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










2:1                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     My brethren, you must not make distinctions between one man and another while you are striving to maintain faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our glory.

WEB:              My brothers, don't hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality.

Young’s:         My brethren, hold not, in respect of persons, the faith of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Conte (RC):    My brothers, within the glorious faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, do not choose to show favoritism toward persons.


2:1                   My brethren.  The equality of Christians, as indicated by the name of brethren, is the basis of this admonition.  [26]

                        The connection [with the preceding] appears to be:  As the true service of God consists in active benevolence, exercised especially toward the poor and afflicted, St. James takes occasion to reprove his readers for a practice which was in direct contradiction to this, namely, showing partiality to the rich, and despising the poor.  [51]

                        have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.  i.e. faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; not the author but the object of faith is meant, as Galatians 2:20, Galatians 3:22, Philippians 3:9.  [28]

                        Or:  It is the only one in the Epistle in which, as far as I remember, mention is made of holding the faith—i.e., the one faith (Ephesians 4:5), “the faith once for all delivered unto the saints.”  St. James has been commented upon as not bringing forward the objective faith, as St. Paul does, but have we not it here?  The faith here alluded to is evidently not the belief in God’s Unity, but in that body of truth respecting Jesus, which enables us to hold Him to be the Lord of Glory.  [41]

                        the Lord of glory.  Faith in so glorious a “Lord” is not in consistency with respect of persons.  Respect of persons means to regard a man for his rank, personal appearance, or any other reason than his true deserts or value.  [39]

                        The words ‘the Lord’ are in italics, and not in the original; all that is in the Greek are the words ‘of glory.’  Accordingly, different meanings have been attached to this phrase.  [1] Some construe it with ‘respect of person,’ and translate it ‘according to your estimate or opinion;’ thus Calvin: ‘Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons, on account of esteem;’ that is, placing a false and unchristian value on riches.  [2] Others attach it to Christ: ‘the faith of our Lord Jesus, the Christ, or the Messiah, of glory.’  [3] Others consider it as governed by faith, but give different meanings:  ‘the glorious faith of our Lord Jesus Christ;’ or ‘faith in the glory or exaltation of Christ;’ or ‘the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ in the glory,’ namely, in that glory which is reserved for the saints.  [4] Others suppose that glory is a personal appellation of Christ: ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory,’ equivalent to the Shechinah of the Jewish Church.  This is certainly the simplest reading; but there is no proof from the New Testament that such an epithet was applied to our Lord.  Our version, by supplying the words ‘the Lord’ from the former clause, is the least objectionable:  ‘the Lord of glory.’  The clause is inserted to show the vanity of earthly riches, as contrasted with the glory of Christ.  [51]

                        with respect of persons.  Let not the outward condition of persons regulate your judgment of their character, or your treatment of them.  [14]

                        That is, honor none, merely for being rich; despise none, merely for being poor.  [15]

                        Here James refers to one form of the transgression of the spirit of true religion.  In spiritual matters, no partiality is to be shown on account of worldly distinctions, whether at the administration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:21), or in reproving sin (1 Timothy 5:21), or in seating believers in Christian assemblies for public worship, as here.  [50]

                        The same danger of unjustified preferential treatment exists in how different preachers are treated:  Zanchy relates about a certain Frenchman, a friend of his, and a constant hearer of Calvin at Geneva, that being solicited by him to hear Viret, an excellent preacher, who preached at the same time that Calvin did, he answered, If St Paul himself should preach here at the same hour with Calvin, I would not leave Calvin to hear Paul.  This is not only partiality, but anthropolatry or man worship, saith he.  [29] 

                        A practical test of the mind frame:  A rich man comes in and I feel like I wish I had another sermon this morning.  Well, then, James is talking to you. [43]  

                        2:1 is a “logical jump or development” from the principle laid down in the previous verse:  The mention in 1:27 of the fatherless and widows seems naturally to introduce the topic here of the impartial treatment of all classes, poor as well as rich, in the Christian brotherhood.  As God is no respecter of persons, His children who aim to be like Him in character, should study to be as just and impartial in their treatment of one another as He is of His children.  [40]


                        In depth:  Argument that the assembly is a judicial rather than religious one [12].  James here speaks of it as it was committed in the assemblies, by which many understand the meetings of Christians, in synagogues and places where they celebrated the divine service, or met to keep the charitable feast, called Agape.  Others expound it of meetings where causes were judged.  If it be meant of Church meetings, the apostle might have even greater reason to condemn such a partiality at that time than at present; for when the poorer sort of people, of which was the greatest number of converts, saw themselves so neglected and despised, and any rich man when he came thither so caressed and honored, this might prove a discouragement to the [poorer] sort of people, and an obstacle to their conversion. 

But if we expound it of meetings where causes were judged betwixt the rich and others of a lower condition, (which exposition the text seems to favor) the fault might be still greater, when the judges gave sentence in favor of great and rich men, biased thereunto by the unjust regard they had for men rich and powerful.  This was a transgression of the law:  (Lev. 19:15) Respect not the person of the poor, nor honour the countenance of the mighty. 

                        And [18]:  There come in also a poor man [verse 2)]:  In ancient times petty courts of judicature were held in the synagogues, as “Vitringa” has sufficiently proved, “De Vet. Syn.”  1. 3, p. 1, c. 11; and it is probable that the case here adduced was one of a judicial kind, where, of the two “parties,” one was “rich” and the other “poor;” and the master or ruler of the synagogue, or he who presided in this court, paid particular deference to the rich man, and neglected the poor man; though, as “plaintiff” and “defendant,” they were equal in the eye of justice, and should have           been considered so by an impartial judge. 


                        In depth:  Argument that the assembly is the regular religious gathering rather that a “judicial” one in any sense [20].  Had the apostle intended to point out so gross an iniquity, he would doubtless have spoken of it with far more decided severity.  If such partiality were used in the determinations of those matters, which came before the churches, it would certainly be condemned by what he said; yet the language does not at all relate to judicial proceedings of any kind; but to an improper respect shown towards some, and contempt expressed towards others, merely on account of external appearance. (Scott) 



2:2                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     For suppose a man comes into one of your meetings wearing gold rings and fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man wearing shabby clothes.

WEB:              For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in.

Young’s:         for if there may come into your synagogue a man with gold ring, in gay raiment, and there may come in also a poor man in vile raiment.

Conte (RC):    For if a man has entered your assembly having a gold ring and splendid apparel, and if a poor man has also entered, in dirty clothing.


2:2                   For if there come.  St. James does not here mention a mere hypothetical case, but what must frequently have occurred.  [51]

unto your assembly.  The assembly for public worship.  [34

Assembly (συναγωγὴν):  The word synagogue is a transcript of this.  From σύν, together, and ἄγω, to bring. Hence,  literally, a gathering or congregation, in which sense the word is common in the Septuagint, not only of assemblies for worship, but of gatherings for other public purposes.  From the meeting itself the transition is easy to the place of meeting, the synagogue; and in this sense the term is used throughout the New Testament, with the following exceptions:  In Acts 13:43, it is rendered congregation by the A.V., though Rev. gives synagogue; and in Apoc. 2:9; 3:9, the unbelieving Jews, as distinctively Jewish assembly or place of worship it was more sharply emphasized by the adoption of the word ἐκκλησία, ecclesia, to denote the Christian church.  In this passage alone the word designates the place of meeting for the Christian body, James using the word most familiar to the Jewish Christians; an explanation which receives countenance from the fact that, as Huther observes, “the Jewish Christians regarded themselves as still an integral part of the Jewish nation, as the chosen people of God.”  As such a portion they had their special synagogue.  From Acts 6:9, we learn that there were numerous synagogues in Jerusalem, representing different bodies, such as the descendants of Jewish freedmen at Rome, and the Alexandrian or Hellenistic Jews.  Among these would be the synagogue of the Christians, and such would be the case in all large cities where the dispersed Jews congregated.  [2]

