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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
James 1

 

 

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Verse 1

James 1:1. The greeting is in one of the ordinary forms with which public or private letters open (cf. Acts 15:23). Like his brother Judas (Jude 1:1), James calls himself "servant of . . . Jesus Christ": he would no longer claim a brother's relation, except what all shared (Mark 3:35). On our theory we might easily conjecture that James wrote simply "servant of God," the additional words being a very early adaptation to overtly Christian use. "The Twelve Tribes settled in foreign lands" retain their ideal completeness (Acts 26:7, Matthew 19:28, Revelation 7:4 ff; Revelation 21:12), though but few (cf. Luke 2:36) could trace their descent to the "Lost Ten." God was "able of the stones to raise up children" to Israel.


Verses 2-8

James 1:2-8. The paragraph, like its successors, has no special link with its context: it is the writer's habit to throw out a series of aphoristic comments on topics, with as much connexion as there is between the essays of Bacon or successive cantos of Tennyson's In Memoriam. It is the manner of "Wisdom" literature (cf. especially Ecclus.). The paradox with which the epistle opens is an expansion of the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-23). The tense of the verb, "when you have fallen," gives the key. James has not forgotten the Lord's Prayer; but when a devout man has been "brought into trial," he recognises it as God's will, and therefore to be received with joy. He who has inflicted the "trial" will "deliver from the evil" which alone makes it distressing. "A man untried is rejected," was a saying attributed to Christ. The word "rejected" is the negative of the adjective here wrongly translated "proof": read (as in 1 Peter 1:7) "the approved (genuine) part"—"what is sterling in your belief." "Faith," as elsewhere in Jas., means religious belief or creed. Truth which has been "inwardly digested," and not swallowed whole, can produce spiritual robustness. "Endurance" is a great note of Jas. (cf. James 5:11). "Let it work thoroughly, and you will be thorough and complete, with nothing wanting." By a characteristic feature of style, the word "wanting" suggests the next thought. "Wisdom," practical knowledge that informs conduct, is to be had for the asking from the "only Wise." God gives to "all" (Matthew 5:45) "bountifully"—Gr. nearly as in Romans 12:8—without reproaches for their failure to attain. Cf. especially 1 Kings 3:9-12. Note the echo of Matthew 7:7. The condition of James 1:6 is also from Christ's teaching (Mark 11:23, etc.). "He who hesitates is lost" when he prays. For the simile, cf. Isaiah 57:20, Ephesians 4:14. The "two-selfed" man—a trimmer or wobbler, or even one living a double life, a Dr. Jekyll alternating with Mr. Hyde—cannot expect to win the answer that only Faith's virile grasp can seize. The man "has no firm footing, whatever path he treads."


Verses 9-11

James 1:9-11. The paradox of a "bragging" that comes of humility and faith is common to James and Paul: it starts from Jeremiah 9:23 t The "brotherhood" which levels all differences into a glorious "liberty, fraternity, and equality" is the community of God's faithful people. The rich man, as such, has only the common lot to expect: he needs to be lifted down, as the beggar is lifted up, to the place of eternal safety. James vividly expands the famous simile of Isaiah 40:6 from the conditions of Palestine: the easterly sirocco at sunrise (Mark 4:6) blasted vegetation (cf. Psalms 103:16). The "goings" are trade journeys (cf. James 4:13)—he is cut off while still "on the move."


Verses 12-18

James 1:12-18. The Beatitude on Endurance (cf. James 5:11 and note). "Trial" is still neutral: it is affliction which tests and develops loyalty. But since human nature has a bias towards evil, a trial "exerted upon man's evil "desire" (James 1:14) becomes a "temptation." As in Romans 5:4, "endurance" produces approvedness," which brings the reward. The word "crown" (as papyri show), can mean a royal diadem as well as a wreath of victory: the latter is better here. Peter's "unfading crown of glory" is the same idea, and both (as in Revelation 2:10) go back probably to an unrecorded saying of Jesus (cf. 2 Timothy 4:8, also Deuteronomy 30:20). The denial that God "tempts" is based on the self-evidenced fact that there is nothing in Him to supply the seed of evil. This comes from our "desire" when still unbent by submission to God's will. In itself "desire" is neutral; Jesus Himself had it (Luke 22:15). The allegory of Sin as mother of Death is magnificently worked out by Milton, P.L. ii. In contrast to this error, James declares that "Every gift that is good, every bounty that is flawless ‘droppeth from heaven upon the place beneath'"—so we may render to suggest the effect of a metrical quotation probably recognisable in the original. For "the Father of the (heavenly) lights," cf. Job 38:7. Unlike the moving sun, the earth and moon with light and shadow succeeding, He knows "no mutability, nor overshadowing of change." We are His offspring by the act of His will through Truth's own fiat: not literally the "first-fruits" of His creation, Man becomes such in dignity by the fact that God is his Father, and not only his Creator.


Verses 19-27

James 1:19-27. "Be sure of it" (cf. mg.), he goes on, and turns to ask what conduct right views of God should produce. Humility and self-control, firstly, then purity, gentleness, and teachableness, with unsparing honesty that turns every creed into a code of action. "Quick to hear" not only God's warning, but both sides of a human quarrel, "slow to speak" angry words, the peril of which James expounds in ch. 3, such conduct will be free from that "human wrath which can never help forward God's ideal of Right." "Filthiness" or "baseness"—the word was often used of counterfeit coin (but cf. also Revelation 22:11)—is coupled with a "rank growth of malice," lit. "overflow": there is an allusion to the Lord's reminder that speech is "the overflow of the heart." "The implanted word" (cf. Matthew 13:21) can "save" the whole self": it is the phrase which in ordinary parlance means "to save lives."—The teaching on Hearers and Doers comes from the lips of Jesus (Matthew 7:24 ff.): cf. also Romans 2:13. The "natural face," the features of "birth," contrasted implicitly with the unchanging and eternal Ideal, may be studied" (the word of Luke 12:24—it does not imply a mere glance) in the more or less polished metal mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12), but memory refuses to preserve the picture after the man goes away. To print the image of the Ideal on our souls we must "look right down into" it (Luke 24:12, John 20:5; John 20:11, 1 Peter 1:12) and "stay by" it, so as to transform the momentary hearing into permanent working. The Law that is Liberty (James 2:12) is called "perfect" or "mature" because it works by the complete coincidence of man's will with God's—"Our wills are ours, to make them Thine." Romans 8:2 might be an intended comment. The passionate love of the pious Jew for the Law (cf. Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:97) colours this estimate of its ideal. A final foil is provided by the self-deceived "worshipper," punctilious in external religion, but cruel, foul, or frivolous of tongue (cf. James 3:2; James 3:9; Matthew 12:36). Such "worship" is "futile," for it never reaches the Throne. For God is Father, and He only receives the worship of love towards His needy children, and of purity from the world's selfishness (see 1 John 4:20). "Visit" is a strong word (cf. Luke 16:8, etc.). The depreciation of external religion as an end is very striking from the Ups of one so noted for his love of it as a means of grace.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on James 1:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/james-1.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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