Review: High Definition Commentary: James

28279999Steven E. Runge currently serves as Scholar-in-Residence at Logos Bible Software. Runge has a Master of Theological Studies degree in Biblical Languages from Trinity Western Seminary in Langley, B.C., Canada, and a Doctor of Literature degree in Biblical Languages from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. He is the author or editor of a number of books related to Greek discourse analysis, including Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis, Discourse Studies & Biblical Interpretation: A Festschrift in Honor of Stephen H. Levinsohn (editor), Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament (general editor), and the High Definition Commentary series of which three volumes have been published—Philippians, Romans, and most recently, James.

High Definition Commentary: James is a unique commentary experience that will position itself well alongside other commentaries, such as James (EEC) by William Varner or The Letter of James (PNTC) by Douglas Moo. Both the size and content of this volume display that it was not intended to be a replacement commentary for those mentioned above. Rather, Runge has provided an excellent supplemental commentary that guides the reader through the trenches of a rigorous discourse analysis of the Greek text. Still, the reader with no prior exposure to such analysis will be happy to find that this volume is extremely accessible notwithstanding the complexity of the preceding sentence. Runge has truly done the reader a service by distilling the fruit of such analysis and presenting it within a clear and digestible package—a package that will bolster the readers understanding of the text without bogging them down in details.

The commentary itself is very readable and overflowing with practical insight for pastors and teachers. This is likewise true with the other volumes in the High Definition Commentary series. The commentary lacks a traditional introduction that some readers may expect. However, Runge does provide some introductory material in his opening treatment of James 1:1-11. Nevertheless, the real benefit of this volume is the way that Runge guides the reader through the text of James with a unified approach to his overall thought process. This is unique in that the reader is able to see the clear shifts in James’ argument as he moves from thought to thought, but also see the unity therein—something that is lacking in some of the other approaches taken towards this book. This, accompanied by the numerous graphics included, will be particularly helpful for those seeking to teach or study the book cover-to-cover.

High Definition Commentary: James by Steven E. Runge is a commentary that I wouldn’t want to be without. Runge is clear and articulate in his presentation of the discourse analysis of the Greek text, and thus very readable for those approaching the book of James—maybe even for the first time. Moreover, the inclusion of the graphics allows the pastor or teacher to more easily digest and display the overall message of the book to his hearers—providing a visual point of reference to better communicate the information therein. In short, if you are preparing to teach or preach through the book of James, or even simply looking for a more holistic understanding of the text, this is a commentary that will make your efforts worthwhile. Highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: James (EGGNT)

13212720Chris A. Vlachos is the Ph.D. program administrator and adjunct assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. Prior to joining the staff and teaching at Wheaton College in 2007, Vlachos served in Utah for thirty years, twenty-two years of which as an instructor and professor of Greek and New Testament at Salt Lake Theological Seminary. Vlachos earned an M.A. in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Biblical Theology of the New Testament from Wheaton College. Vlachos is the author (with Marvin R. Wilson) of A Workbook for New Testament Greek: Grammar and Exegesis in First John (Baker Academic, 2010) and The Law and the Knowledge of Good and Evil: The Edenic Background of the Catalytic Operation of the Law in Paul (Wipf & Stock, 2009). Most recently, Vlachos has authored a welcomed commentary in the EGGNT series, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: James (B&H Academic, 2013).

The Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series seeks to function as a bridge to narrow the gap between the text of the Greek New Testament (UBS4) and the available lexical and grammatical resources being utilized by pastors and teachers today. The book begins with a brief introduction, discussing issues of authorship, date, occasion and purpose. If you are looking for extensive introductory material on the epistle you will need to look elsewhere, but Vlachos will provide you with a good survey of the need-to-know introductory information. As the commentary opens the reader is met by diagramed Greek text that functions as the roadmap for the commentary that follows. This is helpful for understanding the flow of the epistle and the overall thought of James as his pen hit the page. The commentary is discussed at the clausal level, as Vlachos explains and surveys the grammatical and exegetical discussion amongst biblical scholarship. Overall, I think Vlachos was objective in his evaluation, presenting the evidence in a responsible way in which cultivates contemplation on the part of the reader. Each unit in the commentary closes with a “For Further Study” section that includes a topically organized bibliography, as well as a “Homiletical Suggestions” segment which provides the reader with a number of text-derived preaching and teaching proposals.

