James Chapter 2
James continues to move into the specific nitty
gritty of the life developed by the word: "Have not the faith
of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons"
(2:1). "The Lord" is not in the original- "Our Lord Jesus Christ
of glory". This idea of Jesus being the glory is picked up in
1 Peter 4:14: "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy
are ye; for the spirit of glory (parallel with "the name of Christ")
and of God resteth upon you"- as the cloud of glory did over the
tabernacle. Also on the same track is 2 Cor.3:8,9: "How shall
not the ministration of the Spirit (in Christ) be rather glorious?
For if the ministration of condemnation (the Mosaic law) be glory,
much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory".
Thus James describing Jesus as the Lord of glory may be yet another
hint against keeping to the Mosaic glory. Notice the gentle yet
firm way in which James makes the point- appealing to his Jewish
readers through Biblical allusions which he knew they would appreciate.
Respect of persons
"With respect of persons" is another
link back to the Proverbs- here to 24:23: "These things also belong
to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgement".
Thus through having wisdom- which is from the word- respect of
persons is avoided. This is the point made in 2:8,9: "If ye fulfil..the
Scripture...ye do well: but if ye have respect of persons, ye
commit sin"- through fulfilling the Scriptures, we avoid respecting
persons. There is also a link with the fact that "God is no respecter
of persons" (Acts 10:34) in a Jew/ Gentile context. It seems from
this allusion that the Jewish brethren were prejudiced against
poor Gentile believers.
"If there come unto your assembly (mg. 'synagogue')
a man with a gold ring (Gk. 'Gold fingered'- not just one of them!),
in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing..." (v.2,3).
The use of the word 'synagogue' here shows that some of the early
Jewish ecclesias were the result of whole synagogues being converted
to Christ. The ecclesias are also called synagogues in Acts 6:9;
thus Heb.10:25 reads literally "Not forsaking the synagoguing
of yourselves together". The fact James uses the word 'synagogue'
rather than 'ecclesia' indicates the degree to which early Jewish
Christians still kept a fair amount of the Jewish approach to
Thus the letter of Acts 15 concerning this implies
that it was felt quite in order for Jewish believers to continue
being circumcised, whilst the Gentile believers still had to abstain
from blood (Acts 15:29). Elsewhere Paul vigorously argues that
obedience to both these Mosaic commands was quite irrelevant to
salvation or spiritual growth. Similarly Paul seems to have placed
great importance on keeping a Jewish feast (Acts 18:21), whilst
telling the Colossians (2:14-17) that this was not necessary due
to Christ's death. The rich stranger who unexpectedly turned up
at their ecclesia perhaps refers to the same class of Jewish itinerant
preachers as are mentioned in 2 Jn.7-11.
James is writing to Jewish believers.
The "poor man" walking into the ecclesia was a brother- "the poor
of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom" (v.5).
If this poor brother was also a Jew, why does James talk about
"Your assembly..ye have respect to (the rich)..and say to the
poor....""? We have two possibilities at least:
1) The letter was written just to a group of
rich Jews; or
2) The letter was written generally to all
Jewish believer and the "poor man" represented the poor Gentile
brethren whom the Jewish believers despised.
There is fair support for both:
1) Poor believers are equally in need of exhortation
as are the rich. They are even more prone to the temptations
of materialism; but there is nothing aimed at this group in
James. Chapter 2 rebukes rich brethren for belittling these
poor brethren. Chapter 3 is about brethren seeking to be "many
masters" (3:1) and proudly talking to that end. These are the
temptations especially faced by rich, capable brethren. Chapter
4 describes the itinerant Jewish traders always hungry to make
more money (4:13). Chapter 5 is specifically about "ye rich
men...your riches are corrupted" (5:1,2).
2) "The poor of this world" could be Gentiles-
"He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor" (2 Cor.8:9)
is quoted by Paul to show that the poor Gentiles had received
spiritual riches, and should therefore contribute their earthly
riches to the poor Jewish believers at Jerusalem (Rom.15:26).
"Rich in faith" would then refer to the Gentiles being given
the spiritual riches of Christ (2 Cor.9:9). "Heirs of the kingdom"
recalls Eph.3:6 "That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs" through
also having the promises of inheriting the Kingdom made to them
There are no doubt elements of truth in both
views. Thus the letter does seem to be aimed at the rich Jewish
Christians who had fled Israel from the persecution of Saul; but
there may also be a secondary implication that the poor brethren
they were despising were Gentiles. This would be in keeping with
the fact that every reference in James to the Jew/Gentile, Moses/
Christ question within the ecclesia is indirect and subtle.
Jews for Jesus?
