From:  Over 50 Interpreters Explain the Book of James                Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2017



List of All Sources Quoted At End of File






CHAPTER 1:16-27





1:16                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Do not be deceived, my dearly-loved brethren.

WEB:              Don't be deceived, my beloved brothers.

Young’s:         Be not led astray, my brethren beloved.

Conte (RC):    And so, do not choose to go astray, my most beloved brothers.


1:16                 Do not err.  In the matter now under consideration, by thinking of God as if He could tempt to sin.  [14]

                        A common Pauline expression, elsewhere always translated, ‘Be not deceived.’  Here it refers rather to what precedes than to what follows.  Be not deceived in this matter, in supposing that temptation to evil comes from God.  [51]

                        my beloved brethren.  I have a special attachment to you.  You are both “brethren” and “beloved” by me as well.  I do not speak these words to harass you or make you miserable, but to protect you from spiritual disaster.  [rw]



1:17                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Every gift which is good, and every perfect boon, is from above, and comes down from the Father, who is the source of all Light. In Him there is no variation nor the slightest suggestion of change.

WEB:              Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor turning shadow.

Young’s:         every good giving, and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights, with whom is no variation, or shadow of turning.

Conte (RC):    Every excellent gift and every perfect gift is from above, descending from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor any shadow of alteration.


1:17                 Every good gift and every perfect gift.  The two nouns are different in the Greek, the first expressing the abstract acts of giving, the second the gift as actually bestowed.  The perfection of the one flows from the goodness of the other.  Singularly enough, the axiom, if we may so call it, falls into the cadence of a Greek hexameter, and it is conceivable that it may have been a quotation from a poem, or possibly from an early Christian hymn.  [38]

                        Other examples of verse quotations in the New Testament are found in Titus 1:12; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Acts 17:28; possibly also in John 4:35; Hebrews 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:16.  [50]  

                        A positive proof of the assertion that God tempteth no man.  Not only does evil not proceed from Him, but He is the source only of good.  All good is from God.  Our higher and spiritual good evidently arises from Him: all good works are the effects of Divine impulses.  Our lower and earthly good also comes from Him: our health, our property, our domestic comforts, are the gifts of His bounty.  [51]

Every good gift.  We are taught yet further that, while we are the authors and procurers of all sin and misery to ourselves, God is the Father and fountain of all good.  [5]

                        This comports with the teaching of verse 5.  [16]

                        and every perfect gift.  A gift is something that expresses the mind and betokens the love of the giver, and at the same time brings happiness to the receiver.  What then is ‘a good gift?’  That which fulfils these two requisitions.  And what is ‘a perfect gift?’ That which entirely fulfils these two ends.  [49]

                        is from above.  I.e., heaven.  [rw]    

                        and cometh down.  This explains “is from above.”  [50]

                        from the Father of lights.  “Father of lights” means the Creator of the heavenly luminaries.  This designation of God is not found elsewhere either in the Old or the New Testament.  [16]

                        However:  Literally, the lights, by which are meant the heavenly bodies.  Compare Ps. cxxxv. 7 (Sept.); and Jer. iv. 23 (Sept.).  God is called  the Father of the lights,” as being their creator and maintainer.  Compare Job xxxviii. 28; Ps. viii. 3; Amos v. 8.  [2]

                        Symbolic interpretations of the language:  Great difference of opinion is found concerning these “lights,” whether the term be figurative, as of goodness or wisdom; or a reference to the mysterious Urim (Exodus 28:30, et seq.) which flamed on the breast of Aaron; or spiritual, as of grace and glory; or material, viz., the “lights” set “in the firmament of heaven” (Genesis 1:14-15) “when the morning stars sang together” (Job 38:7).  [46]

                        To the statement of verse 13, that no evil can possibly exist in God, it might, consonantly with the views of that age, have been objected that two principles, one evil and the other good, may alternately operate in God.  This the apostle decidedly denies, avowing that God is substantially pure light, as may be seen from the work of regeneration which he effects in the heart.  [6]

                        It hath been the opinion of some persons that this is intended to oppose some heretical notion of the influence of the stars in the affairs of human life; but I know not that any such ridiculous conceit had so early a footing in the church.  [17]

                        with whom is variableness.  Although He is the Father of lights, He has no change (variation) like that of the moon or shadow of a turning, like that from morning to evening.  [16]

                        The result of this:  So that he truly gives us good alone.  [39]

                        All created luminaries, the lights of the visible universe, vary.  The light of the sun varies according to our distance from it.  The light of the moon varies every month.  The light of some stars has been utterly extinguished, but with the light of God there is no variableness.  [41]

                        He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.  Surely we can grasp the thought with eagerness, that God will never change as the long ages of time roll on to eternity.  [49]

                        “Will he give us holy desires at one time, and evil inclinations at another?  No:  he always gives us what is good, and nothing but good.  It is blasphemous, therefore, as well as absurd, to suppose that God either tempts or constrains men to sin, on purpose that he may have a pretence [= excuse] for making them miserable.” — Macknight. [47]

                        nor shadow of turning.  This is popularly understood to mean that there is in God not the faintest hint or shade of change, like the phrase, a shadow that is cast by turning; referring still to the heavenly orbs, which cast shadows in their revolution, as when the moon turns her dark side to us, or the sun is eclipsed by the body of the moon.  [2]

                        St. James does not here employ, as some suppose, technical astronomical terms, which would not be understood by his readers, but alludes to what is apparent to all—the waning and setting of the natural lights in the firmament.  The statement is obviously equivalent to that of St. John:  ‘God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5).  [51]

                        When you are tempted it is a comfort to know you can come to an unchangeable God.  [43]    



1:18                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     In accordance with His will He made us His children through the Message of the truth, so that we might, in a sense, be the Firstfruits of the things which He has created.

