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Tuesday, February 05, 2008  

The "Pastoral" Epistle of James

Over the past several weeks, I've been team-teaching an inductive study of the book of James at my church. Basically, our pastor will introduce the passage, then divide the class into groups. Each group will examine a different sub-section of the passage, and then the pastor will close the study by synthesizing and summarizing the various observations which have been made. My role is to help lead one of the groups.

As we've been working through the epistle, we've repeatedly observed James' pastoral perspective. Although this epistle was written to be circulated among a variety of churches (as opposed to one in particular), James exudes pastoral concern for the recipients of his letter. James' epistle is no stale ethical treatise, but a passionate and compassionate written sermon.

All this talk of James' pastoral emphasis reminded me of an interesting pattern I sometimes show when demonstrating Accordance's various graphing tools. I'll search the tagged Greek New Testament (GNT-T) for every imperative verb in the book of James. Then I'll click the Details button and select Analysis Graph from the Graph pop-up menu. I'll choose Person from the pop-up menu at the bottom right, and get a graph comparing James' use of second person imperatives and third person imperatives:

Okay, what's so great about that? Well, you need to understand that second person imperatives are direct commands like "Go!" Third-person imperatives are indirect commands, they tend to be more subtle and roundabout ways of telling someone to do something. We usually would translate a third-person imperative as something like "Let him go." Knowing that, we can look at this chart again and see that James begins and ends his epistle with a higher frequency of third person imperatives, while in the middle he relies on more direct second person imperatives. This gives us a sense of James' pastoral style: start out subtly, end on a good note, and drive your message hard in the middle. The ability to visualize patterns like this is what that innocuous-looking Details button on your search window is all about.

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