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

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2014




[Page 508] 




Chapter 2C:

Problem Texts





The meaning of “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ:”

Faith “in” or faith “of”?


“Faith of” is the rendering of the ASV, ERV, KJV, NKJV, and the WEB.   “Faith in,” however, is quite common among newer translations.  It is found in the ESV, God’s Word, Holman, ISV, NASB, NLT, and Weymouth, with “believers in” preferred by the NIV.

[Page 509]                  Is James referring to faith “of” Jesus as synonymous with faith “in” Him or does “of” carry a different connotation?   Newer analysts often believe the latter, supporting this by taking the underlying Greek as “a subjective genitive and translate, ‘the faith that Jesus Christ himself had.’ ”[1]  The defenders of this tend to be quite confident.   Richard B. Hays insists that “it is very plausible to read the phrase as a subjective genitive—‘you hold the faith which our Lord Jesus Christ Himself displayed.’ ”[2]  

However is James targeting “not following” in reference to what Jesus demonstrated in example or in regard to what He taught (note how the two individuals we quote seem to opt in different directions on this)—or are we cutting too fine a line here in the first place?  Hence would it not be better to say:  As He showed both in action and word? 

If Jesus were consistent between what He taught and what He did—and He surely was—the two are inevitably linked and glued together in an unbreakable bond.  Hence we seem to have an impossible problem if we were to rigidly separate the two elements and insist that only one is actually in James’ mind.

So it is far better to say that . . .

The faith system Jesus taught prohibited such discriminatory behavior.

The faith system Jesus demonstrated in His behavior also prohibited such actions.

And Christians were to abstain from such for both reasons.

[Page 510]                  That the kind of faith James demanded was the kind of faith that Jesus taught, accepted, and practiced is roundly demonstrated time and again in the gospels as He left the door open to discipleship for any and all who were willing to embrace Him.  He drew no economic lines, either up or down.  So we would have no problem with this approach on that score.

In addition, Patrick J. Hartin has been argued that the “in” connotation won’t work in James--that when an object of faith has been presented in the epistle (in 2:19 and 2:23), it is explicitly God who is mentioned.[3]  For this rebuttal to have maximum impact, however, it must be only Jehovah who they were to have faith in; faith in Jesus would have to be excluded by 2:19 and 2:23, would it not? 

Does anyone really want to go that route?  The argument is certainly a strong “straw in the mind” against the equivalency between “of = in” but falls short of being decisive and conclusive.

Yet translating “faith of” has itself been vigorously criticized:  (1)  In light of the text’s description of Jesus as “Lord,” “Christ,” and “glorious,” one would anticipate the faith being “in” Jesus rather than being that which He Himself demonstrated.  (2)  Both the faith and double-mindedness are found in the same person and that far better fits the church member rather than Jesus’ own personal faith (in either action or doctrine) being in mind.  (3)  Indeed, the Greek text not only permits but requires point two.[4] 

The second point is certainly supported by the reading of the NKJV rendition itself, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.”  (These opening words—or their equivalent—will be found in translations on both sides of the “of” versus “in” controversy.) 

[Page 511]                  Furthermore there seems to be a massive problem if we exclude faith “in” Christ being part of the intended equation:  We adopt the economically non-discriminatory approach not merely because it is the faith system embraced in the words and deeds of the Lord (“the faith of Christ”) . . . but also because of our faith in Jesus.  Indeed, if we did not embrace faith in Jesus why in the world would we regard His actions and teachings as authoritative in the first place? It is the essential prerequisite to having the faith “of” Christ. 

In short, we seem to be trapped between two approaches, both of which must be true for the teaching of James to be considered as conclusive:  We must have both the “faith of” and “faith in” Jesus of Nazareth.  Because we have faith “in” Christ, we are to also have the faith “of” Christ—embracing both what He taught and did.






Is the rich man a Christian

and the setting a “church court” one?


            Some commentators believe that the center of attention in James 2 concerns the activities of “church courts” rather than, as traditionally believed, the regular church worship gatherings.  William Varner lays out what he considers compelling evidence, based upon the earlier work of another scholar,[5]

[Page 512]

                        While this passage has been usually applied to discrimination in

public worship, the context may point to another explanation.  In an

influential article, R. B. Ward (“Partiality in the Assembly,” Harvard

Theological Review 62 (1969), 87-97) argued that the scene in this passage is

not a worship service but a “court” session to render judgment on a case

brought before it.  James condemns the partiality of those who are “judges”

who “made discriminatory distinctions.” . . .

            The reference in 2:6 to the poor being drawn into “courts” continues

the semantic chain . . . and further supports this view in the context. 

Furthermore, the OT warning about showing partiality (Jam. 2:1) was

addressed to Israel’s judges (Deuteronomy 1:17; Leviticus 19:15). Ward also

cited striking linguistic and social parallels, although from later Rabbinic


            While a legitimate application of the partiality principle can certainly

be applied to the favoring of the rich in their seating assignments in the

assembly’s “pews,” it appears that the passage makes much more sense if we

imagine the assembly leaders gathered to decide cases (see Matthew 18:15-

17; 1 Corinthians 6:1-6).  Perhaps the unjust way in which the rich

landowners withheld pay to their day laborers, so strongly condemned in

James 5:1-6, was the kind of legal issue that was being handled in this scene.

[Page 513]                  Finally, this approach to James 2:1-4 adds some specific

application to what appears to be a general admonition in 2:12, 13. There

James rounds off his entire argument with another reference to judging and

not showing mercy.  “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by

the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to

anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.”



            Varner’s appeal to James 2:12-13 to argue that the judgment standard demanded refers back to the church court seems inherently unwise.  It would function even better as an allusion back to their social discrimination at their regular worship services--based upon visible evidence of wealth--since there would be many times more opportunities for these to occur than courts.  Is it wise to go with the narrowest possible frame of interpretation (a court setting)--when that is not clearly required--or to go with a worship setting where the principle would have far, far more opportunities to be exercised?

Furthermore, the wording about judging is so broad that it seems clearly intended to apply to all spiritual discriminatory situations (or are we to say that it was regarded as acceptable outside a court setting?); at the most it might be a generalization growing out of familiarity with the “judicial” abuse of such.[6]  In effect:  show the mercy that we so often see courts not providing, especially since these are your co-religionists in the Lord and, as such, they deserve far better treatment.

            The argument that the court issue could well be that of unjustly withheld wages (James 5:1-6) would seem fatally inconsistent with Varner’s allusion to judgment being [Page 514]   done with mercy (James 2:12-13).  Should stolen wages ever be treated with “mercy?”  Inside or outside the church setting? 

This would seem to be one area where that standard is not only not appropriate, but would be diametrically opposed to the pure justice that is required.  (Yes, one can imagine rare circumstances in which there would be exceptions to this generality but they would be exactly that, rare and unusual.)  Hence the very example he cites of what could be under consideration is inconsistent with the just treatment that James 2 advocates!


            Varner cites the example of Old Testament teaching on avoiding partiality as having a judicial setting.  Yes, it often does.  But are we to believe that prejudicial judgments were, therefore, considered just and morally acceptable in other contexts?  For the egotistical and self-serving, the answer would surely be “yes.”  But for those striving to fully live by the ethical demands of the Torah and prophets?  Hardly likely!

            Furthermore, passages like Proverbs 24:23-25 seem to have a much broader, social rather than judicial, context in mind, “These things belong to the wise:  It is not good to show partiality in judgment.  He who says to the wicked, ‘You are righteous,’ him the people will curse; nations will abhor him.  But those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.” 

Note that it is “the wise” being addressed—not (just) judges.  Furthermore the evaluation being made is not of guilt or innocence of crime, as in a court, but of what is “wicked” and “righteous.”  Is it not clear that even the Old Testament was receptive to the idea of broadening the concept of judging to non-judicial settings as well?

[Page 515]                  Being Christians, James’ listeners would surely have interpreted judging within the framework of Jesus’ teachings in particular.  Would not His injunctions against “judging” be interpreted in such a broader context than a mere judicial one? 

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged.  Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).  In such broad “judgment” frameworks, would Jesus not be speaking of behavior in everyday life rather than just that which has brought one before a court?  Why would it seem hard to accept that James also walked in that path?  (This argument grows in power the greater you consider James’ reliance being on the teaching of the Lord.)

Finally there are the church judgment texts that Varner introduces.  Matthew 18,


            15 Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his

fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your

brother.  16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by

the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’  17 And if

he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.  But if he refuses even to hear

the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”


            Usually James 2 is considered—including by advocates of the “judicial interpretation” of James 2--as discussing a rich outsider.  Jesus however is discussing “your brother.” 

            The same is true in the other text, 1 Corinthians 6,

[Page 516]

                        1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before

the unrighteous, and not before the saints?  2 Do you not know that the saints

will judge the world?  And if the world will be judged by you, are you

unworthy to judge the smallest matters?  3 Do you not know that we shall

judge angels?  How much more, things that pertain to this life?  4 If then you

have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint

those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?  5 I say this to your

shame.  Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who

will be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goes to law against

brother, and that before unbelievers!


            How does the non-Christian get dragged into this?  And if James does provide an addition to the church court teaching of the New Testament, wouldn’t he have made explicit the participation of non-Christians in the matter?

            Furthermore, a simple reading of the text leaves most readers under the immediate impression that the man is simply attending a church worship service.  If it does have a “court” setting, the language is clearly written in such a matter that its logic is fully applicable to both situations.  And there seems zilch that would require that the direct subject be such “courts” in particular.

            To repeat a point made earlier, since it is also relevant here:  Since there would be far more worship services than “judicial” ones, there would be more than a little oddness if the latter are under discussion.  It is, at most, an interpretation . . . a limitation . . . of a principle that had far broader application to all church meetings.  Furthermore there [Page 517]   would be the strangeness that it is laid down in regard to the kind of service of which there would be few while fully ignoring the regular (= worship) services, which would be numerous.       

            Furthermore, if this is a judicial style meeting why would a non-Christian show up at all?  If he is a party to the dispute, would we not expect him to demand the matter be settled before the official courts—where he would automatically have greater influence?  Why “demean” oneself to take the matter before a group most likely to be predisposed in favor of the other party in the case—the poor man, because he is a believer in Jesus unlike you?  

            If both are there as witnesses then one still has the problem of why the non-Christian would consent to such a setting.  Would not being there be a virtual self-demeaning of his social standing?  Not to mention that we then have to assume the presence of an unmentioned third and fourth party (the accuser and the accused) who are the real reason for both poor and rich man being present!


Varner also refers to “later”—not early—Rabbinic evidence.  Probably what he has in mind are references such as those that follow.  And, first a ready admission:  it is unquestionably intriguing that some of the language describing Jewish religious tribunals find verbal echoes in what James has to say. 

In regard to the problem of differing attire--discussing the need to keep it from having a prejudicial impact upon the court--one Talmudic source raises the question of permitting it at all, “How do we know that, if two come to court, one clothed in rags and the other in fine raiment worth a hundred manehs, they should say to him, ‘Either dress like him or dress him like you.’ ”[7]

[Page 518]                  James, however, levels no attack on the person who comes into the assembly in attire reflecting his wealth and status nor criticizes anyone explicitly or implicitly for “permitting” it.  Nor for “allowing” the poor man to be present in inadequate attire.  His attack is on allowing the destitute to be neglected and disrespected while all the positive attention is centered on the first man.

            Another rabbinic example to consider:  In the application of Leviticus 19:15 one source insists, “You must not let one litigant speak as much as he wants, and then say to the other, ‘Shorten thy speech.’  You must not let one stand and the other sit.’ ”[8]  

            As to the sitting and standing, James does not say a word criticizing the fact that it happens.  What he does attack is that the decision as to who does what is made upon the status of the individual. 

Let me go out on a limb here and do a piece of sociological analysis and you may evaluate it as you think best:  In the court setting of the rabbinic writing, the person “standing” (= the rich man?) would occupy the more dominating position while the person “sitting” would be one literally towered over as his opponent makes his case. 

In James, it is the socially dominant rich man who, initially, is described as sitting and the socially inferior poor man who is told to stand (James 2:3)—the opposite of the situation seemingly occurring in the rabbinic context.  Admittedly there is an assumption here, but a reasonable one:  We assume that it is the rich man who wants to do the standing to give him a degree of psychological dominance “worthy” of his social stature as he makes his case or delivers his testimony. 

Actually we have no idea what the economic status of the two men were in the rabbinic anecdote.  For all we know they may have been equal.         

[Page 519]                  Furthermore James’ second option in 2:3 is that the rich man has a good seat and the poor man is seated next to someone’s footstool—both sitting.  None of this seems particularly helpful in erecting any meaningful parallel between James and the rabbis.


