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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

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Chapter 5

Book Overview - James

The following words used by St James are not found elsewhere in the N.T.: βρύειν, γέλως, ἐνάλιος, θρησκός, πικρός, προσωπολημπτεῖν, σήπειν, ἐξέλκειν, βσή, ἐπιτήδειος, ἔοικε, κατιοῦν, κατοικίζειν, κενῶς, μαραίνειν, ταλαιπωρεῖν, ὁμοίωσις, ταχύς.—Mayor’s St James, 191.



THE Greek Text upon which the Commentaries in this Series are based has been formed on the following principles: Wherever the texts of Tischendorf and Tregelles agree, their readings are followed: wherever they differ from each other, but neither of them agrees with the Received Text as printed by Scrivener, the consensus of Lachmann with either is taken in preference to the Received Text: in all other cases the Received Text as printed by Scrivener is followed. It must be added, however, that in the Gospels those alternative readings of Tregelles, which subsequently proved to have the support of the Sinaitic Codex, have been considered as of the same authority as readings which Tregelles has adopted in his text.

In the Commentaries an endeavour has been made to explain the uses of words and the methods of construction, as well as to give substantial aid to the student in the interpretation and illustration of the text.

The General Editor does not hold himself responsible except in the most general sense for the statements made and the interpretations offered by the various contributors to this Series. He has not felt that it would be right for him to place any check upon the expression of individual opinion, unless at any point matter were introduced which seemed to be out of harmony with the character and scope of the Series.



February, 1893.




I. External Evidence of Authenticity

THE Epistle of St James has not been admitted into the Canon of the New Testament without dispute. The most important early testimony in regard to its authenticity is found in Eusebius, H. E. II. 23, where, after citing accounts of James the Lord’s brother from various authorities, the historian adds that to him is attributed the first of the Epistles called Catholic, but that it is regarded by some as spurious, not many of the ancient writers having mentioned either this Epistle or that which is attributed to Jude, although they were both publicly read in the Churches. Further on, in another passage containing a list of the Scriptures which are acknowledged (ὁμολογούμενα) as well as of those whose authenticity is disputed (ἀντιλεγόμενα), the Epistle of St James is included in the latter group: τῶν δʼ ἀντιλεγομένων, γνωρίμεν δʼ οὖν ὅμως τοῖς πολλοῖς, ἡ λεγομένη Ἰακώβου φέρεται καὶ ἡ Ἰούδα. Eus. H. E. III. 25.

On this testimony it may be remarked that the doubt as to the authenticity of the Epistle seems to have arisen not from any improbability of the alleged authorship, or from erroneous doctrine contained in it, but from the absence of citation by succeeding writers. But this is a fact quite capable of explanation in the case of an Epistle singularly free from controversial subjects and addressed to Jewish Christians, a community which shortly afterwards was either absorbed into the Churches of Gentile Christians, or became discredited by a lapse partly into Gnosticism, partly into a form of Christianity hardly distinguishable from Judaism.

In the catalogue of the Canonical books called the Muratorian Fragment, a document belonging to the end of the second century, the Epistle of St James is omitted. It is however found in the Syriac and ‘Egyptian versions (with regard to which see below p. xlvii), and in the lists of Origen (†A.D. 254), Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 348), Gregory of Nazianzus (c. A.D. 381), Athanasius in his 39th Festal Letter (A.D. 367), in those of the Councils of Laodicea (A.D. 363) and Carthage (A.D. 397), and of the so-called Apostolic Canons. The authenticity of the Epistle is also recognised in the writings of St Jerome and St Augustine.

More important than the testimony cited above are the undoubted traces of this Epistle to be found in Clement of Rome (Ep. to Corinthians, A.D. 95; see c. 23, c. 30, c. 33), in the Didaché, written probably early in the second century (see ii. 4, iv. 3, iv. 14 and other passages cited by Mayor, p. liii), and in Hermas, who wrote his allegorical work not much later. The presence of St James’s influence in Hermas appears in a most interesting way, not so much by direct quotation as by a pervading sense of his teaching which penetrates the whole book, together with a constant use of his most characteristic terminology. A significant instance of this is the frequent occurrence of δίψυχος, διψυχία, διψυχεῖν, words highly characteristic of St James but rare elsewhere. No one can read The Shepherd without feeling how great an impression the Epistle of St James had made on the writer’s mind.

References to the Epistle are also discernible in the writings of Barnabas (c. A.D. 95), Ignatius (c. A.D. 115), and Polycarp (c. A.D. 155).

Such evidence enables us to trace the existence of this Epistle to the beginning of the post-Apostolic age. And if this be so it is hardly conceivable that at that early epoch any Christian writer would have ventured to put forth a forged epistle in the name and with the authority of St James. On the whole the external evidence leads us to infer that the Epistle, at first better known in the East than in the West, gradually won its way into full recognition by the Church, and in the fourth century was placed without question in all the authorised catalogues of the Canonical books.

II. Internal Evidence of Authenticity

But if there are points of weakness in the external testimony to the genuineness of the Epistle, the internal evidence is unusually strong and convincing in favour of the authorship of St James the Lord’s brother, in accordance with the traditional view stated by Eusebius1[1].

[1] The relationship of the ‘Brethren of the Lord’ to Jesus

The force of this evidence can be best appreciated by a survey of St James’s life, of his relations to our Lord, of his position in the Church, and of the time and circumstances in which we may suppose the Epistle to have been written.

But two questions still remain: (a) whether James or Jacob the Lord’s brother is to be identified with any one of those who bear the same name in the Gospel narrative, and (b) what relationship to the Lord is indicated by the term ‘brother.’

The two questions are intimately connected and may be discussed together, for the identification of James the Lord’s brother with James the son of Alphæus, and possibly also with James the son of Clopas, would probably never have been suggested except for the purpose of supporting one of the three theories respecting the relationship of the brethren of the Lord to Jesus, which may now be stated.

[2] Early opinions on the subject

Up to the fourth century after Christ two opposing views were held. By the great majority of Christian writers it was maintained that the Mother of the Lord remained ever Virgin, and that the Brethren of the Lord, whose names are given in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3), were sons of Joseph by a former marriage.

The other opinion was that the word ἀδελφοί was used in the ordinary sense of brothers, and that ‘the brethren of the Lord’ were sons of Joseph and Mary, and younger brothers of Jesus. The fact that this view, although apparently the more natural and obvious one, received but little support among the more ancient Christian writers creates a strong presumption against it.

[3] Another view put forward in the fourth century

Towards the close of the fourth century, however, a fresh suggestion was made. It was a time when the subject of celibacy was keenly disputed in the Church. And the assumed fact that sons and daughters were born to Joseph and Mary was urged strongly against the more rigorous defenders of a celibate life. This assumption therefore was opposed with great force by St Jerome, who himself put forth a third and new hypothesis as to the relationship of the Brethren of the Lord.

By this hypothesis ‘the brethren’ were first cousins of the Lord, being sons of Mary wife of Clopas, who was according to this theory, and by a possible inference from S. John 19:25, a sister of the Virgin Mary. A further identification, etymologically possible, between Clopas and Alphæus (which was not however made by Jerome himself) would give the result that James the son of Alphæus, James ‘the little’ (ὁ μικρός, Mark 15:40), and James the brother of the Lord were one and the same person.

The view was further strengthened by supposing the expression, Ἰούδας Ἰακώβου, which occurs in the lists of the Apostles, Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13, to mean Judas brother of James. For then James the son of Alphæus (or Clopas) is shewn to have brethren named Judas and Joses, the three names corresponding to those of the names of the ‘Brethren of the Lord.’

[4] Arguments against this view

Apart from the novelty of this view, in itself a considerable objection, the extreme improbability of two sisters bearing the same name seems to be fatal to it. The theory also involves a strain on the meaning of ἀδελφοί, for even if ἀδελφοί be used to signify ‘cousins,’ it is most improbable that St Paul would employ the word ἀδελφός with that signification in the singular number to indicate the relationship of St James to our Lord.

As to the identification of Alphæus with Clopas, and consequently that of James the son of Alphæus with James the son of Mary and Clopas, one argument adduced in support of it by the translation of Ἰούδας Ἰακώβου by ‘Judas the brother of James’ is, to say the least, extremely doubtful. But a more serious objection against this identification of James the son of Alphæus and James the Lord’s brother lies in the statement of St John, (John 7:5) that ‘even His brethren did not believe on Him,’ which precludes the possibility of any of the Lord’s brethren being among the number of the Twelve. This being so, the identification of Clopas with Alphæus, which, as stated above, was not recognised by Jerome himself, would weaken rather than strengthen his theory.