WEB:              Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

Young’s:         having counselled, He did beget us with a word of truth, for our being a certain first-fruit of His creatures.

Conte (RC):    For by his own will he produced us through the Word of truth, so that we might be a kind of beginning among his creatures.


1:18                 Of His own will.  There was no compulsion envolved—for such is impossible with God.  It was His desire and His totally voluntary decision.  [rw]

                        begat He us [brought us forth, ESV, NASB, NKJV].  The Greek is the same as in verse 15.  [44]  

                        Therefore, according to our usual phrase, “Our Father;” but the term, which was suggested by verse 15, belongs to the mother.  On the ground of this and other passages (Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 66:13, &c.) a doctrine of the Divine motherhood has been based.  This idea is said to have taken a strong hold of Chinese Christians [in the late 1800s].  It is not likely that any of the inspired writers intended to formulate such a doctrine, even if it is implied by their language.  This “bringing forth” is a figure for conversion to Christianity. [45]

                        As the old creation was “by the Word” (John 1:3, 1:10, et seq.), the new is by Him also, by means of His everlasting gospel.  So tenderly is this declared, that a maternal phrase is used—God brought us forth in the new birth; and though “a woman” may forget “the son of her womb” (Isaiah 49:15), yet will He “never leave, nor forsake” (Hebrews 13:5).  [46]

with the word of truth.  i.e. the word of the gospel, as the instrument or means whereby we are regenerated.  [28]

Which is the instrument of his Spirit.  [14]

This has been thought by some, particularly among the Fathers, to mean the Personal Word, but the Personal Word, the Son of God, acts in the first instance through the preached word, in adding to His Church those who are being saved.  [41]

                        that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.  Not the privileged recipients of a special favor, but the first sheaves of a world-wide harvest of redeemed souls.  Cf. Exodus 22:29ff.  [45]  

“A kind of” indicates the figurative nature of the term.  The figure is taken from the requirement of the Jewish law that the first-born of men and cattle, and the first growth of fruits and grain should be consecrated to the Lord.  The point of the illustration is that Christians, like first-fruits, should be consecrated to God.  The expression “first-fruits” is common in the New Testament.  See Rom. 8:23; 16:5; 1 Cor. 15:20, 23; Apoc. 14:4.  [2]

The first-fruits being the best of their kind, by calling the regenerated the first-fruits of God’s creatures, the apostle has shown how acceptable such are to God, and how excellent in themselves through the renovation of their nature; and as the first-fruits, being offered to God, were supposed to sanctify the rest of the harvest, true Christians, who are in a peculiar [= special] manner dedicated to God, in some respects may be said to sanctify the rest.  [47]

                        Or:  This probably refers to the Jews, the first converts amongst whom were undoubtedly the first fruits of the world to God.  But why does he say a kind of first fruits, and not first fruits?  I think most probably (as Wesley says) because Christ along is absolutely the first fruits.  [41]  The allusion could well be to the natural variability among groups, even of Jews, as they were scattered about the world.  Jews in Palestine would tend to have distinct differences in behavior and attitude from those, say in Roman Asia.  Early converts in both places would be a “kind of firstfruits”—different from those in other places, but still worthy of the description because they were among the first in their own particular place or region to be converted to Christ.  [rw] 



1:19                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     You know this, my dearly-loved brethren. But let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to be angry.

WEB:              So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

Young’s:         So then, my brethren beloved, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.

Conte (RC):    You know this, my most beloved brothers. So let every man be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to anger.


1:19                 Wherefore [Know this, ESV; This you know, NASB].  In consistency with your new character as God’s children.  [14]

                        On the alternate reading:  There is a diversity in the reading of this verse.  The most important manuscripts, instead of ‘Wherefore,’ read ‘Ye know,’ or ‘Know ye,’ according as the verb is understood as indicative or imperative, referring either to what precedes, ‘Ye know this,’ namely, that God out of His free love has begotten you with the word of truth; or to what follows, ‘Know this, my beloved brethren, let every one of you be swift to hear: ’  ‘equivalent to’ Hearken, my beloved brethren’ (James 2:5).  [51]

                        my beloved brethren.  Again emphasizing his tender feelings toward them.  The language also is likely intended to soften the sternness of his words, lest he himself come across as being the same as those he now criticizes.  [rw]

                        let every man.  All these cautions are required in the building up of the new life.  “The quick speaker is the quick kindler;” and we are told later on “how great a matter a little fire kindleth” (James 3:5).  And what have we at all to do with wrath, much less that our whole life—as unhappily it often is—should be wasted with such bitterness?  Anger, no doubt, is a wholesome tonic for some minds, and certain weaknesses; but “he that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32).  [46]

                        be swift to hear.  The instructions which God gives him.  [14]

Let him listen again and again to the divine message, let him be ready to receive light from any source.  [7]

[Hear] namely, the word of truth, which, having been so lately mentioned, there was no necessity to repeat.  The words, however, admit of a general application to the acquisition of all profitable knowledge.  The same sentiment is found in the writings of the son of Sirach:  ‘Be swift to hear; and let thy life be sincere, and with patience give answer’ (Sirach 5:11).  There is no reason, however, to suppose that St. James in these words refers to this passage.  [51]

