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WISDOM IN THE CONTEXT OF JAMES LEIDENSTHEOLOGIE:

A STUDY OF WISDOM PNEUMATOLOGY IN THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

BY
GANI WIYONO

INTRODUCTION

The epistle of James appears to be a collection of sayings and thoughts loosely put
together. Therefore, it is no wonder that until twenty years ago, most scholars, under the
influence of Martin Dibelius, considered the epistle of James as a paranaesis, "a text which
strings together admonitions of general ethical content."1
However, through the emergence of redaction criticism, a relatively new discipline in
New Testament criticism, Dibelius' thesis has been challenged. Instead of considering the epistle
as a random collection of sayings and thoughts, redaction criticism seeks to find a theological
unity within the epistle. One of the prominent scholars who did well in applying redaction
criticism to defend that the epistle of James is a carefully constructed work, is Peter Davids.2 At
redactional level, Davids discovers that "the epistle of James is primarily Leidenstheologie, an

Martin Dibelius, James. Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, edited by Helmut
Koester (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), 3.
2

Peter Davids, Commentary on James. New International Greek Testament Commentary, edited by I. Howard
Marshall and W. Ward Gasque (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), 24-26.

expression of a theology of suffering with a long history before James' Christian version."3
Within the framework of Davids unifying theological theme a theology of suffering, this
present paper is developed. Special attention will be given on the role of wisdom in the context
of suffering. Striking similarities between the character of James wisdom and the several
pneuma passages in the New Testament lead to the inevitable conclusion that James presents
another tradition in the diversity of New Testament Pneumatology the so-called wisdom
Pneumatology.

I. SITZ IM LEBEN OF THE EPISTLE OF JAMES4

One who studies the epistle of James must pay attention to the two significant pictures
displayed in that epistle. The first one is the picture of "the poor" (2:1-9: 5:1-6). Another one is
the picture of "pacifism", which stands against all forms of violence and anger (1:20; 2:11-13;
3:13-18; 4:1-4).
There are enough reasons to believe that what was pictured by James on his epistle is
reflecting Palestine's socio-political situation in the late 40's5 until early 60's. David Rhoads
3

Peter Davids, "Theological Perspectives on the Epistle of James," Journal of the Evangelical Theological
Society 2 (June 1980): 97.
4

Davids, NIGTC, 24-25 considers that the epistle of James is different from most of Pauline Letters. It is not
actual letter but a tract intended for publication which has its life-setting in the place of publication, not in the place
of its receivers.
5

Jim Reiher, Violent Language in the Epistle of James: How It Contributes to the Identification of A Historical
Occasion for The Letter. Paper presented as a part of the conference papers Facing The Theological Issues of the
Twnty-First Century at The Fourth General Assembly Asia Pacific Theological Association, Southern Cross
College, Sydney Australia, 28 September-1October 1999, p. 31 identifies some indicators for the dating such as:
the primitive Jewish-Christian language in the letter; the lack of any reference to the Gentile Debate, the Jerusalem
Council, or issues like circumcision; the eschatological expectations expressed; the lack of developed theology; and
the primitive state of the church structure

notices that during that period those who lived Palestine might have experienced the worst
situation in their lives.
The land was unproductive and there were few resources. Those who rented land stood
the risk in an unproductive year of losing to the landowners their good or, if it became
necessary to indenture themselves, their freedom. Small farmers were threatened with
the expropriation of their land by the Romans if they were unable to pay the tribute. The
result was abundance of fugitive slaves and miserable free working men.6
On the other hand, upper-class Jews took advantage through their lucrative positions. By
bribing Roman officials, they got a position to be tax collectors.7 Undoubtedly they then abused
their "power". They exploited people in order to get a lot of money. Middle-class Jews seemed
to have been suppressed by the obligation to pay heavy taxes. The only way to meet their
obligation is to exploit their free-workers (undoubtedly some of them must have been church's
members).
When a famine prevailed in the land of Judea in C.E. 48 (Cf. Acts 11:28), most of the
people could not endure those severe situations anymore. Brigandage and terrorism against the
upper class of society and Roman officials began to grow and scatter throughout Judea.8 At this
time, the Zealot, as a nationalistic movement, seemed to be gaining the heart of the people. The
members of the Zealot might play the role of Jewish Robin Hoods.9 This might have attracted
some members of the church.
6

David M. Rhoads, Israel in Revolution 6-74 C.E. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), 81.