In addition to these arguments it may be said that the close and intimate relation in which ‘the brethren’ stand to the Mother of the Lord is wholly against the probability of St Jerome’s hypothesis.

If then, we reject the ingenious hypothesis of St Jerome, which would probably never have been advanced except for the purpose of controversy, the dispute must continue to lie between the antagonistic views which were opposed to each other before Jerome’s argument was put forward.

[5] Argument in favour of the view that the ‘Brethren’ were sons of Joseph and not of Mary

And although the dispute is one which admits of no certain solution, the theory that the brethren of the Lord were sons of Joseph and not of Mary has the support of a very ancient and scarcely contradicted tradition in its favour. The very existence of such a tradition in spite of what seems to be the more obvious meaning of the Evangelist’s words is in itself strong evidence for its truth. For it cannot be said that the tradition originated from a desire to exalt the virtue of celibacy, although it was undoubtedly used for that purpose in the fourth century.

It is a theory which gives a natural meaning to the term ἀδελφοί. Indeed those who were regarded as half brothers of our Lord could be designated by no other term, as is shewn by the familiar instances of the twelve patriarchs, who are repeatedly called brethren, though sons of different mothers.

Again, the allusions to the brethren of the Lord in connexion with Jesus tend to the inference that they were older rather than younger ‘brethren.’ The phrase ‘Thy mother and thy brethren seek thee’ (Matthew 12:47) seems to suggest authority in the brethren as well as in the mother. The more natural explanation of the references to the brethren in the Synoptic Gospels is that they were better known, and therefore older than Jesus: ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters are they not all with us?’ (Matthew 13:55-56 Comp. Mark 6:3.) And the unbelief of the brethren mentioned by St John (John 11:25) suits the natural disregard by the older sons of a younger brother’s opinion or claims.

But perhaps the argument which weighs most against the nearer relationship of the brethren is that which is drawn from our Lord’s words from the Cross, in which He committed His mother into the charge of John the son of Zebedee. It is improbable that Jesus would have withdrawn His mother from the natural protection of her own sons if that close tie had existed. But if we suppose that the sons of Zebedee were first cousins of our Lord, the relationship was closer with John than with ‘the brethren,’ who (according to this view) were not strictly speaking related.

The evidence of the Apocryphal gospels sustains the hypothesis that ‘the brethren’ were sons of Joseph born before his espousals with Mary; and this evidence is so far valuable that it points to the current opinion in the second and third centuries after Christ[2].

The objection has been raised: How could our Lord through Joseph have been the heir to David’s throne (according to the genealogies) if Joseph had elder sons? A sufficient answer is that the succession among the Jews was not always carried on through the elder son. There are conspicuous examples to the contrary in Bible history—Jacob himself, David and Solomon are instances. The principle is stated in the words of Jehu, ‘Choose out the fittest of your master’s sons.’ It has also been asked what became of the six young motherless children when Joseph and the Virgin first went to Bethlehem, then to Egypt; and why are the elder sons not mentioned on the occasion of the visit to the Temple? The answer to the first question is that there were near relations in Galilee, and that the absence of Joseph and the Virgin was unexpectedly prolonged; the answer to the second is that there was no occasion to mention the elder brethren if they had been in Jerusalem, but that the occasion was a special one for Jesus, Who might therefore have come alone with His mother and Joseph. See Edersheim, Life of Jesus the Messiah, vol. I. p. 364.

If the opinion be adopted that Jesus was younger than ‘the brethren,’ interest is added to the parallel between the position of Jesus in the family at Nazareth and that of Joseph among the sons of Jacob, and of David among the sons of Jesse. In each case there are traces of wonder and jealousy in the choice of the younger son.

[6] The childhood of St James and the influence of the home at Nazareth

But even if it be admitted that the brethren of the Lord were not kinsmen according to the flesh, their relationship to Joseph and their close association with Mary and her divine Son which is apparent in the Gospel record, would bring them under the same educational influences in which the child Jesus grew up.

It is these influences which in their depth and subtilty form a part of the link between the mind of Christ and the words and thoughts of James. For the life and teaching of Christ were the outcome of those silent years of education in which He increased in wisdom. And in those years the brethren of the Lord must have known Him as no other men knew Him. And when conversion revealed the full meaning of that close intercourse to James and his brethren, words, looks, thoughts and acts must have come back with all the vividness of early impressions.

It is this subtle infusion and penetration of Christ in St James’s character which gives an indefinable force to his teaching. It is probably rather to these recollections of intercourse and interchange of thought in youth and early manhood than to express quotations that the parallelism is due between St James’s writings and the Sermon on the Mount.

What these influences were we partly learn from the opening chapters of St Luke’s Gospel, which present to us, as closely associated with the early life of Jesus, a group of pious Israelites whose hearts had been divinely prepared for the revelation of the Messiah. Simeon, with evident reference to Isaiah 40, was waiting for the consolation (παράκλησιν) of Israel; Anna, a prophetess, spake of the child Jesus to all them that were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). The hymn of Mary brings into prominence two leading Messianic thoughts—the exaltation of the meek and lowly and the unitedness of Israel—and Zacharias connects the Messianic hope with the house of David with the oath sworn to Abraham, and with the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles (Luke 1:79); and His last thought is emphasized in the Song of Simeon. Two other characteristics are discernible in this part of St Luke’s Gospel as belonging to that circle which immediately surrounded the infant Saviour, both of them features of the religious life of Israel which were largely developed in the post-Exile period, one of these is ‘righteousness,’ the other ‘wisdom.’

Righteousness in the technical post-Exile sense (see Deuteronomy 6:25) consisted in an exact and scrupulous performance of the requirements of the Law. It was the corner-stone on which the whole system of Judaism was reared. It was in virtue of his righteousness that James was called ‘the Just’ (ὁ δίκαιος); it is expressly attributed to his father Joseph (δίκαιος ὤν, St Matthew 1:19), and to Zacharias and Elisabeth (δίκαιοι ἀμφότεροι ἐναντίον τοῦ θεοῦ, πορευόμενοι ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐντολαῖς καὶ δικαιώμασιν τοῦ κυρίου ἄμεμπτοι, Luke 1:6); it appears in the offering at the circumcision of Jesus, and in the visit to Jerusalem for the Passover, and in the words of Jesus at His baptism: οὕτω γὰρ πρέπον ἐστὶν ἡμῖν πληρῶσαι πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην, Matthew 3:15.

Another religious and intellectual conception which filled a large space in the thought of the post-Exile period, and which indeed created a literature of its own, was the conception of wisdom, in its highest sense closely identified with the creative power of God, but extending over the whole field of human knowledge.

A further marked characteristic in the circumstances of the Nativity distinguishing the family and kinsfolk of Jesus, and those in closest sympathy with them, is the revival of the Hebrew poetical genius which produced the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc dimittis, and which appears repeatedly in a form of supreme beauty in the words of Jesus. But all these thoughts of the kingdom, these hopes, aspirations, religious tendencies, and intellectual gifts which surrounded and inspired the childhood of Jesus must also have influenced the spiritual growth of St James. The effect is visible in the Epistle, when, apart from the close and special parallelism to the words of Jesus, the thoughts of this gospel of the childhood are also traceable: as e.g. the unity of Israel[3], implied in the greeting with which the Epistle opens; the excellence of wisdom (σοφία), ch. James 1:5, James 3:15; the reverence for the Law; the exaltation of the poor, the attribute of peace, St Luke 1:73; Luke 2:14 (comp. St James 3:18); and above all the gift of poetical expression conspicuously present in this Epistle. See infra p. xli.

That this nomenclature cannot have been accidental appears from the fact that three out of those named appear in the group of friends and disciples who immediately surrounded Jesus, and in comparatively few instances beyond that group. Of the twelve Apostles, two are named Simon, two Judas, and two James or Jacob.

[7] The unbelief of the ‘Brethren’ during our Lord’s Ministry

Soon after Jesus entered on His ministry Nazareth ceased to be His home. He left His mother and His brethren ‘for the sake of the Gospel.’ In John 2:12, we read that after the miracle in Cana He ‘went down to Capernaum, he and his mother and his brethren and his disciples: and there they abode not many days.’ But when Jesus returned from Judæa (John 4:43; John 4:54), and revisited Nazareth, He was rejected by His fellow-townsmen (Luke 4:16-30), after which He made Capernaum His home (Matthew 4:13; Luke 4:31).

