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Expositor's Bible Commentary

James 1



Verse 2

Chapter 4


"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion, greeting." - James 1:2

THESE words appear to be both simple and plain. At first sight there would seem to be not much room for any serious difference of opinion as to their meaning. The writer of the letter writes as "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," i.e., as a Christian, "to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion," i.e., to the Jews who are living away from Palestine. Almost the only point which seems to be open to doubt is whether he addresses himself to all Jews, believing and unbelieving, or, as one might presume from his proclaiming himself at the outset to be a Christian, only to those of his fellow-countrymen who, like himself, have become "servants of the Lord Jesus Christ." And this is a question which cannot be determined without a careful examination of the contents of the Epistle.

And yet there has been very great difference of opinion as to the persons whom St. James had in his mind when he wrote these words. There is not only the triplet of opinions which easily grow out of the question just indicated, viz., that the letter is addressed to believing Jews only, to unbelieving Jews only, and to both: there are also the views of those who hold that it is addressed to Jewish and Gentile Christians regarded separately, or to the same regarded as one body, or to Jewish Christians primarily, with references to Gentile Christians and unconverted Jews, or finally to Gentile Christians primarily, seeing that they, since the rejection of Jesus by the Jews, are the true sons of Abraham and the rightful inheritors of the privileges of the twelve tribes.

In such a Babel of interpretations it will clear the ground somewhat if we adopt once more as a guiding principle the common-sense canon of interpretation laid down by Hooker ("Eccles. Pol.," 5. 59:2), that where a literal construction will stand, the farthest from the letter is commonly the worst. A literal construction of the expression "the twelve tribes of the Dispersion" will not only stand, but make excellent sense. Had St. James meant to address all Christians, regarded in their position as exiles from their heavenly home, he would have found some much plainer way of expressing himself. There is nothing improbable, but something quite the reverse, in the supposition that the first overseer of the Church of Jerusalem, who, as we have seen, was "a Hebrew of Hebrews," wrote a letter to those of His fellow-countrymen who were far removed from personal intercourse with him. So devoted a Jew, so devout a Christian, as we know him to have been, could not but take the most intense interest in all who were of Jewish blood, wherever they might dwell, especially such as had learned to believe in Christ, above all when he knew that they were suffering from habitual oppression and ill-treatment. We may without hesitation decide that when St. James says "the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion" he means Jews away from their home in Palestine, and not Christians away from their home in heaven. For what possible point would the Dispersion ( η διασπορα) have in such a metaphor? Separation from the heavenly home might be spoken of as banishment, or exile, or homelessness, but not as "dispersion." Even if we confined ourselves to the opening words we might safely adopt this conclusion, but we shall find that there are numerous features in the letter itself which abundantly confirm it.

It is quite out of place to quote such passages as the sealing of "the hundred and forty and four thousand out of every tribe of the children of Israel," [Revelation 7:4-8] or the city with "twelve gates, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel". [Revelation 21:12] These occur in a book which is symbolical from the first chapter to the last, and therefore we know that the literal construction cannot stand. The question throughout is not whether a given passage is to be taken literally or symbolically, but what the passage in question symbolizes. Nor, again, can St. Peter’s declaration that "ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession," [1 Peter 2:9] be considered as at all parallel. There the combination of expressions plainly shows that the language is figurative; and there is no real analogy between an impassioned exhortation, modeled on the addresses of the Hebrew prophets, and the matter-of-fact opening words of a letter. The words have the clear ring of nationality, and there is nothing whatever added to them. to turn the simple note into the complex sound of a doubtful metaphor. As Davidson justly remarks, "The use of the phrase twelve tribes is inexplicable if the writer intended all believers without distinction. The author makes no allusion to Gentile converts, nor to the relation between Jew and Gentile incorporated into one spiritual body."

Let us look at some of the features which characterize the Epistle itself, and see whether they bear out the view which is here advocated, that the persons addressed are Israelites in the national sense, and not as having been admitted into the spiritual "Israel of God". [Galatians 6:16]

(1) The writer speaks of Abraham as "our father," without a hint that this is to be understood in any but the literal sense. "Was not Abraham. our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?" [James 2:21] St. Paul, when he speaks of Abraham as "the father of all them that believe," clearly indicates this. [Romans 4:11]

(2) The writer speaks of his readers as worshipping in a "synagogue," [James 2:2] which may possibly mean that, just as St. James and the Apostles continued to attend the Temple services after the Ascension, so their readers are supposed to attend the synagogue services after their conversion. But at least it shows that the writer, in speaking of the public worship of those whom he addresses, naturally uses a word ( συναγωγη) which had then, and continues to have, specially Jewish associations, rather than one ( εκκλησια) which from the first beginnings of Christianity was promoted from its old political sphere to indicate the congregations, and even the very being, of the Christian Church.

(3) He assumes that his writers are familiar not only with the life of Abraham, [James 2:21; James 2:23] but of Rahab, [James 2:25] the prophets, [James 5:10] Job, [James 5:11] and Elijah. [James 5:17] These frequent appeals to the details of the Old Testament would be quite out of place in a letter addressed to Gentile’ converts.

(4) God is spoken of under the specially Hebrew title of "the lord of Sabaoth"; [James 5:4] and the frequent recurrence of "the Lord" throughout the Epistle [James 1:7; James 3:9; James 4:10; James 4:15; James 5:10; James_11:11; James_15:15] looks like the language of one who wished to recall the name Jehovah to his readers.

(5) In discountenancing swearing [James 5:12] Jewish forms of oaths are taken as illustrations.

(6) The vices which are condemned are such as were as common among the Jews as among the Gentiles - reckless language, rash swearing, oppression of the poor, covetousness. There is little or nothing said about the gross immorality which was rare among the Jews, but was almost a matter of course among the Gentiles. St. James denounces faults into which Jewish converts would be likely enough to lapse; he says nothing about the vices respecting which heathen converts, such as those at Corinth, are constantly warned by St. Paul.

(7) But what is perhaps the most decisive feature of all is that he assumes throughout that for those whom he addresses the Mosaic Law is a binding and final authority. "If ye have respect of persons, ye commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. If thou dost not commit adultery, but killest, thou art become a transgressor of the law". [James 2:9-11] "He that speaketh against a brother, or judgeth his brother, speaketh against the law and judgeth the law". [James 4:11]

Scarcely any of these seven points, taken singly, would be at all decisive; but when we sum them up together, remembering in how short a letter they occur, and when we add them to the very plain and simple language of the address, we have an argument which will carry conviction to most persons who have no preconceived theory of their own to defend. And to this positive evidence derived from the presence of so much material that indicates Jewish circles as the destined recipients of the letter, we must add the strongly confirmatory negative evidence derived from the absence of anything which specially points either to Gentile converts or unconverted heathen. We may therefore read the letter as having been written by one who had been born and educated in a thoroughly Jewish atmosphere, who had accepted the Gospel, not as canceling the Law, but as raising it to a higher power; and we may read it also as addressed to men who, like the writer, are by birth and education Jews, and, like him, have acknowledged Jesus as their Lord and the Christ. The difference between writer and readers lies in this, that he is in Palestine, and they not; that he appears to be in a position of authority, whereas they seem for the most part to be a humble and suffering folk. All which fits in admirably with the hypothesis that we have before us an Epistle written by the austere and Judaic-minded James the Just, written from Jerusalem, to comfort and warn those Jewish Christians who lay remote from his personal influence.

That it is Jewish Christians, and not unbelieving Jews, or Jews whether believing or not, who are addressed, is not open to serious doubt. There is not only the fact that St. James at the outset proclaims himself to be a Christian, [James 1:1] but also the statement that the wealthy oppressors of his poor readers "blaspheme the honorable Name by which ye are called," or more literally "which was called upon you," viz., the Name of Christ. Again, the famous paragraph about faith and works assumes that the faith of the readers and the faith of the writer is identical. [James 2:7; James 2:14-20] Once more, he expressly claims them as believers when he writes, "My brethren, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." [James 2:1] And if more be required, we have it in the concluding exhortations: "Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord…Stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand." [James 5:7-8]

Whether or no there are passages which glance aside at unbelieving Jews, and perhaps even some which are directly addressed to them, cannot be decided with so much certainty; but the balance of probability appears to be. on the affirmative side in both cases. There probably are places in which St. James is thinking of unbelieving Israelites, and one or more passages in which he turns aside and sternly rebukes them, much in the same way as the Old Testament prophets sometimes turn aside to upbraid Tyre and Sidon and the heathen generally. "Do not the rich oppress you, and themselves drag you before the judgment-seats?," [James 2:6] seems to refer to rich unconverted Jews prosecuting their poor Christian brethren before the synagogue courts, just as St. Paul did when he was Saul the persecutor. [Acts 9:2] And "Do not they blaspheme the honorable Name by which ye are called?" can scarcely be said of Christians. If the blasphemers were Christians they would be said rather to blaspheme the honorable Name by which they themselves were called. There would lie the enormity-that the name of Jesus Christ had been "called upon them," and yet they blasphemed it. And when we come to look at the matter in detail we shall find reason for believing that the stern words at the beginning of chap. 5. are addressed to unbelieving Jews. There is not one word of Christian, or even moral, exhortation in it; it consists entirely of accusation and threatening, and in this respect is in marked contrast to the equally stern words at the beginning of chap. 4, which are addressed to worldly and godless Christians.

To suppose that the rich oppressors so often alluded to in the Epistle are heathen, as Hilgenfeld does, confuses the whole picture, and brings no compensating advantage. The heathen among whom the Jews of the Dispersion dwelt in Syria, Egypt,’ Rome, and elsewhere, were of course, some of them rich, and some of them poor. But wealthy Pagans were not more apt to persecute Jews, whether Christians or not, than the needy Pagan populace. If there was any difference between heathen rich and poor in this matter, it was the fanatical and plunder-seeking mob, rather than the contemptuous and easy-going rich, who were likely to begin a persecution of the Jews, just as in Russia or Germany at the present time. And St. James would not be likely to talk of "the Lord of Sabaot" in [James 5:4] addressing wealthy Pagans. But the social antagonism so often alluded to in the Epistle, when interpreted to mean an antagonism between Jew and Jew, corresponds to a state of society which is known to have existed in Palestine and the neighboring countries during the half-century which preceded the Jewish war of A.D. 66-70. {Comp. Matthew 11:5; Matthew 19:23; Luke 1:53; Luke 6:20; Luke 6:24; Luke 16:19-20} During that period the wealthy Jews allied themselves with the Romans, in order more securely to oppress their poorer fellow-countrymen. And seeing that the Gospel in the first instance spread chiefly among the poor, this social antagonism between rich and poor Jews frequently became an antagonism between unbelieving and believing Jews. St. James, well aware of this state of things, from personal experience in Judea, and hearing similar things of the Jews of the Dispersion in Syria, reasonably supposes that this unnatural tyranny of Jew over Jew prevails elsewhere also, and addresses all "the twelve tribes which are of the Diaspora" on the subject. In any case his opportunities of knowing a very great deal respecting Jews in various parts of the world were large. Jews from all regions were constantly visiting Jerusalem. But the knowledge which he must have had respecting the condition of things in Palestine and Syria would be quite sufficient to explain what is said in this Epistle respecting the tyranny of the rich over the poor.

