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Bible Commentaries
James 2

The Bible Study New TestamentBible Study NT

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Verse 1


My brothers! See note on James 1:2. As believers. “You are NEW in your union to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).” You must never. “You must never be guilty of prejudice and discrimination in your dealings with people!” Christian love is acting toward others as God has acted toward you in Christ. Since God treats all men on the same basis (Acts 10:34), the believer in Christ must act the same way in his dealings with others. The Law also banned discrimination (Leviticus 19:15 : Deuteronomy 16:19).

Verse 2


Suppose. “This is an example to show you that you have been doing wrong by discriminating against people.” There was a much wider gap between rich and poor in New Testament times, and the middle-class probably did not exist as it does in our society.

Verse 3


If you show more respect. The point is: clothes, not character, is the basis used to decide the value of each person. God does not allow this!!!

Verse 4


Then you are guilty. (1) Of creating distinctions where God has made none; (2) Of allowing evil motives to influence you. These things destroy the unity of the worshipers, and create the same kind of problems that were in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).

Verse 5


Listen, my dear brothers! “To show it is wrong to respect the rich more than the poor, I ask you to hear this.” God chose the poor. See 1 Corinthians 1:26-27. Remember the Jews felt the rich had been more blessed by God, and were therefore closer to Him. But James shows that God himself chose the poor and they have the right to come to Him. And to possess the Kingdom. Compare Matthew 5:3 and note.

Verse 6


But you dishonor the poor! “Contrary to the example set for you by God himself, you create distinctions and allow evil motives to influence you.” Who are the ones? The Bible usually speaks of the rich in a bad sense, because it is looking at those who make their wealth by oppressing the poor. Such men as Abraham and the Patriarchs, Job, Joseph of Arimathea, etc., were rich through honest means and were not condemned for it. But James is thinking of those who oppress the poor!

Verse 7


They are the ones. It was the rich Jewish leaders as a class that blasphemed the name of Jesus and said he was a phony (fraud) who deserved the death he died. Yet some in the church were showing more respect to these, than to the poor brothers!!! [The synagogue was the center of Jewish life, and would be used for both Jewish and Christian worship at this time. Compare Acts 2:46; Acts 21:20. ]

Verse 8


The right thing. This has always been God’s law, both through Moses and through Christ. The quotation is from Leviticus 19:18; also Romans 13:9; and see Galatians 4:14.

Verse 9


But. James makes this as strong as he can! It is a deliberate, conscious act of sin if they make distinctions on the basis of outward appearance (social rank, wealth, clothes, etc.) The Law condemns you as a lawbreaker, because it forbids such discrimination, and requires you to love your fellow-man as yourself.

Verse 10


Whoever. The Jews taught that if you kept one commandment, you would be given credit for all the rest, even though you did not keep them. James shows that if you break one, you have broken them all!!! It is not possible then, to make up for (expiate) a sin by a good work. James explains this in the next verse.

Verse 11


For the same one. The same God gave each command, and in breaking any command, you sin against the same Lawgiver. Even if you do not. “The fact that you did not commit adultery would not make up for the sin of murder. In the same way, if you create distinctions on the basis of outward appearance, the fact that you do other things the way God commands cannot make up for it and take away your guilt.”

Verse 12


Speak and act. “Since you know you will be judged by the law that sets men free (see note on James 1:25), be sure you speak and act so that the Good News will not condemn you!!!” The law of Christ (the Good News) is a new attitude and spirit. See Romans 8:2; Romans 8:15 and notes. Compare Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:28 and notes.

Verse 13


For God. The way we treat others will be the way God treats us!!! Jesus taught this in many ways. See Matthew 7:1-5; Matthew 18:21-35; Matthew 25:31-46. Mercy triumphs over judgment. MacKnight says: “But at that day mercy will triumph over judgment to him who showed mercy.” See Psalms 18:25-27.

Verse 14


My brothers. See note on James 1:2. James begins a study of faith and actions. Because some have misunderstood the nature of faith, they have said: (1) James deliberately contradicts and corrects the teaching of Paul. (2) James did not even know what Paul taught, and so writes without any reference to Paul’s understanding of faith and actions. Neither of these can be right!!! 2 Peter 3:16 shows us that some things which Paul said were being misunderstood, perhaps deliberately. See Introduction to James. Therefore, James writes: (3) To correct those who misunderstood what Paul said about faith and actions. If his actions do not prove it? Actions prove faith, and are evidence of spiritual life. Can that faith? See James 2:19.

Verse 15


Suppose. “To show you the foolishness of claiming to have faith without the proof of actions, think about this example.”

