Review: A Commentary on James

A Commentary on James, Aida Besancon Spencer. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2020.

Summary: A scholarly and accessible exegetical commentary on the Epistle of James.

The Epistle of James has often been the object of at least discussion, if not controversy. Despite attribution to the brother of the Lord, it’s place in the canon faced questions, even from Luther who considered it a “right strawy epistle.” Then, those who have preached this epistle have struggled to find how it coheres.

Aida Besancon Spencer addresses all these questions and more in this new exegetical commentary in the Kregel Exegetical Library series. She addresses the standard introductory matters of authorship, date, and occasion, summarizing differing views. She proposes that James 1:21 is a thesis verse for the full book: “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (NIV). She contends that there are three specific ways we turn from evil and accept the implanted word: through responding in godly ways to trials, by embracing God-given wisdom that shapes our speech, and by right attitudes toward wealth that cares for and uplifts the poor.

The commentary then follows the five chapters of James beginning with a translation and phrase by phrase grammatical analysis, noting the relationship of each phrase to surrounding phrases. Then an outline and literary structure is offered followed by careful exegesis. The chapter concludes with theological and homiletic topics, offering suggestions for those preaching or teaching these passages.

The exegesis is broken up by tables showing either internal structures or comparing/contrasting passages in James with other biblical texts. For example how James and Paul interact with Genesis 15:6, or the OT and NT quotations in James or parallels in questions and answers with Malachi 1. These “echoes” are important to understanding meaning and are woven throughout.

There are a number of excurses on specific passages in which the author offers contemporary applications–something one often does not find in an academic commentary, but which reflects her wide experience in urban work. Among these are “Who Are the Poor Today?” and how “Employers Still Withhold Wages from Workers.” Some of the latter include using bankruptcy laws to avoid paying workers, complaining of substandard work from contractors with otherwise excellent reputations, not passing along tips, withholding overtime wages, insisting on “off the clock” hours, or other off-hour work without pay.

I’m glad to add this commentary to my shelves. It is scholarly, thorough, accessible and embodies the author’s thesis verse for James, showing a humble acceptance of the word planted in us. We’re challenged in how we confront suffering, embrace wisdom, and deal with wealth. Aida Besancon Spencer models exegetical rigor and pastoral integrity.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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