From: A Torah Commentary on James 3-5 Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2014
Problem Texts—Verses 11-20
: Can Job really be described as “patient?” The classic King James use of “patience” in describing Job’s attitude has perplexed many later readers. Patience in the sense of “passively accepting” was certainly not present, for he was tormented and pre-occupied with the tragedies he had undergone. Present, rather, was patience in the sense that he was determined to be steadfast no matter what life threw at him to discourage him or sap his strength.
That this is the point can be seen in the introductory words to the
verse, “Indeed, we count them blessed who endure.” It is in the context of “endur[ance]” that
Job is described as patient. Hence it is
better to replace the “patience of Job” with language such as the “perseverance
of Job” (NKJV and New American Bible) . . . or his “endurance” (Holman, ISV,
[Page 463] A few retain the KJV’s
“patience” or substitute “patient” (CEV, TEV).
Yet the type of patience described--those “who endure”—argue that
this misses the intended point.
As he is pictured in the Old Testament book given his name, the last thing Job seems to be is patient. He is upset, indignant, and in inner turmoil over his fate. To the extent that he was patient, it was surely not a happy patience. He remained faithful and loyal not because it made him feel good, but because he knew it was the right thing to do.
Yet, even so, he is patient in at least two senses. Compared to others he exercised remarkable restraint. Could many of us today endure what he did without either repudiating God or--to be blunt--committing suicide? That is not a rebuke of our own character, but a grim recognition of our own limits and how far Job’s strength was tested.
Job was also patient in the sense that he never permitted the hurts and pains to destroy him. He had, if you will, the patience of spiritual stubbornness. He never denied the experiences hurt and were devastating. He was in both physical and mental anguish because of them.
Yet in spite of all the pressure his reliance on God was never ultimately broken. Patience in the sense of persistence--that was Job. Regardless of what God was doing, he had committed to loyalty and he would not betray it. An accomplishment not to be mocked by those who have endured only a fraction of he did but with sometimes far grimmer results on our own interpersonal and spiritual lives.
[Page 464] This characteristic of Job is obvious even on a superficial reading of the text. Some verses, however, hit more directly on the element of his perseverance. For example refers to how “in all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” He could not understand what was going on but he could say (perhaps, in part, in annoyance and perplexity), “ ‘Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” ().
He was convinced that even though he was beyond understanding how in the world God could be acting in this manner, that it would be utter hypocrisy on his own part to be willing to serve God only on condition of good coming his way. He had trusted God this far; he would trust Him all the way.
Not only does this refusal to verbally strike out fit in well with James’ emphasis on successful endurance of hardship, it is doubly appropriate because of the earlier stress that James laid on the control of the tongue.
If one insists upon sticking with the translation of “patience,” however—and we noted that some still retain it--one has to deal with how that specific term fits Job. We have noted some ways the expression can be expansively glossed to fit the events in a more appropriate manner, but what if we attempt to retain anything close to the narrower usage of the word?
As Robert W. Wall asks, “The Job of the Hebrew Bible (MT) is hardly an exemplar of patience nor is he usually thought of as one of ‘the prophets who spoke [Page 465] in the name of the Lord.” ” Hence some scholars argue that the Job being referred to is the Job of the Testament of Job rather than the Job of the Bible. (Wall’s own answer is the conjecture that in actuality both the Testament and James’ remark are built upon remarks found in the LXX and not in the Hebrew text.)
Two issues are involved here.
First to consider is whether Job is being presented as one of the prophets. One could take the “suffering and patience” of the “prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” of verse 10 as a generalization and verse 11 as a specification of one particular prophet, Job. Although Job might in a very loose sense be called a prophet—having set forth a defense of God’s character even when he himself was suffering—it is not a characterization one would normally expect.
That he could be presented in contrast to “the prophets” of verse 10 would make a great deal more sense: “the prophets” were persecuted because they kept loyal to God in times and places that washed their hands of Him; Job’s adversity came directly from the hands of Satan with the tacit permission of God.
If you will, the difference would be that Job suffered repression not because he was faithful to God but in spite of it. Although the result was pain and anguish in both cases, the underlying causes were still radically different.
Furthermore there is no direct statement that those in James are suffering because of their faith. It has nothing directly and visibly related to their faith. The factor could have been present, but James does not see the need to bring it to our attention the way we would expect if it had been a/the primary motivation.
[Page 466] As we saw in the last chapter, certain of the rich could easily have taken it as a “two-for:” a chance to show their contempt for both the poor and their moral character as “just” individuals. Perhaps or perhaps not for their Christian faith in particular as well, but definitely for the moral standards that governed their lives and which were spurned by the amoral and immoral wealthy.
The same distinction is true when comparing the prophets as contrasted with Job. The prophets of the Old Testament were explicitly being targeted for their faith in God and His law and their plea that others be loyal to it as well. In contrast, Job had been singled out by Satan because of his “just” character and behavior, like these first century Christians.
However one judges this particular matter, some very conservative individuals have no problem with applying the label of “prophet” to Job and since it is a subject rarely discussed, some attention should be devoted to it.
There are two external references taken to prove the point:
1. James speaks of the example of the “prophets” () and moves—allegedly as an example of a prophet—to Job in the very next verse. We have just seen some difficulties, difficulties though not necessarily prohibitive ones.
2. Then there is the way he is discussed by Ezekiel when discussing whether it would be possible to save a dying land if such men were present: Ezekiel 14:14: “ ‘Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,’ says the Lord God. 20 ‘Even though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.”
[Page 467] Daniel unquestionably was a prophet. We don’t often think of Noah as such, but the label certainly fits—as he built the ark and explained why . . . was he not foretelling the future? Indeed, 2 Peter 2:5 describes him as “a preacher of righteousness.”
In light of this, arguing that Job is intended to be described as a prophet would not be illogical. A prophet not necessarily in the sense of foretelling but in the sense of forthtelling--as in 2 Peter 2:5, “a preacher of righteousness.”
Of course the key problem is that Ezekiel avoids using the term “prophet” to describe any of them, even Daniel. That opens the door to an alternative explanation—that they are chosen not because of prophetic credentials or lack of them, but to them being exemplars of faith.
The argument for being a prophet in the narrow sense of foretelling is grounded in Job 19:25-26: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.” As one individual stresses, “Was this not a ‘prophecy’ of Christ the Messiah? Does this prophecy not constitute Job as a ‘prophet’?”
It would not seem an abuse of the wording, however, if we take it as meaning that Job would physically see either the manifestations of God acting as “Redeemer” in restoring his welfare or, perhaps, would see the angelic manifestation of God at some point.
I have no aversion to taking it as a prediction of his own ultimate physical resurrection, however—in fact I would much prefer it if that is the intent. But if we [Page 468] take it as a prophecy of the still future, isn’t it odd that this seems the only prophecy in a book that is so very long? Do we have any other example of a designated “prophet” giving so little prophecy?
In short, we seem to land up with Job being “technically” a prophet but is James really referring to “prophets” with such a narrow meaning? Though Job may well prophesy, he isn’t likely to have done enough of it for James to lump him in that category.
There is also the broad argument that since he spoke truth in contrast to his critics that he meets the criteria of being a forthteller of truth, a key role of being a prophet. In Job 42:7, God rebukes Job’s critics, “And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.”
Since his teaching is endorsed by God, we know that it must be, at the minimum, reliable and, at the maximum, that inspiration surely underlay it in some form or fashion. As Stephen Garrett puts it, “These words should settle all debate about the correctness of Job’s theology, about the truthfulness of what he said about the nature and workings of God in his dialogues with his ‘friends.’ ”
But does the role as “forthteller” of truth require us to raise him to the level of prophet as well? When we teach God’s truth, are we also automatically prophets as the result?
[Page 469] The second issue is whether Job was actually “patient.” We have already presented some arguments that he was, unconventional though the idea is from the attributes that we usually give the term. But now let us go back and consider the question from the standpoint of whether the concept came not from the form of the book we have in the Hebrew but from its Greek translation.