The highlights of this commentary are numerous. First, Vlachos is clear, concise, and careful in his treatment of the text. If you are looking for a commentary that delivers sprinkles and frosting to decorate the cake, then you will want to look elsewhere. Vlachos is going to give you the cake alone. But the cake that Vlachos delivers is going to be some of the best cake you have ever tasted. It will be refreshing, enjoyable, and bursting with flavor. In other words, at under 200 pages, Vlachos will give you what you to know rather than what you may want to know. Second, as someone who seeks to engage in conversation with Mormon’s often, and given Vlachos’ prior position in Salt Lake City, I found his interaction on James 2:14-26 incredibly insightful. This is also testimony to the text-centered objectivity of Vlachos’ approach as he seeks to provide you with what the text says (and could say) without diverting into theological name-calling. Lastly, I found the grammatical index at the back of the book to extremely helpful for consulting the grammatical ideas flow across the letter. Not to mention, I seem to remember grammatical phraseology well, and thus can find the section I need quickly.

It is certainly no easy task to follow up the inaugural volume of what has come to be recognized as one of the best exegetically oriented series on the Greek New Testament. But if that wasn’t enough pressure on Vlachos, the introductory volume was written by one of the world’s foremost respected biblical exegetes Murray J. Harris. Still, despite these mental challenges that inevitably entered into his mind, Vlachos has produced a clear and concise compilation of some of the best work on the letter of James and did so while walking the reader through the grammatical and exegetical forest of one of the most important New Testament writings. If you are a pastor, teacher, student, or trained laymen, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: James is a resource you will not want to see missing from your bookshelf. It follows closely in the footsteps of Harris’ work and has become the first book off my shelf when studying the letter of James.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

James: A New Perspective (Part 2)

“If this leadership role of James was the real situation reflected in the NT writings, did the early church in later centuries recognize James’ primacy? The answer is yes, and it is witnessed by writers, Jewish and Christian, from the second through the early fifth centuries (p. 13).”

In this post we will seek to outline some of the external arguments that provide support for the New Perspective on James (NPJ). As one would rightly expect if the biblical arguments presented in part one are true, there are several extra-biblical or external indicators that also confirm the NPJ conclusion. If you are unfamiliar with the NPJ position and have yet to read the prior post (which outlined some of the internal arguments for the NPJ), I would highly encourage you to read part one first—as it demonstrate to be a helpful introduction to the position and it function to construct a foundation that will primarily be seen as an assumption in the following survey. Thus, with our task present before us, lets go ahead and enter into the content.

The martyrdom of James took place in 62 A.D. and is vividly described by the Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus intentionally records the details, writing, “…so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James…and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned” (Ant. 20.200). There is very little present need at this point in the discussion to elaborate, as the account by Josephus is widely accepted as an authentic description of the death of James. However, as Varner rightly points out, there is another important issue that arises from this text that is far to often overlooked:

 “The simple fact that Josephus never mentions any other prominent leaders of the early Christian movement, such as Peter, John, or Paul, seems to have been overlooked in previous scholarship. Or at least no one seems to have recognized the significance of this omission. Apart from a statement about “the tribe of Christians” in the controversial Testimonium Flavianum (“Flavian Testimony”) about Jesus, the only early Christian that Josephus mentions is James! This recognition of his death is because of James’ leading role in the fledgling Jesus movement, a role that was recognized even outside the movement!” (p. 13)

Clement of Alexandria is another individual with which one could easily argue displayed knowledge of James that would perfectly align with the conclusion found in the NPJ. This is something that is affirmed by Eusebius’s citation of the well know Jewish-Christian historian Hegesippus (see Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., 2:23), as well as Jerome (see Jerome, On Famous Men, 2). For purpose here it will be helpful to at least present the manner in which Hegesippus beings his account of James martyrdom, which is taken from the same section that Eusebius uses to support his citation of Clement. Hegesippus writes, “James, the Lord’s brother, succeeds (διαδεχεται) to the government of the Church, in conjunction with the apostles.” Thus, according to Hegesippus, James was given the governing role in the Church in union with the other apostles, and was given this position by the Lord himself. This is a point that is made emphatically clear in the original language by the forward placement of succeeds (διαδεχεται) in the sentence structure—it is actually the word that leads the sentence.

