From:  A Torah Commentary on James 1-2                         Return to Home        

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2014




[Page 412]



Chapter 2A:

Overview:  How the Themes are Developed






First Test of Our Faith:

Favoritism Based Upon Economic Status





All Visitors to Church Services

Should Be Treated with Respect



[Page 413]

                        ATP text:  1 My comrades, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus—

the Anointed One and the Master of glory--and treat some better than

others:  2 For if there should come into your religious assembly a man with

expensive gold rings and in the finest of apparel, and there should come in at

the same time a poor one in shabby attire, 3 and you pay special respect to the

one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "Sit here in one of the best

places," while saying to the poor person, "You can stand over there," or, "Sit

down on the floor by my footstool," 4 have you not shown unjust partiality

among yourselves by making judgments out of twisted thinking?



Development of the argument:



The Social Setting:  Individual Status.


The first seven verses—which we divide into two sections--deal with the respect sure to be shown a wealthy visitor to the meetings of the church and contrasts it with the lack of consideration manifested toward the poor person.  That was not inevitable, of course, but given the societal expectations and assumptions of the day, it was far more likely than not.  Far more. 

[Page 414]                  Even in our own day and age, social snobbery toward those further down the economic totem pole is far from unknown.  No one would think of telling them not to come, but to encourage them to do so isn’t likely either.     

Sometimes it is assumed that the well-to-do visitor was a Christian[1] and perhaps even a member of the church where the scene takes place.  There is nothing in the text that requires such an approach and James’ critique makes equal sense whether the person was a believer or not and whether a local member or not.

            Modern concepts of “class” did not exist in the ancient world, but it was well aware of how different individuals fell into distinct niches within the over-all framework.  Carolyn Osick and David L. Blach provide a useful introduction to the subject that will help us better understand the environment within which James wrote,[2]


Ancestral ways were best, elites held tightly to their control of power and economic resources, and the socially privileged and disadvantaged tended to remain so.  Yet the possibility for change and advancement was present through acquisition of wealth but, more important, through enhancement of status.  As in any society, the two were not unrelated. 

But still, such a possibility for status enhancement operated within limits.  No matter how wealthy, a freedman, for example, would gain status vis-à-vis other less wealthy freedmen and perhaps freeborn persons of modest means, but would never attain elite status—though his son or grandson might. . . .

[Page 415]         [T]here was in this pre-industrial agrarian society no middle class:  [i.e.,] an economically independent majority of moderate to leisured economic levels whose social status follows from economic status.  This does not mean, however—a conclusion that is sometimes facilely drawn—that there were no economic levels between wealthy aristocrats and the abjectly poor, nor does it mean that there were not some impoverished elite families and some who rose from abject poverty to comfortable means. 

On the contrary, there seems to have been a good amount of variety in economic status in urban life, though the vast majority must have lived in abject poverty.  The point is that neither class nor status was completely connected to economic level.  Class was ascribed at birth, and status, a much more elusive concept, was a combination of birth, wealth, and personal and family achievement. . . .

It is in the middle levels . . . between the elites and those of no status at all, that most early Christians are to be located:  urban artisans, merchants, traders, slaves, freedmen and freedwomen. . . .     


            In other words, wealth guaranteed one’s recognition of being well-to-do, but it did not automatically create an aura of “specialness” . . . of personal superiority . . . of higher status . . . as anything but an act of good fortune in parentage or investments.  For example, brazen exploitation of others to increase one’s wealth didn’t reduce that new wealth by one denarius, but it did tarnish your personal status / reputation.[3] 


[Page 416]                  To make things even more complicated for us, even within the economic elite, there were subdivisions.  An estimated 9 percent of the population were in the local “civic elites” at one point or another.  At estimated 1% were of the “imperial elite” that represented the Roman governing  class,[4] though segments of that, at any given time, would be scattered throughout the Empire.  Obviously since “Rome ruled,” being connected with that element gave one a significantly higher status even if one was almost as wealthy but a mere provincial.  

So in a given community, you might well have members of two very different elites, but all with superiority and perceived status being claimed over the bulk of the rest of the population—not to mention varied non-elites who were also perceived as superior to everyone else.  Think of your traders and artisans and others with recognized special skills.

            In such a rigid hierarchical society, the reception of those crossing a wide variety of societal lines into a joint fellowship represented a dramatic break from societal custom.  The problems around the Lord’s Supper becoming either a feast or an embarrassment to those lacking resources (1 Corinthians 11:18-22) represents the tension between a hierarchical arrangement and the (comparative) equalitarian-ism of Christianity.  But it could also involve how one was even received into the assembly, as in the situation described by James.  

            We are not informed where on the social totem pole the wealthy individual described by James actually stood.  However what is described are the visible accoutrements of wealth that would assure everyone that he belonged toward the upper part of the spectrum:  the type of quality clothing and multiple hand ornaments—note the plural (in many translations) of “rings” and, hence, that he was far beyond having merely one.  Note also the fact that they were all of “gold” and nothing inferior. 

[Page 417]                  Today we might express the same idea by saying that “he acted and dressed like a Madison Avenue executive and had all the electronic ‘toys’ such folk routinely carry with them.”  It doesn’t tell us exactly where he stands in the socioeconomic totem pole, but that it is still “up there” compared to us.  This ancient equivalent clearly fell into a certain societal “niche” and was treated on that basis—not on the basis of himself,[5] either spiritually or from the standpoint of personal earthly accomplishments.  He looked like he belonged in a certain category and there he stayed—period.

Our reference to a “Madison Avenue executive” appearance is an especially useful comparison since the vast bulk of those with that kind of appearance are neither from New York or likely to ever go there except as occasional visitors.  Yet their attire finds imitation across the nation.  The same was surely true in the first century:  the latest in Roman fashion would find duplication in other places, including urban locales in Palestine.  The reason being that the rich liked to “keep up with” the rich and Rome would have been the ultimate fashion trend setter for that day.  Hence,[6]


Inevitably, the Jews would imitate foreign fashions of costume along with other foreign customs; witness, for example, the sartorial vocabulary of the Talmud, especially Shabbath (120a), where a full list of articles is given with their Greek name.  The Talmud tells us that the stola that a Jew wore was a long mantle of fine material girded under the breast, striped, often with gold embroidery, and very costly, priced at one hundred minae (Shabbath, 128a). . . .  From the Romans, too, the Jews probably copied the wearing and renting of rings, a symbol of social status or ambition, especially for the newly rich.  


[Page 418]

The Social Setting:  Group Status.


The class background of the congregation itself is not stated, but one would assume a cross-section of those further down the societal recognition ladder.  Deference and going out of one’s way was both expected and--recognizing they were in the presence of their “betters”--normally given. 

However, if someone less blessed in things of this world than these lower echelon individuals came in, well—he would be let in.  But in their own way, even they might feel more than a touch of snobbery toward him or her.  They might not have much, they might not have much in the way of status and recognition, but they still had more than this stranger did. 

The social reality in that age virtually guaranteed such a disparity in attention and action.  Hence the author critiques the attitude on grounds that would apply to everyone regardless of where they might stand in that societal totem pole, both “below” some and “above” most others.  He does this by providing examples so extreme of both the poor man and the rich that virtually anyone could see it was blatantly wrong. 

