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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

James 2

Verse 1

My brethren (αδελφο μου). Transition to a new topic as in James 1:19; James 2:5; James 2:14; James 3:1; James 5:7.

Hold not (μη εχετε). Present active imperative of εχω with negative μη, exhortation to stop holding or not to have the habit of holding in the fashion condemned.

The faith of our Lord Jesus Christ (την πιστιν του κυριου ημων Ιησου Χριστου). Clearly objective genitive, not subjective (faith of), but "faith in our Lord Jesus Christ," like εχετε πιστιν θεου (Mark 11:22), "have faith in God." See the same objective genitive with πιστις in Acts 3:6; Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:22; Revelation 14:12. Note also the same combination as in James 1:1 "our Lord Jesus Christ" (there on a par with God).

The Lord of Glory (της δοξης). Simply "the Glory." No word for "Lord" (κυριου) in the Greek text. Της δοξης clearly in apposition with του κυριου Ιησου Χριστου. James thus terms "our Lord Jesus Christ" the Shekinah Glory of God. See Hebrews 9:5 for "the cherubim of Glory." Other New Testament passages where Jesus is pictured as the Glory are Romans 9:4; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3. Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5-11.

With respect of persons (εν προσωπολημψιαις). A Christian word, like προσωπολημπτης (Acts 10:34) and προσωπολημπτειτε (James 2:9), not in LXX or any previous Greek, but made from προσωπον λαμβανειν (Luke 20:21; Galatians 2:6), which is α Hebrew idiom for panim nasa, "to lift up the face on a person," to be favorable and so partial to him. See προσωπολημψια in this sense of partiality (respect of persons) in Romans 2:11; Colossians 3:25; Ephesians 6:9 (nowhere else in N.T.). Do not show partiality.

Verse 2

For (γαρ). An illustration of the prohibition.

If there come in (εαν εισελθη). Condition of third class (supposable case) with εαν and second (ingressive) aorist active subjunctive of εισερχομα.

Into your synagogue (εις συναγωγην υμων). The common word for the gathering of Jews for worship (Luke 12:11) and particularly for the building where they met (Luke 4:15; Luke 4:20; Luke 4:28, etc.). Here the first is the probable meaning as it clearly is in Hebrews 10:25 (την επισυναγωγην εαυτων), where the longer compound occurs. It may seem a bit odd for a Christian church (εκκλησια) to be termed συναγωγη, but James is writing to Jewish Christians and this is another incidental argument for the early date. Epiphanius (Haer. XXX. 18) states that the Ebionites call their church συναγωγη, not εκκλησια. In the fourth century an inscription has συναγωγη for the meeting-house of certain Christians.

A man with a gold ring (ανηρ χρυσοδακτυλιος). "A gold-fingered man," "wearing a gold ring." The word occurs nowhere else, but Lucian has χρυσοχειρ (gold-handed) and Epictetus has χρυσους δακτυλιους (golden seal-rings). "Hannibal, after the battle of Cannae, sent as a great trophy to Carthage, three bushels of gold-rings from the fingers of Roman knights slain in battle" (Vincent).

In fine clothing (εν εσθητ λαμπρα). "In bright (brilliant) clothing" as in Luke 23:11; Acts 10:30; Revelation 18:41. In contrast with "vile clothing" (εν ρυπαρα εσθητ), "new glossy clothes and old shabby clothes" (Hort). Ρυπαρος (late word from ρυπος, filth, 1 Peter 3:21) means filthy, dirty. In N.T. only here and Revelation 22:11 (filthy).

Poor man (πτωχος). Beggarly mendicant (Matthew 19:21), the opposite of πλουσιος (rich).

Verse 3

And ye have regard to (επιβλεψητε δε επ). First aorist active subjunctive (still with εαν of verse James 2:2) of επιβλεπω, followed by repeated preposition επ, to gaze upon, old compound, in N.T. only here and Luke 1:48; Luke 9:38.

