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Bible Commentaries
James 2

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Verse 1

James 2:1

Ch. 2

1. accept others - 2:1-13

2. Assist others - 2:14-26

do not hold -- This is a PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE with a NEGATIVE PARTICLE which means to stop an act that is already in process. The Williams translation has “stop trying to maintain …” This implies that the people acting this way were misguided believers. - Utley

The implication is that the church was already engaged in this practice.

the faith -- This refers not to the act of believing, but to the entire Christian faith (Judges 1:3).

with partiality -- favoritism; Matthew 22:16;

There is no place for prejudice in the life of faith. “Partiality” combines a group of terms signifying “to accept/judge according to face” and refers to favoritism shown on the basis of status in society.- ESVSB

It may be helpful to distinguish partiality or favoritism (Gk. prosopolepsia; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; cf. Acts 10:34) from some of its synonyms. One definition of prosopolepsia is as follows.

It is “the fault of one who when called on to requite or to give judgment has respect to the outward circumstances of men and not to their intrinsic merits, and so prefers, as the more worthy, one who is rich, high-born, or powerful, to another who is destitute of such gifts.” - Constable

Lord of glory -- James implicitly compares the glory that belongs to Christ alone with the “glory” that believers are giving to powerful, wealthy humans. - NIVZSB

This is a title for deity in the Bible (cf. Psalms 29:1-3; Acts 7:2; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:17).

The rabbis used the term “Shekinah glory” to speak of YHWH dwelling with Israel (cf. Exodus 16:10; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3). Here the phrase describes Jesus (cf. Luke 2:32; John 1:14; John 17:5; 1 Corinthians 2:8; Heb. 1:3). Notice that Jesus is called (1) Messiah (Christ in Greek); (2) Lord (Greek translation of YHWH using the meaning of the substituted term Adonai); and (3) “of glory” (unique title for YHWH). These titles are a literary technique of attributing the divine characteristics of YHWH to Jesus of Nazareth. - Utley

Verse 2

James 2:2

gold rings -- fine apparel -- of the rich, in contrast to the filthy clothes of the poor, symbolize the contrast in socioeconomic status.

gold rings -- While Jews commonly wore rings (cf. Luke 15:22), few could afford gold ones. However, there are some reports that in the ancient world the most ostentatious people wore rings on every finger but the middle one to show off their economic status (some ancient sources indicate that there were even ring rental businesses). - MSB

fine apparel -- This word refers to bright, shining garments and is used of the gorgeous garment Herod’s soldiers put on Jesus to mock him (Luke 23:11) and of the apparel of an angel (Acts 10:30). It can also refer to bright, flashy color and to brilliant, glittering, sparkling ornamentation. James is not condemning this unbeliever for his distracting dress, but the church’s flattering reaction to it.- MSB

comes into your assembly -- (your meeting ).. Literally, your synagogue. Illustrates partiality shown within their community.

Since James was writing early in the church’s history to Jewish believers (James 1:1), he used both this general word and the normal Gk. word for “church” (James 5:14) to describe the church’s corporate meetings during that period of transition. - MSB

The use of the term synagogue reflects an early date for the book. NIVZSB

filthy clothes -- (shabby) The word shabby (rypara, “dirty” or “vile”) is found only here and in Revelation 22:11. (Cf. the word ryparian, “moral filth,” which James used in James 1:21.) - BKC

This may refer to one not only in poverty, but a beggar, the cultural opposite of the finely dressed man.

Verse 3

James 2:3

Some think James remarks here refer to a time when Christians and Jews wee still worshipping together, or evidence that the early Jewish Christans’ worship services were patterned after a synagogue structure. The presence of "seats of honor" and "footstool" in the Jewish synagogue (cf Matthew 23:6) seem to indicate this.

Others think the assembly described is not a worship setting but a Christian court similiar to those held in the synagogue (cf. Mark 13:9; Luke 21:12.) The two visitors (litigants) may be part of a legal proceeding. They may explain (1) why they do not know where to sit and 92) the reference to "drag you into court" in James 2:6 (cf. Leviticus 19:15).

pay attention -- (give special attention) -- (lit., “to gaze upon”) and preferential seating is given to the rich man, and standing room only or an inferior seat on the floor (lit., “under my footstool”) is afforded the poor man. - BKC

To give special attention to wealthy people because of their social status, political power, and potential generosity as patrons is wrong.

By serving and publicly honoring the wealthy, the church could gain whatever economic benefits they wished to give. James warns that this discrimination reflects evil motives, a division between loyalty to God (James 1:6) and a desire for the benefits of worldly wealth (James 4:4). - NLTSB

sit in a good place --

A more comfortable, prominent place of honor. The synagogues and assembly halls of the first century sometimes had benches around the outside wall and a couple of benches in front. Most of the congregation either sat cross-legged on the floor or stood. There were a limited number of good seats; they were the ones the Pharisees always wanted (Mark 12:38-39). - MSB

stand there -- probabl in the back

sit at my footstool -- like a srvant.

Verse 4

James 2:4

There is some debate among the commentators about whether a public worship service or a congregational meeting for the purpose of hearing a judicial case is in view. 86 The term “synagogue” meant a public worship service in early Christian literature, but the following verses may suggest a judicial setting. This issue does not affect the meaning of the passage significantly. - Constable

have you not -- Verses 4 and 5 are questions which expect a "yes" answer.

made distinctions -- (NASB) Believers were and are guilty of showing distinctions and favoritism. “Distinctions” is a compound word of dia (through) with krina (judge).- Utley

The OT prohibits people from discriminating between the rich and the poor (Leviticus 19:15); the practice also goes against God’s character (Deuteronomy 10:17; Job 34:19). - FSB

shown partiality -- NKJV The true sin in this passage, not the lavish apparel or rings of the rich man or that he was given a good seat.

judges with evil thoughts -- This is better translated “judges with vicious intentions.” James feared that his readers would behave just like the sinful world by catering to the rich and prominent while shunning the poor and common. - MSB

