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Bible Commentaries

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament
James 2

 

 

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Verse 1

James 2:1. ἄδελφοί μου, my brethren) The equality of Christians, as indicated by the name of brethren, is the basis of this admonition.— ἐν) The phrases, ἐν προσωποληψίαις ἔχειν, and ἐν ἐπιγνώσει ἔχειν, Romans 1:28, are similar.— προσωποληψίαις, receivings of persons) The one (manner of receiving) has reference to the rich who are strangers to the faith; the other, which is widely different, has reference to the poor who are Christians.— τὴν πίστιν, faith) in which the poor abound.— τῆς δόξης, of glory) The pronoun our seems to show, that this (of glory) does not depend upon the word Lord. It is therefore put in apposition, so that Christ Himself is called δόξα, the Glory. Comp. Luke 2:32; Isaiah 40:5; Ephesians 1:17; 1 Peter 4:14. The Glory is Christ Himself. Thus James both declares Him to be the Son of God, and publishes His resurrection from the dead, as it becomes an apostle. Christ is Glory; and therefore faith in Him is glorious, and the faithful are glorious. This glory of the faithful is far above all worldly honour; no respecter of persons acknowledges it.


Verse 2

James 2:2. εἰσέλθῃ, shall enter) as an unknown stranger.— συναγωγὴν) assembly, and that a sacred one; for he adds, your. The name of synagogue is transferred from Jews to Christians.— ἀνὴρ χρυσοδακτύλιος, a man with a golden ring) The use of rings was formerly much more uncommon than now. The antithesis is simply a poor man.— λαμπρᾷ, splendid) bright and new, of whatever colour it may be.


Verse 3

James 2:3. ἐπιβλέψητε, ye look upon) with admiration.— τὸν φοροῦντα, him that weareth) although you are ignorant who he is; when perhaps he may be a heathen.— σὺσὺ, thouthou) This has here the force of a proper name.— κάθου ὧδε, sit here) The antithesis is, stand there.— καλῶς) הטיב; Septuagint, καλῶς, honourably.— ἐκεῖ, there) at a distance from us.


Verse 4

James 2:4. καὶ οὐ, nor) If, of James 2:2, has its Apodosis in this verse: καὶ οὐ, καὶ, “both ye do not discriminate aright, and.”— οὐ διακρίθητε) Though you make that difference (discrimination) between the rich and the poor, “you do not discriminate” with just hesitation, consideration, and weighing, that which should have been given to the poor man, rather, or at any rate not less, than to the rich. διεκρίθη occurs in an active sense also in Romans 4:20. διακρίνεσθαι is used in this passage of James in a good sense. [But Engl. Vers. takes it in a bad sense, and with an interrogation, “Are ye not partial?”] To this compound word the simple κριταὶ is opposed, which word denotes those who settle any subject definitely. διάκρισις (discrimination) ought to precede κρίσις (judgment); whereas you omit the former and exercise the latter.— κριταὶ διαλογισμῶν πονηρῶν) judges, approvers of evil thoughts: that is, of the rich, who have outward splendour, but abound with evil thoughts. They who honour the rich man in preference to the poor, do not expressly desire to approve of his evil thoughts; but James puts this interpretation upon their conduct, and lays it to their charge, because the rich man in his pomp is full of evil thoughts. The more common sentiment is presupposed as well known.