One of the reasons for James writing
was to encourage the Jews to spiritually improve so that the second
coming would be hastened and the Kingdom established for real,
rather than the 'coming' being just a 'coming down' manifestation
of the Lord, as it actually was. It was the affluent sector of
Jewry who had a partial faith in Christ whom James singles out
as being the important ones whose repentance would hasten the
second coming. Applying these things to the last days, it cannot
be without significance that the 'Jews for Jesus' movement is
gaining phenomenal ground- amongst whom? The affluent, loud mouthed
(cp. James 3), money-loving, trade-crazy Jews of North America
(cp. James 4:13; 5:2). Bearing in mind the orthodox false doctrines
these people are full of, they fit well their prototypes in James-
Jews who were not truly humble to the power of the word, committed
to a 'hail fellow well met' Christianity (cp. 2:2,3). Notice that
generally it has not been the poor Jews of London's East End or
downtown Tel Aviv who are professing Christ. We know that the
Jews are still to face their greatest holocaust. How relevant
then is James 5:1-3: "ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries
that shall come upon you...ye have heaped treasures together for
the last days". Every persecution of the Jews has been partly
inspired by Gentile jealousy at their wealth- not least in these
last days. Turning the spotlight to spiritual Israel- maybe the
implication of James is that if only we can summon the courage
to repent of our gross materialism into which the ecclesia of
the last days has slumped, then there will be a hastening of the
second coming. It is Biblically argued elsewhere that a specific
rejection of materialism by the ecclesia of the last days may
save us from part of the tribulation to come, and thus hasten
the coming of Christ for us. If we do not curb it, we may need
to go through the tribulation to achieve the same spiritual effect
upon us as would a specific repentance from it here and now.
"A gold ring, in goodly apparel" probably connects
with 1 Peter 3:1,3: "ye wives...whose adorning let it not be that
outward adorning of...wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel".
The links between James and Peter are so numerous that it seems
fair to assume that there is a conscious connection here. In this
case it is worth noting that the passage in 1 Peter 3:3 about
adorning has subtle reference to Judaism- e.g. "adorning" is the
Greek 'kosmos'-ing, often used about the Jewish age. 'Cosmetic'
is derived from this word too.
Judging after the eyes
"A poor man in vile raiment". That
this passage may also be talking about spiritual pride and partiality
is further suggested by the word "vile" carrying the idea of morally
filthy- it is translated "filthiness" a few verses earlier in
1:21 in a moral sense; and "the filthiness of the flesh" in 1
Peter 3:21 (n.b. Rev.22:11 too). The idea of raiment or clothing
representing a spiritual state is common in the New Testament
(1). Thus James may be warning
them against judging a brother who, due to his poverty, appears
outwardly to have an appearance of evil when this is not the case.
"Ye have respect to him that weareth the gay
clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and
say to the poor, Stand thou there, or Sit here under my footstool"
The Greek for "gay" implies dazzling bright-
it is used of the "white (same word) linen" in which the saints
will be clothed (Rev.15:6; 19:8), the "bright clothing" of the
Angel in Acts 10:30 and "the bright and morning star" (Rev.22:16).
This further supports the suggestion that James 2 is referring
to spiritual pride- apart from wearing gaudy clothes, these brethren
were imagining themselves to be supremely righteous, and therefore
lording it over those they considered to be spiritually poor.
This is almost confirmed beyond question by the rest of the verse
being an allusion to the parable of the guests at the marriage
supper- some come into the ecclesia (2)
wanting to immediately have the places of honour, whilst others
-the truly spiritual- gratefully accept whatever place they are
given. There is also possible reference to Matt.23:5,6 which also
speaks of outward dressing by the Jews to give a spiritual impression,
and a loving of chief seats in the synagogue: "They make broad
their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
and love the uppermost rooms at (Jewish) feasts (cp. the communion
service), and the chief seats in the synagogues". The fact that
within the Jewish ecclesias there were seating arrangements in
order of seniority further shows how they were based around the
Jewish synagogue system, even suggesting that the ecclesia had
the actual building as their ecclesial hall. Similarly there is
ample evidence that the communion service was originally run on
the lines of the Jewish passover, with the eating of a meal in
fellowship as a vital part of the 'love-feast'. Notice that James
does not criticize the existence of such seating arrangements
in themselves, but the wrong brethren being put in the wrong place.
"A good place" does not just imply a nice seat- "good" is normally
used in the sense of being morally good, and is also translated
"honest"; it comes from a root meaning 'virtuous, morally worthy'.
"Sit here under my footstool" also has a mainly spiritual implication-
unless some brethren were so pompous that they had virtual thrones
to sit on in the ecclesia. Jesus being seated at God's footstool
shows his subjection to Him spiritually, and does not necessarily
refer to the physical place where Jesus sits. Marshall's Interlinear
renders "sit here" as "sit here well", implying that James' readers
were thinking well of brethren in spiritual terms due to their
outwardly impressive appearance.
This spiritual judging of others was
because they were "partial in yourselves, and are become judges
of evil thoughts" (v.4). Being partial within their minds, resulting
in them respecting ('judging') the thoughts generated by their
evil minds continues the theme of being only semi-spiritual due
to being "double minded", a result of not letting the word totally
dominate the mind. Verses 8 and 9 also go on to show that only
through lack of application to the word was this partial thinking
coming about. In similar vein Jeremiah accused the Jews of 'dissembling
in their hearts' (42:20), using a Hebrew word which can mean both
'to go astray' and also 'to vacillate'; as if partiality and spiritual
vacillation between good and evil are the same as rank disobedience.