Weareth (φορουντα). "Wearing," present active participle of the old frequentative verb φορεω (from φερω), to bear constantly, to wear (Matthew 11:8). Note repeated article την (the) with εσθητα pointing to verse James 2:2.

And say (κα ειπητε). Continuing the third-class condition with εαν and second aorist active subjunctive of ειπον.

Sit thou here in a good place (συ καθου ωδε καλως). Emphatic position of συ, "Do thou sit here in a good place." Present middle imperative of καθημα to sit for the literary καθησο. See Matthew 23:6 for the first seats in the synagogue (places of honour).

And ye say to the poor man (κα τω πτωχω ειπητε). Third class condition with εαν continued as before (ειπητε). Note article τω pointing to verse James 2:2.

Stand thou there (συ στηθ εκε). Second aorist (intransitive) active imperative of ιστημ, to place. Ingressive aorist, Take a stand. Συ emphatic again. The MSS. vary in the position of εκε (there).

Or sit under my footstool (η καθου υπο το υποποδιον μου). For this use of υπο "down against" or "down beside" see Exodus 19:17 υπο το ορος ("at the foot of the mountain") and υπο σε ("at thy feet") (Deuteronomy 33:3). Conquerors often placed their feet on the necks of the victims (Luke 20:43).

Verse 4

Are ye not divided in your own mind? (ου διεκριθητε εν εαυτοισ;). First aorist (gnomic) passive indicative of διακρινω, to separate, conclusion of the third-class condition (future) in a rhetorical question in the gnomic aorist (as if past) with ou expecting an affirmative answer. For this idiom (gnomic aorist) in a conclusion of the third-class condition see 1 Corinthians 7:28. "Were ye not divided in (among) yourselves?" Cf. James 1:6; Matthew 21:21.

Judges with evil thoughts (κριτα διαλογισμων πονηρων). Descriptive genitive as in James 1:25. Διαλογισμος is an old word for reasoning (Romans 1:21). Reasoning is not necessarily evil, but see Matthew 15:19 (πονηρο) and Mark 7:21 (κακο) for evil reasonings, and 1 Timothy 2:8 without an adjective. See James 1:8; James 4:8 for διψυχος. They are guilty of partiality (a divided mind) as between the two strangers.

Verse 5

Did not God choose? (ουχ ο θεος εξελεξατο;). Affirmative answer expected. First aorist middle (indirect, God chose for himself) indicative of εκλεγω, the very form used by Paul three times of God's choice in 1 Corinthians 1:27.

As to the world (τω κοσμω). The ethical dative of interest, as the world looks at it as in Acts 7:20; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 10:4; James 4:4. By the use of the article (the poor) James does not affirm that God chose all the poor, but only that he did choose poor people (Matthew 10:23-26; 1 Corinthians 1:26-28).

Rich in faith (πλουσιους εν πιστε). Rich because of their faith. As he has shown in James 1:9.

Which he promised (ης επεγγειλατο). Genitive of the accusative relative ην attracted to the case of the antecedent βασιλειας (the Messianic kingdom), the same verb and idea already in James 1:12 (επηγγειλατο). Cf. the beatitude of Jesus in Matthew 5:3 for the poor in spirit.

Verse 6

But ye have dishonoured the poor man (υμεις δε ητιμασατε τον πτωχον). First aorist active indicative of ατιμαζω, old verb from ατιμος, dishonoured (Matthew 13:57). In the act of partiality pictured in James 2:3.

Oppress you (καταδυναστευουσιν υμων). Not very common compound (καταδυναστευω, present active indicative, from κατα and δυναστης, potentate, Luke 1:52), used of the devil in Acts 10:38 (only other N.T. example). Examples in papyri of harsh treatment by men in authority. Already poor Christians are feeling pressure from rich Jews as overlords.

Drag you (ελκουσιν υμας). Old and vigorous word for violent treatment, as of Paul in Acts 16:19; Acts 21:30. Cf. such violence in Luke 12:58; Acts 8:3.

