The epistle of James

Written by James B. Adamson Reviewed By Peter H. Davids

Evangelical scholarship has been enriched with the publication of this acceptable replacement for Ross’ poor attempt in the NICNT. Because this volume is such an improvement and so useful as a pastor’s commentary on James, we hardly wish to criticize it, but in all fairness we must admit that even though Dr Adamson did well, he might have done better.

At present the best commentaries on James are F. Mussner’s German commentary (Herder, 1964) and Cantinat’s French one (Gabalda, 1973). Of the longer English works Mitton’s was the latest in its scholarship, for the newly published translation of Dibelius’ work in the Hermeneia series (1975) is a revision of a work of the 1950s and never integrates into the text the great new discoveries of the Dead Sea scrolls or redaction criticism. Thus we had hoped to see new scholarly advances in Adamson’s work.

In actuality Adamson does present some new scholarship, but he only occasionally advances beyond that of his 1954 Cambridge thesis. This is particularly true when it comes to foreign language and journal material. We also find copious references to pagan Greek authors and many to rabbinic works, but are shocked to find almost none to the Dead Sea scrolls despite Mussner’s proof of their relevance. Is this simply an oversight by Dr Adamson, or does he really believe these scrolls are irrelevant for the background of a Jew living in Jerusalem in the first century? We are also surprised that even though he stresses the unitary nature of James (p. 20) he does not explain or argue the point (except by a footnote reference to two useful articles). Such a disputed point ought to be defended. We also notice some lack of balance in the book in that over half of the excurses fall within the first chapter, giving it a disproportionate amount of the commentary at the expense of the last two chapters. Such problems as these injure the work as a scholarly tool, although they in no way destroy its value.

The great strength of this work lies in its exposition. Dr Adamson is an experienced pastor, and this experience shows in the commentary. Although at times this means that the style is discursive and verbose, the end result is a work which will be very serviceable to the pastor, always practical and rarely uninteresting.

In summary, I view Dr Adamson’s work as one which scholars will use, despite its problems, and pastors and educated laymen will enjoy. It is not the great advance in studies on James which it might have been, for it lags about a decade behind contemporary scholarship, but it is none the less a good work. It deserves its place in the NICNT, and as part of this series it will be greatly valued.

Peter H. Davids

Langley Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Langley, British Columbia, Canada