James’ Use of Jesus’ Sayings
Most scholars recognize that James knows a collection of Jesus’ sayings, either in oral or written form. James’ teaching has numerous thematic parallels, as well as some verbal contacts, with Jesus’ sayings, especially as recorded in Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5–7) and Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” (Lk 6:20–49).
Strikingly, however, James never explicitly attributes a saying or teaching to Jesus.
The Relationship between James and the Sayings of Jesus: Reformulating Jesus’ Teaching
Scholars have offered various proposals to explain the relationship between James and the traditions of Jesus’ sayings. The most persuasive model is that James indeed draws on Jesus’ traditions (oral or, most likely, written), but adapts them to his own context (→; →).
James here follows an ancient literary model in which an authoritative text is rewritten without attribution to the original source.
- In the Jewish tradition, authors such as Sirach and Ps.-Phocylides incorporated rewritten biblical material in their own collections of proverbs.
- In Greco-Roman education, students completed exercises (progymnasmata) in which they would paraphrase, elaborate, or otherwise rewrite a classical text. In general, rewriting a classic text (aemulatio) was a widely recognized literary technique.
Connections between James and the Jesus Sayings Traditions
The following list indicates thematic or verbal parallels which may indicate James’ reformulation of Jesus’ sayings.
- Jas 1:2 (cf. Jas 1:12). Cf. Mt 5:11–12a / Lk 6:22–23a. Common theme: Joy in time of persecution.
- Jas 1:4b. Cf. Mt 5:48. Common theme: Call to perfection (wholeness).
- Jas 1:5b. Cf. Mt 7:7–8 / Lk 11:9–10. Common theme: Ask (pray) and you will receive (God will give; cf. Jas 1:17a; Jas 4:2d–3).
- Jas 1:6a. Cf. Mt 21:21–22 / Mk 11:23–24. Common theme: Asking (praying) in faith and not doubting.
- Jas 1:9–11. Cf. Lk 14:10–11; cf. Lk 18:14; Mt 23:12. Common theme: The lowly shall be exalted and the mighty humbled. Reversals of social status. Closely related themes: reversal of the fortunes of rich and poor (Lk 6:20–25); the last shall be first and the first last (Mk 10:31); the one who wishes to be great must be the servant (Mk 10:43–44); Lk 6:20–25; Lk 16:19–31; Jesus’ criticism of the rich and oppressors of the poor (Mk 12:40).
- Jas 1:12 (cf. Jas 1:2). Compare Mt 5:11–12 / Lk 6:22–23. Common theme: Joy in time of persecution. Related theme: One who perseveres until the end will receive an eschatological reward (Mt 24:13 / Mk 13:13b / Lk 21:19).
- Jas 1:17a (cf. Jas 1:5b). Cf. Mt 7:11 / Lk 11:13. Common theme: Generosity of God who gives good gifts.
- Jas 1:19–20. Cf. Mt 5:22–26. Common theme: Teaching on rejecting anger.
- Jas 1:22–25: Cf. Mt 7:24–26 / Lk 6:47–49; Lk 11:28. Common theme: Blessed are the ones who not only hear the word but also put it into practice.
- Jas 1:26b. Cf. Mt 12:36–37. Common theme: Restraining the tongue.
- Jas 1:27: Cf. Mk 12:40; Mt 25:31–46. Common theme: True religion focuses on aiding the poor and vulnerable.
- Jas 2:5. Cf. Mt 5:3,5 / Lk 6:20b. Common theme: God blesses the poor and promises them the Kingdom.
- Jas 2:5b. Cf. Lk 12:21. Common theme: Spiritual riches contrasted with earthly riches.
- Jas 2:7. Cf. Lk 6:22c. Common theme. The name of Christians is blasphemed.
- Jas 2:8. Cf. Mt 22:36–40. Common theme: Identifying Lv 19:18b as a central commandment of the Torah.
- Jas 2:10. Cf. Mt 5:19. Common theme: Integrity of the whole Torah—not one commandment should be broken.
- Jas 2:12. Cf. Mt 9:13, Mt 12:1–8; Mt 12:9–14. Common theme: Law of freedom understood as a focus on mercy rather than a strict following of the details of the Torah.
- Jas 2:13. Cf. Mt 5:7; Mt 6:14–15; and Mt 18:21–35. Common theme: If people do not show mercy to others, God will not show mercy to them.
- Jas 3:9. Cf. Lk 6:28. Common theme: Blessing and not cursing others.
- Jas 3:12. Cf. Mt 7:16–20 / Lk 6:43–45. Common theme: Use of a nature metaphor to show that “fruit” (words, behavior) is consistent with the plant that produces it.
- Jas 3:18. Cf. Mt 5:9. Common theme: Blessings of those who make peace.
- Jas 4:2d-3. Cf. Mt 7:7–8 / Lk 11:9–10. Common theme: Asking and receiving from God (cf. Jas 1:5b; 1:17a).
- Jas 4:4. Cf. Mt 6:24 / Lk 16:13. Common theme: One cannot serve both God and worldly values.
- Jas 4:8c. Cf. Mt 5:8. Common theme: Purifying / cleansing one’s heart.
- Jas 4:9. Cf. Lk 6:25b. Common theme: laughter turned into mourning and weeping.
- Jas 4:10. Cf. passages on Jas 1:9–11. Common theme: the humble will be exalted.
- Jas 4:11b. Cf. Mt 7:1–2 / Lk 6:37–38. Common theme: Do not judge others.
- Jas 4:13–14 (cf. Jas 5:2–3). Cf. Lk 12:16–21. Common theme: Arrogance of the rich / Uncertainty of life.
- Jas 5:1. Cf. Lk 6:24–25. Common theme: Judgment of the rich.
- Jas 5:1–6. Cf. Mt 6:19–21 / Lk 12:33–34; Lk 12:16–21. Common theme: Futility of storing up earthly treasure.
- Jas 5:9a. Cf. Mt 7:1–2 / Lk 6:37–38. Common theme: Do not judge others so that you may not be judged.
- Jas 5:9b. Cf. Mt 24:33 / Mk 13:29. Common theme: Eschatological judge / Son of Man is standing at the gates.
- Jas 5:10–11a. Cf. Mt 5:11–12; Lk 6:22–23. Common theme: Following the example of the prophets.
- Jas 5:12. Cf. Mt 5:34–37. Common theme: Teaching on swearing oaths.
- Jas 5:15a. Cf. Mt 21:21; Mk 11:24. Common theme: Praying in faith.
- Jas 5:19–20. Cf. Mt 18:15 / Lk 17:3. Common theme: Correcting a sinful brother.
General Development of Themes in Jesus’ Teaching
In addition to specific parallels, one may also note more general parallels between James’ and Jesus’ teachings.