This latest entry in the Kregel Exegetical Library by Aida Besancon Spencer is another solid entry in the series. I had heard before the book came across my desk that perhaps the theme presented would be focusing on the poor. That seemed like a stretch for sure, but when you actually dig into the book something much more helpful emerges. The author finds four themes in the book of James: how to deal with trials, how to be wise or have wisdom, how to view riches, and what she calls “a fourth unifying thing – becoming doers of the word and not hears only”. She is sensitive to the poor throughout, but that was a simplistic synopsis of this work. The book of James is clearly much about the four themes that she outlines and that sheds light as we read.
The introduction wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter. On authorship she holds the conservative position that this James is the Lord’s brother. She develops grammatical points and word choices that help explain the overall message. She examines early church traditions about the letter James. She goes through the history in a sufficient manner. One of her best contributions is how she takes scholarly criticism against James as the Lord’s brother and knocks them down one by one in vivid fashion. In the section on structure, she explains those themes I mentioned above and how they lead to an understanding of James.
The commentary section is truly helpful. Words are carefully described. There is no doubt that one of this scholar’s strengths is grammatical explanation. The exposition is solid and homiletical hints are given. A word I might use to describe this book is “fresh”. Of course it addresses what other commentaries look at in James, but it gets beyond the tired repeating that is starting to show up in some works. When a scholar seems to be in love with the book they write about, the commentary is always better. That is the case here.
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