James really pleads with us to see the importance
of all this, as if he is physically with us: "Hearken, my beloved
brethren" (v.5)- also suggesting that he was well known to his
audience. This would again imply that the initial readership which
James was focussing on was quite a small group of brethren. "Hath
not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith...?". This
should not be read merely as meaning 'God has called the poor
people to the Gospel'- seeing that the rich to whom James was
writing had also been called (cp. Is.66:2). Rather the emphasis
is on "God (has) chosen the poor of this world"
for positions of authority within the ecclesia- implying, in the
context of v.3, that they had made a wrong choice, saying
to the man in gay clothing "sit thou here in a good place" in
the ecclesia. Thus James implies that God's choice should be our
choice. The fact has to be faced that looking around the ecclesias
of today, it is not "the poor of this world" who are in places
of authority. Yet James here implies that they should be- as does
Paul (1 Cor.6:4). Now it can reasonably be argued that this category
of brethren do not want such positions, and are happy to see those
humanly more competent doing the job. Because of this, it is not
the done thing to even nominate such brethren for office. Perhaps
the fault lies with both sections of our community- surely those
brethren should both be nominated and be prepared to accept responsibility,
in the light of what James and Paul are saying? Remember that
Peter, James and John were simple working men- but through the
power of the Spirit James could talk to his brethren as "my beloved
brethren" and rebuke them. That same Spirit can be in us through
the word. 1 Cor.6:4 shows beyond cavil that in a case of disagreement
or difficulty in judgement- and such cases are now increasingly
common- the opinion of the most humble and least esteemed brother
should be sought and accepted. Such a brother will, by his very
qualification for the task, naturally demur- as doubtless the
brother chosen in the Corinth ecclesia did initially (if they
obeyed Paul's advice). But surely this is what is required by
Inheriting the Kingdom
"Heirs of the Kingdom which he hath
promised to them that love Him" (v.5). This mirrors 1:12 "Blessed
is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he
shall receive the crown of life, which he hath promised to them
that love Him". The implication is that it is "the poor of this
world" who successfully endured spiritual temptation by the power
of the word, and who therefore will have the reward "which the
Lord hath promised to them that love Him". The repetition of this
phrase in 1:12 and 2:5 encourages us to make this interpretation.
Yet in the first century, "the poor of this world" would have
been those with the least free time, probably unable to read and
anyway unlikely to be able to afford their own Scriptures, and
probably more heavily burdened with domestic cares than the "rich
men" of the ecclesia. Thus the point is again made that our spirituality
is not related to the amount of spare time which we have free
to devote to Bible reading. It is from the constant daily meditation
on whatever spiritual food we have had time to feed on that we
can overcome temptation and thus have the heart-warming knowledge
of being thought of by God as "them that love Him". "If ye love
me, keep (in memory) my commandments" Jesus had also said. Note
that "the Kingdom" and "the crown of life" are equated by comparing
1:12 and 2:5; as in 2 Tim.4:1,8. Thus "the Kingdom" does not only
refer to the 'political' situation on the earth when Christ's
rule has been established, but is also a synonym for eternal life,
"the crown of life". Thus at the judgement seat the sheep are
told "Inherit the Kingdom" (Matt.25:34)- when the Kingdom in the
sense of Christ's political rulership of the earth has not yet
been established. Similarly, Christ's preaching "The Gospel of
the Kingdom of God" to Israel (Matt.4:23) was not just composed
of details about the state of the world after His second coming-
but also about the opportunity of receiving "the crown of life"
at His return. A study of the Greek word 'basileia' translated
'Kingdom' indicates that it can refer to all aspects of the King's
rulership, not just the political Kingdom. John Thomas' definition
of this word is well worth studying (3).
"But ye have despised the poor" (v.6).
"The poor" here are brethren- and therefore the poor labourers
who were oppressed by the "rich men" of the ecclesia in 5:4 must
also refer to brethren in the ecclesia. "Despise" here in 2:6
in the Greek can also carry the idea of active abuse- it is also
translated "dishonour" in Jn.8:49, "suffer shame" in Acts 5:41
and "entreated shamefully" in Lk.20:11. These are all concerning
the Jews persecuting Christ and the early church. The only other
occurrence of the word (Rom.1:24) is also concerning the apostate
Jews. Thus it may be that James is implying that this despising
of the poor Jewish believers and Gentiles in the ecclesia was
the same as the Judaizers and Jewish authorities behind them were
doing. It would be surprising if the letter of James, being addressed
to Jewish Christians, did not make some reference to the Judaist
infiltration of the ecclesias, which Paul's letters show was a
major threat to the early church (e.g. Gal.2:4). The use of this
word "despise" may thus imply that this group of rich Jews had
been infiltrated by the Judaizers. Their lack of total commitment
to the word would mean that their resistance to the Judaist infiltration
was low indeed. It is therefore to be expected that they succumbed.