The Diaspora, or Dispersion of the Jews throughout the inhabited world, had been brought about in various ways, and had continued through many centuries. The two chief causes were forcible deportation and voluntary emigration. It was a common policy of Oriental conquerors to transport whole populations, in order more completely to subjugate them; and hence the Assyrian and Babylonian conquerors of Israel carried away great multitudes of Jews to the East, sending Eastern populations to take their place. Pompey on a much smaller scale transported Jewish captives to the West, carrying hundreds of Jews to Rome. But disturbances in Palestine, and opportunities of trade elsewhere, induced large multitudes of Jews to emigrate of their own accord, especially to the neighboring countries of Egypt and Syria: and the great commercial centers in Asia Minor, Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, Miletus, Pergamus, Cyprus, and Rhodes contained large numbers of Jews. While Palestine was the battle-field of foreign armies, and while newly founded towns were trying to attract population by offering privileges to settlers, thousands of Jews preferred the advantages of a secure home in exile to the risks which attended residence in their native country.

At the time when this Epistle was written three chief divisions of the Dispersion were recognized the Babylonian, which ranked as the first, the Syrian, and the Egyptian. But the Diaspora was by no means confined to these three centers. About two hundred years before this time the composer of one of the so-called Sibylline Oracles could address the Jewish nation, and say, "But every land is full of thee, -aye and every ocean." And there is abundance of evidence, both in the Bible and outside it, especially in Josephus and Philo, that such language does not go beyond the limits of justifiable hyperbole. The list of peoples represented at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, "from every nation under heaven," tells one a great deal. [Acts 2:5-11. Comp. Acts 15:21, and RAPC 1 Maccabees 15:15-24] Many passages from Josephus might be quoted ("Ant.," 11. 5:2; 14. 7:2; "Bell. Jud," 2 16:4 7 3:3), as stating in general terms the same fact. But perhaps no original authority gives us more information than Philo, in his famous treatise "On the Embassy to the Emperor Caius," which went to Rome (cir. A.D. 40) to obtain the revocation of a decree requiring the Jews to pay divine homage to the Emperor’s statue. In that treatise we read that "Jerusalem is the metropolis, not of the single country of Judea, but of most countries, because of the colonies which she has sent out, as opportunity offered, into the neighboring lands of Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria, and Coelesyria, and the more distant lands of Pamphylia and Cilicia, most of Asia, as far as Bithynia and the utmost corners of Pontus; likewise unto Europe, Thessaly, Boeotia, Macedonia, Aetolia, Attica, Argos, Corinth, with the most parts and best parts of Greece. And not only are the continents full of Jewish colonies, but also the most notable of the islands - Euboea, Cyprus, Crete-to say nothing of the lands beyond the Euphrates. For all, excepting a small part of Babylon and those satrapies which contain the excellent land around it, contain Jewish inhabitants. So that if my country were to obtain a share in thy clemency it would not be one city that would be benefited, but ten thousand others, situated in every part of the inhabited world-Europe, Asia, Libya, continental and insular, maritime and inland" ("De Legat. ad Caium," 36., Gelen., pp. 1031-32). It was therefore an enormous circle of readers that St. James addressed when he wrote "to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion," although it seems to have been a long time before his letter became known to the most important of the divisions of the Diaspora, viz., the Jewish settlement in Egypt, which had its chief center in Alexandria. We may reasonably suppose that it was the Syrian division which he had chiefly in view in writing, and it was to them, no doubt, that the letter in the first instance was sent. It is of this division that Josephus writes that, widely dispersed as the Jewish race is over the whole of the inhabited world, it is most largely mingled with Syria on account of its proximity, and especially in Antioch, where the kings since Antiochus had afforded them undisturbed tranquility and equal privileges with the heathen; so that they multiplied exceedingly, and made many proselytes. {"Belt. Jud," 7:3:3}

The enormous significance of the Dispersion as a preparation for Christianity must not be overlooked. It showed to both Jew and Gentile alike that the barriers which had hedged in and isolated the hermit nation had broken down, and that what had ceased to be thus isolated had changed its character. A kingdom had become a religion. What henceforth distinguished the Jews in the eyes of all the world was not their country or their government, but their creed, and through this they exercised upon those among whom they were scattered an influence which had been impossible under the old conditions of exclusiveness. They themselves also were forced to understand their own religion better. When the keeping of the letter of the Law became an impossibility, they were compelled to penetrate into its spirit; and what they exhibited to the heathen was not a mere code of burdensome rites and ceremonies, but a moral life and a worship in spirit and truth. The universality of the services of the synagogue taught the Jew that God’s worship was not confined to Jerusalem, and their simplicity attracted proselytes who might have turned away from the complex and bloody liturgies of the Temple. Even in matters of detail the services in the synagogue prepared the way for the services of the Christian Church. The regular lessons-read from two divisions of Scripture, the antiphonal singing, the turning towards the east, the general Amen of the whole congregation, the observance of the third, sixth, and ninth hours as hours of prayer, and of one day in seven as specially holy-all these things, together with some others which have since become obsolete, meet us in the synagogue worship, as St. James knew it, and in the liturgies of the Christian Church, which he and the Apostles and their successors helped to frame. Thus justice once more became mercy, and a punishment was turned into a blessing. The captivity of the Jew became the freedom of both Jew and Gentile, and the scattering of Israel was the gathering in of all nations unto God. "He hath scattered abroad; He hath given to the poor: His righteousness abideth forever". [Psalms 112:9; 2 Corinthians 9:9]

Verses 2-4

Chapter 5


James 1:2-4

THIS passage at once raises the question of the relation of this Epistle to other writings in the New Testament. Did the writer of it know any of the writings of St. Paul or of St. Peter? It is contended in some quarters that the similarity of thought and expression in several passages is so great as to prove such knowledge, and it is argued that such knowledge tells against the genuineness of the Epistle. In any case the question of the date of the Epistle is involved in its relation to these other documents; it was written after them, if it can be established that the author of it was acquainted with them.

With Dr. Salmon we may dismiss the coincidences which have been pointed out by Davidson and others between expressions m this Epistle and the Epistles to the Thessalonians, Corinthians, and Philippians. Some critics seem to forget that a large number of words and phrases were part of the common language, not merely of Jews and early. Christians, but of those who were in the habit of mixing much with such persons. We can no more argue from such phrases as "be not deceived," [1 Corinthians 6:9, Galatians 6:7, and James 1:16] "but some one will say," [1 Corinthians 15:35, and James 2:18] "a transgressor of the law," [Romans 2:25; Romans 2:27, and James 2:11] "fruit of righteousness," [Philippians 1:11, and James 3:18] or from such words as "entire," [1 Thessalonians 5:23, and James 1:4] "transgressor" used absolutely, [Galatians 2:18, and James 2:9] and the like, that when they occur in two writings the author of one must have read the other, than we can argue from such phrases as "natural selection," "survival of the fittest," and the like that the writer who uses them has read the works of Darwin. A certain amount of stereotyped phraseology is part of the intellectual atmosphere of each generation, and the writers in each generation make common use of it. In such cases even striking identity of expressions may prove nothing as to the dependence of one author upon another. The obligation is not of one writer to another, but of both to a common and indefinite source. In other words, both writers quite naturally make use of language which is current in the circles in which they live.

Some of the coincidences between the Epistle of James and the Epistle to the Romans are of a character to raise the question whether they can satisfactorily be explained by considerations of this kind, and one of these more remarkable coincidences occurs in the passage before us. St. James writes, "Knowing that the proof of your faith worketh patience." St. Paul writes, "Knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, probation". [Romans 5:3] In this same chapter we have another instance. St. James says, "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only." [James 1:22] St. Paul says, "Not the hearers of a law are just before God, but the doers of a law shall be justified". [Romans 2:13] There is yet a third such parallel. St. James asks, "Whence come fightings? Come they not hence, even of your pleasures which war in your members?" [James 4:1] St. Paul laments, "I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind". [Romans 7:23]

The effect of this evidence will be different upon different minds. But it may reasonably be doubted whether these passages, even when summed up together, are stronger than many other strange coincidences in literature, which are known to be accidental. The second instance, taken by itself, is of little weight; for the contrast between hearers and doers is one of the most hackneyed commonplaces of rhetoric. But assuming that a prima facie case has been established, and that one of the two writers has seen the Epistle of the other, no difficulty is created, whichever we assume to have written first. The Epistle to the Romans was written in A.D. 58, and might easily have become known to St. James before A.D. 62. On the other hand, the Epistle of St. James may be placed anywhere between A.D. 45 and 62, and in that case might easily have become known to St. Paul before A.D. 58. And of the two alternatives, this latter is perhaps the more probable. We shall find other reasons for placing the Epistle of St. James earlier than A.D. 58; and we may reasonably suppose that had he read the Epistle to the Romans, he would have expressed his meaning respecting justification somewhat differently. Had he wished (as some erroneously suppose) to oppose and correct the teaching of St. Paul, he would have done so much more unmistakably. And as he is really quite in harmony with St. Paul on the question, he would, if he had read him, have avoided words which look like a contradiction of St. Paul’s words.

It remains to examine the relations between our Epistle and the First Epistle of St. Peter. Here, again, one of the coincidences occurs in the passage before us. St. James writes, "Count it all joy, when ye enter into manifold temptations; knowing that the proof of your faith worketh patience"; and St. Peter writes, "Ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold temptations, that the proof of your faith might be found". [1 Peter 1:6-7] Here there is the thought of rejoicing in trials common to both passages, and the expressions for "manifold temptations" and "proof of your patience" are identical in the two places. This is remarkable, especially when taken with other coincidences. On the other hand, the fact that some of the language is common to all three Epistles (James, Peter, and Romans) suggests the possibility that we have here one of the "faithful sayings" of primitive Christianity, rather than one or two writers remembering the writings of a predecessor.