[Page 419]                  It should be remembered that the issue here is not the good or evil of either member or visitor.  By the text’s very silence, that is laid aside as an irrelevancy to what James wants to talk about.[7]  Instead the issue is how Christians should react to them in their religious assembly, especially when both were in the assembly at the same time.



Analysis of the text.



James begins by rebuking the idea of “hold(ing) the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ” with snobbery (2:1).  Retaining the KJV’s traditional “faith of” is common  (ASV, ATP, BBE, NKJV, Rotherham, RSV).  Other translations prefer “faith in” Christ:  CEV, ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NIV, Weymouth; “believers in,” TEV.

“Faith in” makes it clear that the subject is faith placed in a particular person (Christ); “faith of” permits it to be used of that which is taught by that Person and that which was manifested by that person in His behavior.  The distinction means little in “real world” terms:  If faith “in” the person of Christ requires rejecting social snobbery then embracing the faith system of His requires rejecting such ill-treatment as well. 

In other words, the two approaches ultimately overlap into a unity rather than a rigid distinction.  (Cf. the debate about “doctrine of Christ” in 2 John 9 being the doctrine taught by or the doctrine about Christ.  The two concepts ultimately have at least a major overlap, making the division into two strictly alternative scenarios an unviable proposition.)   

[Page 420]                  The object of that faith is “our Lord Jesus Christ.”  It is far from uncommon to use the term “Jesus Christ” as if it were all part of the formal name, when only “Jesus” actually is.  Sometimes even the term “Lord” may be unnoticedly used as if it were part as well.  Actually “Lord” refers to His position of authority and position—over His people in particular[8] and, ultimately, over the entire creation.  Since it is His people who are being written to in an effort to convince them to reform their behavior and since it is only they who openly embrace His will, it is His acknowledged authority over them that is being invoked.

As if that were not enough, James also alludes to the fact that He is the “Christ,” the Anointed, prophesied one of old—the Messiah.[9]  The Jewish people had long been looking forward to His coming.  Since Christians acknowledge, in Jesus, that He had come, their willingness to act upon His demands would be a practical test of how deep that faith actually went.

Invoking the description of Him as being “of glory” or (with the translator’s addition, to show the meaning) “the Lord of glory,” may be explicitly invoking the Old Testament description of Deity as glorious in His nature and dealings with the human species--either as a title of Jesus or simply as an allusive supernatural appellation to remind them just how important a figure their Jesus actually is.[10]  It reinforces the absolute need to obey Him rather than find an excuse not to.  


[Page 421]                  Having invoked the “ultimate authority” that can be brought to bear, James implicitly uses the concept of pleasing Him as a reason for them to change their behavior and attitude toward the upper echelon.  Their inclination to act “with partiality” naturally suggests “with an attitude of personal favoritism” (NASB); “treat some people better than others” (ATP). 

But there is actually little “personal” about it.  James is discussing what they are—their earthly economic status—not the fact that they are a friend or an important person.  Any person of such a status would be given special treatment and that actually made it a more significant reality than purely personal favoritism.  That could ultimately be worked around, but a system in which every person of that particular type was treated with that special attention indicated a problem that was not going to disappear without conscious attention of one and all.

Hence James addresses the congregational members of the various churches who receive his letter and implores that they not engage in class favoritism in their assemblies together.  Note that, even though neither the term “church” is not invoked, he clearly has in mind just such a setting.  This is a fine example of necessary inference:  the text simply makes no sense without it.


James describes the church visitor as one of considerable status as manifested in wearing “gold rings” and “fine apparel.” (2:2).  The various translations vary as to whether it is “gold ring” singular or “gold rings” plural.  If we accept the latter approach it magnifies their status that much more.  They did not have modern technological toys to [Page 422]   display their wealth back then, but the conspicuous display of gold served that purpose quite well.  As did the quality of their clothing. 

The poorer person is identified several ways.  First by the very term “poor” to describe him.  A Greek term is used indicating that he is not merely poor, but very poor, among those whose survival was most dicey.[11]  To use the modern expression, “at the bottom of the hay stack.” 

You can judge this by his attire.  Not just the lack of gold ornamentation but clothing that is clearly far from the best.  Our contemporary translations sometimes depict it as unclean garments (“filthy,” NKJV; “dirty,” BBE, ISV, NASB).  One commentator suggests the translation “wretched” to describe their inadequacy.[12]

With the odor of insult that would easily convey, it is hard to imagine even the poorest person wearing such to a religious service—Christian or pagan--unless they had just left work or were in such dire circumstances that made it unavoidable.  After all, even the poorest normally try to stay clean even if the practicalities of the situation make it primarily for special occasions. 

On the other hand, if this man is poor enough, even that luxury may be denied him.  Blomberg and Kamell speculate that this person might well have been reduced to only one pair of outer wear.  And that would make it extremely easy for it to be visibly unclean as well.[13]  Not to mention the problem of personal odor that might well accompany the attire under such circumstances.[14] 

In such a situation, even offering the person the opportunity to set on the floor next to you might be regarded as extraordinarily generous.[15]  And in that context it would be—but clearly not generous enough.  As one commentator rightly observes, “James is not making it easy for his readers.”[16] 

[Page 423]                  He is even going to make it an understandable behavior that needs to be altered.  One that will tempt even many of the poorer themselves to be sympathetic—though not happy--at what is happening.     

Other translations preserve the possibility of the attire being a step or so above this extreme.  Indeed, renderings along the line of “worn-out clothes” (CEV) and “shabby clothing” (ESV, NIV, RSV, Weymouth) or “shabby attire” (ATP) seemingly ring truer to the social environment. 

The late twentieth century practice of selling clothes at high prices and name brands that look worn out and shabby would have totally flabbergasted the minds of ancient poor and rich alike as being nothing less than utterly insane.  To them you looked poor if you were poor; there was no element of snobbish “make believe” to it.  They knew the reality.


Regardless of how extreme one draws their situation, this attire would still make them visibly “inferior” to the wealthier visitors.  How should they be treated when both types arrived at the same time or when either arrived on their own?  Our text tells us that the visibly prosperous were given a seat while the poorer might be offered a choice between standing (in a corner?) or sitting on the floor next to someone’s footstool (1:3).  The fact that there was a seat available to give to the prosperous individual shows either:

That space was available but no one thought the poorer elements were worthy of such courtesy.

[Page 424]                  Or that someone gave up their own seating for them—making the contrast in treatment even more extreme. 

Either way the “social betters” got the recognition and the “lower class” was permitted—well, to stay.  They at least wouldn’t be cast out.  Of course if you make them feel uncomfortable enough they might not bother to come back either.  Formal oppression is not required to chase people away; just enough disrespect and discourtesy.

To give a more modern example.  John Wesley founded the Methodist Church with an appeal centered on the poorer classes in the 1830s because the status prejudices of the day saw no good reason to encourage their spirituality.  By the 1840s the Methodist Church had itself become much like what Wesley himself had battled.

