`The Epistle of James' by James B. Adamson, 1976, 227 pages in the series The New International Commentary on the New Testament; `The Letter of James' by Douglas J. Moo, 2000, 271 pages, a volume in the series The Pillar New Testament Commentary; and `James' by Ralph P. Martin, 1988, 240 pages, A volume in the series Word Biblical Commentary are all `full featured' and recent commentaries on the first of the short `catholic' epistles in the New Testament.
I find it amazing how different the material is in these three volumes. After 1800 years of commentary, one would expect a fair amount of uniformity in thinking about this short letter, but there is a remarkable range of differences in emphasis among the three.
Those of you who are familiar with the world of biblical commentary will recognize that all three are part of major series of commentaries. Adamson and Moo belong to series dedicated to the New Testament, while Martin's volume is an offering of a larger series on both Old and New Testaments. And, each volume is organized in a way to match the editorial style of their series. This is most clearly seen in Martin's volume, as his work is organized in virtually the same way as the much larger work on Paul's Epistle to the Romans by the distinguished scholar, James D. G. Dunn. This is no surprise, as Martin is the New Testament editor for his series, the Word Biblical Commentary.
Ranked by scholarly detail, Martin has the most and Adamson has the least, with Moo somewhere in between; but don't take from this that Martin is heavy on the Greek and Adamson has no original Greek. All three are specifically written for the scholar and assume that the reader either knows classical Greek or is willing to slog through all the Greek words and expressions.Read more ›
One thing I have appreciated over the years when it comes to the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) is that most of the volumes (with rare exceptions) are well-written in a lively style (at least for a commentary) and are accessible to the general reader and not just the scholar. Adamson's commentary on the book of James is no exception. Originally published in 1976 (and thus one of the later additions to the original NICNT) it remains relevant today.
Although at first glance the letter of James may appear to be fairly straightforward, upon investigation it is clear that many passages in the epistle are open to a variety of interpretations (the most obvious of which is the exact connection between faith and works in the mind of James). Adamson does a good job of dealing with these interpretations and making consistent sense of what James is saying.
As is the practice with most of the volumes in the NICNT, Adamson places the more technical materials, including commentary on the Greek text, in footnotes, or, in this case of this volume, various "Excursuses." This is a helpful practice that permits the general reader, who may not be interested in such issues, to focus on the verse-by-verse commentary itself.
Adamson's volume also has a helpful introductory section of some 27 pages in which he discusses matters such as authorship, purpose, teaching, etc.
The New International Commentary on the New Testament is generally an excellent series because of its highly readable narritave, conservative viewpoint, high scholarship, and the pastoral love that comes through in the narrative. In this particular volume in the series, however, the "high scholarship" overshadows the other three characteristics of this series, making it a very disappointing read for this reviewer.
The Reverend Doctor James Adamson, a Presbyterian minister in Santa Rosa, California, writes in the Introductin that one of the chief goals of this commentary is to prove that James carefully plotted out his epistle, and that it was not (as many commentators believe) an unstructured collection of random thoughts. This goal and the scholarly way in which it is pursued makes this commentary fairly confusing and did not do much to strengthen either my faith in Christ or my understanding of James' epistle in general.
Adamson employes two techniques frequently. One is his habit of finding a word or theme in the text of the epistle, then connecting it to the same word or theme elsewhere in the epistle to prove its structure and unity. The second technique is to introduce and explain what other (disagreeing) scholars say about a particular section of James, then (once the oppornent is fully explained) Adamson presents his own view, explaining why his view is superior. I found myself quite frustrated with these techniques. In the first technique, I found myself agreeing that a structure exists, but Adamson doesn't draw any conclusions from these connections as far as the overall message of James is concerned. ("Sure, he talks about the evils of uncontrolled speech earlier as well. Yes, it shows unity in the epistle, but so what?Read more ›