The big problem with questions in biblical Greek is that there is no punctuation in the original manuscripts to mark a question as such. That means a question will often look exactly like a statement and only context can help us determine the difference. But sometimes, the wider discourse of the entire writing can help as well, which is why discourse analysis is so important to exegesis.

Take for example James 5:6c: οὐκ ἀντιτάσσεται ὑμῖν.

The Problem

James 5:1-6 is a condemnation of land owners who are withholding pay from their workers and spending the money on themselves. James says of these land owners:

You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one. οὐκ ἀντιτάσσεται ὑμῖν (5:5-6).

This final phrase is ambiguous. There is a sudden switch from the two preceding second-person plural aorist forms (κατεδικάσατε, ἐφονεύσατε) to a third-person present-tense form (ἀντιτάσσεται). If this final clause is a statement, it refers to someone who does not resist these land owners (“he does not resist you”). If it is a question, the implied subject does resist them (“does he not resist you?”).

That no subject is expressed makes it more difficult to determine whether this clause is a question or statement. Is the subject the “righteous one” just mentioned?

The Solution

Dr. William Varner suggests the following solution: that 5:6c is a question and God is the one who is doing the opposing.

The verb ἀντιτάσσεται has appeared earlier in this exact form in 4:6, where it is part of a quotation from the LXX of Prov 3:34: “God opposes [ἀντιτάσσεται] the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 5:6c, therefore, refers anaphorically to that quotation in 4:6, where God is the subject of ἀντιτάσσεται. This reference to the quotation in 4:6 explains the surprising present-tense ἀντιτάσσεται and the implied subject. One who paid attention to the entire discourse of James would recognize that God had just earlier been described as the opposer.

This proposal also helps to explain the lack of a conjunction that would connect the clause to what precedes. For example, some have suggested that the sense of the verse is: “You murdered the righteous one, but he does not oppose you.” The asyndeton (lack of a conjunction), however, supports the idea that someone other than “the righteous one” who was just mentioned is the actual subject of ἀντιτάσσεται.

Further use of discourse analysis can provide more evidence for this solution. The use of a rhetorical question here certainly fits James’ diatribal style elsewhere in his book. If 5:6c counts as a question, there is a total of 24 questions asked in only 108 verses.

In 4:6, God is said to oppose (ἀντιτάσσεται) the arrogant. James has now given two such examples of arrogance: the presumptuous businessmen in 4:13-17; and the arrogant landowners in 5:4-6 which climaxes with the just-mentioned accusation of judicial murder. That God opposes them makes a fitting conclusion.

If 5:6 concludes not with a statement about the righteous person’s lack of opposition, but with an assurance of God’s opposition to the arrogant, then the οὖν (“therefore”) that follows in 5:7 makes even better sense (Μακροθυμήσατε οὖν, ἀδελφοί, ἕως τῆς παρουσίας τοῦ κυρίου). Because God opposes their oppressors, the believers can patiently endure and await expectantly His coming.

The earlier call to repentance in 4:7–10 expounds the latter part of Proverbs 3:34 (“He gives grace to the humble”). The role of God as judge, beginning in 4:11 and continuing through the harsh words of 4:13–17 and 5:1–6, further develops the first half of the quotation (“He opposes the proud”). The powerful conclusion to James’ prophetic attack, therefore, comes in the final clause of 5:6: “God opposes the arrogant. You rich oppressors have behaved arrogantly. Should He not oppose you?”

Keep Learning

Reading Greek is tough on your own, especially with interpretive difficulties such as clauses that could be a statement or a question. We want you to read Greek, but not on your own! The analysis above is the sort of content you get in every one of our James Greek Reading Videos, authored by Dr. William Varner, who is happy to walk through the entire book of James with you in Greek.

These videos apply discourse analysis consistently through the entire epistle of James to help you understand the letter as a whole. After translating through each section, Dr. Varner concludes with biblical-theological observations to connect James with the rest of the canon and also proposes homiletical suggestions. If you plan to preach or teach on James, this video series would be invaluable for your preparation.

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Varner, he teaches New Testament and Greek at The Master’s College and has authored dozens of articles and books. On James alone, he has authored a devotional commentary, a discourse analysis, and a Logos MobileEd course based on the English text. He also has a full exegetical commentary forthcoming very soon with Fontes Press. If you want to learn James and improve your Greek, do it with Dr. Varner in these 34 videos working through the Greek text.

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