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Background: Guided Bible Study Link to James Home Page Link to Web Resources Link to James Site Map

Background on James
Guided Bible Study


Background on James

Elsa Tamez Commentary on James
The Scandal of James

Link to James as Wisdom
A Word for the Wise

Link to James and Eschatology
The End is at Hand

James and Spiritual Wholeness Not Yet Available
Finding Spiritual
Wholeness in James

James View of the World
James' View of
The World

Worship Resources Not Yet Available
Worship Resources
STILL TO COME

Is James IN or OUT?

Tucked in the back of our New Testament is the Letter of James. James is the first of seven "catholic" or universal letters. James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, and Jude were written to the church universal rather than to specific communities. All seven had a long and winding journey toward the designation as "Christian scripture". Who wrote these letters, and when, and is their theology sufficiently orthodox to be preached and read? Elsa Tamez wonders if James' radical critique of wealth and support for the oppressed kept the letter from becoming central to our Christian faith T5.

James IN or OUT?
Eusebius: Disputed Text | Luther: Straw? | Resources | Top of Page

Background Pages
What's In A Word? | James uses Biblical Texts | Paul and James
Will the REAL James Stand Up? | When was James Written?
To Whom is James Sent? | Canon: Is James IN or OUT?
Read it Yourself: Comments on James in the Canon
Annotated Bibliography

James and Canon: The Early Evidence
Most writing from before 200 do not mention the Epistle of James. One significant text does quote James: The Shepherd of Hermas, written before 140 M66. The theologian and biblical scholar, Origen, quotes James extensively between 230 and 250. He mentions that James was Jesus' brother, but does not make it clear if the letter is scripture M138. Hippolytus and Tertullian, from early in the third century, do not mention or quote James. Cyprian of Carthage, in the middle of the third century, also makes no mention. The "Muratorian Canon," from around 200, lists and comments on New Testament books, but fails to mention James, Hebrews, and 1 and 2 Peter.

Yet by 340 Eusebius of Caesarea, an early Christian historian, acknowledges that James is both canonical and orthodox, and widely read. However, he categorizes it, along with the other catholic epistles, as "disputed texts" M203. Two Greek New Testaments from that time each include James, along with the other catholic epistles M207. In 367 Athanasius lists the 27 New Testament books we presently use as the definitive canon M212. Read Eusebius' Commentary.

But the battle for James was not won. Bishops in 428 and 466 rejected all the catholic epistles M215. Early bibles from Lebanon, Egypt, Armenia, India and China do not include James before the sixth century M219. A ninth century manuscript from Mount Sinai leaves out the catholic epistles and the Syriac Church, headquartered in Kerala, India, continues to use a lectionary without them still today M220.

In the western church the controversy continued as well. Jerome delivered a Latin translation of the New Testament, including James, in 384. He comments that James "wrote only one Epistle, which is reckoned among the seven Catholic Epistles, and even this is claimed by some to have been published by some one else under his name, and gradually, as time went on, to have gained in authority" (De vir. ill 2 as quoted in M235. In 426 Augustine's On Christian Learning moves James to the end of the catholic epistles M237.

James IN or OUT?
Eusebius: Disputed Text | Luther: Straw? | Resources | Top of Page

Background Pages
What's In A Word? | James uses Biblical Texts | Paul and James
Will the REAL James Stand Up? | When was James Written?
To Whom is James Sent? | Canon: Is James IN or OUT?
Read it Yourself: Comments on James in the Canon
Annotated Bibliography

The Reformation
After accepting the New Testament Canon for 1000 years, Rome speaks out for the first time on the subject at the Council of Florence in 1439-43. The Council clearly lists James and the catholic epistles as canon. This was just in time for early reformers to return to the early church's doubts. Jacob Thomas de Vio and Erasmus of Rotterdam produced a Bible Commentaries in the early 1500s that doubted the authority of the Epistle of James M240. This sets the stage for Luther's German translation, and doubts, in 1522.

Luther placed the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation at the end of his translation and failed to note their page numbers in the index. He wrote a preface to James claiming it "contradicts Paul by teaching justification by works" M243. In the earliest editions Luther wrote his now famous comment: "St. James Epistle is really an epistle of straw compared to [St. Paul's letters], for it lacks this evangelical character" Deutsche Bibel 6 as quoted in P988. Luther however, never declared James or any other New Testament book non-canonical. He quotes from James occasionally. Read Luther's actual comments. John Wesley, on the other hand, quoted from James and seemed to argue for the validity of James' theology. Find Links to Wesley's use of James.

The Catholic Church responded to the perceived threat to the canon. The Latin Vulgate was declared as "sacred and canonical" and an absolute article of faith in 1546 M246. In the next years some reformers labeled James and other books as "apocrypha," and even "non-canonical" M245. Yet the Westminster Confession of 1647 affirms the present 27 New Testament books as canonical for the Protestant faith. The Letter of James is now officially part of the canon in the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches.

James IN or OUT?
Eusebius: Disputed Text | Luther: Straw? | Resources | Top of Page

Background Pages
What's In A Word? | James uses Biblical Texts | Paul and James
Will the REAL James Stand Up? | When was James Written?
To Whom is James Sent? | Canon: Is James IN or OUT?
Read it Yourself: Comments on James in the Canon
Annotated Bibliography

Resources (Link to full Bibliography for web site)
Brevard S. Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1994).

Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James in The New Interpreter's Bible Volume XII, Leander E. Keck et al, editors. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000).

Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament Its Origin, Development and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Paperbacks, 1997).

Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James in The Pillar New Testament Commentary, DA Carson, general editor. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000).

Elsa Tamez, The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works Is Dead, Translated by John Eagleson, Study Guide by Pamela Sparr, (NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002).

James IN or OUT?
Eusebius: Disputed Text | Luther: Straw? | Resources | Top of Page

Background Pages
What's In A Word? | James uses Biblical Texts | Paul and James
Will the REAL James Stand Up? | When was James Written?
To Whom is James Sent? | Canon: Is James IN or OUT?
Read it Yourself: Comments on James in the Canon
Annotated Bibliography

 

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