Christians are not to “judge” each other (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 14:4; 1 Corinthians 5:12), and to do so can only mean one’s mind is consumed with evil “thoughts” (Gk. dialogismos, which can mean “opinions,” “reasoning,” or “conclusions”). - ESVSB

Verse 5

James 2:5

Listen -- (Listen to me, Harken) -- Employing this rhetorical device for emphasis (see Deuteronomy 6:3; Amos 3:1; Matthew 13:18; Acts 15:13), - NLTSB

Aorist Active Imperative - which expresses urgency. - Utley

Has God not chosen -- "Chosen" is an Aorist Middle Indicative (cf. Ephesians 1:4) We get the English word "elect" from this Greek term. - Utley

poor of this world -- James does not mean that the rich are at a disadvantage when it comes to believing, but that the poor are more apt to rely on God... FSB

God’s special concern for the poor is reflected in the OT (Exodus 23:11; 1 Samuel 2:8; Psalms 12:5) and in the ministries of Jesus and Paul (Luke 4:18; Luke 6:20; 1 Corinthians 1:26-28). This concern was emphasized by the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:9-10), of which James was the leader. - NLTSB

Those who appear poor materially, but are rich spiritually -- BKC

The irony is that God has chosen to bless the poor and socially ostracized. God has chosen them and made them rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, but the local worship leaders were favoring the wealthy and powerful. These were the very ones who were persecuting the early believers. The gospel being preached to the poor was a sign of the New Age (cf. Isaiah 61:1 ff; Matthew 11:5; Luke 1:51-53; Luke 4:18; Luke 7:22). - Utley

The poor have always felt ostracized from “official” religion, but they were wonderfully accepted and embraced by Jesus. The poor gladly accepted Christ, while the rich tended to trust in their own resources (cf. Matthew 19:23-26). This is not to imply that every poor person is saved, but they surely are welcome to come to Jesus. Most of the early church were from the poorer classes of society. - Utley

rich in faith -- James indicates that the poor are wealthy in terms of their salvation and its associated blessings, not in terms of material goods. - FSB

They are rich in an eternal sense because they are heirs of the kingdom (cf. “poor in spirit, … theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:3). - ESVSB

heirs -- The Scriptures talk about believers inheriting many things because of their relationship with Jesus who is heir of all things (cf. Hebrews 1:2), and they as coheirs (cf. Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7) of (1) the kingdom (cf. Matthew 25:34, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:50); (2) eternal life (cf. Matthew 19:29); (3) God’s promises (cf. Hebrews 6:12); and (4) God’s protection of His promises (cf. 1 Peter 1:4; 1 Peter 5:9). - Utley

heirs of the kingdom -- Being an heir of the kingdom means possessing eternal life (Mark 10:17-23; Luke 18:29-30) and salvation (Luke 18:18-26). Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17 -FSB

The Kingdom of God was central to the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 12:8; Mark 1:15; Luke 17:21). Christ already rules from his place at the right hand of the Father, yet his Kingdom will be fully realized only when the Son of Man comes (Matthew 25:31; Matthew 25:34; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). - NLTSB

Here James means the kingdom in its present sense of the sphere of salvation—those over whom Christ rules -- MSB

He promised -- Matthew 16:28;

Verse 6

James 2:6

It is uncertain whether the rich referred to in James 1:10-11; James 2:6 or James 5:1-6 are believers. Possibly they were wealthy Jews, the very ones who persecuted the early Christians. - Utley

But you -- An emphatic contrast to what God has done for the poor, powerless, and ostracized of v. 5.

dishonored -- Even thought God chose the poor, the church has treated them with disrespect. - FSB

the poor man -- When a Christian dishonors the poor he or she treats them exactly opposite to the way God treats them (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:22; 1 Peter 2:17). - Constable

the rich oppress -- The rich are characterized as (1) oppressing you; (2) dragging you to court; and (3) blaspheming the name by which you are called. Can these be wealthy believers? I think not! - Utley

Instead of favoring Christians James reminded his readers that the characteristic response of the rich to them had been to oppress them (cf. Acts 4:1-3; Acts 13:50; Acts 16:19; Acts 19:23-41). How inconsistent it is to despise one’s friends and honor one’s foes! The oppression in view could have been physical and or legal. - Constable

Rich unbelievers are using their power and influence to persecute believers, probably because they oppose the teaching about Jesus as Messiah and Lord. - NIVZSB

oppress -- Lit. "to tyrannize" MSB

drag you into courts -- The wealthy apparently were applying legal pressure to the poor, perhaps regarding wages, rent, and other forms of debt. - FSB

As frequently recorded in the OT (e.g., Amos 4:1; Habakkuk 1:4; Malachi 3:5), the wealthy often used the court system to steal from the poor. This situation was the primary reason for the revolts in Galilee that led to the war of A.D. 66–70. ESVSB

Verse 7

James 2:7

blaspheme -- speak evil of, TEV; insult, NJB, scorn, MSG; speak against, NCV; slandering, NIV

James accuses the wealthy of insulting or slandering the name of Christ - FSB

Probably a reference to religious courts. Wealthy Jewish opponents of Christ were harassing these poor Christians. Cf. John 16:2-4. MSB

To blaspheme or slander (Gk. blasphemeo) means to mock deliberately or to speak contemptuously of God. Perhaps those who were blaspheming Christ’s name were unbelieving Jews (cf. Acts 13:45). - Constable

noble name -- honorable name, ESV; worthy name, KJV; good name; LEB; fair name, NASB;

The rich not only typically oppose Christians, they also typically speak against Christ. This was true in James’ world as it is in ours. It is inconsistent to give special honor to those who despise the Lord whom believers love and serve. - Constable

by which you are called -- (to whom you belong, LEB, him to whom you belong, NIV; invoked over you, RSVA)

Literally "which was called upon you"; A similar expression is found in St. James’s speech in Acts 15:17, in a quotation from Amos 9:12. - PC

The use of this word indicates alway that it is God who does "calling", or who gave the name; cf. Acts 11:26. Isaiah 62:2.