In three places St. James and St. Peter both quote the same passages from the Old Testament. In James 1:10-11, St. James has, "As the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun ariseth with the scorching wind, and withereth the grass; and the flower thereof falleth," where the words in italics are from Isaiah 40:6-8. St. Peter [1 Peter 1:24] quotes the words of Isaiah much more completely and consecutively, and in their original sense; he does not merely make a free use of portions of them. Again, in James 4:6 St. James quotes from Proverbs 3:34, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." In 1 Peter 5:5, St. Peter quotes exactly the same words. Lastly, in James 5:20 St. James quotes from Proverbs 10:12 the expression "covereth sins." In 1 Peter 4:8, St. Peter quotes a word more of the original, "love covereth sins." And it will be observed that both St. James and St. Peter change "covereth all sins" into "covereth a multitude of sins."

Once more we must be content to give a verdict of "Not proven." There is a certain amount of probability, but nothing that amounts to proof, that one of these writers had seen the other’s Epistle. Let us, however, assume that echoes of one Epistle are found in the other; then, whichever letter we put first, we have no chronological difficulty. The probable dates of death are, for St. James A.D. 62, for St. Peter A.D. 64-68. Either Epistle may be placed in the six or seven years immediately preceding A.D. 62, and one of the most recent critics places 1 Peter in the middle of the year A.D. 50, and the Epistle of James any time after that date. But there are good reasons for believing that 1 Peter contains references to the persecution under Nero, that "fiery trial" [1 Peter 4:12] in which the mere being a Christian would lead to penal consequences, [1 Peter 4:16] and in which, for conscience’ sake, men would have to "endure griefs, suffering wrongfully," [1 Peter 2:19] thereby being "partakers of Christ’s sufferings". [1 Peter 4:13] In which case 1 Peter cannot be placed earlier than A.D. 64, and the Epistle of James must be the earlier of the two. And it seems to be chiefly those who would make our Epistle a forgery of the second century (Bruckner, Holtzmann) who consider that it is James that echoes 1 Peter, rather than 1 Peter that reproduces James. There is a powerful consensus of opinion that if there is any influence of one writer upon the other, it is St. James who influences St. Peter, and not the other way.

We must not place the Epistle of St. James in or close after A.D. 50. The crisis respecting the treatment of Gentile converts was then at its height; [Acts 15:1-41] and it would be extraordinary if a letter written in the midst of the crisis, and by the person who took the leading part in dealing with it, should contain no allusion to it. The Epistle must be placed either before (A.D. 45-49) or some time after (A.D. 53-62) the so-called Council of Jerusalem. There is reason for believing that the controversy about compelling Gentiles to observe the Mosaic Law, although sharp and critical, was not very lasting. The modus vivendi decreed by the Apostles was on the whole, loyally accepted, and therefore a letter written a few years after it was promulgated would not of necessity take any notice of it. Indeed, to have revived the question again might have been impolitic, as implying either that there was still some doubt on the point, or that the Apostolic decision had proved futile.

In deciding between the two periods (A.D. 45-49 and 53-62) for the date of the Epistle of St. James, we have not much to guide us if we adopt the view that it is independent of the writings of St. Peter and of St. Paul. There is plenty in the letter to lead us to suppose that it was written before the war (A.D. 66-70) which put an end to the tyranny of the wealthy Sadducees over their poorer brethren, before controversies between Jewish and Gentile Christians such as we find at Corinth had arisen or become chronic, and before doctrinal controversies had sprung up in the Church; also that it was written at a time when the coming of Christ to judgment was still regarded as near at hand, [James 5:8] and by some one who could recollect the words of Christ independently of the Gospels, and who therefore must have stood in close relationship to Him. All this points to its having been written within the lifetime of James the Lord’s brother, and by such a person as he was; but it does not seem to be decisive as to the difference between cir. A.D. 49 and cir. A.D. 59. We must be content to leave this undecided. But it is worth while pointing out that if we place it earlier than A.D. 52 we make it the earliest book in the New Testament. The First Epistle to the Thessalonians was written late in A.D. 52 or early in 53; and excepting our Epistle, and perhaps 1 Peter, there is no other writing in the New Testament that can reasonably be placed at so early a date as 52.

"Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations." "My brethren," with or without the epithet "beloved," is the regular form of address throughout the Epistle, [James 1:16; James 1:19; James 2:1; James 2:5; James 2:14; James 3:1; James 3:10; James 3:12; James 5:12] in one or two places the "my" being omitted. [James 4:11; James 5:7; James 5:9; James 5:19] The frequency of this brotherly address seems to indicate how strongly the writer feels, and wishes his readers to feel, the ties of race and of faith which bind them together.

In "Count it all joy," i.e., Consider it as nothing but matter for rejoicing," we miss a linguistic touch which is evident in the Greek, but cannot well be preserved in English. In saying "joy" ( χαραν) St. James is apparently carrying on the idea just started in the address, "greeting" ( χαιρειν), i.e., "wishing joy." "I wish you joy; and you must account as pure joy all the troubles into which you may fall." This carrying on a word or thought from one sentence into the next is characteristic of St. James, and reminds us somewhat of the style of St. John. Thus "The proof of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work". [James 1:3-4] "Lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacketh wisdom" (James 1:4-5). "Nothing doubting: for he that doubteth is like the surge of the sea" (James 1:6). "The lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death" (James 1:15). "Slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20). "This man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this" (James 1:26-27). "In many things we all stumble. If any man stumbleth not in word." [James 3:2] "Behold, how much wood is kindled by how small a fire, And the tongue is a fire". [James 3:5-6] "Ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not". [James 4:2-3] "Your gold and your silver are rusted; and their rust shall be for a testimony against you". [James 5:3] "We call them blessed which endured: ye have heard of the endurance of James 5:11.

It is just possible that "all joy" ( πασαν χαραν) is meant exactly to balance "manifold temptations" ( πειρασμοις ποικιλοις). Great diversity of troubles is to be considered as in reality every kind of joy. Nevertheless, the troubles are not to be of our own making or seeking. It is not when we inflict suffering on ourselves, but when we "fall into" it, and therefore may regard it as placed in our way by God, that we are to look upon it as a source of joy rather than of sorrow. The word for "fall into" ( περιπιπτειν) implies not only that what one falls into is unwelcome, but also that it is unsought and unexpected. Moreover, it implies that this unforeseen misfortune is large enough to encircle or overwhelm one. It indicates a serious calamity. The word for "temptations" in this passage is the same as is used in the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer; but the word is not used in the same sense in both places. In the Lord’s Prayer all kinds of temptation are included, and especially the internal solicitations of the devil, as is shown by the next petition: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the tempter." In the passage before us internal temptations, if not actually excluded, are certainly quite in the background. What St. James has principally in his mind are external trials, such as poverty of intellect (James 1:5), or of substance (James 1:9), or persecution, [James 2:6-7] and the like; those worldly troubles which test our faith, loyalty, and obedience, and tempt us to abandon our trust in God, and to cease to strive to please Him. The trials by which Satan was allowed to tempt Job are the kind of temptations to be understood here. They are material for spiritual joy, because

(1) they are opportunities for practicing virtue, which cannot be learned without practice, nor practiced without opportunities;

(2) they teach us that we have here no abiding city, for a world in which such things are possible cannot be a lasting home;

(3) they make us more Christlike;

(4) we have the assurance of Divine support, and that no more will ever be laid upon us than we, relying upon that support, can bear;

(5) we have the assurance of abundant compensation here and hereafter.

St. James here is only echoing the teaching of his Brother: "Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven". [Matthew 5:11-12] In the first days after Pentecost he had seen the Apostles acting in the very spirit which he here enjoins, and he had himself very probably taken part in doing so, "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name." [Acts 5:41. Comp. Acts 4:23-30] And as we have already seen in comparing the parallel passages, St. Peter [1 Peter 1:6] and St. Paul [Romans 5:3] teach the same doctrine of rejoicing in tribulation.

As St. Augustine long ago pointed out, in his letter to Anastasius ("Ep.," 145:7, 8), and Hooker also ("Eccl. Pol.," 5. 48:13), there is no inconsistency in teaching such doctrine, and yet praying, "Lead us not into temptation." Not only is there no sin in shrinking from both external trials and internal temptations, or in desiring to be freed from such things; but such is the weakness of the human will, that it is only reasonable humility to pray to God not to allow us to be subjected to severe trials. Nevertheless, when God, in His wisdom, has permitted such things to come upon us, the right course is, not to be cast down and sorrowful, as though something quite intolerable had overtaken us, but to rejoice that God has thought us capable of enduring something, for His sake, and has given us the opportunity of strengthening our patience and our trust in Him.

This doctrine of joy in suffering, which at first sight seems to be almost superhuman, is shown by experience to be less hard than the apparently more human doctrine of resignation and fortitude. The effort to be resigned, and to suffer without complaining, is not a very inspiriting effort. Its tendency is towards depression. It does not lift us out of ourselves or above our tribulations. On the contrary, it leads rather to self-contemplation and a brooding over miseries. Between mere resignation and thankful joy there is all the difference that there is between mere obedience and affectionate trust.

The one is submission; the other is love. It is in the long run easier to rejoice in tribulation, and be thankful for it, than to be merely resigned and submit patiently. And therefore this "hard saying" is really a merciful one, for it teaches us to endure trials in the spirit that will make us feel them least. It is not only "a good thing to sing praises unto our God"; it is also "a joyful and pleasant thing to be thankful". [Psalms 147:1]

And here it may be noticed that St. James is no Cynic or Stoic. He does not tell us that we are to anticipate misfortune, and cut ourselves off from all those things the loss of which might involve suffering; or that we are to trample on our feelings, and act as if we had none, treating sufferings as if they were non-existent, or as if they in no way affected us. He does not teach us that as Christians we live in an atmosphere in which excruciating pain, whether of body or mind, is a matter of pure indifference, and that such emotions as fear or grief under the influence of adversity, and hope or joy under the influence of prosperity, are utterly unworthy and contemptible. There is not a hint of anything of the kind. He points out to us that temptations, and especially external trials, are really blessings, if we use them aright; and he teaches us to meet them in that conviction. And it is manifest that the spirit in which to welcome a blessing is the spirit of joy and thankfulness.

St. James does not bid us accept this doctrine of joy in tribulation upon his personal authority. It is no philosopher’s ipse dixit. He appeals to his readers’ own experience: "Knowing that the proof of your faith worketh patience." "Knowing" ( γινωσκοντες) i.e., "in that ye are continually finding out and getting to know." The verb and the tense indicate progressive and continuous knowledge, as by the experience of daily life; and this teaches us that proving and testing not only bring to light, but bring into existence, patience. This patience ( υπομονη) this abiding firm under attack or pressure, must be allowed full scope to regulate all our conduct; and then we shall see why trials are a matter for joy rather than sorrow, when we find ourselves moving onwards towards, not the barrenness of stoical "self-sufficiency" ( αυταρκεια), but the fullness of Divine perfection. "That ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing," is perhaps one of the many reminiscences of Christ’s words which we shall find in this letter of the Lord’s brother. "Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect". [Matthew 5:48]

Verses 5-8

Chapter 6


James 1:5-8

THE previous section led us to the question as to the relation of this Epistle to certain Christian writings, and in particular to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, and to the First Epistle of St. Peter. The present section, combined with the preceding one, raises a similar question-the relation of our Epistle to certain Jewish writings, and especially the Books of Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon.

