Original Research

The impact of the Hebrew Scriptures, and especially the Torah, on James’s thought, terminology and teaching

Alan Raven, Francois P. Viljoen, Timothy van Aarde
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 56, No 1 | a2801 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v56i1.2801 | © 2022 Alan Raven, Francois P. Viljoen, Timothy van Aarde | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 August 2021 | Published: 07 December 2022

About the author(s)

Alan Raven, Masters and Doctoral Studies, Faculty of Theology Faculty, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
Francois P. Viljoen, Department of New Testament, Faculty of Theology Faculty, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
Timothy van Aarde, Masters and Doctoral Studies, Faculty of Theology Faculty, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa

Abstract

While James is a Christian document, it is also undeniably Jewish. This article investigated the degree to which James is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e. Old Testament [OT]), especially the Torah, and how that gives meaning to what he says and teaches. The study was undertaken by establishing the likely relevance and role of the Hebrew Scriptures and particularly the Torah for James’s first readers, and the manner and extent of James’s use of these Scriptures in his Letter. The study was concluded by outlining the findings of the impact of these Scriptures on the Letter. The Greek translation of the Hebrews Scriptures was most likely the Bible of James’s original recipients. As with the rest of the New Testament (NT), James shows remarkable dependence upon and ascribes unqualified authority to the Hebrew Scriptures. James draws substance from, applies, and never nullifies anything from the OT. Referring to an OT Scripture, on average, every 1.86 verses, James’s thought is clearly shaped by the OT. He grounds his fundamental teachings in the Torah – notably in the Shema, Decalogue, and ‘Holiness Code’. While James is silent on the ritual commandments, he focusses on the moral commandments and ‘weightier matters’ of the Torah, so much so that his entire contents may fall under ‘faith/faithfulness’ (or loving God, 1st Table of the Decalogue) or ‘justice’/’mercy’ (or loving neighbour, 2nd Table of the Decalogue). With the core of the Torah evidently being foundational in James, it seems appropriate to interpret James’s terms and teaching in the light of and in line with the Torah, and especially the Torah’s weightier matters and moral instructions.

Contribution: This key finding may contribute to the debate about what James’s means and teaches concerning ‘law’ (νόμος) his Letter.


Keywords

James; Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament; Torah; commandment(s); weightier matters of the Torah

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