So far we have been analyzing potential evidence in favor of the court setting and noted the great difficulty in making it convincing.  Before passing on, it should be noted that the approach can also be attacked on the ground that the language both used and unused argues against a church law court context.  On the one hand, Ben Witherington notes, when James 2:6 explicitly refers to “courts” (kriterion) the term for tribunals is explicitly used.[9]  On the other hand, in James 2:2 we are told that this is happening in their “assembly” (synagogue), a term not used anywhere in the New Testament of law courts.[10]  


The church trial scenario assumes that the individual is a non-believer as does the traditional worship service interpretation of the text.  The case for these wealthy as believers:   The unbeliever hypothesis is highly probable although not quite the “slam dunk” often assumed.  Who was the more likely to be in a Christian service of any kind—a wealthy believer or a wealthy non-believer?   The latter’s curiosity would bring them upon occasion, but the former’s faith would always bring them.  Does that not seem to argue that the rich man being discussed is more likely to be a fellow believer? 

[Page 520]                  Furthermore verse 4 indicts the behavior as showing “partiality among yourselves.”  Would not the most natural reading of the text translate into “partiality among fellow Christians?”  I.e., both the wealthy and poor person are believers.  Natural as this interpretation would be, the connotation could simply be between two individuals—whether Christians or not—who happen to be in the same assembly.  They are joined together by joint presence and not joint faith.


The case for these wealthy as unbelievers:  Others insist that the rich pictured throughout this epistle are all non-Christians—which would seem to push the options too far in the opposite direction!  John Painter, for example, argues “that the rich are always pictured as outside of the community:  (1) they fade away (1:10-11), (2) they persecute the community (2:6-7), and (3) they are oppressors of their workers and ‘the righteous’ (3:1-6).”[11] 

Do they only fade away because they are rich?  If so their unethical behavior has zilch do with their destiny—only their economic status.  Do only non-believers “oppress their workers”?  Purported Christian faith hasn’t kept it from happening in later centuries.  Will supposed believers persecute other members?  The efforts at religious suppression in the Middle Ages and the modern world would certainly suggest it is possible.

We already saw that there is a major problem in explaining why non-Christian wealthy would be present at a Christian judicial forum at all.  However we can easily imagine a scenario in which religious curiosity caused a non-Christian to attend a worship service.  It is a phenomena that is not unknown in our own day and age—they’ve heard about the group and their curiosity is piqued.  Or their drive for a greater spirituality than polytheism could offer drove them to check out this new option in their community. 

[Page 521]                  In other words, if you will, an atypical rich person.  One who might well be predisposed to act with greater restraint and caution than most in his class.  Do we really believe that James wanted such folk—especially when they embraced the Faith—to be lumped in with the hostile rich that he describes as their foe? 

In other words the condemned rich are the sinful rich and not merely those who have the wealth.  And even as outsiders, it was not their lack of faith alone that produced condemnation, but the fact that their lives also reflected evil and sinful behavior.  Again they were in the category of the sinful rich.   

Yes, that the condemned rich were usually or predominantly non-Christians seems a safe deduction from how the movement would have minimal appeal to them at that point in history, but the words were surely never intended to give believers a “safety blanket” from the consequences of their own misbehavior either!  Otherwise the non-Christian who did the identical evil would be punished but not his compatriot within the church. 

Hence the rich / poor language was not exclusively intended as synonymous with unbeliever / believer; a qualitative label must be attached to it at well--such as “evil” and “sinful” and “oppressive rich.”  If you will, when “rich” stands alone it typically has such an appellation as an implied adjective.

However a caution against going too far with this immediately comes to mind:  If rich men as a class were worthy of contempt were not also poor people as a class—due to their immorality, excess, and violence--worthy of the same scorn?  But if there is a keymark in the New Testament attitude toward society, surely it is treat people as individuals rather than as members of a group.  Those who have reformed are worthy of our respect and praise.  Those who have not, of our sorrow.     

[Page 522]     

            (Since the question of whether the rich being discussed were Christians has a direct application to the interpretation of chapter 5 as well, we will examine the question again in that context.  To further complicate the interpretive picture, it should be remembered that in chapter 2 it is the rich attending services of the church that are under discussion; in contrast, in chapter 5 they are introduced as oppressors of its members . . . as if they are ones having only an economic contact with the brethren and never, even casually, a religious one.  The same subtype of rich—believer vs. unbeliever, friendly vs. hostile, ethical vs. unethical--need not be under consideration in the two places.)






How common would the presence of non-Christians

be in the church services described by James?


As described by the text, neither visiting party seems to know where to go in the assembly:  the text has someone present telling them.  It is as if neither is yet familiar with the congregation’s normal procedures.  (Even today, newcomers will often be cautious lest they “take” someone else’s normal seat.)  Hence the situation argues that [Page 523]   both are either non-Christians or recent converts, not yet acclimated to local customs and procedures.[12]  Of course much the same situation would also exist if they were already believers but new to that particular congregation—recent arrivals to the town, for instance.

Paul also alludes to the at least occasional presence of unbelievers, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all” (1 Corinthians 14:24).  In other words, what they have to say will be of direct relevance to the visitor, which would have had to have an impact upon their attitude:  How do they know about these things?  These concerns?  These worries?  These anxieties?  Perhaps even these hidden evils? 

The reason for his presence is not given, presumably because it could vary from case to case.  The use of the conditional “if” argues that unbelievers weren’t always present, but that they were there on a sufficiently persistent number of occasions that church worship needed to factor in the possibility of their presence.

Peter refers to how believing wives could convince their husbands of the validity of their new faith by how they acted and behaved without anything explicit being said about the gospel (1 Peter 3:1):  The scenario seems clearly to be one in which their lives had so significantly—and unexpectedly?—changed for the better, that their spouses recognized that some power was working within that faith and they wished to share in it.  In such a social context, their presence at services to learn more would be both expected and surely unavoidable.  

Others would be introduced by individuals who had taught them the good news and converted them through their teaching.  What else could be done with them at that point, but to acquaint them with the local congregation as well?   

[Page 524]

            Laying aside the “church trial” scenario that we have rejected and accepting that we are dealing with worship services and that the visitors are non-Christians, Ben Witherington rightly points out these just about had to be invited visitors, not just strangers who wandered in.  We just noticed a few cases of why they would be invited. 

Especially in the early days of congregations when they would have been merely “house churches,” there would normally have been a caution about inviting people without discussing it first with the home owner.[13]  It would have been a courtesy at the very least since such places would have had inherent space limitations.

            Furthermore Christianity existed in a legally nebulous situation.  Technically illicit, the monotheism and the major percentage of Jewish participants would tend to have others simply categorize them as a strange “Jewish faction.”  The monotheistic element alone would be enough for them to continue this evaluation until a critical point was reached when it was clear that Gentiles now dominated the movement at least in the Diaspora.  

In such an ambivalent and changing environment, a certain caution on informing others about the “when” and “where” of services would not be unexpected.  Caution is not the same thing as exclusion, however--just of self- and group-protection.

            Except for those rather rare occasions when the Empire launched a conscious crusade against them, Roman officialdom typically relied upon private informants / accusers who would be the ones lumping the charge of being an illicit cult in with whatever other complaints were bothering them.  Without their pressure, officialdom was [Page 525]   more inclined to “let sleeping dogs lie.”  On the other side of the coin, when anti-Christian rumors began to be spread, the need to be cautious about who got invited and knew the meeting location and time would obviously become a major concern.

            When congregations grew large enough to have a non-home meeting place—the Christians in Troas met, at least when Paul was with them, in a third floor location (Acts 20:7-9)—a certain discretion would surely have still been exercised:  standing for one’s faith is one thing, waving a bull provoking “red cape” in front of others something else entirely.         


            As with virtually everything else in the world, there are those who consider encouraging non-Christian attendees to be undesirable and possibly outright sinful in spite of such evidence as we have examined.  Chris Walker refers to three objections that he’s encountered over the decades challenging the propriety of their presence.[14]  One is based on the “if” in 1 Corinthians 14:24 as, allegedly, implying it was an extraordinarily rare occurrence.  But rare or not, Paul clearly implies it was an acceptable event or the admonition would surely have been included to consciously exclude them. 

Another is based upon the fact that Jesus did not include any unbelievers in his 12 followers.  (He didn’t include in the 12 apostles the bulk of His disciples either!). 

The third was the prohibition against being “yoked together with unbelievers” in 2 Corinthians 6:14.  Of course the following verses (especially verse 17) show that the ban forbids joining together to do moral evil (“touch no unclean thing,” ESV).  Is worshipping God at the same time somehow being engaged in an “unclean thing” together?  At this point I’m tempted to use a word almost never found in my evaluation of arguments:  utterly ludicrous. 



[Page 526]



What is the nature of the “evil thoughts”

[ATP:  twisted thinking] that are rebuked?


            The incident being described is presented from the standpoint of a church member who is already present and how he—or she for that matter!—reacts to two individuals who enter the services.  The behavior reflects both their own evaluation of the newcomer as well as those that were common in their society.  By condemning these reactions, James is rebuking not just the attitudes of those immediately envolved, but also the existing social standards of establishing eliteness and lowness of prestige and character.

            The “evil thoughts” could be concerning either the rich or the poor, but far more likely both:  After all, it would be extremely difficult to embrace the implicit evaluation of either without reversing it in regard to the other.  Whatever made one “better” and “superior,” the lack of it automatically made the other debased and worthless. 


            The “evil thoughts” (= “motives,” ISB, NASB, NET; “using a corrupt standard,” GW) interpreted as concerning the wealthy:  Going out of their way to provide a handsome welcome reflects a twisted reasoning in the mind of the onlooker . . . that, [Page 527]   solely because he is a rich person, he must be given a disproportionately ecstatic  reception because of that wealth and position he possesses.  The affluence becomes proof of his credibility and character in whatever he says or does.  His wealth verifies his astuteness of reasoning and good judgment. 

Since his wealth would be inevitably interlocked with his social standing, he would be part of the ancient equivalent of the modern “social register.”  He was important and proper behavior required that one go out of the way to recognize it.[15] 

This societal bias of existing society would be even stronger if the rich person was a Christian as well.  It might well be assumed that because the person is well off he must be morally superior to everyone else in the church--as righteous as Abraham, so to speak. 

After all God had blessed Abraham, hadn’t he?  Unfortunately, there was only one Abraham.   And any realistic view of matters in that age—or ours—would show that most folk “cut too many corners” to provide them an automatic “plus mark” in their moral evaluation just because of their income level or financial worth.

            By such an exuberant (?) reception, we would be manifesting one of the most common faults of the rich themselves:  showing favoritism to the rich solely because they are rich.[16]  Rich would honor rich to prove their equality—superiority if possible.  Not to mention the cultivation of those that one might wish to “trade favors” with. 

The rest of the human race would also do so out of a desire to milk the relationship for what they could get out of it.  In that age it was called the “client-patron relationship.”  Today we would likely describe it as, “you rub my back and I’ll rub yours.”  The rich were, well, rich—and we intend to take advantage of this.


[Page 528]                  But it did not end there.  The incident also shows Christians acting toward the poor the same way the rich would be expected to:  with callous unconcern.  In other words, these believers were quite willing to imitate some of the worst characteristics of the well to do rather than any virtues they might have.  

            So we have “evil” envolved in several senses:  automatically assuming the superiority of the rich . . . adding to the evaluation a tinge (or more) of good character . . . and quite possibly the status of a quasi-friend, a new “contact” that might be turned to considerable self-benefit.[17]  In such a situation who has any real time for that poor person?  They can’t do anything for us under the best of conditions and any time we invest there lessens our time with the person we “need” to cultivate!               


            The “evil thoughts” (= “motives,” ISB, NASB, NET; “using a corrupt standard,” GW) interpreted as concerning the poor:  A second possibility is that the “evil thoughts” are of the character of the poor they came in contact with in the service.   Even in our day and age we have many who are convinced that if a person is poor it must because of some character fault of theirs--either sin (if one makes the condemnation explicitly religious) or laziness (if one desires a more “secular” expression). 

Sometimes this is the case, but anyone who has spent time involuntarily poor due to illness, injustice, lay offs or other factors knows only too well how unjust the criticism can be.  Justice requires making a distinction between the types of poor just as a distinction should be made between the types of rich.


[Page 529]                  Economic stereotyping was at the heart of the treatment of both types of individuals.  We say this because it is the one thing identified about both—their economic status.  This does not mean that it had to be the only factor present, but that it was the dominant or most obvious one. 

Nor does James bother to spell out the other ways such social prejudice might be played out in interactions with such folk.  Instead of providing details, his vagueness allows it to cover any and all situations and ways it could arise or be expressed in word and action.  He is interested in the fact that one is treating others on the basis of what they are economically rather than on their record of behavior and spirituality.  All additional contributing factors are, comparatively, unimportant to him.  

            Their attitudes would have an obvious implication for how they would be treated if the two individuals were or became Christians.  There would be the assumption of superiority in the wealthy individual, giving them a “carry over” effect from the temporal world.  If they were so successfully in financial matters, surely they must be so in spiritual ones as well?  How could this avoid being the case?

            This would tend to cause their actual level of spiritual development to be lost sight of when it came time for appointments to positions of church responsibility and for the poorer and less well off to be passed over even though their moral character and spiritual education was far superior.  The Venerable Bede (c. 715) quotes a letter of Augustine on how great an evil this would be. 