The reason for this separation from His kinsfolk may be traced in His answer to one who told Him that His mother and His brethren desired to speak with Him: “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:47-50; Mark 3:32-35; Luke 8:20-21). The tone of rebuke for unbelief discernible here is intensified even to indignation on the occasion of a second visit to Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58; Mark 6:1-6), when His own brethren having joined in the rejection of Jesus, He exclaimed, “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house”: St Mark (Mark 6:4) adds: “He marvelled because of their unbelief.” This prepares us for the explicit statement in St John 7:2-10, “Even his brethren did not believe on him” (οὐδὲ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπίστευον εἰς αὐτόν); the tense indicates the persistent unbelief.

The passage, however, shews continued intercourse between Jesus and His brethren, while indicating a profound difference in religious position, and inability on their part to recognise Christ or to understand His work: “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” The context marks the intention of Jesus to be independent of His brethren, in action—which like elder brethren they endeavoured to control. The answer to them is the same in effect as the answer to Mary at the marriage in Cana. Comp. John 7:8, with John 2:4.

[8] The Conversion of St James

We now pass to the days which followed the Resurrection. When the Eleven Apostles were gathered together after the Ascension the brethren of the Lord were with them (Acts 1:14). A momentous change had taken place in their spiritual lives, of which very little is said in Holy Scripture. One expression, however, of St Paul explains everything. Speaking of the risen Lord St Paul writes (1 Corinthians 15:7): “then he appeared unto James; then to all the apostles.” The result of that appearance of the risen Lord was a changed life and a changed belief. James was received without hesitation among the number of believers; and shortly afterwards we find him occupying the highest position in the Church at Jerusalem. “He was,” says Eusebius (H. E. II. 1), “the first to be entrusted with the See (θρόνον) of the Church in Jerusalem.”

A strange tradition is preserved in The Gospel according to the Hebrews that the Lord went to James and appeared unto him, for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour wherein he had drunk the cup of the Lord, until he saw Him rising again from the dead … bring a table and bread … and he took up the bread and blessed and broke and afterward gave to James the Just, and said to him, ‘My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of Man is risen from them that sleep.’ (Nicholson, The Gospel according to the Hebrews, pp. 66–68.)

From the great difficulty of supposing the presence of James the brother of the Lord at the Last Supper, Bishop Lightfoot has suggested that the true reading is Dominus not Domini, the familiarity of the expression ‘the cup of the Lord’ having misled the scribe. In that case the words would be, “wherein the Lord had drunk the cup.” (Lightfoot’s Galatians, p. 266.)

The tradition may contain a substratum of truth. Substantially indeed it falls in with St Paul’s record of the Lord’s appearance to St James referred to above.

[9] Position in the Church of Jerusalem

The circumstances of St James’s election to the presidency or bishopric of the Church in Jerusalem are not narrated in the Bible. But it is not difficult to conjecture the motives which led to the choice. The brother of the Lord had now become a believer, he had been honoured by a special revelation from the risen Christ: he had already gained a reputation for sanctity of life both among the disciples and the Jews[4]. The rest would follow naturally. His near kinship to the Lord—possibly the nature of the communication when He appeared to His ‘brother’—possibly a resemblance of voice and manner and looks such as is found in those who have been associated from childhood—would combine to give to St James an authority and position in the Church which would be tacitly and unhesitatingly admitted by all the brethren.

[10] His great influence

The few direct references to St James in the Acts and Epistles point to his leading position in the Church. The news of St Peter’s release from prison is sent expressly and at once to “James and the brethren” (Acts 12:17). He presides and pronounces the decision at the Conference held at Jerusalem on the admission of Gentiles to the Church (Acts 15:13-21); and again at a gathering of the brethren, to receive a report of St Paul’s mission work, the preeminence of St James is indicated by the language of St Luke: “And on the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present” (Acts 21:18). In Galatians 2:9, St James is named before Cephas and John as one of those “who were reputed to be pillars.” In this passage the division of mission work is named, “that we (Paul and Barnabas) should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the Circumcision.” An injunction very characteristic of St James is added: “Only they would that we should remember the poor.”

The passage shews complete agreement between the two great leaders, St James and St Paul, and is also quite in harmony with the decision of the Conference at Jerusalem (Acts 15:18). The expression however in Acts 15:12 of the same chapter of Galatians, τινὰς ἀπὸ Ἰακώβου, and the incident which follows, seem to point to a deepening difference between the Jewish and Gentile divisions of the Christian Church. The words, however, have been unduly pressed, and it is quite possible that the envoys or disciples of St James may have gone far beyond St James’s own views in their language and acts.

[11] His ascetic life

Some further particulars of St James’s life are recorded in a fragment of Hegesippus preserved in Eusebius (H. E. II. 23), “He was holy from his mother’s womb, he drank not wine nor strong drink (σίκερα, Heb. שֵׁכָר: comp. St Luke 1:15), nor did he eat flesh; no razor came to his head, nor did he anoint himself with oil, nor use the bath. To him alone was it permitted to enter the holy place, for his clothing was of linen, not of wool. Alone he used to go into the temple (ναόν) and would be found upon his knees praying for the remission of his people’s sins, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel through continuously bending them in the worship of God. On account of his exceeding righteousness he used to be called δίκαιος καὶ ὠβλίας.” The meaning of the second word is explained to be περιοχὴ τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ δικαιοσύνη.

[12] His death

In the end the Scribes and Pharisees finding that the faith of Christ greatly increased through the preaching of St James, persuaded him to stand on the pinnacle of the Temple, in the hope that he would there dissuade the people, from following the Crucified One. St James, however, cried with a loud voice: “ ‘Why ask ye me concerning Jesus the Son of Man? He is seated in Heaven on the right hand of the mighty power, and He will come on the clouds of heaven.’ Thereupon they flung down the Just One, and then stoned him, since he was not killed by the fall. Then he turned and knelt, saying, ‘I beseech thee, Lord God, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Then one of the priests of the sons of Rechab cried saying, ‘Cease, what are ye doing? the Just One prayeth for us.’ And then one of them, a fuller, took the club with which he beat the clothes and smote the Just One on the head. And in that manner did James suffer martyrdom.” Hegesippus adds: “And they buried him in the place beside the Sanctuary (τῷ ναῷ).”

There is no reason to doubt the substantial accuracy of this account. The narrative is natural and unforced and describes a death in harmony with what is known of the life of St James.

[13] Agreement of the Contents of the Epistle with the above facts

Tested by the features and incidents of that life which are known to us, the internal evidence for the authenticity of the Epistle is both strong and subtle. Strong in direct harmony with acknowledged circumstances of his life, and subtle in undesigned coincidence with position and antecedents.

Of the topics of the Epistle, some are precisely such points as might have been referred to the Bishop of the Church in Jerusalem, points on which direction from him might have been expected. Some of them irresistibly recall the spirit of religious thought which pervades the utterances of the group of pious Jews to which the holy family belonged. Among these are the praise of wisdom, the doom of the proud, the excellence of poverty, the indifference to external rank. Other expressions again suggest, without verbally repeating, the teaching of the Lord Jesus in such a way as to indicate the result of long familiar intercourse rather than the express reproduction of a scholar. Other features of the Epistle reflect the personal character of the author. The ascetic tone—the contempt of riches—the sense of freedom and of spiritual independence—the stern attitude towards the rich oppressor—the pious belief in the efficacy of prayer—the joy in conversions.

An argument against the authenticity of the Epistle has been drawn from the excellence and originality of the Greek style in which it is written. But such an argument implies a preconception of the possibilities of learning available for James, which does not rest on evidence. At the same time the perfection of the style has been exaggerated. Full of force and vigour it undoubtedly is—words and phrases are admirably suited to the exact expression of the ideas intended to be conveyed. But the form and idiom are for the most part Hebraic. There is an absence of the more delicate uses of Greek construction, and certainly an absence of that facility of expression and idiomatic usage which are characteristic of a writer using his native tongue.

The subject-matter and some features in the style of the Epistle may be explained by the position held by St James and the circumstances of the time.

We have seen that it was to St James that the news of St Peter’s escape from prison was first conveyed, and that when St Paul went up to Jerusalem after his conversion he saw none of the Apostles except Cephas and James the brother of the Lord. Again, when St Paul revisited Jerusalem on his return from Greece and Macedonia St Luke tells us that, ‘on the day following he went in with us unto James, and all the elders were present’ (Acts 21:17). What was done by St Paul must have been done by thousands of Christians who came up to Jerusalem. Bishops and Elders from distant Churches would find that the greatest interest of a visit to Jerusalem centered in the person of the Lord’s brother. Every question concerning the welfare of the Church, every dispute in doctrine, each instance of persecution or suffering would be referred to the Bishop of Jerusalem.

