James 2:18a: The Unidentifiable Interlocutor -- By: Scot McKnight

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 52:2 (Fall 1990)
Article: James 2:18a: The Unidentifiable Interlocutor
Author: Scot McKnight


James 2:18a:
The Unidentifiable Interlocutor

Scot McKnight

Of all the knotty problems which remain to be solved in interpreting the letter of James, surely one of the most intriguing is the question of identifying the apparent interlocutor in Jas 2:18a. Indeed, M. Dibelius stated that Jas 2:18a was “one of the most difficult New Testament passages in general.”1 After arguing quite clearly that, as is seen in the case of nonresponsive (but supposed) love, faith without works is in fact dead, James befuddles the reader with an interjection which reverses one’s expectations: ἀλλ ᾿ ἐρεῖ τις. σὺ πίστιν ἔχεις, κἀγὼ ἔργα ἔχω. δεῖξόν μοι τὴν πίστιν σου χωρὶς τῶν ἔργων, κἀγώ σοι δείξω ἐκ τῶν ἔργων μου τὴν πίστιν (Jas 2:18).

Several interlocking questions, if answered in different ways, yield substantially different conclusions. (1) Is the speaker (τις) of 2:18 an interlocutor or is the speaker only a literary disguise for James himself or even an ally of James? (2) Where does this speaker’s statement end? Does it end with ἔξω? with πίστιν? or does it continue through 2:19, in which case the “response” of James does not begin until 2:20, a statement which, resuming 2:17, provides compelling proof through the examples of Abraham and Rahab? (3) Are the personal pronouns of 2:18a to be given full weight? That is, does ού refer to James/the interlocutor while the ἐγώ refers to the interlocutor/James? Or, are they perhaps generic? (4) What is the logical rhetorical relationship of 2:18a to 2:18b–19? (5) The central question is this: If one sees 2:18a as the interlocutor, and most scholars still do,2 why does the interlocutor use ἔργα as a self-description when James has just accused such an interlocutor as “workless” (2:14–17)? Such a self-de...

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