In the Hebrew language text of 2:9-10, Job is challenged to give up and die. His refusal to do so surely implies patience with his situation—unhappiness, of course, but determination to stay the course in spite of it. In the NKJV this reads:
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
For whatever reason, the LXX expands this considerably and it takes verses 9-15 to cover the matter--making even more emphatic that there had to be an element of “patience” buried in his stubborn loyalty for his behavior to make sense:
9 When a period of time passed, his wife said to him, “How long will you hold out, saying, 10 ‘Behold, I will wait a little longer, looking for the hope of my salvation’? 11 Listen, your memory is wiped out from the earth: your sons and daughters, the pangs and pains of my womb, which I suffered in vain and with hardships. 12 You yourself are sitting down, spending the nights in the open air among the rottenness of worms; 13 and I go about as a [Page 470] wanderer and a handmaid from place to place and from house to house, waiting for the setting of the sun, so as to rest from my labors and pains that now beset me. 14 But say a word against the Lord and die! 15 Then Job looked at her and said, “You have spoken as one of the foolish women speaks. If we accepted good things from the Lord’s hand, shall we not endure evil things?” In all these things that happened to him, Job did not sin with his lips against God. (Saint Athanasius Academy translation of the Septuagint)
The LXX brings out a point that we often forget—that what was happening with Job also affected his wife. We often pass over her in silence or with little comment. But when Job asks, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?,” presumably that plural “we” allowed the Septuagint to do a little editorializing—unless the text actually be more accurate here than the Hebrew—and express the suffering that Job’s wife was going through and which she felt would somehow be over with if her husband died. Just as with Job, both had accepted “good from God” and now both should “accept adversity” for however long it lasted.
The element of patience is brought out more firmly than in the Hebrew: “I will wait a little longer, looking for the hope of my salvation.” The NETS rendition of the text puts it a little more colloquially but with the same overtone of patience: “Look, I will hang on a little longer, while I wait for the hope of my deliverance.”
Hence it seems clear that the Septuagint presents Job’s attitude in terms of patience and James could well be picking up on the concept from that source.
[Page 471] The non-Biblical work called the Testament of Job (26:5) makes it explicit, “Let us be patient until the Lord, in pity, shows us mercy.” In it he declares that “patience is better than anything” (27:6-7). James may have been acquainted with this source, assuming it was in existence at the time. (Dates for its origin range from 100 B.C. to 200 A.D.)
The picture of Job as “patient,” however, is far more likely to have originated either from the rendering of the LXX or from the logical deduction from the Hebrew that if he persisted as long as he did, he must have been “patient.” Hence the explanation of the imagery requires no borrowing from a non-Biblical source, fascinating as such references can be.
: “The end [ATP: end result] intended by the Lord.” The “end” is the result or conclusion intended by the Lord. In the case of Job that is under discussion, the “end” consisted of the blessing of renewed prosperity and joy that Job obtained after his sufferings were concluded. “God did not want Job destroyed. God was looking for Job to pass the test.”
The rendering “end” (KJV) or “purpose of the Lord” (NRSV) has been utilized to prove that the final “end” = triumph of Jesus over death is under discussion instead of Job. This seems far less likely. Medieval commentators felt understandably drawn to this interpretation because it is admittedly odd that Job should be cited as an example of endurance or patience and the even greater and more immediate example of Jesus be omitted.
[Page 472] On the other hand, the lead in to this comment (verses 1-9) has emphasized the illegitimate obtaining and use of wealth and how the prophets had rebuked it (verse 10). In the context of earthly wealth, the example of Job fits beautifully because he was an example of the proper use of wealth yet was one who went through great loss and torment--and yet came out of it re-established in his well being due to his moral steadfastness. In contrast Jesus could hardly be cited as an example of one who had great wealth (cf. Matthew ).
: No swearing. The Ten Commandments had warned against recklessly invoking the name of God “in vain” (Exodus 20:7)—a warning that surely included oaths but was written so broadly that it condemned the improper invoking of the Divine name in regard to other matters as well. The prolifigate use of God’s name to back up every pledge and promise guaranteed that the name of Deity would sooner or later be used “in vain,” i.e., recklessly, as a lie, as part of a distortion (cf. Matthew 23:16-22), or as empty words. Such chronic invocation of the Divine Name was widespread in the first century.
The minimal interpretation that can be placed upon James is that any and all such oaths that are of these types must be shunned. It should be noted that James does not mention the question of the propriety of legal oaths. This should not be surprising since he is targeting normal everyday life--what most people do on most occasions and in most places, rather than those situations (court appearances) that are rare and uncommon. Strangely it is these oaths that are usually the primary or exclusive subject of discussion when this text is introduced at all.
[Page 473] The “above all . . . do not swear” is not an elevation of the teaching to the status of supreme law of Christian behavior. Rather it is a continuation of the thought of maintaining patience (James 5:7-11): “above all” in your effort to faithfully persevere in spite of adversity, don’t let the pressures you are under and the impatience you feel cause you to say things you ought not.
This could come in several forms. For example idle, unthinking oaths (promises) to God that if He will just do such and such then you will be “forever faithful.” It’s a fine sentiment but not if one does not fully mean it; then they are idle words. Is it desperation speaking or sincerity?
Then “swearing” could mean oaths of revenge. “I will get even.” A fully understandable sentiment, however much it falls beneath the New Testament ideal. But just how do you propose doing that without getting yourself into even worst trouble than you are already undergoing? And if others have heard you, how will you escape humiliation if you don’t carry out the threat—but if you do act on your verbal rashness how can it possibly make the situation better? You have merely compounded the sin of others in making your life difficult or miserable by your own additional sin.
Taking this one step further. Especially in the 50s and 60s of the first
century, sporadic “bandit” and even revolutionary groups exploded into the
regional spotlight in geographic
[Page 474] Yes, the rich often deserved it. But what did the “rebels” deserve when judged for their own failures? It was hardly a “career path” that encouraged idealism, restraint, and self-control! And to make it worse, these were rarely “Robin Hoods” who would carefully pass by the goods of the poor if the takings were otherwise slim.
Although it is common to stress that the text is not actually talking about our modern use of the terms “swear” and “oath” as off-color, vulgar, and even obscene language . . . that seems to be only partially true. The invoking of God’s or Christ’s name for any worthless purpose seems core to his direct point.
Does any one believe for a second that when faced with a cruel oppressor, that even retaliatory oaths avoided describing the enemy in such language? Especially “throw away lines” like “I’ll be [fill in the obscenity] if I don’t [fill in the blank] to that old [fill in the blank].” Does not the very nature of such spontaneous oaths / imprecations virtually demand the worst insult we can think of? Invoking our sexuality, our digestive wastes, or the worst other derogatory language we can imagine?
Yet if James would clearly have rebuked such language even in the severe context of genuine physical oppression—the whole thrust of his argument is for self-control—how much more upset he would surely have been if the language was used as today: idle chatter not even provoked by gut animosity but simply because our vulgar spouting friends expect it of us or because we’ve had too much to drink? So such usage does, indeed, seem to be covered by the passage—but at the edges of its application rather than as its main point.
. In other words we drift back to what was suggested in our overview chapter, that the thrust has comparatively little to do with legal style (i.e., court) oaths of truth telling and everything to do with the abusive use of the tongue in any setting. [Page 475] It is (though not intentionally) reflected in that second half of the twentieth century truism advising people to adhere to the KISS principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid! And “Yes, yes” / “No, no” are as concisely “simple,” direct, to the point, and clear cut as anyone can make it.
As to oaths representing solemn affirmations of truth being under consideration, rather than just the empty (or threatening) rhetoric that James condemns, these still do not fall into the type of language James rebukes. This can be seen in the New Testament usage of de facto oaths to guarantee the truthfulness of what is said and these are presented as occurring in different verbal formulas:
When Caiaphas commanded him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63) then Jesus answered and said, “Yes, it is as you say.” And in His speaking, and in the letters of the apostle Paul to those who were quite outside the Jewish constituency, they both employed emphatic statements which went far beyond a simple yes or no. Think of the words of Jesus, “Verily verily I say unto you” or “I tell you the truth” (compare Matthew ) and how often did the Lord use the word “amen.”
Then the apostle will summon God as his witness and will place himself before the face of God: “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie” (Galatians ), and, “I call God as my witness” (2 Corinthians1:23).
[Page 476] We even read of an angel in Revelation 10 verses 5 to 7 who with uplifted hand, swore an oath to God. So we take those references and we conclude that whatever James is saying he is not teaching that every swearing of an oath is prohibited.
In the Old Testament, not unexpectedly, we find a variety of oaths or oath equivalents. The New Testament continuation of such practices argues strongly that neither Jesus’ nor James’ admonitions about oaths were intended to prohibit ones of this type.