Similarly, declarations by such orthodox leaders as these are also reiterated in a number of pseudepigraphical works, such as the well known second century document, The Gospel of Thomas. The author of Thomas writes, “The disciples said to Jesus, ‘we know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?’ Jesus said to them, ‘wherever you are, you are to go to James the just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being’ (logia 12).” As Varner correctly explains, “This quotation is included, not because we should be certain Jesus actually said that but because these and many other sayings about James’ role reflect an attitude that prevailed in the early church despite the growing authority of Peter’s so-called successors in Rome! (p. 13)” It should be clear from the surveyed statements thus far that original role of James in the Church was perceived as universal knowledge—even the gnostics identified his God-given leadership authority.

Finally, one must equally notice the monumental comparative statement made in the fifth century by one of James’ predecessors to the Jerusalem church, Hesychius of Jerusalem. In a sermon on Acts 15 Hesychius declared the following about James:

“How shall I praise the servant and brother of Christ, the commander in chief of the new Jerusalem, the prince of the presbyters, the leader of the apostles, among the heads the highest, among the shining lights the one who shines brightest, among the stars the most illustrious? Peter speaks, but James makes the law. ‘I judge,’ whose judgment neither the law of custom nor the decree of an assembly can challenge. For in me speaks the one who is judge of all, the living and the dead.’ ”

Varner summarizes the historical implication of Hesychius, writing, “Even after acknowledging a strong measure of rhetorical hyperbole by Hesychius, this description must clearly indicate a prevalent view about the position that James held, at least in the minds of Christians, four centuries after his death” (p. 14).

The external evidence for the NPJ provides a substantial amount weight to the discussion. The diverse array of literature detailed in this post was clearly intentional, and while it may have been brief, the content sufficiently surveyed over four centuries of historical Christian tradition—all of which support the conclusion of the biblical text as outlined in part one. And while much more in the way of content could have been discussed, the aim here was not to be exhaustive.

 

1. Varner, William. James. Edited by H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris III, and Andrew W. Pitts. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.

2. Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987.

3. Hegesippus. “Fragments from His Five Books of Commentaries on the Acts of the Church.” In Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, the Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Ages, edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, translated by B. P. Pratten. Vol. 8. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886.

For more information about the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary please visitevangelicalexegeticalcommentary.com. You can also purchase Dr. Varner’s volume on James (EEC) in both digital and printed format.

James: A New Perspective (Part 1)

Before evaluating some of the internal indicators favoring the New Perspective on James (NPJ), it may be helpful to the reader if we first summarize the position.

According to the NPJ shortly after Pentecost (Acts 2) James rose to a position of leadership in the church similar to that of the Apostles. Furthermore, his leadership was so instrumental among the church that by the early 40’s A.D. he was widely recognized as the leader of the entire Christian movement—a first among equals. Varner illustrates, “If a stranger arrived in Jerusalem or in Antioch between the years A.D. 40-62 and asked, “Who is the person in charge of this movement?” any knowledgeable Christian, including Peter or John or Paul, would have answered without hesitation, “James” (p. 9). The NPJ asserts that James was so well known among the early Church that one could immediately recognize who he was by a single name without any additional description or qualifier—an interesting perspective when one considers how James begins his canonical epistle. Conversely, while the vast majority of Christians today attribute such a prominent position to either Peter or Paul, the NPJ challenges this assumption, and several canonical statements provide convincing support to this conclusion.

Thus with the summary behind us, we can now turn our attention to the supportive evidence found within the pages of the New Testament for the NPJ position.

An imperative starting-point for the NPJ acknowledges that Paul recognized James as an apostle. In 1 Corinthians 15:7, Paul declares that James received a special appearance from the risen Lord apart from the other apostles. The fascinating thing about this passage is that not only does James precede “all the apostles” in Paul’s description, but Paul actually refers James to as one of them. Some may object to this notion based on the context (1 Cor. 15:5), arguing that Paul is using the term in a wider sense that is not typically associated with the Twelve Apostles. However, this would fail to account for fact that Paul elsewhere mentions James as an “apostle” in the narrower sense—placing James and Peter in the same apostolic class (Gal. 1:19).