Verse 5

James 2:5. ἀκούσατε, hearken) By this address he brings to trial and restrains rash judges, showing that the presumption ought to be in favour of the poor, rather than the rich.— θεὸς, God) Our judgment ought to be in conformity with the judgment of God, even in ceremonies and outward gestures.— ἐξελέξατο τοὺς πτωχοὺς, chose the poor) They who are chosen, are needy. This description does not include all the poor, nor is it confined to the poor only; for poverty and riches of themselves do not render any man good or evil; and yet the poor are in various places pronounced happy in preference to the rich: ch. James 5:1. And the terms, wicked and rich, righteous and poor, are generally synonymous. Isaiah 53:9; Amos 2:6; Amos 5:12. The rich man, if he is good, renounces his riches; the poor man, if he is wicked, neglects that which is the advantage of poverty. Many Christians were of the poor, few from among the rich; especially at Jerusalem, and among those to whom James writes. Comp. the notes on ch. James 5:1 and following verses. So also, 1 Corinthians 1:27, God hath chosen, etc.— πλουσίους ἐν πίστει, καὶ κληρονόμους, rich in faith, and heirs) Beza thus explains it: He chose the poor, that they might become rich in faith, and heirs, etc. E. Schmid thus takes it: He chose the poor, who are however rich in faith, to be also heirs, etc. The latter puts asunder two points which are most intimately connected, rich and heirs. The former, contrary to the design of the apostle, places faith and love after election. For James treats concerning the order of election, faith, and love, just as that order becomes known to us: and moreover he thus furnishes us with a rule for forming a right judgment respecting the poor; in which point of view not only faith, but also love, precedes election in the order of our knowledge. The meaning of the apostle is this: God chose the poor, who are rich in faith, and who are also heirs, etc. Whence this argument is derived: “Whoever are rich in faith and heirs, them we ought to acknowledge and treat as chosen by God; but the poor are rich in faith,” etc. Thus election is so far from preceding faith, that even the inheritance precedes election; and if we duly consider the antithesis between He chose, and ye have despised, this conclusion presents itself. Both God highly esteems, and we ought to have highly esteemed, those who are rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom.— ἐν πίστει, in faith) which has for its object the Lord of glory. To this faith are assigned as a consequence the riches of heaven and of the world to come, even as the inheritance is assigned to love.— κληρονόμους, heirs) because sons.— τῆς βασιλείας, of the kingdom) The highest dignity.


Verse 6

James 2:6. ἠτιμάσατε, ye have despised) while ye held the poor in too little esteem. A most expressive word.— οὐχ οἱ πλούσιοι, do not the rich) Not all the rich, but many of them, and none but they; for the poor have not the power, even if they wished. The apostle mentions this, not to excite the godly to envy, but to show the unworthiness of the rich.— αὐτοὶ, these) The demonstrative pronoun, as in James 2:7. In Hebrew, הם. These are they who act both with open violence, and yet with the appearance of justice.— ἕλκουσιν ὑμᾶς, drag you) with unreasonable violence.


Verse 7

James 2:7. βλασφημοῦσι, blaspheme) Proverbs 30:9. The apostle is speaking chiefly of rich heathens. Comp. 1 Peter 4:14; 1 Peter 2:12. For there were not many rich men among the Jews, at any rate at Jerusalem.— τὸ καλὸν ὄνομα, the good name) השם, the name of God, to be praised above all things, בי טוב, since it is good, and His good name.— τὸ ἐπικὶηθὲν ἐφʼ ὑμᾶς, which is invoked over you) from which ye are called the people of God. There is a similar expression, Genesis 48:16; Isaiah 4:1.


Verse 8

James 2:8. νόμον βασιλικὸν, the royal law) which does not allow itself to be enslaved at the will of man; but is itself the law of liberty, James 2:12, and the sum of the (ten) commandments, ordering, as it does, that all shall love, and be loved—the greatest law of the Supreme King, who is Love, with whom there is no accepting of persons, and who exalts all His people to liberty and a kingdom, who orders them to avoid the accepting of persons, and has power to punish transgressors. Comp. note on Chrysost. de Sacerdotio, p. 443, respecting the epithet βασιλικὸς, royal.— τελεῖτε, ye fulfil) even by avoiding the respecting of persons.— κατὰ, according to) This word particularises: the law is the whole; that Scripture, thou shalt love, etc., is a part. Comp. James 2:10-11.— ἀγαπήσεις, thou shalt love) even in paying honour. The royal law is a law of love:(19) comp. 2 Corinthians 2:8, note.— τὸν πλησίον σοῦ, thy neighbour) even though poor.— καλῶς) excellently, rather than in the sense which is noticed in James 2:3 [sit in an honourable place]: comp. James 2:19; James 2:7.