                        slow to speak.  Humbly taking the place of a learner, or if it becomes his duty to testify or to teach, let him do so with modesty and reverence, avoiding all carelessness and flippancy.  [7]

Slow to speak, because speech gives expression to what we are and it needs caution not to let the old nature express itself.  [23]     

Or:  lest excess zeal run ahead of actual knowledge:  [Slow to speak] to deliver his opinion in matters of faith, that he does not yet well understand.  Persons half instructed frequently have a high opinion of their own knowledge in religious matters, are very fond of teaching others, and zealous to bring them over to their opinions.  That the converted Jews were fond of being teachers, we learn from James 3:1; 1 Timothy 1:7.  [47]  

Illustration:  We read often, “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear;” but never, he that hath a tongue to speak, let him speak; for this we can do fast enough, without bidding.  But hath not Nature taught us the same that the apostle here doth, by giving us two ears, and those open; and but one tongue, and that hedged in with teeth and lips?  It is also tied and bound fast by the root, and hath for guides and counsellors the brain above and the heart beneath it.  Hence your wisest men are most silent; for they know that as some gravel and mud passeth away with much water, so in many words there lacketh not sin.  [29] 

“How noble was the response of Xenocrates!  When he met the reproaches of others with a profound silence, someone asked him why he alone was silent. ‘Because,’ says he, ‘I have sometimes had occasion to regret that I have spoken, never that I was silent.’ ” So the son of Sirach, “Be swift to hear, and with deep consideration (ἐν μακροθυμίᾳ en makrothumia) give answer.”  So the Rabbis have some similar sentiments. “Talk little and work much.” Pirkey Aboth. c. i. 15.  “The righteous speak little and do much; the wicked speak much and do nothing.” Bava Metsia, fol. 87.  A sentiment similar to that before us is found in Ecclesiastes 5:2, “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God.”  So Proverbs 10:19, “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin.”  Proverbs 13:3, “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life.”  Proverbs 15:2, “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright, but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.” [31]

                        slow to wrath.  If people are swift to wrath, they will almost as a rule be swift to speak angry and bitter words, and endanger the peace of the Christian society.  [41]

Unhappily religious discussions are too often attended with heat and anger.  Too many public teachers seem to feel that the bitterness with which they assail their opponents will attest their zeal and devotion.  James reminds such that “the wrath of man” cannot produce “the righteousness” which God requires and which he aims to produce in the conduct of Christians.  [7]

                        It is well known that the Jewish doctors were apt to contend very fiercely about their different opinions; but it is indeed so much the general infirmity of human nature, as unhappy experience teaches us, that the caution is of universal concern.  [17]             

                        Also:  The apostle, however, may be understood as cautioning his readers against easily yielding to provocation in any respect whatever, and especially when injuriously treated by their persecutors.  [47]


                        In depth:  Interpretive options as to what the text may specifically have in mind in regard to being slow to speak [5].  This may refer, 1.  To the word of truth spoken of in the verse foregoing.  And so we may observe, It is our duty rather to understand it, than to speak according to our own fancies or the opinions of men, and to run into heat and passion thereupon. 

2.  This may be applied to the afflictions and temptations spoken of in the beginning of the chapter.  And then we may observe, It is our duty rather to hear how God explains his providences, and what he designs by them, than to say as David did in his haste, I am cut off; or as Jonah did in his passion, I do well to be angry.  Instead of censuring God under our trials, let us open our ears and hearts to hear what he will say to us. 

3.  This may be understood as referring to the disputes and differences that Christians were part of[;] the chapter may be considered without any connection with what goes before.  Here we may observe that, whenever matters of difference arise among Christians, each side should be willing to hear the other.  People are often stiff in their own opinions because they are not willing to hear what others have to offer against them:  whereas we should be swift to hear reason and truth on all sides, and be slow to speak any thing that should prevent this:  and, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath; for a soft answer turneth away wrath.



1:20                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     For a man's anger does not lead to action which God regards as righteous.

WEB:              for the anger of man doesn't produce the righteousness of God.

Young’s:         for the wrath of a man the righteousness of God doth not work.

Conte (RC):    For the anger of man does not accomplish the justice of God.


1:20                 For the wrath of man.  Laying down a universal truism:  No matter who he or she may be; no matter what education or earthly status they may have; no matter how wealthy they may be.  This danger lies in one and all, everyone.  Including you and me.  [rw]

                        worketh not the righteousness of God.  The Apostle remind[s] them that an evil temper neither commends sound doctrine nor promotes holy living.  [45]        

Sarcastically rings the context.  Perhaps there is still a sharper point to the satire:  the wrath of man does not work God’s righteousness “to the full.”  The warning may well be sounded in the ears of Christians still, who are not less apt than Jonah of old to say quickly and in self-excuse, “I do well to be angry” (Jonah 4:9).  How many a holy work of household and parish has been and is thus hindered and destroyed.  [46]         

Or:   That is, righteous in the sight  of God, that which is right before God.  The idea of righteousness wrought by God is here altogether unsuitable.  [50]    