                        It cannot be inferred from the usual signification of the word that a Jewish synagogue is here meant (Semler, Schneckenburger, Bouman); the Christians would certainly not have the right to show seats to those who entered into such a place of worship.  [8]

                        a man with a gold ring.  Only here in New Testament.  Not a man wearing a single gold ring (as A.V. and Rev.), which would not attract attention in an assembly where most persons wore a ring, but a gold-ringed man, having his hands conspicuously loaded with rings and jewels.  The ring was regarded as an indispensable article of a Hebrew’s attire, since it contained his signet; and the name of the ring, tabbath, was derived from a root signifying to impress a seal.  It was a proverbial expression for a most valued object.  See Isa. 22:24; Hag. 2:23.  [2]

                        in goodly [fine, NKJV] apparel.  “Goodly apparel” is, rather, gorgeous—splendid in color or ornament; the same two words are translated “gay clothing” in the following verse.  [46]

The two attributes of gold rings and expensive clothing went, logically, hand-in-hand:  The person who could afford one would be the only kind of person who could reasonably be expected to have the other.  [rw] 

                        and there come in also a poor man.  The description is in St. James’ graphic style.  Into their place for religious assembly two men entered, the one gorgeously arrayed with jeweled fingers and a great display of riches; the other a poor man in shabby apparel, soiled with his daily manual occupations.  [51]

in vile raiment [filthy clothes, NKJV].  We need not decide whether these two men are Christians or not.  In each case we must suppose the man is a stranger, and each has his place assigned to him simply on the ground of the appearance of his clothing, whether it is “fine” or “shabby.”  [50]

                        In depth:  Ring wearing in first century society [2].  The Greeks and Romans wore them in a great profusion.  Hannibal, after the battle of Cannae, sent as a trophy to Carthage, three bushels of gold rings from the fingers of the Roman knights slain in battle.  To wear rings on the right had was regarded as a mark of effeminacy; but they were worn profusely on the left. 

Martial says of one Charinus that he wore six on each finger, and never laid them aside, either at night or when bathing.  The fops had rings of different sizes for summer and winter.  Aristophanes distinguishes between the populace and those who wear rings, and in his comedy of  The Clonds” uses the formidable word σφραγιδονυχαργοκομῆται, lazy, long-haired fops, with rings and well-trimmed nails.  Demosthenes was so conspicuous for this kind of ornament that, at a time of public disaster, it was stigmatized as unbecoming vanity.

Frequent mention is made of their enormous cost.  They were of gold and silver, sometimes of both, sometimes of iron inlaid with gold.  The possible beauty of these latter will be appreciated by those who have seen the elegant gold and iron jewelry made at Toledo, in Spain.  Sometimes they were of amber, ivory, or porcelain. 

The practice of wearing rings was adopted by the Christians.  Many of their rings were adorned with the symbols of the faith--the cross, the anchor, the monogram of Christ, etc.  Among the rings found in the catacombs are some with a key, and some with both a key and a seal, for both locking and sealing a casket. 


                        In depth:  Evidence the rich visitor is a non-Christian [8].  Are Christians or non-Christians meant by these incomers?  Most expositors consider them to be Christians only, whether they belonged to the congregation or came there as [guests].  But the following reasons decide against this view:  1.  They are distinguished by James from the brethren addressed, and are not indicated as brethren, which yet, particularly in reference to the poor (ver. 5), would readily have suggested itself as a strong confirmation of their fault.  2.  In vv. 6, 7, the rich are evidently opposed to Christians, and reprimanded for their conduct towards Christians (not merely toward the poor), which, if rich Christians had been guilty of it, would certainly have been indicated as an offence against their Christian calling.  That those who were not Christians might and did come into the Christian religious assemblies, is a well-known fact; see 1 Cor. 14:22-23. 



2:3                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     and you pay court to the one who wears the fine clothes, and say, "Sit here; this is a good place;" while to the poor man you say, "Stand there, or sit on the floor at my feet."

WEB:              and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say, "Sit here in a good place;" and you tell the poor man, "Stand there," or "Sit by my footstool."

Young’s:         and ye may look upon him bearing the gay raiment, and may say to him, 'Thou -- sit thou here well,' and to the poor man may say, 'Thou -- stand thou there, or, Sit thou here under my footstool,' --

Conte (RC):    and if you are then attentive to the one who is clothed in excellent apparel, so that you say to him, “You may sit in this good place,” but you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit below my footstool.”


2:3                   And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay [fine, NKJV] clothing.  Show respect not to the character but to the clothes.  [22]

                        In these verses there is in our English version a needless variation in the renderings of the same Greek word; the words apparel, raiment, and clothing are all in the original expressed by the same term.  [51]

                        and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place.  A place of consequence and comfort:  literally, ‘Be well seated.’  As in the Jewish synagogues, so in the Christian, there would be a diversity of seats.  Thus we read of the scribes and Pharisees who ‘loved the chief seats in the synagogues’ (Matthew 23:6).  [51]

As regards the matter itself, the fault is not directed against the rulers of the congregation,--the presbyters and deacons (Grotius, Pott, Schulthess, Hottinger),--but, as the address [in Greek in verse 1] shows, it is entirely general.  The instance which James states is, as regards the matter, not a hypothetical assumption, but a fact; and certainly not to be regarded as a solitary instance which only once took place, but as something which often occurred, that even in their religious assemblies the rich were treated with distinction, and the poor with disdain.  It is not surprising that James in the description employed the aorist, since he generally uses that tense to represent that which is habitually repeated as a single fact which has taken place; see chap. 1:11, 24.  [8]

                        and say to the poor, Stand thou there.  With the implicit message, “You aren’t worthy of a seat since you are poor.”  [rw]

or sit here under my footstool.  With the implicit message that, “While I am fully deserving of a seat, all you are worthy of is sitting on the floor.”  [rw]



2:4                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     is it not plain that in your hearts you have little faith, seeing that you have become judges full of wrong thoughts?

WEB:              haven't you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Young’s:         ye did not judge fully in yourselves, and did become ill-reasoning judges.

Conte (RC):    are you not judging within yourselves, and have you not become judges with unjust thoughts?


2:4                   Are ye not then partial in [among, NKJV] yourselves.  “Are ye not divided in your own mind?”  If we translate this difficult passage so, the thought is, you have not a single eye, you are double-minded (1:8), you are influenced by worldly considerations, and look to the world, and not to Christ only; you have fallen into a contradiction with your faith (2:1).  A more natural translation is the one given in the margin of the R.V., “Do ye not make distinctions among yourselves?”  [50]

                        On the different ways the words can be translated:  This verse has given rise to a great variety of interpretation, owing to the uncertainty of its correct translation.  Are ye not partial in yourselves?  This version is hardly correct.  Some render the words:  ‘Did you not judge among yourselves,’ by thus determining that the rich are to be preferred to the poor?  Others:  ‘Did you not discriminate or make a distinction’ among those who as Christians are equal?  Others:  ‘Were ye not contentious among yourselves?’ did ye not thus become litigants among yourselves?  And others: ‘Did ye not doubt among yourselves’—become wavering and unsettled in your faith?  The verb in the original is the same which in the former chapter is translated to doubt or to waver (James 1:6); and therefore, although it may also admit of the above significations, it is best to give a preference to that sense in which St. James has already used it.  Hence, literally translated, ‘Did you not doubt in yourselves?’  Did you not, in showing this respect of persons, waver between God with whom there is no respect of persons and the world, and thus become double-minded?  Did you not contradict your faith, according to which the external distinction between rich and poor is nothing?  For to hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect to persons is a contradiction in terms.  The Revised Version has, ‘Are ye not divided in your own mind?’  [51]

and are become judges of [with, NKJV] evil thoughts?  Under the influence of evil thoughts.  [14]

                        That is, you are judges according to those unjust estimations and corrupt opinions which you have formed to yourselves.  [5]

                        Their actions[s] implied a judgment as to the relative worth of the two men.  This was wrong because the men were strangers, of whom too little was known to warrant any such judging.  Moreover, they judged “with evil thoughts” on the principle that the costliness of a man’s dress showed that he was a desirable associate.  The A.V., “judges of evil thoughts,” was probably intended to convey the same meaning.  [45]



2:5                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     Listen, my dearly-loved brethren. Has not God chosen those whom the world regards as poor to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom which He has promised to those that love Him?

