Two Theses on James from St Andrews

When I visited the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 2006, I had helpful conversations with then PhD students Mariam Kamell and Chris Chandler. They both completed their programs this year. Congratulations! Both of their PhD theses are related to James. They are available here. Thanks to Jim Darlack over at Old in the New for alerting me to this repository. I have added these references to my Recent James Scholarship and James Bibliography pages. Here are the abstracts…

Kamell, Mariam J. 2010. “The Soteriology of James in Light of Earlier Jewish Wisdom Literature and the Gospel of Matthew.” Ph.D. thesis. St Andrews, Scotland: University of St Andrews.

ABSTRACT:  The epistle of James has been neglected in NT studies, caught between its relationship with Paul and the claim that it has no theology. Even as it experiences a resurgence of study, surprisingly no full-length survey exists on James as the epistle of “faith and works.” Approaches to James have neglected its soteriology and, in consequence, its theological themes have been separated or studied only in connection with Paul. As “moral character,” however, “faith” and “works” fit within a coherent theology of God’s mercy and judgment. This study provides a sustained reading of James as a Jewish-Christian document. Because James presents the “faith” and “works” discussion in context of “can such faith save?” (2:14), the issue becomes one of soteriology and final judgment. Both the “law of freedom” and the “word of truth” demand faithful obedience—the “works.” Moreover, God’s character and deeds in election form the basis for human “works” of mercy and humble obedience, while future judgment is in accordance with virtuous character. It has been established that James shares methodology and concerns with prior wisdom literature. This thesis therefore examines key ideas developing across the Jewish literature and Jesus’ teaching as presented by Matthew, and highlights developing views God saving and judging his people. Within the first two chapters, James gives a high view of God’s work in calling and redeeming, providing wisdom to his people, and instilling long-anticipated new covenant that they might live in obedience, humility and purity in accordance with his character and will. Because of God’s saving work, he justly judges those who fail to live mercifully, while his mercy triumphs for those who obey. God begins the work and sustains those who ask; but only those who submit to the “perfect law of freedom,” whose faith works, receive mercy when God enacts his final justice.

Chandler, Christopher N. 2010. “Blind Injustice : Jesus’ Prophetic Warning Against Unjust Judging (Matthew 7:1-5).” Ph.D thesis. St Andrews, Scotland: University of St Andrews.

ABSTRACT: This dissertation seeks to provide a plausible alternative to the consensus interpretation of Jesus’ “do not judge” teaching in Matt 7:1-5. While the overwhelming majority of recent interpreters understand “do not judge” (7:1) and its concurrent sayings such as “take the log out of your own eye” (7:5) to promote a non-judgmental attitude, this monograph seeks to situate this block of teaching within a Jewish second-Temple judicial setting. To this end, an overview of the judicial system during the second Temple era is provided, after which it is argued that Matt 7:1-5 is the Matthean Jesus’ halakhic, midrashic comment upon the laws for just legal judging in Lev 19:15-18, 35-36 by which he prophetically criticizes unjust legal judging. Jesus’ brother James takes up this teaching in Jas 2:1-13, using it to exhort Jewish Christian leaders who judge cases within Diaspora synagogues/churches. Such an alternative interpretation of Jesus’ “do not judge” teaching in Matt 7:1-5 matches well other passages in Matthew which likewise speak of judicial, brotherly conflict such as 5:21-26 and 18:15-35. Some early Christian writers who quote or allude to Matt 7:1-5 reflect a judicial understanding of these verses as well, often relating Matt 7:1-5 to Lev 19:15-18, 35-36 and/or drawing parallels between Matt 7:1-5 and one or more of the NT judicial texts which, this thesis argues, is related to it (Matt 5:21-26, 18:15-35; Jas 2:1-13).

