Does Neglect Mean Rejection? Canonical Reception History Of James -- By: Chris S. Stevens

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 60:4 (Dec 2017)
Article: Does Neglect Mean Rejection? Canonical Reception History Of James
Author: Chris S. Stevens

Does Neglect Mean Rejection?
Canonical Reception History Of James

Chris S. Stevens*

* Chris S. Stevens is a Ph.D. candidate at McMaster Divinity College, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1. He may be contacted at

Abstract: Canonicity debates have pivoted on various criteria over the centuries. Today, authorship, a primary criterion, is complicated by concerns about pseudonymity and challenges to the linguistic abilities of the apostles. Recent work by David Nienhuis proposes James to be a pseudonymous second-century document. Nienhuis exploits the historical silence and perceived neglect of the Epistle of James to create a scenario against traditional authorship positions. This paper evaluates the validity of his argument. Despite his thorough monograph, underappreciated aspects of the evidence weaken his work. The case against James being the author of the eponymous epistle put forth by Nienhuis is reexamined on a number of fronts. The evidence suggests that the author was in a position of early ecclesiastical authority, one like James the Just held during the first century.

Key words: James, canon, Nienhuis, canonical history, papyri, linguistic dimensions, pseudonymity

Debates over the NT canon are receiving renewed interest. While there are new methods of inquiry and newer questions, nevertheless, the debates remain the same. Perhaps no NT text is more debated than the Epistle of James. In fact, nearly fifty years ago James Brooks said James “had a more difficult time in acquiring canonical status” than other texts.1 David Nienhuis further contends, “No other letter in the NT contains as many troubling and ambiguous features, and to this day no scholarly consensus exists regarding its point of origin.”2 The sentiment is not new. Martin Luther called James “an epistle of straw” that “mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture.”3 Luther even put James and the other Catholic Epistles (CE) in a different order in an attempt to diminish their canonical significance.4

Determining the canonical reception history of James is not easy. Brooks believed “the canonicity of James was not and is not self-evident.”5 Furthermore, he

found its place within the canon today is not and cannot be based on traditional criteria of authorship, antiquity, and apo...

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