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James: Jesus' Traditions in James

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 (Bauckham 1999; Kloppenborg 2009).

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.

General Development of Themes in Jesus’ Teaching

In addition to specific parallels, one may also note more general parallels between James’ and Jesus’ teachings.