There is an allusion either to the fact that they were already called Christians, or that they were baptized in his name. Acts 11:26, PNT

Culturally this could refer to (1) a patriarchal family blessing (cf. Genesis 48:16); (2) a wife taking her husband’s name (cf. Isaiah 4:1); (3) a slave becoming a permanent property of another; (4) a baptismal formula (cf. Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38); (5) an Old Testament title for the covenantal people of God (cf. Deuteronomy 28:10; 2 Chronicles 6:33, 2 Chronicles 7:14); or (6) the title “Christian” (little Christs), first given in derision to believers at Antioch of Syria (cf. Acts 11:26). In context #4 fits best. - Utley

(Literally slander the noble name spoken over you): The name spoken over you is Jesus Christ (James 2:1). It is a sign of ownership, pronounced at the time of conversion and baptism. - NLTSB

name -- Judaism often spoke of “the sacred name” or used other expressions rather than using the name of God; James may apply this divine title to Jesus here (cf. James 2:1). In the Old Testament, being “called by someone’s name” meant that one belonged to that person in some sense; it was especially applied to belonging to God. - IVPBBCNT

Verse 8

James 2:8

If -- Conditional sentence assumed to be true. James’ hearers/readers were fulfilling the royal law if they loved appropriately. - Utley

It was written in Greek in such a way that an obedient response was anticipated. - BKC

really fulfill -- Christians are to obey (literally fulfill) the royal law, just as Jesus fulfilled the law by his coming (Matthew 5:17) and his teaching (Matthew 22:34-40). - NLTSB

the royal law -- (Gk. basilikos), i.e., “law belonging to the king,” with reference here to God’s law in Leviticus 19:18 (“love your neighbor”; cf. Matthew 22:34-40) as the apex of kingdom rules for ethical conduct. Cf. Romans 13:8-10. - ESVSB

The law is royal or regal (basilikon, from basileus, “king”) because it is decreed by the King of kings, is fit for a king, and is considered the king of laws. The phrase reflects the Latin lex regia known throughout the Roman Empire. - BKC

according to the Scripture -- This is a quote from Leviticus 19:18, but with an eye toward Leviticus 19:15 (i.e. you shall not be partial) also.

love your neighbor -- James quotes Leviticus 19:18. Jesus cites this in Matthew 22:39 as the second-greatest commandment (see Matthew 7:12).FBS

This law had received the sanction of the King himself (Matthew 22:39; Luke 10:25-26). - PC

This quotation from Leviticus 19:18 requires identifying with the neighbor as though the neighbor were yourself. - NLTSB

Quoted from Leviticus 19:18, and when combined with the command to love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), summarizes all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10). - MSB

you do well -- "you are doing well" NASB; "you are doing right" NIV; You are not to be blamed but to be commended. MPCNT

Verse 9

James 2:9

But if -- Better translated as “since,” the Gk. construction of this conditional statement indicates that this practice was in fact happening among James’ readers. - MSB

show partitality -- The type of preferential treatment James dealt with in this pericope (James 2:1-13) violates the royal law because it treats some as inferior and others as sources of special favor (cf. Acts 10:34). - Consable

Contrasts obedience to the royal law; showing partiality [against a neighbor] is opposed to loving one’s neighbor—it is an act of sin. - FSB

Showing favoritism violates the command to love one’s neighbor (James 2:8). - NLTSB

This is a strong word for the church today. We dare not play favorites with those for whom Christ died (cf. Romans 14:15; Romans 14:20; 1 John 2:9-11; 1 John 3:9-18). - Utley

committing sin -- "Sin” is in an emphatic position in the Greek sentence. - Utley

convicted by the law -- James personifies the law as a judge pronouncing a guilty verdict on the accused for breaking it. It is unclear whether James refers here to the royal law or the OT law, but based on his next phrase—and it being steeped in a Jewish context—it seems that he is referring to the OT law. - FSB

as transgressors -- Transgression means to “step over a known boundary” and was one of the OT definitions of sin. Notice this is not ignorance, but willful action against God’s revealed will. - Utley

This refers to one who goes beyond the law of God. Respect of persons makes one a violator of God’s law. - MSB

Verse 10

James 2:10

For whoever shall keep -- The best manuscripts [ à B, C. - old, but which are not necessarily the best, - WG] read, “Whosoever shall have kept the whole law, and yet shall have offended (literally, ‘stumbled’; not so strong as ‘fall,’ Romans 11:11) in one (point; here, the respecting of persons), is (hereby) become guilty of all.” The law is one seamless garment which is rent if you but rend a part; - JFB

the whole law -- The law was considered an interdependent whole, and any infraction constituted a breaking of the law as a whole. Jesus said, “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Thus favoritism (James 2:9) makes one “accountable” (Gk. enochos, a legal term for “liable” or “guilty” before God’s court) for the whole law. - ESVSB

The Law was express on the need of keeping all the commandments; see Leviticus 19:37 (the same chapter to which St. James has already referred). - PC

stumble in one point -- Partial obedience, or temporary obedience, was never enough to be accepted by God through the Mosaic covenant (cf. Matthew 5:19; Galatians 5:3). This type of summary statement about keeping the whole law (from bar mitzvah [boys from age 13] and bath mitzvah [girls from age 12] now responsible to keep the law) is the theological basis of Paul’s strong statements of mankind’s sinfulness in Romans 3:9-23. - Utley

is guilty of all -- (accountable for all - ESV) --

Reflects the belief that the OT law was to be kept in its entirety (Galatians 5:3) - FSB

Not in the sense of having violated every command, but in the sense of having violated the law’s unity. One transgression makes fulfilling the law’s most basic commands—to love God perfectly and to love one’s neighbor as oneself—impossible. - MSB

“Our obedience to God’s will cannot be on a selective basis; we cannot choose that part that is to our liking and disregard the rest. God’s will is not fragmentary; the entire law is the expression of His will for His people; it constitutes a grand unity. To break out one corner of a window pane is to become guilty of breaking the whole pane. He who crosses a forbidden boundary at one point or another is guilty of having crossed the boundary. - 94{ Hiebert, James, p. 148} - Constable

A golden chain whose completeness is broken if you break one link [GATAKER]. ... If any part of a man be leprous, the whole man is judged to be a leper. - JFB

Verse 11

James 2:11

James uses this comment in verse 11 to illustrate his point in verse 10. One doesn’t have to break every law to become a law-breaker, just one law!

