Craig Blomberg, Mariam Kamell Zondervan 2008-11-25

Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and author of seventeen books, numerous articles, and many multiauthor works. Kamell, Ph.D. candidate in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews, is the author of several scholarly articles on James. Her dissertation relates soteriology in James to earlier Jewish wisdom literature, as is evident in the commentary.

The editorial review points out the key themes that dominate the letter of James and are addressed in the commentary: “(1) trials and temptations; (2) wisdom and speech, particularly with a view to obedience; and (3) wealth and poverty. Tying these together; however, is the motif of single-mindedness, a trait God consistently displays and one that therefore his people should increasingly display” (back cover). The commentary series is unique in many aspects, and is designed in such a way as to be useful for both pastors and Bible teachers. Blomberg states, “There is such a glut of commentaries at every level and from every angle imaginable that it could not be good stewardship of time to work on yet one more series just to compete with all of the resources already available. Then I read the bulk of the prospectus.  Not only was the format distinctive, but it truly captured the variety of information and collection of insights that a busy preacher or teacher needs for a ‘one-stop shopping’ approach to adequate sermon preparation or lesson planning” (p. 13).

The design of the commentary follows seven “components for the treatment of each biblical passage”: (1) Literary context, or how the passage functions in the broader literary context of the book. (2) Main idea, a one- or two-sentence statement of the big idea or central thrust of the passage. (3) Translation and graphical layout, the presentation of the translation of the Greek text in a diagram form. “The purpose of this diagram is to help the reader visualize, and thus better understand, the flow of thought within the text” (p. 10). (4) Structure, a description of the flow of thought in the passage with explanations on how certain interpretive decisions were derived. (5) Exegetical outline, a detailed exegetical outline of the passage that can be developed into a teaching or preaching outline. (6) Explanation of the text, an interpretation of the meaning of the text based on Greek exegesis. (7) Theology in application, the theological contribution and message that the text makes within the broader biblical-theological context of the Bible (pp. 9–12). The commentary ends with excellent indexes of Scripture, subjects, and authors. It also has an up-to-date bibliography and is replete with footnotes for research-oriented readers.

This volume is recommended not only for its arrangement and structure but also for its courageous and sometimes debatable treatment of passages such as 2:14–26 on faith and works, and 5:13–18 on anointing prayer for serious illness. For instance in the comments on 2:17 “works are the sum total of a changed life brought about by faith” (p. 132). “Paul denies the need for ‘pre-conversion works,’ ” but “James emphasizes the absolute necessity of ‘post-conversion works’ ” (p. 132). The authors disagree with the “ ‘grace only’ Christians,” who, they say, “turn exegetical cartwheels to make the text speak of Christians who may lose rewards” (p. 143). Whether one agrees or disagrees with this view, the argument sparks further investigation and interaction.

On 5:14 the discussion of ajsqenevw (“to be sick”) maintains that Paul’s use of the term can refer to spiritual sickness but that James is speaking of serious physical illness. The discussion includes Motyer’s (The Message of James, 193–94) five points in support of this claim: The person is bedridden, “the elders are called to the sick person; the elders do all the praying; the person is called ‘worn out’ or ‘exhausted’ in v. 15, the faith is also that of the elders, not the sick person, and the elders pray ‘over’ the person as if that one were confined to a prone position” (p. 242). However, “given the overall teaching of the NT, in which healing is not consistently paired with anointing, we should not take this one verse as mandating that oil must accompany all prayers for the sick” (p. 243). Such examples should draw the serious student into a careful exegetical and contextual study of the passages. One will find ample material in this commentary for addressing important issues.

About the Contributors