The Epistle of James By Zane C. Hodges. Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2007. 140 pp. Paper, $8.95.
A few years after Jesus’ crucifixion, James wrote his short epistle. In the centuries that have followed, scholar after scholar has commented on that book. In any well-stocked seminary library, there will be dozens and dozens of commentaries on James, taking up several shelves of space. As time passes, the size of the average volume about James increases. Why?
Each new scholarly commentator must prove that he has read all of the scholarly literature. The normal way this is done is by discussing what all of one’s highly-regarded predecessors have said about James. The result is that most of the space in scholarly commentaries is devoted to commenting on what others have said about James. Only a relatively small portion actually wrestles with the text of the epistle.
In his main text, Zane focused upon exposition of the epistle, not upon critiquing other commentators. His endnotes are succinct, demonstrating familiarity with a huge body of secondary literature. Don’t let the size fool you. Good things come in small packages.
What (besides the lack of empty filler) is unique about this volume? For starters, Zane demonstrates that the book has an outline. He shows convincingly that the epistle is not a mere string of pearls (contrary to the opinion of many). James 1:19, he demonstrates, delineates the three sections of the body of James: Let every man be swift to hear (1:21–2:26), slow to speak (3:1–18), slow to wrath (4:1–5:6). He shows, for example, that in turn the first section has three subsections: Being swift to hear involves more than mere hearing (1:21–27); being swift to hear involves more than mere morality (2:1–13); being swift to hear involves more than mere passive faith (2:14–26).
Why is it important to recognize that James had an outline? It helps us identify interpretations that are contrary to James’ point. Zane shows that all three of these subsections urge believers to apply the truth they have believed. Most would agree with him on the first, but errantly disagree on the third. However, the unity of the outline verifies that Zane understands James. Unfortunately, many misconstrue James.
A review of Zane’s exposition of one key verse in each of the three subsections will demonstrate his point.
A key verse in the first subpoint is James 1:22: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James challenges these believers to apply Scripture, not just hear it.
A key verse in the second unit is James 2:1: My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. As brethren, these are believers. James does not doubt that they have faith concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, but they are showing inappropriate partiality. Thus, he challenges them to apply Scripture.
A key verse in the third unit is James 2:14: What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save (deliver) him? The previous two examples (coming from the first and second subsections of Be Swift to Hear) were challenges to believers that they need to apply Scripture.
Believing a Christian-walk truth of Scripture does not deliver one from sin’s deadliness. If one believes that stealing is wrong, but holds up a bank anyway, faith did not deliver him from that sin and its consequences. James 2:14 means that believers will only be delivered from the deadliness of personal sin as they apply the truth that they have believed. Such an interpretation perceives each of the three subsections of the Be Swift to Hear section as an exhortation to apply the truth that these Christians have believed.
Unfortunately, as Zane shows, too many have wreaked havoc with the argument of James. Most commentaries try to advocate fruit inspection, as if an absence of works constituted proof that someone had a spurious faith. James would be shocked that people misconstrue his words in this way. Zane’s commentary is a breath of fresh air.
If you have only one commentary on James, this should be the one. If you have fifty other commentaries on James, but lack this one; your James section is still incomplete.
Researcher, Message of Life Ministries
Teaching Elder, Grace Chapel of Orange County