One historian records how in 1846 Will Booth, who ultimately founded the Salvation Army, gathered a group of the poorer to attend services with him and the reaction of the Methodist minister,[17]


To his dismay the Rev. Dunn saw that young Booth was actually ushering his charges, none of whose clothes would have raised five shillings in his own pawnshop, into the very best seats: pewholders’ seats, facing the pulpit, whose occupants piled the collection-plate with glinting silver.

This was unprecedented, for the poor, if they came to chapel, entered by another door, to be segregated on benches without backs or cushions, behind a partition which screened off the pulpit. Here, though the service was audible, they could not see – nor could they be seen.


[Page 425]                  Today, of course, things are done far more discretely and less brazenly.  But we moderns are just as capable of giving a cool, aloof, and distant reception that conveys the impression, “Wouldn’t you really prefer to be somewhere else?”  For some, its because they don’t have the foggiest idea how else to act friendly and make folk welcome.  (I’ve worshipped at such places.) 

For others, you are simply “different” and they have no interest in accommodating themselves.  Yet for churches in some neighborhoods, is there a doubt the brazenly different reception patterns James’ pictures, would still find a modern equivalent?  Enthusiastic embracing or cool, distancing restraint and stand-offness? 


What those acting this way were doing is censured under two headings (2:4):

First, they had “shown partiality among yourselves.”  They were making preferences upon the basis of naked economics and not upon the basis of behavior, of character, and of actions.  The latter show what you really are; your attire and “class” only exhibit what you have the money to claim to be.

The second problem was that such behavior made them “become judges with evil thoughts.”  In other words, the problem wasn’t really with the poor and—in the current context—the problem wasn’t even with the well to do who had come to visit.  The problem was with the members and how their minds reasoned.  There was something fundamentally wrong with how they were making their value judgements on such matters.  (Also see the Problem Texts chapter.)

A caution:  You will notice that James in no way encourages the prosperous to be treated shabbily.  Then one would be guilty of the same sin being committed against the [Page 426]   poor—but in reverse.  What was being sought was honesty and purity of the standards being applied.  None being favored and none being censured without cause. 

In this short section James turns upside down the entire core “value” system of Gentile society—there was a fundamental error at its heart.  Patrick J. Hartin argues the matter this way, “James reverses the honor / shame code that is the foundation for Greco-Roman society of the day.  In that world honor was given above all to the patrons, the rich and the powerful.  Now in God’s society it is the poor to whom honor is to be shown.”[18]

Likewise today when we challenge the secular world’s dominant, politically imposed view that all sexual behaviors are morally neutral and equivalent and not to be censured in any manner (usually with the caveat of “willingness” being involved and not being with a minor), we are opposing a view almost as pervasive for it permits anything and everything—virtually, since the limitations can easily be undermined by self-serving caveats. 

Yet opposition in both cases was essential to have God’s people the kind of chosen elect that He wished them to be.  It was not a denial of the this world advantages, but an effort to seek next world approval, since our tenure in the here and now is always shorter than our duration in the unseen world that is yet future.


Unfortunately what James has been seeking has been twisted into something different:  he wished that “God’s society” (i.e., the fellowship of God’s people) to have this mind frame.  He was not laying down a political reform agenda as his words have often been twisted into.  With the expansion of the borders of God’s spiritual kingdom [Page 427]   throughout the world, this would have an inevitable “spill over” effect on the wider society, but it would be the indirect result rather than the targeted goal adequate to itself.  If one can get God’s own people to treat each right is that not sufficient “modern miracle” for any age?

Furthermore, James’ message is not that the well to do should be ridiculed or despised or hated or destroyed, but that the kind of treatment we give them is proper toward the poorer classes as well.  Nor is it an implicit message to treat the well to do disrespectfully.  The poor were already being treated that way; changing the target to the wealthier would be to commit the same sin—but against the reverse target.  What his point really is is to strive to treat one and all fairly and equitably.  And, yes, that can be as draconian a difficulty in our age as in theirs.      






Common Sense Cries Out

That the Wrong People

Are Being Given Preference



[Page 428]


                        ATP text:  5 Pay attention, my beloved comrades:  Has God not also

chosen the poor in things of this world to be abundant in faith and to have a

share in the kingdom which He promised to everyone who loves Him?  6 But

you have shared in mistreating the poor.  Is it not the rich who take advant-

age of you and forcibly drag you before the courts?  7 Do they not defame

and insult that splendid name by which you are called?



Development of the argument:



The kind of behavior he describes appears to have been quite common.  Otherwise we would have expected some specific “limiting language” to rein it in.  In other words he deals with this because he recognizes that it will represent a situation virtually everywhere the church exists.

            What Christians were forgetting was that God had the poor especially in His mind in spite of their lack of earthly status.  In the current life He offered them the opportunity to be “rich in faith [ATP:  abundant in faith]” (2:5) rather than wealth.  It did not require status, inherited position, or estates to be such.  It required a commitment of the heart and soul.  Something that was clearly within their limited earthly resources.  God didn’t demand of them what they did not have but a resource they could develop.   

[Page 429]                  This commitment James characterizes as “love (for) Him” and promises that they will be “heirs of the kingdom” which Christ promised to people like them—people who would “love Him.”  He turns the world’s standards upside down.  The wealthy are to be imitated because they have everything?  No, the righteous poor are to be imitated because they have everything that is of abiding importance--the kind of “love (for Him)” that makes one worthy of an esteemed place in the next world.  The Grand Reversal of Position:  not so much the poor in place of the prosperous and rich, but the spiritually and morally upright in place of the unconcerned and dissolute.

            James hurls a general indictment at his Christian readers / listeners:  You have dishonored the poor man” (2:6a).  They had assimilated the biases of their social “betters” and adopted them as their own—even though they had little or nothing to share with them in the first place!  Indeed, they would have been lucky to escape contempt in their eyes as well.

            “Dishonored:”  That certainly conveys the idea of the root of the problem being within us rather than them.  We have “insulted” them and some translations prefer that as the rendering (NIV) or select the equally condemnatory, “you show no respect to poor people” (God’s Word).  The result of such behavior is selected as the translation by the English Standard Version, “You have humiliated the man who is poor.”  He has done you no wrong, but to use the modern idiom, “you have rubbed his face in the mud.”  


            If judging by a spiritual standard is not sufficient to reveal the inadequacies of the wealthy, then look at it from the temporal standpoint.  Their money and influence is certainly nice.  Their ability to influence events and not to have to worry about much that [Page 430]   preoccupy others is not to be dismissed either.  But can we go much further than this in speaking kind words and look upon them as exemplary solely because of their status?

Why should the wealthy be kowtowed to?  Was not the vast bulk of contemporary oppression Christians were receiving the result of the actions of the rich (2:6-7)?  Today we would probably express it:  What have they actually done for you?  Or:  What evil haven’t they done to you? 

The actual nature of the oppression is left unstated, perhaps because James is not concerned with the exact form of it, as with its actual existence.  Injustice has a thousand faces that only share the name in common.  Whether it’s a cobra that bites you or some other poisonous snake, you are equally dead.  Similarly you are being treated unjustly even if the specific excuse may vary.