WEB:              Listen, my beloved brothers. Didn't God choose those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him?

Young’s:         Hearken, my brethren beloved, did not God choose the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the reign that He promised to those loving Him?

Conte (RC):    My most beloved brothers, listen. Has not God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that God has promised to those who love him?


2:5                   Hearken.  Pay attention; be alert to what I'm about to say.  [rw]

my beloved brethren.  James’ way of saying both “even though you are making a horrible blunder, I still love you” and “I give this severe a criticism not because I hate you but because I deeply love you and want you to do the right thing.”  [rw]

Hath not God.  James does not say that only the poor were chosen.  In some books of the O.T., however, “poor” and “godly” are almost synonymous.  [45]  Perhaps out of the recognition that in a sufficiently decayed society, that wealthiness is almost never going to seek out service and submission to One who prohibits behavior that is financially and personally beneficial to themselves. [rw]

chosen the poor of this world [in the eyes of the world, NIV].  To be his disciples more often than the rich.  [14]
Not that God hath chosen all the poor in the world, but his choice is chiefly of them, 1 Corinthians 1:26, 28.  Poor he means in the things of this world, and in the esteem of worldly men; they are opposed to those that Paul calls rich in this world, 1 Timothy 6:17, 18.  [28]

“Blessed be ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). The way thereto for them is nearer and less cumbered than for the rich, if only they fulfill the Scripture (compare Matthew 6:3), and be poor “in spirit:” then, indeed, are they “heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him.”  [46]

[to be, NKJV] rich in faith.  Faith is not the quality in which they are to be rich, but the sphere or element; rich in their position as believers.  [2]

Luke 12:21, “Rich toward God.”  1 Timothy 6:18, “Rich in good works  (Revelation 2:9; cf. 2 Corinthians 2:9).  [21]

Either in the greatness and abundance of their faith, Matthew 15:28, Romans 4:20; or rather, rich in those privileges and hopes to which by faith they have a title.  [28]

and heirs of the kingdom.  Not the spiritual kingdom of Christ on earth, but the heavenly kingdom.  [51]

A unique phrase.  An inheritance as a figure for the privileges of believers is an O.T. idea (Ezekiel 44:28, &c.) frequently used by Paul (Romans 8:17, &c.); cf. 1 Peter 1:4.  Kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” were Christ’s favorite terms for the new spiritual dispensation which He inaugurated.  [45]

which he hath promised to them that love him?  The love of God being the essence of true piety.  St. James did not require to prove the truth of this statement; the condition of the Jewish Christians of the dispersion, to whom he wrote, was proof sufficient that although there were a few rich among them, yet they were mostly chosen from among the poor.  Compare with this the words of St. Paul: ‘ God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty’ (1 Corinthians 1:27).  And the same statement holds good in the present day. The rich are under far greater temptations than the poor; they are led to trust in uncertain riches, and to seek their good things in this world, to fix their happiness here, and to forget ‘the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love Him.’  ‘How hardly,’ says our Savior, ‘shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God’ (Mark 10:23).  [51]



2:6                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     But you have put dishonour upon the poor man. Yet is it not the rich who grind you down? Are not they the very people who drag you into the Law courts? --

WEB:              But you have dishonored the poor man. Don't the rich oppress you, and personally drag you before the courts?

Young’s:         and ye did dishonour the poor one; do not the rich oppress you and themselves draw you to judgment-seats.

Conte (RC):    But you have dishonored the poor. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you through power? And are not they the ones who drag you to judgment?


2:6                   But ye.  This statement appears to point to local conditions known by the writer.  [16]

                        The pronoun is emphatic, “God chose the poor, ye put them to shame.”  [38]

have despised [dishonored, NKJV] the poor.  Those whom God accepts you reject.  [22]

Instead of showing love and respect, causing him to forget his earthly surroundings, you have openly put him to shame.  [50]

Not so much the poor generally, as the poor among Christians.  Now follows a second consideration; that by showing respect to the rich, they give a preference to those who were the enemies both of themselves and of Christ.  [51]

Do not rich men.  Unbelieving rich men:  as much as to say, Why show such partiality to the rich?  Are not they your chief persecutors?  [14]

Not all the rich, but many of them, and none but they; for the poor have not the power, even if they wished.  The apostle mentions this, not to excite the godly to envy, but to show the unworthiness of the rich.  [26]

oppress you.  Josephus (Antiquities, 28.8) speaks of the cruelty of the rich Sadducees to the poor in Jerusalem:  compare also Isaiah 3:15; Amos 4:1, and many other passages from the prophets of the O.T. denouncing the cruelty and oppression of the rich.  [24]

and draw you.  “Draw:  Not strong enough.  The word implies violence.  Hence, better, as Rev., drag.  Compare Livy’s phrase,  a lictoribus trahi, to be dragged by the lictors to judgment;” Acts 8:3, of Saul haling or hauling men and women to prison; and Luke 12:58.  [2]

before the judgment seats?  Only here and 1 Cor. 6:24.  [2]

Are not most of the rich men your persecutors, rather than your friends?  [47]

Or:  If these forms of injury be regarded as inflicted in matters of money on account of debt, etc., it is not necessary to suppose that “the rich” were thought of as outside the churches.  [16]

Those who suppose that by the rich here mentioned Christians are intended, think that the reference is not to persecution, but to litigation, similar to the abuses which occurred in the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 6:6).  [51]    



2:7                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     and the very people who speak evil of the noble Name by which you are called?

WEB:              Don't they blaspheme the honorable name by which you are called?

Young’s:         do they not themselves speak evil of the good name that was called upon you?

Conte (RC):    Are not they the ones who blaspheme the good name which has been invoked over you?


2:7                   Do not they blaspheme.  That is, by their unchristian conduct in oppressing the poor.  [16]

In support of the hypothesis that the rich are Christians, many expositors (also Bruckner and Wiesinger) here arbitrarily explain [the Greek] of indirect blasphemy i.e., of such as takes place not by words, but by works; but [the term] is never thus used in the Holy Scriptures; not one of the passages which Wiesinger cites proves that for which he adduces them; [it] always denotes blasphemy by word.  [8]

that worthy name.  The name of Christ.  There is an allusion either to the fact that they were already called Christians, or that they were baptized in his name.  [22]

  Where it had not yet found its way, it was probable enough that the disciples of Jesus would be known by the name out of which “Christian” sprang, as οἱ Χριστοῦ, “Christ’s people,” “Christ’s followers.”  The description reminds us of the account St Paul gives of his work in compelling the saints to “blaspheme” (Acts 26:11).  [38]

by the which ye are called?  See Deut. xxviii. 10, where the Septuagint reads that the name of the Lord has been called upon thee.  Also, 2 Chron. 7:14; Isa. 4:1.  Compare Acts 15:17.  [2]



2:8                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     If, however, you are keeping the Law as supreme, in obedience to the Commandment which says "You are to love your fellow man just as you love yourself," you are acting rightly.

WEB:              However, if you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well.

Young’s:         If, indeed, royal law ye complete, according to the Writing, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,' -- ye do well.

Conte (RC):    So if you perfect the regal law, according to the Scriptures, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” then you do well.