Double “yes” and double “no” as an oath or oath equivalent? Let us see how this would work, if embraced. James 5:12 has it, “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your ‘Yes,’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment.” This has often been viewed as prohibiting all oaths, but could not the impact be equally fairly glossed “but let your only oath” be the yes or no—or, at most, a double yes or a double no?
Jesus’ own command would then similarly amount to don’t swear at all “except by your ‘yes’ or ‘no.” There was certainly a strain in Jewish thought that considered a double yes or no as an oath—or at least as the effective equivalent of one, though others clearly affirmed that saying it only once was quite adequate,
This [double affirmative / negative] opinion is supported by the Rabbinic tractate Shebouth 36a which discusses the question whether Yes and No are oaths and finally decides that if they are repeated twice, then they [Page 477] are legitimate oaths: “R. Eleazar said, ‘No’ is an oath; ‘Yes’ is an oath . . . Said Raba: But only if he said ‘No! No!’ twice; or he said ‘Yes! Yes!’ twice.” Furthermore in the Mechilta 66a on Exodus 20:1-2 the Israelites swear an oath in response to their reception of the commandments, “The Israelites answered, ‘yea, yea’ and ‘nay, nay’ to the commands at Sinai.
Even more direct due to its (theoretical) early origin of no later than 70 A.D. is 2 Enoch (Slavonic Enoch) 49:1,
I swear to you, my children, but I swear not by any oath, neither by heaven nor by earth, nor by any other creature, which God created. The Lord said: “There is no oath in me, nor injustice, but truth.’ If there is no truth in men, let them swear by the words ‘yea, yea’ or else ‘nay, nay.’ ”
Multiple problems occur here: the text is only found in the longer version of Second Enoch; there are multiple indications of Christianized text; the surviving manuscripts, unfortunately, are from no earlier than the 16th century.
It should also be noted that if this approach is taken, then we have the oaths under consideration as clearly including court ones. Yet more would still be included because binding oaths were taken in many other social contexts as well. Hence the application would still only include court oaths rather than it being the sole topic of consideration.
[Page 478] : The nature of Christian hymns. “Is anyone cheerful?” enquiries James. “Let him sing psalms.” “The ‘continually’ in the New Living Translation rendering reflects the present tense of the verb psalleto, which often adds the nuance of a continual or repeated action. Giving praise to God, like our petitions for sustenance in times of trouble (proseuchestho, ‘pray,’ is also present tense), should be a regular part of our lifestyle.”
James may be referring to usage of the book of Psalms in particular since an ethnic Jew would doubtlessly utilize many of them because of their familiarity and obvious applicability. In Ephesians where “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” are referred to as if distinct, this would certainly be the case.
Standing alone, by itself, however, it could be interpreted in either an exclusive or an illustrative sense, i.e., Psalms only or as an example of the type of material to be utilized in Christian singing:
(1) “Psalms” as synonymous with the Biblical psalms and them alone. In its more extreme application, the singing of anything else is viewed as a heretical development. After surveying the use of psalms in the New Testament record, J. Kortering argues
This same tradition was carried over to the post-apostolic period of the early church. Dr. Phillip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, makes the point that during this period there were no hymns in the church, [Page 479] only Psalms. Drawing from the excellent article on Psalmody from the McClintock and Strong Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Cyclopaedia, we learn that Chrysostom, the church father of the fourth century, in his sixth homily on Repentance, extolled the Psalms above the rest of Scripture to be sung by all classes of men, at all places, and on all occasions.
During this same period, the heretics
introduced the singing of hymns into the churches. The Gnostics, the Arians,
and the Donatists all began to introduce songs other than the Psalms. This led
to the decision of the Council of
He concedes that hymns have, indeed, been of great spiritual benefit to believers. He argues, however, that such should be confined to home or school use and worship singing be limited to the Psalms. However, James speaks of, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” This does not sound like worship usage, it sounds like private, non-worship actions are under consideration. If the worship was limited to Psalms would not this text require all private singing be limited to such as well since that is the clearly implied “social setting”?
Either way, this would leave us with the problem of why Paul—in both Ephesians and Colossians —refers to “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” as if three different categories of composition are under consideration. Although one might attempt to shoe-horn “hymns” and “spiritual songs” into categories or types of psalms, that would seem to be theory driven interpretation rather than text driven.
[Page 480] But, of course, not all agree. Kortering provides this analysis of how Psalms “only” and Psalms “plus” advocates have made distinctions between the three expressions,
First, there are those who teach that three different subjects are intended (the view of Jerome and other church fathers): Psalms deal with subjects of an ethical nature; hymns deal with the subject of God's divine majesty; spiritual songs are concerned with nature and the world.
Others suggest that three different forms are intended (the view of Augustine and Hilary): Psalms are to be chanted with music; hymns are for the voice alone; and spiritual songs are to be shouted with short bursts.
Finally, there are those who suggest that three different sources are intended (the view of Beza and Grotius): Psalms are Old Testament collections; hymns are collections of various songs such as Song of Mary and Song of Zacharias; and spiritual songs are premeditated compositions prepared for singing.
Kortering himself take the three terms to simply mean the Psalms themselves and takes the second and third descriptions given by Paul as categories within it, “It is generally understood that ‘Psalms’ is the broadest category and are reflective, expressing God's greatness and our response; ‘hymns’ lift up the souls of God's people in praise to Him; ‘spiritual songs’ articulate what God means to us in all areas of our lives.”
[Page 481] Although the Psalms, from a conservative perspective, are properly viewed as Christ-prophetic we still only grasp their full intent from their New Testament fulfillment. If singing is limited to Biblical Psalms alone, how can the full abundance of Christ’s greatness be celebrated when the Psalms could only partially touch what we now know to be the fuller reality?
(2) “Psalms” as intended to cover any appropriate song of encouragement. Presumably this understanding led to the broader translation of the wording in a clear majority of modern translations. The BBE substitutes in James the singular “song of praise,” while the NIV and NRSV select the plural “songs of praise.” The ASV, NAB, NASB render it “sing praise” and the CEV, NLT, TEV shifts it to the plural “sing praises.”
The Nature of the “Singing:”
With or Without Instrumental Music?
The Greek term for “sing Psalms” is psallo, rendered (in the KJV) “sing unto thy name” (Romans ), “I will sing with the understanding” (1 Corinthians ), and “making melody in your heart” in Ephesians . Thayer’s Lexicon defines psallo in the Septuagint as “to sing to the music of the harp; in the New Testament to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song” and gives James as the first citation of that usage. Note the broadening of usage between the time of the LXX and later.
Patrick J. Hartin, an able Roman Catholic commentator, has provided this useful medium length analysis of the history of the word and its shifteing meaning:
This verb means “to sing songs of praise,
with or without instrumental accompaniment” (Walter Bauer, A Greek-English
Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd
As time went on the connection with a musical instrument diminished and the word was used to designate the human voice or human heart that sings praise to God without any accompaniment (e.g., “I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise [psallo] with the spirit, but I will sing praise [psallo] with the mind also” [1 Corinthians 14:15] and “as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, among yourselves, singing and making melody [psallontes] to the Lord in your hearts” [Ephesians 5:19]).
The terminology has often gotten wrapped into the controversy about the propriety of using instrumental music in the worship of believers, with the contention being that the New Testament carries over its Old Testament connotation of instrumental accompaniment. Of course that has always carried the inherent difficulty that if everyone is to psallo then, logically, everyone must also be using a harp or other musical instrument while doing so.
[Page 483] However, one resolves that in regard to congregational worship, here the emphasis is on the individual outside the worship service. The one who is to “sing” because he is in an upbeat and happy mood—not because he or she is at worship.
Do we really believe that all Christians were to use an instrument in these private moments of happiness? Do we really believe that all Christians—even most--could do so? Most today don’t play instruments after all.
Not to mention that their ancient economic limitations likely hindered gaining such equipment and talents as well.
Unless we give different meanings to psallo in its alleged congregational usage and its “private” settings (and for what reason?), this “carry over” seems essential or deducing instrumental usage from being inherent in the word needs to be abandoned.
However one resolves that dilemma, this much should be inescapable: one thing that all individuals had was a voice. It might not be a “good” voice, but any voice was quite adequate to do what James instructs. In clear contrast, not all would have instruments.