Verse 9

James 2:9. προσωποληπτεῖτε, ye have respect to persons) The respecting of persons does not love all alike.— ἁμαρτίαν ἐργάζεσθε, ye commit sin) Your whole proceeding is sin. For, in James 2:10, has reference to this.— ἐλεγχόμενοι, convinced, convicted) on account of your having respect to persons, and thus incurring conviction.


Verse 10

James 2:10. πταίσει, shall offend) especially in some important matter. πταίειν is used of an offence of daily occurrence, ch. James 3:2.


Verse 11

James 2:11. γὰρ εἰπὼν, for He who said) It is one and the same Being who gave the whole law; and they who violate His will in one point, violate it altogether.


Verse 12

James 2:12. οὕτως λαλεῖτε, so speak ye) Be such in speech. In this summing up, he refers to ch. James 1:26.— διὰ νόμου ἐλευθερίας, by the law of liberty) See note at ch. James 1:25. The law abhors slavery, and therefore also the having respect to persons.


Verse 13

James 2:13. γὰρ κρίσις, for the judgment) That judgment of God respecting us, which no one shall escape, will be such towards every one, as every one shall have been: without mercy to him who hath showed no mercy.— ἔλεος, mercy) This is synonymous with love, James 2:8; one common misery being presupposed.— κατακαυχᾶται, rejoiceth against) An important word, and a memorable sentence. Judgment itself willingly bears this rejoicing. The apostles frequently omit the connecting particles. A proof of this is the great variety of particles which the copyists supply; as in this passage, some prefix καί, while others append δέ. The shorter reading, which stands midway between the two as their common starting point, is the genuine one. See App. Crit., Editio II., on this passage.(20)ἔλεος, mercy) Divine mercy, answering to that on the part of man.


Verse 14

James 2:14. τί, what) From ch. James 1:22, the apostle has been using exhortation to practice: now he meets the case of those who seek to avoid practice, by sheltering themselves under the pretence of faith. Moreover, St Paul taught to this effect:—Righteousness and salvation are of faith, and not of works. But even then pretended Christians had abused this doctrine, as the perversity of man is accustomed to abuse every thing, and had employed the words of St Paul in a sense opposite to that intended by St Paul. Wherefore James (repeating in this place [James 2:23; James 2:21; James 2:25] the same phrases, testimonies, and examples, which St Paul used, Romans 4:3; Hebrews 11:17; Hebrews 11:31) refutes, in James 2:24; James 2:14, not the doctrine of St Paul, but the error of those who abuse that doctrine,—an error which endeavours to escape notice by sheltering itself behind the words of St Paul. Sometimes the use of expressions which are good in themselves is checked, while many abuse them: comp. Jeremiah 23:33 with Habakkuk 1:1 and Malachi 1:1. The character of St Paul, as every one will admit, was very different to that of St James; and some traces of this difference may be perceived in this very chapter: comp. note on Galatians 2:9. It must not, however, be supposed that they are at variance with each other, as any one might suppose, who should attach himself either to St Paul or St James, apart from the other. We ought rather to receive, with the greatest reverence and simplicity, without any reserve or wresting of words, the doctrine of each as apostolical, and as proceeding from Christ and His Spirit. They both wrote the truth, and in a suitable manner, but in different ways, as those who had to deal with different kinds of men. Moreover, James himself had maintained the cause of faith on another stage, Acts 15:13-21; and subsequently, Paul himself strenuously urged works, especially in the Epistles written at the close of his life, when men were now abusing the doctrine of faith. But now in this instance they both use the same words, though not altogether in the same sense, as we shall presently see. Moreover this short verse is a summary of three divisions. James 2:15-17 have reference to What doth it profit? James 2:18-19 reply to If any man say. Can faith save him? is explained in James 2:20-26. Faith is introduced three times, as being dead without works, viz. at the end of the first part, just before the end of the second, and at the end of the third, in James 2:17; James 2:20; James 2:26.— ἐὰν πίστιν λέγῃ τὶς ἔχειν, if any man say that he hath faith) He does not say, if any man has, but, if any thinks and gives out that he has. St James, therefore, here speaks of faith in the same sense in which St Paul so frequently does, in the sense of a true and living faith; and thus also in James 2:22; James 2:18 at the end, where he treats of the good man who is under its influence; but afterwards, in this verse, and in the rest of the argument, under the name of faith, in the way of Mimesis(21) [imitation of his supposed opponent’s words], through his love of conciseness, and speaking after the manner of men, he means the faith of the hypocrite, which rests on a fallacy (self-deceit): ch. James 1:22. He does not teach, that faith can exist without works, but rather, that faith cannot exist without works. He does not oppose faith and works; but he opposes the empty name of boasted faith, and the faith which is true and firm in itself, and which produces abundant fruit.— πίστις, that faith) The article has the force of a pronoun,—that which you speak of, and pretend to, that which is called faith: in the same manner, that which liars boast of is called wisdom, ch. James 3:15.— αὐτὸν, himself) Such a faith neither confers any advantage on another, nor saves the man himself.


