Commentary and Discussion with Mariam Kamell
Over a period of five weeks, we've asked Craig Blomberg and Mariam Kamell to blog through the book of James. Their commentary, the first in the ZECNT series, will release at the ETS and SBL annual meetings, beginning Nov. 19. This second post by Mariam looks at James 2.
"Did not God choose the poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and heirs to the kingdom which he promised to those loving him?" (2:5)
"For whoever keeps the whole law, but stumbles in one, has become answerable for the whole." (2:10)
"For judgment is merciless to the one not showing mercy. [But] mercy triumphs over judgment." (2:13)
"Do you believe that God is one? You do well; even the demons believe and tremble!" (2:19)
"Was not Abraham our father justified by works, having offered up his son Isaac on the altar?" (2:21)
"You see therefore that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." (2:24)
"For just as the body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." (2:26)
James 2 is possibly one of the most theologically charged chapters of the New Testament. This chapter caused Martin Luther to describe the epistle as a "good book" but not the work of an apostle because James "contradicts Paul" and "ascribes justification to works." Some verses, particularly in the first half of the chapter, have been used to support the idea of a "preferential option for the poor."
Other statements have been taken to mean that the author of James was a legalist who subscribed to the necessity of perfection in believers. The loaded statements stand out one after another, for in typical wisdom fashion, James tends toward pithy, succinct statements without lengthy theological argument to explain and defend his positions.
The chapter appears to divide into two distinct halves, but this dichotomy is perhaps overstated. Throughout this chapter James consistently continues to expand what he means by his thesis on true religion in 1:27: "to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." While 2:1-13 perhaps focuses more on favoritism and 2:14-26 consists of the more (in)famous faith and works debate, for James all of it is really a whole, one cohesive unit in the picture of what it means to love God. The "faith in Christ" (2:1) creates a changed person, and the primary way this plays out is in how we care for others, particularly the helpless. The two halves of the chapter unite in this concern, focusing in on the triumphal cry of 2:13 that "mercy triumphs over judgment!" James does not promote harsh legalism; he seeks our transformation into the merciful character of God.
Mariam Kamell is a PhD candidate in New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews under the direction of Richard Bauckham and Grant MacAskill. She has published several articles on James; her dissertation will focus on soteriology in James in comparison with earlier Jewish wisdom literature and the Gospel of Matthew.
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