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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

James 5

Verses 1-99

Ch. 5:1 6. Warnings for the Rich

1 . Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl ] The words are nearly the same as those we have met with before in ch. 4:9, but there is in them less of the call to repentance, and more of the ring of prophetic denunciation. The word for “howl,” not found elsewhere in the New Testament, is found in three consecutive chapters of Isaiah (13:6, 14:31, 15:3), which may well have been present to St James’ thoughts.

for your miseries that shall come upon you ] Literally, that are coming upon you , in the very act to come. The context points to these as consisting not merely in the cares and anxieties that come in the common course of things upon the rich, but in the special troubles that were to usher in the advent of the Judge. Historically, the words had their primary fulfilment in the woes that preceded the destruction of Jerusalem, but these were but the first in the series of “springing and germinant accomplishments” which will attain their completeness before the final Advent.

2 . Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten ] The union of the two chief forms of Eastern wealth in this and the following verse, reminds us of the like combination in Matthew 6:19 , “where moth and rust doth corrupt.” Comp. St Paul’s “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel” (Acts 20:33 ).

3 . Your gold and silver is cankered ] Literally, rusted , the word being used generically of the tarnish that sooner or later comes over all metals that are exposed to the action of the air.

shall be a witness against you …] Better, for a witness to you . The doom that falls on the earthly possessions of the ungodly shall be, as it were, the token of what will fall on them, unless they avert it by repentance.

shall eat your flesh as it were fire ] The last words have been sometimes taken as belonging to the next clause, “as fire ye laid up treasure,” but the structure of the English text is preferable. The underlying image suggested is that the rust or canker spreads from the riches to the very life itself, and that when they fail, and leave behind them only the sense of wasted opportunities and the memories of evil pleasures, the soul will shudder at their work as the flesh shudders at the touch of fire. We may perhaps trace a reminiscence of the “unquenchable fire” devouring the carcases in Gehenna, as in Mark 9:44 .

Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days ] Better, Ye laid ( or, ye have laid ) up treasure in the last days . The preposition cannot possibly have the sense of “for.” St James shared the belief of other New Testament writers that they were living in “the last days” of the world’s history, and that the “coming of the Lord” was nigh (1 John 2:18 ; 1 Corinthians 15:51 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:15 ). For those to whom he wrote the words had a very real truth. They were actually living in the “last days” of the polity of Israel. In the chaos and desolation of its fall their heaped-up treasures would avail but little. They would be marked out in proportion to their wealth, as the first to be attacked and plundered.

4 . Behold, the hire of the labourers …] The evil was one of old standing in Judæa. The law had condemned those who kept back the wages of the hired labourer even for a single night (Leviticus 19:13 ). Jeremiah (22:13) had uttered a woe against him “that useth his neighbour’s service without wages.” Malachi (3:5) had spoken of the swift judgment that should come on those who “oppressed the hireling in his wages.” The grasping avarice that characterized the latter days of Judaism shewed itself in this form of oppression among others.

are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth ] The divine Name thus used was pre-eminently characteristic of tie language of the Prophets. It does not appear at all in the Pentateuch, nor in Joshua, Judges, or Ruth; and probably took its rise in the Schools of the Prophets, founded by Samuel. Whether its primary meaning was that Jehovah was the God of all the armies of earth, the God, as we say, of battles, or that He ruled over the armies of the stars of heaven, or over the unseen hosts of angels, or was wide enough, as seems probable, to include all three ideas, is a question which cannot be very definitely answered. It is characteristic of St James that he gives the Hebrew form of the word, as also St Paul does in citing Isaiah 1:9 in Romans 9:29 . For the most part the LXX. renders it by “Almighty” ( Pantokratôr ), and in this form it appears in Revelation 4:8 , where “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” answers to “Lord God of sabaoth,” or “of hosts” in Isaiah 6:3 . This title is specially characteristic of Malachi, in whom it occurs not less than 23 times.

5 . Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton ] Better, Ye lived luxuriously and spent wantonly , the latter word emphasising the lavish and profligate expenditure by which the luxury which the former expresses was maintained.

ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter ] Many of the best MSS. omit the particle of comparison, ye nourished your heart in the day of slaughter . With this reading, the “day of slaughter” is that of the carnage and bloodshed of war, such a “sacrifice” as that which the Lord of Hosts had, of old, by the river Euphrates (Jeremiah 46:10 ), or the “great slaughter” in the land of Idumæa (Isaiah 34:6 ). The “rich men” of Judæa, in their pampered luxury, were but fattening themselves, all unconscious of their doom, as beasts are fattened, for the slaughter. The insertion of the particle of comparison suggests a different aspect of the same thought. A sacrifice was commonly followed by a sumptuous feast upon what had been offered. Comp. the union of the two thoughts in the harlot’s words (“I have peace-offerings with me; this day have I paid my vows”) in Proverbs 7:14 . Taking this view St James reproaches the self-indulgent rich with making their life one long continuous feast. The former interpretation seems preferable, both on critical and exegetical grounds.

6 . Ye have condemned and killed the just ] The words have been very generally understood as referring to the death of Christ, and on this view, the words “he doth not resist you” have been interpreted as meaning, “He no longer checks you in your career of guilt; He leaves you alone (comp. Hosea 4:17 ) to fill up the measure of your sin.” St James, it has been inferred, uses the term “the Just One” as Stephen had done (Acts 7:52 ), as pointing emphatically to “Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1 ). Fuller consideration, however, shews that such a meaning could hardly have come within the horizon of St James’s thoughts. (1) That single evil act of priests, and scribes, and the multitude of Jerusalem, could hardly have been thus spoken of in an Epistle addressed to the Twelve Tribes of the dispersion, without a more distinct indication of what was referred to. To see in them, as some have done, the statement that the Jews, wherever they were found, were guilty of that crime, as accepting and approving it, or as committing sins which made such an atonement necessary, is to read into them a non-natural meaning. (2) The whole context leads us to see in the words, a generic evil, a class sin, characteristic, like those of the previous verse, of the rich and powerful everywhere. (3) The meaning thus given to “he doth not resist you” seems, to say the least, strained and unnatural, especially as coming so soon after the teaching (ch. 4:6) which had declared that “God does resist the proud.” (4) The true meaning of both clauses is found, it is believed, in taking “the just” as the representative of a class, probably of the class of those, who as disciples of Christ the Just One, were reproducing His pattern of righteousness. Such an one, like his Master, and like Stephen, St James adds, takes as his law (note the change of tense from past to present) the rule of not resisting. He submits patiently, certain that in the end he will be more than conqueror. It is not without interest to note that that title was afterwards applied to St James himself (Euseb. Hist. ii. 23). The name Justus, which appears three times in the New Testament (Acts 1:23 , Acts 1:18 :7; Colossians 4:11 ), was obviously the Latin equivalent of this epithet, and it probably answered to the Chasidim or Assideans (1 Macc. 2:42, 7:13, 2 Macc. 14:6) of an earlier stage of Jewish religious history. It is as if a follower of George Fox had addressed the judges and clergy of Charles II.’s reign, and said to them, “Ye persecuted the Friend , and he does not resist you.” (5) It is in favour of this interpretation that it presents a striking parallel to a passage in the “Wisdom of Solomon,” with which this Epistle has so many affinities. There too the writer speaks of the wealthy and voluptuous as laying snares for “the just” who is also “poor,” who calls himself “the servant of the Lord,” and boasts of God as his Father (Wisd. 2:12 16). Comp. also the description of the ultimate triumph of the just man in. Wisd. 5:1 5.

7 11. Comfort and Counsel for the Poor

7 . Be patient therefore ] More literally, Be long-suffering . The logical sequence implied in “therefore” is that the “brethren” whom St James addresses should follow the example of the ideal “just man” of whom the previous verse had spoken. There is a terminus ad quem for that long-suffering, and it is found in “the coming of the Lord.” Here, with scarcely the shadow of a doubt, it is the Lord Jesus who is meant. St James had learned from the discourse recorded in Matthew 24:3 , Matthew 24:37 , Matthew 24:39 , to think of that Advent as redressing the evils of the world, and he shared the belief, natural in that age of the Church, that it was not far off. It had already drawn nigh (verse 8). The patient expectation of the sufferers would not be frustrated. We see that the hope was not fulfilled as men expected, but we may believe that even for those who cherished it, it was not in vain. There was a judgment at hand, in which evil-doers received their just reward, and which made glad the hearts of the righteous.

hath long patience for it ] The verb is the same as that just translated “be patient.” Better, perhaps, is long-suffering over it , as implying a kind of watchful expectancy. The prevalence of a long-continued drought in Palestine when St James wrote (see note on verse 16) gave, we can scarcely doubt, a very special emphasis to his words of counsel.

until he receive the early and latter rain ] The MSS. present a singular variety of readings, some giving “rain,” some “fruit,” and some no substantive at all. “Rain” gives the best meaning. The “early rain” fell in the months from October to February; the latter, from March to the end of April. Comp. Deuteronomy 11:14 ; Jeremiah 3:3 , Jeremiah 3:5 :24; Joel 2:23 . An ingenious allegorising interpretation finds in the “early” rain the tears of youthful repentance; in the “latter,” those of age.

