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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
James 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-4

Chapter 10

THE CHRISTOLOGY OF ST. JAMES-THE PRACTICAL UNBELIEF INVOLVED IN SHOWING A WORLDLY RESPECT OF PERSONS IN PUBLIC WORSHIP.

James 2:1-4

As has been stated already, in a previous chapter, one of Luther’s main objections to this Epistle is that it does not "preach and urge Christ." "It teaches Christian people, and yet does not once notice the Passion, the Resurrection, the Spirit of Christ. The writer names Christ a few times; but he teaches nothing of Him, but speaks of general faith in God."

This indictment has been more fully drawn out by a modern writer. "The author’s standpoint is Jewish rather than Christian. The ideas are cast in a Jewish mould. The very name of Christ occurs but twice, [James 1:1; James 2:1] and His atonement is scarcely touched. We see little more than the threshold of the new system. It is the teaching of a Christian Jew, rather than of one who had reached a true apprehension of the essence of Christ’s religion. The doctrinal development is imperfect. It is only necessary to read the entire Epistle to perceive the truth of these remarks. In warning his readers against transgression of the law by partiality to individuals, the author adduces Jewish rather than Christian motives. [James 2:8-13] The greater part of the third chapter, respecting the government of the tongue, is of the same character, in which Christ’s example is not once alluded to, the illustrations being taken from objects in nature. The warning against uncharitable judgment does not refer to Christ, or to God, who puts His Spirit in the hearts of believers, but to the law. [James 4:10-12] He who judges his neighbor judges the law. The exhortation to feel and act under constant remembrance of the dependence of our life on God belongs to the same category. [James 4:13-17] He that knows good without doing it is earnestly admonished to practice virtue and to avoid self-sufficiency, without reference to motives connected with redemption. Job and the Prophets are quoted as examples of patience, not Christ; and the efficacy of prayer is proved by the instance of Elias, without allusion to the Redeemer’s promise. [James 5:17] The Epistle is wound up after the same Jewish fashion, though the opportunity of mentioning Christ, who gave Himself a Sacrifice for sin, presented itself naturally."

All this may be admitted, without at all consenting to the conclusion which is drawn from it. Several other considerations must be taken into account before we can form a satisfactory opinion respecting the whole case. Few things are more misleading, in the interpretation of Scripture, than the insisting upon one set of facts and texts, and passing over all that is to be found on the other side. In this manner the most opposite views may be equally proved from Scripture: Universalism and the eschatology of Calvin. Pelagianism and Fatalism, Papalism and Presbyterianism.

First, both logically and chronologically the teaching of St. James precedes that of St. Paul and of St. John. To call it "retrograde" when compared with either of them is to call a child retrograde when compared with a man. St. Paul had to feed his converts with milk before he fed them with meat, and the whole of the congregations addressed by St. James in this letter must have been at a comparatively early stage of development. In some respects even the Mother Church of Jerusalem, from which his letter was written, did not get beyond these early stages. Before it had done so the center of Christendom had moved from Jerusalem to Antioch; and to Jerusalem it never returned. It was useless to build a structure of doctrine before a foundation of morality had been laid. Advent must come before Christmas, and Lent before Easter. The manifold significance of the great truths of the Incarnation and the Resurrection would not be well appreciated by those who were neglecting some of the plainest principles of the moral law; and to appeal to the sanctions which every Jew from his childhood had been accustomed to regard as final was probably in the long-run more convincing than to remind these converts of the additional sanctions which they had admitted when they entered the Christian Church. Moreover, there are passages in the Epistle which seem to show that St. James at times looks aside to address Jews who are not Christians at all, and it may be that even when He addresses Christian converts he deliberately prefers arguments which would weigh with Jew and Christian alike to those which would appeal to the latter only. Like St. Paul himself, he was willing to become to the Jews a Jew, that he might win the Jews. Besides which, we must allow something for the bias of his own mind. To his death he remained in many respects, not only a saintly shepherd of the Christian Church, but also a Hebrew of Hebrews. He is the last Jewish prophet as well as the first Christian bishop, a Hebrew Rabbi inside the Church; and even if the condition of his readers had not made it desirable to lay much stress upon the Law and the Old Testament, the associations of a lifetime would have led him frequently to those old sources of truth and morality, all the more so as no authoritative Christian literature was as yet in existence. It was part of his mission to help in creating such a literature. He sets one of the first, it may be the very first, of the mystic stones, which, although apparently thrown together without order or connection, form so harmonious and so complete a whole; and alike in the solidity of its material and in the simplicity of its form this Epistle is well fitted to be one of the first stones in such a building.

