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The more common approach among biblical commentators has been to argue primarily from straightforward grammatical structure that James 1:10 speaks to rich Christians. The verb kauchaomai ("take pride in") at the beginning of 1:9 is understood as the verb for 1:10 as well; likewise, ho adelphos ("the brother") in 1:9 is understood as the subject to be supplied for 1:10. The contrast then would be between the brother who is ho tapeinos ("in humble circumstances") and the brother who is ho plousios ("rich"). Examples of this approach can be found in Joseph B. Mayor 1897, J. H. Ropes 1916 and James B. Adamson 1976.
An alternative approach has been to argue primarily from the content of the message that James 1:10 must be speaking about rich non-Christians. The exultation of the poor brother is seen as too dissimilar to that of the rich person to be parallel. The absence of any hope or commendation given to the plousios here or elsewhere in the letter seems to indicate a non-Christian identity for the rich. Not just their riches but they themselves "will pass away like a wild flower." Examples of this approach can be found in the work of the German Martin Dibelius (1964), the British Sophie Laws (1980) and the American Peter H. Davids (1982).
The difference between these two approaches leads to significant differences in understanding and application. Taking Mayor as a spokesman for the first view, James 1:10 is rendered "Let the rich brother glory in his humiliation as a Christian." The meaning of the verse then has to do with "the intrinsic effect of Christianity in changing our view of life." And the application of 1:10 is for the proud rich to learn "self-abasement," even as the application of 1:9 was for the despised poor to learn self-respect (Mayor 1897:43). Working from this understanding, preaching that captures the intent of James 1:10 should be directed to Christians who have wealth, should urge them to take pride in their abasement and should instruct them in practices of self-abasement.
On the other hand, taking Davids as representative of the second view, it is argued that the text about the rich never says "humiliation as a Christian." What the letter does do is uniformly condemn "the rich" in all three passages that refer explicitly to plousios (1:9-11; 2:5-7; 5:1-6). They are seen as persecutors and blasphemers. "Some wealthy individuals" were coming into the church as inquirers or new converts; these are the ones James would have in mind in 2:2 and 4:13. But James avoids calling them "the rich" and reserves the term plousios for pejorative use. "These rich are not Christians, but rather the enemies of the church" (Davids 1982:46). Application of the text must be made with understanding that James is writing with "great sympathy for the poor and that the term is virtually identical in his mind with `Christian' " (Davids 1982:45). Proceeding with this view, preaching that is faithful to the biblical writer's intention in 1:10 should be directed to Christians who are poor, assuring them of the ultimate futility of material riches as a goal in life and encouraging them to be faithful to Christ even in their poverty.
How can this hermeneutical problem be addressed? We will examine in turn the text's linguistic and lexical context, historical context, literary context and canonical context.