The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 12: Conclusion

The most striking theme in the whole letter is the denunciation of the rich and the powerful, and the corresponding concern for the poor and the oppressed. Which is evident in the vehement denunciation of social injustice, oppression and exploitation, above all in the direct attack on the rich traders and merchants (4:13-17) is integrally connected (cf. also 4:1-12), and the same point is sharply evident also in 2:6-7, even though this section is dealing mainly with the issue of favouritism within the community, and is not addressed directly to the poor. James in this section exposes ruthlessly the sources of power relationships and the causes of conflict, oppression and social unjustice. To live for personal gain and to exploit the poor and defenceless is the epitome of evil; above all it is in direct contradiction to what God requires (2:5). Yet at the same time James insists that it is not simply the direct exploitation and oppression of the poor by the rich that constitutes the problem. It is also the obsequious favouring of the rich and powerful, for the favour it is hoped they will bestow, and the contemptuous treatment of the poor, because they can offer nothing, that serves to reinforce the injustice, suffering and imbalance of power (2:1-7). James sets these issues in eschatological perspective, above all that of final judgement[1].

Thus James puts forward an obvious call to action for equality that is manifested in acts of love mercy and in the communal life of the church, which he demonstrated in the manner upon which he presented his diatribe –he exercised equality as he spared no one in his audience he addressed them as they are: Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, male and female (evident in his latter usage of Abraham and Rahab in the epistle) –thus his words are made true by his exercise of indiscriminate dealing with their sin of partiality. Furthermore, by stating his affinity with his audience at the beginning of his epistle James, shows that he does not nullify the implication of guilt upon himself as well because since his audience were his brothers/sisters and co-workers he in a way implicates himself of the guilt as well because of his identification with his audience –thus a collective admittance of guilt that fosters the cause for pursuing equality within the community of faith.

And in relating to the problem of partiality James is saying that a church that does not practice equality and fairness in their life as a community is a church that does not bear witness to life, a church that only believes but does not follow –thus lacking as it fails to synthesize the inseparable relationship of knowledge and ethics –the synergy of faith and works.


[1] Chester, Andrew. New Testament Theology: The Theology of the Letters of James, Peter and Jude (Cambridge,UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994) p.32-33

 

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