"Do not rich men (i.e. richer than you) oppress
you, and draw you before the judgement seats?". This recalls the
descriptions of Jewish persecution of the saints: "Saul..entering
into every house (church?), and haling ("Dragging"- same word
in Jn.21:8) men and women committed them to prison" (Acts 8:3);
"they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city"
(Acts 17:6). The believers to whom James was writing had therefore
suffered violent physical persecution, and yet still they lacked
any deep spirituality. The rebuke later in this chapter of their
attitude that works alone could substitute for their weak faith
may well have reference to this (cp. 1 Cor.13:3; Rev.2:13,14).
No doubt it is extremely tempting when being physically persecuted
to feel that this excuses us from making the effort to control
our minds by the application of the word. In the holocaust to
come which we may well have to endure we will do well to remember
this. The implication behind James' use of these words is that
as the Jews were doing to them, so they were doing to their brethren,
thus equating them with the Jews- maybe implying that the Judaist
infiltration was so subtle that they were being influenced doctrinally
by these people, and yet also submitting to persecution from their
'provisional' wing. Israel's relationship with Egypt, Assyria
and Babylon had been similar.
"Do not they blaspheme that holy name
by the which ye are called?", or 'that is called upon you'- in
baptism. 1 Tim.6:1,2 associates the blaspheming of God's Name
with servants despising their masters who were believers. The
context in James is of believers despising their poor brethren
(v.6), perhaps through despising the brethren who were in their
employ (5:4). Thus the suggestion is that the same spiritual blasphemy
which occurred when believers were persecuted was repeated when
a rich brother abused or despised a fellow brother. Notice that
it is the name of God which is blasphemed in 1 Tim.6:1, whilst
at baptism the believers called upon themselves the name of Christ-
they were baptized into Christ and thus became Christ's. This
interchangeability of the name of Christ and God occurs frequently
in the New Testament- because God's Name was given to Christ on
his ascension (Phil.2:9; Rev.3:12). The reason for the rich brethren
despising the poor was through not appreciating that God's Name
was called upon those brethren- in the same way as the Jews' blasphemy
of the Name was through their lack of appreciation that the believers
carried the Name. Thus the key to successfully, humbly relating
to our brethren is to remind ourselves of the mighty Name which
they bear, and that to despise them is to despise God.
"If ye fulfil the royal law according to the
Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
but if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced
of the Law as transgressors" (v.8,9).
"Royal" means the Kingly law- James' comment
on the emphasis which Jesus gave to the command to "love thy neighbour"
in Matt.22:39, and especially to the giving of the "new commandment...that
ye love one another, as I have loved you" (Jn.13:34). Matt.22:37,38
clearly states that the command to "love thy neighbour" was secondary
to that to love God. Yet the "new commandment" of Jn.13:34 to
love thy neighbour ("one another"), and James' calling of this
"the royal law" implies that now the law had been ended on the
cross, including the ten commandments written in stone (Col.2:14-17),
these two commands were one- because to love God is equivalent
to loving your spiritual neighbour, because by calling on the
name of Christ the neighbour therefore carried the Name of God,
and thus to love the neighbour is the same as loving God. This
is the teaching of the preceding v.7, as we have seen.
Alternatively, "the royal law" may refer to the
entire Mosaic law- seeing that the law was fulfilled in the keeping
of that one commandment, to "love thy neighbour as thyself" (Rom.13:9).
Gal.5:14 says the same, and as in James 2 the context is of not
biting and devouring one another within the ecclesia, as a result
of Judaist infiltration to stir up strife (Gal.5:11,12,15). If
the command to "love thy neighbour" was fulfilled with no subsequent
despising of poor brethren, "ye do well". The Greek for "well"
is the same word translated "good" in v.3- the rich were invited
to sit in a "good place" in the ecclesia, i.e. in a place of spiritual
honour and respect. Thus James is saying that the ultimate qualification
for sitting in the "good place" in the ecclesia was to love the
members of the ecclesia as oneself, especially those whom it was
tempting to despise. If the "royal law" refers to the whole law
of Moses, it should be noted that we must fulfil it in
spirit. It is easy to think that the Law was fulfilled solely
by Christ's death on the cross.
"If ye have respect to persons, ye
commit sin, and are convinced of the Law as transgressors" (of
the Law). This conviction by the Law may refer to the command
to Israel's judges: "Ye shall not respect persons in judgment;
but ye shall hear the small (poor) as well as the great" (Dt.1:17).
These judges were therefore matched by Spirit-gifted ecclesial
elders in the New Israel. These judges were 'given' as heads over
Israel (Dt.1:15 A.V.mg), as the ecclesia were 'given' Spirit-gifted
elders (Eph.4:11). Because of their power, "all the people shall
hear and fear" (Dt.17:13), exactly as they did after Peter's Spirit-guided
judgment of Ananias (Acts 5:11). The judges were "wise men" (Dt.1:13)-
hence James' rebuke of the elders because they were unwise:
"Who is a wise man...among you?" (3:13 cp. 1 Cor.6:5).
