David Nienhuis on Not Using Parallel Apostolic Fathers' Writings for the Dating of James

In David Nienhuis’s book, Not By Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and Christian Canon, he argues for a second century date of James. In doing this he does not discuss the alleged parallels and allusions in the Apostolic Fathers (AF) corpus. He argues that since there are no direct quotations in the apostolic fathers collection we cannot “determine the use of James before Origen (30).” At first glance this may seem he is dismissing evidence against his conclusion of a second century dating of James. But he goes on to say that the reason we cannot use parallels and allusions in the AF collection is because there is no way to establish dependence on James. The argument is not solely that since there are no direct quotations then we cannot establish some type of cannection but rather it cannot answer to what kind of connection we can establishs[1]. Nienhuis concludes,

Even if a parallel were to be firmly established, it is often difficult if not impossible to determine which text is in the dependent position.

He then lays out his more “conservative approach” (31):

  1. For allusions and echoes he will examine the surronding context in order to argue for or against literary dependence. Knowledge of the letter of James must be established to regard the parallel as an allusion or echo[2].
  2. A refusal to use a parallel that could be accounted for based on earlier material. He says, “it is unremarkable that both James and Irenaeus refer to Abraham as the ”friend of God,“ because the tradition was widespread in earlier Jewish literature. It is therefore hardly firm enough ground upon which to make a case for Irenaeus’s knowledge of the letter of James.”
  3. He argues that many times patristic writers will explicitly reference material from other Catholic writers but do not reference James when the topic is related. On his use of an argument from silience see my previous post here
  4. Finally, he examines the patristic literature that speaks of James as a person in order to see if a letter of James is reference too. It would seem unlikely for an author to consisently speak of James the person with no mention of a letter that he wrote.

To conclude, it would be easy to assume that Nienhuis dismisses alleged evidence from the AF collection because of no direct quotations but this is only part of the picture. The reason that the parallels are dismissed is because for this reason alone it cannot establish dependence on the Jacobean text.

Currently, I hold to the traditional Jacobean authorship and that the epistle has an early date. I think Richard Bauckham’s arguments are strong in establishing an early date of the letter. That being said I still have unanswered questions, namely, how do we account for the lack of witness to the letter of James before Origen. I think Nienhuis provides a strong argument for not assuming the dependence of James in the writing of the Apostolic Fathers, which means my question of early reception is still unanswered.

For other posts related to Nienhuis’s book see:

  1. Not By Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon
  2. A Canonical History of the New Testament Catholic Epistles Collection
  3. Early James Traditions

  1. One of the stronger arguments for a later writer using James is the author of Shepherd of Hermas’ use of δίφυχος . But Nienhuis argues that since “δίφυχος is used 19x, δίφθχεῖν 20x, and διφυχία 16x that this actually becomes a sub-theme of the book (120).” He goes on to say that “if we accept the notion that the Roman writers Hermas and Clement appealed to James as an authoritative source, we are then forced into the unlikely conclusion that the other was a quotable authority in the Western church by the end of the first century but was somehow subsequently neglected for over 200 years (120).” On this topic see also Dale Allison, James (pgs. 20–25), analyzes all the parallel connections between the two. He concludes that although there are parallels in the text literary dependence cannot be established.  ↩

  2. He defition for allusions and echos are as follows: 1) Allusion is a “‘covert, implied, or indirect reference’ to an earlier text, which is intended to remind an audience (consciously or unconsciously) of a tradition or text with which they are presumed to have some measure of acquaintance (30).” 2) An echo “refers to those instances where the possibility of an intentional reference exists, but the parallel is so inexact that it remains beyond our ability to determine with anything approaching confidence (30).”  ↩