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Book Reviews > New Testament > The Letter of James: Pillar Commentary Series

Ray VanNeste

Ray VanNeste
Director of the RC Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and Assistant Professor of Christian Studies

The Letter of James: Pillar Commentary Series
Douglas J. Moo
Details: 2000, Eerdmans, Amazon.comISBN: 0802837301
Posted: August 14, 2002

This volume is one of the latest in the Pillar Series edited by D. A. Carson, a series which already has some distinguished entries. The series, likely to be familiar to the readers of EQ, intends to interact with contemporary scholarship but not to focus greatly on technical discussion, hoping thereby to be of use to scholars, pastors and general readers. As Carson writes in the series preface, the goal of the series is a ‘blend of rigorous exegesis and exposition, with an eye alert both to biblical theology and the contemporary relevance of the Bible.’

Moo’s commentary seems to meet these aims admirably, displaying the exegetical rigor which has come to be expected of him and a keen eye to how the text addresses the church today. The perspective of the commentary can be seen from Moo’s preface where he writes: I remain convinced that the heart of the letter is a call to wholehearted commitment to Christ. James’ call for consistent and uncompromising Christian living is much needed. Our churches are filled with believers who are only halfhearted in their faith and, as a result, leave large areas of their lives virtually untouched by genuine Christian values. Nor am I immune to such problems. As I quite unexpectedly find myself in my “middle age” years, I have discovered a tendency to back off in my fervor for the Lord and his work. My reimmersion in James has challenged me sharply at just this point. I pray that it might have the same effect on all readers of this commentary (x). From this preface one can see that this is not a commentary written from cold distance but an exposition of Scripture as the Word of God intended to be obeyed and applied by the people of God. This pastoral concern is evident in may places where having carefully established the meaning of the text, Moo points to specific current issues which the passage addresses (1:21 on deceiving ourselves; 5:14 on ‘health and wealth’ teachers).

Some might wonder if this commentary is substantially different from Moo’s commentary on James in the Tyndale series published 15 years ago. In answer to such an issue, one must first acknowledge that there is indeed significant similarity in a fair amount of the material. With that acknowledgement, though, it must be said that this reviewer did not find direct reduplication. Rather, there was material reworked from the Tyndale volume along with additional material of various kinds. Moo, himself, in his preface, said he was able to give more space to background and theology.

In the introduction section, the topics listed were largely the same though the Pillar added a section on structure and theme. This mirrored what seemed to be more attention to structure throughout the commentary as well. The discussion within the introductory topics reflected the furtherance of James studies over the last 15 years. Particularly under the discussion of faith, works, and justification and how James compares to Paul, the Pillar volume includes a discussion and critique of the New Perspective on Paul as well as a more complete discussion of the issue as a whole. Thus, while there is a kernel of similarity, the Pillar volume contains more detailed and nuanced discussion and interacts with more recent material.

Within the commentary on the actual text, the Pillar volume gives more attention to the connections between units and thematic continuity. Moo also carefully integrates discussions of proper hermeneutics guiding the reader (perhaps especially the non-specialist) to a proper reading of the text (e.g. p.47, on understanding original point to original audience). Also, in the Pillar volume Moo makes more suggestions for applications and is often more pointed in his applications (e.g., 1:22 on deceiving ourselves; 5:14 on ‘health and wealth’ teachers).

Lastly, this commentary will now be my top recommendation for preachers. Moo admirably combines academic care with pastoral concern, expounding the text with an eye to what it means for God’s people, which is the intention of Scripture after all.

Ray Van Neste

University of Aberdeen

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