Verse 15

James 2:15. ἐὰν δὲ, but if) A comparison (the Protasis of which, even by itself, conveys a suitable admonition, and one not foreign to the subject): hence the Epanelepsis,(22) what doth it profit? James 2:14; James 2:16.


Verse 16

James 2:16. ἐξ ὑμῶν, of you) This tacit appeal to the judgment of his readers makes the Apodosis more forcible.— ὑπάγετε ἐν εἰρήνῃ, Go in peace) A form of repulse even now in use: God help you, that is, expect no help from me.— θερμαίνεσθε καὶ χορτάζεσθε, be ye warm and filled) This is good and courteous advice, if it were realised, so that there were at hand clothing to warm, and food to satisfy.


Verse 17

James 2:17. ἐὰν μὴ ἔργα ἔχῃ, if it hath not works) If the works which living faith produces in other cases have no existence, it is a proof that faith itself (this is the meaning of καθʼ ἑαυτὴν) has no existence, or that that, which any one boasts of as faith, is dead.— νεκρά ἐστι, is dead) As the mere saying, Take food and drink and a garment, is not meat and drink that satisfies, nor a garment that warms, so the saying, I have faith, is not real faith, which profits his neighbour, and is salutary to the speaker himself. The title dead strikes us with horror. Though the abstract word is used, the concrete is meant. Faith is dead; that is, the man who says that he has faith, has not that life, which is faith itself. A similar(23) change in the attribution of words occurs, ch. James 3:4. See the note.— καθʼ ἑαυτὴν, in respect to [by] itself) And when it has works it is alive, and is discerned to be so, not in respect to [by] the works, but in respect to [by] itself. It does not derive its life from works.


Verse 18

James 2:18. ἀλλʼ ἐρεῖ τις, but some one will say) entertaining more correct sentiments than the other person, mentioned in James 2:14, and asserting the true nature of faith and works.— δεῖξόν μοι) show me thy faith without thy works (show, if thou canst; that is, thou canst not); and I will show thee by my works, of which I know that I cannot be destitute, my faith. There are two sayings, the former of which(24) speaks of faith before works, the latter of works before faith, and this for the sake of emphasis; the former has reference to the clause, Thou hast faith; the latter to the clause, and I have works. See Apparat. Crit., Ed. ii., on this passage.(25) [The χωρὶς gives point to the challenge, δεῖζον, κ. τ. λ.—Not. Crit.]