He who said -- Refers to God, who spoke these commands (Exodus 20:13-14). - FSB ( Deuteronomy 5:17-18 )

adultery -- murder -- This is the order of the Ten Commandments (which shows James’ early Jewish flavor) in the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of the OT begun about 250 B.C. and is quoted by most NT authors. - Utley

This appears to have been the usual order at that time. Our Lord quotes them in this order in Luke 18:20, and Paul in Romans 13:9. Philo also has the same order. - PC

a transgressor of the law -- a violator of law, a law-breaker;

James illustrated this point with a hypothetical case involving two very severe violations of the law. All sins are not equally serious in that the consequences of some sins are greater than others, but all sins are equally serious in that any sin is a violation of God’s will. - Constable

Verse 12

James 2:12

So speak -- do -- One must both habitually speak and act (Gk. present active imperative) remembering that we will stand before God in judgment. Matthew 12:37.

Perhaps this is referring back to James 1:19; James 1:26, and fuller discussed in James 3:5-12.

Believers’ words and lives must agree. We must practice what we preach (cf. Matt. 7) - Utley

Complete and consistent obedience is required if spiritual maturity is to be attained. The believer is commanded to accept his brother with courtesy, compassion, and consistency. - BKC

judged by -- Believers must speak and act in accordance with the law of liberty and with a view to the coming judgment. - ESVSB

Everyone will stand before God in judgment, Matthew 25:31; Romans 2:6; Romans 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:10.

the law of liberty -- (see note on James 1:25)

The law of liberty (James 1:25) is the law of God that liberates us now. It is the same as the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2) in contrast to the Mosaic Law. As free as we are under the law of Christ, we need to remember that God will judge us (Romans 14:10-13; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). We need to speak and act accordingly, namely, without prejudice toward others. - Constable

Verse 13

James 2:13

judgment without mercy ..

Believers’ words and lives must agree. We must practice what we preach (cf. Matt. 7)

James might be drawing on ideas from Zechariah 7:9-10, where mercy is closely related to concern for the poor. - FSB

who has shown no mercy ... (not practiced mercy; not had pity;)

This proverbial saying sums up the implications of vv. 1–12 and leads into the “faith without works” discussion in vv. 14–26. It was the core of Roman law (lex talionis, “the law of retribution”), but more importantly it is central to God’s law: what you do to others will be done to you in the judgment. - ESVSB

Mercy was an essential OT requirement for dealing with the poor (Micah 6:8; Zechariah 7:9-10). Mercy is likewise a requirement of believers in the NT (e.g., Matthew 5:7; Matthew 6:15; Matthew 18:32-35), or they will experience God’s judgment rather than his mercy. - ESVSB

Mercy triumphs -- The verb “triumphs” or “exults over” (katakauchatai) appears only here, in James 3:14, and in Romans 11:18.

The person whose life is characterized by mercy is ready for the day of judgment, and will escape all the charges that strict justice might bring against him because by showing mercy to others he gives genuine evidence of having received God’s mercy. - MSB

This is the spiritual principle that humans reap what they sow (cf. Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 7:1-5; Matthew 18:22-25; Galatians 6:7). It may have been a well-known proverb in Palestine. - Utley

...if we are merciful in dealing with our fellowmen God will be merciful in dealing with us when we stand before Him (cf. Matthew 25:34-40). Mercy triumphs over judgment just as love triumphs over partiality. - Constable

In modern life, partiality sometimes arises because of differences in economic levels, race, religious preferences, political views, education backgrounds, and personal opinions, to name a few causes. 96 [ Larry A. Mercer, “A Biblical and Cultural Study of the Problem of Racism,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996):87-103.]

For Christians it is sometimes harder to be impartial toward sinners who flaunt their sin than it is those who acknowledge that they have sinned. However because Christ died for all we should reach out to all as He did rather than being unfriendly and cliquish. This is true whether the sinners are homosexuals, AIDS patients, the murderers of unborn children, liars, adulterers, thieves, or gossips. This reaching out will be an accurate indicator of the extent to which Christ’s love controls us (cf. James 1:27). - Constable

Verse 14

James 2:14

Section 2:14-26 Faith and Works

Connected 7 times in this section:

James 2:14; James 2:17; James 2:18; James 2:20; James 2:22; James 2:24; James 2:26;

The Difference between James and Paul

James’ definition of "faith" = believing, mental activity, while Paul’s definition of faith = the gospel system vs the Law of Moses.

James’ "works" = obedience to the faith

(Faith is called a work in John 6:29, that is, a work (something) ordained by God.

Paul’s "works" often mean meritorious works of the law and traditions.

- - - - - - - -

What does it profit -- (what good is it, ESV; what is the benefit, LEB; what use is it, NASB)

Rhetorical question, almost of impatience. Old word from ὀφελλω [ophello], to increase, in N. T. only here, and in James 2:16, and 1 Corinthians 15:32. - RWP

The Greek particle μὴ (me) at the beginning of the next question (Can that faith save him?) shows that James again expects a negative answer.

my brethren -- (James 1:2; James 1:9) Written to Christians. A favorite expression with James and occurs no less than fifteen times in this short epistle.

if someone says -- This is a THIRD CLASS CONDITIONAL SENTENCE, “someone may say.” It is structured like the diatribe form (a supposed objector) of James 1:26. - Utley

This important phrase governs the interpretation of the entire passage. James does not say that this person actually has faith, but that he claims to have it. - MSB

he has faith ..