But it is easy to go away with an exaggerated view of the so-called deficiencies of this letter as regards distinctly Christian teaching. The passage before us is a strong piece of evidence, and even if it stood alone it would carry us a long way. Moreover, the strength of it is not much affected by the ambiguity of construction which confronts us in the original. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty how the genitive "of glory" ( της δοξης) ought to be taken; but the Revisers are possibly right: "Hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, (the Lord) of glory, with respect of persons." Nor does it much matter whether we take the Greek negative ( μη εχετε) as an imperative, "Do not go on holding"; or as an interrogative which expects a negative reply, "Do ye hold?" In any case we have the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and the fact of His being an object of faith to Christians, placed before us in clear language. No mere Jew, and no Ebionite who believed that Jesus was a mere man, could have written thus. And the words with which the Epistle opens are scarcely less marked: "James, of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ a bond-servant." In both passages the title "Lord," which in the Old Testament means Jehovah, is given to Jesus Christ, and in the opening words God and the Lord Jesus are placed side by side as equal. Moreover, St. James, who might have claimed honor as the brother of the Lord, prefers to style himself His bond-servant. He has "known Christ after the flesh," few more closely and intimately, and he knows from experience how little such knowledge avails: "henceforth knows he Him so no more." He who does the will of God is the true brother of the Lord, and it is this kind of relationship to Christ that he wishes to secure for his readers.

Nor do these two passages, in which Jesus Christ is mentioned by name, stand alone. There is the question, "Do not they blaspheme the honorable Name by which ye were called?" The honorable Name, which had been "called upon" them, is that of Christ, and if it can be blasphemed it is a Divine Name. [James 2:7] The Second Advent of Christ, "the coming of the Lord," is a thing for which Christians are to wait patiently and longingly, [James 5:7-9] and the office which He will then discharge is that of the Divine Judge of all mankind. "The coming of the Lord is at hand. Murmur not, brethren, one against another, that ye be not judged: behold, the Judge standeth before the doors". [James 5:8-9]

Nor have we yet exhausted the passages which in this singularly practical and undoctrinal Epistle point clearly to the central doctrine of the Divinity of Christ and His eternal relation to His Church. "Is any among you sick? Let film call for the elders of the Church: and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up". [James 5:14-15] As in the case of the man healed at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple [Acts 3:6; Acts 3:16] it is "in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom God raised from the dead, even in this Name," that the sick man is to be restored. And some interpreters (Dorner and Von Soden) think that Christ is included, or even exclusively intended, in "One is the Lawgiver and the Judge." [James 4:12. Comp. James 5:9] Thus Liddon: "Especially noteworthy is his assertion that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Judge of men, is not the delegated representative of an absent Majesty, but is Himself the Legislator enforcing His own laws. The Lawgiver, he says, is One Being with the Judge who can save and can destroy; the Son of man, coming in the clouds of heaven, has enacted the law which He thus administers." But without taking into account expressions of which the interpretation is open to doubt, there is quite enough to show us that the Divinity of Jesus Christ, His redeeming death, His abiding power, and His return to judgment are the basis of the moral teaching of St. James, and are never long absent from his thoughts. Expressions, some of which no mere Jew or Ebionite could have used, and others which no such imperfect believer would have been likely to use, abound in this short Epistle, in spite of its simple and practical character. "My brethren, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." These words open a new section of the letter, as the renewed address indicates; and although the Epistle is not a set treatise, capable of analysis, but a letter, in which the subjects to be treated are loosely strung together in the order in which they occur to the writer, yet the connection between the two very different subjects of this section and the preceding one can be traced. The previous section teaches that much hearing is better than much talking, and that much hearing is worthless without corresponding conduct. This section denounces undue respect of persons, and especially of wealthy persons during public worship. The connecting thoughts are religious worship and the treatment of the poor. The conduct which is true devotion is practical benevolence, moral purity, and unworldliness. This conclusion suggests a new subject, worldly respect of persons in public worship. That is the very reverse of pure devotion. To profess one’s belief in Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, and at the same time show one’s belief in the majesty of mere money, is grievously incongruous. St. James is not making any attack on differences of rank, or asserting that no man is to be honored above another. He is pointing out that reverence for the wealthy is no part of Christianity, and that such reverence is peculiarly out of place in the house of God, especially when it brings with it a corresponding disregard of the poor.