The word “praise” that is utilized inherently describes something expressing joy. Hence Christian hymnology was to be happy, uplifting, and represent the natural expression of a heart that is in a cheerful and upbeat mood—or wishes to be. In the case of Paul and Silas singing songs during their imprisonment after being beaten (Acts ), they are probably songs to encourage themselves to look toward the better future. They are not singing because they are currently cheerful, but as a means to make themselves upbeat and optimistic at a time when the natural instinct is the opposite.
[Page 484] Although there is certainly nothing wrong with “serious” and even “somber” songs--in some cases the subject matter of the songs requires such an approach--uplifting and upbeat hymns are not only appropriate but essential as well. This is a central abiding lesson from James’ teaching on the subject.
-15: The nature of the anointing of oil. These verses refer to an anointing that is to be carried out “in the name of the Lord” (verse 14). The pivot of the phrase is the word “Lord:” the Lord (Jesus) lies behind what is to be done and is the power that assures its success.
But what, then, is the meaning of the entire phrase “in the name of the Lord”? We use the phrase “in the name of the law,” which we understand to mean “by the authority of the law.” That is the concept here as well: the sick are anointed because Jesus has provided authority to do so and they will be healed because He has promised the healing.
The “name of the Lord” may even be invoked verbally during the anointing to remind the sick person and the participants of whose strength and authority lies behind what is being done. Although verbalization of the expression is not demanded (any more than in the prayer mentioned in verse 16) it would be a quite natural action.
What is being promised to the person being anointed and why is it needed? Although this can easily lead one into many related issues we will attempt to keep the discussion relatively limited. Some aspects of what we discuss will be referred to more than once since it will logically and properly fit under more than one of our divisions of the subject.
Some make the person as suffering from world-weariness, psychological / spiritual exhaustion—perhaps even physical manifestations from non-physical roots. This would certainly explain the add on, closing remark of James: “if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (). However exhausted he might be, genuine personal sin might well be lacking. (A certain personality type seems predisposed to burden themselves with excess burdens and guilt far out of proportion to anything ever done.)
J. O. Hosler outlines the case for this being under discussion:
The heart of the problem lies in just what James meant when he referred to the “sick.” Actually there is no reason to consider “sick” as referring exclusively to physical illness.
a. The word asthenei literally means “to be weak.” Though it is used in the Gospels for physical maladies, it is generally used in Acts and the Epistles to refer to a weak faith or a weak conscience (cf. Acts ; Rom. ; 14:1; 1 Cor. 8:9-12).
b. That it should be considered “weak” in this verse is clear in that another Greek word (kamnonta) in James , translated “sick person,” literally means “to be weary.”
i. The only other use in the New Testament (Heb. 12:3) of that word clearly emphasizes this same meaning.
c. James was not referring to the bedfast, the diseased, or the ill. Instead he wrote to those who had grown weary, who had become weak both morally and spiritually in the midst of suffering.
i. These are the ones who “should call” for the help of “the elders of the church.” The early church leaders were instructed (1 Thessalonians ) to “encourage the timid” and “help the weak” (asthenon).
This would also tie in perfectly with the spiritual illness concept that can reasonably be found in verse 16: “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” “The reader does not have to search for some shift to make sense of the verses, but rather they complement each other,” argues Edwin Crozier. He also notes that the recurring theme from early in the first chapter (-15) to the closing () is escaping the danger of spiritual death. Hence it fits both the immediate context and the book wide one as well.
In this approach, the anointing with oil is simply to prepare the individual to go about his or her daily business. To the extent it has a symbolic function at all it is to tell the person that God will provide them the strength and encouragement they need and that they can release the psychological / spiritual burden they have been carrying.
One of the biggest problems with this approach is that it far better fits the modern world than the ancient: We have the “luxury” of being sick psychologically far more than the vast bulk of ancients. They had to get up and be about their daily business except in the most extreme cases—or they would starve.
It should also be noted that a person who has suffered a significant bout of [Page 487] physical illness will often have this “depressed / discouraged” mind frame as well. Though the terminology may well fit the spiritually weary, it also fits well those suffering from the psychological fatigue that goes with significant or prolonged physical difficulties as well.
A major interpretive problem also seems present in regard to why oil would be involved in a purely spiritual affair. Appeal is made to Jeremiah 30:12-17 (“healing medicines,” [30:13]) and how sin is presented in disease terms; in “her” case there was no one to aid her (30:14), while with Christians there are those who will do so. It is that intervention—describing a spiritual matter in physical terms—that is said to be under discussion in James 5.
In Jeremiah 30 the sin element in the description is crystal clear: The text refers to “the multitude of your iniquities” and how “your sins have increased” (30:14), descriptive terms that are repeated in verse 15. In James 5, the presence of sin is only a possibility rather than a certainty: “if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
Some believe that the text promises a miracle. We read of the apostles’ traveling and preaching the message of Jesus during His ministry, “And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them” (Mark ). In this case, the healing that accompanies the anointing is clearly intended as miraculous and it is the closest verbal and conceptual parallel we have to the James text in the remainder of the New Testament.
[Page 488] Yet in James the “elders” are to be called--not the apostles or a man (or woman) who might possess the gift of healing. It is not to a recognized miracle worker they are to go to, but to the “elders” of the local congregation. To those with leadership . . . the leadership responsibility. Unless one is to assume that all “elders” were automatically possessors of such a supernatural gift (and there are no Biblical grounds for doing so), there is no proof that a miraculous manifestation was expected.
Indeed in 1 Corinthians Paul distinguishes between those who have authoritative positions in the church and those who have a miracle working capacity. Not that the two might not occasionally go together, but that such would be the exception and not the rule.
Wayne Jackson finds it most unusual if the healing gift were not present, however, arguing that, “It would be most natural that the elders of local churches would be those who were granted the gift in their respective congregations. Ephesians 4:8-11 clearly indicates that some ‘pastors’ (i.e., elders) were given spiritual gifts.” But can that reasonably be considered a uniform or even normal pattern in the brotherhood at large: by his own admission the text speaks of what “some” would have rather than “all” or “most”—of elders or any other subgrouping within the congregation.
Actually, I think this is a far more generous concession than is actually appropriate. Read the entire text for yourself: In the passage, is not the “gift” that of the office itself rather than a miracle working power?
Embracing the miraculous interpretation of the healing, that would still leave three further questions to be resolved.
[Page 489] First, healing is presenting as if an assured result of the anointing and laying on of hands. The text seems to leave no way out of this: “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James ). True, “will” language is used of both the healing and the forgiveness. It is absolutely assured. But the forgiveness is conditional because it will occur only “if” he has committed sin. No condition is stated in regard to the healing at all.
Hence if this practice is one that continues today, how is there any room for any failures? But it is obvious that many undergo what is claimed to be the same “ritual” today—and nothing like this happens.
We have stressed, as James 5 does, that the anointing was by the local elders. Elders may or may not have had miraculous powers. There is no reason to assume it was common among them since the evidence for it (see above on Ephesians 4:8-11) is far from convincing.
But, unlike elders, the apostles clearly had the miracle working
power which is assumed to be operative in James 5. We read, for example, of how they “preached
everywhere” and were “confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark
; cf. verse 18). We know the apostle Paul worked miracles in a
number of places: in Iconium (Acts
14:3), in Thessalonica (“our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also
in power,” [1 Thessalonians 1:5]), in
In light of having the miracle working power and in light of how such was connected with anointing with oil (allegedly) in James 5, we would naturally expect that Paul would heal in a similar manner. There is no hint of such. Nor in that of the apostolic community in Mark 16.
[Page 490] As David Reagan argues, “He gave a medical prescription to Timothy (1 Timothy ). He often kept Luke the physician close to him (2 Timothy ). And, he had to leave Trophimus at Miletum sick (2 Timothy ). If Paul had to ability to heal by anointing with oil, why did he not do so?” He argues from this and other factors that the anointing/healing combination was something unique for Jewish-Christians and reflects their societal background and expectations and was never intended for Gentiles.
Although the epistle is written to Jewish Christians, they were “scattered abroad” (James 1:1), i.e., it was written to all such individuals scattered around the Roman world. Hence the teaching coming in contact with Gentile believers was inevitable. Since there is no textual indication that it is the “Jewish” part rather than the “Christian” one that is the dominant element, wouldn’t both groups have interpreted it as equally applicable to themselves? Especially since the themes of the abuse by the wealth, favoritism for the rich, and injustice to laborers were “world wide” themes and not just meaningful in a purely Jewish context.
Hence Paul’s case argues that not all the sick were healed and, if they weren’t, can we safely interject such an absolutist position into the meaning of James 5?