The two sets of questions are not parallel. In the former case, even if we could determine that the writer of one Epistle had certainly seen the Epistle of the other, we should still be uncertain as to which had written first. Here, if the similarity is found to be too great to be accounted for by common influences acting upon both writers, and we are compelled to suppose that one has made use of the writing of the other, there cannot be any doubt as to the side on which the obligation lies. The Book of Ecclesiasticus certainly, and the Book of Wisdom possibly, had come into circulation long before St. James was born. And if, with some of the latest writers on the subject, we place the Book of Wisdom as late as A.D. 40, it nevertheless was written in plenty of time for St. James to have become acquainted with it before he wrote his Epistle. Although some doubts have been expressed on the subject, the number of similarities, both of thought and expression, between the Epistle of St. James and Ecclesiasticus is too great to be reasonably accounted for without the supposition that St. James was not only acquainted with the book, but fond of its contents. And it is to be remembered, in forming an opinion on the subject, that there is nothing intrinsically improbable in the supposition that St. James had read Ecclesiasticus. Indeed, the improbability would rather be the other way. Even if there were no coincidences of ideas and language between our Epistle and Ecclesiasticus, we know enough about St. James and about the circulation of Ecclesiasticus to say that he was likely to become acquainted with it. As Dr. Salmon remarks on the use of the Apocrypha generally, "The books we know as Apocrypha are nearly all earlier than the New Testament writers, who could not well have been ignorant of them; and therefore coincidences between the former and the latter are not likely to have been the result of mere accident."

But it will be worth while to quote a decided expression of opinion, on each side of the question immediately before us, from the writings of scholars who are certainly well qualified to give a decided opinion. On the one hand, Bernhard Weiss says, "It has been incorrectly held by most that the author adheres very closely to Jesus Sirach…But it must be distinctly denied that there is anywhere an echo of the Book of Wisdom." On the other hand, Dr. Edersheim, after pointing out the parallel between Sirach 12:10-11, and James 5:3, concludes, "In view of all this it cannot be doubted that both the simile and the expression of it in the Epistle of St. James were derived from Ecclesiasticus." And then he gives some more coincidences between the two writings, and sums up thus: "But if the result is to prove beyond doubt the familiarity of St. James with a book which at the time was evidently in wide circulation, it exhibits with even greater dearness the immense spiritual difference between the standpoint occupied in Ecclesiasticus and that in the Epistle of St. James." And Archdeacon Farrar quotes with approval an estimate that St. James "alludes more or less directly to the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon at least five times, but to the Book of Ecclesiasticus more than fifteen times…The fact is the more striking because in other respects St. James shows no sympathy with Alexandrian speculations. There is not in him the faintest tinge of Philonian philosophy; on the contrary, he belongs in a marked degree to the school of Jerusalem. He is a thorough Hebraiser, a typical Judaist. All his thoughts and phrases move normally in the Palestinian sphere. This is a curious and almost unnoticed phenomenon. The "sapiential literature" of the Old Testament was the least specifically Israelite. It was the direct precursor of Alexandrian morals. It deals with mankind, and not with the Jew. Yet St. James, who shows so much partiality for this literature, is of all the writers of the New Testament the least Alexandrian and the most Judaic."

Let us endeavor to form an opinion for ourselves; and the only way in which to do this with thoroughness is to place side by side, in the original Greek, the passages in which there seems to be coincidence between the two writers. Want of space prevents this from being done here. But some of the most striking coincidences shall be placed in parallel columns, and where the coincidence is inadequately represented by the English Version the Greek shall be given also. Other coincidences, which are not drawn out in full, will be added, to enable students who care to examine the evidence more in detail to do so without much trouble. Two Bibles, or, still better, a Septuagint and a Greek Testament, will serve the purpose of parallel columns.

It will be found that by far the greater number of coincidences occur in the first chapter, a fact which suggests the conjecture that St. James had been reading Ecclesiasticus shortly before he began to write. In the middle of the Epistle there is very little that strongly recalls the son of Sirach. In the last chapter there are one or two striking parallels; but by far the larger proportion is in the first chapter.


ST. James.

1. A patient man will bear for a time, and afterward joy shall spring up unto him (i. 23). My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation ( πειρασμον). Set thy heart aright, and constantly endure. . . . Whatsoever is brought upon thee take cheerfully, and be patient when thou art changed to a low estate. For gold is tried ( δοκιμαζεται) in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of adversity (ii. 1-5).

Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations ( πειρασμοις), knowing that the proof ( τομιον) of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). Blessed is the man that endureth temptation ( πειρασμον); for when he hath been approved ( δοκιμος γενομενος), he shall receive the crown of life (James 1:12).

2. If thou desire wisdom ( σοφιαν), keep the commandments, and the Lord shall give her unto thee (i. 26). I desired wisdom ( σοφιαν) openly in my prayer. . . . The Lord hath given me a tongue for my reward (li. 13, 22). Thy desire for wisdom ( σοφιας) shall be given thee (vi. 37. Comp. xliii. 33). [A fool] will give little, and will upbraid ( ονειδισει) much (xx. 15). After thou hast given, upbraid ( ονειδιζε) not (xli. 22. Comp. xviii. 18).

But if any of you lacketh wisdom ( σοφιαν), let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not ( μηζοντος) ; and it shall be given him (James 1:5)

3. Distrust not the fear of the Lord; and come not unto Him with a double heart (i. 28). Woe be to fearful hearts, and faint hands, and the sinner that goeth two ways (ii. 12). Be not faint-hearted when thou makest thy prayer (vii. 10. Comp. xxxiii. 2 ; xxxv. i6, 17).

But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting: for he that doubteth is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord; a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:6-8. Comp. James 4:8).

4. Exalt not thyself, lest thou fall, and bring dishonour upon thy soul (i. 30). The greater thou art, the more humble thyself, and thou shalt find favour before the Lord (iii 18. Comp. xxxi. 1-9).

But let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate; and the rich in that he is made low (James 1:9-10).

5. Say not thou, It is through the Lord that I fell away : for thou oughtest not to do the things that He hateth. Say not thou, He hath caused me to err; for He hath no need of the sinful man (xv. 11, 12).

Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempteth no man (James 1:13).

6. Be swift in thy listening {ταχυς εν ακροασει σου) ; and with patience give answer (v. II).

Let every man be swift to hear ( ταχυς εις το ακουσαι), slow to speak, slow to wrath (James 1:19).

7. Thou shalt be to him as one that hath wiped a mirror ( εσοπτρον), and shalt know that it is not rusted ( κατιωται) for ever (xii. 11). Like asbronzerusteth ( ιουται), so is his wickedness (xii. 10). Lose money through a brother and a friend, and let it not rust ( ιωθητω) under the stone unto loss (xxix, 10).

He is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror ( εν εσοπτρω). . . . Your gold and your silver are rusted ( κατιωται); and their rust ( ιος) shall be a testimony against you (James 1:23; James 5:3).

8. He that looketh in ( ο παρακυπτων) through her windows, i.e. the windows of wisdom (xiv. 23). A fool peepeth in ( παρακυπτει) at the door (xxi. 23).

He that looketh into ( ο παρακυψας) the perfect law (James 1:25).

9. A prey of lions are wild asses in the wilderness ; so the fodder of the rich are the poor ( ουτω νομπτωχαι πλουσιων πτωχοι} xiii. 19. Comp. xiii. 3, 17, 18).

But ye have dishonoured the poor man ( τον πτωχον). Do not the rich ( οιπλουσιοι) oppress you, and themselves drag you before the judgment-seats? (James 2:6).

It will be observed that of these nine examples all come out of the first two chapters of St. James; and six are from the first two chapters of Ecclesiasticus. This fact is worth considering in estimating the probabilities of St. James being under the influence of this earlier and popular book. Owing to recent reading, or some other cause, he seems to have been specially familiar with the opening chapters of Ecclesiasticus. Probably most persons who study these coincidences will be of the opinion that Bernhard Weiss is needlessly cautious and skeptical when he refuses to assent to the common opinion that in some portions of the Epistle St. James closely follows the Wisdom of Jesus, the son of Sirach. The strongest coincidence is the seventh in the table. The word for "to rust" ( κατιοω) occurs nowhere else either in the Septuagint

or in the New Testament, and the passages in Ecclesiasticus and St. James "are the only Biblical passages in which the figure of rust as affecting unused silver and gold occurs" (Edersheim). The fifth instance is also very striking.

Let us now look at some of the coincidences between the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon and the Epistle of St. James.



1. The hope of the ungodly is like thistle-down carried away by the wind ; like a thin froth that is driven away by the blast, and Uke smoke is dispersed by the wind (v. 14. Comp. μαρανθηναι in ii. 8).

He that doubteth is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. ... As the flower of the grass he shall pass away. . . . So also shall the rich man fade away ( μαρανθησεται) in his ways (James 1:6, James 1:10, James 1:11).

2. In eternity it weareth a crown and triumpheth (iv. 2).

When he hath been approved he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love Him (James 1:12).

3. The alterations of the solstices and the change of seasons ( τροπων αλλαγας και μεταβολας καιρων: vii. 18).

With whom can be no variation, neither shadow of turning ( παρ ω ουκ ενι παραλλαγη ή τροπης αποσκίασμα: (James 1:17).

4. Let us oppress ( καταδυναστευουσιν ) the poor righteous man. . . . Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture (ii. 10, 19).

Ye have dishonoured the poor man. Do not the rich oppress ( καταδυναστεύουσιν) you, and themselves drag you before the judgment-seats? (James 2:6).

5. For the lowest is pardonable by mercy; but mighty men shall be mightily chastised (vi. 6).

For judgment is without mercy to him that hath showed no mercy: mercy glorieth against judgment (James 2:13).

6. What hath pride profited us? or what good hath riches with our vaunting ( αλαζονειας) brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow, and as a post that hasted by, etc. etc.; even so we, as soon as we were born, cattle to an end (5:8-14).

Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into this city, and spend a year there, and trade and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. What is your life? For ye are a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away…But now ye glory in your vauntings ( σαλαζονιαις): all such glorying is evil. [James 4:13-16]

7. Let us lie in wait for the righteous ( τόν δίκαιον) …Let us condemn him ( καταδικάυωμεν) with a shameful death (ii. 12, 20).