In depth:  Applying the principle to religious controversy [5].  It is as if the apostle had said,  Whereas men often pretend zeal for God and his glory, in their heat and passion, let them know that God needs not the passions of any man, his cause is better served by mildness and meekness than by wrath and fury.”  Solomon says, The words of the wise are heard in quiet, more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools, Eccl. 9:17.  Dr. Manton here says of some assemblies, “That if we were as swift to hear as we are ready to speak there would be less of wrath, and more of profit, in our meetings.  I remember when a Manichee contested with Augustine, and with importunate clamor cried, Hear me I hear me! the father modestly replied, Nec ego te, nec tu me, sed ambo audiamus apostolum--Neither let me hear thee, nor do thou hear me, but let us both hear the apostle.”  The worst thing we can bring to a religious controversy is anger.  This, however it may pretend to be raised by a concern for what is just and right, is not to be trusted.  Wrath is a human thing, and the wrath of man stands opposed to the righteousness of God.  Those who pretend to serve the cause of God hereby show that they are acquainted neither with God nor his cause.  This passion must especially be watched against when we are hearing the word of God.  See 1 Pet. 2:1, 2.  [5]



1:21                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Ridding yourselves, therefore, of all that is vile and of the evil influences which prevail around you, welcome in a humble spirit the Message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls.

WEB:              Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

Young’s:         wherefore having put aside all filthiness and superabundance of evil, in meekness be receiving the engrafted word, that is able to save your souls.

Conte (RC):    Because of this, having cast away all uncleanness and an abundance of malice, receive with meekness the newly-grafted Word, which is able to save your souls.


1:21                 Wherefore lay apart.  Not only restrain it, and keep it in; but put off, and throw it away as a filthy rag, Isaiah 30:22: see Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:8, 1 Peter 2:1.  [28]

                        all.  Without exception of any kind.  [rw]                 

filthiness.  Of flesh and spirit, 2 Cor. 7:1.  [14]

Every impurity of life.  [22]

The word points not specifically to what we call “sins of impurity,” but to every form of sin, including the “wrath” of the preceding verse, as defiling the soul.  [38]

Or:  Ribaldry and indecency against the gospel and its professors and teachers.  It often designates filthiness of apparel. Hence, when young Wesley, at Oxford, was walking with the pious Moravian, (Peter Bohler,) and was inclined to shrink from the ribaldry of the students, Peter said, with a smile, “My brother, it does not even stick to your clothes.”  [39]

                        and superfluity [overflow, NKJV].  Human beings have this strange tendency not only to do wrong (which is evil in itself), but to “drive it in the ground”—be so excessive in it, that it even “gives evil a bad name” by the very amount of excess that is unleashed.  To some degree we all will falter and fail, but to virtually glory in our failures and take pride in them so scalds our moral compass that a desensitized conscience no longer has the capacity to grasp that evil is evil and thereby we self-destruct any possibility of change for the better.  Alternatively, a person becomes erroneously convinced that the opportunity to reform is long gone by the very depth of excess when they have not yet reached that point.  Either or both might well explain James’ emphasis not on doing evil but in doing an “excess” of evil.  He was dealing with individuals who stood in danger of permanently and irrevocably crossing that line.  [rw]   

of naughtiness [wickedness, NKJV].  Malice” is an adequate translation, the word denoting a malevolent disposition toward one’s neighbor.  Hence it is not a general term for moral evil, but a special form of vice.  Compare “the wrath of man,” verse 20.  “Naughtiness” has acquired a petty sense in popular usage, as of the mischievous pranks of children, which renders it out of the question here.  [2]

Some suppose that the words are metaphorical, having reference to agriculture, in correspondence with the ingrafted word which directly follows:  Put away all the defilement and rank growth of malice which like weeds encumber the ground, and prevent the growth of the ingrafted word.  [51]

                        and receive.  God is not going to make you receive the word.  It comes from Him.  Due to His influence, you gain the opportunity.  Beyond that, He leaves it completely in your hands.  It is on your own shoulders whether to respond or not.  [rw]

                        with meekness.  Here, as opposed to malice and wrath, not so much a teachable spirit, as mildness—a gentle and loving disposition toward our fellow-men.  [51]

                        the engrafted [implanted, NKJV] word.  With an allusion, perhaps, to the parable of the sower.  [44]

                        In believers, by regeneration, verse 18, and by habit, Hebrews 5:14.  [15]

                        [This consists of] the truths which our Blessed Redeemer taught and after Him, and by His commission, the Apostles; that which Paul calls “the form of doctrine” (Romans 6:17), and “the form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13) and Jude “the faith once delivered to the saints” [Jude, verse 3].  [42]

In hearing the word of God, we are to receive it--assent to the truths of it--consent to the laws of it; receive it as the stock does the graft; so as that the fruit which is produced may be, not according to the nature of the sour stock, but according to the nature of that word of the gospel which is engrafted into our souls.  [5]

                        It is not engrafted in such a way that our freedom and responsibility in admitting or rejecting it are set aside:  hence we are exhorted to receive it with meekness.  [14]

                        which is able to save your souls.  Yourselves; the soul, as the noblest part, is by a synecdoche put for the whole person: see 1 Peter 1:9.  [28]

                        In like manner Paul at Miletus commends the elders of Ephesus “to God, and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).  [46]

                        James does not mean that those who are born by the word do not already possess salvation, but that the salvation is not fully possessed in this life.  [51]



1:22                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     But prove yourselves obedient to the Message, and do not be mere hearers of it, imposing a delusion upon yourselves.

WEB:              But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves.

Young’s:         and become ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Conte (RC):    So be doers of the Word, and not listeners only, deceiving yourselves.