Before the judgment-seats (εις κριτηρια). "To courts of justice" as in 1 Corinthians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 6:4 (only other N.T. examples). Common in the papyri in this sense. From κρινω to judge, κριτης (judge), place where judgment is given.

Verse 7

Blaspheme (βλασφημουσιν). Present active indicative of common verb βλασφημεω (from βλασφημος, speaking evil, βλαξ or βλαπτω and φημη), as in Luke 22:65.

The honourable name (το καλον ονομα). "The beautiful name."

By the which ye were called (το επικληθεν εφ' υμας). "The one called upon you" (first aorist passive articular participle of επικαλεω, to put a name upon, to give a surname to, as Acts 10:18). What name is that? Almost certainly the name of Christ as we see it in Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:14; 1 Peter 4:16. It was blasphemy to speak against Christ as some Jews and Gentiles were doing (Acts 13:45; Acts 18:6; Acts 26:11; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Timothy 1:13). Cf. Acts 15:17.

Verse 8

Howbeit (μεντο). Probably not adversative here, but simply confirmatory, "if now," "if indeed," "if really." Common in Xenophon in this sense. See the contrast (δε) in verse James 2:9.

If ye fulfil (ε τελειτε). Condition of first class, assumed as true with ε and present active indicative of τελεω, old verb, to bring to completion, occurring in Romans 2:27 also with νομος (law). Jesus used πληροω in Matthew 4:17. James has τηρεω in James 2:10.

The royal law (νομον βασιλικον). Old adjective for royal, regal (from βασιλευς king), as of an officer (John 4:46). But why applied to νομος? The Romans had a phrase, lex regia, which came from the king when they had kings. The absence of the article is common with νομος (James 4:11). It can mean a law fit to guide a king, or such as a king would choose, or even the king of laws. Jesus had said that on the law of love hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40), and he had given the Golden Rule as the substance of the Law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12). This is probably the royal law which is violated by partiality (James 2:3). It is in accord with the Scripture quoted here (Leviticus 19:18) and ratified by Jesus (Luke 10:28).

Verse 9

But if ye have respect of persons (ε δε προσωπολημπτειτε). Condition of first class by contrast with that in verse James 2:8. For this verb (present active indicative), formed from προσωπον λαμβανω, here alone in the N.T., see in James 2:1. A direct reference to the partiality there pictured.

Ye commit sin (αμαρτιαν εργαζεσθε). "Ye work a sin." A serious charge, apparently, for what was regarded as a trifling fault. See Matthew 7:23, ο εργαζομενο την ανομιαν (ye that work iniquity), an apparent reminiscence of the words of Jesus there (from Psalms 6:8).

Being convicted (ελεγχομενο). Present passive participle of ελεγχω, to convict by proof of guilt (John 3:20; John 8:9; John 8:46; 1 Corinthians 14:24).

As transgressors (ως παραβατα). For this word from παραβαινω, to step across, to transgress, see Galatians 2:18; Romans 2:25; Romans 2:27. See this very sin of partiality condemned in Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; Deuteronomy 16:19. To the law and to the testimony.

Verse 10

Whosoever shall keep (οστις τηρηση). Indefinite relative clause with οστις and aorist active subjunctive of τηρεω, old verb, to guard (from τηρος guarding), as in Matthew 27:36, without αν (though often used, but only one example of modal εαν αν in James, viz., James 4:4). This modal αν (εαν) merely interprets the sentence as either more indefinite or more definite (Robertson, Grammar, p. 957f.).

And yet stumble in one point (πταιση δε εν εν). First aorist active subjunctive also of πταιω, old verb, to trip, as in James 3:2; Romans 11:11. "It is incipient falling" (Hort).

He is become (γεγονεν). Second perfect indicative of γινομα, "he has become" by that one stumble.

Guilty of all (παντων ενοχος). Genitive of the crime with ενοχος, old adjective from ενεχω (to hold on or in), held in, as in Mark 3:29. This is law. To be a lawbreaker one does not have to violate all the laws, but he must keep all the law (ολον τον νομον) to be a law-abiding citizen, even laws that one does not like. See Matthew 5:18 for this same principle. There is Talmudic parallel: "If a man do all, but omit one, he is guilty for all and each." This is a pertinent principle also for those who try to save themselves. But James is urging obedience to all God's laws.

