Wednesday, March 07, 2007

James 5:6 - Intro

This little verse is a linguistic grenade. Pull the pin and it explodes with a narrative that is both informative and instructive providing both hope and coherence to a somewhat perplexing section of James. Forsake it, and one is excluded from a treasure house of insight and wisdom. But it appears that the pin is stuck and if one is not careful, it will explode in all the wrong places or it will be relegated to the trash heap for recycling due to operation failure.
James 5:6 NRSV
You have condemned and murdered the righteous One, who does not resist you.
Who is this ambiguous “righteous one” to whom James refers? Exegetically we have several voices, none of them appearing conclusive. But the task remains to see which one is plausible, even probable, or if we are doomed to speculation. This discussion seeks to interact with various proposals such as that of John Painter in his interesting study Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition.[1] Painter’s thesis rests on several arguments many of which we will interact with later. His position on this matter is clearly stated when he writes:
The case of the righteous man in 5:6 is very likely intended to be understood as an autobiographical statement by the author.[2]
This is a very interesting proposal, and one that has many sympathisers. However, contrary to this thesis, [on the otherside of the exegetical choir] Richard Hays has suggested that this is a reference to the death of Jesus. Hays provides no arguments or reasons for this position but merely posits that:
If James 5:6 alludes – as I believe it does – to the death of Jesus, then it is “the rich” (not, e.g., “the Jews”) who are blamed for the death of Jesus. The shadow of the cross looms over the image of the wealthy who ‘have lived on the earth in luxury and pleasure.’[3]
However, if Painter or any other thesis is preferred, does that automatically disqualify Hays’ position? We shall have to investigate this carefully.
What makes Hays' proposal interesting is that scholars have long lamented the absence of any direct reference to the death of Jesus in James.[4] This is strikingly peculiar when compared with other early Christian literature.[5] Many contemporary commentators part ways with Hays' in suggesting this as a reference to the death of Jesus.[6] So what could lead Hays to such a judgement? We can only guess...
In the next few posts, I'll begin to explore Jas. 5:6, it's exegetical options and contemporary interpreters of this verse. We shall pay careful attention to Hays' position as it has caught my interest. We shall also question the connection between 5:1-6 and 5:7-11, as this question proves decisive in our analysis.
[1] John Painter, Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition (Fortress, 1997) [2] John Painter, Just James, pg. 259 [3] Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (Harper Collins, 1996), pg. 470 n.6 [4] For e.g., R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, 2 vols., trans. K Grobel (Scribner, 1951-55) Vol.1 pg. 84. [5] Except perhaps for Acts, Jude, 2 Peter, the Didache 2 Clement and Hermas. [6] Hartin, Moo, Martin, Davids, Adamson, Ropes and Wall. But for a defence of this view see Andre Feuillet “le Sens du Mot Parousie dans l’Evangile de Matthieu” in David Daube and W. D. Davies, eds., The Background of the New Testament and its Eschatology (Cambridge University Press, 1964), pgs. 261-280. Unfortunately, my French is non-existent so I cannot interact with this essay.

1 comment:

jdarlack said...

I will be very interested to see where you go with this Sean! I've been looking closely at 5:1-11, and I'm wondering about its affinities with Sirach 34:21–31 [LXX vv. 18–26]? I'll try to post something on that later over at Old in the New. Does James make a veiled reference to Jesus? Or does he have a general "righteous sufferer" in mind. The context of Sir 34 is very interesting to me, as it covers the exploitation of the poor and equates it with murder.