Commentators often assume that the oppressions grow out of a major shift in economic affairs in the geographic Palestine area during the first century:  the ever-growing centralization of land in fewer and fewer hands.  Those who had been property owners were being squeezed off of their lands and taking the role of tenant farmers.  By the very nature of the situation, that meant greater exposure to economic disaster and less economic independence for thousands.[19]    

The wording of verse 7 seems to imply that the indictment refers not just to the railroading the less powerful are always in danger of encountering, but explicit religious hostility as well:  “Blasphem(ing) that noble name by which you are called” certainly indicates that their religion was being assaulted as well.  This could work two ways:  since you are worthy of contempt because of your poverty, your religion must be worthy of derision as well . . . or since your religion is so unworthy of respect why is it any surprise that everything else about you is the same?     

[Page 431]                  The description of the rich as those who “drag you into the courts” (2:6) applies to the fact that the government rarely acted directly against individuals because of their beliefs.  Except during sporadic bursts of official persecution, the government relied upon private individuals to lodge accusations before the courts.   Those with the most opportunity for such mischief--and the economic resources to back it up--were the well-to-do.

But the direct reference is almost certainly to alleged violation of agreements or contracts or the open commission of supposedly criminal acts.  Even in such cases it was you versus your accusers and it would rarely be the government actually prosecuting you.  Hence it would be up to your accusers to be sure the accused show up.  You are dirt poor and they have the money to hire thugs to bring you in:  drag you into the courts” surely happened many a time—quite literally.    






Unjustified Preference

Violates God’s Law of Love


[Page 432]


                        ATP text:  8 If you live by the royal law found in Scripture which says,

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do excellently.  9 However if

you treat some better than others, you commit sin, and are convicted by the

law as violators:  10 For whoever obeys the entire law--yet fails to do so in

some one specific matter--is guilty of violating the entire Divine code.  11 To

illustrate:  the same one who instructed, "Never commit adultery," also

required, "Never murder."  Now if you avoid adultery entirely, but commit

murder, you still have become a transgressor of what law demands.



Development of the argument:



Believers had a very specific reason to shun such behavior:  they of all people knew the obligation to love others (2:8-9).  James specified that this commandment was “according to the Scripture,” i.e., it was found in the Scriptures. 

Notice that they accepted the authority of the written word and because they accepted that Divine revelation was embedded in written form, a vital precedent was set for what came through the apostles and prophets of Christianity:  As a result of this, the intentional publication and circulation of the gospels and epistles from those regarded as inspired was inevitable.  The idea of an authoritative Divine Word existing permanently [Page 433]   in a non-written form flew in the face of the pattern they had come to anticipate from the Old Testament.  How could their prophets act any differently in committing the revelation to written form?


            Exalt “love” as highly as one might, just what is love?  The very text James chooses to quote on the subject tells us what is at its core, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The standard should be how we treat ourselves.  And unless one is one of those strange folk who go around and engage in self-flagellation with a whip, that is a high standard in itself.

            Oddly enough, we may find here the reason for the excess venom some show toward others:  they are reflecting the attitude of deeply rooted self-hatred.  In their cases they are “Hating their neighbor just as themselves.”  In such cases of self-loathing, the person must work just as much on getting their self-attitude right as that expressed toward others. 

There is no reason to mention this explicitly for most folk know full well that self-love comes naturally—at least for the bulk of people  For example:  you are hungry, you want to eat and not starve.  The challenge arises in coming to accept that others have legitimate needs that are just as important as your own and theirs need to be met as well. 

            Love excludes partiality, argues James (2:8-9).  Hence if one practices such, one is guilty of “sin” and is “convicted by the law as transgressors.”  We naturally think of “convictions” as something that occurs after a trial, but here our fellow man is not judging us—the law itself is judging us.  We can rationalize our behavior away, but the condemnation from the law still exists whether we are willing to accept its verdict or not.

[Page 434]                  Yet it would be easy to rationalize one’s way around this duty--if not the principle, at least this application of it.  (Self-serving human ingenuity knows no end!)  Hence James reminds them that the violation of one part of divine law results in just as much condemnation as violating any other part (2:10-11). 

He selects “adultery” and “murder,” two very different acts[20]—except when one leads to the other!  A one could get into a lengthy debate between the adulterer and the murderer as to who has done the “worst evil.”  A delightful way to avoid the sense of personal responsibility, but utterly irrelevant.  Either makes one “a transgressor of the law [ATP:  transgressor of what law demands]” (2:11).  The law code says no—period.

These are blatant acts:  you don’t get in someone else’s bed without knowing you have no business there; you don’t bludgeon someone’s brains out without knowledge that you really wish them dead . . . or as close to it as you can get without crossing the line. 

Many things that are said and done, one can quibble about—a warning sign in itself, actually.  But these acts are so blatant, that the one who respects God at all has no way to hide the guilt from himself. 

One is a “transgressor” because of what one has done and it is true in both cases.  The unspoken logic, of course, is that the evils James has been pointing out in their attitudes and practice are also part of that Divine law that is being ignored and violated.  They don’t leave blood on your hands.  They don’t betray your sacred obligation to your spouse.  But they are still to be taken with the seriousness they fully deserve.  

So the person who is prejudicial toward one class of society has not committed an act that he or she regards as particularly important—probably nothing more than the “normal way of acting in polite society.”  But that no way changes the fact that the act is inherently sinful.  No veneer of rationalizations and justifications in regard to societal “custom” will accomplish that.  

[Page 435]                  This is not to say that adultery or killing (the two specific examples cited in verse 11) do not have greater consequences than not manifesting proper respect toward all visitors to church worship.  The point is that since the principles of Divine law prohibited all three forms of conduct, one would still be condemned even if one had a spotless record concerning the other matters. 

By doing this, James assails the concept of “bookkeeper morality” in which one feels free to violate one’s moral concepts on a specific subject because the remainder of life is so “outstanding.”  The irony?  The self-perceived general good character, on the psychological level at least, becomes precedent for the behavior that compromises that good character.


            James also strikes a blow at the closely related concept that because we are obeying some commandment of God, it is all right to violate some other commandment.  After all, it is “necessary” to do so in order to make sure that the preferred commandment is carried out and obeyed.

            Wouldn’t burning down the distilleries assure that drunkenness would be eliminated—or at least drastically reduced?  Kill enough abortionists—who commit “legal” genocide against the human species—and you may or may not eliminate all abortion, but you are surely going to drastically reduce the number!  Occasionally someone will make an effort at “terminating” some particular abortionist; if we studied the Prohibition movement closely, no doubt we’d pop up with at least a case or two of distilleries “mysteriously” being destroyed.

[Page 436]                  It’s the way people are when their “idealism” outruns their common sense and the obligation to respect the remainder f God’s law as well:  eliminate a problem or evil at all costs.  And we do mean all.  Paul would have thought adversely of such an idea:  “What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1)  “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  Certainly not! (Romans 6:15).  Or, as God’s Word renders the last two words, “That’s unthinkable!”

            Oddly enough we have a specific example of how obeying one commandment—or thinking we do—can drive out all compunctions of common decency and integrity and obedience to the other commandments . . . commandments  that have to be driven over into the dirt to get our way.  An intriguing case can be made that we find this happening in the case of the judicial murder of Jesus![21]


All of us have favourite commands that we believe we keep, and particular sins which we hate. The high priests Annas and Caiaphas had one pet commandment, the third, "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guilty who misuses his name" (Exodus 20:7).  They were determined to nail Christ to the cross on the strength of that broken commandment.