8 . Be ye also patient ] Better, long-suffering; as before.

stablish your hearts ] Better, strengthen . The strength is to come from the thought that the great Advent has come near, that there will be a great Court of Appeal from all man’s injustice. Here, as before, we note a hope which was not fulfilled as men expected its fulfilment, and yet was not frustrated. The promise of the second Advent has been to believers in Christ what the promise of the first Advent was to Abraham and the patriarchs. They saw the far-off fulfilment, knowing not the times and seasons, and it made them feel that they were strangers and pilgrims (Hebrews 11:13 ), and so purified and strengthened them.

9 . Grudge not one against another …] Better, perhaps, complain not . The primary meaning of the verb is “to groan.” To indulge in such complaints was to assume the office of the Judge, whose presence they ought to think of as not far off, even “at the door,” and so brought with it the condemnation which He himself had pronounced (Matthew 7:1 ). The standing before the door presents a point of comparison with Revelation 3:20 .

10 . Take, my brethren, the prophets …] Better, as representing the emphatic order of the Greek, As an example of affliction and long-suffering take, my brethren, the prophets … The first of the nouns expresses simply the objective affliction, not the manner of enduring it.

the prophets who have spoken …] Better, who spake . The words point, perhaps, chiefly to the prophets of the Old Testament, as having, with scarcely an exception, suffered persecution (Matthew 5:12 ). But we must not forget that there were prophets also in the Christian Church (1 Corinthians 12:10 , 1 Corinthians 12:14 :24, 1 Corinthians 12:29 ; Ephesians 2:20 , Ephesians 2:4 :11; Revelation 22:9 ), and that these were exposed to the same trials as their predecessors. It is to their sufferings that St Paul probably referred in 1 Thessalonians 2:15 , and St James may well have included them in his general reference. Stephen and his own namesake, the son of Zebedee, may have been specially present to his thoughts.

11 . we count them happy which endure …] Better, we call them blessed , the verb being formed from the adjective used in ch. 1:12. Comp. Luke 2:48 . The words may contain a reference to Daniel 12:12 .

Ye have heard of the patience of Job ] Better, endurance , to keep up the connexion with the verb. It is singular that, though the book is once quoted (1 Corinthians 3:19 , Job 5:13 ), this is the only reference in the New Testament to the history of Job. Philo, however, quotes from Job 14:4 ( de Mutat. Nom . xxiv.), and he is referred to by Clement of Rome (1.17.26). The book would naturally be studied by one whose attention had been drawn, as St James’s manifestly had been, to the sapiential Books included in the Hagiographa of the Old Testament. It is obvious that he refers to the book as containing an actual history, as obvious that his so referring to it throws no light on the questions which have been raised, but which it would be out of place to discuss here, as to its authorship and date.

and have seen the end of the Lord ] The words have received two very different interpretations. (1) They have been referred to the “end” which the “Lord” wrought out for Job after his endurance had been tried, as in Job 42:12 . (2) The “end of the Lord” has been understood as pointing to the death and resurrection of Christ as the Lord who had been named in verse 7, the highest example of patience in the Old Testament being brought into juxtaposition with the Highest of all Examples. On this view the passage becomes parallel with 1 Peter 2:19-25 . The clause that follows is, however, decisively in favour of (1), nor is there any instance of a New Testament writer using the term “end” of the passion and death of Christ. Matthew 26:58 , which is the nearest approach to such a use, is scarcely in point.

that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy ] The first of the two adjectives, of which the nearest English equivalent would be large-hearted or perhaps tender-hearted , is not found in any other writer, and may have been a coinage of St James’s. The latter occurs in Ecclus. 2:11, in close juxtaposition with a passage which we have already found referred to in the Epistle (Ecclus. 2:11), and which may therefore have been present to St James’s thoughts. In this instance “the Lord” is clearly used in the Old Testament sense, and this, as has been said, determines the meaning of the previous clause.