Verse 19

James 2:19. σὺ πιστεύεις thou believest) There is a forcible repetition in the word thou by the figure Anaphora;(26) for this verse also is contained under the words, a man will say (James 2:18).— θεὸς εἷς, One God) That fundamental article, which has always distinguished the faithful from unbelievers, is put prominently forward.— τιστεύουσι, believe) The word believe is here used in a very wide sense; for the devils perceive, and understand, and remember, that there is a God, and one only.— καὶ φρίσσουσι, and tremble) in fearful expectation of eternal torments. So far is such a faith as that from justifying or saving its possessor; and yet it has some efficacy, but in an opposite direction. This, added as it is, contrary to the expectation of the reader, has great force.


Verse 20

James 2:20. θέλεις, Art thou willing?) A question full of character (marked by courtesy); for vain men are in fact unwilling to know, and do not suffer themselves to observe.— κενὲ, vain man) uttering vain and empty words.— χωρὶς τῶν ἔργων νεκρά ἐστιν, without works is dead) This is both illustrated and proved in the following verse.— νεκρὰ,(27) dead) without life and strength to justify and save.

ἀργή is the reading of BC corrected, Vulg. (otiosa). But νεκρά, of A Memph. inferior MSS. of Vulg. Tisch. and Lachm. read ἀργή.—E.


Verse 21

James 2:21. ἀβραὰμ πατὴρ ἡμῶν, Abraham our father) So St Paul, Romans 4:1.— ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη, was justified by works) St James recognises the inward and peculiar power of faith, which is previous to works, and distinct from works and from their influence, which reacts upon faith (James 2:22): but hypocrites are ignorant of this; speaking more readily in flattering terms of works, of which they themselves are destitute. Therefore James employs an argument ad hominem; and that he may convince them, he especially mentions works, while in mentioning them, he understands (as lying underneath the works) the active principle of faith. Nor does James use the word δικαιοῦσθαι, to be justified, in a different sense from that in which St Paul uses it; in which sense righteousness is most intimately connected with salvation, James 2:14. But that sense is a very pregnant one; so that the term righteousness is co-extensive in its meaning on the opposite side with sin (see especially the note, Romans 3:20); and as sin includes both guilt (reatus) and the taint (vitium) of our nature, so does righteousness denote the whole process, by which a man is righteous, and is judged and pronounced to he so; that is, one with whom God is no longer angry on account of his guilt, but reconciled to him: and one who on his part is no longer an enemy to God, but a friend, James 2:23. Comp. Romans 8:7 with what precedes and follows. Now both St James and St Paul use this word, δικαιοῦν, to justify, in one and the same sense, though St Paul in a more restricted, and St James in a wider application; and for this reason, that St Paul is accustomed to speak of the act of justification, which chiefly consists in the remission of sins; whereas St James, which is especially to be observed, speaks of the state resulting from the same justification (which is incorrectly but frequently termed a second justification), when a man continues in the righteousness which is of faith, and makes progress in that which is of works. Hence it is that St Paul, from Genesis 15:6, brings forward Abraham as believing; St James, from Genesis 22:10, as even offering his son upon the altar, long afterwards. The former simply adduces the saying, It was counted to him; the latter also this, He was called friend, which was afterwards added. The former says, God justifies, and justifies the ungodly, and we are justified; the latter simply says, A man is justified. The former makes mention of faith only, and not of works, although they proceed from faith; the latter makes mention of faith and works.— ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιατήριον, upon the altar) He designs to show, that the work of Abraham was undertaken altogether in earnest.