The emphasis is not on the true nature of faith but on the false claim of faith. - BKC

Biblical faith (pistis) has several aspects: (1) doctrine (cf. 1 John 4:1-6; Judges 1:3, Judges 1:20; (2) personal relationship and commitment to Jesus (cf. John 1:12; John 3:16; Romans 10:9-13); and (3) lifestyle (cf. James and I John). All three aspects are involved in genuine, mature faith. - Utley

does not have works -- “but keeps on not having (μη [] and present active subjunctive ἐχῃ [echēi]) works. - RWP

can faith save him -- (can such faith save him, can that faith save him) -- A negative answer is anticipated in the Greek. Merely claiming to have faith is not enough. Genuine faith is evidenced by works. - BKC

The pronoun, and, in the Greek, the article prefixed to faith, are emphatic. “Can his faith save him, being such as he is?” - CBSC

James is not disputing the importance of faith. Rather, he is opposing the notion that saving faith can be a mere intellectual exercise void of a commitment to active obedience (cf. Matthew 7:16-18). The grammatical form of the question demands a negative answer. - MSB

James asserts that genuine faith affects the believer’s behavior; faith that does not affect behavior is superficial and cannot save. - FSB

Saving faith is not simply a profession or an empty claim (James 2:14-17), nor is it merely the acceptance of a creed (James 2:18-20). Saving faith is that which produces an obedient life (James 2:21-26). - Spirit Filled Life Study Bible

save -- Deliver from God’s wrath on the day of judgment, as usually in James (James 1:21; James 4:12; James 5:20; and probably in James 5:15) - NIVZSB

Verse 15

James 2:15

If a brother or sister -- James illustrates his point by comparing faith without works to words of compassion without acts of compassion (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). - MSB

James envisioned a situation that may very well have taken place in his church in Jerusalem where there were many poor saints (Romans 15:25-31; 1 Corinthians 16:3). All the people in the illustration are genuine Christians as seems clear from the terms James used to describe them (cf. “brethren” in James 1:1; James 2:1; James 1:1 James 3:1). - Constable

is naked -- badly clothed, or destitute of such clothing as is fit for them, Job 22:6 1 Corinthians 4:11 - MPCNT

and destitute -- Under these two of nakedness and hunger, he comprehends all the calamities of human life, which may be relieved by the help of others; as food and raiment contain all the ordinary supports and comforts of life, Genesis 28:20 Matthew 6:25 1 Timothy 6:8. MPCNT

The picture drawn is one of extremest destitution, and, like the teaching of the whole passage, reminds us of Matthew 25:36, Matthew 25:43. - CBSC

James may be recalling the suffering, from the famine foretold by Agabus (Acts 11:28-30). CBSC

Daily -- (ἐφημέρου) for the day. Only here in New Testament.

of daily food -- In first-century Palestine and the Roman world in general, many poverty-stricken persons lacked the bare necessities of life. - NLTSB

Verse 16

James 2:16

and one of you says -- How many words does it take to fill a hungry stomach? - KJVBC

Depart in peace -- (Present, Active, Imperative) A usual form of salutation, wherein, under the name of peace, they wished all prosperity and happiness to them they greeted, Mark 5:34 Luke 7:50 Luke 8:48. - MPCNT

This is a veiled prayer for God to provide their needs. It is an OT idiom for God’s provision (cf. Judges 18:6; 1 Samuel 1:17; 1 Samuel 20:42; 2 Samuel 15:9). - Utley

For one in need of the basics of life, sentimental good wishes do little good, like the common Jewish farewell, Go, I wish you well (lit., “Go in peace,” cf. Judges 18:6; 1 Samuel 1:17; 2 Samuel 15:9; Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50). If nothing is done to fill the pressing need for warm clothes and satisfying food, what good is it? - BKC

be warmed -- ” i. e. be ye clothed; the warmth here mentioned being such as is procured by clothes, Job 31:20.

be filled -- satisfied with food; a metaphor from the fatting of cattle with grass or hay. The same word is used, Matthew 14:20 Mark 6:42 Philippians 4:12.

but you do not give ..

What good is charitable wishes without charitable deeds?

The speaker might suppose that he needs only to express his faith to make it happen. But without his participation (action), it is an empty wish. - NLTSB

things needed ..

What does it profit? -- The same phrase that James used to introduce this paragraph (James 2:14) is repeated for emphasis. - BKC

Verse 17

James 2:17

Paul in Hebrews 6:9-10 speaks of works that accompany salvation. Here James means works of obedience, cf. Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:26.

Thus also -- James is getting to the point of his examples.

faith by itself -- That is, alone, without deeds, works, that are evidence of one’s faith.

In itself (καθʼαυτην [kath’ heautēn]). In and of itself (according to itself), inwardly and outwardly dead (?e??a [nekra]). Same idiom in Acts 28:16; Rom. 14:22. It is a dead faith. RWP

if it does not have works -- faith by itself, or faith in and of itself with no evidence of action, is dead. BKC

It brings no results, and cannot lead to salvation (James 2:14). There can be no true faith that fails to produce works (here seen as care for the poor, but including good works of all kinds). - ESVSB

is dead -- This then is St James’s objection to the faith of which he speaks. It is, while alone (literally, by itself), with no promise or potency of life, and it is, therefore, dead. - CBSC

Just as professed compassion without action is phony, the kind of faith that is without works is mere empty profession, not genuine saving faith. MSB

Verse 18

James 2:18

and one of you says -- James next introduced an objection to his thesis that faith is dead without works. He put it in the mouth of a hypothetical objector. This literary device of objection and response was a common one that Paul also used (Romans 9:19-20; 1 Corinthians 15:35-36). It is the diatribe.- Constable

James presents another diatribe (see note on James 1:13), in which he presents a hypothetical counterargument that one person may have the gift of faith while another person has the gift of works (see 1 Corinthians 12:7-9). NLTSB

Interpreters disagree on whether 1) “someone” is James’ humble way of referring to himself or whether it refers to one of James’ antagonists who objected to his teaching; and 2) how much of the following passage should be attributed to this antagonist as opposed to James himself. Regardless, James’ main point is the same: the only possible evidence of true faith is works (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-11). MSB

you have faith, I have works -- What "someone" may say.