Second, there is the question of why an anointing was necessary if the healing was going to be miraculous to begin with. Although the New Testament contains many accounts of miraculous cures in the gospels, only Mark 6:1 mentions any anointing occurring in any way connected with such. Hence it would be far easier to explain James 5 as a miracle than to explain why an anointing would be mentioned in connection with it.
[Page 491] Its usage in a “natural,” every day health context or recuperation would be a different matter. But then you’d have the anointing—but no miracle, giving up the assumption that miraculous intervention has occurred.
It’s been suggested that an anointing was a symbolic way of showing God’s approval and acceptance of an individual. The examples of both king Saul (1 Samuel 10:1) and David (Psalms 89:20) have been cited as evidence. First came the anointing and then the office.
Reasoning from such precedent would presumably give us something like this: The anointing would be a visible affirmation that God was not against us but acting on our behalf. The miracle of healing would be a visible proof of that.
Yet there still seems to be a profound difference between being anointed as part of taking an official office and anointing as a preliminary for healing. Do we really feel comfortable in equating an anointing given to very, very few--as preliminary for holding the unique office of king--and that given presumably to many and leading to their healing? Indeed isn’t the result (office holding versus healing) so profoundly different, that it seems a “stretch” to make the comparison?
Finally, there is the issue of whether such anointings and healings are relevant to today’s church practice. If one believes that miracles are still being performed today, then this text would provide an obvious precedent for a combination of anointing and miracle in our world. If one argues that the age of [Page 492] miracles has ended—and 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 does point to an expectation that they would—then the question would be the timing beyond which miracle producing anointments would no longer occur.
Although commonly interpreted as a reference to miracles ending when Jesus returns, everything after that event is clearly miraculous: the return itself, the physical resurrection, eternal life, etc. Hence it must refer to something that occurs in the current world before that terminus event. The completion of the New Testament would seem the most logical—probably the only logical—“break point” in such a reconstruction.
Taking the miraculous interpretation would still rule out all ceremonial and non-miracle anticipating usage. For example, that of the Roman Catholic Church’s “extreme unction.”
Another approach to the exegesis of the text is to see the anointing as a practical act to assist in the physical healing. It has been contended that we do not have here the normal word for a ritual anointing. Instead of that we have is aleipsantes, which properly means to smear or daub a substance on another.
Scot McKnight notes that there is an element of formality and ceremony to the usage of the term that should be taken into consideration in deciding what James is driving at:
Anointing . . . was sometimes done as an action of consecrating, dedicating, or purifying—it is not always clear which—an object, as when Jacob anointed a pillar (Genesis 31:13), Ezekiel anointed a wall (Ezekiel 13:10-12), Ruth washed her body (Ruth 3:3; cf. Esther 2:12; Judith 16:7), or David did the same to his body (2 Samuel 12:20; cf. also 2 Chronicles 28:15; Matthew 6:17). It was also done in consecrating a person to service (Exodus 40:15; Numbers 3:3. . . . And dead bodies were anointed (Mark 16:1).
Be that as it may, the two testaments certainly provide adequate precedent for the use of oil to help in natural healing or curing as well. We read of the good Samaritan using oil to help heal the injured traveler in Luke 10:34: “So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”
In Isaiah 1:6 we find Old Testament precedent for such usage as well: “From the sole of the foot even to the head,
there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they
have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment.” The KJV puts
“oil” as a marginal note and it is the main text reading in the BBE, CEV, JPS,
Outside the Biblical context, the preeminent early physician Galen spoke of oil as “the best of all remedies for paralysis.” Both Philo and Pliny and various ancient papyri texts also refer to the medical use of oil.
James R. Strange provides a useful summary of the specific location of these and other ancient sources related to the subject (and we include them in case the reader should wish to pursue them further):
Among texts predating and roughly contemporary to James, the most commonly cited are the use of oil to treat a festering leg wound in Menander, Georg. 60;’
Pliny’s treatment of various oils in Nat. 23.39-50;
Hippocrates, Vict. (= RegimenA) II, 6 (DC);
Philo’s praise of the benefits of simple olive oil over costlier unguents in Somn. 2.58;
Josephus’s account of the desperate and apparently extreme prescription that Herod Antipas immerse himself in an oil bath in A.J. 17.172/B.J. 1.657;
Celsus’s prescription of anointing after inducing vomiting in De Med. 4.26.4-5;
Galen’s praise of oil’s ability to cure paralysis in Med. Temp. 2.10 (DC);
the use of salted oil to treat illness in T. Sol. 18.34;
the quest for “the oil of life” to treat the dying Adam in L.A.E. 36.2 (= ApMos 9.3) and 40.1-41.2 (ApMos 13.1-2);
and the priestly anointing of the sick with a consecrated mixture of oil and “the waters” in T. Adam 1.7.
Against the natural healing interpretation being all that is involved, is the obvious objection: Why specify elders; why couldn’t anyone else have done it? On the other hand the act—coming from elders—could be construed as a kind of ceremonial consecration / purification preparing the body for healing rather than being viewed by the participants as having anything directly causative of the cure.
[Page 495] Those intervening to assist you are not merely your neighbors. Not merely your friends. But the leaders of the congregation, the most important members of the group—showing that their best wishes, prayers, and assistance are there to help you as you recuperate. You do not stand alone.
Others see the anointing of oil as a ritual. In a secular context, Samuel anointed Saul as part of the proclamation of him as king (1 Samuel 10:1). Elisha did the same in a much later generation (2 Kings 9:1-6). In a religious context, Aaron’s appointment included such a ceremony (Exodus 29:7). In these types of situations, it was an outward act to symbolize to both recipient and audience the seriousness and importance of what was being done. Presumably that idea is also present in the anointing James has under consideration.
In a context of healing, the anointing is viewed as symbolic of the anticipated removal of disease: just as the physical anointing of oil was utilized as part of every day medicine to help the person get well, this anointing was intended to point the mind of the sick person to a similar confidence in getting well. This might be called the “minimalist” ritual interpretation. In its most elaborately developed form--in the Catholic Church--the idea has led to “extreme unction” for the dying.
Either version should be approached with the greatest caution for James very conspicuously does not use the language normally associated with ritual behavior. As Charles R. Swindoll presents the case:
The Greek language has two words that apply to the customary use of oil in the ancient world, aleipho and chiro. The latter most commonly refers to the ceremonial anointing used to signify God’s special blessing upon someone. For instance, the word “Christ,” which means “anointed one,” comes from chiro.
James could have chosen this term but he elected to use aleipho. This particular term has more to do with the pragmatic, therapeutic use of oil, such as rubbing or massaging with it for medicinal purposes. Various herbs and extracts were added to olive oil in ancient times. The mixture was applied to the body to aid with a number of afflictions.
The case for the Roman Catholic approach is rooted in the assertion of the
substantial identity of what James is here recommending with the sacrament
of Anointing of the Sick in the Church: the distinction from mere charist-matic healing (1 Corinthians 12:9, 28, 30), as evinced by the cultic role of the
presbyteroi; the anointing with olive oil; the invoking of the name of the
Lord and the prayer of faith; the ensuing recovery and forgiveness of sins.
The evaluation of the power of these similarities will obviously depend upon one’s opinion of the inherent authority of the institutional church (assuming it has any) and the degree of permissible elaboration of what appears to be a very simple “ritual” into something far more complex as to intent and benefit. Describing it as “the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick” stresses the possibility of recovery and is, effectively, a partial attempt to “delink” the rite with its traditional Roman Catholic usage—preparation for dying.
[Page 497] For better or worse, in actual practice the ritual has become irrevocably linked in the public mind as a preparation for death. Admittedly, there has been a determined effort to shift the perception away from a strict “last rites” connotation, but it has far from supplanted the traditional understanding. In contrast, the anointing James advocates does not even hint at the possibility of death but only of a recovery (James )
Furthermore our text explicitly tells us that it is “the prayer of faith [that] will save the sick” (); it is no ritual, miraculous, or other power in the oil itself nor in the position or office of the person doing the anointing. Nor in the Church, for that matter. The power is in the faith and not the “ritual.”
In the Roman Catholic version of the ritual (and probably the bulk of others), it is not just oil that is used—it is blessed oil. Certain preset prayers are given over the oil to set it apart for the special use that is about to occur. This element is totally alien to James 5. The terminology is “pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (). It is not “pray over the oil,” i.e., to make it ceremonially consecrated.