The book of Malachi is a rebuke of Israel's priests and judges-
James' many allusions to it tabulated in our comments on 4:8 are
understandable once the connection between Israel's judges and
ecclesial elders is appreciated. Psalm 82 condemns the judges
for doing many things which James accuses the elders of doing:
possessing the Spirit, but respecting persons, overlooking the
poor, fatherless and needy; neglecting the true knowledge of God,
although they had been called to be God's children.
Col.2:14-17 clearly shows that the law in the
form of the ten commandments, including that to "love thy neighbour",
had been replaced by Christ. Yet James reasons with his readers
as if they still respected the old law of commandments- again
indicating the slow transition to an acceptance that the Law had
been ended in Christ (5). The
command to love one's neighbour as oneself is an absolute statement;
it cannot be fulfilled if one neighbour is loved more than another.
The love a man has for himself is complete- in fundamental terms
the degree of this love does not change with time or with the
characteristics he exhibits. This nature of love should be shown
to the brethren. To respect persons was to break this ideal. Thus
Jesus could ask us to love each other "As I have loved you" (Jn.13:34).
He loved us as the church as a whole ("you" is plural), and therefore
each of us receives the same all consuming love of Christ, shown
in summation by his death on the cross. Our love to each other
should be equally constant and without the favouritism which seems
almost inevitable with our natural mind.
John: special case?
If it is now argued 'But John was "the
disciple whom Jesus loved", showing Jesus loved some more than
others', then there is a serious contradiction within Scripture
which we cannot countenance. The explanation must be that John
in writing his gospel- under inspiration- added as a personal
note of appreciation that he was the disciple Jesus loved; not
implying he was loved more than the others (which would be a very
self centred thing to put in his gospel), but just simply putting
it on record that Jesus loved him. Therefore whilst our human
chemistry may attract us to some brethren rather than others,
our agape love should be constant to all. This surely presents
a real challenge to our concept of loving our brother. As with
so much in James, this seems almost too idealistic. But James
drives the importance of it home: "For whosoever shall keep the
whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (v.10).
This is identical reasoning to Gal.3:10-13, where Paul is arguing
that the Galatians should resist the inroads of the Judaizers
and not return to the Law- therefore suggesting that there was
an identical situation amongst James' readers, as there probably
was in nearly every first century ecclesia, especially the Jewish-dominated
"For that law which said (AVmg.), Do
not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit
no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor
of the Law" (v.11).
The statement that "that law" included two separate
commandments (concerning murder and adultery) shows that "the
royal law" of v.8 may well refer to the whole law of Moses, which
was fulfilled by loving the neighbour (Rom.13:9). These two commands
concerning adultery and murder occur together elsewhere; it may
be that James chose them because in spirit they are easily broken
due to an uncontrolled mind; and the control of the mind is the
great theme of James. Spiritual adultery is further defined in
4:4: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship
of the world is enmity with God?", thus interpreting adultery
as having worldly friends. Those to whom James was writing were
aware, so v.11 implies, that literal and spiritual adultery were
wrong, but were not so conscious of the command not to kill each
other by hating them in their heart (Matt.5:21,22). The fighting
and killing which James describes as happening amongst his readers
(4:1,2) must refer also to this spiritual murder due to lack of
love (to what else can it apply?). It is noteworthy that James
is one of the few New Testament letters that does not contain
explicit warning against sexual misbehaviour. We can thus start
to build up a fuller picture of James' audience- keeping dutifully
away from worldly friendships, holding themselves back from sexual
sin, yet trading zealously with the world to make much profit
(4:13), and unaware of the supreme importance of the command to
love each other, resulting in them transgressing the law in spirit.
Perhaps they are not without their counterparts today.
This lack of love was especially shown in their
words: "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by
the law of liberty" (v.12). Notice the equation of words and actions
("speak...do"), continuing the theme of thoughts and words being
the same as physical actions. "The law of liberty" is normally
used elsewhere in contrast to the Law of Moses- another subtle
swipe at the Judaist tendencies in the early Jewish ecclesias.
We must speak our words in accordance with the fact that we will
be judged by the word; if we have the word/law of liberty (cp.1:25)
in our hearts and therefore influencing our words, we need not
fear our judgement by that word (4).
Thus we judge ourselves now by our response to the word in practice,
by how far we let it influence our words and doings, especially
in the area of showing love to our brother.
James and Job
"For he shall have judgement without
mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against
judgement" (v.13). This appears to be alluding to Job 22:6-11,
where Eliphaz says just the same about Job, saying that the harsh
judgements coming upon Job were a result of him being harsh in
his dealings with his fellow men previously- e.g. "Thou hast sent
widows away empty...therefore snares are round about thee", as
they were around a widow. Several of the things Eliphaz mentions
in his accusations of Job are also themes in James:
the naked of their clothing
"If a brother
or sister be naked" (and you don't clothe them), (2:15)
not given water to the weary to drink, and thou hast
withholden bread from the hungry...
of daily food"
for the mighty man, he had the earth (i.e. you gave
much to him)
respect to him that weareth the gay clothing" and neglect
the poor (2:3)
hast sent widows away empty, and the arms of the (1:27)
fatherless have been broken".