1:22                 But be ye doers of the word.   He is “blessed in the doing;” for he is as the wise man who built his house upon a rock [the words of Jesus:  Matthew 7:26].  [19]

                        and not hearers only.  This delusion is common in the case of those who suppose themselves to be religious because they are familiar with religious truths and their discussion.  [7]

Hearing is in order to doing; the most attentive and the most frequent hearing of the word of God will not avail us, unless we be also doers of it.  If we were to hear a sermon every day of the week, and an angel from heaven were the preacher, yet, if we rested in bare [= only] hearing, it would never bring us to heaven.  [5]

                        Dr. Edwards tells us the Jewish writers have a proverb among them, that  he who hears the law, and does not practice it, is like a man who ploughs and sows, but never reaps.”  [17]      

                        deceiving your own selves.  Your problem isn’t caused by someone else—you are the cause of your own problem!  [rw]

                        Faith must be followed by works.  Motives must end in actions.  The truths taught, the word engrafted, must result in their legitimate consequences of good deeds.  [40]

                        Of all deceptions, self-deception is the worst.  If a man were deceived by others, it would be comparatively easy to undeceive him, by placing things in their true light.  But if a man be deceived by himself, it is next to impossible to undeceive him, because prejudices have blinded his eyes; the bandage must first be removed before he can see the light.  [51]

                        On the lowest calculation of the number of places of worship in this country [Britain in the 1890s], there must be at the least one hundred thousand sermons preached every Sunday.  All these sermons are preached from texts taken from the Word of God, any one of which, if followed up with any care or faithfulness, would lead the person so following it up abreast of all the truths of the Christian Religion, and yet how extremely small is the practical impression [= result].  [41]

                        Is a specific faction specifically in mind—such as traditionalist Jews or Gnostic type individuals [47]?  As if it was sufficient to know your Master’s will without doing it.  Some suppose that in these words the apostle refers primarily to the Jews, whose doctrine it was, 1st, That to be Abraham’s seed was sufficient to obtain for them God’s favor, and secure them against his judgments; 2d, That circumcision procured them acceptance with God; 3d, That all Israelites had a portion in the world to come; and especially, 4th, That to be employed in hearing and studying the law was of itself sufficient. 

But it seems more likely that he gives this caution with a reference to those Gnostics and other Antinomians that were creeping fast into the church; and were hearers only, not even considering the word they heard, and therefore not understanding it; and especially not experiencing its power to regenerate and save them from the guilt and power of their sins, and restore them to the divine image.  The words, παραλογιζομενοι εαυτους, rendered, deceiving your own selves, properly signify, imposing upon yourselves by sophistical reasonings; an expression here used with great propriety, and very applicable to all those professors of Christianity who abuse the doctrines of grace to Antinomian purposes, and make void the moral law through a pretence of faith.

                        Deceiving [delude, NASB].  The Greek is the same as in Colossians 2:4, and properly signifies deception by false reasoning. [44]

                        No acquaintance with the Bible, apart from the practice of its precepts, will avail the Christian any more than it did the Jew.  “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers shall be justified” (Romans 2:13).  Those who deceive themselves may not altogether be hypocrites; there is a subtler danger of being blind, and nevertheless exclaiming “We see.”  (Compare John 9:41.)  [46]



1:23                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     For if any one listens but does not obey, he is like a man who carefully looks at his own face in a mirror.

WEB:              For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror.

Young’s:         because, if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, this one hath been like to a man viewing his natural face in a mirror.

Conte (RC):    For if anyone is a listener of the Word, but not also a doer, he is comparable to a man gazing into a mirror upon the face that he was born with.


1:23                 For if any be a hearer of the word and not a doer.  If he does not comply with its design, does not so consider and believe it as to lay it to heart, and be influenced by its doctrines, obey its precepts, embrace and rely on its promises, revere and stand in awe of its threatenings, guarding against what would expose him to them.  [47]

                        So those who are only hearers of the word, soon forget how Scripture presents to each one the picture of his own soul.  Major:  “The point of comparison here is that the Word will show us what needs to be cleansed and amended in our lives, as the mirror in regard to our bodies.  It shows us what we actually are, in contrast with what our deceitful heart paints us (1:26); it shows us also what is the true ideal of humanity which we are called upon to realize in our lives.”  [50]

he is like unto a man beholding [observing, NKJV] his natural face in a glass.  The sense is, that it is not enough for a man to examine and look into his interior, and the state of his conscience in a negligent and superficial manner, no more than one that goes to a looking-glass, but does not take care to take away the dirt or spots which he might discover.  [12]

The word for “beholding” implies more than a passing glance, the man contemplates the reflection of his face (see Matthew 7:3; Luke 12:24).  [38]

                        his natural face.  Revised Version margin gives, as the literal rendering of the Greek, “the face of his birth.”  The phrase is unique and obscure; no one has clearly shown what point James intended to make by speaking of the man’s face as that “of his birth.”  The word for “birth” is translated by the R.V. “generation” or “genealogy” in Matthew 1:1; “birth” or “generation” in Matthew 1:18; “birth” in Luke 1:14.  In James 3:6, in another very obscure phrase, “wheel of genesis,” it is translated “nature” or “birth.”  These are the only places where the word occurs in the New Testament.  The meaning perhaps is “the face a man is born with, with all its natural defects.”  Prof. Mayor, however, explains genesis as “fleeting earthly existence,” and makes the phrase “the face which belongs to this transitory life” contrasted with “the character which is being here molded for eternity.”  [45]  



1:24                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Although he has looked carefully at himself, he goes away, and has immediately forgotten the sort of man he is.