12. Oaths

12 . above all things, my brethren, swear not …] The passage presents so close a parallel with Matthew 5:33-37 that it is almost a necessary inference that St James, if not himself a hearer of the Sermon on the Mount, had become acquainted with it as reported by others. Comp. Introduction , p. 8. The words condemn alike the rash use of oaths in common speech, and the subtle distinctions drawn by the Scribes as to the binding force of this or that formula (Matthew 23:16-22 ). That the condemnation does not extend to the solemn judicial use of oaths we see in the facts (1) that our Lord answered when questioned as on oath by Caiaphas (Matthew 26:63 , Matthew 26:64 ), and (2) that St Paul at times used modes of expression which are essentially of the nature of an oath (2 Corinthians 1:23 ; Romans 1:9 ; Galatians 1:20 ; Philippians 1:8 ). It is not without interest to note that in this respect also the practice of the Essenes, in their efforts after holiness, was after the pattern of the teaching of St James. They, too, avoided oaths as being no less an evil than perjury itself (Joseph. Wars. ii. viii. 85). They, however, with a somewhat strange inconsistency, bound the members of their own society by “tremendous oaths” of obedience and secresy.

13 16. Affliction Sickness Confession

13 . Is any among you afflicted, let him pray …] The precepts point to the principle that worship is the truest and best expression of both sorrow and joy. In affliction men are not to groan or complain against others, or murmur against God, but to pray for help and strength and wisdom. When they are “merry” (better, of good cheer ) they are not to indulge in riotous or boastful mirth, but to “sing psalms.” The verb is used by St Paul (Romans 15:9 ; 1 Corinthians 14:15 ; Ephesians 5:19 ). Primarily it was used of instrumental string music, but, as in the word “Psalm,” had been transferred to the words of which that music was the natural accompaniment. It is, perhaps, specially characteristic of St James that he contemplates what we may call the individual use of such music as well as the congregational, as a help to the spiritual life. We are reminded of two memorable instances of this employment in the lives of George Herbert and Milton. Compare also Hooker’s grand words on the power of Psalmody and Music ( Eccl. Pol. v. 38).

14 . Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church ] The rule is full of meaning. (1) As regards the functions of the Elders of the Church. Over and above special gifts of prophecy or teaching, they were to visit the sick, not merely for spiritual comfort and counsel, but as possessing “gifts of healing” (1 Corinthians 12:9 ). (2) The use of the term “Elders” exactly agrees with the account of the Jewish Church in Acts 11:30 , Acts 15:6 , Acts 21:18 . In the Gentile Churches the Greek title of Bishop ( Episcopos = overseer) came into use as a synonym for “Elder” (Acts 20:28 ; Philippians 1:1 ; 1 Timothy 3:1 ; Titus 1:5 , Titus 1:7 ), but within the limits of the New Testament the Church of Jerusalem has only “Apostles and Elders.” It may fairly be inferred from the position which he occupies in Acts 15:0 that St James himself was reckoned as belonging to the first of the two classes. St Paul’s way of mentioning him naturally, though not necessarily, implies the same fact (Galatians 1:19 ).

anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord ] The context shews that this was done as a means of healing. It had been the practice of the Twelve during part, at least, of our Lord’s ministry (Mark 6:13 ). The Parable of the good Samaritan gives one example of the medical use of oil (Luke 10:34 ), another is found in Isaiah 1:6 . Friction with olive oil was prescribed by Celsus for fever. Herod the Great used oil-baths (Joseph. Ant. xvii. 6. § 5). The principle implied in the use of oil instead of the direct exercise of supernatural gifts without any medium at all, was probably, in part, analogous to our Lord’s employment of like media in the case of the blind and deaf (Mark 7:33 , Mark 7:8 :23; John 9:6 ). It served as a help to the faith of the person healed; perhaps also, in the case of the Apostles, to that of the healer. The position of the disciples was not that of men trusting in charms or spells and boasting of their powers, but rather that of those who used simple natural means of healing in dependence on God’s blessing. A sanction was implicitly given to the use of all outward means as not inconsistent with faith in the power of prayer, to the prayer of faith as not excluding the use of any natural means. “The Lord” in whose Name this was to be done is here, without doubt, definitely the Lord Jesus. Comp. Matthew 18:5 ; Mark 9:39 ; Luke 9:49 ; Acts 3:16 , Acts 3:4 :10, Acts 3:18 , 30. The subsequent history of the practice is not without interest. It does not seem to have been ever entirely dropped either in the West or East. In the latter, though miraculous gifts of healing no longer accompanied it, it was, and still is, employed ostensibly as a means of healing, and the term “ extreme unction” has been carefully rejected. Stress is laid on the words of St James as pointing to the collective action of the elders, not to that of a single elder, and the legitimate number ranges from three as a minimum to seven. It is evident that here the idea of united prayer working with natural means has, in theory at least, survived. In the West, on the other hand, a new theory grew up with the growth of Scholasticism. If bodily healing no longer followed, it was because the anointing had become the sign and sacrament of a spiritual healing, and the special grace which it conveyed was thought of as being specifically different from that which came through other channels, adapted to the needs of the soul in its last struggles. So the term “Extreme Unction” came into use in the twelfth century, and the Council of Trent ( Catech. vi. 2. 9) limited its use to those who were manifestly drawing near unto death, and gave it the title of “ sacramentum exeuntium .” In the First Prayer Book of Edward vi. the rite was retained, partly, it would seem, by way of compromise (“if the sick person desire to be anointed”), partly, as the language of the prayer that was to accompany the act seems to indicate (“our heavenly Father vouchsafe for His great mercy (if it be His blessed will) to restore to thee thy bodily health”), with a faint hope of reviving the original idea. In the Prayer Book of 1552, the “unction” disappeared, and has never since been revived.