In these circumstances it would be natural to expect from St James an authoritative message to distant communities of Jewish Christians such as this Epistle contains. There is a certain abruptness of style, an absence of introduction and of constructive links between the topics treated of which would be naturally characteristic in a letter written, not as a treatise on Christian doctrine, but in answer to appeals made from a distance to a central living authority. The variety and range of subjects and the emphasis laid on special points may well be due to the same cause.

[14] Recent objections to the authenticity of the Epistle noticed

From the fifth century downwards the claim of this Epistle to Apostolic authority was scarcely questioned, until in the 16th century the early doubts were revived on entirely different grounds. In his prolegomena to the New Testament (A.D. 1522) Luther terms the Epistle of St James, ‘an Epistle of straw’ (eine recht strohende Epistel), partly [1] because of its supposed antagonism to Pauline doctrine and its assertion of righteousness by works, partly [2] because of the absence of such important topics as the sufferings, the death, the resurrection and the ascension of Christ. It is shewn below (ch. 5) that the first of these objections rests on a misconception of St James’s argument and its relation to St Paul’s teaching. [2] The argument from omission is always precarious and in this case the circumstances in which the Epistle originated would fully account for the omissions noticed by Luther.

More recent criticism has laid stress on: [1] the difficulty of finding an occasion for the Epistle: why, it is asked, should St James have written to the Dispersion? [2] the improbability that St James, the Lord’s brother, should have written in opposition to St Paul; [3] the supposed inconsistency between St James 2:25 and Hebrews 11:31; [4] the improbability that a Galilean peasant like St James should possess the power of writing in the Greek style of this Epistle.

The answer to these questions will, it is hoped, be found in the foregoing remarks. On [3] it may be added that there is no real opposition between righteousness by faith and righteousness by works that spring from faith.

On the whole the ancient tradition may be confidently reaffirmed. The weakness of the external evidence is more apparent than real, and the internal testimony is indisputably strong and cogent.



IF we admit the validity of the argument for the authenticity of this Epistle the question of date is confined to a narrow limit of time. Nevertheless it is important to determine, if possible, whether St James wrote before or after the Epistles of St Paul had become widely known in the Church, as this is a point which bears on the exegesis of the Epistle: and further whether he wrote before or after the great Conference held in Jerusalem A.D. 52, in regard to the admission of the Gentiles into the Christian Church.

There are two considerations which point to a very early date for the Epistle:—[1] the Judaic type of Christianity apparent in it; [2] the absence of controversy on subjects which came into dispute about the time of the Conference in Jerusalem or soon afterwards.

1. It may be safely asserted that, for some years after the memorable Day of Pentecost and the birth of the Christian Church, there was no visible and external separation between the disciples of Christ and the Jewish community. The Christians still worshipped in the Temple and in the synagogues, and practised circumcision.

In this the first disciples followed the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, who uniformly taught in the synagogues, or in the Temple, and with His fellow-countrymen observed the appointed feasts and ordinances of the Law.

St Paul himself, to whom the Apostleship to the Gentiles was divinely entrusted, was no exception to this rule. In every city which he visited in the course of his missionary journeys he resorted in the first instance to the synagogues of the Jews (Acts 13:14 ff; Acts 15:1 ff; Acts 16:13; Acts 17:1; Acts 17:10; Acts 18:4). Moreover when the larger infusion of Gentile converts had excited the wrathful jealousy of the Jewish Christians (Acts 21:20), St Paul by the advice of St James and the other Apostles took certain men who were under a vow, and “purifying himself with them went into the temple, declaring the fulfilment of the days of purification, until the offering was offered for every one of them” (Acts 21:26); thus purposely and conspicuously declaring his adherence to the ancient rites.

It is clear then that even after the Conference at Jerusalem A.D. 52, the Jewish converts as distinct from the Gentiles were expected to observe exact conformity with the Law. Before that Council, and at the period in which we are disposed to place the date of this Epistle, the Church in Jerusalem must have consisted almost entirely of converts from Judaism among whom the question of separation from their brethren had not yet been stirred.

Such was the condition of the Judæo-Christian Church over which St James presided and from which the Jewish communities of the Eastern Dispersion derived their Christianity. It may be noted that this phase of Christianity was not destined to last long. At the date when the Epistle to the Hebrews was written the Christian Church appears at any rate to have been dissociated from the Temple services, and the fall of Jerusalem finally broke the link between Judaism and the form of Christianity allied with it. What remained of Judæo-Christianity lapsed into Ebionism and various forms of heresy.

The very circumstance of the limited duration of Judæo-Christianity serves to fix the date of the Epistle to St James; if our contention be correct, that it was addressed to a Christian community whose relations with Judaism were still close, and at a time when Christianity had not been generally recognised as hostile to the synagogue and Temple worship.

One specially interesting indication of the early epoch in the history of Christianity at which the Epistle was written is the occurrence of the word ‘synagogue’ to denote the Christian place of assembly (ch. James 2:2). Nothing is more natural than that, in the circumstances which we have sketched, the new brotherhood should form synagogues of its own. This was no unusual thing. Hundreds of small communities in Judaism had separate synagogues. The Rabbinical writers counted 480 of these in Jerusalem alone: and, although the number may be exaggerated, the fact that small bodies of Jews like the Libertines and the Cyrenians had their own synagogues in Jerusalem confirms the substantial truth of the statement (see Acts 6:9).

The Christian synagogue would answer precisely to the meeting place of one of these Jewish communities. In its main features the service would follow the pattern of the Jewish synagogue ritual. Indeed traces are discernible in the 2nd chapter of the Acts of the formation of such a Christian synagogue in which the disciples met for instruction and worship and the celebration of the Eucharist.

The Christian synagogues like those of the Jews would be open to all who chose to enter. And to the poor Christian Jews it would be a temptation, which can be understood, to welcome the appearance of a rich man—a possible convert—within the walls of their little synagogue.

It is easy to believe that a Church constituted on these principles and having its origin in Jerusalem would look for guidance and inspiration to the brother of the Lord. All questions of difficulty would be referred to him for decision, and by means of the frequent communications between the Jews in Jerusalem and their brethren in distant provinces, St James would be kept informed of the spiritual condition of the Churches of the Dispersion. Such an Epistle as this which we possess would be the natural outcome of questions and information of this kind: its informal character—the abruptness of its beginning—the variety and to a certain extent the simplicity of the topics treated of may be explained on this hypothesis.

The existence of persecution is supposed to point to a later date for this Epistle. But the persecutions alluded to are of a primitive type and such as that which arose after the death of St Stephen, a persecution which extended as far as to the distant settlement of Jews in Damascus. It was such a persecution as that in which St Paul himself engaged in his unconverted days; such as he too himself was exposed to when he taught that Jesus is the Christ in the cities and synagogues of Pisidia and Macedonia. It was persecution not by the Gentiles as yet, but by the Pharisaic party among the Jews, who resented that which appeared to be an attack upon the Law and the traditions. It was persecution of the poor by the unscrupulous and irresponsible rich, such as had appeared in every period of Jewish history, and which was specially denounced by the Hebrew prophets when it shewed itself among the ancestors of the Jews of the Dispersion.

That persecution under the form of judicial process (ch. James 2:6) was possible is shewn by recently discovered inscriptions, which prove the autonomy of Jewish communities in the cities of the Roman Empire previous to A.D. 70, but not after that date[5].

2. It is by referring the Epistle to this primitive stage in the history of the Christian Church, that we are able to account for the absence of much of the controversial matter which enters into other Epistles. There were no Judaizers to be attacked, because as yet Gentile Christianity had not taken a recognised position in the Church, and Judaism did not yet exist in that hostile form which it afterwards assumed. Nor as yet had such heresies crept in as were afterwards found at Colossæ—no false doctrine about the resurrection as at Corinth—no despondency as to the delay in the Advent of Christ, and therefore no need of such warnings and consolations as were addressed to the Thessalonians or to the Hebrews a few years later.



THE dispersion of Israel originated in the deportation of the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria after the conquest of Samaria by Sargon (B.C. 722). The cities in which the captives were placed, Halah and Gozan, point to the districts known to Ptolemy as Chalcitis and Gauzanitis; and Habor, ‘the river of Gozan’ (2 Kings 17:6), is identified with the Khabour, an affluent of the Upper Euphrates. In a little more than a hundred years from the captivity of Israel, Judah shared the same fate, and, with the exception of a small remnant, was carried in captivity to Babylon and the adjoining regions.