They claimed that Jesus of Nazareth had committed blasphemy.  But there are other commandments which said, "You shall not murder" and "You shall not [Page 437]   give false testimony against your neighbour."  They broke those commandments without compunction because their concern was to use the law for their own ends, not to magnify it by the way they loved and kept it.  Limited obedience for their own ends.


            I would not be so willing to concede that favoritism even toward the Third Commandment played any genuine role in their decision.  I am inclined to think of it as simply “proof texting” of the worst kind—finding a scripture that can be bent to fit whatever we are criticizing.  But perhaps I judge them too harshly, for even the evil men of society often think they are serving some unquestionable good that justifies their excesses.





Divine Judgment on Our Behavior

Is Inevitable




                        ATP text:  12 Therefore always speak and act as those who will be

judged by liberty’s law.  13 Judgment is without leniency to the one who has

given no mercy.  In God’s sight mercy triumphs over deserved condem-



[Page 438]


Development of the argument:



The commandment to “speak” and “act” as one’s facing judgment “by the law of liberty” carries with it the inherent idea of ongoing behavior.  Of what value is an erratic course? 


Both “speak” and “act” are in a Greek tense that stresses the continuing nature of these actions:  “be constantly speaking,” “always be acting.”  And the Greek text puts even more emphasis on the need for Christians to regulate their conduct with an eye on the judgment to come; literally rendered, it says, “Speak in such a manner and act in such a manner as those who are about to be judged by the law of liberty.”[22]


            To youth, death is a fable for other people.  Until age or tragedy catches up with them and they discover it applies to one and all.  Any person of any age can discover that reality at any hour of the day or night.  Hence James’ caution that they should remember that they “are about to be judged by the law of liberty.”


[Page 439]                  To separate what we say (speak) and how we behave (act) would be like owning an automobile that runs only half the time.  It wouldn’t do much good, would it?   Hence the ISV is wise when it inserts what is implicit, “You must make it your habit to speak and act like people who are going to be judged by the law of liberty” (or, as in the ATP, “Therefore always.”)

            A “law of liberty [ATP:  liberty’s law]” (2:12) seems a strange mixture of imagery.  “Law” conjures up the idea of restrictions and prohibitions and regulations.  Liberty” suggests the lack of such. 

Yet law can codify liberties too, to either create them or to assure that their existence are recognized.  In the latter sense, think of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution:  They weren’t designed to create those liberties but to assure that they would not be violated under color of law. 

            In the current context, “law of liberty” stresses the fact that Divine law has liberated us from the confines of human class prejudice—or at least should.  (Being the law of love [verse 8], it liberated us from anything else that stands in the way of united service to God.)  Such it is intended to do.  It sets us free to recognize others not on the basis of what element of society they come from but on the basis of what they are and how they act.


            The “judgment” that is coming will be judgment “by the law of liberty.” (2:12).  We are not talking about a value neutral system in Christianity, we are talking about a value affirming and demanding system.  The substitution of a different set of standards and concerns that the world usually finds uncomfortable or unacceptable.  But an authoritative system even so.

[Page 440]                  Hence its Divinely revealed provisions collectively constitute an authoritative body of “law.”  It was set up this way so we can know just what is expected and what is condemned, so we aren’t functioning in a knowledge vacuum.

            And to make sure that it isn’t regarded as mere guess work and easily ignored provisions, we are reminded that it comes with “judgment” attached:  Whether you violate it or adhere loyally to it, you face a Divine evaluation of your choices.  Otherwise the words of “law” become but hollow pleas and admonitions.

A time of accountability is required to raise law above what can be casually dismissed.  Our “values free society” abhors such a concept for the standards of behavior revealed in Divine law threatens its vain claim to “liberate” us from all inhibitions and restraints.  In them are amply fulfilled—yet again—the words of 2 Peter 2:19, “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity--for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them’ ” (NIV).

And with the creative debasement of the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, they even claim its all must be accepted as proper and appropriate behavior and not be “stigmatized” as evil.  For that is prejudicial and bigoted.  (Some of the Founding Fathers were rakes indeed, but they would have been horrified at the modern delusion that the Constitution they wrote was intended to ratify and endorse those behaviors!)

But Divine “judgment” ultimately comes however much rebellious humankind dismisses the very right or power of God to stigmatize any activity pleasant to their hearts as evil and sin.  It is as vain to run from that censure as to run from death.  Both “judgment” and death always win when all is said and done.   


[Page 441]                  The kicking off point in verse 1 was favoritism for the richer elements of society.  It is in that light that the final words of the section should be interpreted--though having a much wider application as well, of course:  “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.”  

            In effect, James is saying:  “You’ve shown no mercy in your treatment of ‘lesser’ people.  How is the Ultimate Holy One going to evaluate you who, really, is lower than that lowest one?  On a moral and spiritual level you are at least no better that he is on a social and temporal one.  You’ve shown how you think ‘lesser’ folk should be treated.  So what treatment do you now deserve?”  A very scary train of thought that he’s set in motion.  

            Depending upon the degree of rigidity in a given society, the demand that we grant “mercy” to others can be a difficult principle to embrace!  It destroys the social conceits of the day.  Yet without mercy where would even the more prestigious individual who is a Christian actually be—the one who, in earthly terms, has no need to “cut slack” for anyone?  In “this world” terms, perhaps he gains nothing; but in “next world” terms the opposite is the case.   

It has been suggested, with considerable validity, that the ultimate example of judgment yielding to mercy is found in the cross, that opened the door to forgiveness for all of us—rich and poorer alike,[23]


[Page 442]      The cross of Christ is not the triumph of justice—Calvary was the scene of the ultimate injustice!  The cross of Christ is the triumph of forgiveness.  The cross is where ultimate injustice encounters ultimate forgiveness in the words, “Father, forgive them.”

The cross is where we do not get what we deserve.  The cross is where judgment is passed over in favor of forgiveness so that the whole world might be reconciled.  The cross is where justice is reinterpreted by mercy in order to be redefined as reconciliation. . . .  The cross is the place where “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).


            If that is so for you and I, should we not be equally willing to meet the far, far lesser demand of treating others with restraint and kindness?    







Second Test of Our Faith:

Relying on Convictions Alone to Save Us

Rather Than the Necessity of Living By Them




[Page 443]



The Example of Wishing Well for the Destitute

But Doing Nothing to Help Them




           ATP text:  14 What does it benefit, my spiritual comrades, if someone

insists “I have faith,” even though there are no actions to accompany it?  Can

such “faith” save?  15 If a brother or sister is without adequate clothing and

lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, "I wish you well; may you be

clothed and have plenty to eat!" but you do not provide them the things

which are essential for the body’s welfare, what does it benefit?  17 Thus

intellectual commitment standing alone, if it does not have actions to mani-

fest it, is dead.