Grammatically this is a very ambiguous passage as to punctuation and pronoun antecedents. It is uncertain whether there is (1) one supporter of James’ position; (2) one objector to James’ position; (3) one of each; or (4) two opposing hypothetical persons alluded to by James. It is uncertain whether the quotation stops at v. 18a (NKJV, NRSV, NIV) or 18b (NASB, TEV) or if it goes through v. 19.

It is possible that James’ supposed objector is claiming that Christians have different spiritual gifts, some faith and some works. James responds that faith is not a gift, but a bedrock relationship of trust in Christ. To know Christ is to emulate Him; to live as He lived; to love as He loved; to give oneself to others as He gave Himself to others (cf. 1 John 3:16). - Utley

Show me -- your faith ... Is this still the words of the "someone", or is it James’ counter-statement?

The man who relied on faith is challenged to exhibit it, if he can, apart from works. - CBSC

Show does not mean here to prove to me, but to exhibit to me. JFB.

I will show you -- James implies that faith cannot be demonstrated apart from action (works). FSB

An alternative is clearly stated: 1) The mere profession of faith with no works or 2) a profession of faith shown to be alive by works.

Note [pistin] (faith) in both cases. James is not here discussing “works” (ceremonial works) as a means of salvation as Paul in Gal. 3 and Rom. 4, but works as the evidence and a normal result of faith. - (A.T. Robinson)

Verse 19

James 2:19

believe there is one God -- This (monotheism) was the first test of orthodoxy for the Jews (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Yet the demons believe this also (cf. Matthew 4:3; Mark 5:7). - Utley

James continues to respond to the rhetorical opponent introduced in v. 18 (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29; Romans 3:30). - FSB

Here, -- it seems more likely that his goal is to establish that God cannot disagree with Himself. - FSB

You do well -- Christianity is not only correct doctrine, but a relationship of obedience and love. Orthodoxy alone, without orthopraxy is empty (cf. 1 Cor. 13). A theological, intellectual commitment to monotheism (cf. Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5-6) does not make one right with God. Proper belief cannot save, for who among fallen humanity has perfectly accurate theology? - Utley

[orthopraxy = ortho = right, true, genuine; praxy= Latin from Gk, practis= practice; ]

The demons believe -- James uses the demons as an illustration to show that intellectual ascent to the truth is not enough.

Matthew 4:3; Mark 5:7; Matthew 8:29-30; Luke 4:41; Acts 19:15

James’s point seems to be that good works do not result from correct belief alone.

tremble -- “shudder,” or “bristle up” (phrissousin, an onomatopoeic verb used only here in the NT). BKC

The word signifies extreme fear and horror, viz. such as the thoughts of their Judge strike into them. - MPCNT

The demons do more than just believe the fact, they shudder at it (not the proper response of faith).

The kind of purely intellectual “faith” (James 2:18) that demons have is far from the biblical faith that trusts God and results in obedience to him. - NIVZSB

Verse 20

James 2:20

But do you want to know -- (be shown, RSV, ESV; recognize NASB; evidence, NET NIV; This question expects a "yes" answer.

An ancient argumentative style, called the diatribe, which uses a hypothetical question-and-answer format to convey the author’s ideas. NIVZSB

O foolish man -- empty, vain, fruitless, hollow; The Greek term used here, kenos, refers to intellectual deficiency. In this context, it indicates a person who lacks understanding of spiritual truth. FSB

The term, as applied to men, is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but is used with something of the same significance in the LXX. of Judges 9:4. The idea is primarily that of “emptiness,” and the Greek adjective is almost literally the equivalent of our empty-headed. CBSC

faith without works is dead -- (useless, barren) James 2:20 and James 2:26 is an important theological summary statement. In his Study Guide Commentary on James Curtis Vaughan sees these three summary statements as constituting the main outline:

(1) genuine faith is not an empty claim (James 2:14-17);

(2) genuine faith is not mere acceptance of a creed (James 2:18-20); and

(3) genuine faith is faith that produces an obedient life (James 2:21-26, p. 56). - Utley

Mere mental assent to the Christian faith does not save anyone. The faith that saves, as both Paul and James affirm, embraces the truth of the gospel and acts accordingly [in obedience] - ESVSB

without works -- The Greek, implies separate from the works [ALFORD] which ought to flow from it if it were real. - JFB

Works -- works of obedience, cf. Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:26. Paul at the beginning of Romans lets us know that when speaking of faith, he means a faith that is obeyed. Then again at the end he reminds us that faith is something to be obeyed to be saving faith.

dead -- Majority MSS = νεκρα dead; Some MSS = ἀργή barren,

See 2 Peter 1:8 (not idle nor unfruitful) and Matthew 12:36, but Hort urges “inactive” as the idea here, like money with no interest and land with no crops. RWP

The MSS vary between “dead” and the adjective rendered “idle” in Matthew 12:36, Matthew 20:3. The meaning is substantially the same. That which is without life is without the activity which is the one proof of life. - CBSC

Verse 21

James 2:21

James 2:21-26 James cites 3 illustrations of living faith:

1) Abraham (James 2:21-24);

2) Rahab (James 2:25); and

3) the human body and spirit (James 2:26). - MSB

Was not Abraham -- The Greek wording expects a "yes" answer to the question.

