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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

James: An Annotated Bibliography

Compiled by Ernest Rubinstein, librarian of the Ecumenical Library of The Interchurch Center, Thanks are due the librarians of Union Theological Seminary for providing access to the book stacks of the Seminary’s library

The book of James sparks a broad range of interpretations. Commentators divide on such basic issues as the author of the letter, and the time and place of its composition. A bibliographic sampling of commentary is given below. Commentators sometimes newly translate the text, sometimes use established translations in long use. RSV stands for the Revised Standard Version, an ecumenical translation of the Bible sponsored by the National Council of Churches; NRSV is the New Revised Standard Version, an update of the RSV. NIV is the New International Version. The King James version and updated, New King James version are also very occasionally used. The more expensive, academic books on the bibliography can be borrowed on interlibrary loan. (Consult your local public library.) Out of print titles are often available inexpensively through the Internet used-book clearinghouse, Bookfinder ( Books on this list that the bibliographer could not personally review receive a quotation describing them from the publisher’s catalog. Link to Bibiography for this web site.

I. Commentaries on James | II. Studies for Lay Readers
III. Academic Studies
| IV. Background on Liberation Theology
V. Background on Poverty and Wealth
| 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

I. Commentaries on James, in series
Publishers across the spectrum of the Christian denominations issue commentary sets or series on the Bible. Generally, the publisher of a series is an indication of its theological tendency: Baker, Word, Zondervan, Eerdmans and Intervarsity are publishers in the evangelical community. Abingdon, Fortress, and Westminster are mainline tradition Protestant publishers. Paulist and Glazier are Catholic publishers; while several publishers of commentary series—Doubleday, T & T Clark, Hendrickson—are independent of denomination. Listed here is a sampling of some of the more important and accessible series. Some commentaries presuppose more interest in technical aspects of ancient Greek than others. The annotations try to guide potential readers to the commentaries most suited to their level of interest.

Abingdon New Testament Commentaries, Abingdon Press
Sleeper, C. Freeman, James. 1998. 152 p. $20.00
This accessible introduction to James translates a mass of solid academic scholarship into easily understood language. Though targeting theological students, the series can appeal to a broader range of readers. The opening chapter discusses the social setting of the letter, its literary context, its dating, authority, and key themes. Though the NRSV Bible is presumed, the verses cited for comment are not reproduced. The author is professor emeritus of religion at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.

Anchor Bible Commentary. Doubleday
Johnson, Luke Timothy.The Letter of James.  1995. 412 p. $39.95
For ecumenism and in-depth scholarship, this is the premier commentary. Each volume in the series is newly translated and includes detailed word studies of the original Greek. Luke Timothy Johnson, one of the foremost biblical scholars of our day, is professor in New Testament at Chandler School of Theology, Emory University. Observing that James has interested him since 1981, Johnson adds that his aim here is to produce “a fuller account of James’ reception and interpretation than is anywhere available in English.” This volume updates an earlier Anchor commentary to James by Bo Reicke (below).

Anchor Bible Commentary. Doubleday
Reicke, Bo.The Epistles of James, Peter and Jude. 1964.221 p. Out of print
This older commentary, by Bo Reicke, who was for many years professor of New Testament at the University of Basel, Switzerland, was written in the early years of the Anchor series, when the commentaries produced for it were less richly detailed. The letter of James, grouped here with Peter and Jude, occupies pages 3-66.

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament. Intervarsity.
Bray, Gerald Lewis and Oden Thomas C., editors. 
James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude.
2000. 350 p. $39.99

This unusual series is an anthology of patristic comment on the Bible. Passages from the church fathers (Clement of Rome to John of Damascus) are presented (in English translation) on each verse of the biblical text. The series is intended as an aid to both professional and lay readers who want to know how early Christian scholars interpreted the Bible. Verses are gathered in thematic groups, which are introduced by the editors, and the patristic selections follow. The Bible verses given are from the RSV.

Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. Fortress
Martin, R. A. and Elliott, J. H. James, Peter, Jude. 1982.191 p. $23.00

R. A. Martin writes the 42 page commentary on James in this volume intended for laity, students and pastors. For Martin, the letter of James is parenesis (exhortation), motivating Christians to live their faith. The commentary devotes special attention to the issue of faith and works raised in 2:14-26. Martin believes the letter was written by a Jewish, Hellenistic Christian sometime towards the end of the first century.

Bible Speaks Today. Intervarsity.
Motyer, J. A.The Message of James: The Tests of Faith. 1988. 214 p. $13.99

As its name suggests, this series seeks to apply biblical texts to modern life. The author presents James as a collection of sermon notes, whose central theme is the birth and growth of the Christian life, and whose principal exhortation is to patience, prayer, and care. Motyer was minister of Christ Church, Westbourne, England, at the time of writing.The Bible text is the RSV.

Black’s New Testament commentaries. Hendrickson
Laws, Sophie. Epistle of James.1980, 1993.273 p. $22.95

These substantive, scholarly commentaries offer new translations of the biblical books, place them in historical and literary context, and comment on thematic units of text. Laws was lecturer in New Testament at King’s College, London, at the time of writing. Her thesis about James is that it is “the most consistently ethical document in the New Testament” (p. 27). Her commentary includes a 20 page section on the controversial issue in the letter of faith and works. A now out-of-print version of this book was also published in 1980 by Harper and Row as part of their series, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries.

Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible. Cambridge University Press
Williams, R. R. Letters of John and James.1965. 152 p.$21.95

This series produces widely accessible introductions to the books of the Bible in the New English version (an English translation of the Bible that breaks with the King James tradition). The James portion of this volume is limited to pages 75-141. The British English of this commentary is elegant and easily understood.In the introduction, parallel columns of verses from James, Matthew, and 1 Peter highlight James’ close ties to those other New Testament books. The commentary approaches the letter as an exercise in “practical religion”. At the time of writing, the author was bishop of Leicester, in England.

Communicator’s Commentary.Word Books
Cedar, Paul. James, 1, 2 Peter, Jude.1984 262 p.$24.99

An evangelical counterpart to Westminster’s Interpreter’s series (see below), these commentaries are intended for preachers and teachers of the Bible in church settings. There is strong interest here in applying the biblical books to daily life today, which lends the writing a sermonic tone. The text used is the New King James version. The section on James is on pp. 11-103. The author was pastor of Lake Avenue Congregational Church, in Pasadena, California, at the time of writing.

Daily Study Bible. Westminster
Barclay, William. Letters of James and Peter.Rev’d ed.1976. 351 p. $12.95
This much-translated, popular commentary first appeared in the 1950s. Though slightly dated even in the revised edition of 1976, the writing is lively and engaging. Barclay (1907-1978) was a minister in the Church of Scotland. The commentary gives solid background to the Letter of James, and comments on the verses in thematic units. James occupies pages 3-134. The text used is the RSV.

Epworth Commentaries. Epworth Press.
Townsend, Michael.The Epistle of James.  1997.168 p. $15.00

Epworth Press is an affiliate of the Methodist Publishing House, in England. Its American distributors include Trinity Press International, which describes the series this way: “This series of biblical commentaries is the first to be based on the Revised English Bible [an English translation of the Bible that newly translates the ancient texts, outside the King James tradition], and incorporates the most recent research into both Old and New Testament books. Written by experienced scholars for the use of ministers, preachers, teachers, students, and church leaders, they relate the texts in their ancient settings to the needs of Christians in a multi-racial, multi-faith society.”

Hermeneia Series. Fortress.
Dibelius, Martin. Revised by Heinrich Greeven. 

A Commentary on the Epistle of James. 1976.285 p. $48.00
This ecumenical series is designed for “serious students of the Bible”. An interest in the connotations and ambiguities of the original Greek is presupposed, though all Greek passages cited are fully translated. Dibelius is noted in the history of James interpretation for his view that this book does not support any particular Christian theology, but is rather a “book of popular slogans,” randomly assembled by the early church as a guide to Christian life. The biblical text is newly translated by Michael Williams, who largely follows the RSV.

Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Westminster
Perkins, Pheme.1st and 2d Peter, James and Jude. 1995.204 p. $22.95

Like the Communicator’s commentaries cited above, the books in this series also address preachers and teachers of the Bible, but more from a mainline Protestant perspective. Verses are gathered in sequential, thematic units and commentary offered that is easily mined for classroom or pulpit use. The Bible version presupposed is the NRSV. The James portion is on pages 83-140. The author is professor of New Testament at Boston College.

New American Commentary. Broadman and Holman.
Richardson, Kurt. James. 1997. 272 p.$27.99

The editors comment that all commentaries written in this series are “unapologetically confessional and rooted in the evangelical tradition.”The biblical text used is the NIV. Intended for pastors, teachers and students, the commentaries confine technical discussion of Greek terms to footnotes. They avoid contemporary academic discussion, seeking the application of the text to“ministry in both seminary and church.” The author teaches at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

New International Biblical Commentary. Hendrickson,
Davids, Peter. James.  1993.172 p. $11.95

From the publisher’s catalog: “The NIBC series offers the best of contemporary scholarship in a format that both general readers and serious students can use with profit. The aim of the series is to provide reliable guides to the books of the Bible presented in a style that does not require formal theological education to understand. Based on the widely used NIV translation, each volume in NIBC presents an introductory chapter detailing the background of the book, its audiences, its authorship, its important themes, and other helpful information.”

New International Commentary on the New Testament.  Eerdmans
Adamson, James.The Epistle of James.1976, 1995.227 p. $30.00

These scholarly commentaries offer verse-by-verse interpretation including frequent reference to other, established commentaries and to the original Greek of the text. The biblical text is the New International Version, in the evangelical community. Adamson is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and of Cambridge University, in England, and at the time of writing was a Presbyterian minister in Santa Rosa, California.

New International Greek Testament Commentary. Eerdmans
Davids, Peter. James.1982.226 p.$20.00

Commentaries in this series aim to make concerns with the original Greek of the New Testament accessible to a broad, non-Greek-reading audience.The commentaries are less technical than those of Dibelius, Johnson, or Ropes and do not intend to be “full scale critical commentaries”. The biblical verses commented upon are cited but not reproduced. The author was professor of biblical studies at Trinity Episcopal School for the Ministry, at the time of writing.

New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon.
Letter to the Hebrews, Letter to James … [etc.]. 1998.748 p. $60.00

This ecumenical commentary offers verse-by-verse comment and expounds on larger Christian meanings of the text as it contrasts the New Revised Standard and New International versions. The James commentary is by eminent biblical scholar, Luke Timothy Johnson, and appears on pp. 177-225. The older and out of print Interpreter’s Bible is still found in many church libraries and presents the King James and Revised Standard versions, with commentary by Burton Scott Easton and Gordon Poteat.