The promise in is that “the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” Now if the “salvation” promised—as in the traditional (and now downplayed form of) Extreme Unction—is forgiveness of sin, then would not the “raise him up” reference have to be a promise of the physical resurrection? Without Extreme Unction there would be no resurrection? I think virtually everyone would hesitate about taking the text this way, but does not a spiritual salvation interpretation require it—for consistency of concept / usage throughout the verse?
[Page 498] However if the “raise him up” refers to being raised up from the sick bed (as in Mark and Acts 3:7 for example), then the “salvation” promised would most naturally mean salvation/redemption from the illness that has endangered one. Indeed, since that is the traditional New Testament usage, we would most naturally assume that a similar connotation is intended here. Furthermore salvation language is documented as being applied to physical healing by at least one first century Jewish source, the Egyptian philosopher Philo.
What else does the oil represent (if anything) beyond the physical item itself? The oil is commonly viewed as having the symbolic role as representative of Divine power or the eschatological, but this has no roots in the text itself. It is a grafting onto the passage of a symbolism to explain the ritual’s importance and significance and to enhance the respect to be given to the procedure.
It unquestionably is a quite old
usage, however. Cyril of
Wayne A. Grudem defends the oil being representative of the Holy Spirit in this way, “The anointing with oil in James 5:14 should be understood as a symbol of the power of the Holy Spirit, not simply as medicinal, because oil would not be appropriate as a medicine for all diseases.” No, but it would be appropriate for any [Page 499] first century Jew preparing himself to go out and resume normal daily affairs: A step that would manifest confidence that he or she would now be able to do so.
More significant, perhaps, is Grudem’s next argument, “Moreover, if its use were just medicinal, it is hard to see why only the elders should apply it.” The initiative in the text is on the side of the sick person, “Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” If you are going to call for someone “from church” who more appropriate than the leadership? And if they are there already, who more appropriate to do something symbolic or helpful to your recovery? The Good Samaritan acted because he was present; the elders act because they are present.
Furthermore if the deduction that “only the elders should apply it” rules out a medicinal purpose (or the resumption of daily activities scenario suggested above), would not the reference to prayer mean that only the elders could pray for him? That only their prayers would do any good? If that leads one down a clearly inappropriate path, might not the initial argument itself be ill considered?
Most relevant are Grudem’s proposed proof texts, “Oil is frequently a symbol of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (see Exodus 29:7; 1 Samuel ; cf. Psalms 45:7), and this seems to be the case here as well.”
Let us examine these passages:
Exodus 29:7: “And you shall take the anointing oil, pour it on his head, and anoint him.” And exactly what proves this is symbolic of the Holy Spirit?
1 Samuel 16:13: “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah.”
Here the Holy Spirit is mentioned but the presence of the Spirit is distinguished from the anointing. If there is a linkage at all, would it not be that the anointing was to symbolize that he was about to literally receive the Spirit? The Spirit’s involvement was definitely not merely symbolic and was not equated with the anointing itself.
Psalms 45:7: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
Here the oil is symbolic of happiness (“gladness”) not the Holy Spirit. A symbolic use—but not of anything supernatural. This precedent might be relevant in James 5 because the sick person’s confidence that he was about to resume his daily affairs would cause it to be regarded as an “oil of gladness,” laying the preparation for him to do so.
This brief collection of texts may be conclusive to some of the Holy Spirit = anointing with oil scenario, but my personal judgment is that they fall badly short of raising the interpretation from conjectural to probable. God gave the Spirit—probably better: gave gifts (plural) of the Spirit since they varied from individual to individual. (At least in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 12:7-12.)
[Page 501] We have no better luck when consulting the list of texts provided by Charles C. Odem. All omit the vital linkage being attempted to be proved, that the gift of the Spirit was via the anointing with oil. There is a link only in the case of 1 Samuel 16:13, which we examined above. We have already noted that even that doesn’t make the “equating linkage” that is sought. He apparently assumes the connection in all the other passages as well.
To return to the act of anointing itself, yet others see it as a constructive substitution for unchristian healing activities. In particular it was “to keep the Christians from restoring to heathenish incantations and superstitious practices (cf. Acts ).” Early Christians had no bias against the use of physicians: Luke is called the good physician (Colossians ) and the home remedy of wine for stomach upset (1 Timothy ) is recommended by Paul. Hence the course recommended in James 5 may assume that the illness under consideration was not one likely to answer to a normal healing regimen.
Whether preserving Christians from unbelieving “quack cures” is the intent is far more speculative. It could well be the result, but does that make it the original intention—especially the sole original intent?
Finally, there is the approach that takes the anointing to be a preparation for once again beginning one’s regular daily activities. It was an act of confidence that the restored health had been / was being granted and now it was mainly a matter of getting up, resting, and preparing to return to normal daily life.
[Page 502] This approach would fit well with what we know about the use of oil in Jewish society. The application of it was part of one’s regular everyday activity. For example, it could be used on the hair: “let your head lack no oil” (Ecclesiastes 9:8). Think of it as a kind of ancient equivalent of hair tonic.
It was used on the face and body for cleanliness, ointment,
cosmetically, or simply because it felt good.
As such, it was routinely used after a bath: “So David arose from the ground, washed and
anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the
Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his
own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate” (2
Its use was part of making a good impression: “Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking” (Ruth 3:3). It does not specifically mention “oil,” but what else would it be? (Some, interpreting rather than translating the text, specify “perfume,” but the poverty of Ruth was hardly likely to have allowed for anything beyond normal inexpensive ointments.)
Furthermore access to such was counted a Divine blessing and if you didn’t use it there could easily be an implication you were not being blessed by God. “[God gives] wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man's heart” (Psalms 104:15). Indeed, the inability to have oil to put on oneself was threatened by God as a punishment (Deuteronomy 28:40; Micah ).
To not utilize such a resource could also be an indication of despair: “Please pretend to be a mourner, and put on mourning apparel; do not anoint yourself with [Page 503] oil . . .” (2 Samuel 14:2). Similarly it was in the context of (genuine) “mourning” (Daniel 10:2) that we read, “I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled” (10:3).
In other words, under normal circumstances it would be an expectation of society that you would utilize oil on a routine basis as you prepared to go about your daily activities. Jesus’ admonition to “wash your face” even when fasting has been interpreted as a reference to such usage as well (Matthew -17). Hence it is only appropriate to interpret James’ instruction in light of that common a usage.
Perhaps most directly relevant to James’ example of endangered health, it was used as a way to help clean up the person who could not do it for themselves. Ezekiel 16:9: “Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil.” The modern parallel would be helping a person wash up and change from their hospital gown into their regular clothes: the individual may not be fully well, but it indicates a confidence that the worst is over and one is ready to return to regular life.
In this approach, the “anointing” has the practical role of preparing the person to resume his or her regular schedule. It is done not to heal but because one is healed or about to be healed; out of the confidence that recovery is so certain that virtually all one must do is get up and about.
Even when a miracle was unquestionably intended such an anointing might well be carried out for the same reason. This seems to be the case in Mark where demon exorcism is distinguished from healing a disease, “And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.”
The illness and its treatment raise several issues above and beyond the nature and purpose of the anointing in James 5. Whatever interpretation is put on the words, it should not be overlooked that the text does not claim that the anointing itself will save the person. Rather it is “the prayer of faith [that] will save the sick” from his or her physical disability (James ). The anointing was not given for that purpose.
Disassociation of the text from the assumption that the illness was punishment for sin / that the anointing was to forgive sin. It should be noted that the text distances the disease or affliction from the moral state of the individual, “And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James ). The text does not rule out the possibility of a link between the physical calamity and the individual’s moral state. On the other hand, it goes out of the way to emphasis that it may not be the case. In short, the assumption of sin should not automatically be made.
This ambivalence represents the attitude manifested during Jesus’ ministry as well. On the one hand, Jesus could say to a paralyzed individual, “Son, your sins are forgiven you” (Mark 2:5). This certainly argues that he had unforgiven sin though it does not explicitly claim a cause-effect linkage with the disease. Yet when spoken in a context of healing, this would be the most natural probability.
Yet the connection was far from invariable. When faced with a blind man and the query whose sin was responsible for it, Jesus denied a linkage, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned . . .” (John 9:3). Here there is no question whether a cause-effect relationship between sin and ill health exists—it is denied. At least so far as the specific individual being discussed.
