belong to a simpler world—although he is not ignorant of a wider reach beyond his own daily round. In ideas James, of course, breathed a different atmosphere. Of the familiar Cynic and Stoic commonplaces the chief one that appears is the representation of poverty as exaltation and wealth as debasement, while the opening exposition of the moral uses of trouble has a certain similarity to Greek popular philosophy. But the true nature of freedom, the paradox that death is life, the doctrine that sin is ignorance, the right apprehension of exile, of the feelings, the general principle that evils are good— these are not James’s topics.

The resemblance of James to the diatribes is made even more convincing by noting the contrast which the epistle shows in style and method to the Jewish Wisdom-literature, with which it is often classed, and with which, in the deeper roots of our writer’s thought, he has much closer kinship than with the Hellenistic diatribe. In the Book of Proverbs endless contrasted sentences (in themselves clever and interesting, if only they were not so many) may well be found less tedious in the original poetry, whose rhythm finds its proper effect in this trick of parallelism; but how unlike to the simple but varied prose of James! And the literary type assumed by Proverbs, with its constant address to “my son” and its imagined sage handing down ancient wisdom, is utterly different from that of James’s exhortation to his audience of “beloved brethren.” Jam 1:10 might possibly seem of the type of Proverbs 4:7; Pro 4:10 barely suggest it, but hardly another sentence will recall the haunting distich of the Hebrew book. Equally distant from James are the shrewd practical maxims and occasional real poetry of Ecclesiasticus. That book is too much written in parallels to suggest James, and its thinking is of a wholly different nature,* as may be seen by comparing either its prudential wisdom or its poetical feeling for Wisdom with what James has to say, for instance, in 3:13-18. The maxims in Tobit, ch. 4, plainly translated from a Semitic poetical original, call to mind neither the diatribe nor James. And the Book of Wisdom, with its higher flights of poetry and more Hellenistic and modern character, does not often much remind us of James, although he may have read it and 5:6-15 can in some respects be compared with Jam_3, while Wisd. 7:22 f. (an especially unsemitic passage) recalls Jam 3:15-17. In the Wisdom-literature, as a literary type, it is impossible to place James. The epistle is, rather, a diatribe, showing how that highly serviceable type, now well known to us, could be handled by a Jewish Christian, who used what he knew of the Greek preacher’s sermons not to gain his ideas from them but for suggestions of effective ways of putting his own Christian and Jewish teaching.

The diatribe was highly significant for Christian preaching, e. g. Chrysostom, Hom. in Joh. ii. 3, but it must not be forgotten that in fundamental ideas the Christians’ connection with Jewish thinking was far closer than with the Hellenistic moralism. Wilamowitz-Moellendorf tends to overlook this in his striking discussion of Teles in Antigonos von Karystos (Philologische Untersuchungen, iv), 1881, pp. 313 ff., in which he opposes the notion of J. Freudenthal that the “sacred eloquence of the Jews” was the immediate parent of Christian homiletics. See the important discussion by J. Freudenthal, Die Flavius Josephus beigelegte Schrift Ueber die Herrschaft der Vernunft (IV Makkabäerbuch), Breslau, 1869.

A third type of Hellenistic literature, besides the epistle and the diatribe, might suggest itself as a possible source for the literary character of James. The Protrepticus, or parenetic tract, was a form of hortatory writing of which the earliest examples are the two exhortations of Isocrates, Ad Nicoclem and Nicocles. More ethical and less political is the παραίνεσις, or præceptio, of Pseudo-Isocrates, Ad Demonicum, also a product of the fourth century b.c.. These tracts are largely composed of separate apothegms, many of these being widely current and often-repeated practical maxims, but both in form and spirit they are as far removed from the Epistle of James as Lord Chesterfield’s Letters Written to His Son are from a sermon of John Wesley. They are later prose representatives of the poetical tradition of gnomic literature seen in Theognis and in the now lost Phocylides, and are the precursors of the useful florilegia and gnomic collections of a later time. This character is expressly intimated by Isocrates, Ad Nicoclem, 40 f., when he declares the art of this kind of composition to lie in skilful selection of the fine thoughts of others. Later instances of the protrepticus seem to have been numerous. The earlier ones were often tracts recommending and inviting to the rhetorician’s studies and art. The moralists and philosophers, too, including Posidonius, wrote works of this kind, now mostly lost, which exerted considerable influence. The Protrepticus of Aristotle was a defense of the significance of philosophy for life. Galen wrote a protrepticus to the science and practise of medicine. The type ran out at last into the “epideictic” literature of mere display. See P. Hartlich, “De exhortationum a Græcis Romanisque scriptarum historia et indole,” in Leipziger Studien, 11, 1889, pp. 209-333; T. C. Burgess, Epideictic Literature (Studies in Classical Philology, vol. iii), Chicago, 1902, pp. 229 ff. note 2; P. Wendland, Anaximenes von Lampsakos, 1905; F. Blass, Attische Beredsamkeit2, 1892, ii, pp. 111, 271 ff.

