Davids, Peter H. "Chapter Three: James and Jesus." in Wenham, David (editor), The Jesus Tradition Outside the Gospels. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984, 63-84.
Davids observes that there has been ongoing discussion of the means of transmitting the traditions of Jesus in early Christianity, particularly focused on preaching as the means to pass the message from teacher to student (Wenham [editor] 1984, 63). The relative absence of evidence for transmission prior to the written Gospels does raise questions. The statements of Paul which can be recognized as references to Jesus traditions suggest to many that Paul was familiar with multiple blocks of teaching, some of which we might not have any longer (Wenham [editor] 1984, 65).
Davids continues with an analysis of James, geared toward identifying statements which assume readers know particular pieces of the Jesus traditions (Wenham [editor] 1984, 65). This evaluation tests the situation apart from the work of Paul. There are also numerous allusions to the Synoptic material in James. Davids catalogs these on pp. 66-67. He observes that the references largely focus on ethical teaching from the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Wenham [editor] 1984, 67). James does not appear to depend on the Synoptic Gospels. Davids observes that his content is more similar to Matthew and his language is more like Luke (Wenham [editor] 1984, 68).
It is significant to Davids that James does not "cite Jesus as the source of [his] teaching" (Wenham [editor] 1984, 68). He assumes some familiarity with the teaching. This is a common pattern of the period. Davids does mention as an example, "the Didache, which is filled with exact quotations of or allusions to gospel material, [but] only cites Jesus by name twice, both times in liturgical contexts" (Wenham [editor] 1984, 68). It was more common to make reference by indirect allusion (Wenham [editor] 1984, 69).
Davids considers that the allusions in James are spread fairly evenly through the letter (Wenham [editor] 1984, 69). This suggests that James deliberately intended to build his message on the Jesus material. This also suggests a basic cohesiveness in the letter. It is consistent throughout, indicating a unified plan (Wenham [editor] 1984, 70). Davids describes the main thrust of the various segments of James, showing their allusive quality and recognition of material which can be traced to the Jesus traditions.
Through Davids' analysis it becomes clear that not only the ideas of Jesus, but even the wording that was later recorded had an influence on the way James expressed himself (Wenham [editor] 1984, 74). His work, then, is not to teach the Jesus tradition itself, but to show his readers how that tradition mattered in their lives (Wenham [editor] 1984, 75).