Verse 11

He that said (ο ειπων)

--said also (ειπεν κα). The unity of the law lies in the Lawgiver who spoke both prohibitions (μη and the aorist active subjunctive in each one, μοιχευσηισ, φονευσηις). The order here is that of B in James 2:20 (Luke 18:20; Romans 13:9), but not in Matthew 5:21; Matthew 5:27 (with ου and future indicative).

Now if thou dost not commit adultery, but killest (ε δε ου μοιχευεισ, φονευεις δε). Condition of first class with ου (not μη) because of the contrast with δε, whereas ε μη would mean "unless," a different idea. So ου in James 1:23.

A transgressor of the law (παραβατης νομου) as in verse James 2:9. Murder springs out of anger (Matthew 5:21-26). People free from fleshly sins have often "made their condemnation of fleshly sins an excuse for indulgence towards spiritual sins" (Hort).

Verse 12

So speak ye, and so do (ουτως λαλειτε κα ουτως ποιειτε). Present active imperatives as a habit. For the combination see James 1:19-21 contrasted with James 1:22-25, and James 1:26 with James 1:27.

By a law of liberty (δια νομου ελευθεριας). The law pictured in James 1:25, but law, after all, not individual caprice of "personal liberty." See Romans 2:12 for this same use of δια with κρινω in the sense of accompaniment as in Romans 2:27; Romans 4:11; Romans 14:20. "Under the law of liberty."

Verse 13

Without mercy (ανελεος). Found here only save a doubtful papyrus example (ανελεως) for the vernacular ανιλεως and the Attic ανηλεης. For this principle of requital see Matthew 5:7; Matthew 6:14; Matthew 7:1; Matthew 18:33.

Glorieth against (κατακαυχατα). Present middle indicative of the old compound verb κατακαυχαομα, to exult over (down), in N.T. only here, James 3:14; Romans 11:18. Only mercy can triumph over justice with God and men. "Mercy is clothed with the divine glory and stands by the throne of God" (Chrysostom). See Romans 8:31-39; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7.

Verse 14

What doth it profit? (τ οφελοσ;). Rhetorical question, almost of impatience. Old word from οφελλω, to increase, in N.T. only here, verse James 2:16; 1 Corinthians 15:32. "Τ οφελος was a common expression in the vivacious style of a moral diatribe" (Ropes).

If a man say (εαν λεγη τις). Condition of third class with εαν and the present active subjunctive of λεγω, "if one keep on saying."

He hath faith (πιστιν εχειν). Infinitive in indirect assertion after λεγη.

But have not works (εργα δε μη εχη). Third-class condition continued, "but keeps on not having (μη and present active subjunctive εχη) works." It is the spurious claim to faith that James here condemns.

Can that faith save him? (μη δυνατα η πιστις σωσα αυτον;). Negative answer expected (μη). Effective aorist active infinitive σωσα (from σωζω). The article η here is almost demonstrative in force as it is in origin, referring to the claim of faith without works just made.

Verse 15

If a brother or sister be naked (εαν αδελφος η αδελφη γυμνο υπαρχωσιν). Condition again of third class (supposable case) with εαν and present active subjunctive of υπαρχω, to exist, in the plural though η (or) is used and not κα (and). Hence γυμνο is masculine plural in the predicate nominative. It does not here mean absolutely naked, but without sufficient clothing as in Matthew 25:36; John 21:7; Acts 19:16.

In lack of daily food (λειπομενο της εφημερου τροφης). Present passive participle of λειπω and ablative case τροφης like λειπετα σοφιας (James 1:5). The old adjective εφημερος (ο επ ημεραν ων, that which is for a day) occurs here only in the N.T., though εφημερια (daily routine) is found in Luke 1:5; Luke 1:8. This phrase occurs in Diodorus, but not in LXX.