This question is often held to be directly opposed to Paul’s statement that Abraham’s faith, ... (Romans 4:1-5). Paul, however, was arguing for the priority of faith. James argued for the proof of faith. Paul declared that Abraham had faith, and was therefore justified, or declared righteous (Genesis 15:6), prior to circumcision (Genesis 17:11; cf. Romans 4:9). - BKC

Abraham our father -- Abraham was not only the father of us as Jews, (for to them he wrote), and according to the flesh, but as believers, and according to the promise; so all believers are called Abraham’s children, Romans 4:11 Galatians 3:7. - MPCNT

justified by works -- The use of the word “justify” shews that its meaning is to “acquit” or “count as righteous” (Matthew 12:37; Acts 13:39; Ecclus. Sirach 26:29, ecclus Sirach 23:11 RSVA). - CBSC

James is using the term “works” in a different way than Paul. James is speaking of the Christian’s lifestyle faith (cf. I John), while Paul is speaking of a works-righteousness of the Jews as a basis for being accepted by God (cf. Romans 10:2-3). - Utley

Abraham was ... found or declared to be justified, not only before God, but in the face of the world; and his faith (by which he had been justified above thirty years before in the sight of God) now approved as a true, lively, justifying faith, by this proof he gave of it, upon God’s trying him in the offering up his son, Genesis 22:9, Genesis 22:12 - MPCNT

James points out that while Abraham believed God, it was his "work" of obedience that justified him before God.

When Paul says that a man is justified by faith (the gospel) apart from works, he is speaking of the works of the law of Moses, the rituals, circumcision, etc.

When -- Not just on hs way, but when he offered Isaac.!

offered Isaac his son -- “when he offered” [ALFORD], that is, brought as an offering at the altar; not implying that he actually offered him. - JFB

James explained that Abraham’s faith was evident in his practice of Isaac’s sacrifice (Genesis 22:12), and he was therefore justified, or declared righteous. BKC

on the altar -- the two acts [offered, altar] being thought of, not as successive, but simultaneous. It is remarkable that the only scriptural references, after Gen. 22, to the sacrifice of Isaac, are found in Wisdom of Solomon 10:5 [Wisdom of Solomon 10:5 - RSVA] - CBSC

Verse 22

James 2:22

You see -- The singular “you” in this verse in the Greek text indicates that James was still addressing his objector. - Constable

faith working -- Abraham’s faith and his actions (offering Isaac) were working together.

his works -- This describes the full scope of Abraham’s faithful response to God throughout his life (see Genesis 12:1-4; Genesis 18:1-27). NLTSB

as a result ..

was made perfect -- (ἐτελειωθη [eteleiōthē]). First aorist passive indicative of τελειοω [teleioō], to carry to the end, to complete like love in 1 John 4:18. - RWP

faith was perfected -- This refers to bringing something to its end, or to its fullness. Just as a fruit tree has not arrived at its goal until it bears fruit, faith has not reached its end until it demonstrates itself in a righteous life. MSB

The verb translated was made complete (eteleiothe) means to “carry to the end.” - BKC

James insists that deeds of obedience to God are always the result, or fulfillment, of faith. - NIVZSB

Here the tense is changed to that which denotes completion in a single act. It was “by works” (i. e. out of, as from the originating cause) that faith was brought to its completion. - CBSC

Verse 23

James 2:23

Scripture was fulfilled -- Quoted from Genesis 15:6

Faith finds fulfillment in action. So it was with Abraham. James and Paul quoted the same passage—Genesis 15:6—to prove their points (cf. Romans 4:3). Paul said that Abraham was justified by faith, and James said that Abraham was justified by faith evidenced by what he did. - BKC

reckoned (imputed) ... NKJV=accounted; NIV=credited; RSV=reckoned;

James centers on Abraham’s act of obedience while Paul centers on God’s declaration of Abraham’s righteousness. - ESVSB

James follows Jewish teaching by connecting the declaration of Abraham’s righteous status before God in Genesis 15:6 with his faithful response when God “tested” him by asking him to sacrifice his son: “Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness?” (1 Maccabees 2:52 in the Apocrypha [NRSV]). NIVZSB

friend of God -- Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7 3 times in the Bible counting here, and a common description of Abraham among Jewish writers contemporary with James.

It was [a] ... current phrase in the Jewish schools, and has descended to the Arabs, with whom the name of El Khalil Allah (the friend of God), or more briefly El Khalil, ... Even Hebron, as the city of Abraham, and so identified with him, has become El Khalil, “the friend.” - CBSC

Abraham was called a friend of God, in contrast to those who have no acts of obedience to prove their claims to faith and are therefore seen to be friends of this world (James 4:4). - ESVSB

Genesis does not call Abraham this, but see 2 Chronicles 20:7 and Isaiah 41:8 (and Jewish tradition: OT pseudepigrapha, Jubilees 19:9; Jubilees 30:20; Philo, Abraham 273 The Works of Philo). - NIVZSB

Verse 24

James 2:24

[It is strange to see how many commentators wiggle around James’ statement in this verse, even twisting it outrageously to affirm their doctrinal thesis that salvation is by "faith alone". Some, however, will affirm the truth that "faith" means following "obedience" but in doing so it seems to be a bitter taste in their mouth.]

You see -- The use of the plural “you” in this verse in the Greek text shows that James had completed his response to the objector. He was now addressing his readers directly again (cf. James 2:14-17). - Constable

justified ... δικαιόω - Thayer Definition: 1) to render righteous 2) to show, exhibit, one to be righteous, 3) to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous,

by what he does ..

In the context of James and on the subject of "showing partiality"; helping the needy with food and clothing, and "visiting the widows and orphans" it seems that "works" may refer to the deeds and benevolence that must be apart of the Christian’s life. Faith must have it’s "fruit" or the barren tree will not be justified. Matthew 7:16; Matthew 7:20; John 15:2;

not by faith alone ..

For James, “faith alone” means a bogus kind of faith, mere intellectual agreement without a genuine personal trust in Christ that bears fruit in one’s life. - ESVSB

James, in agreement with Paul, argues that true faith is never alone, that it always produces works (cf. Ephesians 2:10). - ESVSB

That is, not like the demons who merely believe something is true (James 2:19), but by a belief that results in generous deeds like those of God himself (James 1:17) - NLTSB

- - - - - - - - - -

What are the components the scriptures speak of as leading to salvation:

[See also note "What Does God Want From Us?" at Hebrews 11:6.]