15 . and the prayer of faith shall save the sick ] The context leaves no doubt that the primary thought is, as in our Lord’s words to men and women whom He healed, “Thy faith hath saved thee” “thy faith hath made thee whole” (Matthew 9:22 ; Mark 5:34 , Mark 5:10 :52; Luke 7:50 , Luke 8:48 , Luke 17:19 , Luke 18:42 ), that the sick man should in such a case “recover his bodily health.” The “prayer of faith” was indeed not limited to that recovery in its scope, but the answer to that prayer in its higher aims, is given separately afterwards in the promise of forgiveness.

and the Lord shall raise him up ] Here, as in verse 14, we have to think of St James as recognising not merely the power of God generally, but specifically that of the Lord Jesus, still working through His servants, as He worked personally on earth. So Peter said to Æneas, “Jesus Christ maketh thee whole” (Acts 9:34 ).

if he have committed sins …] The Greek expresses with a subtle distinction, hard to reproduce in English, the man’s being in the state produced by having committed sins. Repentance, it is obvious, is presupposed as a condition, and the love of God in Christ as the fountain of forgiveness, but the prayer of the elders of the Church is, beyond question, represented as instrumental, as helping to win for the sinner the grace both of repentance and forgiveness. It is noticeable that the remission of sins thus promised is dependent not on the utterance of the quasi-judicial formula of the Absolvo te (that, indeed, was not used at all until the 13th century) by an individual priest, but on the prayer of the elders as representing the Church. Comp. John 20:23 , where also the promise is in the plural, “Whosesoever sins ye remit.”

16 . Confess your faults one to another …] Better, with the old MSS. Therefore confess and transgressions instead of faults . The noun includes sins against God as well as against men: the words refer the rule of this mutual confession to the promise of forgiveness as its ground. In details the precept is singularly wide. The confession is not to be made by the layman to the elder, more than by the elder to the layman. In either case the question whether it was to be public or private, spontaneous or carried on by questions, is left open. Examples such as those of Matthew 3:6 ; Acts 19:18 , Acts 19:19 , suggest the thought of the public confession of individual sins, which was, indeed, the practice of the Church of the third and fourth centuries, as it was afterwards that of many Monastic orders. A later revival of the custom is found in the “class-meetings” of the followers of John Wesley. The closing words, that ye may be healed , have been thought to limit the counsel thus given to times of sickness. It may be admitted that the words are to be taken primarily of bodily healing, but on the other hand, the tense of the imperatives implies continuous action. The writer urges the habit of mutual prayer and intercession, that when sickness comes, there may be a quicker work of healing in the absence of spiritual impediments to the exercise of supernatural powers working through natural media .

16 20. Prayer and Conversion

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much ] The words “effectual fervent” represent a single participle ( energumenè ), which is commonly rendered (as in 2 Corinthians 1:6 ; Galatians 5:6 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:13 ) by “working.” That accordingly may be its meaning here: A righteous man’s supplication is of great might in its working . The later ecclesiastical use of the word, however, suggests another explanation. The Energumeni were those who were acted, or worked, on by an evil spirit, and the word became a synonym for the “demoniacs” of the New Testament. It is possible that a like passive meaning may be intended here, and that the participle describes the character of a prayer which is more than the utterance of mere human feeling, in which the Spirit itself is making intercession with us (Romans 8:26 ).