On the other hand, in other, non-church settings, Bede could only despairingly lament, “If, however, it is a question of everyday seatings, who does not sin here?”[18]  In short, the pro-rich inclination is so fundamental in human nature that it is hard to shake in either a religious or a secular context.  Recognizing its presence, however, one can at least try to deal with it.  Being oblivious allows it to prosper in its worst forms.


[Page 530]                  James prohibits judging “with evil thoughts” and not ALL judging.  This is an important point to remember because there is a certain type of both secular and religious person who believes that the Bible prohibits all judging.  Actually it only prohibits hypocritical and unjust forms.  If it condemned all judging and condemnation, then James himself was a brazen hypocrite because he was calling on his readers to make a judgment—to make the judgment that this kind of judging was wrong! 

Furthermore, in chapter 5 he speaks of the abusive rich and describes how they acted (verses 1-6).  He was making a judgment upon them—a negative, condemnatory judgment.  But this was not a case of judging “with evil thoughts” for he spells out the legitimate basis of what he was saying:  their behavior that was blatantly wrong.  (We are doing the same when we cite Scripture that clearly prohibits certain lifestyles and behaviors.)

There was precedent in Jesus Himself.  Though He spoke of judging not (Matthew 7:1), He immediately illustrates this by giving an example of the kind He had under consideration--hypocritical judgment (7:2-5; note how in verse 5 he actually uses the word “hypocrite” to describe them.) 

These men’s judgment also manifested a form of judging “with evil thoughts:”  How could they possible judge others with lesser faults as somehow worse than they, unless they were blind to their own situation . . . assuming others had to be worse than such a righteous person as themselves?  Or, alternately, unable to recognize sin when they themselves did it because their “evil thoughts” whitewashed it or minimized it?

[Page 531]                  Furthermore, Jesus spoke in behalf of making spiritual and moral judgments of right and wrong.  He spoke of those who could discern the signs from the sky as to weather (Luke 12:54-56), but when it came to spiritual matters could not make sense of them:  “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?” (12:57) 

What He and James never had room for was hypocrisy and judgment based upon “evil thoughts”--prejudging the outcome rather than basing it on fact.  On one occasion Jesus declared, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).  Flip that over and would not the reverse of “judging with righteous judgment” be “judging with evil thoughts?”     







The “noble name [ATP:  splendid name]

by which you are called.”

[Page 532]

Even before the name of “Christian” spread from Antioch (Acts 11:26; c. 43 A.D.), one would anticipate believers in Jesus having one or more names/nicknames attached to them:  Human nature being the way it is--there seems an inevitable compulsion to “label” all movements and their members.  It functions as verbal shorthand and, when a movement is involved that one dislikes, the very use of the term becomes a way of criticizing the man or woman who dares align with it.

            If the book was written after the spread of the name “Christian,” that would virtually have to be the label in mind.[19]  Assuming an earlier date, different suggestions have been made.  An expression such as “Christ’s people” or “Christ’s followers” has been one.[20]  If we insist that it had to involve the name “Jesus”[21] (rather than the title “Christ”), then it was probably something along the line of “Jesus’s people” or “Jesus’ disciples/followers.”     


            The Greek could be rendered “the name which was invoked over you,” however.  Adopting this rendering, one would naturally think in terms of the name invoked as authority at one’s baptism.[22]  This must be balanced against the fact that the actual words utilized in the first century are unknown.  The closest one comes to such is found in the instruction of Jesus that the apostles “baptiz[e] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:20).  However neither the name “Jesus” nor that of the title “Christ” is mentioned--assuming that Jesus had in mind a formal verbal formulation at all instead of stressing the fact that all three elements of the Godhead sanctioned or authorized the baptism. 

            If a verbalization was utilized then the reference to the “Son” might well have been adapted into a more precise description.  Before being baptized, the multitude were instructed in Acts 2:38 of their need to “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the [Page 533]   remission of sins.”  The people of the city of Samaria are described as having been baptized in “the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12).  Peter’s instruction to Cornelius’s household was to be “baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48).  In the case of certain Ephesian Jews we find that Paul baptized them “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). 

None of these texts claims to cite the actual words intoned during baptism.  They speak, rather, to the authority behind the demand for baptism.  The variety of descriptions suggests that there was no one rigid verbal formulae:  what counted was that by being baptized they recognized the authority of Jesus over them.      


            To turn the discussion in a very different direction, it is not impossible that it is God’s name that is under discussion in James.  In that case the noble name would be “the people of God” or an equivalent expression.  This would certainly fit Old Testament usage and a possible period before the name “Christian” was either used or, alternatively, gained widespread usage. 

            It is certainly rooted in Old Testament usage.  In Deuteronomy 28:9 the people are promised that if they become “a holy people” and obey Yahweh’s will, “Then all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you” (verse 10).  In 2 Chronicles 7:14 the “people who are called by My name” are promised that if they humble themselves and reform their ways that God will “forgive their sin.”  

            Indeed this special relationship with God hinged upon more than mere ethnicity:  After a verse that is traditionally interpreted Messianically (Amos 9:11), that prophet [Page 534]   refers to “all the Gentiles who are called by My name” (verse 12).  Assuming that the earliest Christians also understood the text in a Messianic manner, it is quite possible that the earliest “name” believers in Jesus claimed was something along the line of “the people of God” or “the new people of God.”  (Which is not the same thing as saying that others did not apply other epithets, at least some derogatory.) 

Since they must have been called something by themselves to distinguish them from traditionalist Jews . . . and since we know by the direct statement of Acts that it wasn’t the term “Christian” until c. 43 A.D. . . . this seems the only viable option for the earlier period.  Especially since Amos 9:11-12 could easily do double duty as originally a Jehovah reference but, taken Messianically, as also a reference to Jesus the Messiah.  Hence a “shared text,” but used to denote different individuals according to whether Christians were using it or not. 


            Others have proposed that they were known simply as “disciples.”[23]  They are certainly described as such both before (Acts 1:15; 6:1, 2; 9:1, 19, 25, 26) the name Christians was given in Acts 11:26 and afterwards as well (Acts 11:29; 13:52; 14:21; etc).  As an internal church “label” or “description” for each other that would be logical enough for it accurately describes what they were:  followers, students, learners.    

            That they would adopt it as a “name” for the movement, however--rather than as a mere descriptive “identifier” for each other—seems far less likely.  The disciples would automatically know they were using it of each other.  But it would be of no help to outsiders who surely would promptly ask “Disciples of whom?  Of what rabbi or religious figure?”  The most important part of the description is left unstated!  For “internal” use it’s not needed; for “external” use it is a different matter.

[Page 535]                  This is probably why the one time Jesus’ followers are described as “disciples” from the standpoint of hostile outsiders in the book of Acts they are labeled “the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1).  To distinguish whose “disciples” are under description.

            To elaborate further on this first century reality:  There were, for example, “disciples of John [the Baptist]” (Matthew 9:14).  In Mark 2:18 we read that he wasn’t the only one who had disciples around, “The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting.”  Even after the death of the Baptist we know that his disciples still flourished for we find in Acts 18:24 that the orator Apollos “knew only the baptism of John,” surely implying that he identified himself as such a disciple. 

In Acts 19 we read of Paul arriving in Ephesus and “finding some disciples” (verse 1).  You and I both would normally expect that to mean of his fellow Christians and it seems that Paul did so as well.  However his following conversation with them makes him aware that these are actually disciples of John the Baptist (verse 3).

Hence “disciple” alone would not cut it for outsiders to understand, not even for Jews.  Yet even more so for Gentiles.  For surely they would enquire, “Disciples of what philosophical leader?”  Adding “or religious leader” as a mere afterthought most likely.  Even for Christians it was occasionally inadequate, as with Paul in Acts 19.

            Finally, our text refers to the believers and their religion being insulted because of their commitment to this “name:”  “Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?” (James 2:7).   This does not necessarily mean that they were being persecuted because of their faith, though that can’t be excluded either.     

[Page 536]                  Indeed, the immediate context is on maltreatment due to economic status (or, rather, lack of it) rather than on the basis of one’s religious convictions.  It is the “poor man” in particular who is being mistreated by being needlessly pulled into court proceedings (2:6).  The immediately following words—“Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?”—could be taken either as limited to these poor in particular or that the rest of the members (whether rich or poor) were also abused in a similar manner.

In either case “blaspheme” carries the broader connotation of speak against, insult, demean.  The reference is to a snide reference of one type or another as to your religion in the hope of prejudicing a judge or others against you and what you have to say.[24]  (“We wouldn’t expect people like that to be reliable or trustworthy, would we?” would be the silent implication.)






In what sense is the commandment to love a “royal law”?


(1)  Royal because of its Divine origin?  Hence it would be a “royal” law in the sense that it came from the King.  Jesus endorsed the love commandment as one of the two fundamental moral-ethical-religious commandments that came from God in Matthew 22:39.  Hence the King of believers gave His imprimatur to the commandment as core to His own law as well.[25] 

[Page 537]                  Even in the context in which Jesus does so, it is, directly, part of His evaluation of what are the most important parts of the Old Testament system.[26]  He is not specifically addressing what are the most important parts of His own, although the application seems an inevitable and unavoidable application.  (Can one possibly imagine a situation in which the moral core would be different?)

            This supernatural origin approach is reflected in the God’s Word translation, “You are doing right if you obey this law from the highest authority: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ ” 


            (2)  Royal as a description of within whose domain it is obligatory and required?  This shifts the significance of the term from the authority it originates from to within whose domain it is applicable:  It would be royal because it is obligatory within that monarch’s kingdom.[27]  This would be true whether we interpret the ruler to be Yahweh or Jesus.  (In its original Old Testament setting, of course, it was Jehovah.)

            Least likely is the idea that it is a law “for” kings or king-like individuals.  A central thrust of James is the very opposite:  that this law is for all believers.  Hence “royal” would make far more sense as a reference to the origin or ultimate authority behind the law rather than to the law being the type befitting rulers. 


[Page 538]                  (3)  Royal because it is the root principle against which all other laws are to be evaluated and understood.  Hence the meaning is shifted from the Love Law’s Kingly origin and the fact that it is to be exercised within the borders of His kingdom by His citizens, to the expression indicating the comparative value of the command in contrast to other provisions of the King’s Code:   It would be the most important of all of them, the “king of laws;”[28] “it has “supremacy” over all others.[29]  This would also fit well Jesus’ use of the passage in Matthew 22. 

In other words the intent, breadth, scope, and core meaning of these other passages is not to be reached just by studying them in isolation, but always as they are affected by Love so that their underlying spiritual purposes are not warped and bent out of shape. 

Weymouth seems to adopt this approach in his translation of the verse, “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.”  Even clearer is the Contemporary English Version renders it, “You will do all right, if you obey the most important law in the Scriptures.  It is the law that commands us to love others as much as we love ourselves.”   

            Although appealing in many ways, there remains a considerable oddity here.  If love is the Supreme Command what happens to the command for monotheism?  What happens to, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)? 

Is monotheism secondary to love?  Or, perhaps the better way to resolve the potential problem is to simply say:  Love is the supreme criteria in relationship to our fellow human beings.  It has that authority because the One God has demanded it and for no other reason.  The two laws become interlocked and intertwined rather than being in tension with each other.

[Page 539]                  Furthermore, it should be transparently obvious that the same God who has demanded the supremacy of love has also demanded that we respect His other requirements.  In other words love was never intended to be an excuse to release us from those other Divine obligations.  Rather it was given us to assure that we did not become harsh and overbearing in the attempt to carry them out.  There is a world of difference between helping others wrestle with their imperfections and dismissing those hindrances  as of no importance.        


            It should not be overlooked where that royal law was found:  “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well.”  Regal law is equated to scriptural law.[30] 

Even if one takes the reference to love having supremacy over all other laws, the reference is still to the scriptures.  If that law’s Divine origin or the fact that it is bound upon all those within the Divine kingdom is the correct framework of interpretation, even then James is still saying that we learn this from and because of the teaching of scripture.  Scripture is presented as the reliable and authoritative revelation of God’s will.

            This is a very conservative, evangelical, even fundamentalist approach to the supremacy of the Bible in doctrine, ethics and behavior.  Changing times lead to changing beliefs as to where to place the line between “moral” and “immoral / sinful” (even in the highly diluted form of the concept, as “inadequate” or “improper”).  A key lesson to learn from our text is that the lines have already been drawn for us.  To reject where the Scriptures place the lines would be, in James’ view, a rejection of the Divine will.

[Page 540]                  James clearly has a different interpretive framework for the meaning of “love” than many in the twenty-first century.  Sadly that includes many who claim to be Bible believers. 

The illusion that “love” can justify (virtually) anything and everything often crosses the line into a self-serving delusion that leaves its victims heartbroken, their health severely compromised, and the ability to draw lines between right and wrong ever harder to do since that would be “judging” others.  (Not to mention oneself.)  






The shared Jewish judgment that one is

either obligated to obey all of the Divine law or none:

The historical / religious context.


The reasoning behind this we will analyze in the following topic.  Here we are interested in the historic context and how the mind frame was already present in Judaism and was not an innovation of Jesus or His disciples.        

