If one pays careful attention to the Greek in James’ epistle, there is an interesting feature in how he uses language. For the rest of the writers of the New Testament, when use the Greek word ἀνήρ, they are referring specifically to a man or husband. Meanwhile, when we they want to refer to a generic person, they prefer to use the word ἄνθρωπος. However, James appears to use the two terms in a more interrelated fashion. For instance, in James 1.7-8, James talks about the human who doubts (ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἐκεῖνος) as mentioned in vs. 6, whereas he transitions to talking about the double-minded man (ἀνὴρ δίψυχος). He does this again in James 1.19-20, describing the all people (πᾶς ἄνθρωπος) as needing to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger with the anger of a man (ἀνδρὸς δικαιοσύνην). The leads to a question: when James refers to a ἀνήρ, is he used it to refer to people generically? Or, is his usage of ἀνήρ still cosndiered to be gendered, to refer to a male rather than people in general?
Douglas Moo seems to suggest that ἀνήρ is used generically in James 1.7-8.1 However, I think it is important to distinguish here how James uses ἀνήρ and ἄνθρωπος. When James uses ἄνθρωπος, each instance can be connected to the general conventions surrounding ancient wisdom: either is describing a general state of affairs about people or in giving a general exhortation to the audience.2 However, in each instance when James uses ἀνήρ, he provides the example of a specific type of man, such as an unstable man, a man who endures temptation, an angry man, a man who looks in a mirror, a rich man, and a pefect man.3 Put simply, James uses ἄνθρωπος in a more general fashion to refer to people broadly, including human nature like he did in describing Elijah in James 5.17. Meanwhile, when James is giving an example of a specific person, he uses ἀνήρ.
This leads to an implication: when James uses ἀνήρ in referring to man who has anger in James 1.20, he is not engaging in some sort of generic discourse about how human anger is antithetical to God’s righteousness. Rather, he is getting much more specific: he is describing the anger of an adult male. Certainly, this example is intended to be demonstrative for everyone, as it is preceded by a call to every person to be slow to anger in previous vs. 1.19. Nevertheless, the example of anger James presents to everyone to avoid is that of a male. Why?
One could argue that James just simply prefers to use men to serve as positive and negative moral examples. That is certainly possible, but I would suggest there is a different reason. If you look at the content of the letter of James, most everything that is being address and discussed are types of behaviors and settings that were to be considered male-dominated. Obedience to Torah was considered principally a task of men, even as women still were expected to live by much of it, especially when it came to sex and adultery. Someone trying to give a fine place to a rich person is the act that others would give to high status males. Being a teacher was principally understood as the domain of men. Doing business was the domain of men. In addition, it was usually men that fought in conflicts with each other. I could go on and on, but in James time, most of what James is giving instructions about relates to domaisn in social life that were dominated by men.
Meanwhile, if you were to look at some other wisdom literature, such as the wisdom of Sirach, it was not uncommon to type about the anger of a woman. See Sirach 25.13-15:
Any wound, but not a wound of the heart!
Any wickedness, but not the wickedness of a woman!
Any suffering, but not suffering from those who hate!
And any vengeance, but not the vengeance of enemies!
There is no venome worse than a snake’s venom,
and no anger worse than a woman’s wrath.
This is then followed with a scatching rebuke of the “evil woman” in Siarch 26.16-26:
I would rather live with a lion and a dragon
than live with an evil woman.
A woman’s wickedness changes her appearance,
and darkens her face like that of a bear.
Her husband sitsh among the neighbors,
and he cannot help sighing bitterly.
Any iniquity is small compared to a woman’s iniquity;
may a sinner’s lot befall her!
A sandy ascent for the feet of the aged—
such is a garrulous wife to a quiet husband.
Do not be ensnared by a woman’s beauty,
and do not desire a woman for her possessions.
There is wrath and impudence and great disgrace
when a wife supports her husband.
Dejected mind, gloomy face,
and wounded heart come from an evil wife.
Drooping hands and weak knees
come from the wife who does not make her husband happy.
From a woman sin had its beginning,
and because of her we all die.