"If there come into your synagogue." This is one of several improvements which the Revisers have introduced into this passage. The Authorized Version has "assembly," which obscures the fact that the letter is written in those very early days of the Church in which the Jewish Christians still attended the worship of the Temple and the synagogue, or if they had a separate place of worship, spoke of it under the old familiar name. The latter is probably what is meant here. St. James, in writing to Christians, would hardly speak of a Jewish place of worship as "your synagogue," nor would he have rebuked Christians for the way in which different persons were treated in a synagogue of the Jews. The supposition that "the article ( την συναγωγην υμων) indicates that the one synagogue of the entire Jewish Christian Dispersion is meant, i.e., their religious community, symbolically described by the name of the Jewish place of worship," is quite unfounded, and against the whole context. A typical incident-perhaps something which had actually been witnessed by St. James, or bad been reported to him-is made the vehicle of a general principle. {comp. James 1:2} That the reference is to judicial courts often held in synagogues is also quite gratuitous, and destroys the contrast between "pure religion" and worldly respect of persons in public worship.

Another improvement introduced by the Revisers is a uniform translation of the word ( εσθης) capriciously rendered "apparel," "raiment," and "clothing." Only one word is used in the Greek, and it is misleading to use three different words in English. By a quaint misuse of the very passage before us, the translators of 1611 defend their want of precision in such matters, and avow that in many cases precision was deliberately sacrificed to variety and to wish to honor as many English words as possible by giving them a place in the Bible! In ordinary copies of the Authorized Version the Address to King James is commonly given, the far more instructive Address to the Reader never. Near the close of it the translators say as follows:-

Another thing we think good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that we have not tied ourselves to a uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish we had done, because they observe, that some learned men somewhere, have been as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there be some words that be not of the same sense everywhere) we were especially careful, and made a conscience, according to our duty. But, that we should express the same notion in the same particular word: as for example, if we translate the Hebrew or Greek word once by Purpose, never to call it Intent; if one where Journeying, never Traveling; if one where Think, never Suppose; if one where Pain, never Ache; if one where Joy, never Gladness, etc. Thus to mince the matter, we thought to savor more of curiosity than wisdom, and that rather it would breed scorn in the Atheist, than bring profit to the godly Reader. For is the kingdom of God become words or syllables? Why should we be in bondage to them if we may be free, use one precisely, when we may use another no less fit, as commodiously? A godly Father in the primitive time showed himself greatly moved, that one of new fangleness called κραββατον σκιμπους, though the difference be little or none (Niceph. Call. 8:42); and another reporteth that he was much abused for turning Cucurbita (to which reading the people had been used) into Hedera (Jerome, ‘In IV Jonae.’ See S. Augustine, ‘Epist.,’ 71). Now if this happen in better times, and upon so small occasions, we might justly fear hard censure, if generally we should make verbal and unnecessary changings. We might also be charged (by scoffers) with some unequal dealing towards a great number of good English words. For as it is written of a certain great Philosopher, that he should say, that those logs were happy that were made images to be worshipped; for their fellows, as good as they, lay for blocks behind the fire: so if we should say, as it were, unto certain words, Stand up higher, have a place in the Bible always, and to others of a like quality, Get ye hence, be banished for ever, we might be taxed peradventure with S. James his words, namely, "To be partial in ourselves and judges of evil thoughts." In the passage before us the repetition of one and the same word for "clothing" is possibly not accidental. The repetition acculturates the fact that such a thing as clothing is allowed to be the measure of a man’s merit.

The rich man is neither the better nor the worse for his fine clothes, the poor man neither the better nor the worse for his shabby clothes. The error lies in supposing that such distinctions have anything to do with religion, or ought to be recognized in public worship; and still more in supposing that any one, whether rich or poor, may at such a time be treated with contumely.