            Perhaps the best place to begin is a longish example drawn from one of the apocryphal works (typically dated 1st century B.C. or A.D.), 

[Page 541]

1 The tyrant Antiochus, sitting in state with his counselors on a certain high place, and with his armed soldiers standing about him,  2 ordered the guards to seize each and every Hebrew and to compel them to eat pork and food sacrificed to idols.  3 If any were not willing to eat defiling food, they were to be broken on the wheel and killed.  4 And when many persons had been rounded up, one man, Eleazar by name, leader of the flock, was brought before the king. He was a man of priestly family, learned in the law, advanced in age, and known to many in the tyrant's court because of his philosophy.

5 When Antiochus saw him he said,  6 “Before I begin to torture you, old man, I would advise you to save yourself by eating pork.  9 It is senseless not to enjoy delicious things that are not shameful, and wrong to spurn the gifts of nature.  13 For consider this, that if there is some power watching over this religion of yours, it will excuse you from any transgression that arises out of compulsion.”


            This is quite logical:  If there is any occasion when it is appropriate to lay aside one’s religious convictions, surely it is in such an “innocent” matter as eating of a different meat that is, assuredly a gift of nature (vs. 9).  This is especially true when if—somehow—there actually is a taint of guilt to be attached by your Deity . . . surely the fact that it is done under compulsion will cause it to be overlooked! 

            But “logic” only goes so far in establishing right and wrong.

[Page 542]                  In response, Eleazar explains that the anti-pork law is part of a law system.  No one provision stands stark naked and alone; it is all part of a package—either binding in its totality or not binding at all,   


16  “We, O Antiochus, who have been persuaded to govern our lives by the divine law, think that there is no compulsion more powerful than our obedience to the law.  17 Therefore we consider that we should not transgress it in any respect.  18 Even if, as you suppose, our law were not truly divine and we had wrongly held it to be divine, not even so would it be right for us to invalidate our reputation for piety.

19 Therefore do not suppose that it would be a petty sin if we were to eat defiling food;  20 to transgress the law in matters either small or great is of equal seriousness,  21 for in either case the law is equally despised.

22 You scoff at our philosophy as though living by it were irrational,  23 but it teaches us self-control, so that we master all pleasures and desires, and it also trains us in courage, so that we endure any suffering willingly;  24 it instructs us in justice, so that in all our dealings we act impartially, and it teaches us piety, so that with proper reverence we worship the only real God.  25 Therefore we do not eat defiling food; for since we believe that the law was established by God, we know that in the nature of things the Creator of the world in giving us the law has shown sympathy toward us.

26  He has permitted us to eat what will be most suitable for our lives, but he has forbidden us to eat meats that would be contrary to this.  33 I do not so pity [Page 543]   my old age as to break the ancestral law by my own act.  34 I will not play false to you, O law that trained me, nor will I renounce you, beloved self-control.  35 I will not put you to shame, philosophical reason, nor will I reject you, honored priesthood and knowledge of the law (4 Maccabees, Chapter 5, Revised Standard Version).

However self-beneficial it would be, to knowingly defy any part of that system of law was to prove false to the entire system.  Can one read this and avoid the conclusion that James shares in a similar mind frame—that commitment to part of a law requires commitment to all of it?

Although clear cut and pointed in the RSV rendering, the point is perhaps even more emphatic in the Common English Bible, “19 So don’t think it’s a minor sin for us to eat forbidden foods.  20 Whether we disobey the Law in a small matter or a big one, it is equally important,  21 because we are showing equal contempt for the Law itself.”


            Turning to the Rule of the Community (1QS) at Qumran we find them, in the first century A.D., committed to a similar judgment that if any of the Divine Law was to be observed at all, then all must be—though it should be remembered that the unspoken gloss is as interpreted by the Community.  Even so the principle is the same--commitment to some of the Divine law requires commitment to all of it,[31]            

[Page 544]

I.13 . . . They shall not stray from any one  14 of all God’s orders concerning their appointed times; they shall not advance their appointed times nor shall they retard  15 any one of their feasts.  They shall not veer from his reliable precepts in order to go either to the right or the left.  16 And all those who enter in the Rule of the Community shall establish a covenant before God in order to carry out  17 all that he commands and in order not to stray from him for any fear, dread, grief  18 or agony (that might occur) during the reign of Belial. . . .

III.9  [After repentance]  . . .  may he, then, steady his steps in order to walk with perfection  10 on all the paths of God, conforming to all he has decreed concerning the regular times of his commands and not turn aside, either left or right, nor  11  infringe even one of his words. . . .      

VIII.15  This is the study of the law which he commanded through the hand of Moses, in order to act in compliance with all that has been revealed from age to age,  16 and according to what the prophets have revealed through his holy spirit.  And anyone of the men of the Community, the covenant of  17 the Community, who insolently shuns anything at all commanded, cannot approach the pure food of the men of holiness,  18 and cannot know anything of their counsels until his deed have been cleansed from every depravity, walking on the perfect path. . . .

21 . . . anyone of them  22 who breaks one word of the Law of Moses impertinently or through carelessness will be banished from the Community council  23 and shall not go back again. . . .  24 . . .  however if he acted through oversight he should be excluded . . . 25 . . . for two whole years.   


[Page 545]                  Finally, in the surviving rabbinical writings we observe a similar mind-frame that the commitment to part of God’s will must, logically, carry with it a commitment to the entirety as well.  In discussing Sabbath rules in particular, Rabbi Johanan argued:  “if one performs all of them in one state of unawareness he is liable for each separately.”[32]

Ulla cited the reasoning of Rabbi Jose of Galilee in explaining Leviticus 5:5 (“when he is guilty in any of the matters,” NKJV):  “whoever is subject to liability for every one of these is liable for any of them, and whoever is not subject to liability for every one of these is not liable for any of them.”[33]  Liability and responsibility is either totally present or totally non-existent.

            Dispensing with some element(s) of law you did not regard as essential or desirable in your particular situation, did not change the fact that none properly could be laid aside.  One rabbi approached this danger via a story he told,[34]


Rabbi Ze-irah has said that even a single letter in the law which we might deem of no importance, if wanting, would neutralise the whole law. In Deuteronomy 22: 17, we read, “Neither shall he take to himself many wives, that his heart may turn away.” Solomon transgressed this precept, and it is said by Rabbi Simon that the angels took note of his ill-doing and addressed the Deity: “Sovereign of the world, Solomon has made Thy law even as a law liable to change and diminution.  Three precepts he has disregarded, namely, ‘He shall not acquire for himself many horses;’ ‘neither shall he take to himself many wives;’ ‘nor shall he acquire to himself too much silver and gold.’ ”

[Page 546]                  Then the Lord replied, "Solomon will perish from the earth; aye, and a hundred Solomons after him, and yet the smallest letter of the law [clearly intended as equivalent to “smallest / least important teaching,” rw] shall not be dispensed.’ ”


            In everyday language, Solomon might “get away with it.”  He might view Law as situational and surely, as king, if anyone could safely engage in such deviations, it should be their monarch!  But that did not change the truth of the matter one iota—he was in the wrong.





Violation of one Divine law makes one

“guilty of all [ATP:  guilty of violating the entire Divine code]:”

The reasoning behind the insistence.


Not that one has committed every transgression but that one has established the principle that one is willing to do so.  We may hold back due to a number of factors:  fear, social conformity, lack of safe opportunity, plain lack of interest.[35]  But the decision to go/not go further becomes one of prudence rather than principle.  Personal priorities and preferences—rather than right versus wrong—becomes the operative mode.

[Page 547]                  Although Jesus does not use the terminology of James, it certainly represents His mind frame as well:  To Him nothing could safely be omitted.  He speaks of how no matter how seemingly minor and unimportant a specific command of scripture might appear, the violator of it would still be counted among the “least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). 

            Another approach that can be taken is an analogy from modern experience:  we speak of “breaking the law.”  That is true whether the offense is speeding, theft, or assault.  Yet each of these are separate and distinct “laws.”  On the other hand these--and many other matters--cumulatively constitute the code of law. 

Hence we speak of “breaking the law” when extremely diverse crimes are actually being committed.  When we break a law we simultaneously break the law, when considered as the lump sum of all legislation.  James may well have a similar concept in mind.[36]

            The underlying thrust of James’ argument is that one can not pick and choose which parts of the Divine code one observes.  Consciously and knowingly violating any provision leaves one exposed as a transgressor.  In making this point it is interesting that he specifies two of the transgressions least likely to be challenged as sin--those against adultery and murder (2:11), both from the Ten Commandments. 

People might quibble about the alleged relative importance of various specific Torah provisions.  But by picking these, it was virtually impossible to nitpick over their importance (!)—and so he immediately puts on the defensive any one attempting to deny the validity of his argument.

            The Old Testament does not overtly make the claim that James does.  But it does come close.  In Deuteronomy 27:26, the Israelites were instructed to proclaim loyalty to the Torah by saying, “ ‘Cursed be anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by observing them.’  All the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ ”  (NRSV). 

[Page 548]                  The intent is clearly that they are to affirm that they will uphold all the Torah; hence some translations add the interpretive “all” in their translation (the NKJV for example).  Furthermore, the Septuagint included the word “all” in its version.[37] 

            In emotional logic (even if not in strictly “reasoning” logic), if one has promised to uphold “all” and one has not done so, then one could easily hold oneself guilty of “all” as the consequence.  Certainly there was an element of rabbinical opinion that embraced this and James’ assertion.  Rabbi Jochanan, for example, insisted, “If a man do all, but omit one, he is guilty of all and each.”[38]  

After all, you have proved by your actions that you feel completely free to leave out as little or as MUCH as you wish.  Law has become subject to your self-serving “editing” rather than you being subject to its demands.


            One thing this insistence upon obeying all parts of God’s will reveals is that what might be called compensatory virtue to obtain forgiveness of sin simply won’t work.  If you do one thing right; that in no way atones for acts that did blatant wrong. 

Few would question that a significant part of the generosity by nobles and kings in church facility construction in the Middle Ages was to show how great they were religiously--as demonstrated by how much they would do “for God.”  Yet joined with this was surely the hope that God would take this demonstrable generosity “in His cause” as reason to overlook their comparatively “minor” sins.  “Minor” in their own eyes, of course.  Things like adultery, injustice, oppression, and indiscriminate blood letting.

The mind frame remains alive and well today.  And is just as misplaced.             

[Page 549]

            Some have read the text as implying that all sins are equal in God’s sight:  If one “is guilty of all” by any transgression, then all the transgressions are being placed on the same level.  James’ point is not that all transgressions are equal but that they are all sin—“equality in sinfulness” does not have to be introduced at all to explain his remarks.  Indeed, it would undermine his very point for he follows the “guilty of all warning” with this illustration:  “For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’  Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (verse 10). 

If all sins are equal then they could defend their adultery—or even murder—because it was “no more wrong” than showing undue respect for the wealthy visitor.  Rather than elevate their sense of the “awfulness of sin” many surely would have seen it as justification for lowering their evaluation of the sins (like adultery and murder) which they had previously been considered unusually appalling.  After all its “no worse” than treating church visitors differently!

If his real point is simply that all sin is sin--and can’t be dismissed as anything else--he avoids this trap entirely. 


It should also be noted that Jesus emphatically considered the rejection of Him as being worse than the evils of Sodom (Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24), yet that was not intended to clear the latter of sin.  It was that those in Jesus’ day had far less excuse.  In a very real way, His generation was guilty of a “worse” sin:  They had knowledge and did not act on it—knowledge from a miracle working Teacher that verified the credibility and reliability of His message.          

[Page 550]                  I rather like the compilation of evidence that Dan Corner provides, which I encountered after writing the above:[39]

Some sins are greater than others (John 19:11). One type is eternal (Mk. 3:29), while others are not.  Another type of sin is uniquely against our bodies, while other sins are outside our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:18).  1 John 5:16 declares there is a sin that does not lead to death while there is a sin that leads to death. . . .  Read Ezekiel 8 carefully.  In Ezekiel 8, you will read of detestable things, then more detestable things, then more detestable things than those.  All sins are not of the same degree.  In other words, just like some commands are greater than others (Mt. 22:36-39), some sins are greater than others.

            Some have greater consequences, on ourselves, our loved ones, and even on those who barely know us.  Some are even more without excuse than others since they grow out of blind folly rather than some human weakness of ours.  Some are greater because we have far less excuse for yielding to our prejudices and preferences than others.  Whatever the specific reason, they still all share one thing in common—they are sins.  And fatal to our soul’s wellbeing.        



[Page 551]



“Law of liberty:”

Is just the Love Commandment under consideration?


In our lengthy discussion of “law of liberty” in James 1:25, we came to the conclusion that it is a system of law that is under discussion—the New Testament in particular.  Although we examined other scenarios in detail, including that it was intended to be synonymous with the Ten Commandments, we overlooked the possibility that it might be confined to one particular Old Testament law, the love commandment that James introduces here in chapter 2.  Scot McKnight contends that this is the case when he writes,[40] 


The “royal,” “free,” and “perfect” Law of James then is to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  That is, James’ perception of the Law derives from Jesus:  God’s commandments are best expressed in the commandment to love one’s neighbor.  Examples of loving one’s neighbor abound in James though the issue of “who is my neighbor?” seems not to have been an issue. . . .