Allow no outlet to water,
and no boldness of speech to an evil wife.
If she does not go as you direct,
separate her from yourself.
There seems to be an implicit sense of anger towards women here. Meanwhile, anger towards women is explicitly justified in Sirach 26.5-9:
Of three things my heart is frightened,
and of a fourth I am in great fear:a
Slander in the city, the gathering of a mob,
and false accusation—all these are worse than death.
But it is heartache and sorrow when a wife is jealous of a rival,
and a tongue-lashing makes it known to all.
A bad wife is a chafing yoke;
taking hold of her is like grasping a scorpion.
A drunken wife arouses great anger;
she cannot hide her shame.
The haughty stare betrays an unchaste wife;
her eyelids give her away.
In other words, for Sirach, he seems to have a negative view of women’s anger, but yet he seems to justify and legitimate the anger of men towards “evil women.” While Proverbs will occasionally broach the topic of a quarrelsome wife (Proverbs 21.19, 27.15), nothing in Proverbs approaches the scatching criticism that Sirach has towards women.
So, when James uses the anger of a male as an negative example, James is doing more than simply giving some generic example of an angry person. He is actually use a man as a negative example of anger. In so doing, James continues his pattern of decrying those who have power and use it wrongly. The rich refuse to give wages. Those who have the goods of the world refuse to help those in need. Teachers are a source of problems. Meanwhile, the one example of a woman that is directly mentioned in James, the example of Rahab, who James explicitly labels as a prostitute, is given as an example of justification by works (James 2.25). The prostitute label would have readily justified in many men’s minds that the women is worthy of disgust and scorn, but James lifts her example of works in serving Israel’s mission as an example of justification that would counter.
What I think James is doing with his usage of the language of ἀνήρ is trying to address those who have influence, status, and authority to using it positively, rather than in negative ways that go against the wisdom of God. James is trying to reign in unruly men who are more concerned about being angry at injustices rather than being dutiful to obey God’s low. Perhaps they are getting riled up in anger due to the rise of militaristic, Maccabean like zeal in Judea prior to 70 AD. Whatever it is, James seems to be targetting men in his instructions in his epistle, even as it does have a wider application to people in general.
The differing orientations of James and Sirach can be explained to the differ ways they relate to social status, riches, and wealth. Sirach lifts up the wise scribe as the one who has wisdom to the wealth that can afford leisure time (Sirach 38.24) as someone who will obtain God’s wisdom and become praised for it (Sirach 39.1-11). For Sirach, he identifies as one with power and social status. Consequently, as many people with power and status become, they become numb to the plights of those without the status and privilege that they have: riches, power, and status have a way of making people unempathetic. As a consequence, Sirach would be inclined to see the behavior of a woman, perhaps trying to get something they desperately need, as evil, as a burden, and so see them, their behavior, and their anger as a great evil. Meanwhile, James does not identify with the rich, but reminds them that they are nothing and that people should not show favoritism to the rich. As a consequence, James’ judgment is directed at those who have power, not at the powerfless, including at men in their anger.
To be clear, this isn’t simply about blaming men over blaming women, as if James is trying to score points for one side in the modern, societal antagonism between men and women. It is more so the way James looks at how the powerful act and considers that the powerful have a duty to act in positive ways that bring peace, well-being, and mercy in accordance to the power that they do have. With that mentality in mind, James uses the anger of men, as the gender who were regularly acting with power in conflict and business, and said: don’t be like the angry men you see. Perhaps, such men were so zealous that they thought their anger was a zeal from God like Phineas, and that by acting on it, they would achieve what God wanted and sought.
The end result of this, if it is correct, is that James is not intending James 1.19-20 to be a blanket condemnation of all anger, as if he is referring to any and all forms of “human anger” in 1.20. Rather, it is condemnation of those who are quick to anger, which for the ancient world was more than just a feeling or emotion, but anger was understood by one’s actions, particuarly those who were ready to fight and go to battle with their overlords. As such, James is pointing to the example of angry men that would have been all around the society at time and say “Don’t be like them! Be slow to anger like God is slow to anger instead.”