Light on James Two from Textual Criticism -- By: Zane C. Hodges

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 120:480 (Oct 1963)
Article: Light on James Two from Textual Criticism
Author: Zane C. Hodges


Light on James Two from Textual Criticism

Zane C. Hodges

Without question the second chapter of the Epistle of James has long provided an area of revealed truth which many students of the Scriptures have found perplexing. It is well known, of course, that much of this perplexity has arisen out of James’s oft misunderstood discussion of faith and works and the supposed contradiction of Paul’s teaching contained in it. It is not so well known, however, that within the crucial section just referred to there is a subordinate exegetical problem which—if not of equal importance—is at least equally perplexing. For want of a better title the difficulty may be styled “the problem of the objector,” and it is to this problem that the following discussion is devoted.

The Exegetical Problem

Despite the many elaborate discussions which have been produced to elucidate James 2:14–26, James’s basic thesis in that passage is superlatively simple. “Faith,” says James, “without works is dead” (2:17, 20, 26).1 In the process of setting forth this basic proposition, the writer introduces into the discussion an imagined objector to his line of thought. The words of this objector are introduced in 2:18 by the phrase ἀλλ= ἐρεῖ τις (AV, “Yea, a man may say…”). In view of the fact that the same phrase is to be found elsewhere both in the

New Testament and in classical Greek to introduce opposing opinions, it is safe to assume that it constituted a standard literary format for a writer who wished to present—and refute—an opponent’s viewpoint.2 But this fact leads directly to our problem, for, as Hort long ago so succinctly observed, “The natural way of taking ἀλλ= ἐρεῖ τις is as the words of an objector, and then it is difficult to see how the next words could be put into an objector’s mouth.”3

Indeed this is so—at least at first glance—for when James’s alleged opponent makes the assertion, “Thou hast faith, and I have works,” so far from appearing to object to anything James has said, he actually appears to be claiming the very virtue James is extolling. In what sense, then, is this an objection to the argument of the passage? To this question the commentators return a variety of somew...

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