            Whether bestowing assistance on needy widows and orphans (chapter 1), whether dealing differently with well to do visitors and the poor (chapter 2), or  whether treating unjustly the worker (chapter 5), the same core value is always at stake:  “In each of these cases James is explicating what he means by the ‘royal law of loving one’s neighbor.’ ”[41] 

[Page 552]                  The context of James’ use of law of liberty in James 2 argues against this limitation of meaning, however,


10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.  11 For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.


            Note that James is discussing a body of law “the whole law”—not a single provision of that law--which the love commandment was.  Furthermore the text tells us that the law includes the commandments against adultery and murder.  These are clearly separate and different commandments than the law of love.  Yet equally part of “the law” (verse 11).  Hence James does not intend for the “law of liberty” to be narrowed down to one sole element. 

            Nor is the usage of the expression in the first chapter of much comfort,



                        21  Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and

receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  23

[Page 553]   For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a

man observing his natural face in a mirror;  24 for he observes himself, goes

away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.  25 But he who

looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful

hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.


            The “implanted word”—surely equivalent to the “implanted law”—includes “lay[ing] aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness.”  Is not James telling us that such self-control is part of the law of liberty?  It is not love alone.

            Furthermore note the description of this law in 1:8, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well.”  It is part of and not separate from the rest of the law.  Deserving of special respect within that wider system of law, yes, but to sever it as if it were an isolated and totally independent law—severed from everything else--would allow one to throw out every prohibition that we claimed was contrary to love.

            Yes, love is a “royal” law but is far from all that is part of the “law of liberty.”

            Let us approach this from a different angle, one I do not embrace but which I can see the logic of.  To us discriminating in how they treated visitors was a transparent violation of the law of love.  But was it necessarily so to them?  With some of the nit-picking that went on (as manifested in Jesus’ confrontations with His foes in the gospels) such a question is not so farfetched at all.  As one individual suggests,[42]    

[Page 554]

                        This audience likely prided themselves on being faithful to God’s

“royal law” (v. 8).  However, in showing partiality, they were actually being

unfaithful. They were transgressors (v. 9) because they were not keeping the

whole Law, and only by keeping all of the commandments do we really keep

the Law in its entirety (vv. 10–11).


            In other words, so far as they were concerned, they were being fully faithful and their greetings had nothing to do with that “fact.”  Their error was overlooking that the Divine law also required a broader range of positive behaviors in regard to others.

            Or perhaps their reasoning could have functioned slightly differently:  From their assumption of perceived “adequate” / “perfect” law obedience, it is but a short step to arguing that the social behaviors of greetings at services have nothing to do with carrying out Divine law.  Theoretical law-abiding could easily be ranked as the definitive standard of behavior; the love that should be present in carrying out that law might easily be regarded as dispensable.  (Its not even always easy today to keep in mind that the two are interlocked and must function together.) 
            Again, the law of liberty consisted of more than just the law of love.  It included the teachings against discriminatory judgment based on wealth and poverty. 


            It should also be noted that the effort to define the law of liberty as simply loving behavior neglects the fact that Jesus Himself pointed to the fact that it was only half of the core of the Old Testament version of love,[43] 

[Page 555]

                        28  Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning

together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is

the first commandment of all?”  29  Jesus answered him, “The first of all the

commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  30  And

you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all

your mind, and with all your strength.’  This is the first commandment.  31

And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’   

There is no other commandment greater than these.”  [Note the plural



            None is likely to argue that James excludes love of the Divine from his list of essentials for that would make love of created humankind more important than love of the Creator who created everything!  Hence the essence of love of others consists of mercy, kindness, and constructive behavior. 

But love also consists of something even more important.  That love is conspicuously noted first by Jesus, the love of the Father.  And when it comes to love of God, love takes on the clear connotation of loving obedience to all He has said and demanded.  That kind of love we cannot yield to our fellow mortal.  


            Even if we were to limit the meaning of the term “law of liberty” to “love” alone, there remains an important fact to remember.  Living at a time in the 2010s as we face the full bitter fruits of the legal denigration of moral standards that began in the 1960s—as the third generation since rises to maturity--the word “love” is the Magna Carta for anything and everything and even upheld by “Christian” preachers and theologians as such. 

[Page 556]                  We have an ongoing sexual relationship with someone of the same or opposite gender and it supposed to be fine because it is a manifestation of our shared “love.”  The discouragement and suppression of candid gospel preaching is fine because it is the “loving” thing to minimize the “discomfort” of those who reject Biblical standards.  (The discomfort of those who embraced the sacredness of scripture is, of course, counted as their bad luck.)

Is there anything that can’t be (mis)justified as “love” today?  Child molestation is still foul play, but have you noticed the constant effort to dismiss as “normal” full sexual intimacy at an ever younger age, effectively lowering the “age of consent”?  The vast bulk of those demanding looser standards are rightly appalled at pedophilia, but will the next generation be so demanding after a lifetime of exposure to “neutrality” in evaluating all sexual conduct? 

Of course even if the “royal law of liberty” were to be interpreted as a totally separate from the totality of scripture as an entity it would still not justify such abuses of the term “love.”  But, like fundamentalists, religious liberals have their favorite “proof texts” and “Biblical terms” too—the former to impose restrictions that have to be shoe-horned in and the latter to shoehorn out Biblical prohibitions on moral matters. 

Hence if one goes this route of interpreting the expression “royal law of liberty,” great care still needs to be maintained to avoid even the passive “permission” to others to twist it:  take away their pet expression before they have the opportunity to abuse it. 

[Page 557]                  Love of man should never be used as an excuse to gut the core of love of God—obedience and fidelity to His will.






“Mercy triumphs over judgment.”


This verse concerns the consequences and results of one’s behavior.  There are two ways of approaching its meaning:  The text could be discussing when and why we  need to temper our negative judgments upon others.  The modern expression “cutting some slack” fits well here.  There is plenty of reason to expect others to do their best.  It is something far different to discount as irrelevant their difficulties and inabilities.  We shouldn’t expect, for example, a legless war vet to qualify as an Olympic level pole vaulter!  Yet in the area of moral change, we too often expect individuals to make a drastic transformation without a falter or misstep.  It rarely happens that easily!

What James has directly in mind, however, are our judgments of moral standing that are not directly based on actual behavior, but upon other factors that we needlessly assume reflects that standing.  Wealth = a person of probable integrity; poverty = a person of probable questionable morals.  Or even leaving out the “probable” that we have inserted.

[Page 558]                  Hence the point would be that we must include “mercy” in our evaluation of such individuals.  With proper treatment of the poor particularly in mind, this conquers over the hostile and unjustified “judgment” that wrongly condemns and does injustice to them.  This results in / encourages others to cut us similar “slack” and not permit non-spiritual failure to carry an ethical stigma.

In other words, we prove to others that we are worthy of their respect and forbearance by the mercy we show.  In this approach verse 13 is looked upon as the culmination of the point begun in the first verse.  (Topical divisions in the text are often inserted at this point.)


            What is discussed next (beginning in verse 14) is the need for faith to be manifested in behavior.  To help the destitute (verse 15), to provide food for them when needed (verse 16).  This could be considered an elaboration upon the point made in verse 13:  the one who shows mercy through assisting the needy is showing that we do not consider them morally inferior because of their bad fortune.  If we don’t show “mercy” in such judgment in their time of despair, how in the world do we expect to receive such respect and helpfulness when it becomes our turn to be in a similar situation?

            These are excellent sermonic points and I can’t imagine any way that James would have any difficulty with his point being applied in this manner.  Yet it seems far more likely that he has in mind an even more important topic.   



[Page 559]                  The text is most likely intended to emphasize that our mercy toward others encourages God to have mercy on us (i.e., forgive us).  In verse 10 we find the need for everyone to observe the particulars of God’s law.  Then in verse 12 we are warned of the judgment based upon the “law.”  Finally, in verse 13 we read of how “mercy triumphs over judgment,” i.e., over the  judgment we (not others) receive.[44] 

In that connection the passage most naturally means that a lifestyle of mercifulness towards others creates the attitude toward life and behavior most designed to assure that we escape condemnatory “judgement” from God Himself.  Some of the forms that mercy is to take are, of course, manifested in the passage in James that follows.


            Jewish literature embraced this sentiment.  In the pseudepigraphal Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, for example, we read,[45]


Have therefore yourselves also, my children, compassion toward 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 earth, and wheresoever He findeth bowels of mercy He dwelleth in him.  For in the degree in which a man hath compassion upon his neighbours, in the same degree hath the Lord also upon him (Zeb. 8:1-3, (Charles ed.)).  


             In actual fact no mortal “deserves” Divine forgiveness; it is obtained because Divine forgiveness is provided by God through Jesus to those who are obedient to them.[46]  No matter how flexible one’s moral standard may be, it would be extraordinarily difficult [Page 560]   for any person to really believe that they’ve lived so good that they are the exception.  That is why Paul could speak of how even Gentiles--self-judged by their own standards--knew they were condemned (Romans 2:24-16):  We have this innate sense of failure triggered when we repudiate our own moral ideals.  It can be suppressed, but rarely totally eliminated. 

            Yet even when the behavior is extreme, the Scriptures speak of God’s willingness to forgive.  Perhaps one of the most vivid examples of this is Jesus forgiving the woman taken in adultery even when challenged by His foes to endorse the death penalty for her (John 8:1-11):  10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?’  11 She said, ‘No one, Lord.’  And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’ ”  

Mercy triumphed over judgment[47]—even deserved judgment under the existing religious law.  But it was mixed with the demand to “go and sin no more.”  Though mercy triumphs over judgment that does not mean that God will permit that mercy to be abused as an excuse to avoid personal reformation.  Hence, if you will, the conditionality of Jesus’ parting words to the woman.


Finally, Jesus insisted that our mercy is a condition of our being granted mercy.  As it says in Matthew 7:2, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” 

            Some other translations make it, if anything, even more emphatic:

[Page 561]

                        International Standard Version:  Because the way that you judge

others will be the way that you will be judged, and you will be evaluated by

the standard with which you evaluate others. 

            New English Translation:  For by the standard you judge you will be

judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive.

            God’s Word:  Otherwise, you will be judged by the same standard you

use to judge others.  The standards you use for others will be applied to you.






Who is the “you” in this verse—

James or someone else?


There is certainly an oddity in the way the argument is constructed:  James is clearly stressing the need for works, yet the accuser throws back at him the challenge, “You have faith, and I have works” (2:18).  The defender of works is the one who is accused of relying on faith alone!  And he responds by insisting on the irrevocable need to have works and the worthlessness of faith by itself!

Actually one can imagine a situation where this would occur:  If one works from the assumption that James was just as strong on the pre-eminence of faith as Paul and was [Page 562]   seeing that faith emphasis abused into a pretext to abandon the work-fruits of faith.  In that kind of situation one can well imagine him writing an epistle to emphatically rebuke this distortion of faith that would isolate intellectual faith from its proper impact on behavior.  In that context, we would have James’ critic denying James’ synthesis of faith and works and insisting that “works” alone should be counted as adequate. 

Some have, forcefully, argued that 1:18 is “incomprehensible” as the words of James.[48]  But this derives from the assumption that James was a ceremonial law zealot who did not feel fully comfortable with a Pauline (or Pauline type, if this book be earlier) concept of faith:  The epistle was written to defend a pro-traditionalist position of requiring works.

The problem with this is that the “works” James defends are conspicuously not the “works” of the Jewish law:  observing the Sabbath (and especially the minute laws surrounding it), offering the required animal sacrifices, continuing the required rituals for ceremonial cleanliness.  One would be hard put to find any evidence from the epistle that James was advocating “works” of these types.  Hence one can reasonably conjecture that commentators have fundamentally misunderstood James’ mind frame. 

Furthermore, note that the pivotal examples of justification by works (Abraham and Rahab) are neither cases that concern the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaical law—indeed are many centuries before there was even such a law in existence.  Further evidence that a much different concept of “works” is at play than those associated with observing the Jewish Torah (ceremonial purifications, washings, sacrifices, etc.). 

[Page 563]                  He was a passionate believer in “works” but—primarily at least—the morally associated works regarding proper behavior and conduct and not ceremonial ritualistic matters.  We have the wrong kind of “works” being cited and defended in James if those were the ones he had in mind!

James’ agenda, however, does fit what he has written if it centers on welding irrevocably together moral works/behavior and the faith that should shape behavior in the first place.  Indeed even his critic in 2:18 doesn’t claim to have Mosaical-style ceremonial works in mind.  He leaves the nature of the “works” unspecified. 

In light of that silence, doesn’t it make best interpretive sense to understand them as “works” of the same kind that James has stressed—behavioral “works”?  From that standpoint also the issue is “Christian faith” versus “Christian behavior” with James accused of being known for upholding the former--while trying to vindicate expanding its meaning to include the later through this letter--while the critic insists that the latter alone is all that is required.