Jesus’ Resurrection is "Unbelievable" in Luke

Since it’s Easter, I’m posting this post again that originally appeared here on October 21, 2007…

As I mentioned in my previous post about Jesus’ resurrection, Luke emerges as the only gospel writer that presents the disciples’ response as one of amazement, that confused mixture of disbelief and joy. But…

…if there is joy, is there really disbelief? Or, is it possible that Luke uses the word ‘disbelieving’ in ch. 24 in a more idiomatic sense? After all, if you were to see Jesus raised from the dead, wouldn’t you have to say, “It’s unbelievable! I can’t believe my eyes!”

In Luke, the first post-resurrection response occurs after the women come back from the empty tomb (24:11). After giving a report of what they had seen and heard at the tomb, the text reads…

καὶ ἐφάνησαν ἐνώπιον αὐτῶν ὡσεὶ λῆρος τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα, καὶ ἠπίστουν αὐταῖς.
And these words appeared before them as nonsense, and they were not believing them.

But what exactly does it mean when it says “these words appeared before them as nonsense” and “they were not believing them”? Could the disciples really not make grammatical sense of the women’s words? That much must not be true; otherwise, the text would not go on to say that they were not believing them. In order to not believe something, you have to first make sense of what you’re not believing. Therefore, it’s more likely that “these words appeared before them as nonsense” communicates just how unusual and unexpected the resurrection was. It was so out of the ordinary that we might describe it today as “unreal”!

So did the apostles really not believe the women? Did they think the women were just making up a fantastic story? Perhaps. However, the imperfect tense here—“they were not believing”—leaves open further possibilities.

In the very least, the imperfect tense communicates some kind of continuous response instead of a matter-of-fact statement of unbelief. The continuous nature of their “unbelief” suggests an ongoing discussion in which they were interacting with the women’s story. It may depict an interactive response from the disciples in which they continuously questioned the women in an attempt to understand the incredible details of such an amazing account. Also possible, but perhaps less likely, is that this represents a pluperfect use of the imperfect—“they had not been believing them”—thus describing an earlier response that did not necessarily continue. The reason I say that this possibility is less likely is that the pluperfect use of the imperfect is quite rare, and it is usually clear when it is used. Even if this interpretation is too much of a stretch for this particular word, the continuation of the story suggests that this is exactly what happened—their unbelieving response did not continue.

The next verse (24:12) tells how Peter got up and ran to the tomb, hardly a response from someone who did not believe. Peter’s actions at least reveal a determination to check out the women’s story. Of course, some would argue that Luke 24:12 is a “western non-interpolation,” a verse that was later added by all but the western witnesses of the text—an argument against its existence in the original text. One argument in support of this theory is that Peter’s response in vs. 12 of running to the tomb and returning home “amazed” does not fit within the literary context (Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 215, 217). But the supposed incongruency of unbelief and amazement occurs again in Luke 24:41 (Frans Neirynck, “Luke 24,12: An Anti-Docetic Interpolation?” In New Testament Textual Criticism and Exegesis, ed. A. Denaux, 158)…

ἔτι δὲ ἀπιστούντων αὐτῶν ἀπὸ τῆς χαρᾶς καὶ θαυμαζόντων εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ἔχετέ τι βρώσιμον ἐνθάδε;
While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

Again, Luke’s record of the resurrection seems just too good to be true. Again, we find “unbelief” and “amazement” together. And joy too. So what can it mean? Does it make sense at all to say that the apostles “could not believe because of their joy and amazement”? Or do these passages suggest a more idiomatic meaning for unbelief? Had Jesus really risen from the dead? It was “unbelievable”! In Luke 24:11 they could not believe their ears. In Luke 24:41 they could not believe their eyes. But they really did believe the unbelievable. Their joy proves it.

So does Luke use the words ‘unbelief’, ‘amazement’ and ‘joy’ together to paint a uniform picture of emotion-filled belief in the resurrection for everyone in ch. 24? No way.