New Testament Commentary series. Baker
Kistemaker, Simon. Exposition of the Epistle of James and the Epistles of John.1986. 425 p. $49.99

This is another scholarly series geared to the NIV, like Eerdmans'’s New International Commentary (above). The commentary offers verse-by-verse interpretation of the biblical text and separately highlights and explains key Greek terms. The commentary also offers, in places, “practical considerations” that apply the text to modern day. The author interprets James as two sermons strung together. An introduction relates the letter to Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings.

New Testament Message: A Biblical-Theological Commentary. Glazier
Kugelman, Richard. James and Jude. 1980. 114 p. Out of print

This series, intended for a broad audience, comments on verses in thematic groupings, offering for each what reads as a small, cohesive essay.The aim is to leave readers with an impression of the major themes of each book of the New Testament.The Bible text used is the RSV. Themes addressed in the volume for James are: suffering and prayer, temptation, true piety, judgment, faith and works, wisdom, wealth, and patience.

New Testament Theology. Cambridge University Press.
Chester, Andrew and Ralph P. Martin.
The Theology of the Letters of James, Peter and Jude. 1994. 204 p. $22.95

This series avoids detailed linguistic exegesis in favor of articulating the overarching theologies of the books of the New Testament. Chester, who is lecturer in Divinity at the University of Cambridge, wrote this commentary on James(pp. 1-60). He identifies the community addressed as Jewish Christians, and discusses themes of eschatology, faith and works, ethics, law, wisdom, sin, ministry, God, and Christ. He also explores the letter’s tensions with Paul and its significance for today in such ethical and theological concerns as Jewish-Christian dialogue.

NIV Application Commentary. Zondervan
Nystrom, David. James. 1997.338 p. $22.99

This series works from the assumption that the meaning of the Bible, contextualized as it is by the ancient world in which it was written, needs “bridge” thinking to uncover its significance for the modern day. Consequently, verses are interpreted from three angles: “original meaning”, “bridge contexts”, and “contemporary significance”. Nystrom seeks the unity of this letter in the issues of personal and community ethics it addresses, and the problems that such attitudes as favoritism and status-seeking pose to Christian unity.

Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans
Moo, Douglas J. The Letter of James.2000. 271 p.$20.00

From the publisher’s catalog: “Designed for teachers, pastors and serious students of the Bible, PNTC volumes seek above all to make clear the text of scripture. Each contributor interacts with the most important, informed contemporary debate, while avoiding undue technical detail. Reflecting the best in contemporary scholarship, these volumes … display an ideal blend of rigorous exegesis and exposition with an eye alert to the contemporary relevance of the Bible.”

Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans
Moo, Douglas J. The Letter of James: An Introduction and Commentary. 1987. 191 p. $12.00

These commentaries, written for the “non-technical reader,” cite without reproducing the verses of the biblical text. The author of the James commentary was professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois) at the time of writing.He sees the uniqueness of the letter in its moral earnestness, rather than its theology, and divides it into five units: trials, works, dissensions, Christian world view, and concluding exhortations.

Way of Life Series. Abilene Christian University. Thomas, J. D. Hebrews and James: Message of the New Testament. 1989.91 p. Out of print.
Though the James portion of this book is only a few pages (pp. 67-91), it does provide a concise, well-organized summary of the book. The letter is divided into thematic units, cited by verses, but the biblical text is not reproduced. The organizing themes include: trials, poor and rich, faith and works, wisdom, and prayer. The commentary only occasionally extends beyond summary review into critical comment.

Westminster Bible Companion. Westminster.
Gench, Frances Taylor. Hebrews and James.  1996. 128 p. $14.95

Intended for lay readers in church settings who want to understand the Bible, this series divides books of the Bible into easily comprehended thematic units.The biblical text is the NRSV. In his introduction to James, Gench, who teaches biblical studies at Lutheran Theological Seminary, emphasizes the hortatory nature of the letter. The James portion of the commentary is on pp. 79-126.

Word Biblical Commentary. Word Publishing.
Martin, Ralph P. James. 1988. 240 p. $34.99

The editors of this series inform readers that “the broad stance of our contributors can rightly be called evangelical.” At the time of writing, Martin taught in the department of biblical studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. These commentaries, like the Anchor ones (cited above), provide new translations of the biblical text, careful word studies, evaluations of manuscript sources, sustained dialogue with modern biblical scholarship, and original exposition.

I. Commentaries on James | II. Studies for Lay Readers
III. Academic Studies
| IV. Background on Liberation Theology
V. Background on Poverty and Wealth
| 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

II. Studies Written with the Lay Reader in Mind

Adamson, James B. James: The Man and His Message.
Eerdmans.1989. 553 p. $45.00

Though the author bases this work on his PhD dissertation, he intends it for the layperson. He recommends reading it in tandem with his commentary on James in the New International Commentary on New Testament series (cited above).Here, the approach is not verse-by-verse discussion, but extrapolation of the broad message.The book examines the purpose, plan, and style of the letter, its relation to Jesus and Paul, and the key themes of faith in action, trial and temptation, God, wisdom, and salvation. Adamson claims that James is “the oldest extant un-interpolated document of early first century Christianity” (p. viii).

Bauckham, Richard. James: Wisdom of James, Disciple of Jesus the Sage. Routledge.1995. 246 p.
This commentary uniquely combines the time-tested, literary and historical methods of biblical interpretation with an interest in the pastoral applications of the text to Christian life in the modern world. Quotations from the 19th century existentialist theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, introduce each chapter and help to bridge the worlds of the scholar-interpreter and the practicing Christian. The author, who here employs the NRSV text, is professor of New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews.