the fatherless and the widow in their affliction"
If these connections are valid- and there are
several other places where James is writing with Job in mind-
then it appears that James did not see Job as beyond reproof;
but that like those to whom James wrote he was a rich businessman,
trusting in his own strength. This fits in to the many other indications
that Job represented those Jews who trusted in the Law (see Digression
6). If the allegations of Eliphaz in Job 22 are therefore partly
true, Job's clearing of himself from these things in Job 31 is
to be read as sophistry- and therefore this clearing of himself
is vigorously rebuked by Elihu, speaking on God's behalf, in Job
32. It is not unreasonable to think that it is not just the recording
of the friends' words that was inspired but that to some degree
their rebuke of Job was also directly inspired by God, although
not all they said can be treated like this. We are quick enough
to accept their reasoning regarding the mortality of man as inspired
statements of Divine truth- why not some of their other statements
"He shall have judgment without mercy"
suggests the picture of two people at the judgment seat being
judged for the same sin; one is forgiven because he had showed
mercy, while the other is rejected for not doing so. The rejoicing
of the merciful brother is then set against the misery of the
unmerciful brother. Mercy will then rejoice against judgment
in the same way as the men of Nineveh will rise up against
the unworthy at judgment day.
Note the implication that the believer
should shew mercy. The Greek word translated "shewed"
in v.13 is not the normal word translated thus. The word used
here means literally 'to do a work', again continuing James' theme
that spiritual actions are still 'works'. This lack of love and
harsh judgement amongst James' audience was also connected with
an academic emphasis on faith to the neglect of works- seeing
that v.14 continues "What doth it profit, my brethren, though
a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?".
It seems true in practice that those who are busy actively expressing
their faith in works tend to have less time for unnecessarily
harsh judgement of others in the ecclesia. It did not "profit"-
literally 'heap up'. Those to whom James wrote were hard working
traders (4:13); thus such language was especially relevant to
them. Again, James is working out a very telling play on words:
'Your heaping up of material profit while being academically familiar
with your faith is not heaping up spiritual profit'. These brethren
said they had faith. Later in chapter 3 James points out
that because the word was not really controlling their thoughts,
their words were uncontrolled. An example of this would be this
public talking about their faith, heaping up a reward in the eyes
A notable example of faith without works is then
given in v.15,16. It ends with the challenge "What doth it profit"-
cp. v.14 "What doth it profit...though a man say he hath faith,
and have not works?".
"If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute
of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace,
be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those
things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?"
It is probable that this was not a hypothetical
situation; 5:4,5 describe some rich brethren as oppressing their
brethren who were their agricultural employees. "Destitute" means
literally 'coming short', perhaps connecting with the fact that
the employers kept back these brethren's wages (5:4). 1 Cor.13:2
makes the point that it is quite possible to have great faith
without having any true love for one's brother. Similarly, these
people were saying in absolute faith, really believing it would
be done by God, "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled". "Depart"
either implies they were told this by their employers to whom
they came with their request, or perhaps that they were told to
depart from the ecclesial meeting where such requests were considered.
It would seem that their rich employers were these brethren who
refused their requests. The mention of lack of food and clothing
("naked") recalls Matt.6:25, where the Lord assures His people
that these needs will always be provided for. Yet the believers
James writes of had to be concerned about these things. It may
be that God provides for our needs by giving the means to the
rich in the Ecclesia, but it still depends on their freewill decision
to share what they have.
Therefore "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead,
being alone" (v.17). This is in the context of the previous eight
verses which have been reprimanding the readers for the lack of
a loving mind. These are the "works" which were lacking, as well
as the physical "works" of giving material support. There must
be a connection here with Christ's words: "Except a corn of wheat
fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die,
it bringeth forth much fruit" (Jn.12:24). If this connection is
valid, then James is
equating faith with the seed of wheat. The seed
represents the word (Lk.8:11; 1 Pet.1:23), supremely manifested
in the Lord Jesus. The equation is because "Faith cometh by hearing,
and hearing by the word of God". Thus James is saying that the
word seed in us should bring forth fruit in our caring for others,
in the same way as Jesus died in order to bring forth much spiritual
fruit in us. The rich brethren needed to make the same kind of
short term sacrifice due to the effect of the word in their lives,
in order to care for their brethren's welfare, as Jesus did for
them. It is significant that in v.26 faith is likened to a dead
body, which is the same figure being used here in v.17.
Verses 18-20 are in conversation language:
"Yea, a man may say (to me, James), Thou hast faith, and I have
works". James says that he would respond "(can you) shew me thy
faith without thy works? and I will shew thee my faith by my works"
The man is implying that if James has faith and
he has works, then between them they should be accepted. Thus
the man was effectively advocating salvation by works, whilst
agreeing that faith was also important- although not essential
for him personally to develop. This sounds like the reasoning
of the wavering Jewish believers. James replies that faith and
works are indivisible, that true spiritual works cannot exist
without faith. Thus it is irrelevant for a believer to think that
he must concentrate on developing 'faith' or 'works' as independent
things- what God looks for is 'faith-works', i.e. a faith whose
very nature leads to works; a faith that works by love
(Gal.5:6). Thus the works follow as an inevitable corollary from
the faith, and therefore are not consciously performed. Therefore
James reasons that a wise man will "shew out of a good conversation
his works with meekness of wisdom" (3:13). "Thou believest that
there is one God"- the fundamental truth of Judaism which the
Christian Jews prided themselves on- "the devils (demoniacs) also
believe, and tremble" (v.19), alluding to the sick often trembling
before their cure. This may refer to the many incidents of curing
of demoniacs in the Gospels, all of whom were parabolic of the
hopeless state of the Jewish system (6).
