“the Lord, Jesus, the Christ” in James 1:1

Well, I see that Nick Norelli identified this blog here as having a focus on James, and it made me realize that although I have posted much on bibliographic resources for James, I haven’t posted much on James myself. So I thought I’d start making some short observations on James. I’ll start with verse 1.

Ἰάκωβος θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλος ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ταῖς ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ χαίρειν.

James, a slave of God and of the Lord, Jesus, the Christ, to the twelve tribes in the diaspora: greetings!

Right away, you’ll notice an abundance of commas in my translation above. This is very intentional. Is “the Lord Jesus Christ” to be understood as one big proper name? I don’t think so. ‘Jesus’, of course, is a proper name, but what about ‘Lord’ and ‘Christ’? Certainly the authors of the New Testament wrote the name of Jesus in combination with ‘Lord’ and/or ‘Christ’ very frequently, and references to Jesus along with these titles became somewhat formulaic. However, even though the name of Jesus was commonly uttered along with ‘Lord’ and/or ‘Christ’, this in no way means that these titles lost their meaning, especially if there is evidence in the context that supports the possibility that the meaning of these titles is in view. So, in James 1:1, I see this as a statement by James that he is a slave of God and of the Lord. Who is the Lord? There’s only one Lord — Jesus. Jesus the Messiah (Christ).

I find myself being convinced of this by the argument that Julius Scott makes on this issue in his paper “Commas and the Christology of the Epistle of James.” This paper was presented in 1999 at the Evangelical Theological Society, National Meeting, in Danvers, MA. It used to be available on his webpage on the Wheaton College site, but that is no longer available since he is now retired. I can’t seem to find it elsewhere on the web. I reproduce the relevant portion here…

Punctuation, such as that which appears in our modern Greek texts and translations, is, of course, of recent vintage.  Hence, it is legitimate to ask if the authors, and much of early Christendom with them, may have assumed some relation between the terms other than that suggested by the lack of commas in our contemporary texts.  May they have intended “Lord, Jesus Christ,” “Lord Jesus, Christ (= [the] Messiah)”, or “Lord, Jesus, Christ (= [the] Messiah)”?

Paul gives us a glimpse into his world when he says,

For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Cor 8:5-6).

It is interesting that in this context the RSV editors (but not those of the Nestle-Aland 26th edition of the Greek NT) insert a comma between “Lord” and “Jesus Christ,” thus placing “Jesus Christ” in apposition to “Lord” and defining which of the many lords is the intended reference.  Why, I ask, is specificity needed only here?  The situation to which Paul refers was rampant throughout the world of the NT.  There is, I suggest, evidence of just such an attempt for preciseness in the NT text itself.  Again, working from statistics gleaned from the RSV, six (17%) of the occurrences of “Lord Jesus” are prefaced with the  pronoun “our,” “our” precedes one of the two occurrences of “Lord Christ,” and the possessive pronoun is found forty-one times (or 65%) of the sixty three appearances of “Lord Jesus Christ”; the writers want to make clear that they refer solely to the Christian’s lord, “our Lord, [comma!] Jesus Christ.” Note that our statistical survey did not include such phrases with built-in specificity as “Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39; Eph 3:11; 2 Tim 1:2), “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:3), “Jesus our Lord” (Rom 4:24), “Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8), or “Christ Jesus the Lord” (Col 2:6).

Virtually all of the occurrences of “our Lord” are evidences of early, pre-punctuation precision in the Christian affirmation of belief that, in a world claiming “many lords,” it is none other than Jesus who is Lord.  Hence, I believe, the comma should follow kurios/lord in most cases where that title is followed by Jesus, Christ, or Jesus Christ; for the NT writers there was only one Lord (cf. Eph 4:5)!  A more accurate modern English translation would usually be “our Lord, [comma] Jesus Christ.”

Against this background we return to the Epistle of James. In the first verse we are confronted with the statement, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1, RSV). Is it not legitimate, indeed mandatory, that we consider translating these words, “James, slave[1] of God and of the Lord, Jesus, the Messiah”? Such a rendering immediately transports us into a very different world than that often assumed for the epistle. It is a world of slaves and lords. And, for Christians, there is no Lord other than Jesus. In this Semitic world the Greek Christos is not merely part of a proper name but a reverential title, “The Anointed One.” Hence, James conveys the same affirmation as did Peter at Pentecost, “Jesus himself is both the Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).

Although we have preferred to translate “servant” (doulos) “slave,” it is noteworthy that Ralph Martin, rejecting a sociological sense, insists on “servant.” This, he notes, was a designation of honor and authority for such leaders as Moses, David, and the prophets. It may carry overtones of Phil 2:11 where the humiliated one received honor and glory.[2]

This introduction in 1:1 sets the stage for the epistle with phrases which, in a Jewish Christian setting, assume a high Christology. It erects the framework within which the epistle is to be understood.

[1] If the author was “James, the Lord’s brother,” a member of Jesus’ boyhood home, who during his public ministry did not “believe in him” (John 7:5), the self-designation “slave” (doulos) is all the more surprising.  It gives such terms as “Lord” and “Messiah” even more force.[2] James, 4-8.


So if the rest of the Letter of James is read in light of James having identified himself as “a slave of God and of the Lord, Jesus, the Christ [=Messiah], what happens?

This issue comes up again in James 2:1. We’ll look at that next time.

