The Theological Message Of James -- By: Simon J. Kistemaker

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 29:1 (Mar 1986)
Article: The Theological Message Of James
Author: Simon J. Kistemaker


The Theological Message Of James*

Simon J. Kistemaker**

The epistle of James appears to be a collection of sayings and thoughts loosely put together. It differs from the epistles that Paul has written, in which he first develops a doctrinal issue—for example, Christology in Colossians—and then concludes with a section on practical application. By contrast James presents a series of exhortations and numerous admonitions that reflect an ethical rather than a doctrinal emphasis. Even though these exhortations seem to be loosely connected, James shows progress and development in his presentation.

Typically James introduces a subject in summary fashion, which he afterward augments. Some of these subjects are faith, testing, wisdom (1:2–5), restraining the tongue, controlling anger, and submission to God (1:19–20). He returns to some topics to discuss them more fully: testing and temptation (1:12–15); keeping the law in faith (1:222:26); restraint of the tongue (3:1–12); earthly and heavenly wisdom (3:13–18); living in harmony with the will of God (chap. 4); exercising patience through prayer (chap. 5). Because James often reverts to discussing items he has mentioned already (cf. 4:8 with 1:8; 5:11 with 1:12), his epistle does not lend itself to separate divisions of topics. To treat every topic would make this paper proportionately too lengthy, and I will therefore choose only a few subjects.

James seems to leave the impression that he is familiar with the oral gospel of Jesus but not with the books of the NT. “No case can be demonstrated for literary dependence on our gospel of Matthew (or indeed on Luke and John).”1 Had he been acquainted with the written gospel accounts and with the epistles, James would have been more theologically than ethically oriented in his epistle. True, he presents theology—but it is implicit rather than explicit. James depends on the preaching of Jesus, discusses the topic of faith and works independently of Paul’s teaching, and writes on submission to God in a more elementary form than that which Peter presents in his epistles.

In his epi...

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