From this standpoint, James’ core agenda is not to defend faith and works, but to defend faith and works.  Some (many?) of his readers wish to separate the two and put the predominant emphasis on the latter while James wishes to emphasize the first as it is active and present in the second.  They have been running the danger of crippling faith through an emphasis on “works,” while he wishes to put the emphasis on the faith that is incomplete without the works.  

Of course James’ epistle brings out the other problem these folks had as well:  they had a concept of “Christian works / behavior” that conspicuously excluded those elements that James insisted had to be included:  respect and assistance to the poor in particular.  They claimed “works” were enough and they had the gall not to include even the most pressing elementary ones!  


[Page 564]                  The dominant twentieth and early twenty-first century explanation is that this is a hypothetical “you” and not the “you” that is James.  The language becomes roughly equivalent to, “One person says this, another that.”  Dan G. McCartney concedes, “Although this suffers from poor attestation of such use of ‘you’ and I,’ it is the solution that does the least violence to natural use of language.”[49]  Patrick J. Hartin, though embracing this as “the best solution,” concedes that “(t)he more natural Greek expression” would have been different than the way our text words it.[50]   

            In short, one can reach the conclusion that the “you” is not James, but that is far from the most natural reading of the text.  We suggest a reasonable approach that makes James himself the “you” and removes the problem of making it refer to someone else.

            Assuredly in real life, chapter 2’s kind of charge and counter-charge about the relationship of faith and works would have echoed time and again when the issue was discussed.  It would be the kind of “hypothetical” question that was far more “inevitable” than “hypothetical.”  

But if we regard the “I” as describing James in particular, then we must totally abandon any exegesis in which James was a minimizer of the faith element in discipleship:  It shows that James was known to put such a great stress on faith that some readers were convinced that he was relying on that alone for salvation. 

They apparently thought he was trying to eliminate the necessity of works by that emphasis and that his preference eliminated the validity of their preference—the works.  [Page 565]   He responds that this is nonsense; that unless one can prove one’s faith by one’s behavior, one is spiritually incomplete.  One does not “pick and choose”—write one’s own salvation ticket, so to speak; one endeavors to do all that is required.  

Hence he is driven to emphasize works because (1) it is clearly what they needed to hear—glorify works as much as they did, they were still not exhibiting the proper behavior in their actions toward the poor even for those claiming to rely on works alone . . . and (2) he wishes to make plain that the full truth of salvation embraces a combination and intertwining of faith and works.  They opted for the latter, but he differs in that he fully expects and demands the presence of both.






Demonology in the book of James.


James mentions the matter but only in passing:  You believe that there is one God.  You do well.  Even the demons believe--and tremble!”

            This tells us several things about demons:  (1)  They exist.  He describes them in terms incompatible with them being mere “forces” of some kind—psychic or whatever.  Instead,

(2)  He pictures them as sentient, thinking beings.  If they weren’t they could hardly be described as believing. 

[Page 566]                  (3)  They are pictured as believing not only in God but

(4) Also in there being only one God.  Paul may imply that they are willing to pretend to be gods themselves ( 1 Corinthians 10:20:  the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God”), but James indicates they are actually under no such delusion that they really are such. 

(5)  They have an emotional composition as well as an intellectual one for they “tremble” when thinking about the one God.  Furthermore, the CEV sums up well the thrust James is making, “Even demons believe this, and it makes them shake with fear.”  And the ISV:  Even the demons believe that and tremble with fear.”      

(6)  The “even demons” language that is inherent in James’ argument—whether explicitly translated or not--indicates that they are such extreme opponents of God that one would not normally expect such belief to occur.  It argues that their basic nature and activities are so fundamentally opposed to those of Jehovah that such an admission could only exist because there is literally no half-way believable excuse they can give for denying it.  Perhaps because of the fear that if they tried, He would literally force the admission out of them? 

(7)  The fact that they “tremble” or “shudder” when thinking about God argues for recognition of guilt over their behavior—if not guilt then, at least, an acknowledgement that what they have done is reprehensible and worthy of condemnation.  (Can the two actually be separated in practice?)

(8)  The guilt-ridden reaction also implies that they are fearful of what God will ultimately do about them (cf. Revelation 20:10; 21:8).    

[Page 567]                  These traits are what we would anticipate from the description of them in the gospels.  The account of Jesus in the country of the Gadarenes illustrates it concisely (Luke 8):


27 And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time.  And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs.  28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg You, do not torment me!”  [The demons were speaking through him according to Matthew 8:29:  “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?’ ”] 

29 For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.  For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness.  30 Jesus asked him, saying, “What is your name?”  And he said, “Legion,” because many demons had entered him.  

31 And they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss.  32 Now a herd of many swine was feeding there on the mountain.  So they begged Him that He would permit them to enter them. And He permitted them.  33 Then the demons went out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the lake and drowned.  

34 When those who fed them saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country.   35 Then they went out to see what had happened, [Page 568]   and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.   36 They also who had seen it told them by what means he who had been demon-possessed was healed.


            F. M. Catherinet provides this analysis of the incident about demons (working mainly from the Markian parallel); creatures that Jesus is recorded as actually encountering during His ministry and triumphing over:[51]


Of all the gospel narratives this is the one that gives us the clearest characterization of the devils in possession of a human organism.  There they create and maintain certain morbid disturbances not far removed from madness.

They possess a penetrating intelligence, and know who Jesus is.  They prostrate themselves before Him unblushingly, beseeching, adjuring Him by God not to send them back to the Abyss, but rather to allow them to go into the swine and take up their abode there.

Hardly have they entered into the swine than, with a display of power not less surprising than their versatility, they bring about the cruel and wicked destruction of the poor beasts in which they had begged refuge.  Craven, obsequious, powerful, malicious, versatile, and even grotesque—all these traits, here strongly marked, reappear in varying degrees in the other gospel narratives of the expulsion of devils.


[Page 569]                  Neither James nor the gospel accounts of exorcisms claim that demons believe in Jesus as either Savior or Redeemer—even James zeroes in strictly on their monotheism.[52]  The above example of the Gadarene demonic, however, clearly reveals they considered Him, if you will, at the very least their Judge and Executioner:  They considered Him as having authority of where they went and when, the punishment they would receive.  If you flip that concept over and put it in positive terms, does it not imply Jesus’ ability to save and redeem from punishment as well?  I.e., His potential as Savior and Redeemer? 

            Since they are clearly unwilling or unable to change—repetition of evil can create unbreakable chains—whatever level of “belief” they had in Jesus did them no more good than their monotheism.

            However John F. Hart insists that the New Testament pictures demons as being predetermined to be excluded from salvation,  Nevertheless, if demons had faith in Christ, i.e., if they trusted in His sacrifice for their redemption, they would not be born again. It would not matter whether the faith was intellectual assent or full surrender. There simply is no redemption for demons (Heb 2:14).”[53] 

            That is quite probable.  It should be noted, though, that Hebrews 2:14 actually refers to how part of Jesus role was to “destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.”  The Devil, not his followers—the demons. 

A much better proof text is Matthew 8:29:  “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?’ ”  The deduction from this text:  “They know that they will suffer forever.”[54] 

[Page 570]                  Yet could not the same thing be said of any unrepentant individual who has heard the various texts preached (Revelation 20:12-15, for example)?  Could it not be said of them, “They know that they will suffer forever”?  Yet the opportunity for reformation (except for those who believe in predestination) would still be considered open to them.

Although it is hard to imagine any demon ever seeking redemption, the teaching of the New Testament—and James in particular--neither includes nor excludes it.  (Perhaps some things are just too improbable to be worth mentioning?)     


Oddly some folk have trouble accepting that demons do believe and like to make distinctions as to the meaning of faith.[55]  As one said, “The demons have no faith. They believe by seeing and we believe by faith.”  A distinction is certainly there in the kind of faith, but James has no problem conceding to them faith’s existence.

Or another person at the same website, “As you say, the demons have no faith - they are not regenerate.  They may profess certain things, but there is no change in them.”  Equating faith with salvation rather than being the bedrock on which salvation can be built posed no problem with James.  He says they have faith.  Who are we to challenge it?

Another insists, “The faith of demons has only notitia (content) and assensus (assent) but no fiducia (trust).  They know God exists and they agree that God exists.  But true faith normally has all three elements.” 

On the contrary, they “tremble”—surely they have full trust at least in the power of Divine threats of retribution!  Furthermore the example of Jesus casting out the demons that we examined earlier manifests a specific example of them having such “trust.” 

[Page 571]                  (What the commentator is apparently trying to do is make “trust” equivalent to “accepting and embracing and obeying God,” which the demons obviously do not.  But they do trust His threats and dread the day He will carry them out.  And James, who is theologically far more astute than any of us, still thought it quite proper to call it “faith.”)

Then we have, “They know that God exists and that there is one God, but this does not mean that they are actually trusting God for their salvation.”  Of course not.  That is James’ point:  They have faith but the faith is meaningless in their case.  Just as it is in ours—if we do nothing to live it.      

Then there is, “For James says nothing about faith in Christ. . . . .  Thus no one is justified by a faith in God, rather one must confess Christ.”  Although James does not mention it, surely they had a great deal of faith in Jesus—as judge and executioner . . . again as seen in the account of the demons drowning in the lake.  But faith in Christ as in obeying Him, well no—but they still had a faith in Him superior to those multitudes today who exclude faith in Him as judge, which even the demons accepted. 

If one is not determined to redefine works as works of the Jewish ceremonial code . . . or works demanded by a church or religious institution . . . then all of this effort to avoid James’ point is unneeded.  To James, works are simply behaviors / actions . . . and those behaviors are the works expressing, manifesting, vindicating, and proving the existence of faith.  And without which faith is empty, vain, and inadequate for it has not been used for its intended purposes.   


[Page 572]                  While on the subject of demonology, James once mentions their chieftain.  The Devil himself comes in for one brief passing mention in chapter 4:7, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  In spite of the Devil’s immense capacity for subversion and destruction, the startling fact is that an even greater power stands against him—God and His Son.  They have so crippled him that he can never do all against you that he would like. 

This gives you the opportunity for victory.  If you are willing to face the discomfort and annoyances that may come from standing against him.  It is like a combat situation in which a dangerous opponent is on the other side, but you have superior force on yours.  But if you don’t actually do something to engage the enemy the victory will be his by default. 

Many times the Devil wins because believers never make that effort.  Or only make a half-hearted one.  From the Devil’s standpoint, that’s rather like a pleasant day game hunting in a nature preserve.

The key is to “resist” and not to capitulate.  So long as resistance is being given, ultimate victory is still possible even in a dire situation.  That means conscious effort, determination, and throwing oneself into the struggle with all of one’s skills and abilities.  This is shown by the specific Greek term that James utilizes:  anthistemi:  to set against, to withstand, oppose, a military term of manning the defenses and withstand or stand.”[56]  We have to be bold soldiers for Christ—which protects not only His cause but also our personal well-being.

For even if we die we still win.



[Page 573]


2:21, 23:

 When Abraham offered Isaac (verse 21)

the scripture was “fulfilled” that Abraham

believed God and it was counted righteousness (verse 23).


The problem here is chronological.  The offering of Isaac is recorded in Genesis 22:1-4, but the text about Abraham’s righteousness comes chapters earlier in Genesis 15:6.  How then could Genesis 15:6 be “fulfilled” in an event that did not occur until afterwards?

            The theory that Genesis 15:6 was a “prophecy” of what happened later is weak:  there is nothing in the text that implies or even hints at a possible sacrifice of either animal or offspring.  The latter incident did, however, visibly prove that Abraham possessed a thorough determination to do the right/“righteous” thing in Yahweh’s sight.  Hence the aborted sacrificed “fulfilled” in the sense of verified or manifested the assertion previously made concerning the patriarch.

            Another approach is to take “fulfilled” in the sense of an example of the type of behavior that characterized Abraham’s entire life.  In this sense the offering of Isaac “fulfilled” or “manifested” the underlying facts that Abraham both “believed God” and was counted” righteous” because of that belief.   It existed at the time of the events described in chapter 15 and continued to exist at the time of the sacrifice in chapter 22.  Abraham’s entire life (at least from chapter 15 onwards) “fulfilled” that same special relationship of patriarch and Deity.[57]      


[Page 574]




The propriety of Rahab as a moral example.


Possible reasons for her selection as an example. (Also see our discussion of historical allusions to the Old Testament which also touch on aspects of this matter.)   

It may be that Abraham and Rahab are cited because they both prove the same point as to faith yet are as different as can be.  Abraham is male; Rahab is a woman.  Abraham is the founder of the Jewish people; Rahab is an outsider.  Abraham represents the epitome of moral character as conceived under the Old Testament; Rahab its lowest.