2:8                   If ye fulfil.  The connection [with the preceding] has been variously understood.  Some suppose that St. James is anticipating an objection of his readers, that by showing respect of persons to the rich, they were obeying the royal law, in loving their neighbor as themselves; others think that he is guarding his own argument from misinterpretation.  [51]

the royal law.  It is called “the royal law” because it is superior to all others and because it makes those who obey it regal and kingly.  [7]

The law of love, called royal by way of preeminence.  Compare Matt.  22:37-40.  [14]

Not so much because it is the law of Christ, our king, it being a law of the Old Testament, as because it is the law which, of all laws which concern our neighbor, is most excellent, and which governs and moderates other laws.  [4]

Overview of major interpretive options:  The phrase, νομος βασιλικος, royal law, here admits of three interpretations. 1st, As the Greeks called a thing royal which was excellent in its kind, it may mean an excellent law.  2d, As the same Greeks, having few or no kings among them, called the laws of the kings of Persia, βασιλικοι νομοι, royal laws, the expression here may signify, the law made by Christ our King.  3d, This law, enjoining us to love our neighbor, may be called the royal law, because it inspires us with a greatness of mind, fit for kings, whose greatest glory consists in benevolence and clemency.  [47]

according to the scripture.  Here not according to the Gospel—the words of Jesus; but according to the law of Moses (Leviticus 19:18).  [51]

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.  Lest any should think James had been pleading for the poor so as to throw contempt on the rich, he now lets them know that he did not design to encourage improper conduct towards any; they must not hate nor be rude to the rich, any more than despise the poor; but as the Scripture teaches us to love all our neighbors, be they rich or poor, as ourselves, so, in our having a steady regard to this rule, “we shall do well.”   [5]

                        Ye are not to be blamed, but commended.  The apostle seems here to answer an objection they might make in their own defence; that in the respect they gave to rich men, they did but act according to the law which commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves: to this he replies partly in this verse by way of concession, or on supposition; that if the respect they gave to rich men were indeed in obedience to the law of charity, which commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves, then they did well, and he found no fault with them; but [it is outright sinful if they do so out of a different motive, as] he shows in the next verse.  [28]

                        The law or precept here spoken of was enjoined by Moses, but Christ carried it to such perfection, as it was to be practised among his followers, and laid such stress upon it, that he called it a new commandment, John 13:34; and his commandment, John 15:12.  [47]



2:9                                                       Translations

Weymouth:     But if you are making distinctions between one man and another, you are guilty of sin, and are convicted by the Law as offenders.

WEB:              But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors.

Young’s:         and if ye accept persons, sin ye do work, being convicted by the law as transgressors.

Conte (RC):    But if you show favoritism to persons, then you commit a sin, having been convicted again by the law as transgressors.


2:9                   But if ye have respect to persons.  The second part of the apostle’s answer, in which he sets persons in opposition [= contrast] to neighbor: q.d., If you, instead of loving your neighbor, which excludes no sort of men, poor no more than rich, choose and single out (as ye do) only some few (viz. rich men) to whom ye give respect, despising others, ye are so far from fulfilling the royal law, that ye sin against it.  [28]

ye commit sin.  Ye violate this royal law.  [51]

and are convinced [convicted, NKJV]  of the law as transgressors.  By that very law.  [15]

                        Because such a respect of persons is contrary and opposed to a disinterested and universal love to others.  [51]


2:10                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     A man who has kept the Law as a whole, but has failed to keep some one command, has become guilty of violating all.

WEB:              For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

Young’s:         for whoever the whole law shall keep, and shall stumble in one point, he hath become guilty of all.

Conte (RC):    Now whoever has observed the whole law, yet who offends in one matter, has become guilty of all.


2:10                 For whosoever.  I.e., the principle applies to one and all—to everyone.  [rw]

shall keep the whole law.  Barring sinlessness—which is not a human option—no one will every fully do so.  But one can try to do so and one can so fully do so that nothing obvious is out of place.  From the practical standpoint such a person observes “the whole law” in spite of their human failures.  [rw]

Or:  This is not an assertion, that any man doth keep the whole law so as to offend but in one point, but a supposition that if, or admitting, such a one were.  [28]

Better, have kept the whole Law, but shall have offended in one, has become guilty of all.  As a chain is snapped by failure of the weakest link, so the whole Law, in its harmony and completeness as beheld by God, is broken by one offence of one man; and the penalty falls, of its own natural weight and incidence, on the culprit.  [46]

and yet offend [stumble, NKJV] in one point.  That is, deliberately and habitually.  [34]

Such a little in comparison with the behavior that is their norm!  [rw]

What alone he means is, that God will not be honored with exceptions, nor will he allow us to cut off from his law what is less pleasing to us.  [35]

he is guilty of all.  Literally, “is answerable for all.”  We cannot therefore comfort or excuse ourselves for the transgression of one commandment by alleging that we have kept the rest, or some of them; for the transgression of a single commandment presupposes a frame of mind from which the transgression of all (were opportunity enlarged) might proceed.  [6]  

                        He does not mean that all sin is equally great, or that it is as serious to break one commandment as to break all.  Breaking one commandment puts the offender in the class of transgressors.  It also shows that he is indifferent to law, and so to the will of God expressed in all the commandments, and that it is but accident or fear or the absence of temptation that prevents him from breaking the other commandments.  [7]

                        The “royal law” is a unit; you cannot violate a part of it alone.  There may be different degrees of violation, but if you have done a loveless act no part of the law acquits you; the whole law of love has been violated, and condemns you.  [39]



2:11                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder," and if you are a murderer, although not an adulterer, you have become an offender against the Law.

WEB:              For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

Young’s:         for He who is saying, 'Thou mayest not commit adultery,' said also, 'Thou mayest do no murder;' and if thou shalt not commit adultery, and shalt commit murder, thou hast become a transgressor of law.

Conte (RC):    For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not kill.” So if you do not commit adultery, but you kill, you have become a transgressor of the law.


2:11                 For.  It is the same authority which establishes every commandment.  [15]

                        There is the same divine authority for one commandment as another, Exodus 20:1.  [29]

                        He that said.  The same one undivided divine Authority is promulgator of the one law, which so branches into ten specifications.  Violating any one specification impinges against that entire authority.  It denies the supremacy of God.  It is treason against the government of the universe.  [39]

                        He that said. . . also said.  Selected as being the most glaring cases of violation of duty towards one’s neighbor.  [21] 

Or:   The reason is rather because these two commandments are the first of those which refer to our duties to our neighbor (thus Bruckner).  [8]

It is not meant that you have committed each and every mentionable act of transgression.  The ten commandments are but so many specifications under the one law of love; they are but specifications of various ways in which that one “whole law” can be violated.  Every specific violation is a violation of that one whole law.  [39]

                        Do not commit adultery said also, Do not kill.   Part of the same Divine law code.  That it is a different specific commandment in no way removes it from that code nor makes it proper to ignore it.  [rw]

Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.  Since the law is the expression of the will of Him who gave it, the transgression of a single portion is disobedience to the one will, and consequently a transgression of the whole law.  James might, indeed, have confirmed the idea by the internal connection of all commands, and by pointing out that the transgression of one commandment reveals a want which makes the fulfillment of the other commandments impossible; but as he does not do so, these considerations are not to be arbitrarily introduced into his words.  [8]


In depth:  the common attitude among first century Jews that superior obedience to one part of the Law compensated for laxity on others—a mindframe far from abandoned by many “Christians” who came afterwards [40].  The censure of the apostle was aimed at a habit of the Jews to single out the observance of some principal commandment, as making satisfaction for neglect or disobedience of the others.  Whitby says that “they commonly chose either the law of the sabbath or of the sacrifices, or of the tithes; esteeming these the great commandments of the law.”  It was in this spirit that the lawyer asked Jesus, which is the great commandment in the law.  Matthew 22:26.  All laws are binding, all commandments are great, they all stand on one authority and all demand one thorough-going obedience.

“The law is one seamless garment, which is rent if you but rend a part; or a musical harmony, which is spoiled if there be one discordant note; or a golden chain, whose completeness is broken if you break one link.  Thus you break the whole law, though not the whole of the law, because you offend against love which is the fulfilling of the law.”                  



2:12                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Speak and act as those should who are expecting to be judged by the Law of freedom.

WEB:              So speak, and so do, as men who are to be judged by a law of freedom.

Young’s:         so speak ye and so do, as about by a law of liberty to be judged,

Conte (RC):    So speak and act just as you are beginning to be judged, by the law of liberty.