When Jesus walks with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, it’s a different story regarding “unbelief” and “amazement.” They tell him how the women “amazed us” with a report of an empty tomb and a vision of angels saying that Jesus was alive (24:22-23), but they were clearly “looking sad” (24:17). This sad look proves their unbelief. And so Jesus says to them in 24:25…

Ὦ ἀνόητοι καὶ βραδεῖς τῇ καρδίᾳ τοῦ πιστεύειν ἐπὶ πᾶσιν οἷς ἐλάλησαν οἱ προφῆται… O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken…

Only after Jesus explains the scriptures, accepts their invitation to come inside, and then breaks bread do they finally recognize him and believe. Their belief is proved by their action: they got up that very hour—the same hour which they had described as “towards evening” and “the day is nearly over” (24:29)—and they returned to Jerusalem to tell the apostles. They surely went back in the dark. But before they can give their report, the apostles report to them in 24:34…

ὄντως ἠγέρθη ὁ κύριος καὶ ὤφθη Σίμωνι.
The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.

Even though it was only Simon Peter who had seen the Lord among the 11 apostles, the others believe and say that he has “really risen.” Their belief is then confirmed by the two who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus (24:35) and then by Jesus himself who appeared before them while they were still talking about it (24:36). And then we find another combination of belief and amazement in 24:37…

πτοηθέντες δὲ καὶ ἔμφοβοι γενόμενοι ἐδόκουν πνεῦμα θεωρεῖν.
But after being startled and frightened they were thinking that they were seeing a spirit.

Interesting. Based on Peter’s testimony, they really believed that Jesus was alive. But when Jesus himself appears, they are so startled and frightened that they think they are seeing a spirit. But again, does this really mean that they do not believe in the resurrection? Jesus does not rebuke them for ‘unbelief’, but he says…

Τί τεταραγμένοι ἐστὲ καὶ διὰ τί διαλογισμοὶ ἀναβαίνουσιν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν;
Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?

The live appearance of Jesus after his death is such an unusual sight for the apostles, so Jesus begins to calm them by simply acting himself. “What’s bothering you?” He shows them his wounded hands and feet to prove that they are not seeing a spirit. Oh, and “What’s there to eat?”

And now he had a captive audience…

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

After a few more instructions, Jesus is lifted up into heaven. But no more fear and amazement on the part of the disciples, only worship and joy…

καὶ αὐτοὶ προσκυνήσαντες αὐτὸν ὑπέστρεψαν εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ μετὰ χαρᾶς μεγάλης καὶ ἦσαν διὰ παντὸς ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ εὐλογοῦντες τὸν θεόν.
And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.

Luke’s account of the resurrection is so believeable precisely because he records so well that strange mixture of unbelief and joy, which really isn’t unbelief at all, but overwhelming joy and amazement at something so “unbelieveable.” He really caught the wonder of it.

(The painting is “The Supper at Emmaus,” 1606 by Caravaggio)

Precious Death

This post originally appeared here on August 17, 2008. But I’m reflecting on it again in light of Good Friday. I have proposed below that the death of God’s servant is precious to him (Psalm 116:15) perhaps because it is a rare and costly thing. It is costly because it means that faithful servant is no longer serving the Lord’s purposes on this earth. How does that apply to the death of Jesus? Jesus’ public ministry on earth ended with his death, so we can again say that the death is costly. And it cost Jesus so much more, too. Insults, beatings, the agony of a slow murder. Despised by men, forsaken by the Father, he who knew no sin becoming sin for us. And yet the death of Jesus is also precious because it accomplishes so much! Victory over sin, death and the devil! Jesus died so that I don’t have to die. Yet through his death, I too can die to self, sin, my sundry precious idols, and yes, I too can die to death in the death of Christ.

Okay, the post from August 17, 2008, entitled “Psalm 116:15 – My ‘Precioussss’…

We learn a good lesson from Tolkien’s Gollum and the ring he calls “My Precioussss.” Indeed it is the things we consider most precious that have a way of sucking us into their power to control us and blind us to their dangers and to the value of other things.

