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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
James 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-26


Warnings Against Respect of Persons. Belief and Practice

1. Another instance of inconsistency. Jesus Christ the Lord of glory] better, 'Jesus Christ the glory,' or 'the glorious one,' One of the rare passages in which St. James breaks through his habitual reserve in speaking of the Master, and shows us something of his devotion to Christ. Such reserve was natural to a Jew.

2. In the Jewish-Christian Church the place for worship is still the synagogue (Hebrews 10:25). At first strangers would be admitted (1 Corinthians 14:16).

4. Partial] better, 'divided' between Christian duty and worldly interests.

Judges of evil thoughts] better, 'evil-thinking judges.' By showing undue preference to the rich man you judge, and judge wrongly, as to the relative merits of the rich and the poor man (see James 4:11). God, the Just Judge, gives greater honour to the pious poor man. He is an heir of the kingdom (James 1:9).

6. Josephus ('Ant.'

28.8) speaks of the cruelty of the rich Sadducees to the poor in Jerusalem: cp. also Isaiah 3:15; Amos 4:1, and many other passages from the prophets of the OT. denouncing the cruelty and oppression of the rich.

7. Worthy name] RV 'honourable name.' For baptism into the name of Christ see Acts 2:38. For the expression cp. Acts 5:41; (RV) Philippians 2:9. By the which ye are called] better, 'which was called over you,' i.e. probably at baptism.

8. Royal law] see Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 5:43-47.

10. It might be said that, even if a man transgressed the Law of Christ in the matter of respect of persons, he was only breaking a small part of that Law. Not so. The Law, like the Lawgiver, is one. To break any commandment is to violate the whole Law of love, the unity of which is marred by any disobedience.

12. The law of liberty] better, 'a law of liberty.' There can be no true liberty without obedience. A Law of liberty is one which a man obeys freely, not because he must, but because it is a Law of love, which is gladly obeyed. To serve the Master, Christ, is 'perfect freedom.' To St. James even the OT. Law—though imperfect—was something higher than a mere code. He saw in it the underlying principle of love. Thus he was led on to find in the Law of Christ the fulfilment of the old Law.

13. The meaning of the last phrase probably is, The unmerciful and unloving man is condemned without pity (Matthew 18:21-35), but the merciful man is triumphantly acquitted. The man who loves is 'justified' by God.

14. A third instance of inconsistency—great profession of belief without practice. In order to understand this passage we must bear in mind that St. James is here using the word 'faith' in a sense opposite to that of James 1:3, James 1:6, and different also from that in which St. Paul uses it. To St. Paul faith is always living and loving belief in Christ. To St. James (in this passage) faith is a kind of 'otiose assent,' or at any rate a 'barren orthodoxy, untouched by love.' Similarly, to St. Paul 'works' are the works of the Law—the fulfilment of certain obligations quite apart from faith. To St. James 'works' are the necessary fruits of Faith, without which Faith in any true sense cannot exist. That the two writers are in substantial agreement is shown by passages like 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:17; 1 Timothy 2:10; 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 Timothy 6:18; 2 Timothy 3:17; Titus 2:7, Titus 2:14; Titus 3:8. (St. James's 'faith' would be represented in St. Paul's language by 'knowledge,' and his 'works' by 'the fruits of the Spirit.') The difference is 'merely a difference in method of stating the truth.' The two writers, 'like trains on different pairs of rails, cannot collide, though they may seem to be in danger of doing so.' The further question whether, if either was acquainted with the writings of the other, he would have used phrases liable to be misunderstood, is one not easy to answer with certainty; but at least we may say that it cannot be regarded as proved that either of the two had read the work of the other. It is, at any rate, unlikely that St. James had read St. Paul.

15-17. Faith without practical love of the brethren is dead. The reference may be to the famine of Acts 11:28-30. Being alone] RV 'in itself.'

18. If you have 'faith' without active piety to be its evidence, it is impossible for any one to be sure that you have faith at all.

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

20-25. The appeal to Scripture. Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his only son was the crowning act of a life of faith which began when he left home and country. By that faith he was 'justified' (i.e. acquitted at the bar of God's judgment), and called God's friend (Isaiah 41:8). So also, when Rahab received Joshua's spies and saved their lives, her faith was practical (Joshua 2:7; Hebrews 11:31; Hebrews 1 Clem 12). Rahab, though a Gentile and an outsider, was sure that the God of Israel was the one true God, and that His people would be victorious. And she had the courage of her convictions. She showed in a practical way that she was on the Lord's side, and so was rewarded by becoming an ancestress of Christ Himself after the flesh (Matthew 1:5).

26. Without] better, 'apart from.'

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on James 2:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/james-2.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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