2:12                 So speak ye, and so do.  Both are required.  Salvation can not be obtained just by what one says nor just by what one does.  One may have the theory of Christianity down to perfection and teach it perfectly, but make little attempt to actually carry it out.  Similarly one may live as one should because one was raised that way or because it seems satisfactory to one’s moral instincts, yet obedience to God play little or no role in that lifestyle decision.  [rw]  

as they that shall be judged.  You will be judged, even though the law is a law of liberty.  [13] 

by the law of liberty.  I.e. by the new law and doctrine of Christ.  [12]          

                        It is called the “law of liberty” for it sets men free from sin and self.  [7]

                        ‘Law’—merely ‘law’—‘law’ only—is a bondage harsh and severe.  Liberty’ alone, and unguarded, passes into licentiousness, runs riot, and becomes tyranny.  ‘Law’ needs to be sweetened by ‘liberty,’ and ‘liberty’ is no ‘liberty’ without the fences of law.  St. James strikingly blends them, and finds the blending where only it exists—in God’s Word.  It would not be too much to say that the Christian religion is the only code in the whole world which ever has united, or can perfectly unite, those two things, so as to make them really one. [49]



2:13                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     For he who shows no mercy will have judgement given against him without mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgement.

WEB:              For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Young’s:         for the judgment without kindness is to him not having done kindness, and exult doth kindness over judgment.

Conte (RC):    For judgment is without mercy toward him who has not shown mercy. But mercy exalts itself above judgment.


2:13                 For he shall have judgment without mercy.  As common parlance puts it, "The chickens now come home to roost."  You have lived ignoring what is right and now you will suffer the consequences.  [rw]

that hath shewed no mercy.  To others in distress, will have no mercy shown to him.  [14]

We have here the echo of two sayings of the Lord, each one dealing with different aspects of mercy.  Mercy may be taken as signifying forgiveness.  Now in the parable of the unmerciful servant, after the wretched man had been delivered to the tormentors till he should pay all that was required of him, the Lord concludes with the words:  “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every man his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 28:35).  And mercy may [also] be taken as signifying kindness, benevolence, and sympathy.  For the Lord in describing His procedure at the general judgment, says that He will say to those on his left hand:  “Depart, ye cursed, for I was an hungered and ye gave me no meat, I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink. . . . sick, and in prison, was ye visited me not” (Matthew 25:42-43).  [41]    

Ancient Jewish thought on the matter:  Test. of the Twelve Patriarchs, Zeb. viii. 1–3:  “Have, therefore, yourselves also, my children, compassion towards every man with mercy, that the Lord also may have compassion and mercy upon you.  Because also in the last days God will send His compassion on the earth, and wheresoever He findeth bowels of mercy He dwelleth in him.  For in the degree in which a man hath compassion upon his neighbors, in the same degree hath the Lord also upon him” (Charles); cf. also vi. 4–6. Shabbath, 127b:  “He who thus judges others will thus himself be judged”. Ibid., 151b:  “He that hath mercy on his neighbors will receive mercy from heaven; and he that hath not mercy on his neighbors will not receive mercy from heaven”.  [36]

and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.  The meaning of the last phrase probably is, The unmerciful and unloving man is condemned without pity (Matthew 18:21-35), but the merciful man is triumphantly acquitted.  The man who loves is “justified” by God.  [24]

Mercy and judgment are here personified; judgment threatens to condemn the sinner, but mercy interposes and overcomes judgment.  The saying is general, and not to be limited either to God or to man; mercy prevails against judgment.  ‘Mercy,’ says St. Chrysostom, ‘is dear to God, and intercedes for the sinner, and breaks his chains, and dissipates the darkness, and quenches the fire of hell, and destroys the worm, and rescues from the gnashing of teeth.  To her the gates of heaven are opened.  She is the queen of virtues, and makes men like to God; for it is written, Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful.  She has silver wings like the dove, and feathers of gold, and soars aloft, and is clothed with the Divine glory, and stands by the throne of God; when we are in danger of being condemned, she rises up and pleads for us, and covers us with her defense, and enfolds us with her wings.  God loves mercy more than sacrifice.’  Compare with this Shakespeare’s celebrated lines on the quality of mercy.  [51]   



2:14                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     What good is it, my brethren, if a man professes to have faith, and yet his actions do not correspond? Can such faith save him?

WEB:              What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him?

Young’s:         What is the profit, my brethren, if faith, any one may speak of having, and works he may not have? is that faith able to save him?

Conte (RC):    My brothers, what benefit is there if someone claims to have faith, but he does not have works? How would faith be able to save him?


2:14                 What doth it profit.  Does it do you any good?  Does it produce any true and lasting benefit?  [rw]

                        Literally, ‘What is the use?’  Faith without works will not profit at the judgment; it will not be conducive to the saving of the soul.  [51]

my brethren.  I'm not saying this to outsiders.  I'm saying this to those who should already know this.  [rw]

though a man say he hath faith.  That kind of faith which is inactive, dead, and never does good?  No.  [14]

Why should a man say he hath faith?  Some expositors draw attention to the fact that the Apostle does not indicate faith in the man in question, but only that he says he has faith.  And there seems some truth at the bottom of this.  A man who desires to profess his Christianity must show something.  If he is careless about holy living he very likely makes up for it by talking.  [41]

and have not works?  The “works” of which he speaks are, as the next verse shows, emphatically, not ceremonial, nor ascetic, but those of an active benevolence.  [38] 

As is evident from the context, James means those works which are the fruits and effects of faith—evangelical works which arise from faith; hence, then, not mere ceremonial works, nor even moral or legal works done previous to and apart from faith.  [51]

can faith save him?  Can such a professed faith save him at the day of judgment, when “judgment is without mercy to him that hath shewed no mercy” (2:13)?  [50]

The meaning here is, that that faith which does not produce good works, or which would not produce holy living if fairly acted out, will save no man, for it is not genuine faith.  [31] 

This question implies that the writer had some person or persons in mind who maintained the proposition that faith without works was sufficient for salvation.  The way in which the terms “faith” and “works” are introduced cannot but give the impression that they were well known, and that the writer assumed his readers to have been familiar with them in their relation to each other.  [16]

                        From chap. 1:22, the apostle has been enforcing Christian practice.  He now applies to those who neglect this, under the pretence of faith.  St. Paul had taught that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law.  This some began already to wrest to their own destruction.  Wherefore St. James, purposely repeating (verses 21, 23, 15) the same phrases, testimonies, and examples which St. Paul had used, (Rom. 4:5; Heb. 11:17, 31) refutes not the doctrine of St. Paul, but the error of those who abused it.  There is therefore no contradiction between the apostles; they both delivered the truth of God; but in a different manner, as having to do with different kinds of men.  On another occasion St. James himself plead the cause of faith, Acts 15:13, 21.  And St. Paul himself strenuously pleads for works, particularly in his latter epistles.  This verse is a summary of what follows.  [15]

                        A related approach showing the consistency between James and Paul:  In order to understand this passage we must bear in mind that St. James is here using the word “faith” in a sense opposite to that of James 1:3, 6, and different also from that in which St. Paul uses it.  To St. Paul faith is always living and loving belief in Christ.  To St. James (in this passage) faith is a kind of 'otiose assent,' or at any rate a 'barren orthodoxy, untouched by love.'  Similarly, to St. Paul “works” are the works of the Law—the fulfillment of certain obligations quite apart from faith.  To St. James “works” are the necessary fruits of Faith, without which Faith in any true sense cannot exist.  That the two writers are in substantial agreement is shown by passages like 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:17; 1 Timothy 2:10; 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 Timothy 6:18; 2 Timothy 3:17; Titus 2:7, 18; Titus 3:8.  (St. James's “faith” would be represented in St. Paul's language by “knowledge,” and his “works” by “the fruits of the Spirit.”)  The difference is “merely a difference in method of stating the truth.”  The two writers, “like trains on different pairs of rails, cannot collide, though they may seem to be in danger of doing so.”  [24]                    



2:15                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Suppose a Christian brother or sister is poorly clad or lacks daily food.

WEB:              And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food.

Young’s:         and if a brother or sister may be naked, and may be destitute of the daily food.