More significantly, James is referring to the fact that many people
during Christ's ministry had had the faith to be cured, but only
a handful had responded with the works which a word based faith
should have produced- as opposed to the intense hope and belief
in personal betterment which the people had. The other person
in the conversation is described as a "vain man" (v.20); "vain"
meaning empty headed or minded, referring to the demoniac state
of v.19. We saw in 1:26 how the man who did not have the word
in his heart to control his tongue was also "vain". The man referred
to here in 2:20 was without faith, and thus without the word,
seeing this is the basis of faith. Faith without works is barren
(v.20, Gk.). This is in the context of v.21 speaking of once barren
Abraham (Rom.4:19 implies he was impotent when Isaac was conceived)
being "our father", as well as that of Isaac. Faith with
works is therefore spiritually fruitful. Faith without
works being barren or dead may hint at the deadness of Abraham's
body and Sarah's womb (Rom.4:19). Despite having produced Isaac,
their faith and works were only completed by the offering up of
Isaac. Until that point, they were still effectively 'dead' in
God's sight, not being totally proven.
James goes on to show how Abraham's faith brought
works as a natural by-product: "Was not Abraham our father (another
hint at a Jewish readership) justified by works?". The phrase
"Abraham our father" looks back to Matt.3:8,9 and Jn.8:33,39,
where the Jews who said this were told to "bring forth fruits
(works) meet for repentance" and to "do the works of Abraham"
respectively. Thus James was telling his readers to do the works
of Abraham. The fact they were doing works already shows that
the real 'work' of Abraham they needed to develop was his faith.
"This is the work of God, that ye believe" (Jn.6:29), Jesus had
said. The Biblically minded would have spotted the apparently
flat contradiction between "Abraham our father (was) justified
by works" and Rom.4:2, which stresses that Abraham was not justified
by his works but by his faith (7).
Thus again the "works" which James says Abraham was justified
by were his faith and the practical outworking of it
in being prepared to offer Isaac. Abraham's "works" were that
"he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar" (v.21). Notice the
past tense of "he had offered" and that it does not say 'he bound
Isaac....'. Because of Abraham's faith that God would resurrect
Isaac on behalf of the perfect lamb sacrifice that he believed
was to come (Gen.22:5,8,14), it was reckoned to Abraham as if
he had performed the 'work' of offering Isaac even though he had
not physically performed it. Thus the Biblically minded would
be able to see from these allusions to other Scriptures that the
spiritual attribute of faith and the concept of works are almost
indivisible. This is confirmed by noting that the one act of offering
up Isaac is described as "works" in the plural- because it involved
many separate decisions of faith. And in our lives too, God may
count something to us as a completed work when we have only summoned
enough true faith to do it, and have not actually performed it
It is that faith, therefore, which
does the works. Verse 22 puts this in so many words: "Seest thou
how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made
perfect?". Note too the upward spiral initiated by having a basic
faith- faith led to works, and those works perfected the faith.
For more examples of this upward spiral, see Digression 7. The
Greek word for "wrought" is the same translated 'worker together'
in 2 Cor.6:1: "We then, as workers together with (God)". Faith
'works' alongside the physical works. The preceding verse (2 Cor.5:21)
speaks of how God is working through His gift of Christ for our
salvation through our not relying on our own works. Paul says
he is working together with God to get the believers not to "receive
the grace of God in vain" by relying on their physical works for
salvation. By having this attitude to works and faith, Abraham's
faith was "made perfect" or finished, implying that it is possible
for a man to develop a fulness of faith in something, a totality
of belief which needs no further improvement. If Abraham could
reach this dizzy height, it must certainly be within reach of
all his seed.
"The Scripture was fulfilled..."
"And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith,
Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness"
(v.23). This is quoting Gen.15:5,6, where in the moment that Abraham
looked up at the stars and believed (so Rom.4:23 implies) "So
shall thy seed be", God "counted it to him for righteousness".
God knew that Abraham's faith in those words would really be shown
when he was asked to offer Isaac, the only human means of their
fulfilment. Thus the Scripture recorded that Abraham was righteous
when this was as yet unproved by his works. However, that Scripture
was fulfilled when Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac. The point
is being made that just that kind of intense faith is as if the
works have already been done- which is exactly in line with James'
preceding reasoning. The use of the phrase "The Scripture" implies
that either there was a literal written account made of the words
of Gen.15:6 which was then validated by Abraham's offering of
Isaac (n.b. "was fulfilled", past tense), or "The Scripture"
refers to some kind of (Angelic?) record in Heaven of events in
our probations, similar to the concept of the deeds of believers
being written in a book of life. The evidence for either seems
about equal, and there is no reason why both cannot be correct.