WEB:              for he sees himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

Young’s:         for he did view himself, and hath gone away, and immediately he did forget of what kind he was.

Conte (RC):    and after considering himself, he went away and promptly forgot what he had seen.


1:24                 For he beholdeth himself.  At least a token effort has been made.  He was taught to look and he looked.  But the equally important question is:  Has he learned anything from his effort?  [rw]

and goeth his way.  [He] is like the man who takes a careless passing glance at a metal mirror.  He is in a hurry; he takes out his mirror, looks for a moment to see if his appearance is all right, and the next moment forgets all about it.  Such is the mere hearer of the word.  He looks at the word which, properly and devoutly used, would reveal his own self to him—looks at it only for a moment, and forgets all about himself.  [41]

and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.  How many are there who, when they sit under the word, are affected with their own sinfulness, misery, and danger, acknowledge the evil of sin, and their need of Christ; but, when their hearing is over, all is forgotten, convictions are lost, good affections vanish, and pass away like the waters of a land-flood.  [5]



1:25                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     But he who looks closely into the perfect Law--the Law of freedom--and continues looking, he, being not a hearer who forgets, but an obedient doer, will as the result of his obedience be blessed.

WEB:              But he who looks into the perfect law of freedom, and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does.

Young’s:         and he who did look into the perfect law -- that of liberty, and did continue there, this one -- not a forgetful hearer becoming, but a doer of work -- this one shall be happy in his doing.

Conte (RC):    But he who gazes upon the perfect law of liberty, and who remains in it, is not a forgetful hearer, but instead a doer of the work. He shall be blessed in what he does.


1:25                 But whoso.  No exceptions possible.  Rw]

                        looketh.  The word denotes careful looking, as of one stooping to look.  [13] 

                        That is, looketh deeply into it; as it were, immerses himself in it.  [6]

                        See for its literal use Mark 16:5; Luke 24:12, and for its spiritual application, “which things the angels desire to look into,” in 1 Peter 1:12.  In Sirach 14:23, it is used of the “prying in,” the eager gaze of the seeker after wisdom; in Sirach 21:23 of the intrusive gaze of the fool.  [38]

into the perfect law of liberty.  The gospel, which gives true freedom to the soul, and is a perfect rule of action.  That it delivers the soul from the bondage of the Mosaic law is also true, but that is a view not discussed in the present epistle.  [14]

The words appear at first to be wide and general, and to echo the language in which Psalmists and others had spoken of “the law of the Eternal” (Psalm 19:7; 111:7; 119:1).  On the other hand, we have to remember that at the Council at which James presided, the law of Moses, as such, was described as “a yoke” of bondage (Acts 15:10), even as St Paul spoke of it (Galatians 5:1), and that our Lord had spoken of the Truth as that by which alone men could be made “free indeed” (John 8:32).  It follows from this, almost necessarily, that St James speaks of the new Law, the spiritual code of ethics, which had been proclaimed by Christ, and of which the Sermon on the Mount remains as the great pattern and example.  That Law was characterized as giving to the soul freedom from the vices that enslave it.  To look into that Law and to continue in it was to share the beatitudes with which it opened.  That the writer was familiar with that Sermon we shall see at well nigh every turn of the Epistle.  [38]

the perfect law.  Namely, that of the gospel, termed a law, as being a rule of faith and practice, obligatory upon all to whom it is made known, acquitting or condemning men, (for by it they will be judged at the last day,) and determining our state for ever:  called a perfect law, 1st, Because it is clear, concise, full, having no deficiency, and yet containing nothing superfluous.  2d, Because of its superiority to the law of Moses, which made no man perfect, either in respect of justification or sanctification, Hebrews 7:10; whereas the gospel is calculated to make men perfect in both respects.  [47] 

law of liberty.  1st, In opposition to the ceremonial law, which was a yoke of bondage the Jews could not bear, and from which it freed all that received it; Christ’s yoke being easy, his burden light, and his commandments not grievous.  2d, Because it delivers all true believers from the guilt of past sin, from the curse of the law, and from the wrath of God.  3d, Because it rescues them from the power of sin and Satan, of the world and the flesh, and from the slavery of their lusts and passions, restoring the dominion of reason and conscience in their minds, which is true liberty.  4th, Because it saves those, on whom it has its designed influence, from all slavish fear of God, all tormenting fear of death and hell, and the whole spirit of bondage.  Observe, reader, he who receives the gospel in faith, love, and new obedience, is free; he that does not is not free, but a slave to sin, and a criminal before God.  [47]

                        and continueth therein.  Perseveres in the study, consideration, and belief of it, and in obedience to it; see John 8:31.  [47]

This becomes a lifestyle characteristic, not an occasional aberration.  [rw]

                        he being not a forgetful hearer.  This seems to be a reference to Deut. 4:9:  “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life.”  “He who studies and forgets is like to a woman who brings forth children, and immediately buries them.”  both R. Nathan. cap. 23.  [18]

                        but a doer of the work.  The law is regarded as a mirror, with, as it were, “magic” properties.  Looking into it, a man sees not only his actual self with all its defects, but the ideal of Christian manhood.  Studying the vision, and seeking to realize the idea, he attains to blessing.  Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12.  [45]