Yet both proved themselves acceptable to Yahweh by their faith manifested in behavior.  Hence one can anticipate God accepting anyone who will come to Him regardless of their background or societal standing—either at the time itself or as remembered by later generations.[58]  

            A. T. Robertson develops the theme of the vast contrast between the two in responding to critics of the selection,

[Page 575]

Oesterley doubts how this verse could have come from the pen of a Christian.  But James may have wished to select another example at the furthest possible remove from Abraham, a heathen and a proselyte, “the first of all the proselytes” in the land of Canaan (Hort).  Certainly, if a woman like Rahab could be saved, no one else need despair. 

She expressed her faith in God:  “I know that the Lord God hath given you the land . . . the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and in earth beneath” (Joshua 2:9, 11).  Besides, she showed her courage by avowing the cause of Jehovah and of Israel, by protecting the messengers (spies in reality), and by a life of uprightness thereafter.  It was a crisis in the history of Israel as they came to Jericho and Rahab took her stand for God at the start.  Hence the high honor accorded her.  


            In Jewish tradition, it was claimed that she became the spouse of Joshua.  Likewise the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah are claimed as her descendants.[59]  Neither Old nor New Testament presents these stories.  The New Testament does, however, presents Rahab as an outstanding example of faith (Hebrews 11:31) and as an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).  Both of these elements probably also played significant roles in the selection of her by James to make his point.


            The problem of her profession.  As far back as Josephus there was a sense of unease at the story of Rahab because of her having been a prostitute.  He solves the problem by making the woman an inn keeper rather than a harlot.[60] 

[Page 576]                  The linguistic case is that the words for the two may have been confused,[61]


                        The Biblical text identifies her as a zônāh, a prostitute (Joshua 2:1),

but she seems more like a landlady. . . .  The consonants that comprise the

word “prostitute” in Hebrew are znh, which are the same consonants that

comprise the Hebrew word for a female who gives food and provisions. The

text doesn’t describe Rahab’s profession negatively, as one might expect

from a description of Biblical prostitutes.


            This might explain why the Old Testament misleads us (accidentally) as to her true “trade,” but how does this explain the New Testament continuing to describe her as if a prostitute (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25)?  For that matter znh in the Hebrew Bible normally has the connotation of prostitute.  That doesn’t mean it has to have in this particular text, but that it is the expected usage.

As to no negative description being made of her trade, well this lady had just saved their hides and was going to make possible the successful Israelite invasion.  Was this really the time or place to “freak out” over that particular aspect of the situation?   

All this also avoids the reality that many ancient inn keepers happily provided harlots.  Just as in the twentieth century certain modern “inns” (hotels / motels) were often known as being easy conduits for the prostitute trade.  This was unquestionably true in the Roman age and is there any real reason to suspect that it was different in earlier ages?


[Page 577]                  We should also stress that Josephus’ well intended “solution” was not needed.  An on-going emphasis in both testaments is the possibility and need for constructive change:  one does not have to remain what one has been in the past.  Paul did not have to remain a persecutor of Christians; Rahab did not have to remain a prostitute.  Both proved that no matter how low on our own or the contemporary moral scale one has sunk, God is still more interested in what one can become in the future than what one has been in the past.

            Indeed, if she had remained in her profession is it at all likely that she would have been held forth as an example?[62]  One might be held out as an example in spite of one’s failures—especially temporary ones that are ultimately laid aside.  But could one ever be held up as such while permanently living a life of the same condemned behavior?


            The problem of her being an example though she accomplished what she did through lying.  Our text praises her for how “she received the messengers and sent them out another way” (James 2:19)—it conspicuously does not say anything about what she may have said.  Hence one might well contend that she was held up as an example in spite of her lying because it was what made possible her safely sending them away from the city.[63]  It shows that good examples are not always sinless examples.

            Did she lie?  We know she did for the text of Joshua even tells us what she said:  “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from.  And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them” (Joshua 2:4-5).  

[Page 578]                  This may have been a partial truth:  At the time they entered the city and entered her quarters, she may well not have been aware of what was going on.  But at some point between then and her decision to hide them, they must have leveled with her for her to undertake the risk of protecing them.

            The approach some take toward the lie is to argue that all sins are not morally equally—that there is an inherent vital difference between lying to protect life (as in this case) and lying to destroy life.  In down to earth terms, there is an overwhelming difference between lying to protect a family member’s life and lying to ensnare someone in a situation designed to assure their death. 

The former is sometimes described as “lying in order to preserve a higher moral imperative”[64] while the latter would be lying to insure injury and harm.  The first is lying to avoid a worse evil and the latter is lying to cause the evil. 

            In a very real sense Rahab was saving life by her lie—not only that of her visitors but also those of her own family.  Without her helping them they were all doomed.

            There are a variety of approaches above and beyond what we have suggested.  They are summarized concisely by Scott Rae,[65]


When divine commands genuinely conflict, there are usually three ways to resolve the conflict.  In using these alternatives one must recognize that a true moral conflict exists and not rationalize away a clear command of Scripture that one simply does not wish to obey.

[Page 579]                  The first way is to maintain that no conflict actually faces the believer.  This is known as nonconflicting absolutism.  The person who holds this position reasons as follows:  since an infallible God inspired His inerrant Word, no such conflict of commands is possible. . . .  Neither can these commands be ranked in any kind of hierarchy.

This model for ethics claims that when the absolutes of the Bible are properly interpreted, they will not conflict with other absolutes.  Thus one way out of moral “dilemmas” would be to appeal to God’s providence to open the way out. . . .  Critics of this view cite the example of Rahab. . . .

A second way to deal with these dilemmas would be to capture the intent of the command more clearly.  For example, the command not to bear false witness is not a blanket prohibition against lying, but a prohibition against malicious lying.  Thus Rahab . . . did not face a moral dilemma at all—their deception was justified because it was not a malicious lie.


A second alternative is to admit that real moral conflicts do exist, but sin is still sin, even when a person is faced with competing obligations.  Advocates of this view hold that because we live in a fallen world, real moral conflicts can and do occur.  Moral dilemmas are due not to any flaw in God’s character or commands, but to the existence of sin and depravity in the world in which the commands are to be applied. . . .

People have the duty to do the lesser evil.  But it is still evil for which forgiveness is available for the Christian. . . . [However] It is hard to imagine that a person can be morally culpable for something that could not be avoided and about which the person had no choice.


[Page 580]                  A third alternative, known as graded absolutism, or hierarchialism, is similar to the second.  Like the second view, this view also holds that moral conflicts are real due to life in a fallen world.  However, the option chosen is not evil, and it is not correct to say that the person chose the “lesser evil.”  The choice is a morally justifiable option, not sin.  A person has the obligation to do the greater good and is not morally culpable for doing what could not be avoided. . . .

For example, God’s command to the apostles to preach the gospel was over His command to be in submission to the state (Acts 4:13-20.  Jesus makes reference to the “more important matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23-24), a reference to the greater importance of justice, mercy, and compassion over the law of tithing.       



Whatever approach we embrace, it should be remembered that what Rahab did is hardly “situational ethics.”  How many times in a life is a genuine life threatening situation likely to occur?  Hence those who would use the text in such a manner debase the usage of a lie from a most unusual event to—well, truth be told, an every day event, to be invoked for the most meager of reasons. 


[Page 581]




Reconciling faith and works.


Luther went horribly astray in interpreting chapter two because when he thought of salvation “by works” the dominant medieval Catholic culture of the day immediately caused him to impose upon the terminology the kind of non-Biblical and non-inspired “works” such as that institution had routinely imposed—ordinances invented and ordained by the medieval-style ecclesiastical church.  In the first century that powerful bureaucratic institution simply did not exist.  Hence to assume James referred to such a doctrine and practice—or its conceptual parallel--wrested the epistle out of its historical context.

And the closest conceptual parallel it had in that historical setting were the rabbinic traditions that did not exist yet in as numerous a form or been compiled into an authoritative text of so-to-speak Jewish canon law.  I refer in particular to the Talmud, which attempted to impose upon that community a set of obligations allegedly deduced from scripture.

That Christians would be plagued by “works” in this sense is most unlikely.  The repeated confrontations of Jesus over the attempt to impose the existing “traditions” upon Him would have created an automatic suspicion if not outright hostility to such “works.”

The “works” that might well have enticed them were the ceremonial works of the Old Testament.  Especially if this book is as early as we have suggested.  On the other hand the terminology in opposing such a “graft” onto the Christian system is dramatically different in Paul:  Although Paul is not above opposing “faith” and “works,” he shows that this is verbal shorthand for “faith” versus “works of the Jewish law: 

[Page 582]

            Galatians 3:5, “Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and

works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the

hearing of faith?” 

            Galatians 5:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under

the curse; for it is written, ‘cursed is everyone who does not continue in all

things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ ”


James, in contrast, limits himself to the broader language of “faith” versus “works” without any of the limiting rhetoric Paul uses to show that the “works” he has in mind are ceremonial or Mosaical ones.  Furthermore, does anyone really believe that to Paul, faith alone would be adequate when one omits the kind of humanitarian and good-will “works” that James demands?

Well, we know from Paul’s writings that he certainly wouldn’t regard faith as adequate in such circumstances:


            Romans 12:9  Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil.

Cling to what is good.  10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with

brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 13 distributing to

the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.  [Clear echoes of the very kind of

works James was demanding in chapter 2 of his epistle.]


[Page 583]                  Galatians 6:10:  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let

us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

            1 Thessalonians 5:15:  See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone,

but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.    

            1 Timothy 6:18:  Let them do good, that they be rich in good works,

ready to give, willing to share.  [One of varied applications of this principle:

It sounds like Paul is explicitly telling people what to do in the situation of a

poor person coming into the church assembly—an answer James only

implies in chapter 2 rather than outright states.  Of course both Paul and

James intend the principle to be applied to a far broader set of circumstances

as well!]


            Titus 3:8:  This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to

affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to

maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.  [You

could hardly find a more James like remark than this one!]

            New International Version:  This is a trustworthy saying. And I want

you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be

careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.  These things are excellent

and profitable for everyone.

            Holman Christian Standard Bible:  This saying is trustworthy. I want

you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be

careful to devote themselves to good works.  These are good and profitable

for everyone.

[Page 584]                  Weymouth New Testament:  This is a faithful saying,

and on these various points I would have you insist strenuously, in order that

those who have their faith fixed on God may be careful to set an example of

good actions.  For these are not only good in themselves, but are also useful

to mankind.


            Hebrews 13:16 (if by Paul):  But do not forget to do good and to share,

for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

            [Shall we even list the varied passages where the congregations were

strongly encouraged by Paul to help the struggling Jewish Christians back in

first century Palestine?  2  Corinthians 9:1-11, for example]



From this evidence we can see the absolute lack of contradiction between Paul and James.  They were simply not targeting the same problem.  You can easily create the false impression of such disagreement if you ignore this pivotal factor.


            The range of interpretive options.  In taking his hostile approach toward the epistle of James, Luther was attempting to uphold Paul’s doctrine of salvation by faith against James’ teaching that seemed to deny it.[66]  The two doctrines, Luther insisted in his famous Table Talk, “are direct contraries.  Whoever can make them chime together, to him will I give my doctor’s cap and will stand reproved for a fool.”[67]

[Page 585]                  Some of the key evidence that argues he was in the interpretive wrong we have just examined.  This evidence would be made even more emphatic if one accepts—as we personally do—that when James picks up the challenge “you have faith and I have works” (2:28) that the “you” is James himself.

For reasons surveyed in the introductory material to the epistle, it is also extremely unlikely that the major infusion of Gentiles into the church had yet occurred that resulted from Paul’s missionary journeys.  Hence what James says could not have Gentiles primarily in mind, though the reasoning obviously applied to them as well. 

            Furthermore, Paul stresses the importance of salvation by faith not only because it was true but because it provided the strongest intellectual rationale for the propriety of Gentiles not being bound by the provisions of the Torah:  that law had been given to the Jewish people and had never been intended for outsiders. 

Hence when salvation became possible through faith in Jesus it made available that which had not been previously available to Gentiles except by circumcision and becoming a Jew.  Why then bind them to the Torah and its “works” when it had never been designed for them nor intended to bring salvation to them? 

            It should be stressed that the entire controversy over the conditions of Gentile salvation and Paul’s doctrine of faith inevitably and inescapably involved the associated issues of circumcision and ritual observance.   The very fact that James conspicuously zeroes in on moral/conduct issues and totally ignores the issues that arose from Paul’s teaching on faith (or that which was conceptually equivalent), argues strongly that his teaching was not what was being targeted by James. 

[Page 586]                  Instead, James is interested in the rooting out the delusion that intellectual Christian faith[68] can ever be separated from Christian faith expressed in conduct.  These are, indeed, “works” but not works to please a church hierarchy or ceremonial works to follow the Jewish Law.  Instead these are works necessary in order for our inner faith to be of any value to our fellow believer--or ourselves, for that matter.