Verse 16


What good? “If you ask God’s blessing on them and pray that somebody else will take care of them, but do not yourself give them the necessities of life, what help have you been to them??? Will such speeches feed and clothe the poor???”

Verse 17


So it is with faith. “Faith which does not prove itself by actions is as worthless as good wishes to the poor without food and clothing.”

Verse 18


But someone will say. Jewish teaching said good works placed an obligation on God, and all who had more good works than bad works to their credit, would be saved. The Good News placed salvation entirely on Christ-on-the-cross, that is, on the merit of his sacrifice. Therefore some Jewish Christians went to the opposite extreme and said it made no difference at all what you did or didn’t do. My answer is. “Show me, if you can, how anyone can have faith without doing good. Faith can only be identified by the good actions which it produces. I can easily show you my faith by the actions it has produced in my life.” See James 2:24.

Verse 19


Do you believe? The basic belief of the Jew was stated in the Shema’ “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). This is the profession of faith which every Jew makes on his death-bed, This Shema was thought of in superstitious terms, as a good luck charm which would keep away evil spirits, etc. The demons also believe. “Belief in the One True God is good! But, if you merely accept the FACT of God, and this belief does not translate itself into action in your life, you are really no different from the demons. As the faith they have will not save them, neither will your faith save you, even though it is both real and true as it looks to God.” A. C. wrote: “To believe in Christ, is to receive him in all the glory of his character, both personal and official; to trust in him, in all the relationships which he has to us, as our Prophet, our Priest, and our King; to see in him our only hope and refuge; and renouncing ourselves, our confidence in ourself, our righteousness, and our own merit, to seize him as our only Rock-foundation, and to look to him only as the “Lord our righteousness,” as our salvation and as our life.” Faith is the link between man and God! FAITH = LOVE = ACTION. Compare Hebrews 11:1 and note.

Verse 20


You fool! [This is not the same word translated worthless fool in Matthew 5:22. KENOS = empty, to no purpose, foolish, senseless.] “Faith without actions cannot put anyone right with God!” We reach out through faith to seize the sacrifice of Christ and make ourselves part of it.

Verse 21


How? “Our ancestor Abraham is an example of what I am talking about. It was through his actions. “The whole life of Abraham was living proof the he believed God! I especially point you to the incident with Isaac. He did not question God’s command to him, but went up on the mountain to sacrifice his son.” Compare Hebrews 11:17-19 and notes. See also 1 John 4:18.

Verse 22


Can’t you see? This is emphatic! Worked together. Lightfoot says that these words “bridge over the gulf which seems to separate the language of St. Paul and St. James. Both assert a principle of practical energy, as opposed to a barren, inactive theory.” The doctrine of “faith only” actually takes the merit away from Christ and puts it in faith itself.

Verse 23


And the scripture. Note the climax which James uses!!! Abraham’s faith being made perfect through his actions made this come true!!! The quotation is from Genesis 15:6 Septuagint. God accepted Abraham as righteous (imputed righteousness to him) because he believed Him! God’s friend. Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7. Compare this with 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.

Verse 24


You see, then. “The example of Abraham proves that the faith that puts people right with God is a faith that becomes perfect through actions!” MacKnight says “Wherefore, from Moses ascribing (crediting) the justification of Abraham to the work of offering up Isaac, ye see that by works proceeding from faith a man is justified, and not by faith without works.”

Verse 25


The prostitute Rahab. This verse is proof that God’s acceptance of a person does not depend upon their past. She was well known to the Jews, because she was the great-great-grandmother of David the king. Because she believed God, she acted on the basis of her faith. In doing this, she showed the same kind of faith that Abraham had. See Joshua 2:3-11; Hebrews 11:31; Matthew 1:3-5.

Verse 26


So then. MacKnight says: “In no way but by faith accompanied with works can any one be justified.” The body without the spirit has no real life or existence. In the same way, faith that does not reach out through actions to seize the sacrifice of Christ and continue to hold firmly to it, has no real life or existence and cannot put a man right with God. [This does not contradict any of Paul’s teaching about faith, as James 2:22 shows. Salvation is not achieved, but seized! Even though Jesus paid it all! – human response to God’s act in Christ is still necessary. If this is not true, then the preaching of the Good News would have no meaning! Paul shows us that actions without faith cannot put us right with God, and so he emphasizes faith. But Paul also shows us that faith alone is worthless (1 Corinthians 13:2). James shows us that faith without actions cannot put us right with God, and emphasizes actions. Neither faith alone nor actions alone can put us right with God; only faith made perfect through actions can do that.]

Bibliographical Information
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on James 2". "The Bible Study New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ice/james-2.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.
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