James Proclaims The End is at Hand!
In contrast to the emphasis on right action here and now, as
offered by Elsa Tamez, Todd Penner suggests that the Letter of
James is an eschatological text. His view is that James’
purpose is to warn us of the coming judgment. Do what is right
now, because those who live a duplicitous life will fade like
flowers in the sun. Penner agrees with Tamez that James insists
on following the law and caring for the poor. But when read in
an eschatological context it is clear that we must do what is
right in preparation for our own judgment. The main point of James,
then, is to declare that the kingdom of God is at hand.
Elsa Tamez on End Times
The imminent arrival of the end is clear in James 5:7-9. Be
patient … until the coming of the Lord. Like the farmer
we must wait, but the wait is short—the judge is standing
at the doors. Likewise, it is common to consider the crown
of life in James 1:12 to be a future prize, promised to those
who endure trials, but promised at some future time.
Compare this text with the only other use of the phrase in the
last part of Revelation 2:10: Be faithful until death, and
I will give you the crown of life. Here it is clear that
endurance, even unto death, will be rewarded later with the crown.
To read all of James as a message of later reward requires that
the opening and conclusion be understood as the frame of the letter.
This frame adds meaning to the body of the letter, where the emphasis
on the future is not as clear. Penner outlines James like this:
- 1:1 Greeting of Letter
- 1:2-12 Opening Frame
- 4:6-5:12 Conclusion of Frame
- 5:13-20 Closing of Letter (P143).
The opening and closing frames set the image of reversal of the
earthly order at the time of God’s judgment (P160).
The image of God’s judgment, especially in James 5:1-12,
is what makes this an eschatological letter. When this is paired
with James 1:2-12 to create a frame, we see that the coming judgment
will result in a reversal: trials bring joy and maturity, the
lowly are raised and the rich are brought low. The body of the
letter is a call to purity so that believers will be on the right
side when the judgment comes (P161).
For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown
no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. -James 2:13
Elsa Tamez on End Times
to full Bibliography
for web site)
Todd C. Penner, The Epistle of James and Eschatology: Re-reading
an Ancient Christian Letter (Sheffield, England: Sheffield
Academic Press, 1996).