                        This man shall be blessed in his deed.  In “Pirkey Aboth,” cap. v. 14, it is said:  “There are four kinds of men who visit the synagogues, 1.  He who enters but does not work:  2.  He who works but does not enter.  3.  He who enters and works.  4.  He who neither enters nor works.  The first two are indifferent characters; the “third” is the righteous man; the “fourth” is wholly evil.”  [18]

                        It will come to you in many ways.  You have now honored God, and God will honor you.  You will be ‘blessed’ when you are studying.A light will be thrown upon God’s Word.  It will become quite a new book to you; and the reading, or the listening, will be very different to what it used to be; not a thing to be done, but a thing to be enjoyed; a pleasure more than a duty.  There will be a Presence. There will be a peaceful, restful state of mind. It will follow you in all the details of common life.  [49]


                        In depth:  In what sense a perfect law [10]?  Nothing can be “added to it  to render it more effectual:  neither ceremonial nor moral duties can at all improve Christ’s finished work (Gal. 5:2, 4).  It will be utterly made void also, if any thing be “taken from it.”  The blood of Christ, not any work of ours, must be regarded as “the price” of our redemption (1 Pet. 1:18, 19); and the liberty itself must be received as “the gift of God through faith” (Eph. 2:8).  The Gospel is perfect also with respect to its effects upon the conscience.  The Mosaic sacrifices were little more than remembrances of sins (Heb. 10:3); but in the Gospel we have a sacrifice that takes away our sin (John 1:29).  The soul, once purged by the Redeemer’s blood, is cleansed for ever (Heb. 10:14); and, once freed by his almighty grace, is free indeed (John 8:36)!

                        Or:  James’s idea, I suppose, in that epithet, is not so much the completeness of the code, or the loftiness and absoluteness of the ideal which is set forth in the gospel, as the relation between the law and its doer.  He is stating the same thought of which the Psalmist of old time had caught a glimpse:  “The law of the Lord is perfect” because it “converts the soul.”  That is to say, the weakness of all commandment--whether it be the law of a nation, or the law of moral textbooks, or the law of conscience, or of public opinion, or the like--the weakness of all positive statute is that it stands there, over against a man, and points a stony finger to the stony tables, “Thou shalt!”  “Thou shalt not!” but stretches out no hand to help us in keeping the commandment.  But, says James, this law is perfect--because it is more than law, and transcends the simple function of command.  It not only tells us what to do, but it gives us power to do it; and that is what men want.  The world knows what it ought to do well enough.  There is no need for heaven to be rent, and divine voices to come to tell men what is right and wrong; they carry an all but absolutely sufficient guide as to that within their own minds.  But there is need to bring them something which shall be more than commandment, which shall be both law and power, both the exhibition of duty and the gift of capacity to discharge it.  [27] 



1:26                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     If a man thinks that he is scrupulously religious, although he is not curbing his tongue but is deceiving himself, his religious service is worthless.

WEB:              If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn't bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man's religion is worthless.

Young’s:         If any one doth think to be religious among you, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his heart, of this one vain is the religion.

Conte (RC):    But if anyone considers himself to be religious, but he does not restrain his tongue, but instead seduces his own heart: such a one’s religion is vanity.


1:26                 If any man among you.  No one can “get off the hook:  The principle applies to every member of the congregation where you are worshipping—and you in particular.  [rw]

                        That is, not seems to others, but thinketh himself, appears to himself to be religious.  The words denote the false opinion which a man has of himself; the false estimate which he has formed of his religion.  [51]
                        seem to be religious.  Only here in New Testament, and nowhere in classical Greek.  The kindred noun θρησκεία, religion, occurs Acts 26:5; Col. 2:18; Jas. 1:26, 27; and means the ceremonial service of religion.  Herodotus (ii., 37) uses it of various observances practiced by the Egyptian priests, such as wearing lined, circumcision, shaving, etc.  Hence the adjective here refers to a zealous and diligent performance of religious services.  [2]

                        In a vain religion there is much of show, and affecting to seem religious in the eyes of others.  This, I think, is mentioned in a manner that should fix our thought on the word seemeth.  When men are more concerned to seem religious than really to be so, it is a sign that their religion is but vain.  Not that religion itself is a vain thing (those do it a great deal of injustice who say, It is in vain to serve the Lord), but it is possible for people to make it a vain thing, if they have only a form of godliness, and not the power.  [5]

                        and bridleth not his tongue.  Does not regulate it by the revealed will of God.  [14]

                        But St. James has thus far dilated only on the first part of his advice in James 1:19, “Let every man be swift to hear”; now he must enforce the remaining clause, “slow to speak.”  [46]

                        deceieveth his own heart.  By thinking that he is pious, when he continues to cherish and indulge a slanderous spirit.  [14]

                        A Christian may have, or rather cannot help having, the feeling that he is a religious man; and so far well.  But if such a one deceive his own heart, as confessedly he may, and give to those around him the proof of his self-delusion in not curbing his tongue, vain and useless is all his religious service.  Just as some mistakenly suppose there can be a religion of hearing without acting, so others rest satisfied “in outward acts of worship, or exactness of ritual.”  “But,” remarks Bishop Moberly on this passage, and his voice may win an audience where another’s would not, “if a man think himself a true worshipper because he conforms to outward services, while he lets his tongue loose in untruth or unkindness or other unseemliness, he deceives himself.”  The first mark of true religion is gentleness of tongue, just as the contrary, blasphemy, is the most damning fault of all.  Our Lord directly says, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).  The text, however, is more a guide for self-examination than a stone to be cast at a neighbor; and “well is” it indeed for “him that hath not slipped with his tongue” (Sirach 25:8).  [46]