Conte (RC):    So if a brother or sister is naked and daily in need of food.


2:15                 If a brother or sister.  Typically “brother” is used in an inclusive sense in the New Testament as covering both male and female.  Here the author goes out of his way to stress the “universal application” of his principle by specifying both genders.  Even gender difference is explicitly (rather than implicitly) ruled out as a hiding ground for such neglect.  [rw]

be naked and destitute of daily food.  Be reduced to a state of extreme destitution.  By daily food is meant the food necessary for each day.  [51]



2:16                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     and one of you says to them, "I wish you well; keep yourselves warm and well fed," and yet you do not give them what they need; what is the use of that?

WEB:              and one of you tells them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled;" and yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it?

Young’s:         and any one of you may say to them, 'Depart ye in peace, be warmed, and be filled,' and may not give to them the things needful for the body, what is the profit?

Conte (RC):    and if anyone of you were to say to them: “Go in peace, keep warm and nourished,” and yet not give them the things that are necessary for the body, of what benefit is this?


2:16                 And one of you say unto them.  Faith without corresponding deeds may be compared to kind words without kind actions, as is well put by Blunt:  “Kind words without kind deeds are but barren words, so believing words without believing deeds are but barren words.”  [41]

Depart in peace.  Go in peace--A form of repulse even now in use [=1700s] : God help you, that is, expect no help from me.  [26]

be ye warmed and filled.  The Greek verbs may be either in the imperative or indicative, “Get yourselves warmed and filled,” or “Ye are warming and filling yourselves.”  The former is the more generally received interpretation, and represents the kind of benevolence which shows itself in good advice.  [38]

Warmed in reference to their being naked, and filled in reference to their being destitute of daily food.  Expressions of kind wishes toward the destitute; mere words, but no actions.  The words are such as, if sincere, would have been followed by corresponding actions.  [51]

notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body.  The right words are there, but nothing has been done to turn the "best wishes" into a living reality.  [rw]

what doth it profit?  We have here a concrete illustration of the abstract principle stated in verse 14.  John makes the same application (1 John 3:17:  “But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?]).  [50]


2:17                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     So also faith, if it is unaccompanied by obedience, has no life in it--so long as it stands alone.

WEB:              Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.           

Young’s:         so also the faith, if it may not have works, is dead by itself.

Conte (RC):    Thus even faith, if it does not have works, is dead, in and of itself.


2:17                 Even so faith, if it hath not works.  As, then, he who sends away a poor man with words, and offers him no help, treats him with mockery, so they who devise for themselves faith without works, and without any of the duties of religion, trifle with God.  [35]

is dead.  The title dead strikes us with horror.  Though the abstract word is used, the concrete is meant. Faith is dead; that is, the man who says that he has faith, has not that life, which is faith itself.  [26]

being alone.  Margin, “by itself.” The sense is, “being by itself:” that is, destitute of any accompanying fruits or results, it shows that it is dead. That which is alive produces effects, makes itself visible; that which is dead produces no effect, and is as if it were not.  [31]

Deeds, and deeds alone, show the vitality of faith, and the converse is also true, that faith, and faith alone, gives life and acceptance to the deeds.  [41]



2:18                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Nay, some one will say, "You have faith, I have actions: prove to me your faith apart from corresponding actions and I will prove mine to you by my actions.

WEB:              Yes, a man will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

Young’s:         But say may some one, Thou hast faith, and I have works, shew me thy faith out of thy works, and I will shew thee out of my works my faith.

Conte (RC):    Now someone may say: “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works! But I will show you my faith by means of works.


2:18                 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith.  The sense is, “some one might say,” or, “to this it might be urged in reply.”  That is, it might perhaps be said that religion is not always manifested in the same way, or we should not suppose that, because it is not always exhibited in the same form, it does not exist.  One man may manifest it in one way, and another in another, and still both have true piety. One may be distinguished for his faith, and another for his works, and both may have real religion.  To this the apostle replies, that the two things referred to, faith and works, were not independent things, which could exist separately, without the one materially influencing another--as, for example, charity and chastity, zeal and meekness; but that the one was the germ or source of the other, and that the existence of the one was to be known only by its developing itself in the form of the other. A  man could not show that he possessed the one unless it developed itself in the form of the other.  [31]

and I have works.  In effect, "There are two options available.  You chose one, faith, and that is admirable.  I chose a different option, works, and that is at least just as admirable.  What is there to complain about?"  [rw]

shew me thy faith without thy works.  If thou canst.  [47]

A faith without works is incapable of being proved.  To show faith without works is simply an impossibility.  If it exist at all in such a state, it exists in a passive or latent form in a man’s mind, and cannot be shown to others.  Faith is not entirely denied to the man, but living faith is; if faith does not prove itself by works it is dead, and of no value as regards salvation.  [51]

and I will shew thee my faith by my works.  You cannot at all prove to me that you really have this faith, unless you can prove it to me from the works which are the fruit of faith.  But I can prove from my works, that I do not lack faith, without which such works could not be present.  It certainly follows from its very character that mere faith, as such, cannot do any good.  [9]



2:19                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     You believe that God is one, and you are quite right: evil spirits also believe this, and shudder."

WEB:              You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder.    

Young’s:         thou -- thou dost believe that God is one; thou dost well, and the demons believe, and they shudder!

Conte (RC):    You believe that there is one God. You do well. But the demons also believe, and they tremble greatly.


2:19                 Thou believest that there is one God.  The selection of precisely this article on the unity of God is not to be explained because “the Jewish Christians were particularly proud of it, so that it kept them back from fully surrendering themselves to the Christian faith” (Lange), but because it distinguished revealed religion from all heathenism.  However much the position of the individual words vary (see critical notes), yet the unity of God appears in all as the chief idea; compare particularly, Deut. vi. 4; Neh. ix. 6; Isa. xliv. 6, xlv. 6; Matt. xxiii. 9; Mark xii.29, 32; Rom. iii. 30; 1 Cor. viii. 4, 6; and, in this Epistle, chap. iv. 12.  [8]

thou doest well.  It is praiseworthy.  [rw]

So far good.  There is a certain touch of irony in the language; but the irony does not lie in the words, ‘Thou doest well,’ but in the whole statement—that a theoretical faith in the unity of God, though in itself good, yet does not essentially differ from the belief of devils.  [51]

the devils also believe.  I [concede your faith].  But this proves only, that thou hast the same faith with the devils.  [15]

The word believe is here used in a very wide sense; for the devils perceive, and understand, and remember, that there is a God, and one only.  [26]

In the New Testament, the demons are spoken of as spiritual beings, at enmity with God, and having power to afflict man, not only with disease, but, as marked by the frequent epithet “unclean,” with spiritual pollution also.  In Acts 19:12-13, they are defined as the “evil spirits.”  There is but one Devil and the demons are “the angels of the devil” (Matthew 25:41).  [50]  

and tremble.  The word here used (φρίσσουσιν phrissousin) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.  It means, properly, to be rough, uneven, jaggy, sc., with bristling hair; to bristle, to stand on  end, as the hair does in a fright; and then to shudder or quake with fear, etc.  There was a faith that produced some effect, and an effect of a very decided character.  It did not, indeed, produce good works, or a holy life.  A man should not infer, therefore, because he has faith, even that faith in God which will fill him with alarm, that therefore he is safe.  He must have a faith which will produce another effect altogether - that which will lead to a holy life.  [31]

They not only believe, but tremble--At the dreadful expectation of eternal torments.  So far is that faith from either justifying or saving them that have it.  [15]          

Even the evil spirits have a kind of “faith”; and their faith bears fruit of a sort. It causes them profound fear:  Mark 1:24; Luke 8:28.  No doubt St. James has in his mind these incidents recorded in the Gospels.  [24]

                        Or:  The word tremble is commonly looked upon as denoting a good effect of faith; but here it may rather be taken as a bad effect, when applied to the faith of devils.  They tremble, not out of reverence, but hatred and opposition to that one God on whom they believe.  [5]



2:20                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     But, idle boaster, are you willing to be taught how it is that faith apart from obedience is worthless? Take the case of Abraham our forefather.