Development of the argument:

[Page 444]


In the last section of the chapter, the emphasis shifts to the need to carry out in actual behavior the convictions that one holds intellectually.  James insists that faith is not merely something believed in the mind, but something that must mold our relationships and behavior toward others as well.[24]  The specific example used to illustrate the point is that of the brother or sister who “is naked and destitute of daily food [ATP:  is without adequate clothing and lacks daily food]” and the folly of merely telling them that one hoped that their problems would soon be resolved (2:14-16). 

The underlying argument, however, touches upon a wide variety of other matters as well—it has an obvious application to the theme of inequitable treatment of visitors in whatever form it takes:  if you know this problem exists, you have an obligation to do something about it.  Hence both illustrate that faith must consist of both right belief and right behavior. 

            As humans we develop our sets of preferences:  Some love the biggest church they can find; others are most comfortable in places of under a 100 or so maximum in attendance.  Some feel most comfortable in a very formalistic approach to worship in which the routine comes preprinted and recycled every certain period of time.  Others feel most at home with a minimally structured service which will routinely differ from one Sunday to another.  None of these is inherently wrong, though all can be abused into something undesirable.

[Page 445]                  In James’ situation the alternatives regard two behavioral choices that would exist within any size congregational body:  an intellectualized faith in which what we know is all that is required to prove we have faith . . . versus the faith that finds proof of its existence by what we do in our interactions with others.  James throws out the blunt—and startling—challenge of whether that kind of “faith” can really save anyone (1:14). 

Its rather like having a lifesaving vaccine in our laboratory vials and being so proud of ourselves and our achievement—but never going out and actually using the vaccine.  Of what benefit would it be?


            To illustrate he provides an extreme case.  Here we have a brother or sister who “is naked” (2:15).  Perhaps he means that literally though the probability of public nudity was so rare and objectionable in a first century Jewish setting (cf. Revelation 16:15; 17:16) that it is effectively ruled out on that grounds alone. 

Far more likely he means a person who is virtually in that situation:  one who has extremely worn out garments (“ill-clad,” RSV, or “poorly clad,” Weymouth) where a replacement is desperately needed (“who need(s) clothes,” [TEV]).  The underlying Greek term was also used in this less than absolute sense as well.[25] 

We have something similar to the kind of situation depicted in the judgment scene in Matthew 25:36:  “I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”  God’s Word translation has it, “I needed clothes, and you gave me something to wear.  I was sick, and you took care of me.  I was in prison, and you visited me.”

[Page 446]                  The description of naked might also be applied to a person with an inner garment on—such as Peter while fishing in John 21:7.[26]  But this would hardly be a way a person would appear in a public setting of town or at a place of public worship.  Hence the run down and worn out interpretation makes the greatest sense. 

On the other hand—since James is determined to make this as powerful a case as he can, perhaps he even has in mind such an extreme case as would escape public censure—think of the man on the Jericho road who was robbed and stripped naked (Luke 10:30).  If he had managed to stumble into a public place there would have shock but not outrage because of the circumstances. 

Or perhaps he flat doesn’t care and simply wants to use as vivid a word picture as he can conjure up and isn’t worried at all about in what circumstances it might occur.  His only concern is to shatter the illusions of his readers.  Having depicted them without anything at all, he throws out the challenge:  How are you going to react.  Remember that both the hunger and the nakedness are inescapably immediate concerns,[27] not theoretical ones.  They are not ones that may occur—somewhere, sometime—they are something happening right in front of them.

Also note that these folk do not seem to be depicted as if strangers; they are depicted as if members of the congregation and those that the observers have come in contact with before.  So determined are these folk to separate mental belief from living belief, the overtone of the argument would be, “Would even this extreme of personal collapse move you to action?  Whatever distress they have had before, now it has reached catastrophic level!”

[Page 447]                  Their second problem is being “destitute of daily food” (2:15).  This could be taken as an absolute lack or simply an extreme lack—both, of course, emotionally and physically scarring to those envolved.  Most translations utilize “total absence” language.  Some hedge this in a little.  The TEV speaks of “don’t have enough to eat” and Rotherham may have a similar idea in mind with his “coming short of the daily food.”

It has been estimated that as much as 10% of the population in any given place at any given time could be either extremely sick (with survival uncertain) or barely surviving on their available food.[28]  (Also see the Problem Texts chapter for further comments on both the nakedness and the lack of food.) 


            The New Testament often uses “male” language to accommodate both genders—think the use of “brother” in particular.  Here James goes out of the way to specify both genders.  The reason may be that he is dealing with such extreme excuse makers that they would be far from unlikely to use the lack of explicitly female language to at least escape from that particular criticism. 

In the “real world,” of course, women with no local male surviving kin to assist them, were particularly vulnerable to economic destruction due to lack of economic opportunities and were easily thrust into even rockier economic distress than males.[29]  Extreme poverty is an equal opportunity destroyer and James was not going to let his readers escape that reality.   

            Faced with such individuals, the person who thinks inner conviction is enough has two choices:  do something to help or wash their hands of it.  He does the latter—but, politely, notice, politely, as he extends his best wishes:  “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled” (2:16). 

[Page 448]                  This sounds more than expressing best wishes; in a first century Jewish setting it echoes like a kind of blessing / prayer that things work out well for them.  (Scot McKnight observes that “this may be over-interpretation but, if so, not by much. . . .”)[30]  And having prayed for their well being, what does the person actually do—nothing!   

Now this is toward a “brother or sister,” not John or Jane Q. Nobody who he would not be expected to have as much interest in.  This is kin, spiritual kin.  This would be considered as despicable behavior toward physical brothers and sisters.  Does it become virtuous because these are “just” spiritual relatives? 

James doesn’t choose this line of attack—though the implication could hardly be avoided.  He hits on the utilitarian aspect instead:  “What does it profit [ATP:  what does it benefit]?” (2:17).  What good have you accomplished?  None.  Zilch. 

And because it has accomplished nothing, if all they can claim is faith, standing alone, then, yes, I suppose, he does, in a sense, have faith.  But it is “dead” faith, not a living faith (2:17).  If you will, he is a “spiritual zombie” . . . has a body that moves about as if alive but is actually quite dead.  (Cf. the paradox in 1 Timothy 5:6, “is dead while she lives.”)  Except this isn’t zombie fiction we are talking about, it’s real life. 

Since Christianity is rooted in faith in God and Christ, James’ criticism is little short of denying that one has faith at all.  At the absolute minimum it means that one does not have meaningful faith.  And if that is lacking, how can they truly be counted among the saved?  Or, to be kinder, remain among the saved?

[Page 449]                  Some have found in the example a case of dark humor.[31]  After all, the situation is inherently absurd--to act as if the words alone would be enough to satisfy God.  Yet whenever we try to rationalize our way around doing what we know is right, aren’t we inadvertently mocking our own pretense at religious dedication?






Only the Foolish Think They Can Successfully

Separate God Ordained Behavior

From Faith in God




                        ATP text:  18 But someone will object, "You have faith but I have

            works in its place."  I respond:  Show me your commitment without your

actions, and I will show you my convictions through my actions.  19 You

believe that there is only one God.  You do admirably in believing this.  On

the other hand, even the demons believe--and tremble with fear!  20 Do you

want to be shown further evidence, O foolish person, that convictions without

expression in behavior is devoid of all life?


