Sunday, April 1, 2012

James' High Christology - Part II

The following is a continuation of this post, discussing the misappropriation of James' epistle by Muslim dawagandists in the attempt to subvert Paul and Historic Christianity and to exalt the false teachings of Muhammad.

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Coming then to the first issue, the deity of Christ is taught in James' epistle in many ways.

1. Jesus is Lord

The word “Lord” (Gr. kurios) is used around a dozen times in James’ epistle. In two verses James explicitly refers to Jesus as “the Lord” or “our Lord” (1:1, 2:1), and in one verse he explicitly identifies the Father as “Lord” (James 3:9). The other uses of the word “Lord” are unspecified, leaving commentators divided on when these other references to the Lord are about the Father or Jesus (though there is widespread agreement on some of them), a fact that is of some moment, showing as it does that James demonstrated no concern for the fact that his mode of expression might lead to the confusion of Jesus as the one being spoken of in at least some passages that may be about the Father, and since the word “Lord” as used for the Father is obviously to be understood in the highest sense, it also shows that James had no compunction about Jesus being understood as Lord in the same way.

That this is just how James understood the Lordship of Christ is made certain when, in the first explicit reference to Jesus as Lord, one that is decidedly formulaic, James puts the Lord (Jesus) on a par with God (the Father), identifying himself as the bond-servant or slave of both:

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. (1:1)

iakōbos theou kai kuriou iēsou christou doulos tais dōdeka phulais tais en tē diaspora chairein

Not only is Jesus spoken of in this way on a par with God the Father, but since Jesus was in heaven rather than on earth – as his expected future return (James 5:7-9) and the prayers that are offered to Him presuppose (James 5:13-15) – James could only be identifying Jesus as Lord here in a religious and heavenly sense rather than in a merely secular or earthly one.

Furthermore, the Old Testament is replete with examples of God’s representatives and worshippers being called the servant or servants of Yahweh (e.g. Deuteronomy 34:5, Joshua 1:13, 15, 8:31, 33, 9:24, 11:12, 12:6, 13:8, 14:7, 18:7, 22:2, 5, 24:29; Judges 2:8, 15:18; Job 1:8, 2:3, 42:7; Isaiah 48:20, etc.) which in the Greek Old Testament is rendered as the servant(s) of the Lord (kurios). The same thing can be found in the New Testament (e.g. Luke 1:48, 2:29; Acts 2:18, 4:29, 16:17, etc.). No other heavenly being is identified as the Lord of prophets and righteous men and women of God in the OT, and no earthly or heavenly being is referred to as Lord in a religious sense except for Yahweh. For this reason prophets and righteous men are referred to as His servants, i.e. His worshippers, rather than the servants or worshippers of anyone one else. A devout Jew like James could not have understood or meant the word any differently than this in such a context. Hence, to call Jesus his Lord in this way is precisely to identify Him with Yahweh in the Old Testament.

A. T. Robertson observed:

…James, though one of the “pillars” at Jerusalem, with Peter and John (Gal. 2:9), is content with the humbler word “slave” (doulos). He is the bondsman of the Lord Jesus Christ as well as of God, and so is a Christian in the full sense of the term. He places Jesus on a par with God and uses Christ (christou) as a part of the name. There is no “Jesus or Christ” controversy for James. He identifies his brother Jesus with the Messiah of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of the hopes and aspirations of true Judaism. One must perceive that the term “Christ” in the mouth of James carries its full content and is used deliberately. He adds also “Lord” (kuriou), which has here the Old Testament atmosphere of worship. It is not a mere polite term for station or courtesy. The use of “Lord” by the side of “God” places James unquestionably in the ranks of worshipers of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Prof. A. T. Robertson, M.A., D.D., LL.D., Practical and Social Aspects of Christianity: The Wisdom of James (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1915), p. 15.

Interestingly enough, the grammar of James 1:1 could even be understood to be calling Jesus God,

Although James’s service was rendered to “God and the Lord Jesus Christ,” the text could bear the sense of affirming the deity of Christ ….It is grammatically possible that James was saying he served “Jesus Christ who is God and Lord,” which would be one of the great affirmations of the deity of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.9 (Kurt A. Richardson, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture – James, Vol. 36 ( Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), p. 53)


9 Cf. F. Vouga, L’epitre de s. Jacques, CNT, Vol. 13a (Geneva: Labor et fides, 1984), 35; and more recently M. Karrer, “Christus der Herr und die Welt also Statte der Prufung: zur Theologie des Jakobusbriefs,” KerDo 35 (1989): 166-88. Second Peter 1:2; Jude 4; Titus 2:13 could be seen as supporting texts.

This is because the Greek word kai in some contexts can mean “even” rather than “and,” so understood in the Ethiopic translation, and/or because both theou (God) and kuriou (Lord) are joined by the simple kai and lack the article in Greek, bringing them into the closest possible relationship. Furthermore, it is James pattern elsewhere to join two titles for one person in this way.

