Not by Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon

I just started reading Not by Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon by David Nienhuis. This is a slight revision of his doctoral thesis under Francis Watson at the University of Aberdeen. It is not a new book (2007) but I had not come across it during my James exegesis class. The book proposes an interesting thesis. Nienhuis argues that “the final form of the Catholic Epistles collection was the result of intentional design on the part of the canonizing community in hopes that it might perform a particular canonical function.”[1] But he also goes one step further in that he is arguing that James was “actually composed with this particular canonical function in mind” and it “was written with the nascent apostolic letter collection in view, in order that it might forge together a discrete collection on non-Pauline letters, one shaped according to a particular logic of apostolic authority (that is, ”not by Paul alone“) in order to perform a particular function in the larger Christian canon.”[2] In other words the letter of James is a canon conscience document, pseudipigraphly written in the second century.[3]

After reading Richard Bauckham’s argument for the letter of James being written by the brother of Jesus[4] Nienhuis’ argument of a late second century date seems far-fetched. But after reading the forward of Francis Watson I have decided that this argument may be plausible and needs to be examined.

Watson says:

As a supervisor of this thesis, I would like to put it on record that its starting-point was an interest in intertextual relationships within the Catholic Epistles collection, which long predated the development of the historical hypothesis. There was even an initial prejudice against the assumption that literary relationships were susceptible to historical explanations. If the historical hypothesis eventually took over the entire project, this was because it proved so unexpectedly cogent and illuminating–both to its author and its supervisor. This was genuinely a piece of research, and the outcome was neither foreseen nor foreseeable at the outset.

Some initial question I have are how do you address James 1:1 and its claim to be written to the twelve tribes of the dispersion? Bauckham gives a convincing argument that it was James writing for Jerusalem to the surrounding communities. Also, many (all?) of the allusions to Jesus’ teaching are are not quoted from the Gospels themselves but seem to be allusions to a Jesus tradition. If it were written in the late second century (after the Gospels were “functioning canonically for many Christians by the end of the second century”[5]) then why is there not any direct use of them? If this is a novel thesis, what historical evidence is there for this argument?

I hope to post some of my thoughts on here as I go through this book in the next couple weeks.

  1. He notes that he follows Robert Wall’s approach to the Catholic Epistles closely  ↩

  2. Nienhuis, David R. Not By Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and Christian Canon. Baylor University Press, 2007, 5.  ↩

  3. He makes a similar statement about 2 Peter saying, "2 Peter is not simply a pseudepigraph, but a canonically motivated pseudepigraph.  ↩

  4. Bauckham, Richard. James: Wisdom of James, Disciple of Jesus the Sage. New Testament Readings. London ; New York: Routledge, 1999, 11–28.  ↩

  5. Nienhuis, 6  ↩