Posted October 4, 2004
Book: James and Jude
Author: William F. Brosend II
Cambridge University Press, New York, pp.206
An Excerpt from the Jacket:
James and Jude is the first commentary to focus exclusively on the two letters written by the “brothers of the Lord.” The letter of James is held to be one of the oldest Christian writings and an early witness to the teachings of Jesus. While each letter is read on its own merit, particular attention is paid to the social worlds of James and Jude and to interpreting the significance of their messages for our day. Of special interest are the focus on the ideological texture of James’s teaching on poverty and wealth.
An Excerpt from the Book:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” “anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect.” (James 3:2)
Christianity is a religion of the word, oral and scribal. In speech and in writing believers have opportunity to witness to faith or to failings. What we write, however, can often be erased. When we have spoken, the word is out. Learning to control the tongue was, and is, a vital part of Christian practice.
James makes a strong case for both the importance and the difficulty f taming the tongue. Having spent two chapters arguing that right speech in and of itself is insufficient, he corrects any misimpression that speech does not matter. He also seems to insist that the reader attempt the impossible. We saw earlier that the metaphors of 3:1-12 stand in significant tension with one another, suggesting how the tiny tongue controls the large body (bit,rudder) and claiming that the tongue is out of control (fire, etc.). Moreover, as important as taming the tongue may be, “no one can” (v. 8). Yet an untamed tongue is depicted as contrary to nature. “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing . . . .this ought not to be so” (v.10), anymore than fig trees yield olives or springs pour forth bitter and sweet water (vv. 11-12). This may well be exaggeration for effect, a hyperbolic impossibility meant to convince the reader of both the importance and the difficult of the task. It also suggests another possibility. At least it did to the late Henri Nouwen.
The most frequent argument for silence is simply that words lead to sin. Not speaking, therefore, is the most obvious way to stay away from sin. This connection is clearly expressed by the apostle James: “. . .every one of us does something wrong, over and over again; the only man who could reach perfection would be someone who never said anything wrong – he would be able to control every part of himself” (James 3:2).
James leaves little doubt that speaking without sinning is difficult and that, if we want to remain untouched by the sins of the world on our journey to the eternal home, silence is the safest way. Thus, silence became one of the central disciplines of the spiritual life.
One response to the impossible possibilities James finds in human speech is silence. It is a response that would make for very brief sermons. Yet it should not be discounted all together and certainly not from worship. Silence is the very ground on which the Spirit of God may walk among us.
Be “slow to speak,” James wrote. A popular aphorism holds, “It is better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Wisdom traditions, Scripture, rabbis, and the desert ammas and abbas concurred. Many people in our day, however, are convinced that every person’s every thought is worthy of being voiced or at least being “blogged” to the world on the Internet.
The practice of the discipline of silence for a time or a season enriches the Christian life in many ways. And just as fasting can increase one’s appreciation for food, so can silence aid our understanding of speech. Homiletical exhortation to control the tongue is likely to prove fruitless. Everyone knows and has felt the danger and powerful sting of the tongue yet has failed to keep it in check. A more encouraging word can be offered for the practice of silence. While James did not specifically call for silence, the logic of his argument suggests it. The practice of silence will likely further our appreciation for it.
The caution to teachers in 3:1 applies to preachers as well, for we too will be judged with greater strictness.
For another look at the power of silence -- refer to:
Silence: Its Meaning, Beauty and Power, taken from The Promise of Virtue by Eugene Hemrick
The Awesomeness of Silence: Another Look At This Powerful Virtue, taken from The Promise of Virtue by Gene Hemrick
Table of Contents:
Reception and interpretation
The texture of texts
II. Suggested reading
Inner texture and intertexture
Sacred and homiletical textures
Commentaries on the Letter of James
Studies on James
Articles on the Letter of James
Commentaries and books on Jude
Studies and articles on Jude
James 1:1-27 – That you may be mature and complete
A closer look – climbing James’s ladder
A closer look – God and righteousness
A closer look – Through a glass darkly?
Bridging the horizons – out of silence
James 2:1-26 I by my works will show you my faith
A closer look – synagogue, story and setting
A closer look – James’s use of law
A closer look – a confusing verse
A closer look – Paul and James
Bridging the horizons – faith is all about the practice
James 4:1-17 Conflict, friendship, and what tomorrow may bring
A closer look – the language of desire
James 4:11-12 13-17
A closer look – text-critical issues
Bridging the horizons – when the text s tough
James 5:1-20 – Cries, patience, and prayer: the Lord is near
A closer look – James’s use of the Greek tense
A closer look: James’s thoroughgoing eschatology
James 5: 12-20
A closer look – James and Jesus on swearing an oath
Bridging the horizons – preaching James
The Letter of Jude – Have mercy on some who are wavering
A closer look – “Jude” in the NT
Jude 3-4. 5-1-,11-16.17-23
A closer look – the text of Jude 22-3
A closer look – a challenge to Jesus’ honor
Bridging the horizons – preaching Jude
Scripture and Extra-Biblical Texts Index