Bryson, Harold T. How Faith Works: Studies in the Letter of James.  Harrison House.1985. 144 p.$12.99
The author finds a sequential flow in this letter, so often seen as randomly assembled, from its opening idea of “Salvation” to its closing one of “Restoring Erring Believers”. He invites the reader to follow him through the flow, commenting along the way on its applications to modern life. At the time of writing, Bryson was professor in pastoral ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Eastman, Addison J. A Handful of Pearls: The Epistle of James. Westminster. 1978. 106 p. Out of print.
Using the RSV text, Eastman divides the letter into large, thematic sections, and interprets each in the style of a short sermon. Writing as a pastor with extensive background in missions and ecumenical work, he aims to uncover the relevance of the text for modern day Christians.

Hartin, Patrick J. A Spirituality of Perfection: Faith in Action in the Letter of James. Liturgical Press. 1999.200 p. $17.95
Hartin, who teaches New Testament at Gonzaga University in Spokane, hopes to rehabilitate the concept of perfection, unfashionable ever since Freud.He contextualizes his interpretation of James by examining concepts of perfection in the ancient world, and then focuses on James’ controversial claim that faith is perfected through works. His ultimate aim is to show the applicability of perfection to modern human lives.

Hulme, William Edward. The Fire of Little Jim: Power for Growth from the Letter of James. Abingdon. 1976. 158 p. Out of print.
Hulme, writing as a pastor with particular experience in hospital chaplaincy, reads James with special sensitivity to his message for the suffering and socially exploited.  The way to overcome suffering, that Hulme finds in James, is by “practicing community.”

Maynard-Reid, Pedrito U. Poverty and Wealth in James.
Orbis. 1987. 136 p. Out of print.

The author, who at the time of writing headed the religion department at West Indies College, in Jamaica, focuses on the passages in James that discuss poverty and wealth. By careful examination of those passages, and what we know of social stratification in the ancient world, the author hopes to describe what the community James addressed was like: a mixed Christian community of Jews and gentiles, living in either Palestine or Syria, that drew from James the message that true religion equates with social concern.

Palmer, Earl F. The Book that James Wrote. Eerdmans.1997. 90 p.$10.00
From the publisher: “A user-friendly guide to James, The Book That James Wrote is ideal for church use and for personal or small-group studies. In a series of nine studies comprised of Scripture readings, commentary, and questions for reflection, Palmer walks readers through the historical setting of the early Christian church and through each chapter of James. Focusing on such key themes as the meaning of faith, wisdom, hope, and patience, this study opens up the central truths of James in a way that will both challenge and enrich your understanding of discipleship.”

Scaer, David P. James: the Apostle of Faith: A Primary, Christological Epistle for the Persecuted Church. Concordia. 1983. 158 p. Out of print.
Writing from a Lutheran perspective, the author comments on James with respectful sensitivity to, while at the same time disagreeing with, Luther’s own famously dismissive judgment on this letter. Scaer sees James as an alternative to Paul, offering practical hope to any Christian community undergoing suffering or trials. The author comments on the verses in thematic groupings, using the RSV text, and noting especially the letter’s strong affinities with Matthew. Scaer was professor of New Testament and systematics at Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, IN.) at the time of writing.

I. Commentaries on James | II. Studies for Lay Readers
III. Academic Studies
| IV. Background on Liberation Theology
V. Background on Poverty and Wealth
| 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

III. Academic studies on James

Baker, William R. Personal Speech-Ethics in the Epistle of James. Mohr. 1995. 364 p.
This study is based on a thesis written for the Dept. of New Testament Exegesis at Kings College, University of Aberdeen. The author defines speech-ethics as the “rights and wrongs of utterance”: when and how to speak, and to whom. Chapters successively address “evil of the tongue,” inter-human speech, human-divine speech, and the relation of speech to truth. Each chapter includes an extensive review of literature from the ancient world relevant to James’ understanding of speech-ethics, including Hebrew scripture, Qumran texts, rabbinical literature, and Greco-Roman literature. The author acknowledges a scholarly debt to the work of Peter Davids, who wrote the James commentary in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (cited above).

Bauckham, Richard. James : Wisdom of James, Disciple of Jesus the Sage. London ; New York : Routledge, 1999. 256 pp. $31.00
The structure of James is sometimes a curiosity until one understands that it contains a form of writing called “wisdom literature.” Reading carefully, one hears the resonance with the beatitudes, Proverbs and other down-to-earth theologies. Bauckham gives generous attention to this character of James and reflects on his brother and Lord, Jesus, as Sage as well as Savior.

Cargal, Timothy B. Restoring the Diaspora: Discursive Structure and Purpose in the Epistle of James.  Scholars Pr. 1993. 245 p.$19.95
The author lays out two methods of interpreting the text: either beginning with its social setting, outward-in; or with its own internal logic, inward-out. After reviewing examples of the first approach applied to James, he opts to employ the second. The author constructs a “communications paradigm” for examining the internal coherence of the letter’s ideas of perfection, works, humility, the neighbor, and restoring the diaspora. He concludes with a new translation of the letter that reflects his interpretation. The book is a PhD dissertation written for Vanderbilt University.

Edgar, David Hutchinson. Has God not Chosen the Poor? The Social Setting of the Epistle of James. Sheffield Academic Pr.2001. 261 p.
This book is a revision of a PhD thesis for the University of Dublin. It aims, in the author’s words, “to re-examine the disputed question of the epistle’s setting within the social world of emergent Christianity.” After reviewing the history of scholarly interpretation of the letter, the author examines links between the early Jewish Christian community he believes is addressed by the letter, and its author, whom he takes to be an anonymous Christian writing in the name of James, Jesus’ brother.