Ye have condemned ( κατεδικασατε), ye have killed the righteous one ( τον δικαιον); he doth not resist you. [James 5:6]

It will at once be perceived that these parallels are neither so numerous nor so convincing as those which have been pointed out between Ecclesiasticus and the Epistle of St. James; but they are sufficient to make a prima facie case of considerable probability, whatever date we assign to the Book of Wisdom. This probability is strengthened by the fact that this book, with the rest of the Apocrypha or deutero-canonical writings, constituted to a large extent the religious literature of the Jews of the Dispersion; and therefore in writing to such Jews St. James would be likely to make conscious allusions to writings with which his hearers would be sure to be familiar; a consideration which strengthens the case as regards the coincidences with Ecclesiasticus, as well as regards those with the Wisdom of Solomon. Even if the probability as to the Alexandrian origin of Wisdom were a certainty, and if the conjectural date A.D. 40 were established, there would be nothing surprising in its becoming well known in Jerusalem within twenty years of its production. It is, therefore, far too strong an assertion when Weiss declares that "it must be distinctly denied that there is anywhere [in the Epistle of St. James] an echo of the Book of Wisdom." All that one can safely say is that the evidence for his acquaintance with the book does not approach to proof.

But the use of these two books of the Apocrypha by writers in the New Testament does not depend upon the question whether St. James makes use of them or not. If this were the place to do it, it might be shown that other coincidences, both of language and thought, far too numerous and too strong to be all of them accidental, occur in the writings of St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. John. Such things also occur outside the New Testament in the Epistles of Clement and of Barnabas; while Clement of Alexandria frequently quotes Ecclesiasticus with the introductory formula, "The Scripture saith."

These facts go a long way towards proving that the neglect of the Apocrypha which is so prevalent among ourselves is a thing which cannot be defended, either by an appeal to Scripture or by the practice of the primitive Church; for both the one and the other show a great respect for these deutero-canonical writings. That the New Lectionary omits a good deal of what used to be read publicly in church is not a thing to be lamented. We gladly sacrifice portions of the Apocrypha in order to obtain more of Ezekiel and Revelation. It is the neglect of them in private reading that is so much to be deplored. Passages which are too grotesque and too unspiritual to be edifying when read to a mixed congregation are nevertheless full of instruction, and throw most valuable light both on the Old and on the New Testament. The Apocryphal writings, instead of being a worthless interpolation between the Old Testament and the New, like a block of paltry buildings disfiguring two noble edifices, are among our best means of understanding how the Old Testament led up to the New, and prepared the way for it. They show us the Jewish mind under the combined influences of Jewish Scriptures, Gentile culture, and new phases of political life, and being gradually brought into the condition in which it either fiercely opposed or ardently accepted the teaching of Christ and His Apostles. A huge chasm yawns between Judaism as we leave it at the close of the Old Testament canon, and as we find it at the beginning of the Gospel history; and we have no better material with which to bridge the chasm than the writings of the Apocrypha. This is well brought out, not only in the commentary on the Apocrypha already quoted more than once, but also in a valuable review of the commentary from which some of what follows is taken.

The neglect of the Apocrypha has not been by any means entirely accidental. It is partly the result of a deliberate protest against the action of the Council of Trent in placing these books on a level with the books of the Old and New Testament. In the seventeenth century we find the learned John Lightfoot writing, "Thus sweetly and nearly should the two Testaments join together, and thus Divinely should they kiss each other, but that the wretched Apocrypha doth thrust in between." And the fact that many people are now unable to recognize or appreciate an allusion to the Apocrypha is by no means the most serious result of this common neglect of its contents. Appreciation of the Bible in general, and especially of those books in which the Old and New Testaments come most in contact, is materially diminished in consequence. The Apocrypha is not a barrier, but a bridge; it does not separate, but unite the two Covenants. What thoughtful reader can pass from the Old to the New Testament without feeling that he has entered another world? He is still in Palestine, still among the Jews; but how different from the Palestine and the Judaism of Ezra, and Nehemiah, and Malachi! He "finds mention of persons, and sects, and schools of which he can find no trace in the Old Testament. He comes upon beliefs and opinions for which the earlier canon does not even furnish a clue. He discovers institutions long settled, and dominating the religious life of the people, of which the Old Testament supplies not even the name. He find popular ideas, religious terms and phrases in current use wholly unlike those of ancient psalmists and prophets." And there is no literature that can explain all these changes to him either so surely or so fully as the Apocrypha. It supplies instances of the early use of New Testament words, of old words in new senses. It throws light upon the growth of the popular conception of the Messiah. It illuminates still more the development of the doctrine of the Logos. Above all, it helps us to see something of the evolution of that strange religious system which became the raw material out of which the special doctrines of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes were formed, and which had a powerful influence upon Christianity itself.

The neglect of the Apocrypha has been greatly increased by the widespread practice of publishing Bibles without it, and even of striking out from the margins of these mutilated Bibles all references to it. And this mischief has lately been augmented by the fact that the Revised Version omits it. Yet no portion of the Bible was in greater need of revision. The original texts used by the translators of 1611 were very bad; and perhaps in no part of the Authorized Version are utterly faulty translations more abundant. A comparison of the quotations given above with the text of the Authorized Version of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus will show that considerable changes have been made in order to bring the quotations into harmony with the true readings of the Greek text, and thus give a fair comparison with the words of St. James.

Books which the writers of the New Testament found worthy of study, and from which they derived some of their thoughts and language, ought not to be lightly disregarded by ourselves. We cannot disregard them without loss; and it is the duty of every reader of the Bible to see that his apprehension of the Old and New Testaments is not hindered through his ignorance of those writings which interpret the process of transition from the one to the other. Neglect of the helps to understanding His Word which God has placed easily within our reach may endanger our possession of that wisdom which St. James here assures us will be given to every one who asks for it in faith:

A discussion of that heavenly wisdom, and of the efficacy of prayer offered in faith, will be found in the expositions of later passages in the Epistle.

Verses 9-11

Chapter 7


James 1:9-11

IN this section St. James returns to what is the main thought of the first chapter, and one of the main thoughts of the whole Epistle, viz., the blessedness of enduring temptations, and especially such temptations as are caused by external trials and adversity. He adds another thought which may help to console and strengthen the oppressed Christian.

The Revisers have quite rightly restored the "But" ( δε) at the beginning of this section. There seems to be absolutely no authority for its omission; and we may conjecture that the earlier English translators ignored it, because it seemed to them to be superfluous, or even disturbing. The Rhenish Version, made from the Vulgate (Glorietur autem), is the only English Version which preserves it; and Luther (Ein Bruder aber) preserves it also. The force of the conjunction is to connect the advice in this section with the items of advice already given. They form a connected series. "Count it all joy, when ye fall into manifold temptations But ( δε) let patience have its perfect work But ( δε) if any lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God…But ( δε) let him ask in faith…But ( δε) let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate: and the rich in that he is made low."

The meaning of this last item in the series is by no means clear. Various interpretations have been suggested, and it is difficult or even impossible to arrive at a conclusive decision as to which of them is the right one. But we may clear the ground by setting aside all explanations which would make the brother of low degree ( ο ταπεινος) to mean the Christian who is lowly in heart, [Matthew 11:29] and "the rich" ( ο πλουσιος) the Christian who is rich in faith [James 2:5] and in good works. [1 Timothy 6:18] Both words are to be understood literally. The lowly man is the man of humble position, oppressed by poverty, and perhaps by unscrupulous neighbors, [James 2:3] and the rich man, here, as elsewhere in this Epistle, is the man of wealth who very often oppresses the poorer brethren. [James 1:11; James 2:6; James 5:1]

What, then, is the meaning of the "high estate" ( υψοη) in which the brother of low degree is to glory, and of the "being made low" ( ταπεινωσις) in which the rich man is to do the same? At first sight one is disposed to say that the one is the heavenly birthright, and the other the Divine humiliation, in which every one shares who becomes a member of Christ; in fact, that they are the same thing looked at from different points of view; for what to the Christian is promotion, to the world seems degradation. If this were correct, then we should have an antithesis analogous to that which is drawn out by St. Paul, when he says, "He that was called in the Lord, being a bond-servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise he that was called, being free, is Christ’s bond-servant". [1 Corinthians 7:22] But on further consideration thins attractive explanation is found not to suit the context. What analogy is there between the humiliation in which every Christian glories in Christ and the withering of herbage under a scorching wind? Even if we could allow that this metaphor refers to the fugitive character of earthly possessions, what has that to do with Christian humiliation, which does not depend upon either the presence or the absence of wealth? Moreover, St. James says nothing about the fugitiveness of riches: it is the rich man himself, and not his wealth, that is said to "pass away," and to "fade away in his goings." Twice over St. James declares this to be the destiny of the rich man; and the wording is such as to show that when the writer says that "the rich man shall fade away in his goings" he means the man, and not his riches. "His goings," or "journeys," very likely refers to his "going into this city to spend a year there, and trade, and get gain"; [James 4:13] i.e., he wastes himself away in the pursuit of wealth. But what could be the meaning of wealth "fading away in its journeys"? Evidently, we must not transfer what is said of the rich man himself to his possessions. It is a baseless assumption to suppose that the rich man here spoken of is a Christian at all. "The brother of low degree" is contrasted, not with the brother who is rich, but with the rich man, whose miserable destiny shows that he is not "a brother," i.e., not a believer. The latter is the wealthy Jew who rejects Christ. Throughout this Epistle "rich" is a term of reproach. This is what is meant by the Ebionite tone of the Epistle; for poverty is the condition which Ebionism delights to honor. In this St. James seems to be reproducing the thoughts both of Jesus Christ and of Jesus the Son of Sirach. "Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger." [Luke 6:25-26. Comp. Matthew 19:23-25] "The rich man hath done wrong, and is very wroth besides: the poor man is wronged, and he must entreat also An abomination to the proud is lowliness; so the poor are abomination to the rich" (Sirach 13:3; Sirach 13:20).

