Nov 4, 2009

The Epistle of James?

"Is the letter of James a letter, and if not, what is the genre of James? The text itself purports to be a letter. In classic form it begins with the sender, then the addressee, followed by the traditional greeting, chairein (greetings). Is that enough to qualify James as a letter? Yes. First, despite the pervasive influence of Paul, there is not a single model in the NT of what a letter looks like. NT letters vary in length, audience, outline, and topics, from the ‘letters’ in Acts to the ‘letter to the Romans.’ To argue that James cannot be a letter because it lacks final greetings is like arguing that Mark is not a gospel because it originally had no resurrection appearance, nor John because it has no birth narrative. Second, to disqualify James as a letter because the majority of its verses are devoted to paranesis (traditional moral instruction) and diatribe (moral exhortation) is to confuse form and content. By this standard one would also disqualify Romans . . . More generally . . . James may be thought of as a homiletical letter intended to be circulated and read aloud (as were all letters) by early Christian communities influenced by the Jerusalem church. Whether one thinks of it as a letter in the form of a sermon or as a sermon in the form of a letter, it was a vehicle for sharing the teaching of James with the extended early Jewish Christian community – the ‘twelve tribes of the Dispersion’ (Gk diaspora).”

William F. Brosend II, James and Jude, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 7-8.

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