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Bible Commentaries
James 2

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

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Verses 1-13

James 2:1-13 . This paragraph on Servility suits exhortation of Jews incomparably better than that of Christians, among whom “ not many rich” were found for generations. The scene of James 2:2 is the “ synagogue,” best taken in its literal sense; and acts of oppression towards “ the congregation of God’ s poor” are familiar to readers of the OT. “ Give up,” he pleads, “ trying to combine with acts of servility the belief in the Lord of Glory.” On the theory sketched in the introduction, the name “ Jesus Christ” was added in the margin by an early reader: as the various efforts of translators and commentators show, the words made the sentence almost impossible Gr. when taken into the text. The worshipper “ in shabby clothes”— the adjective corresponds to the noun rendered “ baseness” in James 1:21— is contrasted with the “ gold-ringed man in brilliant clothes” (shining white, it would seem): for him there is no room except on the floor. He who can thus judge men by externals comes under the condemnation of James 1:6, for “ doubt” there and “ divided” here are the same word. Piety cannot recognise the guinea stamp— only the image and superscription of God: they are “ judges of corrupt decisions” if on such lines they distinguish man and man.

James 2:5 comes directly from the first Beatitude, though Jewish readers might think of OT parallels like those in Psalms 72:4; Psalms 72:12; Psalms 74:19; Psalms 74:21. Mere paupers in the world’ s eyes, these are “ heirs according to promise” of their Father’ s Kingdom. “ Chose” is the word that gives the adjective rendered “ elect” ; cf. Ephesians 4:4, Romans 8:33, etc. The “ promise,” in the thought of James, was made in Luke 22:29 f.: his Jewish readers might think of Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 30:20, etc. He goes on to show that they have little reason indeed for favouring the rich as such: they were so quick to drag poor men into court, for debt especially ( cf. Matthew 18:30, Luke 12:58 f.). These rich men need not be Christians, or even Jews: the point is that the pious suffered especially from the rich ( cf. James 5:1-6), which makes servility to the rich as such specially foolish. If the poor believers here are Jews, “ the glorious name named upon you” will come from Amos 9:12— the text quoted by James in Acts 15:17— and Deuteronomy 28:10, etc.— In James 2:8 we are reminded again how petty are little caste distinctions in the presence of a King. The Roman Emperor was called “ King” in Gr. ( cf. Acts 17:7) , which makes “ Imperial” the best rendering of the adjective here. The Second Commandment ( Leviticus 19:18), “ like unto” the First ( Matthew 22:39), was detached even by the Jews; cf. Luke 10:27 for the place which Jesus gave it: His work was to transform the conception of “ neighbour.” The illustration of the solidarity of the Law seems to us almost an anticlimax— surely murder is worse even than adultery! But James 4:2 may show that human life was cheap in the (Jewish?) community addressed; and it would be very characteristic of Jews to lay great stress on their superiority to the Gentile world in the matter of purity. A Christian student of Matthew 5:22 would say that the germ of murder was even more easily planted than that of adultery. The “ Law of Liberty,” so far from involving antinomian license, pronounces judgement without mercy on those who show no mercy— it is the principle of Matthew 18:35. For the merciful man there is no condemnation ( Matthew 5:7).

Verses 14-26

James 2:14-26 . The surface contradiction between James and Paul, which made Luther call this “ an epistle of straw,” and the Tü bingen critics hail it as a Judaist’ s attack upon Paulinism, troubles no one now, simply because “ faith” is seen to be used in entirely different senses. It is creed here, personal trust there. James, who is most probably prior in time, teaches that “ orthodoxy”— defined in true Jewish fashion as acceptance of the Shema ( James 2:19, Deuteronomy 6:4)— can never save until it has its logical outcome in conduct. Paul makes “ trust” vital, just because nothing else can produce conduct after the mind of God.

James 2:14 belongs naturally to the doctrine of Saying and Doing. To repeat a creed and not live up to it is as grotesquely futile as to feed the starving with unctuous good wishes. The creed, if it does not carry actions which flow logically from its presuppositions, is simply dead— like mediæ val controversies about subjects no longer alive to-day. Read James 2:18 f. with RV text. The speaker is confronted by a superior person, proud of his orthodoxy: he may reply that real orthodoxy, a right relation to God, is only proved by conduct. “ He can’ t be wrong whose life is in the right.” The orthodox person pronounces his Shema with aggressive conviction; but if he goes no further, he has nothing better than the demons, whose orthodoxy only brings them terror ( cf. Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7). “ You empty head!” cries James, “ can’ t you see that belief without conduct is simply idle?” The great example of belief, Abraham, who was so “ orthodox” that he believed an impossibility because God promised it, was really “ declared righteous” for what he did; the reality of that belief was at once tested and deepened by action resulting from belief. Genesis 15:2; Genesis 15:8 showed even Abraham deficient in belief: the sacrifice of Isaac ( Hebrews 11:19) made it perfect. His title “ Friend of God” (see refs.) is specially connected with God’ s taking him into confidence about His purpose: cf. Genesis 18:17 with John 15:15. The proof is finally clinched by an opposite example, also used in Hebrews 11:31 * ( cf. Matthew 1:5 *): a degraded and heathen woman had such a practical belief in the supremacy of Israel’ s God that she helped the scouts of Joshua even against her own people. So we come to the summing up: “ as a body that does not breathe is dead, so is belief which does not act.”

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on James 2". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/james-2.html. 1919.
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