Huub van de Sandt, «James 4,1-4 in the Light of the Jewish Two Ways
Tradition 3,1-6», Vol. 88 (2007) 38-63
The author of the Letter of James accuses his readers (Jas 4,1-4) of being responsible for war, murder and adultery. How are we to explain this charge? This paper shows that the material in Jas 1,13-21; 2,8-11 and 4,1-4 is closely akin to
the teknon section in Did 3,1-6. The teknon section belonged to the Jewish Two Ways tradition which, for the most part, is covered by the first six chapters of the
Didache. Interestingly, Did 3,1-6 exhibits close affinity with the ethical principles of a particular stream of Rabbinic tradition found in early Derekh Erets treatises. James 4,1-4 should be considered a further development of the warnings in Did 3,1-6.
James 4,1-4 in the Light of the Jewish Two Ways Tradition 3,1-6 45
refers to the human spirit by which he has revitalized mankind. Jas 4,5
serves as a warning that if someone turns to the aims and values of the
world, Godâ€™s jealousy would be aroused. Yet in that situation God
gives grace to the repentant. The quotation from Prov 3,34 (LXX) in
4,6 confirms that he â€œresists the proud, but gives grace to the humbleâ€.
Turning now to the first chapter of Jamesâ€™ letter, it is important to
notice first that the brief passages dedicated to various subject matters
in Jas 1 serve to introduce the major themes subsequently expanded in
the body of the letter. Sometimes it is even suggested that the opening
chapter is the key to understanding the letter in its entirety. According
to Luke T. Johnson, the chapter is â€œsomething of an epitome of the
work as a wholeâ€ (24). To be more specific with respect to our section,
the contrast between God as the giver of gifts (of wisdom) and manâ€™s
wicked desire (without wisdom) in 3,13â€“4,6 is introduced in 1,13-21.
On the one hand, comprehension of the positive definition of wisdom
in 3,13.17-18 emerges from the background in 1,16-18, while on the
other hand the origin of strife located in the human pursuit of pleasure
in 4,1-6 is reflected in the relationship between desire, sin, and death
in 1,13-15.19-21 (25).
Jas 1,13-15 rejects the idea of Godâ€™s responsibility for the interior
peirasmo". It deepens the concept of peirasmov" by narrowing its focus
from external circumstances, for example persecutions, to internal
measurement, that is the difficulties of life itself including pressures,
dangers and vicissitudes in general. The human reaction to this internal
temptation is to blame God for the enticement to sin (26). In fact,
however, it is the human ejpiqumiva that is actually responsible and this
internal force puts the individual on the path of death. In 1,14-15
James champions manâ€™s accountability for sin and returns to this
theme later in 4,1-4 where he makes this suggested criticism more
The passage in 1,16-18 gives a positive counterbalance to the
negative statements in 1,13-15. In vv. 17-18, James removes God
(24) JOHNSON, The Letter of James, 174-175. Many other scholars â€œare
convinced that ch. 1 holds the key to the letterâ€™s structureâ€; see TAYLOR, â€œRecent
Scholarshipâ€, 112. We established above that James is a â€œredacted workâ€,
composed of traditional materials. This does necessarily imply, however, that the
employment of these traditions lacks a coherent structure or literary design.
(25) Cf. JACKSON-MCCABE, Logos and Law, 206-208.
(26) HARTIN, James, 104; DAVIDS, The Epistle of James, 83-85; MOO, The
Epistle of James, 71-72.