Even our approach to the word of God can become that to us if we lose sight of the living God who speaks that word (see NT Wright’s recent lecture to a group of Anglican bishops concerning the theme of his book Scripture and the Authority of God ). We students and scholars of the Bible also come to the word of God with our interpretive “Preciouseses,” and we allow these perspectives–as well-intentioned as they may be–to control our reading and application of the text.

In light of these dangers, I appreciate the fellowship of community–including this biblioblogging community–and how we seek to fulfill what Edgar Krentz (The Historical-Critical Method, 53-54) has described as the virtue of the biblical historian:

The critical biblical scholar will not only question the texts, but himself–his methods, his conclusions, and his presuppositions–and the others who share in the same task. For he knows how often men are captive to their own prejudices and limitations…. On the one hand the historian remains critical of his own critical abilities…. But in a more profound sense he recognizes that in judging a text he also places himself under judgment of the text. And where the text deals with the profundities of man, that calls for a submission to the autonomy of the text that calls the historian forth for judgment and knowledge of himself. Then history performs its humane or (in the case of biblical texts) its theological function.

And thus, the recent interaction with Dr. Claude Mariottini between his blog here and mine here and here about the meaning of the word יקר (yāqār) ‘precious’ in Psalm 116:15 prompts me to re-examine my own approach to the text and translation. The discussion has centered around the legitimacy of some translations to interpret the word יקר (yāqār) in this context to mean ‘too precious’. And so instead of a more literal translation stating that the death of the faithful is precious to the LORD, they either say that the death of the faithful is somehow grievous to the LORD (NAB, Tanakh, TEV, CEV), or the verse focuses completely on the value of the life of his faithful followers (NET).

What is my translation philosophy for passages like this where the meaning is either ambiguous or perhaps evenly debated? (This questioning of allegiance to my own translation philosophy is how the discussion of the word יקר (yāqār) ‘precious’ in Psalm 116:15 relates to the image of Gollum and his ‘Precioussss’ and the lesson of being self-critical.)

Even though I have argued that the death of the faithful in Psalm 116:15 may be precious to the LORD precisely because he finds great value in their continued faithfulness in life, I feel quite uncomfortable losing the reference to the preciousness of death in a translation. Although I appreciate the NET Bible for getting at the potential underlying significance of the verse–the LORD values the lives of his faithful followers–it unfortunately removes any reference to death at all, and so the translation fails to show what this significance is in application to. In other words, the original expression of this verse is not a statement about life, but of death.

The value that God places on faithfulness in life may help us to understand why he considers the death of one of his children such a precious thing, but the statement about the preciousness of death should not be lost too easily. Something is precious when it is rare or when its value is high. We are willing to spend a large fortune on something that is most dear to us. And the great cost to the LORD of seeing the death of one of his faithful servants is that the person is no longer serving the LORD in the world. That is one way in which the death of the faithful may be understood to be a precious thing to the LORD. But to merely say that the LORD values the lives of his faithful followers says nothing of those lives coming to an end in death nor of the LORD’s view of such a death. Furthermore, such a translation precludes any other possible explanation for the LORD’s perspective on the preciousness of death among his faithful.

When a passage is debated like this, or when its meaning is truly ambiguous, it is a worthy goal of the translation team to express the meaning with an equivalent dose of ambiguity. However, inasmuch as the process of translation is an arduous and complicated process, the attempt at translating a double meaning or an ambiguous meaning is exponentially more difficult. It may be easiest to do if a highly literal translation reflects the same indeterminacy or multiplicity of senses as found in the original language text. But that is often unlikely.

I know it’s impossible to avoid interpretation in translation, and many times it’s necessary and important to choose the best understanding of a text to be reflected clearly in a translation. But we certainly don’t want our translations to over-interpret the text. When a translation comes down heavily on one side of an ambiguous, unclear, or debated text, that may be over-interpretation. If that interpretation is something that we hold dear–perhaps a “My Precioussss”–it’s more difficult to let it go. But even as we apply the tools of exegesis and communication to the processes of interpretation and translation, we must allow the Voice of the text to do his theological work in us.