The Unifying Theme of the Epistle of James -- By: D. Edmond Hiebert

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 135:539 (Jul 1978)
Article: The Unifying Theme of the Epistle of James
Author: D. Edmond Hiebert


The Unifying Theme of the Epistle of James

D. Edmond Hiebert

[D. Edmond Hiebert, Professor of New Testament, Mennonite Brethren Theological Seminary, Fresno, California.]

The Epistle of James is notoriously difficult to outline. This is confirmed by the great diversity of the outlines which have been proposed. They range all the way from two1 to twenty-five2 major divisions. The epistle itself does not herald any clear structural plan concerning the organization of its contents. Hendriksen well remarks, “A superficial glance at this epistle may easily leave the impression that every attempt to outline it must fail.”3

This impression that the epistle lacks any unifying theme for its contents is strengthened by the peculiar practice of James of connecting sentences by the repetition of a leading word or one of its cognates. As an illustration, note 1:3–6 (NASB): “endurance” (v. 3 )—”endurance” (v. 4 ); “lacking in nothing” (v. 4 )—”if any of you lacks” (v. 5 ); “let him ask” (v. 5 )-”but let him ask” (v. 6 ); “without any doubting” (v. 6 )—”the one who doubts” (v. 6). See also 1:12–15, 21–25; 3:2–8; 4:1–3. The brief paragraphs, the rapid shift of thought, and the apparent diversity of themes further support the impression that the epistle is disjointed and lacks a unifying theme.

The disjointed character of its contents is stressed by scholars

who view this book as simply another example of “parenesis.” “It was characteristic of parenesis,” Songer remarks, “to place together in loose organization a series of exhortations without any concern to develop one theme or line of thought in the entire writing.”4 The term paraenesis or parenesis, derived from the Greek παραίνεσις means “exhortation, advise, counsel” (cf. Act...

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