The successive returns under Zerubbabel (B.C. 537) and Ezra (B.C. 458) left a large proportion, probably the vast majority of Israel and Judah, in Babylonia and the surrounding countries.

Hence the captivities of Israel and Judah, which were in the first instance penal, resulted in the permanent settlement of large and flourishing Hebrew colonies in the regions bordering on the Euphrates and the Tigris.

At the fall of Jerusalem the stream of Jewish migration began to flow into Egypt. And subsequently many thousands of Jewish families sought refuge in that country from the persecution of the Syrian kings. In Alexandria two of the five quarters of the city were chiefly inhabited by Jews. And in Egypt generally there were according to Philo hardly less than a million Jewish settlers, οὐκ ἀποδέουσι μυριάδων ἑκατὸν οἱ τὴν Ἀλεξάνδρειαν καὶ τὴν χώραν Ἰουδαῖοι κατοικοῦντες ἀπὸ τοῦ πρὸς Λιβύην καταβαθμοῦ μέχρι τῶν ὁρίων Αἰθιοπίας, Philo, in Flaccum, § 6. From Egypt numbers of Jews found their way to Cyrene. In 340 B.C. Artaxerxes Ochus carried Jewish captives from Egypt to the settlements of their kinsfolk in Babylon, and to Hyrcania and the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Subsequently Antiochus the Great (223–187), who shewed the utmost consideration to the Jews, removed 2000 of their families from Mesopotamia and Babylonia to Lydia and Phrygia with the view of infusing a loyal element in the disaffected population of those countries. The same system of deportation pushed the Dispersion still further west, for in the year 63 B.C. Pompey caused thousands of Jewish prisoners to be conveyed to Rome, where several gained their freedom and settled in the Trastevere (Philo, De Leg. ad Caium, p. 1014, § 23). But there was another cause which tended in the same direction. The Jew had now become a keen and experienced trader. With this object he passed from city to city and from province to province. Syria and Asia Minor, the Greek islands and Roman colonies were frequented by Hebrew merchants[6]. In this way the Jewish race gained a footing in every region of the civilised world, and not being confined as other nations within the limits of a single region in many places almost outnumbered the native populations.

The list in Acts 2:9-11 indicates the extent of the Dispersion both in the East and West. But between these two branches there was a wide and well-marked difference which it is important to note. The Western Dispersion were Hellenists separated in language and in mode of thought and manner from the strict Hebrew-speaking Jews who constituted the Eastern Dispersion, and who in common with their Syrian and Palestinian brethren bore the honourable title of ‘Hebrews,’ or even in a special sense ‘the Dispersion,’ as distinguished from ‘the Dispersion of the Greeks’—comp. St John 7:35, μὴ εἰς τὴν διασπορὰν τῶν Ἑλλήνων μέλλει πορεύεσθαι, καὶ διδάσκειν τοὺς Ἕλληνας; see also Acts 6:1[7].

Rabbinical expressions are cited[8] shewing the equality of the Israelites dwelling in the Eastern Dispersion, and even their superiority over the Jews of Palestine. “Unlike the heathen countries, whose very dust defiled, the soil of Syria was declared clean like that of Palestine itself. So far as purity of descent was concerned, the Babylonians indeed considered themselves superior to their Palestinian brethren. They had it that when Ezra took with him those who went to Palestine, he had left the land behind him as ‘pure as fine flour[9].’ ”

It is reasonable then to suppose that when St James writes to ‘the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion,’ without any qualifying addition that he addresses himself to the Eastern as distinct from the Western or Hellenist Dispersion: in other words, to the Jews settled in Syria and Babylonia, who were in a preeminent sense ‘the Dispersion.’ How vast that population was in those regions may be gathered from the words of Josephus: Αἱ δὲ δέκα φυλαὶ πέραν εἰσὶν Εὐφράτου ἕως δεῦρο μυριάδες ἄπειροι καὶ ἀριθμῷ γνωσθῆναι μὴ δυνάμεναι, Joseph. Antt. XV. 2. 2.

It is apparent also that the Christians to whom St James wrote belonged to the poorer classes, the rich who are alluded to in the Epistle being unconverted Jews and not members of the Christian Church; see notes on James 1:10, James 2:1, James 4:13. This condition of things corresponds with what we read elsewhere of the early Church. The relief of the poor became the first act of Church organization, and notwithstanding the generosity of wealthier members the Church in Jerusalem relapsed into poverty and stood in need of pecuniary assistance (Acts 6:1; Romans 15:26). Probably too St Paul’s description of the Church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:26-28) applied to many other Christian communities. During the first decades of its history then the Church was the Church of the poor. Moreover it was a persecuted Church. This appears both from the Epistle of St James and from the Acts of the Apostles.

Further than this internal evidence does not permit us to specialise. We cannot say to what particular Church or Churches, Syrian or Babylonian, the Epistle was originally sent, or even whether it was strictly speaking encyclical, as the opening words suggest, or called forth by definite circumstances of a special community. A certain vividness and force of expression seems to indicate actual occurrences. The incident of the rich man entering the synagogue (ch. James 2:1-4) reads like the description of a scene from life, the wavering of some, the views of others concerning faith and temptation, the description of internal quarrels and particular acts of oppression—all these seem drawn from the actual experience of some one Christian community. At the same time what was specially applicable to one Church would be full of lessons to all where the general circumstances and characteristics would be similar.

It is, however, an interesting and important point that in addressing his Epistle to the twelve tribes St James expresses the belief in a still complete and united Israel, which appears as a settled conviction in post-Exilian thought.

Thus in the letter of Aristeas relating to the LXX. translation the high-priest Eleazar is represented as sending to Ptolemy Philadelphus seventy-two men, that is, six from each of the twelve tribes; and though four only of the priestly courses returned from exile (Ezra 2:36) the original representative number of twenty-four was restored. In the New Testament the same belief appears in the number of the twelve Apostles, and in the promise that they should sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30); in the twelve gates of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12); and in the sealing of the twelve tribes (Revelation 7:4, foll.). St Paul speaks of ‘the twelve tribes (τὸ δωδεκάφυλον) earnestly serving God day and night,’ Acts 26:7 : and in Romans 11:25 the Israel alluded to includes all the children of Abraham.

Long after the Apostolic age the Talmudists made legal enactments in regard to intermarriage with the ten tribes, whose settlements they still recognised in the regions of the Euphrates, to which they had been first carried in captivity (Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr., Addenda to 1 Corinthians 14. ch. 3).

This survival of Israel in its completeness is in accordance with such Old Testament predictions as that of Amos 9:9, ‘I will sift the house of Israel among all the nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth’; and that of Isaiah 11:12, ‘He shall assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.… Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.’ See also Hosea 1:11, ‘The children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint themselves one head, and shall go up from the land.’ Comp. also Hosea 3:5, ‘Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king.’



THE informal character of the Epistle renders a logical analysis difficult. It is not a formal treatise, but an authoritative reply to questions which had arisen, a bishop’s ruling on incidents and questions of Church life and discipline which had been reported to him.

It may be regarded as a discourse on two practical rules of the Christian life: (a) Resistance to temptation, or ὑπομονή: temptation being a necessary condition of the Christian life. (b) Activity in the Christian graces, of which πίστις and ἔλεος are leading examples.

The various topics of the Epistle may be exhibited more in detail as follows:

Introduction, i. Hosea 3:1.

1. Temptation. (a) From without, James 1:2-4. [1] Wisdom, prayer, stedfastness, the Divine helps in temptation, 5–8. [2] Temptation, implying oppression, introduces the connected subject of the rich and poor, and the Old Testament problem of the prosperity of the wicked (as a cause of temptation or trial), 9–11. (b) The reward of victory over temptation, 12. (c) Temptation from within, moral or religious error, 13–18.

2. The Christian life and character and worship, incidentally arising from the thought of temptation as moral or religious error, 19–27.

3. Christian equality—the sin of preferring persons practically a transgression of the whole Law—a fresh topic probably suggested by letter or conversation, but connected with the preceding paragraph, especially with the thought of worship, James 2:1-13.

4. Faith, a subject suggested by the consideration of Christian law. Its true condition; fruitfulness in works; faith as isolated and separated from its works an impossible conception, as impossible as charity without charitable acts, mercy without almsgiving, or wisdom without its practical result in conduct. This idea of faith is consistent with the great, familiar, often-quoted examples of Abraham and Rahab. In fact without works there is no vitality in faith, any more than there would be vitality in the body without breath, James 2:14-26.