Rhoads, p. 81.

Rhoads, p. 81. Richard A. Horsley and John S. Hanson. Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements
in the Time of Jesus. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), 48-49 write, Social banditry arises in traditional
agrarian societies where peasants are exploited by government and landowners, Such banditry may increase in
times of economic crises caused by famine or high taxation
9

Cf. Ralph P. Martin, James. Word Biblical Commentary, edited by David A. Hubbard, Glenn W. Barker, John
D. Watts and Ralph P. Martin (Waco, Texas: Word Books Publisher, 1988), lxiv.

James seemed to realize that the turmoil of growing zealot movements in Palestine was
deeply influencing the mind of the Jews. Suffering Jews anywhere in the Roman Empire might
take the opportunity to attack the wealthy Jews and the Romans. In order to prevent them from
being dissolved into the water of the first-century "extreme liberation theology", James wrote
leidenstheologie.

II. JAMES' LEIDENSTHEOLOGIE

Peter Davids is correct when he says, "Within the context of suffering, James' primary
concern is with the health of community. The concern of the work is not simply suffering, but
suffering within communal context."10 In other words, James addressed his message to the
whole community of the believers, not to a specific group of believers (i.e. for the rich only).

James' Theodicy
Suffered Christians might have had a question: Why do we experience suffering?
James gave a clear answer to this. Firstly, James asked his readers to understand that suffering
was a "testing" of faith, through which the believers needed to display patient endurance
(hupomone). The end goal of this testing was perfection (teleios) (1:2-4).
Secondly, James asked his readers to understand that for those who loved God suffering
was not "the end of the world". Suffering led to reward, namely, the crown of life (1:12).
Therefore, instead of scolding God, James' readers were called to rejoice (1:2, 12-13). In
addition to this, James' readers were encouraged to endure patiently. An agricultural metaphor
was used here. Those who suffered should identify themselves with a farmer (5:7-8). After
planting his seeds, a farmer waited for the rain to fall upon his precious crop. He then had a long
wait, corresponding to the time of growth. During that period the farmer had to exhibit patience.
The period could easily swap him and his family. Yet, no matter how hungry he was, he must
10

Peter Davids, James. New International Biblical Commentary, edited by W. Ward Gasque (Peabody,
Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publisher, 1989), 13.

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remain patient and expectant. There was absolutely nothing he could do to speed up the process
of harvest. It would take place, but only in the due time. Everything has its appointed time.11
In the same manner, James' readers must exercise the patience. It was no use for them to
take shortcut by joining the Zealot movement to which they get a promise of "total liberation"
(from poverty and oppression). In fact, the appointed time that God set for their liberation was
already close at hand (5:8). They needed to be patient for a little while, otherwise they would be
disqualified (5:9). If Job and other prophets were able to persevere in the midst of their
suffering, James' readers were expected to follow their "footprints" (5:10-11).

About epithumia
However, it seems that some were not able to follow the "footprints" of the men of God.
Instead of admitting their failures, they blamed God. Encountering with this problem, James.
brought to surface the idea of. Outside the New Testament, this word denotes the direct
impulse toward food, self-satisfaction and also desire in general.12 In the epistle of James,
however as Buchsel notes, epithumia is regarded as the constant root in man of the individual
acts of sin to which the authors intention is mainly directed13 Thus, James seemingly is using a
concept found in the Jewish literature the so-called yetzer (or more specifically yetzer hara).14
What is yetzer in the mind of Jewish people? Jesus bin Sirach considers it as an evil
11

12

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. epiqumia, by F. Buchsel.

13

14

Cf. Martin, James, 190-91.

Ibid.

See Joel Marcus, The Evil Inclination in the Epistle of James, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 44 (1982):606.