17 . Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are ] The word is the same as that used by St Paul in Acts 14:15 . The reference to the history of Elijah (1 Kings 17:1 , 1 Kings 18:1 ) is noticeable, as one of the coincidences on which stress has been laid as suggesting the inference that the Epistle was written by the son of Zebedee, whose thoughts had been directed to the history of Elijah by the Transfiguration, and who had himself referred to that history when he sought to call down fire from heaven on the village of the Samaritans (Luke 9:54 ). The inference is, at the best, uncertain. It is, perhaps, more to the purpose to note that the son of Sirach, with whose teaching that of the Epistle presents so many parallels, had dwelt with great fulness on the history of Elijah (Ecclus. 48:1 12). It is remarkable that the Old Testament narrative does not directly state that the drought and the rain came as an answer to Elijah’s prayer, and that this is therefore an inference drawn by St James from the fact of the attitude of supplication described in 1 Kings 18:42 . An interesting coincidence in connexion with this reference to Elijah’s history presents itself in the narrative given in Josephus ( Ant. xviii. 8, § 6) of the troubles caused by Caligula’s insane attempt to set up his statue in the Temple at Jerusalem. Petronius, the then Governor of Judæa, was moved by the passionate entreaties of the people, and supported the efforts made by Agrippa I., who remained at Rome, to turn the Emperor from his purpose. It was one of the years of drought that brought about the great famine foretold by Agabus (Acts 11:28 ). No rain had fallen for many weeks, and the people Christians, we may well believe, as well as Jews, though Josephus, of course, makes no mention of the former were “instant in prayer,” calling upon the Lord God of Israel to send rain upon the earth. Suddenly rain fell in a plenteous shower from an almost cloudless sky. The earth was refreshed, and the pressing danger averted. Petronius, Josephus relates, was much moved by this manifestation, this Epiphany , of the Divine Power, and looked upon it partly as an answer to the prayers of the people, partly as the reward of the equity which he had shewn in dealing with them. According to the date which, on independent grounds, has here been assigned to St James’s Epistle, the event referred to must have happened but a few months before, or but a few months after, it. If before, he may well have had it in his thoughts. If after, it may well have been in part the effect of his teaching. Students of Church History will remember the strikingly parallel instance of the prayers of the soldiers of the Thundering Legion in the Expedition of Marcus Aurelius against the Marcomanni (Euseb. Hist . v. 5. Tertull. Apol . c. 5).

19 . if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him …] Better, as the verb is passive, if any of you be led astray . The “truth” here is obviously not the faith which was common to Jews and Christians, but specifically “the truth as it is in Jesus,” the truth which the “brethren,” who held the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ” (ch. 2:1), had received as their inheritance. To convert one who had so strayed, in thought or will, in belief or act, was to bring him back to the truth.

20 . from the error of his way ] The noun always involves the idea of being deceived as well as erring. Comp. 2 Peter 2:18 , 2 Peter 2:3 :17; 1 John 4:6 .

shall save a soul from death ] The soul is obviously that of the sinner who is converted. Death, bodily and spiritual, would be the outcome of the error if he were left alone, and in being rescued from the error he is therefore saved also from death.

and shall hide a multitude of sins ] The phrase is one of those which St James has in common with St Peter (1 Peter 4:8 ). It occurs also in the LXX. of Psalms 85:2 , and in a nearly identical form in Psalms 32:1 . The Hebrew, and English version, of Proverbs 10:12 present a still closer parallel, but the LXX. seems to have followed a different text, and gives “Friendship covers all those that are not contentious.” The context leaves hardly any room for doubt that the “sins” which are thought of as covered are primarily those of the man converted, and not those of the converter. There is, however, a studied generality in the form of the teaching, which seems to emphasise the wide blessedness of love. In the very act of seeking to convert one for whom we care we must turn to God ourselves, and in covering the past sins of another our own also are covered. In such an act love reaches its highest point, and that love includes the faith in God which is the condition of forgiveness.

The absence of any formal close to the Epistle is in many ways remarkable. In this respect it stands absolutely alone in the New Testament, the nearest approach to it being found in 1 John 5:21 . It is a possible explanation of this peculiarity, that we have lost the conclusion of the Epistle. It is, however, more probable that the abruptness is that of emphasis. The writer had given utterance to a truth which he desired above all things to impress on the minds of his readers, and he could not do this more effectually than by making it the last word he wrote to them.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on James 5". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/james-5.html. 1896.