But when we have arrived at the conclusion that the "being made low" does not refer to the humiliation of the Christian, and that the rich man here threatened with a miserable end is not a believer, a new difficulty arises. What is the meaning of the wealthy unbeliever being told to glory in the degradation which is to prove so calamitous to him? In order to avoid this difficulty various expedients have been suggested. Some propose a rather violent change of mood-from the imperative to the indicative. No verb is expressed, and it is said that instead of repeating "let him glory" from the previous clause, we may supply "he glories," as a statement of fact rather than an exhortation. The sentence will then run, "But let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate; but ( δε) the rich glorieth in his being made low"; i.e., he glories in what degrades him and ought to inspire him with shame and grief. Others propose a still more violent change, viz., of verb; they would keep the imperative, but supply a word of opposite meaning: "so let the rich man be ashamed of his being made low." Neither of these expedients seems to be necessary, or indeed to be a fair treatment of the text. It is quite possible to make good sense of the exhortation, without any violent change either of mood or of verb. In the exhortation to the rich man St. James speaks in severe irony: "Let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate; and the rich man-what is he to glory in?-let him glory in the only thing upon which he can count with certainty, viz., his being brought low; because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away." Such irony is not uncommon in Scripture. Our blessed Lord Himself makes use of it sometimes, as when He says of the hypocrites that they have their reward, and have it in full. {απεχουσι: Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16}

Whether or no this interpretation be accepted-and no interpretation of this passage has as yet been suggested which is free from difficulty-it must be clearly borne in mind that no explanation can be correct which does not preserve the connection between the humiliation of the rich man and his passing away as the flower of the grass. This fading away is his humiliation, is the thing in which he is to glory, if he glories in anything at all. The inexorable "because" must not be ignored or explained away by making the wealth of the rich man shrivel up, when St. James twice over says that it is the rich man himself who fades away.

The metaphor here used of the rich man is common enough in the Old Testament. Man "cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down" ( ωσπερ ανθος ανθησαν εξεπεσεν: LXX), says Job, in his complaint; [Job 14:2] and, "As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more," says the Psalmist. [Psalms 103:15-16] But elsewhere, with a closer similarity to the present passage, we have this transitory character specially attributed to the ungodly, who "shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb." [Psalms 37:2] None of these passages, however, are so clearly in St. James’s mind as the words of Isaiah: "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth; because the breath of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever." [Isaiah 41:6-7] Here the words of St. James are almost identical with those of the Septuagint ( ως ανθος χορτου εξηρανθη ο χιρτος και τοπεσεν εξηρανθη χορτος εξεπεσεντο αιθος); and, as has been already pointed out, this is one of the quotations which our 1 Peter 1:24.

"Grass" throughout is a comprehensive term for herbage, and the "flower of grass" does not mean the bloom or blossom of grass in the narrower sense, but the wild flowers, specially abundant and brilliant in the Holy Land, which grow among the grass. Thus, in the Sermon on the Mount, what are first called "the lilies ( τανα) of the field" are immediately afterwards called "the grass ( το χόρτον) of the field". [Matthew 6:28; Matthew 6:30]

"The scorching wind" ( ο καυσων) is one of the features in the Epistle which harmonize well with the fact that the writer was an inhabitant of Palestine. It is the furnace-like blast from the arid wilderness to the east of the Jordan. "Yea, behold, being planted, shall it prosper? Shall it not utterly wither when the east wind toucheth it? It shall wither in the beds where it" Ezekiel 17:10. "God prepared a sultry east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted". [Jonah 4:8] The fig-tree, olives, and vine [James 3:12] are the chief fruit-trees of Palestine; and "the early and latter rain" [James 5:7] points still more clearly, to the same district.

It has been remarked with justice that whereas St. Paul for the most part draws his metaphors from the scenes of human activity-building, husbandry, athletic contests, and warfare-St. James prefers to take his metaphors from the scenes of nature. In this chapter we have "the surge of the sea" (James 1:6) and "the flower of the grass" (James 1:10). In the third chapter we have the "rough winds" driving the ships, the "wood kindled by a small fire," "the wheel of nature," "every kind of beasts and birds, of creeping things, and things in the sea," "the fountain sending forth sweet water," "the fig-tree and vine" (James 3:4-7, James 3:11-12). In the fourth chapter human life is "a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (James 4:14). And in the last chapter, besides the moth and the rust, we have "the fruit of the earth," and "the early and latter rain" (James 5:2-3; James 5:7; James 5:18).

These instances are certainly very numerous, when the brevity of the Epistle is considered. The love of nature which breathes through them was no doubt learned and cherished in the village home at Nazareth, and it forms another link between St. James and his Divine Brother. Nearly every one of the natural phenomena to which St James directs attention in this letter are used by Christ also in His teaching. The surging of the sea, [Luke 21:25] the flowers of the field, [Matthew 6:28] the burning of wood, [John 15:6] the birds of the air, [Matthew 6:26; Matthew 8:20; Matthew 13:4; Matthew 13:32] the fountain of sweet water, [John 4:10-14; John 7:38] the fig-tree, [Matthew 7:16; Matthew 21:19; Matthew 24:32] the vine, [John 15:1-5] the moth, [Matthew 6:19] the rust, [Matthew 6:19] and the rain. [Matthew 5:45; Matthew 7:25] In some cases the use made by St. James of these natural objects is very similar to that made by our Lord, and it may well be that what he writes is a reminiscence of what he had heard years before from Christ’s lips; but in other cases the use is quite different, and must be assigned to the love of nature, and the recognition of its fitness for teaching spiritual truths, which is common to the Lord and His brother. Thus, when St. James asks, "Can a fig-tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a vine figs?" we seem to have an echo of the question in the Sermon on the Mount, "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" And when St. James tells the rich oppressors that their "garments are moth-eaten; their gold and their silver are rusted," is he not remembering Christ’s charge, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust do consume, and where thieves break through and steal"? But in most of the other cases there is little or no resemblance between the similes of Christ and the figurative use of the same natural phenomena made by St. James. Thus, while Jesus uses the flowers of the field to illustrate God’s care for every object in the universe, and the superiority of the glory which He bestows over that with which man adorns himself, St. James teaches thereby the transitory character of the glory which comes of riches; and while Christ points to the rain as illustrating God’s bounty to good and bad alike, St. James takes it as an illustration of His goodness in answer to patient and trusting prayer.

It is manifest that in this matter St. James is partly following a great example, but partly also following the bent of his own mind. The first, without the second, would hardly have given us so many examples of this kind of teaching in so small a space. St. John had equal opportunities with St. James of learning this method of teaching from Christ, and yet there are scarcely any examples of it in his Epistles. Possibly his opportunities were even greater than those of St. James; for although he was at most the cousin of the Lord, whereas St. James was His brother, yet he was present during the whole of Christ’s ministry, whereas St. James was not converted until after the Resurrection. But there is this great difference between Christ’s teaching from nature and that of St. James: St. James recognizes in the order and beauty of the universe a revelation of Divine truth, and makes use of the facts of the external world to teach spiritual lessons; the incarnate Word, in drawing spiritual lessons from the external world, could expound the meaning of a universe which He Himself had made. In the one case it is a disciple of nature who imparts to us the lore which he himself has learned; in the other it is the Master of nature, who points out to us the meaning of His own world, and interprets to us the voices of the winds and the waves, which obey Him.

Verses 12-18

Chapter 8


James 1:12-18

AFTER the slight digression respecting the short-lived glory of the rich man, St. James returns once more to the subject with which the letter opens-the blessing of trials and temptations as opportunities of patience, and the blessedness of the man who endures them, and thus earns "the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him." These last words are very interesting as being a record of some utterance of Christ’s not preserved in the Gospels, of which we have perhaps other traces elsewhere in the New Testament. [1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10; 2 Timothy 4:8] They imply a principle which qualifies what goes before, and leads on to what follows. The mere endurance of temptations and afflictions will not win the promised crown, unless temptations are withstood, and afflictions endured in the right spirit. The proud self-reliance and self-repression of the Stoic have nothing meritorious about them. These trials must be met in a spirit of loving trust in the God who sends or allows them, It is only those who love and trust God who have the right to expect anything from His bounty. This St. James continually insists on. Let not the double-minded man, with his affections and loyalty divided between God and Mammon, "think that he shall receive anything of the" James 1:7. God has chosen the poor who are "rich in faith" to be "heirs of the kingdom which He promised to them that love Him." [James 2:5] And this love of God is quite incompatible with love of the world. "Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God". [James 4:4]

It is the loving withstanding of temptation, then, that wins the crown of life: the mere being tempted tends rather to death. "Lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is full-grown, bringeth forth death." With these facts before him, the loving Christian will never say, when temptations come, that they come from God. It cannot be God’s will to seduce him from the path of life to the path of death. The existence of temptations is no just ground of complaint against God. Such complaints are an attempt to shift the blame from himself to his Creator. The temptations proceed, not from God, but from the man’s own evil nature; a nature which God created stainless, but which man of his own free will has debased. To tempt is to try to lead astray; and one has only to understand the word in its true sense to see how impossible it is that God should become a tempter. By a simple but telling opposition of words St. James indicates where the blame lies. God "Himself tempteth no man ( πειραζει δε αυτονα); but each man is tempted, when by his own lusts he is drawn away and enticed" ( υποας επιθυμιας εξελκομενος καιμενος). It is his own evil desire which plays the part of the temptress, drawing him out from his place of safety by the enticement of sinful pleasure. So that the fault is in a sense doubly his. The desire which tempts proceeds from his own evil nature, and the will which consents to the temptress is his own. Throughout the passage St. James represents the evil desire as playing the part of Potiphar’s wife. The man who withstands such temptation is winning the promised crown of life; the man who yields has for the offspring of his error death. The one result is in accordance with God’s will, as is proved by His promising and bestowing the crown; the other is not, but is the natural and known consequence of the man’s own act.

At the present time there is a vehement effort being made in some quarters to shift the blame of man’s wrong-doing, if not on to God (and He is commonly left out of the account, as unknown or non-existing), at any rate on to those natural laws which determine phenomena. We are asked to believe that such ideas as moral freedom and responsibility are mere chimeras, and that the first thing which a reasonable person has to do, in raising himself to a higher level, is to get rid of them. He is to convince himself that character and conduct are the necessarily evolved result of inherited endowments, developed in certain circumstances, over neither of which the man has any control. He did not select the qualities of body and mind which he received from his parents, and he did not make the circumstances in which he has had to live since his birth. He could no more help acting as he did on any given occasion than he could help the size of his heart or the color of his brain. He is no more responsible for the acts which he produces than a tree is responsible for its leaves. And of all senseless delusions and senseless wastes of power, those which are involved in the feeling of remorse are the worst. In remorse we wring our hands over deeds which we could not possibly have avoided doing, and reproach ourselves for omitting what we could not by any possibility have done. Ethiopians might as reasonably blame themselves for their black skins, or be conscience-stricken for not having golden hair, as any human being feel remorse for what he has done or left undone in the past.

Whatever folly a man may have committed, he eclipses it all by the folly of self-reproach.