§ 3. Literary Relationships

(a) The relation of the Epistle of James to the Wisdom-literature of the O. T. has already been referred to, and it has been pointed out that in literary type and style the epistle breathes a different atmosphere. Some of the ideas, however, of Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus, and Wisdom are found repeated in James. It is not unlikely that the writer was familiar with these books, and a full list of the parallels is to be found in Mayor, Epistle of St. James, ch. 4. But direct influence on the language of James cannot be affirmed with any confidence, except in the case of Proverbs, from which (Proverbs 3:34) a quotation is made in Jam 4:6. Some of the more striking parallels are to be found in Proverbs 11:30 (“the fruit of righteousness,” cf. Jam 3:18), 19:3 (against blaming God, cf. Jam 1:13), 27:1 (“boast not of the things of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what the morrow will bring forth,” cf. Jam 4:13-16), 17:3, 27:21 (testing human qualities, cf. Jam 1:3), 29:20 (“a man that is swift in his words,” cf. Jam 1:19).

The Wisdom of Jesus Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, offers better parallels, but it is doubtful whether the common view that James unquestionably used it can be maintained.* Many topics referred to by James appear in it; thus, the dangers proceeding from the tongue (Ecclus. 19:6-12, 20:5-8, 18-20, 22:27, 28:13-26, 35 [32] 7-9), wisdom the gift of God (1:1-10), prayer with a divided heart (1:27), pride (10:7-18), the uncertainty of life (10:10, 11:16, 17), blaming God (15:11-20), man as made in God’s image and ruling over the beasts (17:3 f.), the eclipse of the sun and the changes of the moon (17:31, 27:11). Other passages remind us of the conditions implied in James; Song of Solomon 4:10, the widow and orphan; 7:35, visiting the sick; 13:19 f., oppression of the poor by the rich; 18:15, on grudging beneficence; 38:9 f., prayer and confession by the sick. But these may attest a general similarity in the religious and intellectual environment rather than proper literary dependence, although the author of James may well have read Ecclesiasticus. The parallels from the Wisdom of Solomon are less striking. The most noteworthy are 1:11 (cf. Jam 4:11, Jam 5:9); 2:4 (cf. Jam 4:14); 2:10-20, the oppression of the poor; 3:4-6, tribulation as a test sent by God; 5:8, pride and wealth, and the transitory nature of wealth; 7:29 f., comparison with light and the sun. No case implies dependence.

(b) The style and language of the Epistle of James can well be illustrated, as already shown, from those of the Hellenistic diatribe with which the book belongs. Furthermore, parallels in phrases and vocabulary are abundant from Philo, the author of 4 Maccabees, Clement of Rome, and Hermas,* writers of the first and second centuries after Christ, who all joined some degree of Hellenism with fundamental Jewish, or Jewish and Christian, ideas, and who were members of a partly segregated Jewish or Christian community in some Hellenistic city (Alexandria, Rome).

H. A. A. Kennedy, “The Hellenistic Atmosphere of the Epistle of James,” in Expositor, eighth series, vol. 2, 1911, pp. 37-52, is a useful collection of some of the more striking parallels from Hellenistic writers.

Another work which shows in language (not in structure, nor in the broader qualities of style) special affinity to James is the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.† This is of Palestinian origin, and was originally written in Hebrew about one hundred years before the beginning of the Christian era. Its literary quality is not lofty, and a good deal of legend and folk-lore crops out in it, but it represents in its ideas a high type of Palestinian Judaism—devout, earnest, spiritual, capable of lending itself directly to Christian use and of receiving Christian additions. The strict and plain moral teaching and the simple and devout piety of the Testaments are but little tinged with formalism or legalism, and they reveal an attractive type of popular religion such as can well have nourished itself on the O. T. Psalms, and in which many not unworthy parallels to the teachings of the Gospels are to be found. James is a far more highly educated man than the author of the Testaments, but the Jewish background of both was similar. The Testaments appear to have been translated into Greek not later, and perhaps earlier, than the early second century after Christ. The fact of Christian interpolation is undoubted, but the additions can generally be recognised, and the Greek version of these writings may fairly be accounted a monument of Hellenistic Judaism contemporary with James.

The parallels are numerous and in many instances show close verbal resemblance. For instance:

Test. Benj. 6:5 ἡ ἀγαθὴ διάνοια οὐκ ἔχει δύο γλώσσας εὐλογίας καὶ κατάρας, ὕβρεως καὶ τιμῆς, ἡσυχίας καὶ ταραχῆς, ὑποκρίσεως καὶ ἀληθείας, [πενίας καὶ πλούτου,] ἀλλὰ μίαν ἔχει περὶ πάντας εἰλικρινῆ καὶ καθαρὰν διάθεσιν, cf. Jam 3:9, Jam 3:10
ICC New Testament commentary on selected books

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