                        this man’s religion is vain.  Of no value in the sight of God.  [51]     

                        religious . . . relgion.  ‘Religious’ and ‘religion’ are hardly the correct renderings.  Both are, however, adopted in the Revised Version without note.  We have no terms in our language to express the original; worshipper and worship is perhaps the nearest approach.  It is not internal religion to which St. James alludes, but the manifestation of religion, the service of God or religious worship.  [51]

                        Or:  These words may be best defined in the words of Trench:  “We have in ‘religious. . . ,’ the zealous and diligent performer of the divine offices, of the outward service of God . . .  ‘Religion’ is predominantly the ceremonial service of religion, the external forms or body, of which ‘godliness’ is the informing soul.”  “Religion’ here is not the inner life, but the external manifestation.  There is still a contrast with the Jewish law.  The “Divine offices” of the Christian faith are not ceremonies of worship, but the acts of a Christlike life.  [45]  

                        Scrupulous indeed were the “religious” contemporaries of James; they would not enter where the image of Divus Cæsar had its votive flame, while they were ceremonially clean for the keeping of their passover—“they went not into the judgment hall lest they should be defiled” (John 18:28).  But He whom there they cruelly sought to slay had told them before, though in vain, “that which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man” (Mark 7:20), and “nothing from without can defile him” (James 1:15).  What an eternal caution may be learned here against cold reliance upon ritual!  [46]



1:27                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     The religious service which is pure and stainless in the sight of our God and Father is to visit fatherless children and widowed women in their time of trouble, and to keep one's own self unspotted from the world.

WEB:              Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Young’s:         religion pure and undefiled with the God and Father is this, to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation--unspotted to keep himself from the world.

Conte (RC):    This is religion, clean and undefiled before God the Father: to visit orphans and widows in their tribulations, and to keep yourself immaculate, apart from this age.


1:27                 Pure religion.  Having told them what is “not” true religion, he bids them know what “is,” and in what it consists.  [11] 

                        James may use the word pure, as a proper admonition to the Jews, who were generally mostly solicitous to avoid legal uncleannesses, such as were incurred by eating meats forbidden in their law as unclean, by touching a dead body, etc.  He therefore tells them that the Christian religion is known by acts of charity, by visiting and assisting widows, the fatherless, and such as are under afflictions, and in general by keeping our consciences interiorly clean, unspotted, and “undefiled from this world,” from the corrupt maxims and sinful practices so common in this wicked word.  [12]

                        Pure religion and undefiled.  Consists not merely in the warmth of affection during the exercise of worship.  [17] 

                        He describes religion by its fruits, and that on two sides:  first, that of love and mercy; secondly, that of purity from worldly defilements.  [14]

                        Pure and undefiled may almost be regarded as synonymous terms, the one expressing the idea positively, and the other negatively.  Not, as some arbitrarily think, ‘pure’ referring to the inner, and ‘undefiled’ to the external life.  [51]

                        They required to be put on their guard against a sort of baptized Pharisaism, full of good profession, but barren of good fruit.  [19]

                        Before God and the Father is this.  The Father is added to express the relation of God to us, as one of paternal love.  [51]

                        is this.  That is, this enters into it; or this is religion such as God approves. The apostle does not say that this is the whole of religion, or that there is nothing else essential to it; but his general design clearly is, to show that religion will lead to a holy life, and he mentions this as a specimen, or an instance of what it will lead us to do.  [31]

                        to visit.  James strikes a downright blow here at ministry by proxy, or by mere gifts of money.  Pure and undefiled religion demands personal contact with the world’s sorrow:  to visit the afflicted, and to visit them in their affliction.  [2]

                        The Greek word implies somewhat more than that which we commonly attach to the English; “to care for,” “look after,” as in “God hath visited his people” (Luke 7:16).  [38]

                        the fatherless and widows.  As the Old Testament frequently intimates, those usually most in need of sympathy and aid are orphans and widows.  But they are not the only persons who make their appeal to our pity; James mentions them simply as types or examples; but he declares that care for them constitutes a true religious ceremony, it is part of a real ritual.  [7]

                        It is very true, that Ignatius saith of some who maintained opinions contrary to the grace of God come unto us, that “they had no regard to charity, to the widow, and to the orphan, to the oppressed, to those that were in bonds, to the hungry and thirsty.”  [4]

                        in their affliction [trouble, NKJV].  When they are having difficulties--showing that more than a "courtesy visit" is envolved.  I know a man who cuts the grass of a neighbor who is too old to do it for himself.  This is "visiting" in the sense that James is talking about.  [rw]  

                        and to keep himself.  "Charity" is never a substitute for personal integrity.  The two are expected to coexist at the same time in the same person.  [rw] 

                        unspotted.  It is no easy task, the result of one passionate look to heaven, the answer to one heartrending cry for help. It is a daily battle beginning with the morning light, ceasing only for a time when sleep has hushed the tempting voices and lulled the passions to their rest.  Sometimes there is an onslaught of almost resistless fury, sometimes the deadly stillness of a dangerous ambush. And still the fight must continue till the last sleep come and the spirit return unto God Who gave it.  But we are not alone in the fight.  There is the all-prevailing intercession of the Son before the throne of the Father.  [49]

                        from the world.  From all the enticements to sin which the world offers.  [14]








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