"The scripture of truth" in Dan.10:21 appears to have been some
written record available to the Angels which they revealed to
man. "The Scripture" elsewhere in James seems to refer to the
general spirit of God's principles in dealing with man: "The Scripture
saith..The spirit that dwelleth in us.." (4:5) does not seem to
refer to any specific written scripture, and "the royal law" (i.e.
what was specifically placed on record) seems to be separate from
"the scripture" in 2:8. Similarly "the scripture" foresaw that
God would justify the heathen (Gal.3:8), and "concluded all under
sin "(Gal.3:22), hinting that "the scripture" is more than just
the written words (8).
Writing was certainly developed by Abraham's
time, and a literal written statement of Abraham's acceptance
with God being verified by his offering of Isaac is an attractive
idea. That "the scripture" which was fulfilled at the time of
the offering of Isaac (James 2:20) was something written is suggested
in Rom.4:22,23, where the fact "it was imputed to him" in Gen.15:6
"was not written for his sake alone". The fact Abraham was justified
for his faith was written for Abraham to see at some time in his
life. The point has been made (9)
that the descriptions of Sodom in Gen.10:19 (cp. Gen.14:3) imply
that Genesis 10 was written before Sodom's destruction as recorded
in Gen.19. Thus it is reasonable to suggest that Gen.15 may also
have been in written existence.
"Ye see then how that by works a man is justified,
and not by faith only" (v.24). Romans 4 stresses that works do
not justify a man, but rather a true faith that is expressed
in actions. "Faith only" must therefore refer to a holding of
true doctrine and a hope that God provides physical help, as characterized
by the healed demoniacs (2:19) and exemplified by those who asked
in prayer for things to "consume upon your lusts" (4:2,3). There
is a definite connection between "faith" as a spiritual quality
and "the faith" as the set of doctrines which the believer accepts.
It is these which produce the attribute of faith. The "works"
James is referring to are 'faith works'- i.e. works that come
as a natural corollary to faith and which include spiritual attributes
like belief in God's word.
"Likewise also (notice the favourable
juxtaposition of Rahab and Abraham) was not Rahab the harlot justified
by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them
out another way?" (v.25). The use of the word "messengers" instead
of "spies" implies that the spies came with a message which Rahab
believed. The Joshua record stresses how she knew the covenant
Name, knew and quoted the words of Moses (Josh.2:9), and had her
roof covered with flax- i.e. linen, perhaps hinting at the righteousness
already imputed to her for her faith. The message which the spies
brought was probably a call to repentance, or perhaps a statement
of the coming destruction of Jericho. Rahab's acceptance of this
message based on her knowledge of God's basic principles corresponds
to the holding of 'the faith' by the Jewish Christians. Her sending
out of the spies another way was the 'works' that came as a natural
response to her true faith. Her hiding of the spies, courageous
lying to the Jericho Gestapo or putting the cord out of the window
as a public testimony to her separation were her physical 'works'-
but these are not chosen as an example of her 'faith-works'. Her
scheming to enable the spies to safely return to Joshua by them
going out "another way" and thereby enabling the campaign against
Jericho to begin, showed her real "works". She believed their
message about the destruction of Jericho, therefore in faith she
enabled the spies to return to bring this about. Rahab was "justified...when...",
again showing that justification or faith being made perfect (v.22)
is something that can occur at a specific moment after reaching
a certain degree of faith which has been expressed in actions
(cp. Abraham looking up at the stars and believing). The implication
here in v.25 is that the moment the spies were sneaking through
the outskirts of Jericho following her directions, Rahab was justified.
"For as the body without the spirit is dead,
so faith without works is dead also" (v.26). 'Faith' is being
likened to a person, i.e. the believer in the conversation of
v.18-20 who thinks that his own faith alone will save him. "The
Spirit" is often a reference to a spiritual mind, notably in Romans.
Thus the body is equated with faith as the Spirit or spiritual
attributes are with "works".
E.g. Rom.13:14; Gal.3:27; Eph.4:24; Col.3:10; 1 Pet.5:5.
The ecclesia should therefore have the spirit of selfless love
and joy on behalf of others which is at a wedding banquet.
John Thomas' interpretation of the Kingdom of God as based on
the Greek word 'baseleia' is to be found quoted in F.T.Pearce,
'Understanding the Kingdom of God'.
Cp. Jn.15:22, which also says that the word will judge us according
to how we have obeyed that word.
Further discussion of this slow changeover from the Law will be
found in 'Jesus of Nazareth' p.87,88 (Pioneer Publications,
See John Allfree 'Demon Possession' (Bible Study Publications,
Romans being one of the early epistles was probably in circulation
among James' readers.
The apparent personality behind this phrase "the scripture" may
be a reference to the Angel who was associated with the work of
Edward Whittaker, 'For The Study And Defence Of The Holy Scripture',
p.78,79 (The Testimony, 1987).