Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

A Brother’s Wisdom 80

JesusJames*.jpgOnce again, James draws us into the world of Jesus. James 5:6 reads: “You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” A more literal reading, here quoting from the NASB, tells a different story: “You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.” The NIV generalizes this into humans; the NASB translates as a singular because the Greek is singular.  Perhaps “the righteous man” represents the righteous person and stands for all those who have been oppressed.


We should observe that they have, as they did in James 2:1-7, condemned the innocent/righeous person. This speaks of legalities and of power and of the abuse of power.

Some have suggested the condemned righteous/innocent is (1) representative of all suffering righteous persons, (2) James himself or (3) Jesus. I believe the first option is best, and that James uses a present tense for the “is not resisting” and “is crying out” in 5:4 slightly confirms this viewpoint.

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posted July 2, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Why isn’t (3) Jesus the preferred interpretation? This is the one that intrigues me the most.

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Scot McKnight

posted July 2, 2009 at 1:47 pm

First, why would he need to be so cryptic and why in this context?
Second, “he does not resist you” is present tense and it would have been more likely to have been said in some way or shape in a past tense. (I’m avoiding aspectual theory here because that complicates it a bit.) Well, you’ll want to know what the heck I’m talking about: a present doesn’t mean “now” or “in the present moment” but it depicts an action that is incompleted from the viewpoint of the author, while an aorist would simply state a fact from the perspective of a global orientation (that something happens not when or how it happens/happened). An imperfect tense would probably — scholars differ here — see it as incompleted action in the past (some call it defective aspect)
In short, that present tense makes it unlikely — in my view — that Jesus is in mind. I would have expected either an aorist or an imperfect for Jesus.

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posted July 2, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Thanks. On the Greek – I’m working on it, but certainly don’t know enough to argue any position, I just listen or read those who know. But I do appreciate the detail.
On the why so cryptic… is it possible that this phrase “You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.” is a phrase that would have resonated with James’s audience? Perhaps it is a shorthand for something that would have had immediate meaning in their context. This is why the idea that it refers to Jesus intrigues me in thinking about the messianic Jewish community of the 1st century.

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Scot McKnight

posted July 2, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Yes, if it refers to Christ it would resonate with them. It intrigues me, too, but I’m unconvinced for grammatical/syntactical reasons. Why not say it directly? No other text is cryptic like this in James with respect to Christ.
“Righteous One” is used for Christ in early sermons. That’s what counts for this one.

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posted July 3, 2009 at 1:49 am

The Greek there seems to make #3 the most likely. Besides, in the immediate context before this James is warning the rich about their abuse of the poor; this kind of language would fit well with the prophetic speech in the OT (in terms of calling out sin); the righteous man know probably stands for the righteous saints in the new covenant (i.e., the one under Christ).
Is it possible that he is actually referring to a specific person that was killed by them?
Or — just to throw in as a possibility — is it possible that this is about Jesus but bringing in the fact that he, post-death and resurrected, is not actively punishing them when he could be justly? I have not heard this theory, but it would explain the singular-masculine and present-tense usage in the verse.

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