One must Hear the Gospel message: Romans 10:17, Matthew 7:24-27

One must Believe in Christ: Hebrews 11:6, Mark 16:16 (Not faith only- James 2:24, John 12:42) (To put one’s trust, and commitment to Christ and his teaching.)

One must Repent of his sins: Acts 2:38, Acts 17:30, Luke 13:3

One must Confess his faith in the Lord: Matthew 10:32-33, Acts 8:36-37; Romans 10:10; 1 Timothy 6:12-13; 2 Timothy 1:8; 1 John 4:15;

One must be Baptized into a union with Christ:

Purpose: Acts 2:38, Mark 16:15-16, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:20-21, Acts 10:48, John 3:5, Luke 7:30.

Read 2 Corinthians 5:17 with Galatians 3:27.

The Action is a burial: Romans 6:3-5, Acts 8:36-38, Mark 1:9-10, John 3:23.

Proper Candidates for baptism:

Those taught- Matthew 28:19, (See also Isaiah 28:9),

Believers- Mark 16:15-16, Acts 8:36-37,

Those who repent- Acts 2:38,

Those confessing their faith- Acts 8:36-38, Matthew 10:32-33.

Infants are not proper candidates: Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:13-15, Ezekiel 18:20, Romans 14:12.

One must remain Faithful: Revelation 2:10

Verse 25

James 2:25

Likewise -- "in the same way", "Likewise also" homoios de kai;

James comes to his 4th point in his case of justification by works.

Rahab the harlot -- ("prostitute") She was Judaism’s ultimate proof of God’s forgiveness and the power of repentance (cf. Josh. 2). She also is an ancestor of Jesus (cf. Matt. 1:4). James uses two extremes, Abraham and Rahab, to prove his point. - Utley

James presents Rahab the prostitute (see Joshua 2:1) as his second example of good works that must accompany genuine faith. She declared her belief that the Lord God of Israel was the only God (Joshua 2:9-11), and her faith was made perfect by her actions when she provided hospitality and a means of escape to the Israelite spies (Joshua 2:1-6; Joshua 6:17; Joshua 6:25; Hebrews 11:31). - NLTSB

Apparently Rahab trusted in God before the spies ever arrived at her door (cf. Joshua 2:9-13). Rather than being originally part of the Israelite nation she was a proselyte to Judaism. Thus with these two examples James showed the necessity of works for believers regardless of one’s background and origins. Abraham and Rahab were poles apart. - Constable

So, at some personal risk, she hid the Jewish spies from her own people, then lowered them on a rope so they could escape (Joshua 2:15). Thus she became a model of faith completed in works. - ESVSB

harlot -- (Ρααβπορνη [Raab hē pornē]). - RWP

The question meets us, What led St James to select this example? St Paul does not refer to it, as he probably would have done, had he been writing with St James’s teaching present to his thoughts, in any of the Epistles in which his name appears as the writer. In the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:31) it appears as one of the examples of faith, but this was most probably after St James had given prominence to her name. In the mention of Rahab by Clement of Rome (i. 12) we have an obvious echo from the Epistle just named, with the additional element of a typical interpretation of the scarlet thread as the symbol of the blood of Christ, by which those of all nations, even the harlots and the unrighteous, obtained salvation.

A more probable explanation is found in the connexion of St James with the Gospel according to St Matthew. The genealogy of the Christ given in ch. 1 of that Gospel must have been known to “the brother of the Lord,” and in it the name of Rahab appeared as having married Salmon, the then “prince” of the tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:5; 1 Chronicles 2:50-51; Ruth 4:20-21). - CBSC

A rabbinic tradition ... tones down the history, and makes her simply the keeper of an inn. - CBSC

justified by works ..

received the messengers ...

sent them out another way ...

Verse 26

James 2:26

body ..

body without the spirit -- "without breath" "without spirit"

“Apart from breath” (the breath of life). It is not easy to tell when one is dead, but the absence of a sign of breath on a glass before the mouth and nose is proof of death. Startling picture of dead faith in our churches and church members with only a name to live (Revelation 3:2). RWP

dead -- Genesis 35:18

faith without works -- Good works are as necessary to faith as breath is to a physical body (Genesis 2:7). We cannot have one without the other. - NLTSB

dead also -- Faith without works is as dead as a body without a human spirit. It is of no practical value. This is James’ final illustration and affirmation on the subject. Our faith becomes only dead orthodoxy when we stop obeying God. Vital faith then becomes dead faith. Both a dead body and dead faith were alive at one time. - Constable

James ends the passage with the statement, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Here the matter is summarized very beautifully. James compares faith to the human body. He likens works to the spirit. The body without the spirit is lifeless, useless, valueless. So faith without works is dead, ineffective, worthless. Obviously it is a spurious faith, not genuine saving faith. - BBC

To summarize, then, James tests our faith by our answers to the following questions. Am I willing like Abraham to offer the dearest thing in my life to God? Am I willing like Rahab to turn traitor to the world in order to be loyal to Christ? - BBC

[ Amazing: 1) Faithlife Study Bible; 2) MacArthur Study Bible; 3) ESV Study Bible; and 4) the NIV Zondervan Study Bible; ALL skip giving a comment on this verse!!! WG]

- - - - - - - - -

WORKS - James 2:24, James 2:26, John 12:42, Galatians 5:6, Acts 10:34-35, Matthew 7:21, Hebrews 5:9.

Kinds of Works

1. Works of the flesh- Galatians 5:19-21

2. Our own works- Acts 7:41, 2 Timothy 1:9

3. Works of the law of Moses Galatians 2:16

4. Works of obedience- Acts 10:34-35, Luke 6:46, John 6:29.

Bibliographical Information
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on James 2". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gbc/james-2.html. 2021.
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