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inclination implanted in man by God (Sir 1:14). The author of 4 Ezra considers it as the evil
heart (4 Ezra 3:21) and evil seed (4 Ezra 4:30) sown in the heart of primeval man. However,
yetzer itself cannot be simply equated with sin even though it may impel man to do sinful
things.15 In the later Judaism, yetzer hara is contrasted with yetzer hatov. Yetzer hara is located
on the left side of man and yetzer hatov on the right side of man. Both function as the two forces
within man which struggle each other to dominate them.16 The sinful, on one hand, are those
who let themselves be led by yetzer hara. On the other hand, the good men are those who are
able to conquer yetzer hara by allowing yetzer hatov to dominate their lives.
Thus, for James and his fellow-Jews, the real culprit for the mans failure is yetzer hara.
Because of yetzer hara, men are bound to be tied to the world and thus stand against God.
Because of yetzer hara too, the community of believers lack harmony (4:1-8). God himself
cannot be blamed as the source of sin. He is good, the sole source of good and of nothing but
good .17
Do not say,
The Lord is to blame for my failure;
It is for you to avoid doing what he hates,
Do not say, It was he who led me astray;
he has no use for sinful men.
(Sir 15:11-12 - NEB)

Let no one say when he is tempted


I am tempted by God
for God cannot be tempted with evil
and he himself tempted no one
(Jas 1:12 - RSV)

15

G.F. Moore. Judaism in the First Century of the Christian Era (New York: Schocken, 1971), I:480.; James
D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998), 84.
16

Samuel Sandmel, Judaism and Christian Beginnings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 444.; See
also W.D. Davis, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 21.
17

James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James. New International Commentary of the New Testament, edited by
F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 22.

But he has commanded no man to be wicked


nor has he given license to commit sin
(Sir 15:20 - NEB)

Every good endowment and every


perfect gift us from above, coming down
from the Father of Light with whom there is
no variation or shadows due to change
(Jas 1:17 - RSV)

The role of Devil is not fully elaborated in the epistle of James. He is not called the one
being responsible for sin. However, he is close by temptations and conflicts that humans
cause.18 Therefore he should be resisted (Jas 4:7) in submission to God.

Wisdom from Above


To overcome yetzer hara, James encourages his readers to have "wisdom" (1:5-8). For
the Jews, wisdom is generally understood as a world-view by which "man knows about the
constructive quality of good and destructive quality of evil and submits to this pattern, which can
be discerned in the world."19 By having wisdom, man is enabled to stand in the test of life and to
produce virtues (3:17-18). The problem is: How can such wisdom be obtained? The author of
Sirach and 4 Maccabees insist that wisdom can be attained by purely rational means20 that is
through the study of the Law (Sir 32:15).
However, James' wisdom cannot be obtained a part from grace because it descends from
above (3:15-17). Since it is a gift from God, such wisdom cannot be sought for, but must be

18

Kurt A. Richardson, James. The New American Commentary Series, edited by E. Ray Clendenen and David
S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1997), 185.
19

20

Gerhard von Rad, Wisdom in Israel (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1981), 78.

Robert P. Menzies, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press,
1991), 64.

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requested from God through prayer (1:5). Here, we can see a parallel with Lukan pneumatology.
In Lk 11.3, the Holy Spirit is equated with good gifts and should be asked from God in the
context of fervent prayer (Lk 11:10-11).
But a more fascinating parallel can be clearly seen when we move to the Pauline corpus.
If James has an idea of evil inclination (epithumia) (Jas 1:14) , Paul has an idea of flesh
(sarx) (Rom 7). It seems that the two are presenting the same concept (yetzer hara) by using
two different terminologies. 21 For James, to overcome yetzer hara man needs to ask perfect gift
from above wisdom (1: 5, 17, 3:18); for Paul. To conquer yetzer hara man needs to live in the
Spirit a gift graciously given by God (Rom 8:5-13). For James, those who overcome their
yetzer hara will demonstrate certain virtues (James 3:13, 18); for Paul those who subdue their
yetzer hara will produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).22
James 3:13, 18
meekness (prauthti sofias)
pure (agnh)
peace (eirhnekh)
forbearance (epiekhs)
readiness to obey (eupeiqhs)
full of mercy (mesth elous)
good fruit (karpwn agaqwn)
without uncertainty (adiakritos)
unhypocritical (anupokritos)

Galatians 5:22-23.
meekness (prauths)
peace (eirhnh)
forbearance (makroqumia)
generosity (crhstoths)
goodness (agaqwsunh)

faith (pistis)
love (agaph)
joy (cara)
self-control (engkratia)

21

22

see Marcus, 606 for identification Jamesevil inclination with yetzer hara;
Cf. Davids, NIGTC, 54.