Papers on James at SBL

Wow, I thought the Society of Biblical Literature section on “Letters of James, Peter, and Jude” was supposed to focus on 1 Peter this year, and it does. But it turns out that there is a general session concerning any of these letters, so there are several papers included on James in this and other sections.

In the “Letters of James, Peter, and Jude” section,

  • Erin Vearncombe (University of Toronto) will presenting on “Ill-Skilled Postmen and the Addressees of James: The Socio-rhetorical Function of the Prescript of James“…

The prescript of James serves an important socio-rhetorical function which provides the key to understanding the purpose of the paraenetic letter as a whole, establishing a guide for exegesis. James 1:1 is the only epistolary element in the document, yet the identification of the (fictive) sender James and the (fictive) audience of the twelve tribes is essential to the interpretation of the text. The address of James “to the twelve tribes in the Diaspora,” along with the pseudepigraphical identification of the author, functions to signal the rhetorical strategy of the letter, acting as a guide for the interpretation of the social world which is constructed in the document. A discussion of previous approaches to the prescript and epistolary status of James, including the characterization of James as a Judean Diaspora letter, an analysis of the pseudepigraphical character of James and the construction of ethos in the letter and a comparison of the text to other Greco-Roman paraenetic letters in terms of the primary importance of status association and negotiation in paraenesis will help to shed light on this socio-rhetorical functioning of the prescript.

  • Christopher N. Chandler (University of St. Andrews-Scotland) will be presenting on “Jesus and James on Justice in the Courts: A Reconsideration of the Ward/Allison Proposal“…

When interpreters of James come to the discussion about the seating of the rich and the poor in 2:1-13, they are faced with two interpretive options. The majority of recent interpreters, based upon parallel passages in later church orders, opt to understand this to be about seating arrangements in an early Christian worship service. A minority position, which is often noted but rarely taken seriously, is that 2:1-13 depicts an ancient judicial setting between two litigants. This latter position was argued for by R. B. Ward in his 1966 dissertation and a subsequent article in 1969. D. C. Allison demonstrated convincingly in 2000 that Ward’s position, far from being new, was a viable interpretive option among a majority of scholars prior to the 20th century. This paper seeks to build upon the ‘Ward/Allison’ thesis that 2:1-13 depicts an ancient litigious scene in two ways: 1) by demonstrating a significant but rarely noticed parallel between James 2:1-13 and Matthew 7:1-5, and 2) by uncovering the exegetical underpinnings of both of these passages in their halakhic, midrashic engagement with Lev 19:15-18—a section of laws governing just legal judging. Some of the theological implications such an interpretive shift of 2:1-13 might have upon the discussion of faith and works in James 2:14-26 may also be explored.

Chris is a great guy and met me at the SBL international conference in Edinburgh when I visited there in 2006. He gave me some good insights into PhD programs in Scotland and living in St Andrews with a family. Wish I could be there to hear your paper in person, Chris!

In a joint session between the “Letters of James, Peter, and Jude” section and the “Philo of Alexandria” section

  • John S. Kloppenborg (University of Toronto) will be presenting on “Stoic Psychagogy and the Letter of James“…

Interpreters have occasionally noted the coincidence between James’ vocabulary and technical terms of Stoicism, usually dismissing them as coincidental. This paper argues that in significant ways, James shares with Stoicism notions of care of the soul, control of the epithymiai, and the role of rational persuasion in the guidance of the soul.

  • Luiz Felipe Ribeiro (University of Toronto) will present on “Self-Mastery, Apatheia, Metriopatheia, and Moral Theory in the Epistle of James“…

The reading of the Stoics’ influence on James received little support and only very recently got a comprehensive treatment in Matt A. Jackson-McCabe’s “Logos and Law in the Letter of James: the Law of Nature, the Law of Moses and the Law of Freedom.” Before “Logos and Law in the Letter of James,” Jackson-McCabe contends, two lonely treatments of the Epistle allowed for a straight connection between James and Stoic Philosophy. Arnold Meyer in 1930, and M.-E. Boismard in 1957, independently argued that implanted logon (Jas 1,21) and the Perfect Law of Freedom (Jas 1,25) were drawn by the author of the Epistle from a Greek environment, particularly from Stoicism. According to Jackson-McCabe, James’ use of Implanted Logos derived from the early Stoa understanding of Émphutoi Prolepseis (Implanted Preconceptions). This paper proposes to add to Jackson-McCabe’s thesis of Stoic influences in James’ psychology and moral theory. It argues that the pseudonym Yakob might be read in light of the Jewish Hellenistic reception of Stoicism of the idea of the Stoic sage who achieves apatheia, or of the sage who is striving to control his passions through moderation (metriopatheia). This conflation of the Jewish Patriarch and Stoic sage can be seen in the figure of Joseph in the Testaments of the XII Patriarchs and in Abraham, Isaac and Yakob in Philo of Alexandria. The Epistle of James is seen deriving its own ideas about the sage from the Jewish Hellenistic reception of Stoicism and the tradition of the haploûs sophos, the single-minded sage, the man who is the embodiment of simplicity, showing no sign of duplicity, listening and practicing the Logos (Jas 1, 33-35) [sic!].

In the “New Testament Textual Criticism” section,

  • Michael Theophilos (University of Oxford) will present on “A New Fragment of James from Oxyrhynchus.” See my previous post for abstract. This paper is listed for the morning of 22 November and the afternoon of 23 November. Does this merely reflect the preliminary nature of the online program book? Or is this two parts of the same paper? Who knows?