            In a similar vein, Luke T. Johnson, for example, argues that Paul is contrasting faith in Jesus and Torah observance.  James is concerned with the different issue, “common among Hellenistic moral philosophers, [of the relationship] between speech and action. . . .  James decries a merely verbal profession of faith that fails to be lived out in appropriate behavior.  The Paul who called for ‘faith working through love’ (Galatians 5:6) would certainly agree.”  Furthermore, “In James, it is faith itself that works, not faith that is abandoned in favor of human achievement.”[69]

            Others choose to take different approaches to show the compatibility between the two writers.  For example it has been noted that the emphasis is different because the target has changed:  in one formulation, it is that Paul deals with “legalists” while James is critiquing “aristocrats.”[70]  There is more than a little to be said for this:  James repeatedly rebukes both the abuses of the powerful and preference for them--the “aristocrats” (if you will) of his day.  James supplements[71] (completes) the teaching of Paul on faith--or Paul that of James on works, if you wish.  Due to the needs of their respective audience they emphasize particular aspects of the full teaching on faith that they both accepted.

[Page 587]                  Some underline that what the two writers mean by the word “faith” is significantly different.  William M. Ramsay sums it up this way, “By ‘faith’ Paul means a personal trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  James is using ‘faith’ to mean intellectual acceptance of certain doctrines as true.”[72]

            Altering the frame of reference, others stress not what is meant by “faith” but what is meant by “works.”  As one such commentator argues it, “When Paul rejects justification by works, he means justification on the basis of a scrupulous adherence to the ceremonial laws (e.g., dietary regulations, provisions about circumcision and feast days).  But when James talks about ‘works,’  he does not mean living by such laws.  Instead he has in mind what we call the fruits of faith.”[73] 

            A mild proviso needs to be added to this approach, however. Although Paul stresses such ceremonial matters, the validity of his argumentation hinges upon it being applicable to the entire Torah and prophets as well.  Not that this results in the repudiation in any shape or fashion of the moral teachings contained in either; rather, he presents them as still binding, not because they were in those earlier works but because God continued to reveal them as authoritative through Jesus’ teaching and in His revelation to Christian prophets and apostles. 

            William Dyrness wisely argues that we should define the “works” under discussion by the kind of works James himself cites, “the ‘doing of mercy’ ” and he points to the first half of chapter two in particular,[74] though this stream of thought is hardly confined to this single chapter alone.  The terminology of “works” to describe it is also appropriate because the Old Testament itself enjoined just such works as part of its moral code.[75]  Although this has a basic soundness, it should be remembered that there was no intention to exclude works of obedience as salvational in nature either, as demonstrated by the citation of the example of Abraham in the current chapter.                     

[Page 588]                  Others argue that the chronological point of reference is different:  Paul speaks “only” of faith and “rejects” works because he is referring to how discipleship begins—i.e., to the point of conversion.  In contrast James is referring to the necessity of works after one has become a disciple.[76]  This approach improperly limits the application of Paul’s teaching:  never does Paul present his doctrine of salvation by faith exclusively in reference to how a person becomes a Christian. His message is to Christians and for Christians to teach them the centrality of faith to their salvation. 

It discusses what they must continue to do after salvation is obtained in order to remain in God’s good standing.  It has a logical application to the unbeliever, but that is not his main point.   


            Since we began this discussion with how Luther’s approach to faith and works—and James’ treatment of them—were bent by his mental overlay of the Catholic Church’s concept of “works” onto the text, it is only fair to conclude with how close Luther could get to what James is driving at.  To do this, however, he had to interject his own interpretive misuse of “faith” into the passage, making it include both faith and works. 

He simply could not understand them as two separate and equally essential categories, joined together like Siamese twins, but still retaining their inherent separateness.  Since it had to be faith alone that saved you, for works to be essential they had to be annexed into “faith” and the distinction between the two removed.  This is his analysis approaching the text in that manner,[77] 

[Page 589]

Faith is not the human notion and dream that some people call faith.  When they see that no improvement of life and no good works follow—although they can hear and say much about faith—they fall into the error of saying, “Faith is not enough; one must do works in order to be righteous and be saved.”

This is due to the fact that when they hear the gospel, they get busy and by their own powers create an idea in their heart which says, “I believe;” they take this then to be a true faith.  But, as it is a human figment and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, nothing comes of it either, and no improvement follows.

Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1:12-13).  It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. 

O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith.  It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly.  It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them.

Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever.  He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are.  Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

[Page 590]                  Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. . . .  Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. 

Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.  Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools.  Pray God that He may work faith in you.  Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do.      



After citing this text, James B. Adamson speaks of how, “ironically, the finest exposition of James’s doctrine of faith is given by none other than Luther himself.”[78]

Although one can quibble with the exact wording of any man’s remarks, personally, I would substitute “power” in Luther’s statement that, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace.” 

This is because grace only describes His power in a positive sense, but the argument of James also hinges on the Divine power in the punitive and retributive sense of bringing punishment upon the evil doer.  Grace brings us only good.  In contrast, “Divine power” gives us strength while it also brings justice upon the back of the unjust.    


[Page 591] 


            (The Bibliography is at the end of the second volume of this commentary.)





[1] McKnight, James, 176-177.


[2] Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ:  The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:14, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 253.


[3] Hartin, James, 117.


[4] McKnight, Scot.  James, 177, argues that these “are three insurmountable problems.”


[5] William Varner, “James 2:1-4:  Church Worship Service or Church Court?”  At:  [March 2014.] The words are from a quotation of himself from a commentary that had not yet appeared.


[6] For a discussion of the pros and cons--and which comes to a conclusion similar to ours, that we are dealing with conjecture rather than probability--see Laws, 101-102.  For a favorable approach to this theory see Davids, A Commentary, 109-110.     


[7] B. Shebout 31a, as quoted by Moo, 99-100.


[8] Sifre 4.4. as quoted by Moo, 100.


[Page 592]   [9] Witherington, 454.


[10] Ibid., 455.


[11] Painter, 82.


[12] Moo, 103.


[13] Witherington, 452.


[14] Chris Walker, “Should we Invite Nonbelievers to Church?”  Dated August 16, 2013.  Part of the EvangelismCoach website.  At: 2013/should-we-invite-non-believers-summary/.  [March 2014.] 


[15] Johnny Hunt, “Judges with Evil Thoughts.”  Page 1.  At:  http://sermons.pastor  [June 2012.] 

[16] Matthew Mount, “Book Review of the ‘Peace Making Pastor: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict.’ ”  Dated February 29, 2012.  At: com/book-review-peace-making-pastor-biblical-11024040.html?cat=48.  [June 2012.]  

[17] Plumptre, 65.


[Page 593]   [18] As quoted by Hasselhoff, 50.


[19] Songer, 115.  Implied by Bennett, 158.


[20] Plumptre, 66.


[21] Davids, James:  A Commentary, 113. 


[22] Cf. the discussion in Mitton, 88.


[23] Catholic Answers Staff, “What were Christians called before St. Ignatius of Antioch referred to them as Catholics?”  From the Catholic Answers website.  At:  [March 2014.]

[24] Zahn, 89.


[25] Cf. Reicke, 29, and James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James, in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), 114.  Also see Geoff Thomas, “James 2:8-13:  God’s Royal Law Gives Freedom.”  June 1998.  At:  http://www.  [June 2012.]


[26] Cf. the discussion on the dual roots of the love commandment in Laws, 109-110.  


[27] Laws, 110.


[28] Bennett, 158.


[Page 594]   [29] Arthur T. Cadoux, The Thought of St. James (London:  James Clarke & Company, Ltd., 1944), 46.  In a similar vein, Derek Leman, “Loving Lawkeeping under the Royal Law.”  Posted July 23, 2012; part of the Messianic Jewish Musings website.  At:  [March 2014.] 


[30] Thomas, “James 2:8-13,”  comes close to mentioning this without quite doing so.


[31] From the translation of Florentino G. Martinez,  The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated:  The Qumran Texts in English, Second Edition (Leiden, the Netherlands:  Brill, 1996), no page numbers needed.


[32] Shabbath 70b, as quoted by McKnight, James, 212.


[33] As quoted by McKnight, James, 212.


[34] As quoted from an unidentified specific source by H. Polano, The Talmud:  Selections (1876), pages 246-247.  As reprinted under the title “The Law and Its Study.”  At:  [January 2013.] 


[35] Cf. Plumptre, 68.


[36] Davids, James:  A Commentary, 116-117; Robertson, 124-125; Sophie Laws, 112.


[37] Mitton, 94. 


[38] Shabbath 70:2 as quoted from Hort in Mitton, 94.


[Page 595]   [39] Dan Corner, “Are All Sins Equal (James 2:10)?”  Part of the Evangelical Outreach website.  At:  [June 2012.]


[40] Scot McKnight, “A Parting within the Way:  Jesus and James on Israel and Purity,” in James the Just and Christian Origins, edited by Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (Leiden, Netherlands:  Brill, 1999), 122.


[41] Ibid., 123.


[42] R. C. Sproul (apparent author), “The Law of Liberty.”  Part of the Lignoier Ministries.  At:  [March 2014.] 


[43] Cf. the remarks of R. C. Sproul on this, in Ibid.


[44] For other forms the application of this may take to God’s judgment standards see Laws, 117-118.  


[45] Dyrness, 13.


[46] Tom M. Roberts, “Mercy Triumphs over Judgment,” Guardian of Truth July 19, 1990 (XXXIV: 14,  432-433).  As reprinted at: archives/volume34/GOT034209.html.  [July 2012.].  He both makes this point and pointed me to several scriptures which I had not previously thought of.   


[Page 596]   [47] Jon Bloom, “Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment.”  From the Desiring God website.  Dated May 27, 2008.  At:  [June 2012.]


[48] McKnight, James, 238.


[49] McCartney, James, 160.


[50] Hartin, James, 151.


[51] F. M. Cabherinet, “Demoniacs in the Gospel”  Soundings in Satanism, edited by F. J. Sheed, (New York:  Sheed and Ward, Inc., 1972), 126.  Cabherinet also notes (128) that Jesus’ treatment of demons as separate entities within a “sick” person and how such a demon possessed person is described and acts is profoundly different from how He treats the regular sick.  In other words, there is no assumption that all disease and illness comes from a demonic source.


[52] John F. Hart, “The Faith of Demons:  James 2:19,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1995 (Volume 8:15).  At:  http://www.faithalone. org/journal/1995ii/Hart.html.  [June 2012.]  He insists that no evangelical believes

[Page 597]   salvation is produced by belief in God’s oneness (= monotheism).  Methinks that if one were to get up and deny monotheism, however, that evangelicals would turn out to be quite emphatic that such a belief is part of saving faith—not all of it but still an essential element.   


[53] Hart, “The Faith of Demons” (internet). 


[54] Bob Wilkin, “Do Demons Really Believe?  James 2:19.”  At:  [June 2012.] 


[55] The following examples come from the 2011 exchanges posted under the heading “James 2:19 -- Even the Demons Believe” at The Puritan Board website.  At:  [March 2014.]


[56] Dan File, “A Message of Hope and Assurance:  James 4:7-8A.”  January 24, 2012 issue of the Capitol Commission.  At: 771/2012/01/24/message-of-hope-assurance-james-4-7-8a.  [March 2014.]


[57] Dibelius, James, 164, does not present it in these terms but clearly has a similar concept in mind.


[58] Cf. Moo, 143.


[Page 598]   [59] Shawn Dowd, “James,” in The Women’s Bible Commentary, ed. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 369.


[60] Antiquities, V. 1. 2, as cited by Plumptre, 75.


[61] Robin Ngo, “Rahab the Harlot:  The Wall of Jericho Yields Insights into the Home of Rahab the Harlot.”  From Bible History Daily of the Biblical Archaeological Society:  Bringing the Ancient World to Life.”  Dated September 23, 2013.  At:  [March 2014.]    


[62] Bert Thompson, “Does the Story of Rahab Mean that God Condones Lying?”  Part of the Apologetics Press website.  At: apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=733.  [June 2012.]


[63] Ibid.


[64] Hank Hanegraaff, “Is It Ever Morally Permissible to Lie?”  Part of the Christian Research Institute.  At:  [June 2012.]


[Page 599]   [65] Scott Rae, Moral Choices:  An Introduction to Ethics (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan, 2009), 50-51.


[66] The preoccupation with the issue of faith versus works has caused the areas of clear agreement between James and Paul to become overlooked--areas whose existence further imply that James is not battling anything Paul said.  For some interesting observations on the similarity between James’ rebuke of favoritism in James 2:1-7 and Pauline attitudes on strictly impartiality see Neyrey, 1222.  On the parallel between the fruit of true wisdom in James 3 and of true faith in Paul see 1224.


[67] As quoted by Bennett, 164.


[68] Cf. Williams, 116.


[69] Johnson, 454.


[70] Stott, 123.


[71] Tenney, 267.


[72] Ramsay, 202.  Oddly enough, Ramsay is convinced that this only provides “a partial reconciliation” (202).


[Page 600]   [73] Vanderwaal, 28.  


[74] Dyrness, 12.

[75] Ibid.


[76] Gench, 34.


[77] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works (Volume 35):  Word and Sacrament I, edited by E. Theodore Bachmann (Philadelphia:  Muhlenberg Press, 1960), 370-371.


[78] Adamson, James:  The Man, 292.