WEB:              But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead?

Young’s:         And dost thou wish to know, O vain man, that the faith apart from the works is dead?

Conte (RC):    So then, are you willing to understand, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?


2:20                 But wilt thou know.  Or rather, ‘Art thou willing to know,’ to recognize this truth?  implying that such knowledge was not palatable to him.  [51]

O vain man.  The term, as applied to men, is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but is used with something of the same significance in the LXX of Judges 9:4.  The idea is primarily that of “emptiness,” and the Greek adjective is almost literally the equivalent of our empty-headed, as a term of contempt.   [38]

That is, O empty man, puffed up with pride, trusting to thy outward privileges, but without seriousness and spiritual life.  [51]

that faith without works is dead?  And so is not properly       faith, as a dead carcass is not a man.  [15]

Or:  St. James means a faith which, because it has no influence on a man’s actions, is as incapable to justify him, as a dead carcass is to perform the offices of a living man.  [47]

The manuscripts vary between “dead” and the adjective rendered “idle” in Matthew 12:36; 20:3.  The meaning is substantially the same.  That which is without life is without the activity which is the one proof of life.  [38]



2:21                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Was it, or was it not, because of his actions that he was declared to be righteous as the result of his having offered up his son Isaac upon the altar?

WEB:              Wasn't Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?        

Young’s:         Abraham our father -- was not he declared righteous out of works, having brought up Isaac his son upon the altar?

Conte (RC):    Was not our father Abraham justified by means of works, by offering his son Isaac upon the altar?


2:21                 Was not Abraham.  James proves the reality and genuineness of Abraham’s faith, not by all his works of faith, but he simply singles out one, the sacrifice of his son.  With Paul, who has a different object altogether in view, it is Abraham’s faith in the promise of a son that justifies (Genesis 15:5-6; Romans 4:3, 13-22); in the Epistle to the Hebrews the faith of Abraham is illustrated by (1) by his sojourning in a land not his own (Hebrews 11:8-10), and (2) by offering up Isaac, in the faith that God would raise him up again from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).  What James means to say in this verse is this:  here is an example of the faith I mean, not simply your profession and idle talk. [50]

our father.  Our progenitor, our ancestor; using the word “father,” as frequently occurs in the Bible, to denote a remote ancestor.  A reference to his case would have great weight with those who were Jews by birth, and probably most of those to whom this Epistle was addressed were of this character.  [31]

justified by works.  By a faith which showed itself in works. This is the argument of James, that faith is of no avail unless accompanied by works. Of this all Abraham's life was a demonstration. He was told when in Mesopotamia to go forth into the land God would show him, and "he went forth, not knowing whither;" an act of faith (Hebrews 11:8); "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise" (Hebrews 11:9).  Each of these acts of faith secured Divine approval, but the supremest trial was when he offered Isaac.  [22]

The plural works, whereas only one work is mentioned, is explained from the fact that the class is named to which the offering up of Isaac belongs.  [51]

when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?  This shows the settled purpose of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, when he proceeded so far as to bind him, and lay him upon the altar; for that argues, that he expected and intended nothing but his death, which was wont to follow in sacrifices when once laid upon the altar.  [28]

St. Paul says he was justified by faith, Rom. 4:2, etc.  Yet St. James does not contradict him.  For he does not speak of the same justification.  So Paul speaks of that which Abraham received many years before Isaac was born, Gen. 15:6; St. James of that which he did not receive, till he had offered up Isaac on the altar.  He was justified therefore in St. Paul’s sense, that is, made righteous, by works subsequent to his faith.  So that St. James’ justification by works is the fruit of St. Paul’s justification by faith.  [15]                  


2:22                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     You notice that his faith was co-operating with his actions, and that by his actions his faith was perfected.

WEB:              You see that faith worked with his works, and by works faith was perfected.

Young’s:         dost thou see that the faith was working with his works, and out of the works the faith was perfected?

Conte (RC):    Do you see that faith was cooperating with his works, and that by means of works faith was brought to fulfillment?


2:22                 Seest thou.  Don’t you grasp yet the truth I am driving at?  [rw]

how faith wrought with [was working together with, NKJV].  For by faith Abraham offered up Isaac, Hebrews 11:17.  [15]

wrought with.  συνήργει sunērgei.   Cooperated with. The meaning of the word is, “to work together with anyone; to co operate,” 1 Corinthians 16:16; 2 Corinthians 6:1; then to aid, or help, Mark 16:20; to contribute to the production of any result, where two or more persons or agents are united.  Compare Romans 8:28.  The idea here is, that the result in the case of Abraham, that is, his salvation, or his religion, was secured, not by one of these things alone, but that both contributed to it.  The result which was reached, to wit, his acceptance with God, could not have been obtained by either one of them separately, but both, in some sense, entered into it.  [31]

his works, and by works was faith made perfect?  Shown to be complete, of the right kind, by producing its appropriate fruit.  [14] 



2:23                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And Abraham believed God, and his faith was placed to his credit as righteousness," and he received the name of 'God's friend.'

WEB:              and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness;" and he was called the friend of God.

Young’s:         and fulfilled was the Writing that is saying, 'And Abraham did believe God, and it was reckoned to him -- to righteousness;' and, 'Friend of God' he was called.

Conte (RC):    And so the Scripture was fulfilled which says: “Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice.” And so he was called the friend of God.


2:23                 And the scripture.  Which was afterward written.  [15]

was fulfilled.  For only in this way was the word of Genesis 15:6, fulfilled.  If it is stated there, that the faith of Abraham was counted to him for righteousness, this certainly was like a prophecy, which was really only fulfilled, when as a matter of fact his faith produced the work which made him pleasing to God.  [9]

which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.   The sense is here anticipated by Prolepsis, for it was fulfilled before it was written: but at what part of Abraham’s time was it fulfilled?  When he first believed, or afterwards, when he offered his son?  At both times: but James especially refers to the time of the offering, since he is speaking of the state of Abraham after his justification: and to this the expression, he was called the friend of God, has reference; but from this he proves justification by works; from the former expression, justification by faith.  [26]

and he was called the Friend of God.  So in the Hebrew—Isaiah 41:8, God being the speaker, “Abraham, my friend;” LXX, “Abraham whom I loved.  2 Chronicles 20:7, God being addressed, “Abraham thy friend;” LXX, “thy beloved.”  Philo, however, quotes Genesis 18:7 thus—“Shall I hide (this) from Abraham my friend?”  This reading is not found in any other authority—the Hebrew has simply “from Abraham;” the LXX and Syriac, “from Abraham my servant”--but it was probably once current in some manuscripts of the LXX; and Genesis 18:17 is probably the passage which James has in mind.  Clement of Rome and other early Fathers speak of Abraham as “the friend of God.”  The Greek philosophers use the phrase of the wise man, and Wisdom of Solomon (7:27) of the holy man:  cf. John 15:14-15.  “The friend of God” has become almost the name of Abraham amongst the Mohammedans.  The king’s “Friend” was an official title at Eastern courts.  [45]



2:24                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     You all see that it is because of actions that a man is pronounced righteous, and not simply because of faith.

WEB:              You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith.

Young’s:         Ye see, then, that out of works is man declared righteous, and not out of faith only.

Conte (RC):    Do you see that a man is justified by means of works, and not by faith alone?


2:24                 Ye see then.  From this example of Abraham.  [51]

This line of evidence makes plain this fact.  [rw]

how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.  St.      Paul, on the other hand, declares, a man is justified by faith, and not by works, Rom. 3:28.  And yet there is no contradiction between the apostles; because, 1.  They do not speak of the same faith; St. Paul speaking of living faith, St. James here of dead faith.  2.  They do not speak of the same works:  St. Paul speaking of works antecedent to faith, St. James of works subsequent to it.  [15]

is justified.  Declared to be righteous, or approved as such, and acquitted from the guilt of hypocrisy.  [28]



2:25                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     In the same way also was not the notorious sinner Rahab declared to be righteous because of her actions when she welcomed the spies and hurriedly helped them to escape another way?