Felder, Cain Hope. Wisdom, Law and Social Concern in the Epistle of James. PhD dissertation, Columbia University. 1982.186 p. [available for purchase through Bell and Howell, 800-521-0600, for between $31.00 and $48.00; or, through interlibrary loan]
This unpublished PhD dissertation challenges the classic reading of James by Dibelius (see above), according to which the letter is random exhortation. Felder locates two key themes in James—wisdom and law—and relates them to the letter’s overriding concern with injustices, especially those arising from displays of partiality and wealth. Felder believes the rich, whom James condemns, are among the audience he addresses and that he wields the biblically based themes of wisdom and law to shape new, more ethical behavior in his listeners. Felder, a Methodist minister, has taught for many years at Howard University.

Hartin, P. J. James and the Q Sayings of Jesus.
JSOT Press. 1991. 266 p. $75.00

Biblical scholarship posits a document it calls “Q” (for Quelle, which is “Source” in German) that represents the material the gospels of Matthew and Luke have in common apart from Mark. This book takes the idea of wisdom to be a connecting link between “Q” and James. It also examines the relation between James and Jesus sayings and traditions assigned to “Q”. The author draws on these comparisons to help locate James in the larger context of the early Christian communities. The book is based on a thesis written for at doctor of theology degree at the University of South Africa.

Jackson-McCabe, Matt A. Logos and Law in the Letter of James: The Law of Nature, the Law of Moses, and the Law of Freedom. Brill. 2001. 281 p.
This book is a revised dissertation submitted to the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago. The author opens by underscoring the diversity of early Christianity and the difficulty of specifying any one essence for it. He argues that a failure of scholars to fully appreciate that diversity has concealed from them James’ debt to ancient Stoic understandings of law, especially as these lie behind James’ reference to “ the implanted logos” in James 1:21. He argues that James’ view of law merges elements from both ancient Jewish and Greek teachings, culminating in a view of ancient Jewish Torah as a law of freedom.

Ong, S. H. A Strategy for a Metaphorical Reading of the Epistle of James. University Press of America.1996. 184 p.$26.00
This book draws on literary theories of metaphor to interpret the letter of James. According to the author, James’ central metaphor is that “life is a trial before God”.This overarching trial metaphor, rooted in Jewish religious thought, brings unity to an otherwise disparate collection of verses. The ultimate message is the comforting one that sufferings endured now as trials will have their final, good reward.

Penner, Todd. Epistle of James and Eschatology:
Re-reading an Ancient Christian Letter.
1996.331 p.

The author contests one traditional of reading James, that it belongs to ancient Jewish wisdom tradition. He believes that the opening and closing verses of the letter point to an idea that can be seen to structure the letter as a whole: that the world will soon end. The ethical prescriptions of the text are recast, on this reading, as directives for how to live in the end-time. The book concludes by placing the letter in the larger context of early Christianity.

Wachob, Wesley Hiram. The Voice of Jesus in the Social Rhetoric of James.  Cambridge University Pr. 2000.
251 p. $59.95

This book first appeared as a PhD dissertation submitted to Emory University. It examines James’ rhetorical techniques, or methods of persuading his audience. The author believes a critical verse for uncovering those methods is 2:5, a saying about the poor attributed to Jesus. Building on that verse, and the whole of chapter 2, the writer of James constructs an effective tool of social persuasion addressed to a community of pious poor: the “Christian Jews in the dispersion”. To strengthen his persuasiveness, the writer of James interprets himself along the lines of an important social relation in the ancient world: that of patron and client. As a client of God and Jesus, James can, as patron, uniquely mediate their benefits to the community he addresses.

Wall, Robert W. Community of the Wise: The Letter of James. Trinity Press International. 1998. 360 p. $24.00
From a review in Bible Today, quoted in the publisher’s catalog: “The author of this fine new commentary on James notes from his teaching experience that the message of James, with its strong challenges to integrity and justice, has an immediacy and clear relevance for modern readers. The clarity of Wall’s commentary and its rich theological perspective make this a particularly valuable exposition of James”.

Webber, Randall C.  Reader-Response Analysis of the Epistle of James.  International Scholars Publications. 1996. 125 p. $49.95
From the publisher: “This new work provides two divergent readings of James on the basis of plausible first-century audiences. The work demonstrates the relationships between literary and social criteria in James's work and provides enlightening information regarding the incorporation of diverse materials into the New Testament during the canonization process. Randall Webber's research looks at previous approaches to James and explores reading as socially conditioned. He discusses James as read by an early post-Pauline audience and by a Palestinian audience, and deals with the Christian transformation of the ideology of righteousness. In his conclusion, Webber discusses diversity and the canonization process. This work is an important contribution to James literature as well as to New Testament research in reader-response studies.” Webber teaches at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Williams, James G., 1936- Those who ponder proverbs : aphoristic thinking and Biblical literature James G. Williams. Sheffield : Almond Press, 1981. $22.00

I. Commentaries on James | II. Studies for Lay Readers
III. Academic Studies
| IV. Background on Liberation Theology
V. Background on Poverty and Wealth
| 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

IV. Background in Liberation Theology

Boff, Clodovis, Feet-on-the-Ground-Theology: A Brazilian Journey. Orbis. 1987. 185 p. Out of print.
This is an example of liberation theology emerging from within a specific context of poverty: the communities of rubber-gatherers who labor in the Brazilian jungles. Boff recounts his missionary journeys among these laborers, and discusses the BCCs (Basic Christian Communities) or grassroots churches that he helped sustain.

