Richard Bauckham on Wholeness in James

One of the major themes weaved throughout the book of James is the idea of “wholeness.” Often in our translation the word for wholeness (τέλειος) is translated as “perfect.” This is an unhelpful translation because it gives that connatation that James is just calling for a sinless morality. James envisions wholeness as a life that is characterized by both doing and being. We cannot “do” without “being” and likewise we cannot “be” without “doing.” Richard Bauckham, in his excellent book on James, lays out five ways that James speaks of this wholeness[1]:

  1. Integration – The whole self is devoted to God. This includes the heart (thoughts, feelings, will), tongue (speech), and hands (deeds)[2]. One cannot worship God with his heart but lack proper speech ethics. In the same manner, one cannot do good deeds without a heart devoted to God. For James, this type of person is a “double-minded” person who is not fully devoted to God. Wholeness as integration is also a community excersise. Someone cannot be completely devoted to God without being person “characterized by peaceable, gentle, considerate, caring, and forgiving relationships (Jas. 2.13; 3.13, 17; 4.11–12; 5.16, 19)[3].”
  2. Exclusion – The whole person is one who excludes values and actions that doesn’t make up a τέλειος type person. One cannot be devoted to the world and God but must choose one or the other (Jas. 4.4).
  3. Completion – This is related to the integration since according to James a person cannot be halfway devoted to God. A whole person is one who has faith but also deeds (Jas 2.14–26), endures completely (Jas 1.2–4, 12; 5.7–11), and not only hears the words of God but also does them (Jas. 1.22–25)[4].
  4. Consistency – Bauckham argues that consistency is “another way of considering the first three[5].” These aspects cannot be done intermittently but must represent a consistent life that is completely devoted to God.
  5. Divine Perfection – We can only be a whole person because “God himself is characterized by wholeness and consistency[6].” Just as God himself is whole so too should we be a people characterized by wholeness. God is completely devoted to himself (holy) and for his people this means that they are completely devoted to him (Dt. 4.4–6).

The theme of wholeness pervades the book of James. It is also a key theme in the Gospel of Matthew. This also ties in nicely with a virtue ethic understanding of Paul and especially the Sermon on the Mount. I hope to explore these themes more closely in the future but for now I leave you with a final excerpt from Bauckham’s book:

Wholeness is a goal towards which one can move only in relation to a center which is already whole and from which one can gain wholeness. This means moving in one direction rather than others. It means rejecting values and behavior which are inconsistent with the goal. It means refusing all the idolatries which dominate and diminish human life in favor of the one love which can truly liberate and include all that Is good[7].

  1. Bauckham, Richard. James: Wisdom of James, Disciple of Jesus the Sage. New Testament Readings. London ; New York: Routledge, 1999.  ↩
  2. 178  ↩
  3. 178  ↩
  4. 181  ↩
  5. 181  ↩
  6. 182  ↩
  7. 183  ↩
Brian Brian (3 Posts)

Brian is currently a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary finishing his Masters of Divinity. He then hopes to pursue a PhD in New Testament. His interests include New Testament studies, hermeneutics (especially theological interpretation (TIS) and early Christian interpretation), and Greek. He is married to his wonderful wife, Jen, who is a constant encouragement and support. Brian is also a student member of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the North American Patristics Society (NAPS).

4 Comments Richard Bauckham on Wholeness in James

  1. JordanJordan

    First and foremost, thank you for your post. Over the past few years I’ve grown extremely fascinated with this perspective of theology. And I guess not only limited to “theology”, but as an entire worldview. Bakhtin’s been exceedingly helpful here. He spoke often of the being/doing relationship as one level of compartmentalization, theology-minded/art-minded/philosophy-minded/etc./etc./etc. as another, societal standing another, and the fallen man’s righteous limitations another. According to him, these levels cannot ever find centeredness, nor leveling without Christ.

    Where Bakhtin dances in the philosophical of man’s ontos – both the unregenerate and the saved – and didn’t offer much by way of exegesis, it’s awesome to see a biblicist camp out in there.

    So, here’s a question: for Bakhtin, according to God’s construct, fellowship [the Church] is pivotal for the working out of one’s Christ-given self-unification. The alternative is something similar to how the eremitical monks, or the Joe Churchgoer who only shows up one Easter and Christmas Eve. How important do you think it is for Bauckam to have fellowship in order to pursue/maintain/etc. wholeness?

    Again, thanks for the rundown! I’m really interested in reading this book.

    1. BrianBrian

      Wholeness is just one aspect of James that Bauckham explores but in this short section he does tie in the community and wholeness. He doesn’t expand on this very much but he says, “loyalty to God and to each other should unite individuals in a community characterized by peaceable, gentle, consider, caring and forgiving relationships. James connects the conflicts within an individual, which impairs the integrity of the person and stems from double mindedness, and the conflict which cares community apart and against which he especially warns. Competitive ambition threatens the wholeness of the community, just as peacemaking promotes it. Wholeness in its communal dimension is entailed by the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself without distinction, whereas partiality to the rich, involving discrimination against the poor, is a form of division.” I would imagine that if he was doing a complete study on wholeness that he would include this community dimension. Wholeness is not an individual idea but must also be worked out in community. Many of the facets of the idea of wholeness can only be brought to light when one is living in community.

  2. Pingback: Tom Bombadil, Mark Janke, and Our Future Hope | Philomythois

  3. BrettBrett

    Brian, thanks for bringing Bauckham into Philomythois. I’ve encountered his book on James a few times in my studies, especially in reference to his dialogue/dependence on Kierkegaard, who himself thought a lot about wholeness.

    Jordan’s question above is a good one. I’m looking forward to what you think.

    Thanks, brother!


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