Making James and Paul Play Nice

Since all Bible blogging roads lead back to Near Emmaus, and since Brian LePort seems to continually blog about things that I’m already thinking about (get out of my head Brian!) I’m going to piggyback off of another one of his posts today. Yesterday Brian posted on the question of whether or not James and Paul were involved in a dispute or rivalry. While I’m not going to engage with much of his material here, I do want to argue for some similarities between Paul and James, and namely similarities in their writings to Christian churches and their use of Scripture. Paul’s letter to the Romans and James’ epistle both exhibit a number of parallels, including the following.

First, Ryan Armstrong lists parallels between Rom 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4 (suffering produces endurance, etc.), Rom 6:23 and James 1:15-16 (the wages of sin is death), and Rom 2:13 and James 1:22 (doers of the law).[1] None of these parallels is particularly strong in the Greek; they should probably be categorized more as conceptual similarities rather than as textual connections. They do, however, show that James and Paul were at least thinking similar thoughts on different issues.

A more important and more textual parallel, though, lies between Rom 1:17 and James 2:23. Romans 1:17 is a quotation of Hab 2:4, which in turn is an allusion to Gen 15:6 where Abraham’s faith is credited to him as righteousness. As Richard Hays has shown, because Paul has left out the crucial personal possessive pronoun of Hab 2:4 (“his faith”), Rom 1:17 should be taken as showing Paul’s twofold concern for “God’s own righteousness” being shown in the gospel and for “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.[2] Paul’s use of Hab 2:4, then, combines it’s original intention in Habakkuk of arguing for God’s covenant faithfulness while also making use of its allusion to Gen 15:6 and the need for all men to come to God through faith for justification. Gen 15:6 is also quoted by James 2:23. Thus both passages make reference to passages in the Old Testament that are intended to show how God operates in terms of salvation. Righteousness comes through faith. In other words, both of these writers use allusions ultimately to the same passage of the OT to help their readers understand what they are saying about justification.

This connection is made stronger by what comes after Romans 1 and what comes before James 2. In Rom 2:1-11, Paul argues that God has no partiality, specifically concerning ethnicity, and in James 2:1-13 God is said to have no partiality, specifically between the rich and the poor. Rom 2:6 says that each will be judged according to his works, and James 2:24 says that man is justified by works as well as faith.[3] More parallels could be shown, but the fact that these, along with the one noted by Armstrong between Rom 2:13 and James 1:22, all surround what are arguably the most important statements in each of the books – Romans 1:17 and James 2:23 – should point the reader to the fact that the two passages, and moreover the two books and thus the two corpuses, are clearly connected.

How we interpret these connections, as Richard Hays has noted in Echoes of Scripture (29-33), is of course the million dollar question. I’m inclined to say that they demonstrate that Paul and James are much closer on the issue of justification and even on their articulation of it than some scholars want to allow.

What about you?


[1] Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 41.

[2] Ryan Armstrong, “Canonical Approaches to New Testament Theology: An Evangelical Evaluation of Childs and Trobisch,” Th.M. thesis., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007, 104. The last two verses listed are also parallel to Matthew 7:26.

[3] I take ‘justification’ here in the sense that Paul uses ‘judged’ in Romans 2:6.