[Page 505] As to the sickness being a spiritual sickness, the remedy in both testaments is direct and to the point: a change in behavior accompanied by seeking forgiveness. An anointing with oil is unheard of as a necessary, essential, or even desirable element of personal repentance. This is but one of several major difficulties if we are taking the illness to be spiritual illness rather than physical:
(1) If James is speaking about spiritual illness, what does oil have to do with any of this? If we are looking at someone who is not physically infirmed whatsoever, but simply is a Christian who has turned away from the Lord, why would oil be physically placed on the person?
(2) But let me take it a step further and encourage you to carefully read this text. Who is to take the first step? The elders do not take the first step and go to the ailing one. Rather, the person who is sick is to call for the elders. A spiritually sick person will not call for the elders, except in a rare instance. . . . In Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15, the shepherd has to go find the lost one, the lost sheep does not seek after the shepherd.
(3) The context in the previous verse is about physical toil--“is anyone among you suffering? Is anyone cheerful?” The context is not dealing with spiritual problems.
(4) The end of verse 15 becomes a problem by saying “if he has committed sin.” There would be no question if the person had committed sins if we are talking about spiritual sickness.
: The length of time it did not rain in the days of Elijah. The Old Testament text only explicitly refers to Elijah as announcing the famine rather than mentioning it being the result of his prayer. (See our discussion in the Old Testament precedents chapter.) So just as the Old Testament doesn’t mention the prayers of Elijah in connection with the drought and we have to rely on the New Testament for that information—similarly we have to rely on the New Testament for explicit data that the period of drought lapped over into a fourth year. Strangely enough it is the length of time that always gets challenged and not the prayer.
Note the wording of the announcement
in 1 Kings 17:1, “And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of
In the Targums, “standing” is the standard posture of prayer. For example, Tg. Onq. Gen. 18:22 interprets “he remained standing before the Lord” as “he was ministering in his prayer before the Lord.” Similarly Genesis is interpreted by Rabbi Huna (290-320 A.D.), quoting Rabbi Huna (250-290 A.D.), with the comment that “ ‘standing’ means nothing else than prayer.”
[Page 507] 18:42 is a more clear-cut allusion to what we of our age would have anticipated as to posture: “And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees” and the rain came the same day (18:44-45). Since Elijah sent his servant to check for rain and it had not yet come, what else could he possibly have been doing but praying that it would?
Prayer seems such a natural act for the God fearing, that prayer preceded the drought makes full sense even if no explicit mention is made. Likely for this reason, the matter of prayer before and at the end of the drought has produced little controversy among exegetes. This is in vivid contrast to the issue of the length of the drought, where one is faced with a puzzling difference in the statements found in the two testaments and which interpreters have had no choice but to wrestle with. At first reading, 1 Kings would leave the impression it lasted three years; James comes down quite explicitly for a three and a half year duration.
Interestingly Jesus Himself gives the duration as the same as James, “I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land” (Luke 4:25). The fact that both Jesus and James cite the same duration is probably good evidence that this was a traditional (though not necessarily the only) contemporary interpretation of the length.
But how does one fit such a length with the claim in the Old Testament that it lasted just three years? Or does the Old Testament actually make such a claim? In promising / threatening the drought Ahab is merely warned that “there shall not be dew nor rain, these years, except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1). The expression is “these years” (NKJV, NRSV, New American Bible, etc), not “three years.” The [Page 508] implication is that it is not going to rain again, ever--until Elijah asked for it to occur. That was actually far more ominous than predicting a three year drought for it left the stopping point undefined.
Where we get to three years as the drought’s ending in where we read that at an unidentified time in the third year, Elijah is told that the rain would begin again (1 Kings 18:1). We don’t know at what point that was. If it means at the end of the third year, that means that some time beyond three years passed before it ended.
The amount of time can not be pushed very far, however, since the text presents Elijah as heading off to speak to Ahab (18:2ff) and the natural reading is that this took place not many days later. In other words we get to an approximately three year duration after all. But even that is inferential and not due to an explicit statement, as so often assumed.
Furthermore, we do not know at what point the supernatural intervention in stopping the rain is assumed to have begun. If Ahab was warned during the dry season before rains could be expected, then a number of months passed before the drought became obvious. Would you date the length of the drought from the time of the threat or the time when it was no longer possible to deny it was happening?
Does anyone really believe that Ahab was going to concede that the prophetic threat had turned real any sooner than he absolutely had to? Either the assumption of additional months at this stage or after the announcement of the ending of the drought to Elijah, could easily have led to the figure of a three and a half year shortage referred to by both Jesus and James.
[Page 509] Another way of adding an additional number of months would make the initial period involve a normal period of dryness, perhaps miraculously intensified beyond normal. William Varner argues it this way:
Earlier in the chapter James displays his knowledge of Palestinian agriculture with his reference to the early and later rains (5:7). After the later rains in the Spring, there is a six month drought before the early rains in the Autumn commence. If the announcement of the drought was at the end of the half-year dry season, the additional three years of drought would then provide the total length mentioned by James and Jesus.
This has several things to say for it. It provided Ahab the opportunity to dismiss the prediction as idle prophetic arrogance: It wasn’t supposed to be raining any time soon! One can easily imagine Ahab dismissing Elijah as a crackpot (at the best) in this time scenario--allowing him to leave unhindered (perhaps even having him chased off as a nuisance).
God’s instruction to flee (17:2) comes immediately after the prediction of no rain is delivered (17:2), it is true, but was God likely to tell Elijah this in the very presence of Ahab? In fact, would Ahab’s unbelief have even made such hiding an immediate necessity?
Yet if the prediction came as true as God had promised, Elijah was going to need a place to hide for he was going to become an extremely unpopular individual at the royal court! Hence this scenario provides plenty of time for Elijah to go somewhere temporarily and for God to give him hiding instructions and to take full advantage of them.
Eric Lyons effectively argues that the invoking of the three year chronology in 18:1 to prove only a three year drought improperly omits the preceding context. In those days before chapter divisions, 18:1 would be immediately read as the continuation of the preceding chapter. That involves the healing of a mother’s dangerously sick son in Zarephath (-24). This gives us this result:
Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.” 18:1 And it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth.”
In other words, “in the third year” of being where he was at, in
Zarephath—not necessarily the third year of the drought.
He quotes in passing but does not note the significance of 17:7:
2 Then the word of the Lord came to
him, saying, 3 “Get away
from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into
In other words, the prophet was at the brook Cherith for an extended period before being sent to Zarephath. The creek was hardly likely to dry up overnight or why would the Lord have sent him there in the first place? Hence we can fairly add weeks or months before the move to Zarephath. That pushes us up over three years and the longer over, the more understandable the generalization “three years and six months.”
: Convincing a wayward sinner to set life right will “cover a multitude of sins”--those of the one who repents or the one who convinces the person to repent? We have taken the text to mean that only the one who had changed from their wayward life is under discussion and that “save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” refers to that person’s own past behavior. It is possible, of course, that the point is intended to encompass both past and future: The change in behavior saves the person from already committed sins and future ones that would have occurred if this change in attitude had not occurred.
[Page 512] Many modern Protestant and Catholic commentators are convinced, however, that the reference is to the person who convinced the individual to return to faithfulness. In this interpretation, both the soul that is saved and the “multitude of sins” that is forgiven are those of the person convincing the reprobate. This is open to the fundamental objection that it is extraordinarily odd that the “self-benefiting” aspect should be exclusively mentioned while any benefit received by the repenter goes totally unnoticed.
This omission is resolved by those who take the text to refer, in part, to both parties. In this approach there is a double salvation: by one’s success one “will save a soul from death” (that of the reprobate) while simultaneously “cover[ing] a multitude of (presumably future) sins” of oneself. We internalize the lesson we’ve taught them and are protected from walking in the same path they had.
However there seems a disproportionate emphasis on what the teacher gets in such a scenario. Especially when it is given greater emphasis: You are benefited by “covering a multitude of (your) sins” while it is only a more ambiguous (and more limited?) number of sins that the transgressor is forgiven. He is, perhaps, forgiven little . . . whether he or she is or not, you still know that . . . you have a huge future benefit coming your way. The maximizing emphasis on the teacher’s own benefit seems unlikely when the thrust of the text seems clearly intending to emphasize how much the repenter is benefited by their change in life.
