Technically Right, Boastfully Wrong: Reassessing James 2:18

James 2:18 is one of the most challenging verses in the epistle of James. It is difficult to unravel the logic of the passage, and to know where the quotation of the interlocutor ends. In this paper I propose an interpretation of James 2:18 that finds the interlocutor’s quotation extending to the end of the verse. This yields an interpretation in which the interlocutor’s statement is theoretically accurate, but it is assessed by James in 2:19 to be a boasting answer that does not accord with the humility of true wisdom. In this way, James 2:18–19 reinforce the main points found in 2:17, 26 and elsewhere in the letter.
The argument will proceed as follows. First, I will note the syntactical difficulties in where one ends the interlocutor’s statement. Here I will argue that the verse exhibits two parallel κἀγώ (“and I”) statements that do not attest a change of speaker. This marks a departure from most common English translations today. Second, I will focus on how the interlocutor’s statement, while accurate, is an insufficient indicator of true faith. This is boasting, rather than true wisdom. I will also relate this statement to the warnings about boasting throughout James. Third, I will show how the voice of James in 2:19 corrects the interlocutor, and may even imply (though I suggest this tenuously) an insufficient christological monotheism on the part of the misguided interlocutor of 2:18. I will also suggest how the reference to Deut 6:4 in Jas 2:19 may suggest that the interlocutor is portrayed as a double-minded man. This paper will conclude by showing how the proposed reading of James 2:18 accords with the near context of James, and with the epistle’s major emphases.

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