It is to me inescapable that James needs to be read as wisdom literature because
- It is practical. Everyone notices this and even says that it is the “Proverbs” of the New Testament.
- It is not primarily about salvation or sacrifice – as most of the Wisdom Books do not take Sacrificial system of the OT as their main focus, neither does James speak much of the Cross. One wonders where there is mercy in Proverbs, full of choices and consequences at it is. Where is any word of the covenant, the temple, the law, etc. in the OT Wis Lit? It is because the focus is different. Now, how should we live.
- Thus it presents a challenge to “bring the Gospel into every message.” But it is not hard to bring Jesus in, see below.
- It is organized with typical Wisdom literary techniques. So look for catch phrases, loose links in general, juxtapositions without phases such as “so that” and “because”, repetition, inclusio and so forth. I find it remarkable how often commentators will talk about the lack of cohesion to James, because they are looking for linear sequentiality.
- It is preaching, and it preaches.
- The gospel is embedded in verses such as 1: 18, 21 but is not explicit.
- James sounds like the teaching of Jesus recast – and those who don’t like the “legalism” of the Sermon on the Mount say the same about James.
- The best work for useful study and application that I have found is J. A. Motyer’s, The Message of James, in the Bible Speaks Today series, IVP. His outline (Keying the topics of chapters 2-5 to 1:26-27 makes a lot of sense.)