“This information is crucial for the argument that James became the leader of the entire church, because of what Luke and Paul later record about James. When Paul and Barnabas visited Jerusalem as described in Galatians 2:1–10 (probably the famine relief visit of Acts 11–12), they met privately with the Big Three—James, Peter, and John (Gal 2:9). The order of these “pillars” should not be overlooked. James was first in order and his primacy is illustrated in Peter’s attitude toward James from at least this point onward. After “the pillars” affirm Paul’s Gentile ministry they remind him to “remember the poor.” Paul was eager to add that he had done that and would continue to do so. Paul did what James requested that he do. Then around the same time, during the dramatic episode in Acts 12 when Peter was released miraculously from prison, Peter made a special effort to ask the people in John Mark’s mother’s prayer meeting to inform “James and the brothers” about his release. Peter here acknowledged the leadership role of James as he also did later at the Jerusalem Council.” (Varner, p. 10).

In Act 15, Luke records the events known as the Jerusalem Council. In this account Luke makes plain to his readers the leadership role that James had during the Council and among the church. During this assembly the decision concerning Gentile conversion to Judaism was solidified, and lo and behold it is James who rendered the final verdict as the moderator of the Council (Acts 15:19a). Varner details the significance of James’ words, writing:

“It is very important to take note of the crucial language attributed to James as he introduces his concluding decision in 15:19a: διὸ ἐγὼ κρίνω. Many translations blunt the force of these words that to any Greek reader would mean, “Therefore, I decide.” The transitional conjunction διὸ introduces the conclusion to the argument. This is followed by the pronoun ἐγὼ, which is not needed in Greek so it must be added for particular prominence and emphasis (Therefore, I …). Then the verb κρίνω describes James’ action in rendering the verdict. Standard Greek lexicons inform us that this verb often carries the sense of a judicial verdict or decision and should not be blunted by an idea like, “Well, let me sum up our discussion.” (p. 12).

Both Peter and Paul fully acknowledged James’ authority at the Council and proceed to align themselves with his judgment. For example, Varner explains, “When James added that certain practices particularly offensive to Jews should be observed by the Gentile believers and composes a letter requesting such, Paul delivered the letter as he was instructed to do (Acts 16:4). For the second time, Paul did what James requested that he do” (p.13).

Again, Varner continues with another example:

“In Acts 21:18–26 Paul exemplified what he calls elsewhere “becoming all things to all men” (1 Cor 9:22), by again doing what James asks him to do in regard to ending the Nazirite vows of four young Jewish men. Paul probably thought that such an action was not necessary, but out of deference to James, he does it. He perhaps even used some of the offerings from the Gentile believers that he had brought with him to pay for this action in the temple (2 Cor 8–9; Rom 15:25–29). For at least the third time, Paul did what James requested that he do” (p. 13).

In sum, the internal indicators outlined above provide a convincing case for the NPJ position from a biblical perspective. Nevertheless, while it is unlikely that one will coincide with the implications of the NPJ position simply based on this evaluation alone, the exposition of the above mentioned passages should provide more than enough to perk one’s interest and present James in a previously unexplored fashion.

In a future post our attention will be directed to the exploration of the external indicators in favor of the NPJ position—seeking to reconcile the above mentioned biblical decelerations with a vast array of historical claims.

1. Varner, William. James. Edited by H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris III, and Andrew W. Pitts. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.

For more information about the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary please visit evangelicalexegeticalcommentary.com. You can also purchase Dr. Varner’s volume on James (EEC) in both digital and printed format.

James: A New Perspective

It seems safe to assume that there are few individuals within early Christianity that have been more neglected than James. But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, there was once a day when such a statement would have been utterly unthinkable. James has traditional been understood as a prominent leader in the city of Jerusalem—well known among the Apostles. But how prominent was James’ influence during this period? Did he have an authority that overextended that of the Apostles? How would a first-century Christian have understood his leadership amid the Apostolic ministry of figures like Peter and Paul? The historical response to these questions may come as a complete surprise to many readers. Could James have actually been more than just another apostolic leader? Has the majority of Christian history unintentionally neglected the very individual whom the Apostles looked to for guidance?

“The proposal is simple, but its implications are profound…James was not merely a significant leader in the early church and not just the leader of the Jerusalem church, but that he was the leader of the church.” (Varner, p. 8)

Over the next several days our attention will focus upon what some have rightly labeled the New Perspective on James (NPJ). The content in the next three posts will draw from Dr. William Varner’s discussion in the recent volume for the Evangelical Exegetical
Commentary, and will center around the (1) internal and  (2) external evidence for the NPJ position.

1. Varner, William. James. Edited by H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris III, and Andrew W. Pitts. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.