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)


hrēskeia kathara kai amiantos para tō theō kai patri autē estin episkeptesthai orphanous kai chēras en tē thlipsei autōn aspilon eauton tērein apo tou kosmou


With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; (James 3:9)


en autē eulogoumen ton kurion kai patera kai en autē katarōmetha tous anthrōpous tous kath omoiōsin theou gegonotas

For these reasons it is unsurprising to find that some early Greek-speaking fathers interpreted the passage as referring to Jesus as God and Lord, most famously Pseudo-Andrew of Crete.

But as the above has already shown, and without dismissing that the proper translation calls Jesus “God and Lord” (also held by R. P. Martin, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 48, and Alec Motyer, q.v. Studies in the Epistle of James), the fact remains that such a translation is not necessary in order to glean the deity of Christ from this verse. In light of Old Testament background and early Jewish understanding, the deity of Christ is fully established by the fact that Jesus is identified as Lord and put on an equality with the Father, as several commentators have observed.

John Reumann:

In James, kyrios can be used of God12 or Jesus13 (so Joseph Fitzmyer, who traces early Christian development of the title, especially in light of use in the Dead Sea Scrolls of mareh, as well as kyrios in Greek, for Yahweh).14


Those who have argued for a Jewish Vorlage wish to excise kai kyriou Iesou Christou (“and the Lord Jesus Christ”), but there is no manuscript evidence for such omissions, and today the full description is generally read.15 Francois Vouga heightened James Christology by interpreting “servant of Jesus Christ, God and Lord.”16 He cites in support of this 1:27 (where NRSV’s “before God, the Father” is literally toi theoi kai patri) and 3:9 (“the Lord and Father”), plus Pseudo-Andrew of Crete. Johnson terms it “forced”17 (similarly Burchard).18 Calling Jesus “God” is rare in the New Testament. But Johnson adds, “The Greeting…works effectively to construct a compositional world”; it “also deftly sketches the symbolic world shared by the implied readers and author.” This world, from the outset of the letter, is that of “God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”19 Burchard adds “exalted Lord,” since the author makes no connection with the earthly Lord Jesus.20 John Reumann, “Christology of James,” in Mark Allan Powell and David R. Bauer, editors, Who Do You Say That I Am? Essays on Christology (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), p. 130


12 James 3:9; 4:10, 15; 5:4, 11a, b.


13 James 1:1, 7; 2:1; 5:7, 8, 14, 15.


14 Joseph Fitzmyer, “kyrios,” in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981), 330-331


15 Martin Dibelius, James, rev. H. Greeven, trans. M. A. Williams, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 66 (author hereafter given as Dibelius Greeven); Johnson, Letter of James, 168.


16 Francois Vouga, L’Epitre de Saint Jacques, Commentaire du Nouveau Testament, deuxieme serie 13a (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1984), 35.


17 Johnson, Letter of James, 168.


18 Burchard, “Zu einigen christologischen Stellen,” 359.


19 Johnson, Letter of James, 171.


20 Burchard, “Zu einigen christologischen Stellen,” 360.

Patrick Hartin:

Jesus is identified by name on only two occasions in this letter (1:1; 2:1). This led Massebieau (249-83) and Spitta (1-239) to advance the theory that the letter of James was originally a writing stemming from the world of Israel, later Christianized through the insertion of a twofold reference to Jesus (1:1; 2:1). Such a theory fails to take account of this letters closeness to Jesus’ thought and sayings, which permeate the writing. Furthermore, no manuscript evidence can be given to support such a theory. The Greek nouns theos and kyrios are both without the article. This has led some scholars to see the phrase as referring solely to Jesus: “Jesus Christ, God and Lord” (e.g., Vouga, “Jesus-Christ, Dieu et Seigneur,” 35). For Jesus to be described in such an unequivocal way as God would be extremely unusual in the context of the New Testament writings, especially if the letter of James is judged to be a relatively early writing (see the Introduction). Some manuscripts try to remove the ambiguity by identifying God as “Father” (pater). This is clearly not the original text, but an interpretation. James is a slave both of God (as Father) and Jesus (as Lord), which implies an equality between God (as Father) and Jesus (as Lord), but their exact relationship is not discussed in any depth. In calling Jesus “Lord” James reflects a practice found in very early Christian liturgical texts: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20) and “Our Lord, come!” (1 Cor 16:22). The LXX used the noun kyrios for God. In the New Testament it gradually becomes a title applied to Jesus showing a growing consciousness and confession of Jesus as God. In the letter of James the term kyrios is used sometimes in reference to Jesus and other times in reference to God (Father). Only the context can decide. Patrick J. Hartin, James, Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., Editor, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2009), p. 50

Dan McCartney:

….James identifies himself simply as a “servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Since James includes no definite or indefinite articles with these words, it is possible to read this phrase as “servant of Jesus Christ, God and Lord.” But it is more likely that he is simply closely associating two nouns: Lord Jesus Christ and God. In any case, we must remember that when a Jew put the words “God” and “Lord” together, the Lord in view could only be God (cf. 1:7, where “from the Lord” means “from God”). No matter how the verse is read, James is setting forth a very high Christology, identifying Jesus not just as Christ (Messiah) but also as Lord, mentioned in the same breath with God. Further, Jews saw themselves as servants of God, not of any earthly king or master, and as Dibelius points out (1975:65), the term “servant” or “slave”3 “expresses a definite relationship to the God whose cult a person is committed.” So again James’s declaration of being a “slave” to the Lord Jesus is an implicit acknowledgment of Jesus’s deity. Dan G. McCartney, James, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009), p. 78.