Boff, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff. Introducing Liberation Theology. Orbis. 1987. 99 p. $14.00
This now classic introduction to liberation theology is written by two of its premier practitioners. Grounding theologies of liberation in acute awarenesses of poverty and social destitution, the authors concisely describe the method, key themes and history of this mode of theologizing. Building on the biblical idea that God sides specially with the poor and oppressed, the authors emphasize that intellectual reflection must find its fulfillment in socially transformative practice.

Boff, Leonardo. Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor. Orbis. 1997. 242 p. $22.00
Brazilian liberation theologian, Leonardo Boff, shows how concern for the poor links to concern for nature. In the now established spirit of liberation theology, he translates ethical theory into concrete concern over that part of nature nearest to him, the Amazon River of his native Brazil. He draws from feminine imagery of Gaia, or earth mother, along with biblical images of the cosmic Christ, to make his case for nature’s needs.

Boff, Leonardo. Church: Charism and Power: Liberation Theology and the Institutional Church. Crossroad. 1985. 182 p. Out of print.
This challenging and learned work explores and contrasts the wide meaning of “the church,” from institutional powerhouse that has committed its share of human rights violations, to “base ecclesial communities,” those spontaneous, grassroots assemblies of Christians that represent a more democratic ideal. The book concludes with a model for church structure that builds on the image of the Holy Spirit, empowering the church extra-institutionally, in accord with the resurrection, from the ground up.

William K. Tabb, ed. Churches in the Struggle: Liberation Theologies and Social Change in North America, Monthly Review Press. 1986. 331 p. $16.00 
This book performs the service of translating to a north American setting a theological style that originated in South America. Monthly Review Press, a secular, socialist magazine, here gathers essays from a racially and religiously diverse group of theologians on expressions of liberation theology in North America. The aim is to introduce “the religious left to the secular left,” since, according to the editor, the two movements have much in common. Essays address the different perspectives from which it is possible to write liberation theology (African-American, feminist, Jewish, etc.), and the relation of theology to Marxism, political activism, and lived community.

Comblin, Jose. Called for Freedom: The Changing Context of Liberation Theology. Orbis. 1998. 252 p. $25.00
Comblin, a Belgian theologian writing in Brazil, has long identified with the central concerns of liberation theology. However, in this book he notes that social changes in Latin America have rendered much previous liberation thought in that region outdated. For example, Marxism is no longer a world force and the rural, peasant communities that drew so much of the liberation theologians’ attention are quickly passing away in favor of more concentrated, urban environments. Rethinking the concept of liberation along more global lines, Comblin addresses its application to newly emerging social, economic, political, cultural, and personal realities.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. Orbis. 1988. 323 p. $19.00
Gutierrez, the unofficial founder of Latin American liberation theology, wrote this book in 1971, but it remains in print as a foundational document of the movement. Readers will hear the clarion call of liberation theology to reject abstract, disembodied reason, as an instrument of theological method, in favor of thought contextualized by the social realities of poverty and suffering. The characteristic themes of liberation theology—the social nature of sin and the imperative to identify with the poor—appear here in classic formulation.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. The Density of the Present: Selected Writings. Orbis. 1999. 190 p. $22.00
This book gathers lectures and presentations by Gutierrez written over the past 20 years. The essays show the breadth of Gutierrez’s social and theological interests. Topics addressed include recent papal encyclicals, the Jesuit order, the Carmelite mystic John of the Cross, and the spiritual power of poetry and silence. All the diverse topics find their center here in their application to concrete issues of poverty and suffering.

Hennelly, Alfred T. Liberation Theologies: The Global Pursuit of Justice. Twenty-Third Publications. 1995. 382 p. $19.95
Hennelly, who is professor of theology at Fordham University, offers here a handy and readable introduction to Latin American liberation theology and its many applications to other distinctive groups of people living in and under constrained circumstances, including: women, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asians, and Africans.The book also explores the implications of liberation theology for the ecology of the planet and for first-world thinkers worried about unshared concentrations of wealth in their own regions.

Hutchinson Edgar, David. Has God not chosen the poor?: the social setting of the Epistle of James.
Sheffield, England : Sheffield Academic Press, c2001.

Margaret Farley and Serene Jones, eds. Liberating Eschatology: Essays in Honor of Letty Russell. Westminster. 1999. 261 p. $24.95
Yale Divinity School faculty member Letty Russell began her career working for the East Harlem Protestant Parish, in New York City. Ever since, she has written with special emphasis on liberation issues affecting women and members of diverse minority groups. The essays gathered here, by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Phyllis Trible, Elsa Tamez, James Cone, Katie Cannon, and Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, among others, illustrate the different strands of focus and attention within liberation theology.

Melendez, Guillermo.  Seeds of Promise: The Prophetic Church in Central America. Friendship Press. 1990. 125 p. of print.
Melendez is a Roman Catholic lay theologian from Costa Rica with particular interest in grassroots faith communities in Latin America. Distinguishing the prophetic church, which aspires to interact transformatively with society at large, from the church of Christendom, which works to cultivate and nurture its own power, Melendez traces the interaction of these forms of Christian witness within Central America since 1950. This introductory presentation of a Central American liberation theology attends simultaneously to the region as a whole and to the specific countries within it.