5. Temptations of the tongue. (a) Ambition to become teachers (Rabbis). (b) Vain or slanderous speech, James 3:1-12.

6. The two wisdoms, earthly and heavenly; a topic arising from the thought of a right and wrong use of the tongue, James 3:13-18.

7. Contention and strife; an expansion of the preceding subject. (πόλεμοι, the keynote of the paragraph, stands in immediate contrast to εἰρήνη, which is a note of the heavenly wisdom.) The struggle against the flesh, which is the root of evil contention, James 4:1-12.

8. Parenthetic. An address to the wealthy unconverted Jews. A condemnation of selfish and indulgent lives, James 4:13 to James 5:6.

9. Longsuffering in temptation and the great motive for this—the parousia of Christ, James 5:7-11.

10. Conclusion: a summary statement of points in Christian life and conduct, generally connected with the leading subject of the Epistle, and more immediately with the teaching on the right use of the tongue. (a) Swearing, James 5:12. (b) Prayer, 13–18. (c) Conversion, 19, 20.

The ethical and practical character of the Epistle is a note of the earlier stage of the Christian Church, when the first and most necessary step was to secure pure and honest and noble lives in those who were members of the brotherhood.

That the great Christian teachers of the first generation should have felt it especially needful to guard the moral side of the Christian life, can surprise no one who has even an elementary knowledge of the society out of which the Christian convert had emerged. On all sides there were in Greek, Roman and Oriental civilization moral evils of the gravest kind. In every city to which the Jewish Christian trader went he would find some fresh form of vice, some new kind of ‘temptation’ for protection against which the Apostolic warnings were hourly needed. See Döllinger, Gentile and Jew, I. 356 n.

But the preponderance of this ethical teaching certainly points to a period in which controversy had not yet become acute. Hence the absence in this Epistle of that developed Christology which is found in the later N. T. writers. In this Epistle there is no mention of the Incarnation, or of the sufferings and Crucifixion, or of the blood of Christ or of the Atonement or the High-priesthood of Christ, or of prophecy or of Baptism or the Eucharist. And in other regions of thought there are no less striking silences: there is no mention of the Christian attitude to slavery, or to magistrates and rulers: no discussion of questions of marriage, or of the Christian ministry. Such omissions are, however, all explicable in view of the special circumstances which seem to have called forth the Epistle, and are indeed if properly considered evidences both of its genuineness and of its early date.



THE supposition of an antagonism between St James and St Paul on the subject of faith and works rests on a very slender foundation, and would probably have had very inconsiderable influence on Christian thought had it not been for the great influence of Luther.

If indeed the words of St James (ch. James 2:14, foll.) are an attack upon St Paul, the immense significance of them can hardly be overrated. For to oppose St Paul on this point, and to assert the saving efficacy of the works of the law, would be to advocate Judaism in the Christian Church. It would mean that this Epistle contains a protest against the position authoritatively maintained by St Paul and sanctioned by the conscience of Christendom throughout the Christian centuries—a wholly untenable proposition. And yet those who see in these words an argument against the Pauline view of Christianity can take no middle course. St James is either the advocate of that form of Jewish Christianity which St Paul condemns, or he is not.

But if it is to be supposed that these words contain a deliberate argument against St Paul’s position, what an inadequate treatment this would be of that great crucial question! Again, is it conceivable that the Church would have sanctioned and left in the Canonical Scriptures two contradictory views of this essential matter?

Happily it is only a very superficial view of the passage that demands an hypothesis of this kind. No ‘reconciliation’ is needed; for the arguments of the two great Apostles are not on the same plane. The errors attacked are fundamentally different.

St Paul’s argument is in opposition to those who claimed to be justified by an exact performance of an external ritual, and who desired to carry into Christianity the whole Jewish ceremonial law. St James, on the other hand, is opposing the conception that faith without works is possible or that in any sense it can be the saving and central principle of the Christian life. The teaching of St James is that of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the activity of a living faith is shewn to have been the inspiring principle of Hebrew history from Abraham to the time of the Maccabees. It is also the teaching of St Paul, comp. Titus 3:1; Titus 3:8; Titus 3:14 : the Christians must be: πρὸς πᾶν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν ἑτοίμους.… Titus is to exhort ἵνα φροντίζωσιν καλῶν ἔργων προΐστασθαι οἱ πεπιστευκότες θεῷ, and see as strictly in accordance with St James’s teaching, Romans 2:13, οὐ γὰρ οἱ ἀκροαταὶ τοῦ νόμου δίκαιοι παρὰ τῷ θεῷ, ἀλλʼ οἱ ποιηταὶ νόμου δικαιωθήσονται.

Up to this time indeed the observance of the Law was unquestioned by Jewish Christians. The controversy in which St Paul was engaged originated when the growth of the Gentile element in the Church and the rise of the Judaizing faction created the necessity of a further development of Christianity, and of a clearly defined relationship to Judaism, which had then assumed an attitude of hostility to the preaching of St Paul.

The danger against which St James directs his argument is, that an unfruitful theoretical belief should take the place of activity in good works. The danger corresponded, indeed, to Pharisaism in the Jewish Church. With the Pharisees ‘dead works,’ the mechanical carrying out of defined rules uninspired by a living faith, ruined true religion. The corresponding danger against which St James contends was, that a dead or dormant faith without works should destroy the vital energy of the Christian life.

The two Apostles have indeed the same moral standpoint, and whenever a close similarity of expression occurs it is probable that the original teaching is to be referred to St James rather than to St Paul. St James was a follower of Christ before St Paul. And when St Paul visited Jerusalem after his conversion, the exposition of Christianity by St James with the authority of the Lord’s Brother may well have contributed to the moulding of his faith.


SOME LEADING THOUGHTS IN THE EPISTLE: σοφίαπίστις πειρασμόςὑπομονή

IF this Epistle is the earliest of Christian documents which has descended to us, it becomes of special interest and importance to examine the leading words and expressions which occur in it, and to consider more fully than is possible in the notes the thoughts and associations which are attached to them.

1. Twice in the Epistle St James speaks of σοφία or wisdom; in ch. James 1:5, where with a kind of abruptness, as though σοφία would be acknowledged as the first object of desire, it is mentioned as a subject of prayer, and in ch. James 3:13-18, where there is a contrast between σοφία ἄνωθεν κατερχομένη and ἐπίγειος σοφία.

The inquiry to be made then is, what was St James’s conception of σοφία, and what is meant by the distinction between the two wisdoms (James 3:13-18)?

The term σοφία conveyed a very definite series of meanings to the Greek mind before it came in contact with Hebrew thought. It meant first of all skill in any art or handicraft in its most excellent and subtle form: οὐδὲν ἄλλο σημαίνοντες τὴν σοφίαν ἢ ὅτι ἀρετὴ τέχνης ἐστίν, Eth. Nic. VI. vii. 2. In a higher sense it is the most exact of sciences, ἀκριβεστάτη τῶν ἐπιστημῶν: lastly it is a science of that which is most prized, the highest of existences, that is, the Divine existence of pure immutable being.

In some of these senses the use of σοφία and σοφός in the LXX. is synonymous with their use in Greek philosophical literature. Oholiab and Bezalel are σοφοί, just as Phidias and Polycletus are σοφοί. And the highest conception of σοφία in Greek thought approaches very nearly to the ‘wisdom from above’ described by St James. But the Hebrew idea of σοφία has a meaning and history of its own. The Hellenic σοφία is indeed deliberately set aside by St Paul as alien to the Christian system, 1 Corinthians 1:18-28; and in Philippians 4:8 the leading philosophic terms ἀρετή and ἔπαινος are named with evident disparagement. When St James therefore speaks of σοφία in this Epistle it is the σοφία of Hebrew thought and literature. It was a conception of great beauty, which grew up in the later part of the post-Exile period. When, side by side with the zeal of Judaism for a minute and careful observance of the Law, a passion had arisen for the pursuit of wisdom, σοφία, the most comprehensive word of Greek thought, had been chosen to represent this purely Hebrew conception, which is embodied and illustrated in the sapiential books of the Bible and the Apocrypha. But the Hebrew chokmah or wisdom has a far wider signification than the Greek σοφία. According to the author of the Wisdom of Solomon it is the most perfect principle of guidance in human action: πρὸς ὑμᾶς οὖν, οἱ τύραννοι, οἱ λόγοι μου, ἵνα μάθητε σοφίαν καὶ μή παραπέσητελαμπρὰ καὶ ἀμάραντός ἐστιν ἡ σοφία, Wisdom of Solomon 6:9; Wisdom of Solomon 6:12. Step by step σοφία leads to union with God: προσοχὴ δὲ νόμων (observance of the laws) βεβαίωσις ἀφθαρσίας· ἀφθαρσία δὲ ἐγγὺς εἶναι ποιεῖ θεοῦ, Wisdom of Solomon 6:18-20τιμήσατε σοφίαν ἵνα εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα βασιλεύσητε, Wisdom of Solomon 6:21. It is a direct emanation from God: πᾶσα σοφία παρὰ Κυρίου καὶ μετʼ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, Sirach 1:1; and the breath of His power and the reflexion of His brightness: ἀτμὶς γάρ ἐστιν τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ δυνάμεωςἀπαύγασμα γάρ ἐστιν φωτὸς ἀιδίου καὶ ἔσοπτρον ἀκηλίδωτον τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ ἐνεργείας καὶ εἰκὼν τῆς ἀγαθότητος αὐτοῦ. Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Solomon 7:25-26.