WEB:              In the same way, wasn't Rahab the prostitute also justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way?

Young’s:         and in like manner also Rahab the harlot -- was she not out of works declared righteous, having received the messengers, and by another way having sent forth?

Conte (RC):    Similarly also, Rahab, the harlot, was she not justified by works, by receiving the messengers and sending them out through another way?


2:25                 Likewise also.  Abraham is not the only example that can be given of this.  [rw]

was not Rahab.  Rahab became the wife of Salmon, and the ancestress of Boaz, Jesse’s grandfather.  Some have supposed that Salmon was one of the spies whose life she saved.  At any rate, she became the mother of the line of David and of Christ, and is so recorded in Matthew’s genealogy of our Lord, in which only four women are named.  [2]

the harlot.  As far different from Abraham as you could possibly get:  the wealthy, prosperous and righteous patriarch verses the woman whose very "career" was inherently immoral and self-condemning.  Yet both extremes--and all points in between--come to God the same way . . . by their actions.  [rw]

justified by works.  They proved that she had faith.  [14]

when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?  Telling us what the “works” were.  [rw]

This was certainly a work springing from her faith; it arose from her firm belief in the God of Israel.  Indeed, Rahab herself gives this as the reason of her conduct:  ‘I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon as, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.  The Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and in the earth beneath’ (Joshua 1:9, 11).  Her receiving the messengers, and sending them out another way, was therefore a proof that her faith was real and living.  ‘By faith,’ says the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ‘the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace’ (Hebrews 11:31).  Her deliverance from death is to be ascribed to her faith, but it was to her faith as active.  Thus did she manifest the reality of her faith.  Her faith cooperated with her works, and by works was her faith made perfect—received its full realization; and in this sense she is said to be justified by works.  [51]


                        In depth:  Why was Rahab selected as an example of faith [38]?  The question meets us:  What led St James to select this example?  St Paul does not refer to it, as he probably would have done, had he been writing with St James’s teaching present to his thoughts, in any of the Epistles in which his name appears as the writer.  In the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:31) it appears as one of the examples of faith, but this was most probably after St James had given prominence to her name.

In the mention of Rahab by Clement of Rome (i. 12) we have an obvious echo from the Epistle just named, with the additional element of a typical interpretation of the scarlet thread as the symbol of the blood of Christ, by which those of all nations, even the harlots and the unrighteous, obtained salvation.  A more probable explanation is found in the connexion of St James with the Gospel according to St Matthew.  The genealogy of the Christ given in ch. 1 of that Gospel must have been known to “the brother of the Lord,” and in it the name of Rahab appeared as having married Salmon, the then “prince” of the tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:5; 1 Chronicles 2:50-51; Ruth 4:20-21).

The prominence thus given to her name would naturally lead him and others to think of her history and ask what lessons it had to teach them.  If “harlots” as well as “publicans” were among those who listened to the warnings of the Baptist and welcomed the gracious words of Christ (Matthew 21:31-32), she would come to be regarded as the typical representative of the class, the Magdalene. 

A rabbinic tradition makes her become the wife of Joshua and the ancestress of eight distinguished priests and prophets, ending in Huldah the Prophetess (2 Kings 22:14).  Josephus (Ant. v. i. § 2), after his manner, tones down the history, and makes her simply the keeper of an inn.

Another ground of selection may well have been that Rahab was by her position in the history the first representative instance of the deliverance of one outside the limits of the chosen people.  In this instance also, St James urges, the faith would have been dead had it been only an assent to the truth that the God of Israel was indeed God, without passing into action.  The “messengers” are described in Joshua 6:23 as “young men,” in Hebrews 11:31 as “spies”.



2:26                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     For just as a human body without a spirit is lifeless, so also faith is lifeless if it is unaccompanied by obedience.

WEB:              For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.

Young’s:         or as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also the faith apart from the works is dead.

Conte (RC):    For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.


2:26                 For as the body without the spirit is dead.  The ‘spirit’ here may either be the intelligent spirit—the soul of man; or the breath of life—the living principle; as in the expression, ‘all flesh wherein is the breath of life’ (Genesis 6:17).  [51]

so faith without works is dead also.  According to him, a faith without works is like a body from which the living principle has departed; works are the evidences of life, and if these be absent, the faith is dead.  A mere system of doctrine, however correct, is a mere dead body, unless it be animated by a living working spirit.  We must not, however, press the metaphor too far.  Strictly speaking, the works do not correspond to the spirit, but are only the outward manifestations of an internal living principle—the proof that there is life.  An unproductive faith is a body without the spirit; a productive faith is the living body.  [51]


                        In depth:  Paul and James on relationship of faith and works [5].  1.  When Paul says that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28), he plainly speaks of another sort of work than James does, but not of another sort of faith.  Paul speaks of works wrought in obedience to the law of Moses, and before men’s embracing the faith of the gospel; and he had to deal with those who valued themselves so highly upon those works that they rejected the gospel (as Rom. 10, at the beginning, most expressly declares); but James speaks of works done in obedience to the gospel, and as the proper and necessary effects and fruits of sound believing in Christ Jesus.  Both are concerned to magnify the faith of the gospel, as that but Paul magnifies it by showing the insufficiency of any works of the law before faith, or in opposition to the doctrine of justification by Jesus Christ; James magnifies the same faith, by showing what are the genuine and necessary products and operations of it. 

2.  Paul not only speaks of different works from those insisted on by James, but he speaks of a quite different use that was made of good works from what is here urged and intended.  Paul had to do with those who depended on the merit of their works in the sight of God, and thus he might well make them of no manner of account.  James had to so with those who cried up faith, but would not allow works to be used even as evidences; they depended upon a bare profession, as sufficient to justify them; and with these he might well urge the necessity and vast importance of good works.

As we must not break one table of the law, by dashing it against the other, so neither must we break in pieces the law and the gospel, by making them clash with one another:  those who cry up the gospel so as to set aside the law, and those who cry up the law so as to set aside the gospel, are both in the wrong; for we must take our work before us; there must be both faith in Jesus Christ and good works the fruit of faith. 


                        In depth:  Paul and James embraced the same doctrine of the importance of both faith and Divinely demanded “works” (actions/behavior) [31].  Did each of these two writers in reality hold the same doctrine on the subject? This will be seen, if it can be shown that James held to the doctrine of justification by faith, as really as Paul did; and that Paul held that good works were necessary to show the genuineness of faith, as really as James did.

                        (1)  They both agreed in holding the doctrine of justification by faith. Of Paul‘s belief there can be no doubt.  That James held the doctrine is apparent from the fact that he quotes the very passage in Genesis, Genesis 15:6, and the one on which Paul relies, Romans 4:1-3, as expressing his own views--“Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.”  The truth of this, James does not deny, but affirms that the Scripture which made this declaration was fulfilled or confirmed by the act to which he refers.

                        (2)  They both agreed in holding that good works are necessary to show the genuineness of faith.  Of James” views on that point there can be no doubt.  That Paul held the same opinion is clear:  (a) from his own life, no man ever having been more solicitous to keep the whole law of God than he was.

                        (b) From his constant exhortations and declarations, such as these: “Created in Christ Jesus unto good works,” Ephesians 2:10; “Charge them that are rich, that they be rich in good works,” 1 Timothy 6:17-18; “In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works,” Titus 2:7; “Who gave himself for us, that he might purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works,” Titus 2:14; “These things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works,” Titus 3:8.

                        (c) It appears from the fact that Paul believed that the rewards of heaven are to be apportioned according to our good works, or according to our character and our attainments in the divine life.  The title indeed to eternal life is, according to him, in consequence of faith; the measure of the reward is to be our holiness, or what we do.  Thus he says, 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body.”  Thus also he says, 2 Corinthians 9:6, “He which soweth sparingly. shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully.”  And thus also he says, Romans 2:6, that God “will render to every man according to his deeds.”  See also the influence which faith had on Paul personally, as described in the third chapter of his Epistle to the Philippians.







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