“James” by Richard Bauckham Book Review

“James” by Richard BauckhamI just finished reading this book for the upcoming winterim at my seminary. The full title is “James: Wisdom of James , disciple of Jesus the sage”

To be honest, the book was a bit dry for my taste, though the prologue and end had some interesting parts. Most of the book was obsessed with trying to figure out correlations between the style with which James wrote and other people in history. Even his content was compared with others. For me, not really all that helpful, or important. But it was interesting looking at some of the old writings of Jewish history that I had never read before.One such writing was by Ben Sera (a.k.a. Sirach or Ecclesiasticus): “Be quick to hear, but slow to answer” (Sirach 5:11). Which parallels James 1:19, “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for human anger does not achieve the righteousness of God.”

The most compelling part of the book was the prologue, where Bauckham interacts with a man named Soren Kierkegaard (a Danish religious thinker).  Kierkegaard picks up on the parable of the mirror found in James 1:22-25 and uses it as his “paradigm” for the study of God’s Word.  Bauckham quotes:

“Christian scholarship is the human race’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the New Testament, to ensure that one can continue to be a Christian without letting the New Testament come too close” (Kierkegaard 1975: 270).

“If God’s Word is for you merely doctrine, something impersonal and objective, then it is no mirror – an objective doctrine cannot be called a mirror; it is just as impossible to look at yourself in an objective doctrine as to look at yourself in a wall.  And if you want to relate impersonally (objectively) to God’s Word, there can be no question of looking at yourself in the mirror, because it takes personality, an I, to look at oneself in a mirror; a wall can be seen in a mirror, but a wall cannot see itself or look at itself in a mirror. No, while reading God’s Word you must incessantly say to yourself: It is I to whom it is speaking; it is I about whom it is speaking” (Kierkegaard 1990a: 43-44).

The funny thing about this intro is that, for the most part, Bauckham ignores Kierkegaard’s advice.  Most of the book is taken up with, what I would call, trivial matters, and nothing of real substance.  And even though Bauckham to some degree acknowledges his departure, I still don’t see why he would want to write a book dealing with so much fluff.

There was some good discussion about the difference between James and Paul, or rather, the assimulation of the two into one.  And some interaction with Luther’s as well as Kierkegaard’s views on the matter.

“…there is no question, for Kierkegaard, of seeking merit in doing good. But, unlike Luther, he never tired of stressing the stringent demands of the moral law on the Christian, requiring intense moral effort. In effect, he produced a dialectic between Luther’s view of the role of the law and James’: Attempting to fulfil the law drives one to reliance on God’s grace through faith (Luther’s negative role for the law as the antithesis of grace which brings one to see the need for the Gospel of faith alone), but grace itself drives one to renewed moral striving (James’ positive role for the law as fulfilled in works of love which faith produces), and so on. It is this dialectic, incorporating a ‘strenuous’ ethic, which gives Kierkegaard’s understanding of Christianity such a different feel from Luther’s” (Bauckham, p. 164).

So, there was some interesting stuff at the beginning and at the end.  But overall, the book gained it’s merit in what it quoted, rather than what had been written by the author.



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