The pericope of James 3, 13-18, which speaks of Heavenly and earthly wisdom, poses a number of problems. What is heavenly wisdom? Why does James emphasize heavenly wisdom to the detriment of earthly wisdom? What does James imply when he invites the wise person to show by his good behavior in his works done in humility born of wisdom? Is humility the hallmark of wisdom in James? What does the invitation to put wisdom into practice teach us about the community James is addressing and what is the implication of this wisdom in the life of the community and the disciple .
The theme of Heavenly wisdom and earthly Wisdom in James 3, 13-18 is not widely studied as other topics in the New Testament. This may be due to Dibelius’ criticism of the Epistle of James as an epistle that has no theology. Recent scholarship has gone beyond the criticism of Dibelius and the tendency to study the epistle of James or its pericopes in the light of the theology of Paul to look at the epistle of James as New Testament Wisdom Literature or an epistle using wisdom to transmit a Christian message. Our pericope (Jas 3, 13-18) which employs the word ????? (4 times) and ????? obviously is one of the two texts in James (the other text 1, 5-8) that speak of wisdom. How have scholars viewed and explained wisdom from the two wisdoms and their attributes?
Relationship of Wisdom ethics and eschatology
The traditional understanding of the pericope is that it is an ethical exhortation to put heavenly wisdom into practice through good behavior. This view looks at the relationship between wisdom and the practical life. It is the prevalent view that has various viewpoints. Much as the scholars agree that, the pericope establishes the relationship between wisdom and the practical life (ethics) they differ on whether this ethical exhortation has an eschatological slant and if yes is it the ethical or eschatological aspect that dominates in the text. Some scholars hold that the wisdom in James 3, 13-18 should be explained in the light of the call to perfection in James 1, 4. For these scholars the heavenly wisdom spoken of in James 3, 13-18 is eschatologically motivated and therefore an eschatological wisdom. . Another view “both ethical and practical exhortation to seek wisdom with an eschatological frame of reference”. Thus these scholars hold that the heavenly wisdom of James 3, 13-18 has an eschatological orientation since the wisdom to be shown by the good behavior is oriented towards being perfect now as well as at the eschaton.
The critique to this position is that most of these scholars in their quest to explain this pericope have tried to classify it either as sapiential, eschatological or ethical. However all these aspects play a role in the pericope. James 3, 13-18 is sapiential in the sense that it speaks of the nature of wisdom as we find it in the Old Testament Wisdom literature, it is ethical in the sense that it exhorts the Christian to put the heavenly wisdom, which is a gift from God into practice in the concrete daily life. It is eschatological in the sense that the heavenly wisdom orients the Christian and the community towards the future life, which is the life of perfection (James 1, 4). This wisdom exhorts one to live good life in the present while anticipating the future perfection. Trying to classify this pericope as purely sapiential, or ethical or eschatological will distort the message of James here.
Holy Spirit
Some scholars equate heavenly wisdom in James 3, 13-18 to the Holy Spirit. They advocate that, wisdom in the epistle of James works like the Holy Spirit in the other New Testament writings. Kirk argues strongly for this point basing his argument on the remarkable resemblance between James 3, 17a and Galatians 5, 22-23. He holds that since the characteristics of heavenly wisdom in James 3, 17 are similar to the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5, 22-23 then wisdom in James “plays exactly the same part as Paul’s fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, 2.” He argues further that the use of the words fruit (??????) in James 3, 17 and Galatians 5, 22 and sow (??????) in James 3, 18 and Galatians 6, 8 makes it possible to identify wisdom in James with the spirit in Galatians. Warner agrees with Kirk and even goes father to say “James may not have been familiar with the exact terminology with which later theologians would have referred to the divine spirit:”
Davids takes this point further by arguing for a wisdom pneumatology in James 3, 13-18. Davids argues that in the Old Testament, wisdom is closely linked to the spirit of God and in some circumstances, it replaced the divine spirit. He argues that James 3, 17, Galatian 5, 22, Matt 5, 310 and 1QS 4, 3-6 have a common dependence on Judaism. He concludes by saying “James has a wisdom pneumatology for Wisdom in James function as the spirit in Paul” thus advocating for a wisdom pneumatology in James 3, 13-18.
The objection to this position holds that James’ view of wisdom is independent of the theological worldview of Paul. To try to justify James’ theology by making use of Paul is to force the situation. What James says about wisdom in 3, 13-18 is wisdom and should be studied in the context of the epistle of James. Wisdom in James 3, 17 is not equivalent to the Holy Spirit in the other New Testament writings since the Holy Spirit is given once whilst Wisdom has to be sought repeatedly. We cannot therefore speak of a wisdom pneumatology even if there is a resemblance between the characteristics of wisdom in James 3, 13-18 and the Holy Spirit in Paul or equate wisdom in James to the Holy Spirit in the other New Testament books. James is here concern with a wisdom that is translated into actions in the life of the Christian and not the Holy Spirit who empowers the Christian to put wisdom into practice.
Ethical Behavior aimed at attaining perfection
The emphasis on ethical behavior is drawn from heavenly wisdom is characterizes James 3, 13-18. Scholars recognize generally that the main concern of wisdom in James 3, 13-18 main is the ethical behavior that is what the Christian should do and should not do in the community. However, this ethical Christian behavior has its basis in the call to be perfect and complete (James 1, 4). Hence wisdom here is first divine and then practical. It is from above and given by God to those who ask for it in prayer (James 1, 5-8). Thus, true wisdom in James 3, 13-18 is theocentric since it comes from above. This is the basis for its realization in the Christian life. It is therefore a call to Christian ethical behavior guided by heavenly wisdom which is not attain by searching and striving to attain it but given by God to those who ask in faith through prayer. It is a faith-guided wisdom, which orients and leads the Christian to perfection (James 1, 4) and prepares him for the coming of the Lord (James 5, 7)
Most of the scholars who hold that James 3, 13-18 is concern with ethical behavior, also argue for the centrality of James 3, 13-18 and its role as the unifying theme of the Epistle. Varner argue that James 3, 13-18 is “the peak” of the epistle of James and “so much of its vocabulary are found in the other pericopes. Reese views James 3, 13-18 as “the heart of the letter” where “it core message” is developed. In a similar way Cheung, stressed the central function of James 3, 13-18 as a connecting pericope in the epistle, and most of the preceding and successive pericopes repeat both linguistically and thematically. In addition, Hartin argues for the centrality of that James 3, 13-18 and holds that the other pericopes are connected to it. Thus to this group of scholars the epistle of James can be understood in the light of the exhortation to demonstrate heavenly wisdom through one’s good life and humility (Jas 3,13-18). The others pericopes of the epistle can therefore be best understood in the light of this exhortation.
The difficult of this position comes with the allusion that James 3, 13-18 is the central pericope and unifies the preceding and subsequent texts. The argument that this the core of James poses a problem in the sense that the argument used to establish it as the peak theme is not convincing. Using the technique of cohesion, prominence peak and grouping to justify that centrality of the theme.
Wisdom in James 3, 13-18 stresses the fact that true wisdom is not theoretical but practical. What matters is not the discourse on what wisdom is but the practical living of the wisdom. Wisdom is not to be search for in creation but it is a gift from God that helps the disciple to live his Christian life. Heavenly Wisdom in James 3, 13-18 is explains how the disciple should life his Christian life. It is therefore a God-given gift received through faith and lived in the ordinary daily life. Thus teaching us that true discipleship is to saying but doing and conforming one’s life to the will of God. This pericope therefore explains the ethical implication of being a Christian.