The Theme of Wisdom in the Epistle of James -- By: Robert F. Chaffin Jr.

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 29:0 (NA 1997)
Article: The Theme of Wisdom in the Epistle of James
Author: Robert F. Chaffin Jr.

The Theme of Wisdom in the Epistle of James

Robert F. Chaffin Jr.

Robert F. Chaffin Jr., (M.A. Bib. St. student, ATS)

A wise person once said, “There is only one way to acquire wisdom. But when it comes to making a fool of yourself, you have your choice of thousands of different ways.”1 As one looks at our chaotic world, it quickly becomes apparent that heavenly wisdom is what people desperately need to live as they should. These confused people believe that they know the correct way to live. But their understanding leads only to destruction. However, King Solomon, dubbed the wisest person (aside from Jesus Christ) to ever live, knew that having a right relationship with God was the only way to even begin acquiring wisdom: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).

This article examines the theme of wisdom in the Epistle of James, a major motif in the background of the writer and his document.2 While not personified, wisdom is extolled here as a divine gift and superlative virtue. Additionally, wisdom possesses some personal characteristics that form a wisdom aretalogy, a poem in which the virtues of wisdom are listed and praised (Jas. 1:5; 3:13–18; cf. Wis. 7:22–24).3

James gives a clear, ethical connotation to wisdom.4 Wisdom, a gift given by God that must be wholeheartedly sought and asked for, must be relied upon to help one persevere, live a godly life, and have hope.5 More than just insight and good judgment, wisdom is “the endowment of heart and mind which is needed for the right conduct of life.”6

Wisdom and the Epistle of James

The Epistle of James is highly affected by Old Testament wisdom literature (i.e. Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Ben Sirach). James gives to wisdom the same prominence that Paul gives to faith, John gives to love, and Peter gives to hope. To attempt to better grasp the thrust of Old Testament wisdom literature, it is best to focus on the “teachers” or sages and their teachings of wisdom. Their emphasis regarding wisdom was on the practical application of it, not on its theoretical or philosophical concepts. Their goal was to enable one to cope with life thro...

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