This exalted view of σοφία gives a depth of meaning to the description of the Lord’s growth: καὶ Ἰησοῦς προέκοπτεν τῇ σοφίᾳ κ.τ.λ., Luke 2:52, and τὸ δὲ παιδίον ηὔξανεν, καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο, πληρούμενον σοφίᾳ, Luke 2:40.

This then, we cannot doubt, was the glowing picture present to St James’s mind when he spoke of σοφία as the most exalted subject of prayer, and as that which cometh from above. This latter expression sounds like an echo of the phrase in the Book of Wisdom where σοφία is described as ‘an influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty’ (ἀπόρροια τῆς τοῦ παντοκράτορος δόξης εἰλικρινής), Wisdom of Solomon 7:25.

It is less easy to determine what the Apostle means us to understand by that opposing ‘wisdom’ which he describes as earthly, sensual, devilish, ἐπίγειος, ψυχική, δαιμονιώδης.

While it is true that the notes of the psychic wisdom as given by St James are, from a Christian standpoint, a justifiable criticism of the prevailing philosophic systems, the question arises whether such a warning against the dangers of Greek philosophy would be specially needed in those Hebrew communities to which the Epistle was addressed, and whether St James’s argument is not rather directed against dangers to be found in the distinctively Jewish tendency to a spirit of zeal and fanaticism. At this early stage of Christian history the evils which threatened Judaism equally threatened the Judæo-Christian body. ‘Zeal for the Lord’ was an historic word with the Jew and had inspired great actions, and the Maccabean victories were still a practical argument of success. But this noble enthusiasm of former days had now degenerated into a blind hatred of foreign domination, and was rapidly tending to the fierce spirit which broke out in wild excesses at the siege of Jerusalem.

Therefore, though a more general interpretation need not be excluded, it is probable that by the false wisdom of which St James speaks, and which is clearly associated with zeal and contention and rivalry (ἐρίθεια), is primarily meant that other system of life which found many supporters at this period and which Josephus expressly calls a φιλοσοφία, Antt. XVIII. i. 1, τῇ δὲ τετάρτῃ τῶν φιλοσοφιῶν ὁ Γαλιλαῖος Ἰούδας ἡγεμὼν κατέστη κ.τ.λ. This φιλοσοφία represented the mundane and material side of the Maccabean revival. It fostered the expectation of an earthly kingdom, and of a Messiah who should overcome the armies of the aliens and free Israel from Roman domination; it was ἐπίγειος. It looked to a time of material prosperity and to the satisfaction of desires: it was ψυχική and not πνευματική. Again, the moving energetic element in this system, that spirit of enthusiasm and desperate resistance to foreign power or to any infringement of the national religion in its extreme phase, exhibited characteristics which closely approached the phenomena of demoniacal possession: it was δαιμονιώδης.

2. Another leading thought in this Epistle is embodied in the word πίστις. So far from this conception being absent, or unimportant, in St James’s scheme of the Christian life its preeminent position is implied from the first, ch. James 1:2. The object of St James’s teaching is not to eliminate faith as a leading principle, but to secure the sacredness and efficiency of it, and to guard against the danger of esteeming faith to be merely an intellectual assent to a creed, or a belief in a fact which a man might hold without receiving vital inspiration from it.

Faith as conceived by St James then is an active principle—the energy of the soul in its relation to God. It implies work achieved under an invisible and eternal influence which it instinctively apprehends and appropriates. It is the same inspiring quality of great and holy men which the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews enlarges upon as the key to the Divine history of Israel. Accordingly works that spring from faith justify in virtue of the inseparable union with a living faith.

3. And if faith is thus the essence and determining quality of the Christian life, so that οἱ πιστεύοντες—the believers—the possessors of πίστις, form the Christian community, it follows that conditions must exist by which πίστις should be continuously exercised and tested. If the Christians as a body are οἱ πιστεύοντες, they are also οἱ πειραζόμενοι. Through πειρασμός faith becomes an ἐνέργεια, instead of being simply a δύναμις. That this was the condition of the Master’s life is shewn by the expression: ὑμεῖς δέ ἐστε οἱ διαμεμενηκότες μετʼ ἐμοῦ ἐν τοῖς πειρασμοῖς μου, Luke 22:28. It also agrees with St Paul’s important rule: ὅτι διὰ πολλῶν θλίψεων δεῖ ἡμᾶς εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ, Acts 14:22, and with many other passages of Holy Scripture.

4. But from this exercise of faith, in which it is being continually tested by different forms of trial (πειρασμοῖς ποικίλοις), there results another quality highly and specially characteristic of the Christian life, namely, ὑπομονή, patience or resistance. πίστις represents the active principle, ὑπομονή the passive principle, though in ὑπομονή there is also an element of action, ὑπομονή engages itself in resisting evil, πίστις in producing good—in activities which result from the divinely illuminated attitude of the soul.



POETICAL form is so marked a characteristic of this Epistle and bears so close a relation to the interpretation of it in parts, that some explanation of the principles and laws of Hebrew poetry seems to be required in an Introduction. Certain poetical elements, such as beautiful and exact expression of observed facts in life and nature, suggestiveness, imagination, taste, delicate choice of words, find a place in the poetry of all nations and of all times. But in regard to form there is great diversity. For instance, metre, the chief characteristic of Greek and Latin verse, does not in its strict sense of measured syllables regularly disposed enter into the art of the Hebrew poet, and rhyme, which gives a special charm to much of modern European poetry, is also absent from Hebrew poetical composition. At the same time the examples quoted below exhibit lines of corresponding length, and there are many instances where a play on the sound of words produces an effect similar to rhyme.

One characteristic device of Hebrew poetry is a system of acrostics exhibited in several of the Psalms, of which the 119th is a specially complex and ingenious example. Other instances are Proverbs 31:10-31, and Lamentations 1, 2, 3, 4.

But by far the most distinctive feature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism; by which is meant a correspondence by way of likeness or dissimilarity of words, thoughts and clauses, a response of line to line and word to word. [1] The commonest form of parallelism is where the thought of the first line is repeated in the second and emphasized (a) by intensified expression; as,

The wicked watcheth the righteous,

And seeketh occasion to slay him.

I have seen the wicked in great power,

And spreading himself like a green tree in his own soil.

Psalms 37:32; Psalms 37:35.

(b) Or by contrast as:

The full soul loatheth an honeycomb:

But to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.

Proverbs 27:7.

[2] Sometimes the parallelism consists of identity of structure without either contrast or necessary similarity in sense, as:

Fire and hail, snow and vapour;

Stormy wind, fulfilling his word:

Mountains and all hills;

Fruitful trees and all cedars.

Psalms 148:8-9.

These are examples of parallelism in its simplest form. But the scheme is capable of great variety and extension. Sometimes from four to eight lines are required to complete the system, sometimes the parallelism is shewn in triplets or in stanzas of five lines, as:

Let that day be darkness;

Let not God regard it from above,

Neither let the light shine upon it.

Job 3:4.

Sometimes the first line answers to the third and the second to the fourth, as:

As the heavens are high above the earth,

So high is his goodness over them that fear him:

As remote as the east is from the west,

So far hath he removed from us our transgressions.

Psalms 103:11-12.

