Is James Wisdom Literature? An argument with a commentary

Dr. Douglas Moo is a brilliant NT scholar, I remember him well from seminary class on biblical interpretation (exegesis) some years ago.   So it was with interest that I began to read his commentary on James in the Tyndale NT Commentary series:  James, Douglas J. Moo, 1985, 2002, Eerdmans.

As I am reading the introduction (you know the part we prefer to skip that talks about authorship, dating, and other academic flotsam and jetsam) and start noting in the margin all the things that indicate that James is very much like O. T. Wisdom Literature.  For example: James seems to organize his material “randomly” using catch phrases and repeated words to move from topic to topic; the use of vivid imagery (waves, fire, mirror, ship, etc); borrowing from other sources; the ethical (as opposed to Theological) emphasis; warnings against dividing life from belief; two discussions of wisdom (1:5; 3:13-18), the tongue and word choice, and the use and abuse of money.

I am thinking: “this is Wisdom Literature!” Then in the paragraph on Wisdom Moo says, ” In Jewish writings, wisdom was sometimes identified with the law and the torah, and too on more metaphysical connotations.  James shows no contact with this background.” p. 53

This is not denying that James is much like Wisdom Literature, but Moo seems to be denying that James is much interested in speculative or mystical Wisdom streams in Judaism.  Ok, point made. However, I think we can understand James better as a writer if we consider that he uses the literary style of the Wisdom tradition.  His theology may not go where all of those others went, but his style is quite definitely influenced by Wisdom .

I did think that Moo’s concept that James was structured like a pastoral homily made up of excerpts from sermons he had given to his congregation.  This is also a helpful way to read the Sermon on the Mount (did Jesus only preach for the 15 minutes it takes to read that passage?)  There again Jesus teaching us similar to Wisdom literature in his use of parables and proverbial sayings.

I posted the cover of Moo’s book, but remember bit of Wisdom: You can’t judge a book by its cover.


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