Verse 16

And one of you say unto them (ειπη δε τις αυτοις εξ υμων). Third-class condition again continued from verse James 2:15 with second aorist active subjunctive ειπη.

Go in peace (υπαγετε εν ειρηνη). Present active imperative of υπαγω. Common Jewish farewell (Judges 18:6; 1 Samuel 1:17; 1 Samuel 20:42; 2 Samuel 15:9). Used by Jesus (Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50).

Be ye warmed and filled (θερμαινεσθε κα χορταζεσθε). Present imperative either middle (direct) or passive. We have θερμαινομα as a direct middle in John 18:18 (were warming themselves) and that makes good sense here: "Warm yourselves." Χορταζω was originally used for pasturing cattle, but came to be used of men also as here. "Feed yourselves" (if middle, as is likely). Instead of warm clothes and satisfying food they get only empty words to look out for themselves.

And yet ye give not (μη δωτε δε). Third-class condition with δε (and yet) and μη and the second aorist active subjunctive of διδωμ, to give, cold deeds with warm words.

The things needful to the body (τα επιτηδεια του σωματος). "The necessities of the body" (the necessaries of life). Old adjective from adverb επιτηδες (enough), only here in N.T.

What doth it profit? (τ οφελοσ;). As in verse James 2:14 and here the conclusion (apodosis) of the long condition begun in verse James 2:15.

Verse 17

If it have not works (εαν μη εχη εργα). Another condition of the third class with εαν and μη and the present active subjunctive of εχω, "if it keep on not having works."

In itself (καθ' εαυτην). In and of itself (according to itself), inwardly and outwardly dead (νεκρα). Same idiom in Acts 28:16; Romans 14:22. It is a dead faith.

Verse 18

Yea, a man will say (αλλ' ερε τις). Future active of ειπον. But αλλ' here is almost certainly adversative (But some one will say), not confirmatory. James introduces an imaginary objector who speaks one sentence: "Thou hast faith and I have works" (Συ πιστιν εχεις καγω εργα εχω). Then James answers this objector. The objector can be regarded as asking a short question: "Hast thou faith?" In that case James replies: "I have works also."

Show me thy faith apart from thy works (δειξον μο την πιστιν σου χωρις των εργων). This is the reply of James to the objector. First aorist active imperative of δεικνυμ, tense of urgency. The point lies in χωρις, which means not "without," but "apart from," as in Hebrews 11:6 (with the ablative case), "the works that properly belong to it and should characterise it" (Hort). James challenges the objector to do this.

And I by my works will shew thee my faith (καγω σο δειξω εκ των εργων μου την πιστιν). It is not faith or works, but proof of real faith (live faith vs. dead faith). The mere profession of faith with no works or profession of faith shown to be alive by works. This is the alternative clearly stated. Note πιστιν (faith) in both cases. James is not here discussing "works" (ceremonial works) as a means of salvation as Paul in James 2:3; James 2:4, but works as proof of faith.

Verse 19

Thou believest that God is one (συ πιστευεις οτ εις θεος εστιν). James goes on with his reply and takes up mere creed apart from works, belief that God exists (there is one God), a fundamental doctrine, but that is not belief or trust in God. It may be mere creed.

Thou doest well (καλως ποιεις). That is good as far as it goes, which is not far.

The demons also believe (κα τα δαιμονια πιστευουσιν). They go that far (the same verb πιστευω). They never doubt the fact of God's existence.

And shudder (κα φρισσουσιν). Present active indicative of φρισσω, old onomatopoetic verb to bristle up, to shudder, only here in N.T. Like Latin horreo (horror, standing of the hair on end with terror). The demons do more than believe a fact. They shudder at it.

Verse 20

But wilt thou know? (θελεις δε γνωναι?). "But dost thou wish to know?" Ingressive aorist active infinitive of γινοσκω (come to know). James here introduces a new argument like Romans 13:3.

O vain man (ω ανθρωπε κενε). Goes on with the singular objector and demolishes him. For "empty" (deficient) Paul uses αφρων (fool) in 1 Corinthians 15:36 and just ανθρωπε in Romans 2:1; Romans 9:20.