Positivism will indeed have worked marvels when it has driven remorse out of the world; and until it has succeeded in doing so, it will remain confronted by an unanswerable proof-as universal as the humanity which it professes to worship-that its moral system is based upon a falsehood. Whether or no we admit the belief in a God, the fact of self-reproach in every human heart remains to be accounted for. And. it is a fact of the most enormous proportions. Think of the years of mental agony and moral torture which countless numbers of the human race have endured since man became a living soul, because men have invariably reproached themselves with the folly and wickedness which they have committed. Think of the exquisite suffering which remorse has inflicted on every human being who has reached years of reflection. Think of the untold misery which the misdeeds of men have inflicted upon those who love and would fain respect them. It may be doubted whether all other forms of human suffering, whether mental or bodily, are more than as a drop in the ocean, compared with the agonies which have been endured through the gnawing pangs of remorse for personal misconduct, and of shame and grief for the misconduct of friends and relations. And if the Determinist is right, all this mental torture, with its myriad stabs and stings through centuries of centuries, is based on a monstrous delusion. These bitter reproachers of themselves and of those dearest to them might have been spared it all, if only they had known that not one of the acts thus blamed and lamented in tears of blood could have been avoided.

Certainly the Positivist, who shuts God out from his consideration, has a difficult problem to solve, when he is asked how he accounts for a delusion so vast, so universal, and so horrible in its consequences; and we do not wonder that he should exhaust all the powers of rhetoric and invective in the attempt to exorcise it. But his difficulty is as nothing compared with the difficulties of a thinker who endeavors to combine Determinism with Theism, and even with Christianity. What sort of a God can He be who has allowed, who has even ordained, that every human heart should be wrung with this needless, senseless agony? Has any savage, any inquisitor, ever devised torture so diabolical? And what kind of a Savior and Redeemer can He be who has come from heaven, and returned thither again, without saying one word to free men from their blind, self-inflicted agonies; who, on the contrary, has said many things to confirm them in their delusions? Whence came moral evil and the pangs of remorse, if there is no such thing as free will? They must have been fore-ordained and created by God. The Theist has no escape from that. If God made man free, and man by misusing his freedom brought sin into the world, and remorse as a punishment for sin, then we have some explanation of the mystery of evil. God neither willed it nor created it; it was the offspring of a free and rebellious will. But if man was never free, and there is no such thing as sin, then the madman gnawing his own limbs in his frenzy is a reasonable being and a joyous sight, compared with the man who gnaws his own heart in remorse for the deeds which the inexorable laws of his own nature compelled him, and still compel him, to commit.

Is there, or is there not, such a thing as sin? That is the question which lies at the bottom of the error against which St. James warns his readers, and of the doctrines which are advocated at the present time by Positivists and all who deny the reality of human freedom and responsibility. To say that when we are tempted we are tempted by God, or that the Power which brought us into existence has given us no freedom to refuse the evil and to choose the good, is to say that sin is a figment of the human mind, and that a conscious revolt of the human mind against the power of holiness is impossible. On such a question the appeal to human language, of which Aristotle is so fond, seems to be eminently suitable; and the verdict which it gives is overwhelming. There is probably no language, there is certainly no civilized language, which has no word to express the idea of sin. If sin is an illusion, how came the whole human race to believe in it, and to frame a word to express it? Can we point to any other word in universal, or even very general use, which nevertheless represents a mere chimera, believed in as real, but actually non-existent? And let us remember that this is no case in which self-interest, which so fatally warps our judgment, can have led the whole human race astray. Self-interest would lead us entirely in the opposite direction. There is no human being who would not enthusiastically welcome the belief that what seem to him to be grievous sins are no more a matter of reproach to him than the beatings of his heart or the winkings of his eyes. Sometimes the conscience-stricken offender, in his efforts to excuse his acts before the judgment-seat of his higher self, tries to believe this. Sometimes the Determinist philosopher endeavors to prove to him that he ought to believe it. But the stern facts of his own nature and the bitter outcome of all human experience are too strong for such attempts. In spite of all specious excuses, and all plausible statements of philosophic difficulties, his conscience and his consciousness compel him to confess, "It was my own lust that enticed me, and my own will that consented."

How serious St. James considers the error of attempting to make God responsible for our temptations is shown both by the earnest and affectionate insertion of "Be not deceived, my beloved brethren," and also by the pains which he takes to disprove the error. After having shown the true source of temptation, and explained the way in which sin and death are generated, he points out how incredible it is on other grounds that God should become a tempter. How can the Source of every good gift and every perfect boon be also a source of temptations to sin? How can the Father of lights be one who would lead away His creatures into darkness? If what we know of human nature ought to tell us whence temptations to sin are likely to come, what we know of God’s nature and of His dealings with mankind ought to tell us whence such things are not likely to come.

And He is far above those heavenly luminaries of which He is the Author. They are not always bright, and are therefore very imperfect symbols of His holiness. In their revolutions they are sometimes overshadowed. The moon is not always at the full, the sun is sometimes eclipsed, and the stars suffer changes in like manner. In Him there is no change, no loss of light, no encroachment of shadow. There is never a time at which one could say that through momentary diminution in holiness it had become possible for Him to become a tempter.

Nor are the brightness and beneficence which pervade the material universe the chief proofs of God’s goodness and of the impossibility of temptations to sin proceeding from Him. It was "of His own will" that He rescued mankind from the state of death into which their rebellious wills had brought them, and by a new revelation of Himself in "the Word of truth," i.e., the Gospel, brought them forth again, born anew as Christians, to be, like the firstborn under the Law, "a kind of first-fruits of His creatures."

When, therefore, we sum up all the known facts of the case, there is only one conclusion at which we can justly arrive. There is the nature of God, so far as it is known to us, utterly opposed to evil. There is the nature of man, as it has been debased by himself, constantly bringing forth evil. There is God’s goodness, as manifested in the creation of the universe and in the regeneration of man. It is a hopeless case to try to banish remorse by making God responsible for man’s temptations and sin.

There is only one way of getting rid of remorse, and that is to confess sin-to confess its reality, to confess it to God, and if need be to man. Noman ever yet succeeded in justifying himself by laying the blame of his sins on God. But he may do so by laying the sins themselves upon "the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world," and by washing his stained robes, "and making them white in the blood of the Lamb." That done, remorse will have no power over him; and instead of fruitlessly accusing God, and seeking vain substitutes for the service of God, he will humbly "give Him glory," and "serve Him day and night in His temple." [Revelation 7:15]

Verses 22-25

Chapter 9


James 1:22-25

HERE we reach what on the whole seems to be the main thought of the Epistle - the all-importance of Christian activity and service. The essential thing, without which other things, however good in themselves, become insignificant or worthless, or even mischievous, is conduct. Everything else, if not accompanied by practice, by avoiding evil and doing good, is vain. In Bishop Butler’s words, religion "does not consist in the knowledge and belief even of fundamental truth," but rather in our being brought "to a certain temper and behavior"; or as St. John puts it still more simply, only "he who doeth righteousness is righteous." Suffering injuries, poverty and temptations, hearing the Word, teaching the Word, faith, wisdom, [James 1:2; James 1:9; James 1:12; James 1:19; James 2:14-16; James 3:13-17] are all of them excellent; but if they are not accompanied by a holy life, a life of prayer and gentle words and good deeds, they are valueless.

There are two or three other leading thoughts, but they are all of them subordinated to this main thought of the necessity for Christian conduct as well as Christian belief and wisdom. One of these secondary thoughts has already been noticed more than once-the blessedness of enduring temptations and other trials; it is specially prominent in the first and last chapters. [James 1:2-4; James 1:12; James 5:7-11] Another of the secondary topics which have a prominent place in the letter is the peril of much speaking. It introduces and closes the section which lies immediately before us, [James 1:19; James 1:26] and it is dwelt upon at length in the third chapter. Yet a third topic which cannot fail to attract the attention of the reader is the preference given to the poor over the rich as regards their spiritual opportunities, and the stern warnings addressed to all those whose wealth leads them to become tyrannical. This subject is specially prominent in the first, second, and last chapters. [James 1:10-11; James 2:1-7; James 5:1-6] But all these matters are looked at from the point of view of Christian conduct and service. They are not in any one case the idea which binds together the whole Epistle, but they lead up to it and emphasize it. If we were to single out one verse as in a special way summing up the teaching of the whole letter, we could hardly find one more suitable for the purpose than the first of the four which stand at the head of the present chapter: "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves." It will be worth while to examine this simple and most practical exhortation somewhat in detail.

It is one of the many sayings in the Epistle which irresistibly remind us of the teaching of Jesus Christ; not as being a quotation from any of His recorded discourses, but as being an independent reproduction of the substance of His conversation by one who was quite familiar with it, but was not familiar with the written Gospels. Had the writer of this letter been well acquainted with any of the four Gospels, he could hardly have escaped being influenced by them, and the echoes of Christ’s teaching which we find in its pages would have been more closely in accordance with the reports of His words which they contain. This feature of the Epistle harmonizes well with its being written by the Lord’s brother, who must have been very familiar with the Lord’s teaching, and who wrote before A.D. 62, i.e., at a time when perhaps not one of our Gospels was written, and when certainly none of them can have had a very wide circulation. More will be said upon this point hereafter: for the present it suffices to point out the resemblance between this warning against the delusion of thinking that hearing without doing is of any avail, and the warning which closes the Sermon on the Mount: "Every one which heareth these words of Mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, which built his house upon the rock…And every one that heareth these words of Mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof". [Matthew 7:24-27]

"Be ye doers of the Word." Both verb and tense are remarkable ( γινεσθε): "Become doers of the Word." True Christian practice is a thing of growth; it is a process, and a process which has already begun, and is continually going on. We may compare, "Become ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves"; "Therefore [Matthew 10:16] become ye also ready"; [Matthew 24:44] and "Become not faithless, but believing". {John 20:27; where see Westcott’s note} "Become doers of the Word" is more expressive than "Be doers of the Word," and a good deal more expressive than "Do the Word." A "doer of the Word" ( ποιητηγου) is such by profession and practice; the phrase expresses a habit. But one who merely incidentally performs what is prescribed may be said to "do the Word." By the "Word" is meant what just before has been called the "implanted Word" and the "Word of truth" (James 1:18; James 1:21), and what in this passage is also called "the perfect law, the law of liberty" (James 1:25), i.e., the Gospel. The parable of the Sower illustrates in detail the meaning of becoming a habitual doer of the implanted Word.

