By Craig L. Blomberg and Mariam J. Kamell
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2009). xvi + 271 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Paul Felix
20.2 (Fall 2009) : 252-255

Professor Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, is highly qualified to contribute a new commentary to the growing literature on the Epistle of James. He has studied James more intensely than any other book of the Bible in preparation for teaching its entirety over twenty times to exegesis students at Denver Seminary. Mariam J. Kamell, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in NT at the University of St. Andrews, joins him as co-author of James. The authors feel that the product is genuinely “team-taught” rather than merely “tandemtaught” (p. 14).

The format of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the NT series, of which James is the first volume, did not allow the authors to provide a detailed introduction to James. Yet, a span of 15 pages (21-35) has a more than adequate treatment of the preliminary matters of outline, circumstances, authorship, and date.

The commentary varies from standard ones by beginning its introduction to James with a discussion of outline. After identifying the individual passages that comprise James (1:1; 1:2-11 [2-4; 5-8; 9-11]; 1:12-27 [12-18; 19-27]; 2:1-13; 2:14- 26; 3:1-12; 3:13-18; 4:1-12; 13-17; 5:1-6; 5:7-11; 5:12; 5:13-18; 5:19-20), attention turns to the problematic issue of its structure. Four approaches are identified: (1) No overarching structure; (2) A broad topical or thematic structure; (3) A structure that prioritizes key themes; (4) A structure informed by Greco-Roman rhetoric or modern discourse analysis. Blomberg and Kamell reject the first approach, while gleaning insights from the other approaches. They conclude that three key themes (trials; wisdom; riches and poverty) along with “the central theme of a right approach to wealth and poverty” (26) lead to the following working outline: Greetings (1:1); Statement of the Three Key Themes (1:2-11); Restatement of the Three Themes (1:12-27); The Three Themes Expanded (2:1-5:18); Closing (5:19-20).

James, the half-brother of Jesus, is ably defended as the author of what is probably the first NT document written. Sometime in the mid-to-late 40s (before the writing of Galatians), the chief elder in Jerusalem wrote from there to a group of primarily Jewish-Christian congregations who resided somewhere in or around Syria. Central to his letter is “faith in action, especially in social action” (35).

A five-page, double-column, select bibliography is the next portion of the commentary. It consists of 132 entries with the majority of the entries representing works completed in the 1990s (51 entries) and the 2000s (49 entries). At least 10 of the works are in German. The bibliographic data in the footnotes generously supplement these entries. The breadth of the entries is reflected when the authors reference articles in Spanish and Italian in different footnotes on the same page (84)! The works of William R. Baker, Peter H. Davids, Patrick J. Hartin, D. Edmond Hiebert, Luke T. Johnson, Sophie Laws, Ralph P. Martin, Douglas J. Moo, George M. Stulac, and Robert W. W all are cited at least 25 times each. Davids, Martin, and Moo are interacted with the most.

The “Commentary on James” (43-253) portion of this work consists of 11 chapters and is the heart of the book. Each chapter divides into the following sections: Literary Context; Main Idea; Translation and Graphical Layout; Structure; Exegetical Outline; Explanation of the Text; Theology in Application. A periodic feature of a chapter is the “In Depth” discussion (“Are the Rich in 1:10-11 Christians?” [57-58]; “Is This a Worship Service or Christian Court?” [110-11]; “Were the Teachers Only Men?” [154-55]; “Does Wisdom Equal the Spirit in James?” [178-79]). Unfortunately, these discussions can be located only by reading through the commentary.

The bulk of the “Commentary on James” is the explanation of the text. The format of these pages is double columns. The norm is to focus on a verse by providing the authors’ own translation followed by the Greek text in parenthesis. Before looking at the details of the text, the relation of the verse to its context is stated. At times conjunctions are not clearly developed (“for” in 2:10 [118] and 2:13 [119-20]). Attention is given to the meaning of non-routine terms, an analysis of syntax, and a discussion of many interpretive issues. The authors do not shy away from terminology found in standard intermediate grammar books. A random page (75) dealing with 1:18 has references to asyndeton, causal participle, instrumental dative of means, descriptive genitive, and partitive genitive. This is good news for readers who are seeking to enhance their understanding of the Greek language. An important lesson on syntax can be learned if a person consults the footnotes (i.e., 87 n. 25, temporal participles modifying a main verb in the imperative mood).

Significant textual issues are treated in the footnotes. The treatments can be brief, but on the whole the discussions are illuminating. Blomberg and Kamell chose to spotlight primarily text matters that the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament deems worthy of note.

Sprinkled among the explanations of the text are helpful applications. The reader of the commentary is reminded that the message of James is not just for the head and heart, but also for the hands. The author has a word for nominal Christians (54), for those in pastoral ministry (71), for “bloggers” (99), for those who glibly say “if the Lord wills” (209), etc. These sporadic applications are enhanced by the “Theology in Application” section of each chapter. A person should not get the impression that these parts of the commentary are contrived pragmatics. Rather, such pages are truths that challenge Christians with the message of James (i.e., Christians suffer from “affluenza,” 211-12). On one occasion, the authors go too far in the area of relevancy by using the “N-word” (121).

Some suggest the Epistle of James is weak in the area of theology. The authors counter this viewpoint by devoting 10 pages (254-63) to a discussion of “The Theology of James.” The major theological contributions of James are considered under the headings that emerge from the text rather than those found in standard books dealing with systematic theology. Blomberg and Kamell discuss the areas which they see as most central to the most peripheral: Wealth and Poverty; Trials and Temptations; Wisdom and Speech; Prayer; Faith and Works; Law and Word; God; Christology; Eschatology; Other Themes. In light of the theology of James, they conclude the bottom-line unifying motif or subtheme of this epistle is believers should become people of integrity (261).

Jamesconcludes with a “Scripture Index” (264-71), “Subject Index” (272- 76), and an “Author Index” (277-80). This reviewer wonders why the subject index contains entries for “aorists” (56, 69, 88), “apostrophe” (220), Semitism (112), and Septuagintalism (115, 138), but none for “asyndeton,” “genitives,” “imperatives,” etc. Since the commentary pays significant attention to syntactical matters, it would have been very beneficial to have various grammatical categories to be in the subject index. The author index is very helpful, but the reader should be aware of the misspelling of names (Adeymo should be Adeyemo; “Jenkins, D. Ryan” should be “Jenkins, C. Ryan”), invalid page numbers (page 36 does not exist for Adeymo, Tokunboh; “Dyer, Charles H.” can’t be found on page 246, but can be found on page 237 [likewise for “Zuck, Roy B”]; “Porter, Virgil V., Jr.” can’t be found on page 35), and confusion of names (“Taylor, M ark E.” need s to be distinguished from “Taylor, Mark H.” [22, 25, 41]; “Barton, Bruce B.” needs to be distinguished from “Barton, Stephen C.” [191]).

Blomberg and Kamell are strong advocates for inclusive language translations (48, 53, 69, 90, 130, 154-5, 224, 255), even to the point of admitting a less than elegant translation (i.e., 5:20 – “the error of his/her ways;” “saves his/her soul”). Quotations from Scripture that are not the authors’ own translations directly from the Greek are usually taken from the TNIV (25). A related gender issue is awkwardly tackled in an “In Depth” article: “Were the Teachers Only Men?” Yet, Jas 3:1-2 is not the best place to argue for the authors’ understanding of 1 Tim 2:12.

At times, James can be a bit frustrating when treating interpretive issues. The authors solve problems in three ways. Sometimes it is an in-depth approach where various alternatives are given with accompanied arguments and a conclusion is reached. On other occasions, there is simply a discussion of the views and a conclusion. A more problematic method for an exegetical commentary is a brief discussion of a problem with no conclusion (119—the examples of do not murder and do not commit adultery; 131—middle or passive verbs; 248—true passive or implied middle; etc.). Thankfully, the approach typically taken in this commentary is the first one.

This first volume of the Exegetical Commentary on the NT series published by Zondervan has many commendable features. First, as has already been mentioned, the explanation of the text is a highlight of James. This does not mean that the reader will agree with every conclusion reached, but he will have his exegetical faculties stimulated. Second, the “Literary Context” and “Structure” sections found in each chapter are extremely helpful for a book like James, where it has been suggested that the letter is simply a “string of pearls” with no relationship between the sections. Blomberg and Kamell in these sections dispel that myth. Third and final, the translation and graphical layout which provides the flow of thought within a text can be of help for the intended audience of the busy preacher or teacher. A similar layout of the G reek text would have been beneficial.

Students of the Epistle of James should wholeheartedly welcome this work by Blomberg and Kamell. The authors are to be commended for producing an excellent commentary on the very practical book of James. The discussions in the body of the commentary will not always satisfy the needs of scholars, but the footnotes demonstrate the authors are more than aware of the issues.