Barren (αργε). 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.

Verse 21

Justified by works (εξ εργων εδικαιωθη). First aorist passive indicative of δικαιοω (see Galatians and Romans for this verb, to declare righteous, to set right) in a question with ουκ expecting an affirmative answer. This is the phrase that is often held to be flatly opposed to Paul's statement in Romans 4:1-5, where Paul pointedly says that it was the faith of Abraham (Romans 4:9) that was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness, not his works. But Paul is talking about the faith of Abraham before his circumcision (James 4:10) as the basis of his being set right with God, which faith is symbolized in the circumcision. James makes plain his meaning also.

In that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar (ανενεγκας Ισαακ τον υιον αυτου επ το θυσιαστηριον). They use the same words, but they are talking of different acts. James points to the offering (ανενεγκας second aorist--with first aorist ending--active participle of αναφερω) of Isaac on the altar (Genesis 22:16) as proof of the faith that Abraham already had. Paul discusses Abraham's faith as the basis of his justification, that and not his circumcision. There is no contradiction at all between James and Paul. Neither is answering the other. Paul may or may not have seen the Epistle of James, who stood by him loyally in the Conference in Jerusalem (James 2:15; James 2:2).

Verse 22

Thou seest (βλεπεις). Obvious enough with any eyes to see. This may be a question, seest thou?

Wrought with (συνηργε). Imperfect active of συνεργεω, old verb for which see Romans 8:28. Followed by associative-instrumental case εργοις. Faith cooperated with the deed of offering up Isaac.

Was made perfect (ετελειωθη). First aorist passive indicative of τελειοω, to carry to the end, to complete like love in 1 John 4:18. See James 1:4 for τελειον εργον.

Verse 23

Was fulfilled (επληρωθη). First aorist passive indicative of πληροω, the usual verb for fulfilling Scripture. So James quotes Genesis 15:6 as proving his point in verse James 2:21 that Abraham had works with his faith, the very same passage that Paul quotes in Romans 4:3 to show that Abraham's faith preceded his circumcision and was the basis of his justification. And both James and Paul are right, each to illustrate a different point.

And he was called the friend of God (κα φιλος θεου εκληθη). First aorist passive indicative of καληο. Not a part of the Scripture quoted. Philo calls Abraham the friend of God and see Jubilees 19:9; 30:20. The Arabs today speak of Abraham as God's friend. It was evidently a common description before James used it, as in Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7.

Verse 24

Ye see (ορατε). Present indicative active of οραω. Now he uses the plural again as in James 2:14.

Is justified (δικαιουτα). Present passive indicative of δικαιοω, here not "is made righteous," but "is shown to be righteous." James is discussing the proof of faith, not the initial act of being set right with God (Paul's idea in Romans 4:1-10).

And not only by faith (κα ουκ εκ πιστεως μονον). This phrase clears up the meaning of James. Faith (live faith) is what we must all have (James 2:18), only it must shew itself also in deeds as Abraham's did.

Verse 25

Rahab the harlot (Ρααβ η πορνη). Her vicious life she left behind, but the name clung to her always. For our purposes the argument of James may seem stronger without the example of Rahab (Joshua 2:1-21; Joshua 6:17; Joshua 6:22-25; Matthew 1:5; Hebrews 11:31). It is even said in Jewish Midrash that Rahab married Joshua and became an ancestor of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

In that she received (υποδεξαμενη). First aorist middle participle of υποδεχομα, to welcome.

The messengers (τους αγγελους). Original meaning of αγγελος (Matthew 11:10). In Hebrews 11:31 we have κατασκοπους (spies, scouts).

Sent out (εκβαλουσα). Second aorist active participle of εκβαλλω, to hurl out.

Another way (ετερα οδω). "By another way" (instrumental case), by a window instead of a door (Joshua 2:15).

Verse 26

Apart from the spirit (χωρις πνευματος). "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).

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on James 2". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/james-2.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.