Posted by Pastoral Musings on November 27th, 2010
Brief Thoughts on James As Christian Wisdom Literature
There are a few passages in James that point us to identifying it as wisdom literature. James opens and tells us, to ask for wisdom if we need it (James 1:5-8). He also tells us how that we can identify a wise person (James 3:13-18). As he is concluding his writing, he points us to the bliss of the wise man Job (James 5:7-11). In a book that is as short as James, these passages figure largely into the overall framework of the book. In fact, it is wise for us to remember that these verses cannot be isolated from their contexts. That is what points us to James being a sort of wisdom literature.
There is also a theologically coherence between James, the wisdom passages in the Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes in that they all point us to be wise through the fear of the LORD, and that wisdom comes only from the LORD. Solomon stated to his son that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7) and that, if he sought wisdom from God, he would receive it (Proverbs 2:1-9). The preacher stated that his pursuit of wisdom led him to the fear of the LORD as the whole of man’s duty (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). David stated that wisdom is found in fearing, worshiping, and trusting the LORD (Psalm 2:10-12), and seems to equate trusting the LORD with fear and worship. James essentially summed all of this up saying, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering: for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. ” (James 1:5–8)
James also has many parallels to Ecclesiasticus, also known as Sirach. I shall place a few of them side by side so as to show these parallels.
|1. “A patient man will bear for a time, And afterward joy shall spring up unto him. ” (Sirach 1:23)
“For the fear of the Lord is wisdom and instruction: And faith and meekness are his delight. Distrust not the fear of the Lord when thou art poor: And come not unto him with a double heart. ” (Sirach 1:27–28)
“My son, gather instruction from thy youth up: So shalt thou find wisdom till thine old age. Come unto her as one that ploweth and soweth, And wait for her good fruits: For thou shalt not toil much in labouring about her, But thou shalt eat of her fruits right soon. ” (Sirach 6:18–19)
“Search, and seek, and she shall be made known unto thee: And when thou hast got hold of her, let her not go. ” (Sirach 6:27)
2. “If thou love to hear, thou shalt receive understanding: And if thou bow thine ear, thou shalt be wise. ” (Sirach 6:33)
“Let thy mind be upon the ordinances of the Lord, And meditate continually in his commandments: He shall establish thine heart, And give thee wisdom at thine own desire. ” (Sirach 6:37)
3. “Exalt not thyself, lest thou fall, And bring dishonour upon thy soul, And so God discover thy secrets, And cast thee down in the midst of the congregation, Because thou camest not in truth to the fear of the Lord, But thy heart is full of deceit. ” (Sirach 1:30)
“The greater thou art, the more humble thyself, And thou shalt find favour before the Lord. Many are in high place, and of renown: But mysteries are revealed unto the meek. For the power of the Lord is great, And he is honoured of the lowly. ” (Sirach 3:18–20)
“And say not, Who shall controul me for my works? For the Lord will surely revenge thy pride. ” (Sirach 5:3)
|1. “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. ” (James 5:7–11)
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering: for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. ” (James 1:5–8)
2. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. ” (James 1:19–21)
3.“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. ” (James 4:6–7)
These are brief samplings of the parallels between James and one non-canonical book of wisdom. I believe that they show us that James has some definite traits of wisdom literature.
There is one distinction that must be made, however, between James and other wisdom literature. That distinction is Jesus Christ. Though I believe that there is a case to be made for finding Jesus in the Old Testament wisdom literature, James is unique in that it is Christian Wisdom. Why? Because James see Jesus as the YWH of the OT wisdom (James 1:1-5;2:1) as he tells us to pray to Jesus for wisdom, and calls Him the Lord of Glory. James also would probably have identified the personified wisdom of Proverbs 8:30-31 as Jesus Christ (See 1Corinthians 1:30;Colossians 2:1-3). Thus, for James, wisdom is more than fearing the LORD. It is also more than striving hard, seeking, and asking. Jesus is wisdom, and wisdom cannot be found except we ask Him believing (James 1:5-8).
- The Doctrine of Scripture: Revelation (re-fundamentals.org)
- Luke’s Introduction to His Gospel And Fundamentalism (re-fundamentals.org)
- Lukan Themes: God’s Care for the Downtrodden (pastoralmusings.com)