Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Does James and Clement protest Hebrews' Doctrine of Faith?

In my review of works on Hebrews, I am beginning with some older works and progressing my way forward to the more recent works. I begin with this article from Benjamin W. Bacon:

Benjamin W. Bacon. “The Doctrine of Faith in Hebrews, James, and Clement of Rome.” Journal of Biblical Literature 19 (1900): 12-21.

Bacon was a professor of NT at Yale, 1896-1928. In this article Bacon attempts to solve the thorny problem of dating the Epistle of James. His solution is to trace the development of the doctrine of faith in Hebrews 11:8-19, 31; James 2:21-26; and 1 Clement 10-12. These passages all reflect on Abraham and Rahab as exemplars of faith. Hebrews’ concept of faith differs widely from that of Paul. For Paul, faith is self-surrender and a reliance on Christ for righteousness and a participation in his death and resurrection. For Hebrews, faith is more like enlightenment or insight into the “ideal”; it is able to perceive spiritual realities or the future. This insight enables one to persevere in the race of life. Hence, faith for Hebrews takes a more intellectual slant. Bacon believes that James is not directly addressing Paul, but is protesting against Hebrews’ intellectualizing of faith as reflected in chapter 11. It is not a coincidence that James picks up on the same exemplars of faith as Hebrews does. For James, faith is not merely intellectual assent; it also includes obedience which is marked by works of mercy and moral purity. Similarly, Bacon avers, Clement also protests against the same intellectualism of Hebrews. To the virtue of obedience, however, Clement adds hospitality and humility. Bacon finds echoes of both Hebrews and James in 1 Clement. He believes that Clement sides with James in his protest against Hebrews. Clement, being even more removed from Paul, is even more unaware than James that he is contradicting Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. Since James is aware of Hebrews, and Clement is aware of both, Bacon concludes that James’ epistle was written around 90 A.D.

Bacon certainly provides an interesting thesis, but I do not find myself fully persuaded. His thesis stands in part on the supposition that Hebrews was written shortly before or after 70 A.D.–a matter that is still under considerable debate. If Hebrews is dated much later, naturally Bacon’s thesis would be called into question. Moreover, if James is reacting to Hebrews, his allusions are rather oblique, his references to Abraham and Rahab notwithstanding. Other than the names of Abraham, Isaac and Rahab there are no verbal similarities between the two works at all. Hebrews, for example, doesn’t seem to be concerned with the theme of justification at all–a topic that is certainly in the mind of James. Bacon does not believe that James’ illustration of Abraham and James are coincidental. But why doesn’t James counter Hebrews’ other illustrations? Perhaps Abraham and Rahab had become stock illustrations of faith among Christian circles by the end of the first century.

A similar thing could be said for Clement’s alleged protest against Hebrews. Bacon says that Clement follows the exemplars of faith seriatim in chapters 9-13 (and again in 17). But does he really? Clement mentions Lot, whereas Hebrews does not. At the same time Clement ignores the examples of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses in his treatment. Clement and Hebrews simply are drawing on the same source material, i.e., the OT. It would be no surprise that they would use many of the same exemplars of faith. Now, I do acknowledge that Clement seems to be aware of the Book of Hebrews. Bacon claims that there are 47 allusions to Hebrews in his letter. Nevertheless, Clement never seems to interact much with the ideas found in Hebrews; he goes his own way. For example, in chapter 36 he calls Jesus a high priest, an idea that he may have gotten from Hebrews, but other than the use of the appellation Clement doesn’t elaborate on this concept in his letter. In fact he adds some additional appellations not found in Hebrews: “guardian and helper of our weaknesses.”

At any rate, neither James nor Clement appear to me to be protesting against Hebrews’ conception of faith. This is my initial reaction to Bacon’s article, but I will think on these things further . . .

1 comment:

  1. There is an interesting article concerning the use of Synoptic Material by Clement of Rome at: