On Easter at our church, we ended our series on Mark and the following Sunday, jumped right into a series on James. Since the Easter sermon was on the resurrection, it helps that James provides an interesting apologetic for the historicity of that event. Typically, if a Jewish leader who was hailed as the Messiah died, that status was transferred to a family member. Usually the brother was a good choice. However, since the early church did not hail James as Messiah, that’s a good indication that his brother (i.e. Jesus) was not considered dead. That, and what is more often noted: brothers usually don’t worship their own brother as God, but James clearly does just that in the early church, but only post-resurrection.
Once I knew we were going to be studying James, I took stock of bestcommentaries.com to see what the top 2 were. I already had the top 2 (Moo’s in the Pillar Series, and Davids’ in NIGTC) in Logos, so I thought it be nice to check out a 3rd option. It was at this point I thought I should check out ZECNT and requested the volume on James to review. Since we talked yesterday about 7 reasons you would like this series, with a little bit of overview on how the series itself is laid out, let’s jump right into this title.
This entry in the ZECNT is co-authored by Craig Blomberg (who we heard from Monday), and Mariam Kamell (who at this point is a former student of Blomberg’s). Blomberg is not new to commentary writing, and that probably helps account for the polish of this particular volume. Each book in this series (at least so far) has the same macro and micro structure. For the macro structure, besides the series introduction we talked about yesterday, and the typical author’s preface and abbreviations, the book starts off with an introduction to James, followed by a bibliography and then the commentary proper. After that there is a summarization of the theology of James.
For the micro structure, the commentary proper is broken up into 11 chapters following the outline suggested in the introduction the book. Each of these chapters follows this micro-structure:
- Literary Context
- Main Idea
- Translation and Graphical Layout
- Exegetical Outline
- Explanation of the Text
- Theology in Application
Typically, the first 5 of these takes up about the first 3-4 pages of the chapter and the bulk of the focus is on exegeting the text itself (as it should be). The theology in application is given due weight as well and isn’t just breezed through as an afterthought. Of all the commentaries that I’ve worked with, I like this structure the best. Again, it may be because it mirrors rather closely the exegetical method we were taught in seminary (i.e. my exegetical papers look like a shortened chapter out of this book), but I found this layout conducive both for really understanding the textual issues, as well as thinking about how they apply. The authors sketch out enough of a general sense of the application to get you thinking about how you might apply it to your more specific context.
The authors suggest a unifying theme for the book of James that works well to assimilate what looks like a loose collection of wisdom sayings and admonitions. As they see it, looking at God’s simplicity or single-mindedness and the way Christians ought to imitate it gives the book of James a theme of being “single-minded as God is single-minded.” This single-mindedness will result in readers of James looking at wealth and poverty in proper perspective, standing strong against temptation, and exhibiting wisdom and restraint in their speech (the three main themes the authors highlight). I think this works well in tying all of James’ emphases together, and helps makes sense of the letter as a whole.
One exegetical issue I thought was worth drawing out comes up in the application section for 2:1-3. The issue is in question is discrimination, and the authors observe, “Many conservative Christians vote against equal rights for gays and lesbians without any balancing, positive actions to show them Christ’s love, making the legislation merely judgmental rather than fully scriptural” (121). It seems that the suggestion is that voting against these equal “rights” without showing love is in fact judgmental, rather than merely being perceived as judgmental. When I first read it, I thought they were implying that Christians were failing to follow this passage by voting against the “rights,” but it seems like they are suggesting if you vote against the “rights” you need to balance it with demonstrative love so as to avoid being labelled judgmental.
I keep putting “rights” in quotations because they aren’t really “rights” but are actually “privileges” and so it isn’t discriminating to vote against giving them to certain groups of people. But, I think it definitely is an issue that Christians are not more loving toward the gay and lesbian communities. Love of course needs to be defined differently than the tolerance idolaters want it to be, but if all we’re known for is voting down perks and preaching against sin (or going to Chick-fil-a in large numbers), it’s no wonder we’re perceived as harsh and judgmental.
By framing it in terms of discrimination, the authors provide the reader of James an opportunity to think through whether they are voting down the legislation for political and/or moral purposes, or because they just really don’t like gay people and don’t want them to have certain privileges. In others words, the heart of the matter is really a matter of the heart. It’s not whether you vote for or against giving privileges to the gay community, it’s why you’re voting the way you are, and how you treat them as people in your everyday life.
(If you’re curious, I am personally against these privileges being given to anyone other than a man and a woman who have entered into the covenant of marriage together. However, this view has nothing to do with my feelings about people who practice homosexuality and everything to do with what I see as the best interest of society as a whole. When I come into contact with someone who practices homosexuality, I esteem them as equal members of society deserving of mutual love and respect accorded to anyone else I come in contact with. To do any different would be discrimination.)
Overall, this title compares favorably to Moo’s in the Pillar Series, and Davids’ in NIGTC. It is certainly not as technical the latter, but it is probably on a similar footing with the former. I found it fruitful to study alongside Moo’s contribution, but this commentary has the edge as far as clarifying the layout and textual flow of James. I could see this being a one stop commentary for many people, especially if you’re leading a Bible study on James. Depending on your pastoral context, this volume might offer just enough analysis to suffice, or may work well in the triad that I used (with one slightly more technical and the other a complimentary volume).
One thing I found a bit distracting in this particular volume was the repeated need to take a stand on the gender-inclusive translation issue. Not so much that I disagree with the position taken, but it seemed like one or both of the authors had a bone to pick with Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress’ The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy since was mentioned four times (48, 53, 69, 154, with citations from the out-of-print 2000 ed., instead of the updated 2005 ed.). It doesn’t seem like an issue very germane to James’ letter, so to me it stuck out that it got brought up so frequently. Given the whole scope of the commentary itself, this is really just minor quibble rather than a major issue.
That issue aside, this series really grabbed my attention and I was eager to try to get the other volumes for review. This volume offered sound and concise exegesis of James’ letter and numerous avenues for practical application. The layout of the commentary is very conducive for structural analysis of the text that lends itself comfortably to preparing a sermon outline. For a pastor who has been seminary trained in exegetical work with the text, this commentary on James offers the perfect companion for a sermon series.
- Authors: Craig L. Blomberg & Mariam J. Kamell
- Title: James (vol. 16)
- Publisher: Zondervan (November 18, 2008)
- Series: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT)
- Hardcover: 288pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader/Bible School
- Audience Appeal: Mainly pastors or seminary students, but accessible to anyone looking to understand James better
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Zondervan)
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