Russell, Letty M. Human Liberation in a Feminist Perspective: a Theology. Westminster. 1974. 213 p. $19.95
Letty Russell is one of most widely published thinkers in feminist theology. Consciously allying with Latin American liberation theology, Russell applies its method of writing “out of an experience of oppression in society” to women’s concerns. As long ago as 1974, Russell, who teaches at Yale Divinity School, had already experienced enough of human struggle—from East Harlem in New York City, to the YWCAs of India—to write her own feminist-oriented liberation theology. Russell’s sense that all liberation theologies must cooperate to address the manifold social ills of our time rests on solid biblical and theological erudition.

Schubeck, Thomas L. Liberation Ethics: Sources, Models, and Norms.  Fortress, 1993.226 p.$22.00
Schubeck, who teaches at John Carroll University, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, begins his book with a concise history of liberation theology and its critics. Focusing on the ethical dimensions of the movement, he explores several if its definitive themes: the relation of practice to thought, the ethics of power, and interpreting the Bible from within concrete social settings. Important figures discussed include Gutierrez, the Boffs, and Jose Comblin.

Shaull, Richard. Heralds of a New Reformation: The Poor of South and North America. Orbis. 1984. 140 p. Out of print.
At the time of writing, Shaull, who for many years taught ecumenics at Princeton Theological Seminary, was conducting research in Latin America. Drawing on his experiences with the poor of Colombia and Brazil, and biblical teachings on justice, he constructs a readable introduction to liberation theology for North Americans. An especially helpful chapter discusses the basic Christian communities that have figured so centrally in Latin American theological reflections on the church’s response to poverty.

Subversive Scriptures: Revolutionary Readings of the Christian Bible in Latin America. Trinity Press. 1997. 224 p. $19.00
This book collects scholarly essays that originally appeared in Spanish or Portuguese in the Journal of Latin American Biblical Interpretation. The ecumenical selection of writers includes Catholics, Lutherans, one Presbyterian, and a Methodist (Dagoberto Ramirez Fernandez, a Chilean minister). Though grounded in the traditional historical-critical research methods, these scholars write from the perspective of “the postmodern neo-liberal Latin American poor.” The authors provide close readings of biblical passages that stimulate resistance to oppression and advocacy for the poor. However, none of the articles are devoted specifically to James.

Tamez, Elsa. Bible of the Oppressed. Orbis. 1982. 88 p. $30.00 [from Books on Demand]
Elsa Tamez, author of this year’s Spiritual Growth study, here looks at themes of liberation and oppression in the Bible. Tamez reads the Hebrew scriptures for their sensitivity to the sufferings of the ancient Israelites, and interprets the New Testament as offering, for Christians, an answer to oppression everywhere: conversion to God’s just ways.

I. Commentaries on James | II. Studies for Lay Readers
III. Academic Studies
| IV. Background on Liberation Theology
V. Background on Poverty and Wealth
| 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

V. Background readings on rich and poor in the New Testament

Birch, Bruce and Larry Rasmussen. Predicament of the Prosperous. Westminster. 1978. 212 p. $19.95
This book is part of a series called, “Biblical Perspectives on Current Issues.” Accordingly, the moral issues that wealth raises, especially in the United States, are addressed here from biblical standpoints. The authors warn against the temptation to spiritualize biblical teachings on wealth and poverty, and note that while biblical calls to justice reach the ears of the poor as words of comfort, they can only be received by such prosperous social segments as the American middle class as words of judgment. The book spells out the implications of that judgment and offers guidance to Americans for redressing the social and economic wrongs in their midst. Readers should note that this book, written in 1978, reflects the political and social realities of that time.

Boerma, Conrad. The Rich, the Poor, and the Bible.
Westminster. 1979. 112 p. Out of print.

Boerma, who at the time of writing was a Dutch Reformed pastor in Holland, unravels the complex treatment of wealth and poverty in the Bible, which both critiques them as economic realities, and transforms them into metaphors of spiritual life. After even-handedly reviewing the Bible’s statements on poverty and wealth, from the beginnings of Hebrew scripture up through the prophets and the New Testament, Boerma extracts the sum of his findings as teaching for the modern church: that poverty become an issue of justice, rather than charity, and that the rich exercise their wealth in solidarity with the poor.

Countryman, L. Wm. The Rich Christian in the Church of the Early Empire: Contradictions and Accommodations. Mellen Pr. 1980. 239 p. $89.95
This study, based on a PhD dissertation submitted to the University of Chicago, discusses attitudes towards wealth in early Christian history, from New Testament times to the 3rd century. Issues addressed include almsgiving, sharing, and the dangers wealth poses to both individuals and the church. Two church fathers who gave special attention to the morals of wealth, Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian of Carthage, receive chapters here. The author’s view of the Letter of James, discussed unfortunately only in passing, is that it “draws the sharpest contrast of any New Testament book between rich and poor” (p. 82).

Hanks, Thomas D. God So Loved the World: The Biblical Vocabulary of Oppression. Orbis, 1983. 152 p. $18.00
This book gathers essays and addresses that the author wrote or delivered for diverse occasions. In the world of liberation thought, which is typically Catholic and sometimes Marxist, Hanks’ book is unusual for being written from a Protestant, evangelical perspective. The author relates liberation theology to the Protestant Reformation and gives special attention to the prophet Isaiah’s themes of the suffering servant and the jubilee year. A substantial section on James presents that book as a transition document between Old and New Testament teachings on the poor. At the time of writing, Hanks taught at the Seminario Biblico Latinoamericano in Costa Rica.