[Page 450]

Development of argument:

(For more on 2:18—Who Is the “You” in This Verse—James or Someone Else?—see the Problem Texts chapter.)


James presents an objection that must have been heard many times as one individual argued in behalf of faith and another tried to argue for a different path to salvation through works in its place.  The essence of his argument is that it simply can’t be done; they can’t be separated.

James doesn’t quite come out and challenge the salvation of those who desire to rely upon the faith element alone.  But he immediately argues that, “You believe that there is one God.  You do well.  Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (2:19).  But if all one has is demonic style faith, isn’t that really saying you don’t have genuine faith at all—“genuine” in the sense of what faith is supposed to be?  (Can a more sarcastic[32] or ironical[33] praise be given?) 

            Obviously that demonic level of faith is not belief that merits praise.  It is a “faith” that only produces horror at one’s guilt, perhaps, and how one is utterly deserving of Divine retribution.  Think in terms of the common remorse reaction to the colonial American preacher’s famous sermon, “A sinner in the hands of an angry God.”

[Page 451]                  It is not the faith of a person forgiven—for that should produce joy or, at least, tranquility.  It is the faith of a person who wants to stand forgiven and not do anything to merit it beyond being there. 

It is the faith of a person so disturbed at the thought of deserved guilt that he “trembles,” rather than going any further.  And thinks that will be quite enough.  He “fears God,” does he not?

The kind of person who never moves on to full obedience so he or she can rejoice in God because of the salvation that has been accomplished.  “Trembles” is an intense word:  “The word ‘tremble’ means more than just slight shuddering; it refers to uncontainable, uncontrollable, violent shaking from extreme fear.”[34]  In the LXX it is found, among other places, in Job 14:15, where NETS renders it:  “And a spirit came upon my face, and my hair and flesh quivered” or as the Orthodox Study Bible prefers it, “And my hair and flesh shook with fear.”  Our modern idiom for this would likely be “the hair standing on end.”  It’s hardly likely to literally happen; but we all know what it means.[35]

Oh, they accept faith intellectually but they aren’t about do one single thing to change.[36]  It’s rather like folk today who think because they are theists they must be acceptable to God; surely Deity would never impose those unpleasant rules on such folk as them!  (For additional thoughts see the Problem Texts chapter.)          

James doesn’t challenge that such Christians began with the intention of having genuine and complete faith.  Instead it mutated.  They faltered and failed when it came to the test of applying faith to life.  Without doing so we only have a half-faith, so to speak.  A faith that may guide our convictions but not our behavior.  Think of an engine that only half-works.  How long will it be of any value? 

[Page 452]                  Or, perhaps, another way of saying it:  having twisted the concept of faith into the channel of mere convictions when it was intended to control all of life, haven’t we choked the life force—the power--out of it?  God intended for faith and behavior to be interlocked and one to lead to the other (2:20), one constantly motivating and shaping the other.  When we keep this from happening, we cripple faith and leave it to wither.

The potential of faith dies even when the intellectual component limps onward—at least for a while.  For James’ argument to have validity, it would be impossible for him to concede that the “faith” that remains is anything more than profession without substance.  Has he not vigorously insisted that it is useless and if it is that useless what could one have left than an idle shell pretending to be much more?

Most translations have retreated from the traditional closing of “is dead” (KJV, NKJV, Young, and many others) to the Westcott Hort Greek critical text’s preferred “useless” (CEV, GW, Holman, NASB, NIV, TEV, NLT) or the equivalent “of no use” (BBE).  Philip W. Comfort sees this as an intentional variation to drive home the author’s underlying truth through different language:  “James argues that faith without the demonstration of works is not only dead (2:17, 26), it is useless [as well] in that it is unproductive.”[37]

Basically synonymous with “useless” is “worthless” (ISV, Weymouth), but the renderings of “idle” (Rotherham, Greenlee[38]) and “barren” (ASV, RSV) don’t adequately convey the degree of moral censure James intends with his words.


[Page 453]                  Aside:  Why did the demons “tremble?”  Because they recognized that their defiance of God merited them Divine wrath.   Demons knew full well that their lack of change earned them the completeness of Divine retribution. 

Or as the demons themselves are quoted in the gospels, “Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did You come to destroy us?  I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”  (Mark 1:24).  “And suddenly they cried out, saying, ‘What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’ ” (Matthew 8:29). 

To have someone who has no more faith than the demons did confess faith before others was so appalling--and embarrassing--that Jesus refused to permit them to talk further (Luke 4:14).  In their own, lesser way, were not the Christians James addresses relying merely on what they knew intellectually . . . and be undermining the Lord’s credibility as well? 



[Page 454]


History’s Vindication:

Abraham Was Made Acceptable by His Works

Because They Manifested His Faith




                        ATP text:  21 Was not Abraham our ancestral father counted just due

to his actions--when he offered Isaac his son as a sacrifice on the altar? 22 You

can see that faith was working together with his actions, and by actual

behavior intellectual commitment was perfected.  23 In this the Scripture

came true which says, "Abraham believed God, and the result was credited

to him to obtain Divine approval."  So he was called the friend of God. 24 You

see then that a person is made just by actions, and not by intellectual convict-

ions standing alone.



Development of argument:



To establish that faith is to produce behavior, James cites the scriptural example of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation.  He was “justified by works [ATP:  counted just due to his actions]” by offering his son (4:21).  This was because faith “was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect” (4:22).  Note that it was [Page 455]   not faith or works standing separate and alone, but their co-operation in the same task(s); they worked in tandem, toward the same goal(s).[39] 

The specific goal in mind is his being counted righteous because of his faith, as Scripture states (2:23).  And it was because of this active faith that “he was called the friend of God” (2:24).  Hence they co-operated in achieving this result as well.  Indeed, if he did not have faith why would he ever have made the sacrifice?  The sacrifice itself assumes the existence of a powerful and vibrant faith.  Again the two are intertwined together.

Hence this example justifies James’ assertion that to be “justified” requires behavior motivated by faith and that our faith, standing alone, falls short of acceptability to God (2:24). 

            Now the event of offering his son occurs in Genesis 22 but already in Genesis 15:6 we read, “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness”—referring to God’s pledge that through his wife he would have a vast number of descendents even though he was still childless (verses 1-5). 

            Some have used this to prove a profound gap between what Paul and James believed in regard to obtaining salvation.  Some deal with this by arguing that Paul deals with initial salvation while James is dealing with how one proves the presence of that salvation and faith . . . by one’s faith-motivated actions.[40]  Without those works one has given the lie to one’s claim to have faith. 

(The advocate of salvation by faith alone is still stuck, however, with a repugnant situation:  faith wasn’t enough to save one and if—somehow—it was, then one has repudiated any claim to its continuance by one’s inaction.  In short, more than bare bones faith is necessary; it needs to be “embodied” within a framework of behavior and conduct, i.e., “works.”)

[Page 456]                  James himself takes care to stress that he is not teaching a salvation by works independent of faith in the very next verse, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (1:24).  He in no way denies that faith is essential, but just that “faith only,” by itself, will never produce the desired result.  There is a profound difference between those two statements. 

Note again that pivotal word “only;” he is teaching that both are essential.  Works are required to validate the faith and faith is required to validate the works.