Furthermore would it not seem odd for the point of reference to be shifted so abruptly and in so few words if such is actually being done? As Patrick J. Hartin argues, we do not have “any reason to explain why James would suddenly jump in [Page 513] the course of this brief verse from one referent to another. The logic of the sentence requires a consistency that conforms to James’ usual stylistic way of expression, which regularly features parallelism (see the frequent use of it in 4:7-9).”
Several deuterocanonical and early post-New Testament writings can be cited to point in the direction of how the teacher’s own advantage being gained is under discussion—for example, the conviction that charity will purge away the giver’s own sins. Even so, it is still an interpretive “reach” to go from the broad generalization that one saves oneself by one’s own behavior to the conclusion that being the human intermediary in the salvation of others somehow secures one’s own redemption as well. A few second or third century writings may, however, have the concept in mind. The concept becomes explicit in the writings of Origen during the third century.
As to Biblical evidence, 1 Timothy has been appealed to in behalf of the idea that converting others will also save the teacher, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”
Restoring the person to the faith, however, is not presented as the basis of one’s own salvation (as claimed of James 5), but one’s perseverance in the faith (“continue in” the “doctrine”). This motivates one to both remain faithful personally and to convert the reachable as well. It isn’t that their salvation saves you, but the fact of your behavior caused by your salvation ultimately leads to their redemption.
The watchman imagery in Ezekiel 3:17-21 is more promising. It is concluded with the promise, “Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took [Page 514] warning; also you will have delivered your soul” (verse 21). Here, however, it is not the fallen away who is converted, but the “righteous” individual who is encouraged not to drift away in the first place. Or to restore his or her soul to its proper condition before the temporary aberration becomes a lasting lifestyle.
An intertestamental echo of Proverbs is sometimes found in James 5, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” Of course “the beneficiary of the covering is the one who is doing the loving. If we take seriously the intertextual echo, it seems likely that the one whose sins are covered by such an act is the one who is the agent of conversion.”
That what is being done in interceding for the sick is an act of love is to be granted, though James chooses to stress that it is being done rather than the motive. This is probably because James is centered on the recipient of assistance and not the giver. Since that is the case, wouldn’t it be more proper to seek in the one being helped—James’ point of emphasis—the beneficiary of the forgiveness? Whether “cover a multitude of sins” refers to gaining forgiveness for past sins or discouraging future ones from occurring, the value of the contribution would still be vast since “a multitude” would be dealt with.
Furthermore, it is difficult to take the concept of our converting work saving ourselves and fit it in well with other Biblical principles. If it refers to past transgressions then “you” gain forgiveness by getting someone else to change their way of life--it has nothing to do with a change in your behavior; it seemingly exists regardless of what you do. Either that or it is an additional prerequisite without which all the pangs of guilt and reformation still do no good. So the New Testament message is really “believe, repent—and get someone else to repent—and you will be forgiven”?
[Page 515] If it refers to your future transgressions being forgiven, then it seemingly means that for each person restored to faithfulness “you” have a “multitude” of future sins that God will forgive you in exchange for that effort. (Or a “multitude” of past ones.) Why then should we have to repent of them? It inescapably seems to provide an almost blank check to rationalize away whatever sins one selects.
Obviously this is not the intent of the interpretation, but it is hard to see how the result can be avoided. Perhaps the best response would be that there is a difference between a person being rewarded and a person abusing that reward—or trying to. How convincing that explanation will be is another matter. Doubtless God will remember the work one does to redirect the misguided; but there seems a world of difference between this and directly making it a means of our own personal redemption.
Such difficulties are avoided if one refers the forgiven sins to the past acts of the person who has been convinced to repent. Two results are specified as the result of convincing that wayward believer to correct his or her lifestyle errors: the person who does so “will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” The most “natural” reading (at least in this commentator’s judgement) is to view the two statements as different ways of expressing the same truth: the repentant is saved “from [spiritual] death” because the “multitude of sins” that have been committed have been forgiven.
The person being described does not seem to be your petty ante sinner who has done this wrong or that wrong. The picture is one who “wanders from the truth” (verse 19) and has to be turned back to it. The person is an apostate--it not in a formal sense, certainly in the practical sense of turning the back on the previously acknowledged standard of life.
[Page 516] Virtually by definition that type of person has wandered so far that he or she will have a “multitude of sins” that needs removal. At least a “multitude” in contrast to the more typical situation of a person who has merely “sinned” rather than “wander[ing]” away from the faith as well.
 McKnight, James, 421.
 Wall, 255.
 Stephen Garrett, “Job the Prophet: Job’s Theology.” Posted
 Mitton, 190.
 Brent Kercheville, “Patience: Practicing Godliness.” At: http://westpalmbeachchurch ofchrist. com/ godliness/patience.html. [July 2012.]
 Geoff Thomas, “James —Do Not Swear.”
June 1998. At: http://www.alfred placechurch.org.uk/Sermons/james24.htm. [July 2012.] He deals with the possibility
apparently unaware that such groups unquestionably existed in
 As quoted by Ibid., 137.
 Moo, 236.
 J. Kortering, “Psalm Singing: A Reformed Heritage.” Part of the Protestant Reformed Churches website. At: http://www.prca.org/pamphlets/pamphlet_37.html. [July 2012.] For those seeking an in-depth defense of the “Psalms only” approach, this article is highly recommended.
 Cf. Mitton, 196.
 Reicke, 57.
 Nystrom, 305. For a survey of the texts that make Jesus—rather than the Father—being the most natural “Lord” under discussion, see McKnight, James, 440.
 J. O. Hosler, “What about Anointing with Oil?” At: http://www.napierchurch.org/ pdf/articles/bible_study/anointing_with_oil.pdf. [July 2012.]
 Edwin Crozier, “Should We Anoint People with
Oil? James 5:14.”
 Dibelius, James, 252; 252; Williams, 138. For a detailed presentation of the case for this approach see Gloag, 105-108.
 Wayne Jackson, “Anointing with Oil—James .” Part of the Christian Courier website. At: http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/118-anointing-with-oil-james-5-14. [July 2012.]
 David Reagan, “Anointing with Oil.” Part of the Learn the Bible website. At: http://www.learnthebible.org/anointing-with-oil.html. [July 2012.]
 Colson, 85; Palmer, 37.
 Burdick, 204. Cf the similar remark of Lenski, 660.
 McKnight, James, 439.
 As quoted by Burdick, 204.
 James R.
Strange, The Moral World of James:
Setting the Epistle in its Greco-Roman and Judaic Environments (
 Leahy, 377.
R. Swindoll, Jesus: The Greatest Life
of All (
 Brent Kercheville, “Anointing with Oil: Explaining James 5:14-15.” 2006. At: http://westpalmbeachchurchofchrist.com/diff_quest/anointing-with-oil.html. [July 2012.]
 For a
discussion of the blessings in Catholic usage, see Lizette Larson-Miller, The
Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick (
 On the Migration of Abraham, 124, as quoted by McKnight, James, 441.
 For some examples of such, see Larson-Miller, 38.
 Charles C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 536.
 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), n. 30, unumbered page EPub Reader Format.
 Kercheville, “Anointing.”
 I came across this approach in the 1990s in an old church publication stuck in a then 75 year or more old book. It lacked any reference as to the author, name of the original periodical, or its date.
 Cf. Nystrom, 306.
 Kercheville, “Anointing.”
 William Varner, “Did James ‘Massage’ the Elijah Story?” At: http://dribex.tumblr. com/post/10803789699/did-james-massage-his-elijah-story. [July 2012.] For an examination of the nature of rabbinic exegesis via a study of their treatment of the drought see Barclay, 132.
[Page 520]  As
quoted by James M. Darlack, Pray for Reign:
The Eschatological Elijah in James 5:17-18 (Master of Arts in the
New Testament thesis.)
 As quoted by Ibid.
 Leahy, 377.
 William Varner, “Elijah Story.”
 Eric Lyons, “Elijah and the Drought.” 2007. Part of the Apologetic Press website. At: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=1444. [July 2012.]
 Songer, 139.
 For example, Nystrom, 320.
 Hartin, James, 286.
 For quotations of Sirach ; Tobit 12:9; 2 Clement 16 see Mitton, 214-215.
 For quotations of Barnabas 19:10 and Didache 4:6 (which come the closest but still seem to fall short of this being their clear intent), see Mitton, 215.
 Davids, James: A Commentary, 200-201, refers to the usage but does not adopt it.
 Again Ibid. refers to the usage but does not adopt it.
 Witherington , 549.