Hanson, K. C. and Douglas Oakman. Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts. Fortress, 1998. 235 p. $21.00
The authors, both scholars, introduce their book as one of the few that attempts to analyze the New Testament world from the standpoint of the modern social sciences. Useful charts and graphs help to picture social stratification in Palestine under the Roman Empire. One chapter especially relevant to issues of wealth addresses the ancient economy, land use, taxation, and the uses of money. The authors conclude with a glossary of terms and reference to a web site on which they feature their book.

Hengel, Martin. Property and Riches in the Early Church: Aspects of a Social History of Early Christianity. Sigler Press, 2002. 96 p. $12.00
This book, which first appeared in English in 1974, is a careful scholarly analysis of teachings on wealth and ownership across a broad range of ancient sources: Hebrew scripture, Greco-Roman culture, the gospels, Paul’s letters, Clement of Alexandria, and Cyprian of Carthage. Hengel warns against too facile applications to the modern world of biblical idealizations of poverty, since some of the New Testament reflections on wealth were informed by a vivid apocalyptic anticipation of the world’s imminent end. As the church adapted to life in the Roman Empire, it had to make its peace with wealth and property. Hengel nonetheless extracts from the Bible’s sometimes apocalyptic context teachings on wealth that can apply to Christian life in the world of today.

Hoppe, Leslie J.  Being Poor: A Biblical Study.
Glazier. 1987. 191 p. Out of print

Hoppe, who at the time of writing taught at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, wends his way through the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, commenting on sections along the way that explicitly treat of poverty. Also included are brief surveys of this theme in the apocalyptic literature and in rabbinical literature. James, however, receives only brief attention, since the author judges this book to be more about the evils of wealth than the needs of the poor.

Jeremias, Joachim. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus: An Investigation into Economic and Social Conditions during the New Testament Period. Fortress. 1969. 405 p. $20.00
This monumental study by an eminent New Testament scholar offers in-depth insights into the social and economic world of ancient Jerusalem. Separate chapters address the conditions of the rich, middle class, and poor (which included day laborers, slaves, and those living on relief). Jeremias also analyzes the industry and commerce of the times, and the impact of visitors and pilgrims on the economics of the city. However, there is no discussion of the Letter of James.

Meeks, Wayne A. The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. Yale University Press. 1983. 299 p. $17.00
Though limited to the New Testament world of Saint Paul, which is not necessarily the same as James’, this book does address commonalities of social stratification in biblical times under the Roman empire. The chapter, “The Social Level of Pauline Christians” discusses the different factors affecting social status, such as wealth, family background, sex, closeness to political power, and whether slave or free. Meeks relates the social stratification of the early Christians to Paul’s ideal of one church in Christ.

Pobee, John S. Who Are the Poor?: The Beatitudes as a Call to Community. World Council of Churches. 1987.71 p. Out of print.
Pobee, an African Christian, writes with the poverty of Africa in mind. At the time of writing, he was associate director of the World Council of Churches’ Programme on Theological Education. Pobee notes that the blessings which the beatitudes call down on the poor really apply to two potentially different groups of people: the materially poor, and the “poor in spirit,” that is, the humble who model an appropriate stance towards God. Though the first group can be taken as a metaphor for the second, this does not absolve the church of the responsibility to work towards eliminating material poverty. On the contrary, especially from an African standpoint, this reasonability is more urgent than ever.

Santa Ana, Julio de. Good News to the Poor: The Challenge of the Poor in the History of the Church. World Council of Churches. 1977. 124 p. Out of print.
At the time of writing, Julio de Santa Ana served on the World Council of Churches’ Commission on the Churches’ Participation in Development. This book compactly surveys the history of Christian attitudes towards poverty from the Bible through the Middle Ages. Especially helpful for this year’s Spiritual Growth study is a section devoted to James’ teachings on the contrast between rich and poor (pp. 47-52).There, de Santa Ana shows James’ focus of concern on the actual poor (especially in contrast to Paul, whose issues are more theologically abstract) and the active attitude of alliance with the poor that James hopes to arouse in his readers.

Sider, Ronald. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: A Biblical Study. Word Books. 1997. 300 p. $15.99
This is the 20th anniversary edition of a book that first appeared in 1977. Sider, who holds the PhD in history from Yale University and teaches at Messiah College in Grantham, Penn., hopes to waken all Christians complacent about poverty from their moral slumbers. He reviews some of the biblical provisions for aiding the poor—the sabbatical year, restrictions on gleaning the harvest—and explores ways of translating the spirit of those provisions to the modern day. While this second edition of the book is able to report some progress in the church’s response to poverty, since it was written 20 years ago, much remains to be done.

Stegemann, Wolfgang. The Gospel and the Poor.
Fortress. 1984. 78 p. Out of print

This little book by a German scholar succinctly reviews New Testament teachings on poverty, noting that the gospels’ favorite word for the poor—ptochos—connotes utter destitution and not mere want. The unstated supposition of the gospels is that poverty among those living in Palestine during New Testament times had reached desperate proportions. The good news is that God is building a community—the church—whose express purpose is to identify with the destitute. Stegemann concludes by offering guidelines to Christians in wealthy countries for responding to the needs of the poor today.

I. Commentaries on James | II. Studies for Lay Readers
III. Academic Studies
| IV. Background on Liberation Theology
V. Background on Poverty and Wealth
| 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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2001: Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos | Global Health | Jesus and Courageous Women
2000: Children of Africa | Urban Culture | Paul's Letter to the Corinthians
1996-1998: John Wesley | Joshua & the Land | The Bible

All material ©Women's Division, 2002. For permission to use, or to link to our site, contact J. Ann Craig. Unless otherwise noted, articles are by Elizabeth M. Magill, MDiv. 2002 Episcopal Divinity School.