Continuing a series working slowly through the Greek text of James’ Epistle alongside Dale C. Allison, Jr.’s International Critical Commentary. It will not be an exhaustive series, but will include quotes, notes, and anything else I consider of interest as I work through the two texts, paying special attention to any points of intertextuality raised, as this is a personal research interest. I would like to thank Bloomsbury for providing a review copy of Allison’s text for this series.
2Πᾶσαν χαρὰν ἡγήσασθε, ἀδελφοί μου, ὅταν πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις,
3γινώσκοντες ὅτι τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως κατεργάζεται ὑπομονήν:
4ἡ δὲ ὑπομονὴ ἔργον τέλειον ἐχέτω, ἵνα ἦτε τέλειοι καὶ ὁλόκληροι, ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι.
2Consider it utmost joy, my brothers, when you fall into various tribulations, 3knowing that this means of testing your faith works patient endurance; 4and let patient endurance have in you its perfected work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Allison begins with a helpful section on the history of interpretation and reception of this text. He notes efforts to reconcile apparent contradictions between this passage and the Lord’s prayer (“rejoice in tribulation” vs. “lead us not into tribulation), this passage and Paul (cf. Rom 5:3-4, where Paul states that tribuation (θλῖψις) produces perseverance (ὑπομονὴν) and perseverance fosters character (δοκιμήν) – whereas James states that tribulation (πειρασμοῖς) produces character (δοκίμιον) which fosters perseverance (ὑπομονὴν), and eventual perfection (τέλειον)). This passage also played a role in the Wesleyan understanding of entire sanctification (which contradicts 3:2 in its indictment of all). Some have used this passage as an exhortation to comfortable Christians, while others have consoled those in trial with these words. Notably, few have considered the ethical issues surrounding an exhortation to rejoice in suffering. Some might consider these to be cruel words to victims of abuse or injustice or it may engender a fatalistic “count it all joy” attitude toward the oppressed. These are interesting considerations for contemporary preachers.
(v. 2-4) James foregoes any further greeting or introduction and rolls directly into an unexpected imperative – rejoice in trials. This is an uncommon structure, although Galatians also begins similarly. He gives a complex justification for this exhortation in the rhetorical form of a gradatio or “climax,” building through a lengthy series of catchwords in 1:1-6. There is significant shared vocabulary and progression with Rom 5:3-4, which suggests either dependence between the texts or a common source/tradition. The passage may be closer to 1 Pet 1:6-7. Unlike Paul and Peter, however, James does not link this imperative to a Christological theme at all. The “trials/tribulations” here are likely non-specific historically and refer to the general afflictions of the audience.
(v. 2) James calls for the most counter-intuitive, unnatural response possible to trials and suffering: joy. In all of extant ancient Greek literature, only here in this instance is χαρά the object of ἡγέομαι, “as though James is commanding one to think an emotion.” (144) While the distinction can be maintained between God as “tester” and the devil as “tempter,” it is not always easy to distinguish between the two experientially (cf. 1:12-15, Book of Job, Testament of Job, Gen 50:20, Mt 4/Lk 4, Jesus led by Spirit into wilderness to be tempted by devil). πειρασμοῖς likely has eschatological significance here, possibly referring to the tribulation anticipated before Christ’s return (cf. Rev 3:10, Jas 5:8).
(v. 3) Allison translates the unusual δοκίμιον as “means of testing,” referring to a similar use in LXX Pr 27:1. This is the first of sixteen occurrences of πίστις (faith) in the epistle. While πίστις would seem to be “mere assent” or “credence” in 2:14-26, the term does not appear to carry that connotation consistently across James’ idiolect (cf. 1:3, 2:5, 5:15). Here is a use of πίστις which is consistent with Paul’s use, as “a comprehensive term for right religion.” (151) ὑπομονήν appears again near the end of the epistle (5:11), referring to Job’s endurance. ὑπομονήν is not passive resignation, but “being bravely patient with suffering until it dissipates.” (152)
(v. 4) James is envisioning the outcome of a process of enduring suffering to the point of a producing a perfect work. Suffering is not virtuous in itself, but endurance is. τέλειον (perfect) is a term freighted with significance, both ancient and contemporary. In the LXX, τέλειος most commonly refers to “unblemished” sacrifices or “undivided” hearts (cf. Dt 18:13). This is not likely a reference to sinlessness (contra Wesley), rather to “wholeness” (as contrasted with double-mindedness, 1:7-8). “James demands perfection, but he is no perfectionist.” (155) 1:5 links τέλειος with “wisdom” (σοφίας). “James 1.2-4 envisages a series and so a process. With this in mind, one recalls Phil 3:12-16, where Paul calls himself ‘perfect’ (v. 15) and yet declares that he has not yet obtained ‘perfection’ (v. 12), for that consists precisely in moving ever forward (v. 14).” (157) The virtues most prominent in James should be allowed to inform our understanding of τέλειος, namely peaceable, meek, willing to yield, full of mercy and good works, and bereft of partiality and hypocrisy (3:17-18). ὁλόκληροι is a near synonym of τέλειος, a common association. The verse concludes ambiguously ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι, leaving one to ask “not lacking in what?” The perfection discussed above is something “for which one strives in the present [but] will be realized at the end.” (160)
Given the Jacobean theme of endurance under trial, I wonder to what degree the Book of Job (or Testament of Job?) would serve as an intertext for James – given that 5:11 is the only explicit mention of Job in the whole NT. Ah, my kingdom for some Bible software…