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Therefore it is not unlikely plausible to think that James' wisdom is nothing but the Spirit
himself. Such a rationale moreover is substantiated by some Jewish traditions that closely relate
wisdom and the Spirit. In some occasion even the two are considered to be identical.
In the Old Testament for example a close relationship between wisdom and the spirit can
be clearly seen. Genesis 41:38, associates the Spirit of God with Joseph wisdom. Exodus 31:3
relates Bezalel ability and wisdom in constructing tabernacle with the Spirit of God.
Deuteronomy 34:9 writes that Joshua is full of the spirit of wisdom. Daniel 5:11, 14 records
that people in the Babylon recognized Daniels super-natural ability to interpret dream as a
wisdom bestowed by the spirit of holy gods. Finally in Isaiah 11:2, the Spirit who rests upon the
Messiah is identified as a spirit of wisdom.
Moving to the intertestamental literature, we can see the author of Wisdom of Solomon
interchangeably use the term spirit (or holy spirit or spirit of the Lord) and wisdom; and so
gives clear impression that the two are identical.23
because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul,
nor dwell in a body enslaved to sin. For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit,
and will rise and depart from foolish thoughts, and will be ashamed at the approach of
unrighteousness. For wisdom is a kindly spirit and will not free a blasphemer from the
guilt of his words;
because God is witness of his inmost feelings,
and a true observer of his heart, and a hearer of his tongue. Because the Spirit of the Lord
has filled the world,
and that which holds all things together knows what is said; (Wis 1:4-7 - RSV)

Who has learned thy counsel, unless thou hast given wisdom
23

George T. Montague, Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 105.;
Menzies, 57.

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and sent thy holy Spirit from on high? (Wis 9:17).
In other passages, the same author describes wisdom functions in such activities normally
reserved for the Spirit or God Wisdom is the giver of revelatory knowledge (Wis 10:10), the
creator of all things (Wis 7:22, 8:1), the performer of signs and wonders (Wis 10:16), the divine
protector for the righteous (Wis 10: 17-19), the deliverer of sin (Wis 10:13), and the author of
super-natural utterances (Wis 10:21), especially prophetic utterances (11:1).
Based on the analysis above, suffice to say that James wisdom is none but the Spirit
himself. Now we move to the presence of wisdom in the context of suffering

The Presence of Wisdom in the Context of Suffering


In the context of communal suffering the presence of wisdom must be manifested. For
the rich, wisdom challenges them to conquer their yetzer hara, which drives them to get 'more'
through oppressing the poor (5:1-6). Instead of loving their possession, they are asked to be
willing to practice charity (1:26-27).
For the poor, wisdom challenges them to conquer their yetzer hara, which drive them to
anger. Actually they have thousands of reasons to be angry with the rich. The rich have
oppressed and cheated them. However, being angry is not the way of wisdom. Therefore,
instead of cursing the rich with their tongues, the poor are asked to have pure speeches (3:1-12).
The poor are also being tempted to join the Zealot movement with their "liberation"
theology. The way of the Zealot seems to make sense for them. They function as "the hand of
God" to punish the oppressor and the rich. However, that is not the way of wisdom. The way of
wisdom is not the way of hatred, strife, and violence (4:1-3), but of peace (3:17-18).

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Finally, wisdom calls the community of the believers to be a beloved community - a
community in which discrimination is eliminated (2:1-5); helping one another through prayer
and forgiveness is practiced; preserving members of the community from error is always taken
heed (5:19-20).

CONCLUSION

With "the presence of wisdom in the context of suffering", I finish James'


Leidentheologie. It is not an exhaustive study, but a survey. James is concerned about the
testing of faith in the context of suffering. He sees the test made critical by the presence of
yetzer hara within and the Devil outside. In order to stand, the member of the believing
community must seek wisdom from above. Wisdom is the one who empowers them to conquer
their yetzer hara resulting in the production of patience and fruits of good deeds. In addition to
this, the presence of wisdom in the midst of them will lead them to true actions that will bring
the presence of the beloved community among them.
For by having such functions, wisdom plays the Spirit roles described in other Jewish
tradition, suffice to say that James wisdom is none but the Spirit himself.

Thus, in the epistle

of James, we can see another tradition within the diversity of New Testament Pneumatology
wisdom Pneumatology.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Testament. Edited by F.F. Bruce. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing
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Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982.
_______________. James. New International Biblical Commentary. Edited by W. Ward Gasque.
Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publisher, 1989.
_______________. "Theological Perspectives on the Epistle of James." Journal of the
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Davies, W.D. Paul and Rabbinic Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.
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