3. The Greek word ... (doulos, servant) could be translated “slave.” The English word servant is sometimes used to describe even executives and rulers (who refer to themselves as “public servants”), but the social class of doulos typically had only slightly more self-determination than slaves of recent centuries.

Paul Harrison:

James wrote as a servant “of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Some have understood this phrase only to speak of Jesus, thus identifying Him as God. Since the “and” (Greek kai) could be understood to mean “even,” this is possible, but it seems more natural to see James referring to God the Father and to His Son. In typical N.T. fashion, this places Jesus and His Father on equal terms.


The titles James uses for the Savior are common in the N.T., yet significant. “Lord” (Greek kurios) traces its meaning back to its use in the Greek translation of the O.T. called the Septuagint, often designated LXX after its alleged number of Jewish translators (see the “Letter or Aristeas”). There “Lord” served as the translation for the divine names, both Yahweh and Adonai. Its N.T. application to Jesus is therefore freighted with significance. Jesus is the Yahweh of the O.T., and N.T. writers are not shy about making this identification (e.g., cf. 1 Pet. 2:3 with Ps. 34:8). Paul V. Harrison, Th.D., Commentary on the Book of James, Robert E. Picirilli, General Editor, The Randall House Bible Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Randall House Publications, 1992), p. 10

And, for a final example, Thomas Manton:

Some take both these clauses in a conjoined sense, as applied to the same person, and read it thus, “A servant of Jesus Christ, who is God and Lord;” as, indeed, this was one of the places urged by the Greek Fathers for the godhead of Christ against the Arians. But our reading, which disjoineth the clauses is to be preferred, as being least strained, and more suitable to the apostolical inscriptions. Neither is the dignity of Christ hereby impaired, he being proposed as an object of equal honour with the Father; and, as the Father is Lord as well as Jesus Christ, so Jesus Christ is God as well as the Father. Thomas Manton, A Practical Commentary or an Exposition with Notes on the Epistle of James; Delivered in Sundry Weekly Lectures At Stoke-Newington in Middlesex, Near London (1840). pp. 1-2

5 comments:

Anthony Rogers said...

Just to preempt Kangaroo...Tell me where the errors and fallacies are in this article; don't tell me that it contains such. Thanks in advance.

Royal Son said...

Brother Anthony, you have given an excellent presentation thus far of the book of James with regard to the complete conformity to the belief of the Deity of Christ, and the disunity with the teachings of Islam.

I have heard on many an occasion that James was a Muslim. These points you have opened to us are devastating to such claims of an Islamic Jesus and and Islamic James.

It boggles the mind to contemplate Allah's disregard for the needs of his followers. He has left Muslims with no trace of evidence of Islam prior to Mohammad.

When we survey the heretical groups and writings that Muslims often appeal to, we find that such groups and writings not only contradict Islam, but in some cases are polar opposites to the teachings of Islam. Take for example the gnostics who believed that Jesus was not physically crucified because he was too divine to be human! The same gnostics believed that the God who created the universe was some kind of evil demi-urge.

I do believe that the endless attempts of Muslims to appeal to such groups and their writings only to find their arguments shatter into a million pieces leads to one conclusion: Sisyphus lives!

Anthony Rogers said...

Thanks for the encouragement; I am happy it was edifying. Praise the Lord.

BTW, does that mean there is more evidence for Sisyphus than for Muhammad's Allah?

Derek Adams said...

Chalres, what does it mean that the title 'Lord', "became" a title for Jesus in the New Testament? Is there an epistle (excluding the gospels), where you can see a gradual process?

As far as I read in the New Testament, "Lord" always functions as a proper noun for Jesus (excluding the obvious cases, land owners/ slave owners, the father etc).

Also, if we use assume it's identifying the Father and Jesus (and this still holds strong weight for Christ's divinity because of the reasons you mentioned), how do people like James Dunn deal with this?

Do they then say this is merely an "act of worship" but not "worship in it's fullest sense", and how is that possible when even in this single verse alone, that which is applied to the Father is applied to the Son.

Also if "God" is a proper noun for the Father, and "Lord" is a proper noun for the Son, and the New Testament authors have specifically utilized these nouns as a way to carry out "distinctions" in the Trinitarian view, but in the Arian or (evolving christology) view , this is a way to "demote" Jesus and give supremacy to the Father, then how could James possibly then state he is a bond-servant of both the Father and Jesus and connect them as both equally binding to him in the same way and the same sense?

- Dk

Royal Son said...

Anthony,I think there is a definite correlation between the number of Islamic apologists and reincarnations of Sisyphus himself.

Dk, you made some interesting points. I think the declaration of one God, the Father and one LORD, Jesus Christ is a powerful testimony to the trinitarian beliefs of the primitive church.