I had the honor of asking respected scholar and prolific author Craig Blomberg some questions about the letter of James. Having co-authored a commentary on this epistle, (see here for the audible lectures which I highly recommend), Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, Colorado.
My questions are in bold.
James is generally not the most referenced book of the New Testament. Do you feel that James can be marginalized, and if so, why do you think this is?
Craig: Absolutely. Ever since Martin Luther’s famous comment about it being an epistle of straw, people have claimed there was not enough about Jesus in the letter. It seems to contradict Paul on the roles of faith and works in someone’s life, and its emphasis on the sins of the rich make affluent Westerns very uncomfortable.
What do Christians miss out on when this letter is neglected (individual believers as well as believing communities)?
Craig: The three key themes of the letter appear to be a right attitude toward riches and poverty, Christian wisdom especially in the area of one’s speech and a proper response to trials and temptations. All these appear to be united by a thread of single-mindedness vs. duplicity. Key teachings on prayer also punctuate the letter.
What first piqued your interest in James?
Craig: When I began teaching at Denver Seminary 34 years ago, an exegesis of James course, integrated with a preaching class, was a requirement for all M.Div. students. The combination had been created by then president and professor of homiletics, Haddon Robinson. It was a brilliant combination and as I prepared to take my turns in teaching it, I discovered the magnificence of James.
Some Christians appeal to James to defend a theology which has God automatically healing our sickness or disease, provided we have enough faith. What is your own take on James 5:13-19?
Craig: You have to read James 5 in the context of James 4! There James makes it crystal clear that one shouldn’t make plans without leaving room for God’s will to be different from ours (4:15). So the “prayer of faith” in 5:15 has to be a prayer that includes the caveat, “if it be your will, Lord.”
It’s easy to come away from this epistle with the impression that James hates the rich. Is that what’s going on?
Craig: No, he hates the rich oppressor and he laments the indulgent rich. It is possible to be wealthy and to steward one’s wealth well and be generous in giving to the Lord’s work and to the poor. But the percentage giving of the upper-class Christian has overall been lower than that of the middle and lower classes, on average. So there are a lot of well-to-do people in our world today, who claim to be believers, but don’t demonstrate it by their lifestyle, with whom James would no doubt be very upset.
Human suffering is inevitable, and more rampant and intensified in certain parts of the world. What is James’ response to the problem of evil?
Craig: Believers who are in a position to help alleviate human suffering should be doing so.
To those who want to deepen their understanding of this epistle, what advice would you give them? What has helped you personally?
Craig: Read the letter in light of global and historical realities. I suspect most readers of this interview will fall comfortably within the top ten to twenty percent of all the people of the world in terms of standard of living. They will be in the top one percent of all the people who have ever lived. Don’t identify with the poor or middle class in James’ context. Acknowledge that you are rich and then see what God is asking you to do.
Dr. Craig Blomberg (Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary) is a prolific author whose area of expertise is the New Testament and its original context, including Jesus’ parables, miracles, the historical reliability of the New Testament, and much more. In June 2020 Brazos Press is set to publish/release Can We Still Believe in God? Answering Ten Contemporary Challenges to Christianity.