It should also be noted that James does not say that the near sacrifice was “accounted to him for righteousness” but that it was what motivated him being called “the friend of God.”  Its relationship to the other was caused by the obedience being a fulfillment--“note the “fulfilled” in the text--of that earlier belief and righteousness.   

Our human experience is certainly parallel:  Not every one we count as of good character (“righteous”) is one that we count as our “friend.”  In human affairs that differentiation may make little practical difference since we can function together quite well even if the relationship never enters the “friendship” range, but in dealing with God both need to be present to have an acceptable and desirable bond. 

Indeed, can one imagine redemption without both being present?  Hence redemption hinges upon the presence of redemptive faith—and if you will pardon the unusual expression—redemptive works to complete that faith as it should be. 

[Page 457]                  To truly “believe God” and have it “accounted to him for righteousness” one must complete the process of belief by one’s behavior and thereby become / prove oneself to be . . . in fact as well as words . . . a “friend of God.”  Conceptualize it as a two piece jig-saw puzzle that is blatantly incomplete when only one piece is available; add in the second “piece” and it becomes a complete and total whole.







Gentiles Were Made Acceptable to God

the Same Way:

The Example of Rahab




                        ATP text:  25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also made just by

her actions when she welcomed the messenger-spies and sent them out of the

city safely another way?



Development of argument:


[Page 458]

Since Abraham is par excellence as authoritative an example as a Jewish Christian could possibly hope to find from the Old Testament, it would seem unnecessary to go anywhere else.  Yet James then introduces the example of Rahab.  Perhaps he does this because his illustration had referred to “a brother or sister” who stood in need (2:16) and he wishes to provide both a male and a female example of true faith.  (Alternatively that he wishes to provide an example of both Jew and Gentile so no critic would be left any hiding room.)     

Rahab demonstrated how even a non-Jew could be accepted by God if she believed in Him and acted on that faith.  No one made her hide the spies, but she was convinced that their God would give the victory and therefore hid them and helped sneak them out of the city. 

This behavior made her “justified by works” (2:25)—not works in itself and standing alone, but works growing out of her faith.  If she did not have a determined faith why in the world would she risk the immediate danger of execution by her own government by hiding the spies?  Clearly she had faith that what they said would be the way things would ultimately work out. 

So faith she had.  But, like Abraham, combined with “works.”  In her case, combined with the works of hiding the spies and sending them out unexposed.

            From the standpoint of the future, they were “spies”—they were surely there to discover the weak points and strengths of the city, their mind-frame (which would argue how determinedly they would hold out against a siege), and their resources (which would determine how long they could hold out).  They were also messengers.

[Page 459]                  This might mean that there is an untold aspect to the Old Testament narrative:  that they started the rumor in key places that the invading Israelites were near.  Psychological warfare in other words.

Whether they had any advance indication of who they would seek out in the city--it seems unlikely--when they told their story to Rahab they certainly functioned as messengers in that context as well.[41]  Furthermore, when they left the city to report back they were messengers bringing the wanted news back “home.”[42] 






Faith Without Manifestation in Behavior

Is Nothing but Dead Faith




                        ATP text:  26 So then, just as the body without the spirit is lifeless, so

also faith without actions to express it is just as dead.


[Page 460]

Development of argument:



Applying the principle demonstrated through Abraham and Rahab, James ends the chapter with the pointed reminder that faith without works of proper behavior is nothing short of a dead faith.  This time he makes the assertion even harder:  Behaviorless faith is just as dead as “the body without the spirit is dead” (2:26).

            Make that dead in past, present, or future senses, but the very fact that he is imploring them to change argues that they aren’t beyond being salvaged.  Before they had blinded themselves to reality.  Now their “blinkers” have been removed.  The challenge to them now is to behave accordingly and rebuild their faith.  But, oddly, change in a good direction is often the hardest challenge any human being ever faces.    








[1] Plumptre, 66.


[Page 461]   [2] Osick and Blach, 93-94, 97.


[3] Edgar, 147.

[4] Batten, “Strategies,” 12.


[5] Gil Rugh, “Bible Study Notes:  Show No Partiality—James 2:1-7.”  1977-78, abridged.  At:  [June 2012.]   


[6] Adamson, James:  The Man, 252.

[7] Alicia Batten (Friendship, 74) believes there is an implicit criticism of the rich man:  “This image of a man decked out in gold rings and luxurious clothes may recall a stock character from satire, such as in Lucian’s Nigrinus, in which rich men flash their rings expecting praise and bows from others (Nigr. 21).  These inappropriate displays of wealth by the affluent were understood to be distasteful even in Rome, for they indicated than the person attached an inordinate significance to his or her riches.  Some early Christian texts explicitly warn against such decoration, especially for women (1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3).”  This assumes that the rich man was intentionally flashing his rings about to show off his wealth.  James only refers to the fact that he had them and not any arrogant “better than thou” actions to impress others with them.  Even if it were present, the fact remains that the verbal condemnation remains focused on giving him undue prominence rather than on his own motives and intentions.  


[Page 462]   [8] McCartney, 136-137.


[9] Ibid., 137.


[10] For a brief discussion of both possibilities, see Ibid., 137.


[11] Blomberg and Kamell, James, 108.


[12] Hartin, James, 118.


[13] Blomberg and Kamell, James, 108.


[14] McCartney, 139.


[15] Ibid.


[16] Ibid.


[17] Richard Collier, The General Next to God, a history of the Salvation Army, as quoted by Johnny Hunt, “Judges with Evil Thoughts.”  At:  http://sermons. members/UploadedSermons/sermon_2503.pdf.  (Page 2) [June 2012.] 


[Page 463]   [18] Hartin, James, 120.


[19] Moo, 108.


[20] For a concise survey of reasons that have been suggested that these two actions are singled out in particular, see J. Harold Greenlee, An Exegetical Summary of James (Dallas, Texas:  Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc.:  1993), 91.


[21] Geoff Thomas, “James 2:8-13:  God’s Royal Law Gives Freedom,” June 1998.  At:  [June 2012.] 


[22] Moo, 116.


[23] Brian Zahnd, Unconditional?  The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness (Lake Mary, Florida:  Ministry Today Books, 2011), 61.


[24] Colson, 27.


[25] Blomberg, and Kamell, James, 130.


[26] These passages are given by McKnight, James, 230.


[27] Hartin, James, 150.


[Page 464]   [28] Blomberg and Kamell, James, 130.


[29] On the general line of this paragraph, see Ibid., 130.


[30] McKnight, James, 231.


[31] Ibid, 229, calls it “a comic example,” but I think our terminology of dark humor fits better.


[32] Cf. Blomberg and Kamell, James, 135.


[33] Hartin, James, 152.


[34] Blomberg and Kamell, James, 135.


[35] Hartin, James, 150.


[36] Blomberg and Kamell, James, 135.


[37] Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream, Illinois:  Tyndale House Publishers, 2008), 727-728.


[38] Greenlee, 109.


[Page 465]   [39] Moo, 136.


[40] Blomberg and Kamell, James, 136 and note 59, page 136.


[41] McCartney, 171.


[42] See Greenlee, 118, for a discussion of the relevancy of the “messenger” terminology to the actual situation.