I’m going to begin (and hope one day to conclude) 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.
Foregoing comment on the introductory background section of Allison’s commentary, we begin with 1:1, Salutation and Address.
Ἰάκωβος θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλος ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ταῖς
ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ χαίρειν.
(James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes that are in the diaspora: Greetings.)
Allison agrees with the “common opinion” (114) of critical scholarship that the epistle is pseudepigraphal, noting that it was most common among pre-modern interpreters to attribute the letter’s authorship to James “the Just,” the brother of Jesus.
He takes the letter to be addressed to Jews, whether Christian or not – a minority report in contemporary and historical scholarship. Possibly, his audience includes Christian and unconverted Jews; Manton compares James’ epistle to the Sermon on the Mount, wherein Christ teaches his disciples directly, but allows the large crowds to overhear.
It’s interesting to note the clash between James’ introduction of himself as a δοῦλος (slave) of the Lord Jesus and Jesus’ own teaching to his disciples in John 15:15: “No longer do I call you slaves (δούλους).” If one accepts the author as the brother of Christ, then this introduction strongly illustrates the economics of the kingdom of heaven, where the way up is down and the first shall be last. Rather than claiming authority from natural fraternity, James prefers to address his audience as a humble slave – emulating Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve (Mt 20:28). The structure of the greeting could be hinting at James’ knowledge of Paul, conflating a traditional Jewish title (δοῦλος θεοῦ) with the Pauline δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, though this far from establishes such a link.
Most interestingly, Allison highlights the faintest possibility of an echo of Isa 49:5-6 (LXX) in 1:1, as the texts share common references to Ἰάκωβος, δοῦλος, κυρίου, φυλαῖς, and διασπορᾷ. The connection is tenuous, based merely upon a shared lexicon (Beale/Carson make no mention of the allusion in their Commentary on the NT Use of the OT), but could be worth further consideration, nonetheless.
Given that ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ (in the dispersion) addresses all the Jews within a given geographically dispersed locale (Allison maintains the metaphorical/typological reading of δώδεκα φυλαῖς [twelve tribes] as a reference to the church is tenuous at best, for linguistic reasons, i.e. a letter addressed to “the Jews” is most likely intended for “the Jews”), and James’ eschatological situatedness at the end of the Jewish age (the old covenant era), “it may be that James presents itself as… an attempt to encourage and stir up the dispersed tribes to repent in preparation for the approaching day of judgment. Such a reading coheres with the possible allusion to LXX Isa 49.5-6, for that passage envisages the eschatological restoration of the entire Jewish people.” (133)
G.K. Beale in his Handbook on NT Use of the OT gives a nine-step method for interpreting NT quotes from or allusions to the OT. Regarding allusions, he states: “The telltale key to discerning an allusion is that of recognizing an incomparable or unique parallel in wording , syntax, concept, or cluster of motifs in the same order or structure… it remains possible that fewer than three words or even an idea may be an allusion.” (31)
Given these rather broad parameters, a thorough consideration of 1:1 as an allusion to Isa 49:5-6 would then involve:
1. Identify the OT reference. [Is it a quotation or allusion? If it is an allusion it must fit the criteria above.]
2. Analyze the broad NT context where the OT reference occurs.
3. Analyze the OT context both broadly and immediately, especially interpreting the paragraph in which the quotation or allusion occurs.
4. Survey the use of the OT text in early and late Judaism that might be of relevance to the NT appropriation of the OT text.
5. Compare the texts: NT, LXX, MT, and targums, early Jewish citations (DSS, the Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo, etc.)
6. Analyze the author’s textual use of the OT.
7. Analyze the author’s interpretive use of the OT.
8. Analyze the author’s theological use of the OT.
9. Analyze the author’s rhetorical use of the OT.
Such a thorough analysis is far beyond the scope of my intent in this brief blog post, but may be a task I would return to at a later date (Jacobean condition). However, I would briefly highlight that Isa 49:5-6 is within a commonly referenced section of Isaiah (cf. quote in Acts 13:47, allusion in Lk 2:32, Acts 1:8) and James incorporates several clearer intertextual links to Isaiah throughout his epistle (1:15, 2:6-8, 3:6, 5:1).
If such an allusion could be established, what would be its significance? As quoted above, the eschatological significance of James’ epistle would be immediately present to his audience. Further, this might potentially imply the significance of his letter for the Gentiles whom he does not address explicitly, but who are mentioned in Isa 49:6c: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” We might even see in this allusion a cryptic reference to James’ (in Greek Jacob’s) own testimony as one who rejected Christ until after his resurrection, but now serves as his slave, gathering Israel to the Lord: “And now the Lord says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength” (Isa 49:5). These are merely suggestions for consideration and should be taken with a grain of salt, as I’ve not even begun anything like the exegetical spadework necessary to establish either of them.
Finally, χαίρειν (greetings) creates a paranomasic “catchword association” with χαρὰν (joy), transitioning to 1:2 using a common linguistic device found throughout the epistle. This is an important device, frequently overlooked because it is often forgotten that the early epistles were commonly read aloud within the congregations. Morphology directly corresponds to phonology.