A still more complex structure, called by Bishop Jebb ‘introverted parallelism,’ is when the corresponding lines in a stanza are the first and fourth, and the second and third, as:

My son, if thine heart be wise,

My heart shall be glad, even mine:

Yea, my reins shall rejoice,

When thy lips speak right things.

Proverbs 23:15-16.

Other instances of this complex character are Psalms 84:5-7, where the stanza consists of six lines: “Blessed is the man … appeareth before God in Zion”: and Psalms 135:15-18, an instance where eight lines are required to complete the parallelism: “The idols of the nations … every one that trusteth in them.”

Many other examples might be given of the various modes in which the parallelism of Hebrew poetry is exhibited. It was a system which required the same constructive skill as the classical system, and created a pleasure in expectancy of response at least equal to that of the rhymed couplet of English poetry.

It may also be observed that Hebrew poetry loses less by translation than the poetry of any other nation. It is quite possible to retain in a foreign language many of its chief characteristics—length of lines, position of words, the response (or contrast) of thought to thought, and even the rhythm which gives it its special charm and grace. It is indeed chiefly this underlying poetical form and diction of the original to which the English Bible owes its strength and beauty of style.

The strain of poetical inspiration in the Old Testament revived in the New. Evidence of this continued gift meets us at the opening of the Gospel. In the hymn of Zacharias and Simeon and in the Psalm of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the beauty of artistic form and expression and the peculiar charm of Hebrew parallelism reappear in perfection. And it is with the deepest and most solemn interest that we trace the same vein of poetry in the discourses of our Lord. This is especially observable in the most momentous utterances of the Gospel. As instances of these may be cited: Matthew 10:34-39; Matthew 11:28-30; Matthew 20:25-28, and even in the hour of the Passion, Luke 23:28-31. But nowhere is this characteristic more completely and beautifully exhibited than in the Sermon on the Mount, which is indeed from first to last thrown into the form of a varied and impressive poem, the artistic structure of which can be shewn by analysis[10]. It is significant and deeply suggestive that in this poetic structure, next to our Lord’s own discourses, this Epistle of St James, the brother of the Lord, ranks highest.

The whole argument is more like the argument of a poem than of a regularly constructed treatise. The gradual evolution of ideas, one springing from another by which it is suggested, the linked digressions and the repeated return to the original and pervading thought, bear the same character of a noble and artistic poem.

Among other examples of genuine poetical excellence are the vigorous passages on the evils of the tongue (James 3:3-13), the scene in the Christian synagogue on the entrance of the wealthy Jew (James 2:2-4), the vivid description of trade activity (James 4:13 to James 5:6), and of the cruel and miserly landlord, with the picturesque personification of the rust or tarnish on the hoarded gold, or the hire of the labourers unjustly withheld, itself crying out in accusation. And throughout this work there is the poet’s grasp of what is real and eternal, in contrast with the false and fleeting character of human opinion.

Some further remarks on the poetical passages of the Epistle will be made in the notes, but two points of special interest may be indicated here. (a) The revival of a poetical gift in a marked and striking way in the family of the poet king David is a memorable fact. We have seen that it was a characteristic charm of our Lord’s discourses, that it is noticeable in those hymns and psalms which celebrated the events and significance of His birth, and that it is found again richly developed in the Epistle of the Lord’s brother. All this implies in that family or group of families the study not only of the words but of the form of ancient prophecy, and a proficiency in the same Divine art which must have been cultivated in the ancient schools of the prophets. (b) It is a fair inference from this ordered beauty of form and artistic diction that such an Epistle as this is not a hasty or desultory composition, but the finished result of natural powers carefully trained and divinely illuminated. And we may further believe that it was purposely moulded in a poetical form with a view to the deeper impression and more lasting memory which such a form would ensure.



THE text of this Epistle, like other portions of the N.T., rests on the evidence of the ancient MSS., Versions, and quotations in the works of early writers and liturgies.

Of the MSS. the following important Uncials are referred to in the notes.

א. Codex Sinaiticus, assigned to the middle of the IVth century. Of the correctors אa was probably a contemporary, אb belongs to the VIth century, אc to the beginning of the VIIth century. This valuable Codex was recovered by Tischendorf in an interesting way from the convent of St Catharine on Mt Sinai in the year 1859. It is now at St Petersburg.

A. Codex Alexandrinus, Vth century.

This MS. was presented to Charles I. in 1628 by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Constantinople, formerly Patriarch of Alexandria. It passed with the royal collection to the British Museum in the year 1753.

B. Codex Vaticanus, IVth century.

This is the oldest vellum MS. of the New Testament in existence, and of great value and authority in determining the text. As the name implies, it is in the Vatican Library, where it has been so jealously guarded that for a long time no complete collation was possible. Recently however an excellent facsimile of the whole has been published.

C. Codex Ephraemi, a palimpsest of the Vth century, of great critical value, now in Paris.

The following IXth century MSS. are also cited in these notes. K. Codex Mosquensis, in the Library of the Holy Synod at Moscow. L. Codex Angelicus Romanus, in the Angelican Library of the Augustinian Monks in Rome. P. Codex Porphyrianus (a palimpsest), so called from Bishop Porphyry of St Petersburg, to whom it belonged.

The Versions cannot be used except rarely for the verification of Greek words, but they give evidence of the presence or omission of words or clauses, and in some cases are so literal that their testimony is available for the order of words. The following are of the greatest value:

I. Latin. There is very little evidence for a Latin version of the Epistle of St James earlier than the 4th cent. It is not quoted by any early Latin writer, and it is absent from the Cheltenham Stichometry, which probably dates from about 400 A.D. It has however a place in the Claromontane Stichometry, and it is quoted, though rarely, by Latin Fathers of the 4th cent.

Of ‘Old Latin’ texts we have

ff = Cod. Corbiensis, saec. ix, formerly at Corbie in Picardy, now at St Petersburg. This MS. now contains the Epistle complete, preceded by Ps. Tertullian on Jewish Meats and the Epistle of Barnabas. It is not therefore a Biblical MS. It ascribes the Epistle to James the son of Zebedee.

m = quotations in the ‘Speculum Augustini,’ a collection of Biblical extracts arranged under headings.

The text of ff agrees with the quotations of Chromatius of Aquileia, a friend of St Jerome. The text of m in this Epistle is almost identical with that of the quotations of Priscillian, a Spanish heretic of the 5th century. Both our non-Vulgate authorities may therefore claim the title of Old Latin, though it is obvious what a different meaning and authority the term Old Latin has here compared with the case of the Gospels where the forms of the ‘Old Latin’ can be traced back to the second century.

We have also in the Vulgate an already existing text slightly revised by St Jerome. The best MSS. of the Vulgate are, as in the other books, am (= Cod. Amiatinus, circ. 700 A.D.) and fuld (= Cod. Fuldensis, 546 A.D.).

There are exhaustive essays on the Latin texts of the Epistle by Bishop John Wordsworth and Dr Sanday in Studia Biblica, I. [1885].

II. Syriac. “There are three stages in the history of the Syriac Canon. The first ignored the Catholic Epistles [including therefore our Epistle] altogether. This is represented by the Doctrine of Addai and by the Homilies of Aphraates, which are definitely dated between the years 336–345. The second stage is marked by the Peshitto Version, which has been called the Syriac Vulgate. As far back as that version can be traced it included three of the Catholic Epistles, St James, St Peter, 1 St John. How far this stage overlapped the first it will need closer investigations than have yet been made to determine. The great body of the Syrian Church accepted the three Epistles which are found in the Bibles alike of the Nestorians and of the Jacobites who broke away from orthodox standards in the fifth and sixth centuries” (Dr Sanday, Studia Biblica, III. pp. 245, 246). The third stage was the reception of all seven Catholic Epistles.

It will be seen from this that our Epistle, though not at first received by the Syrian Church, gained for itself a place in that fourth century revision of the Old Syriac N.T. which is commonly called the Peshitto. Whether any translation of the Epistle existed before the 4th cent. must therefore remain doubtful. The Epistle is of course included in the HaServirklean revision of A.D. 616.

III. Egyptian. The two most important Egyptian Versions of the N.T. are the Bohairic and the Sahidic. The Bohairic (formerly called Memphitic) was spoken in Northern Egypt, the Sahidic (formerly called Thebaic) in Southern Egypt. The date at which the N.T. began to be translated into these dialects is uncertain. As far as the Gospels are concerned some scholars place it as early as the end of the second century. The two Versions represent distinct types of text, the Northern Version being the purest, the Southern having some remarkable interpolations. The Sahidic Version of St James is known to us only in fragments[11].

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