The Wisdom of James the Just -- By: Dan G. McCartney

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 04:3 (Fall 2000)
Article: The Wisdom of James the Just
Author: Dan G. McCartney

The Wisdom of James the Just

Dan G. McCartney

Dan McCartney is an Associate Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary where he has taught since 1986. His most recent book is titled Why Does It Have to Hurt: The Meaning of Christian Suffering, and he is working on a commentary on James for the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Dr. McCartney has written two other books, as well as numerous articles and book reviews.


It has long been recognized that James has, among the New Testament books, a special relationship to Jewish wisdom literature. A quick glance at the margins of a Nestle-Aland text turns up more than thirty cross-references to Jewish wisdom literature of the Old Testament or intertestamental period, versus ten to the Pentateuch, eighteen to Prophets, and seventeen to Psalms (some of which are “wisdom” psalms). While Jewish wisdom literature clearly influenced James, scholars still debate the nature and extent of that influence. Almost all scholars who have studied James agree that there is some kind of relevant background in Jewish wisdom literature. However, while some would go so far as to call James the “wisdom” book of the NT,1 and a few even suggest that it was originally a strictly Jewish wisdom text that was only later Christianized,2 others such as Ropes and Dibelius argue that, though James seems to be influenced in some way by Jewish wisdom materials, the essential nature of the book is hellenistic.3 Most interpreters in the last few decades have landed somewhere in between, recognizing the influences of both Greek rhetorical devices and language, and Jewish material content and forms. Further, the Jewish influence is not restricted to wisdom. The margins of Nestle-Aland27 also reveal that of the eight actual quotations in James, only two are wisdom texts, most citations being from the Pentateuch. Moreover, the fierce invective of 5:1–6 certainly sounds more like Israel’s prophets than her sages.

The object of this study is two-fold: first, to identify more precisely the relation of James to the genres of Jewish wisdom literature, and second, to describe the character of James’s particular “wisdom” content. That is to say, we will ask, first, “Can James be called ‘wisdom literature’ in any sense,” and, second, “What is the nature of the wisdom that James urges believers to ask for?”

James and Jewish Wisdom Literature

Before we can address the first question, we must ask, “what is J...

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