"And not hearers only." The order of the words in the Greek is a little doubtful, the authorities being very much divided; but the balance is in favor of taking "only" closely with "hearers" ( μη ακροαταινον rather than μηνον ακροαται); "Be not such as are mere hearers and nothing more." The word for "hearer" occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, excepting in the singularly similar passage in the Epistle to the Romans, which is one of the passages that give support to the theory that either St. Paul had seen this Epistle, or St. James had seen St. Paul’s: "Not the hearers ( ακροαται) of a law are just before God, but the doers of a law shall be justified". [Romans 2:13] The verb ( ακροαομαι) does not occur in tile New Testament; but another cognate substantive ( ακροατηριον), meaning "a place of hearing," is found in the Acts 25:23. In classical Greek this group of words indicates attentive listening, especially in the case of those who attend the lectures of philosophers and the addresses of public speakers. It is thus used frequently in Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and Plutarch. It is somewhat too hastily concluded that there is nothing of this kind included either in this passage or in Romans 2:13. Possibly that is the very thing to which both St. James and St. Paul allude. St. James, in the address which he made to the so-called Council of Jerusalem, says, "Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath". [Acts 15:21] The Jews came with great punctiliousness to these weekly gatherings, and listened with much attention to the public reading and exposition of the Law; and too many of them thought that with that the chief part of their duty was performed. This habitual public testimony of respect for the Mosaic Law and the traditional interpretations of it, and this zeal to acquire a knowledge of its contents and an insight into its meaning, was the main portion of what was required of them. This, St. James tells them, is miserably insufficient, whether v-hat they hear be the Law or the Gospel, the Law with or without the illumination of the life of Christ "Being swift to hear" (James 1:19) and to understand is well, but "apart from works it is barren." It is the habitual practice in striving to do what is heard and understood that is of value. "Not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh" is blessed, and "blessed in his doing." To suppose that mere hearing brings a blessing is "deluding your own selves." Bede rightly quotes Revelation 1:3 in illustration: "Blessed are they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein."

The word here used for deluding ( παραλογιζομενοι) is found nowhere else in the New Testament, excepting in one passage m the Epistle to the Colossians, [Colossians 2:4] in which St. Paul warns them against allowing any one to "delude them with persuasiveness of speech." But the word is fairly common, both in ordinary Greek and in the Septuagint. Its meaning is to mislead with fallacious reasoning, and the substantive ( παραλογισμος) is the Aristotelian term for a fallacy. The word does not necessarily imply that the fallacious reasoning is known to be fallacious by those who employ it. To express that we should rather have the word which is used in 2 Peter 1:16 to characterize "cunningly devised fables" ( σεσοφισμενοι μυθοι). Here we are to understand that the victims of the delusion do not, although they might, see the worthlessness of the reasons upon which their self-contentment is based. It is precisely in this that the danger of their position lies. Self-deceit is the most subtle and fatal deceit. The mere knowledge of the law derived from their attentive listening to it does but increase their evil case, if they do not practice it. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin". [James 4:17]

The Jews have a saying that the man who hears without practicing is like a husbandman who ploughs and sows, but never reaps. Such an illustration, being taken from natural phenomena, would be quite in harmony with the manner of St. James; but he enforces his meaning by employing a far more striking illustration. He who is a hearer and not a doer "is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror." Almost all the words in this sentence are worthy of separate attention.

"Is like unto a man" ( εοικεν ανδρι). St. James uses the more definite word, which usually excludes women, and sometimes boys also. He does not say, "is like unto a person" ( ανθρωπω), which would have included both sexes and all ages. A somewhat quaint explanation has been suggested by Paes and adopted as probable elsewhere; viz., that men, as a rule, give only a passing look to themselves in the glass; whereas it is a feminine weakness to be fond of attentive observations. But it is fatal to this suggestion that the word here used for beholding ( κατανοειν) means to fix one’s mind upon, and consider attentively. It is the word used in "Consider the ravens," and "Consider the lilies". [Luke 12:24; Luke 12:27] Moreover, the Greeks sometimes do what we very frequently do in speaking of the human race; they employ the male sex as representative of both. This usage is found in the New Testament; e. g., "The queen of the South shall rise up in the judgment with the men ( των ανδρων) of this generation, and shall condemn them. The men ( ανδρες) of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment of this generation, and shall condemn it." [Luke 11:31-32] Here it is impossible that the women are not included. And this use of "man" ( ανηρ) in the sense of human being is specially common in St. James. We have it four times in this chapter (James 1:8; James 1:12; James 1:20; James 1:23), and again in the second (James 2:2) and third (James 3:2).

This man, then, attentively studies his natural face in a mirror. The words for "his natural face" literally mean "the face of his birth" ( τοσωπον της γενεσεως αυτου); i.e., the features with which he was born; and the mirror would be a piece of polished metal, which, however excellent, would not reflect the features with the clearness and fidelity of a modern looking-glass. Hence the necessity for attentive observation, the result of which is that the man recognizes his own face beyond all question. But what follows? "He beheld himself, and he has gone away, and he straightway forgot what manner of man he was." The perfect tense between two aorists gives a lively simplicity to the narration ( κατενοησεν . . . απεληλιθεν . . . επελαθετο). This is represented as a common case, though not an invariable one. Most of us know our own features sufficiently well to recognize them in a good representation of them, but do not carry in our minds a very accurate image of them. But what has all this to do with being hearers, and not doers, of the Word?

The spoken or written Word of God is the mirror. When we hear it preached, or study it for ourselves, we can find the reflection of ourselves in it, our temptations and weaknesses, our failings and sins, the influences of God’s Spirit upon us, and the impress of His grace. It is here that we notice one marked difference between the inspiration of the sacred writers and the inspiration of the poet and the dramatist. The latter show us other people to the life; Scripture shows us ourselves.

"Our mirror is a blessed book, Where out from each illumined page We see one glorious image look, All eyes to dazzle and engage,"

"The Son of God; and that indeed We see Him as He is we know, Since in the same bright glass we read The very life of things below."

"Eye of God’s Word, where’er we turn Ever upon us I thy keen gaze Can all the depths of sin discern, Unravel every bosom’s maze."

"Who that has felt thy glance of dread Thrill through his heart’s remotest cells, About his path, about his bed, Can doubt what Spirit in thee dwells?"

Keble’s metaphor is somewhat more elaborate than St. James’s. He represents the Bible as a mirror, out of which the reflected image of the Son of God looks upon us and reads our inmost selves. St. James supposes that in the mirror we see ourselves reflected. But the thought is the same, that through hearing or reading God s Word our knowledge of our characters is quickened. But does this quickened knowledge last? Does it lead to action, or influence our conduct? Too often we leave the church or our study, and the impression produced by the recognition of the features of our own case is obliterated. "We straightway forget what manner of men we are," and the insight which has been granted to us into our own true selves is just one more wasted experience.

But this need not be so, and in some cases a very different result may be noticed. Instead of merely looking attentively for a short time, he may stoop down and pore over it. Instead of forthwith going away, he may continue in the study of it. And instead of straightway forgetting, he may prove a mindful doer that worketh. Thus the three parts of the two pictures are made exactly to balance. The word for "looking into" is an interesting one ( παρακυπτειν). It indicates bending forward to examine earnestly. It is used of Peter looking into the sepulcher; [Luke 24:12] a verse of doubtful genuineness and of Mary Magdalene doing the same; [John 20:11] and of the angels desiring to look into heavenly mysteries. [1 Peter 1:12] He who does this recognizes God’s Word as being "the perfect law, the law of liberty." The two things are the same. It is-when the law is seen to be perfect that it is found to be the law of liberty. So long as the law is not seen in the beauty of its perfection, it is not loved, and men either disobey it or obey it by constraint and unwillingly. It is then a law of bondage. But when its perfection is recognized men long to conform to it; and they obey, not because they must, but because they choose. To do what one likes is freedom, and they like to obey. It is in this way that the moral law of the Gospel becomes "the law of liberty," not by imposing fewer obligations than the moral law of the Jew or of the Gentile, but by infusing into the hearts of those who welcome it a disposition and a desire to obey. Christian liberty is never license. It is not the relaxation of needful restraints, but the spontaneous acceptance of them as excellent in themselves and beneficial to those who observe them. It is the difference between a code imposed by another, and a constitution voluntarily adopted. To be made to work for one whom one fears is slavery and misery; to choose to work for one whom one loves is freedom and happiness. The Gospel has not abolished the moral law; it has supplied a new and adequate motive for fulfilling it.

"Being not a hearer that forgetteth." Literally, "having become not a hearer of forgetfulness" ( ουκ ακροατημενος); i.e., having by practice come to be a hearer, who is characterized, not by forgetfulness of what he hears, gut by attentive performance of it. The unusual word "forgetfulness" occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, nor in classical Greek; but it is found in Ecclesiasticus (11:27), "The affliction of an hour causeth forgetfulness of pleasure"; and this adds a trifle to the evidence that St. James was acquainted with that book. "A hearer of forgetfulness" exactly balances, both in form and in thought, "a doer of work"; and this is well brought out by the Revisers, who turn both genitives by a relative clause: "a hearer that forgetteth," and "a doer that worketh." The Authorized Version is much less happy: "a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work." There is no article in the Greek, and the translation of one genitive by an adjective, and of the other by a genitive, is unfortunate. "A doer of work" ( ποιητης εργου). or "a doer that worketh," is an expression that emphasizes just what St. James wishes to emphasise, viz., the necessity of actively practicing what is attentively heard. "A doer" would have sufficed, but "a doer that worketh" makes the idea of habitual action still more prominent.

"This man shall be blessed in his doing" ( εν τη ποιησει). Once more we have a word which is found nowhere else in the New Testament, but occurs in Sirach 19:20, and with much the same meaning as here: "All wisdom is fear of the Lord; and in all wisdom there is doing of the law" ( ποιησις νομου). The correspondence between the meaning of St. James and the meaning of the son of Sirach is very close. Mere knowledge without performance is of little worth: it is in the doing that a blessing can be found.

The danger against which St. James warns the Jewish Christians of the Dispersion is as pressing now as it was-when he wrote. Never was there a time when interest in the Scriptures was more keen or more widely spread, especially among the educated classes; and never was there a time when greater facilities for gratifying this interest abounded. Commentaries, expositions, criticisms, introductions, helps of all kinds, - exegetical, homiletic, historical, and textual, -suitable both for learned and unlearned students, multiply year by year. But it is much to be feared that with many of us the interest in the sacred writings which is thus roused and fostered remains to a very large extent a literary interest. We are much more eager to know all about God’s Word than from it to learn His will respecting ourselves, that we may do it; to prove that a book is genuine than to practice what it enjoins. We study Lives of Christ, but we do not follow the life of Christ. We pay Him the empty homage of an intellectual interest in His words and works, but we do not the things which He says. We throng and press Him in our curiosity, but we obtain no blessing, because in all our hearing and learning there is no true wisdom, no fear of the Lord, and no doing of His Word.


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on James 1:1". "Expositor's Bible Commentary".

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