Jean-Noël Aletti, «James 2,14-26: The Arrangement and Its Meaning», Vol. 95 (2014) 88-101
The main goal of this essay is to demonstrate that the author of the Letter of James knows how to reason according to the rules of arrangement then in place in the schools and elsewhere, rules that he uses with originality. His rhetoric is not Semitic: for him, Greek is not only a language or a style but also what structures the development of his thought. The choice of a chreia as the pattern of arrangement allowed him to repeat an opinion that had become common in some Christian communities and criticize it, showing that it was erroneous. By presenting this common opinion as a maxim (gnoee), he did not need to cite Paul and thereby avoided attributing to him what was only an erroneous recapitulation of his doctrine of justification.
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The Arrangement and Its Meaning
Most commentators note the quality of the Greek in the Letter
of James. Some even go so far as to maintain that its Greek is the
best in the New Testament. So one cannot fail to ask if the devel-
opment of its thought follows a Greek pattern as well or if its rhet-
oric, as has been asserted, is Semitic 1.
The twofold intention of this essay is to demonstrate that the
passage on faith and works in Jas 2:14-26 follows a pattern that
was taught in Greek schools and described in the progymnasmata
of ancient rhetors, namely, the chreia (crei,a) and to elucidate the
pertinence of this pattern.
I. A Brief status quaestionis on the Arrangement
Commentators generally take little interest in the arrangement
of Jas 2:14-26 because they are more concerned with comparing
this passage with those from Galatians and Romans in which it is
a question of justification by faith alone.
Exegetes of the past 50 years think that the passage comprises
two or three sub-units: (1) vv. 14-17 and 18-26 or (2) vv. 14-17,
18-20 and 21-26. These readings rely upon literary criteria, like that
of M. Dibelius, repeated by H. Greeven, 2 for whom a unit in the
form of a diatribe begins in v. 18. Three indicators facilitate the
recognition of a diatribe in v. 18ff.: the apostrophe to a fictitious
interlocutor in the singular (â€œyou who, etc.â€), the prosopopoeia (an
imaginary character is speaking) and the denigration (cf. â€œyou fool-
ish manâ€ in v. 20). Those for whom vv. 18-26 form a single unit
invoke the fact that vv. 21-25 are proofs and thus cannot be sepa-
rated from the preceding verses, in particular v. 18, which have the
T. KOT, La lettre de Jacques. La foi, chemin de vie (RhÃ©torique sÃ©mitique
2; Paris 2006) 103-115.
M. DIBELIUS â€“ H. GREEVEN, James. A Commentary on the Epistle of
James (Hermeneia; Philadelphia, PA 1976) 149.
BIBLICA 95.1 (2014) 88-101