Verse 22

James 2:22. ὅτι, that) Here are two clauses; and if emphasis is laid on the word faith in the former clause, and on works in the latter, the sense will be plainly seen, by which the bearing of the one part upon the other is clearly expressed.— πίστις, faith) It was by faith that Abraham offered his son, Hebrews 11:17.— συνήργει, wrought with) Therefore faith has one kind of efficacy and operation ( ἐνέργειαν), works another: and indeed faith before works and with them. Works do not give life to faith; but faith produces works, and works make perfect faith.— ἐτελειώθη, was made perfect) He does not say, was made alive. That which faith derives from works is not its reality and truth, for it has a true existence before works, but its perfection and its attaining to the Divine friendship; James 2:23. Comp. John 15:10. The vigour of faith, which produces works, is increased, excited, and strengthened by the very act of producing them, just as the natural heat of the body is promoted by the exercise which it first stimulates. See 1 John 3:22. Abraham returned from that sacrifice much more perfect in faith than he had gone to it. The same word, τελειοῦσθαι, is used by Alexander Aphrodisiensis, in his 2d Book, respecting the soul, Chapter III., τρίτος δέ ἐστι, when he describes the intellect as increased by the knowledge of things situated beyond [external to] itself. Faith itself is made perfect, that is, is shown to be true, by works.


Verse 23

James 2:23. ἐπληρώθη γραφὴ, the Scripture was fulfilled) The sense is here anticipated by Prolepsis,(28) for it was fulfilled before it was written: but at what part of Abraham’s time was it fulfilled? When he first believed, or afterwards, when he offered his son? At both times: but James especially refers to the time of the offering, since he is speaking of the state of Abraham after his justification: and to this the expression, he was called the friend of God, has reference; but from this he proves justification by works; from the former expression, justification by faith.— δὲ) I have found this particle in two Latin MSS. I mention this circumstance, lest other versions should increase the doubt respecting the genuine reading of the word.— καὶ φίλος θεοῦ ἐκλήθη, and he was called the friend of God) This is the second part of the whole verse; for it has no reference in its connection to the verb was fulfilled. Abraham had already been the friend of God, before his death; and after his death he was so called by his posterity, 2 Chronicles 20:7; and by God Himself, Isaiah 41:8. He was the friend, in an active sense, the lover of God, which has a reference to works; and in a passive sense, loved by God, which has a reference to justification by works. Both these senses, united together by the force of the relatives, are found also in John 15:14. In Hebrew it is אהב, which, in the passages cited, has an active sound, but a passive signification. At least the parallel words in Isaiah are, servant, elect, and friend; and in the Septuagint, ἠγάπησα, whom I loved, as in the passage quoted from 2 Chron. it is τῷ ἠγαπη΄ένῳ σου, beloved by Thee. On which place also the Halle reviewers(29) remark, that Abraham is called by the Arabs as it were by a proper name, Alchalil, that is, the friend of God. So also Judith 8:22, Abraham amicus Dei effectus est, though these words are not found in the Greek text.


Verse 24

James 2:24. ὁρᾶτε, ye see) So βλέπεις, seest thou, James 2:22.— ἐξ ἔργων δικαιοῦται, is justified by works) See James 2:21, note.— ἄνθρωπος, a man) whether Jew or Greek.— μόνον, only) The Scripture has foreseen and marked out here the error of those gospel-bearing Cyclopians, as Erasmus terms them, and degenerate disciples of Luther, who have for their banner faith only, not as taught by St Paul, but apart (desolatam, separated) from works.


Verse 25

James 2:25. καὶ ῥαὰβ, and Rahab) Having made mention of an illustrious man, Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, he brings forward a woman (for he addresses men and women; ch. James 4:4), and one who was a Gentile, and had led an abandoned life, that no one may require works from Jews only.


Verse 26

James 2:26. γὰρ, for) For is used in the place of therefore, as Romans 3:28, note.— τὸ σῶμα χωρὶς πνεύματος, the body without a spirit) πνεῦμα often denotes πνοὴν, the breath, which is the sign of life; but when it is opposed to the body, it denotes the spirit or soul: nor is that sense foreign to the meaning of this passage. Faith without works resembles a lifeless body; but it does not therefore follow that living faith derives its life from works. It has been already explained, at James 2:21, why James has mentioned works rather than the peculiar energy of faith. Vain pretenders have the form, but not the power of godliness. 2 Timothy 3:5; Titus 1:16.

 


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Bibliography Information
Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on James 2:4". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/james-2.html. 1897.

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Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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