"Are ye not divided in your own mind, and become judges with evil thoughts?" Here, as in the first verse, there is a doubt whether the sentence is an interrogation or not. In the former case the meaning is the same, whichever way we take it for a question which implies a negative answer ( μη interrogative) is equivalent to a prohibition. In the present case the meaning will be affected if we consider the sentence to be a statement of fact, and the number of translations which have been suggested is very large. In both cases we may safely follow the Vulgate and all English versions in making the first verse a prohibition, and the fourth a question. "Are ye not divided in your own mind?" Or more literally, "Did ye not doubt in yourselves?" i.e., on the typical occasion mentioned. At the outset St. James says, "Hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons." But the conduct described respecting the treatment of the gold-ringed man and the squalidly clothed man shows that they do have respect of persons in their religion, and that shows that genuine faith in Christ is wanting. Such behavior proves that they doubt in themselves. They are not single-hearted believers in the Lord Jesus, but double-minded doubters, [James 1:6-7] trying to make the best of both worlds, and to serve God and Mammon.

The word rendered "doubt" ( διακρινεσθαι) may mean "distinguish": "Do ye not make distinctions among yourselves?" It is so taken by Renan ("L’Antechrist," p. 49) and others. This makes sense, but it is rather obvious sense; for of course to give a rich man a good place, and a poor man a bad one, is making distinctions. It seems better to adhere to the meaning which the word certainly has in the preceding chapter, [James 1:6] as well as elsewhere in the New Testament, [Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23; Acts 10:20; Romans 4:20; Romans 14:23] and understand it as referring to the want of faith in Christ and in His teaching which was displayed in a worldly preference for the rich over the poor, even in those services in which His words were to be taught and His person adored.

"Judges with evil thoughts" is an improvement on the more literal but misleading "judges of evil thoughts" ( κριται διαλογισμων πονηρων).

The meaning of the genitive case is that the evil thoughts characterize the judges, as in such common phrases as "men of evil habits," "judges of remarkable severity" (see above on "hearers of forgetfulness,"). The word for "thoughts" is one which in itself suggests evil, even without any epithet. It is the word used of the reasonings of the Pharisees, when they taxed our Lord with blasphemy for forgiving sins (Luke 5:22. Comp. Luke 24:38). St. Paul uses it of those who are "vain in their reasonings," [Romans 1:21; 1 Corinthians 3:20] and couples with it "murmurings" [Philippians 2:14] as congenial company. Those men who, even while engaged in the public worship of God, set themselves up as judges to honor the rich and contemn the poor, were not holding the faith of Jesus Christ, but were full of evil doubts, questionings, and distrust.


Verses 5-10

Chapter 11

THE INIQUITY OF RESPECTING THE RICH AND DESPISING THE POOR-THE SOLIDARITY OF THE DIVINE LAW.

James 2:5-10

ST. JAMES is varied in his style. Sometimes he writes short, maxim-like sentences, which remind us of the Book of Proverbs; sometimes, as in the passage before us, he is as argumentative as St. Paul. Having condemned worldly respect of persons as practical infidelity, he proceeds to prove the justice of this estimate; and he does so with regard to both items of the account: these respecters of persons are utterly wrong, both in their treatment of the poor and in their treatment of the rich. The former is the worse of the two; for it is in flat contradiction of the Divine decree, and is an attempt to reverse it. God has said one thing about the poor man’s estate, and these time-servers, publicly in the house of God, say another.

"Hearken, my beloved brethren." He invites their attention to an affectionate and conclusive statement of the case. "Did not God choose them that are poor as to the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom? But ye have dishonored the poor man." By the humble life which, by Divine decree, God’s Son led upon the earth, by the social position of the men whom He chose as His Apostles and first disciples, by blessings promised to the poor and to the friends of the poor, both under the Law and under the Gospel, God has declared His special approbation of the poor man’s estate. "But ye" ( υμεις δε, with great emphasis on the pronoun) "have dishonored the poor man." With Haman-like impiety ye would disgrace "the man whom the King delights to honor."

Let us not misunderstand St. James. He does not say or imply that the poor man is promised salvation on account of his poverty, or that his poverty is in any way meritorious. That is not the case, any more than that the wealth of the rich is a sin. But so far as God has declared any preference, it is for the poor, rather than for the rich. The poor man has fewer temptations, and he is more likely to live according to God’s will, and to win the blessings that are in store for those who love Him. His dependence upon God for the means of life is perpetually brought home to him, and he is spared the peril of trusting in riches, which is so terrible a snare to the wealthy. He has greater opportunities of the virtues which make man Christlike, and fewer occasions of falling into those sins which separate him most fatally from Christ. But opportunities are not virtues, and poverty is not salvation. Nevertheless, to a Christian a poor man is an object of reverence, rather than of contempt.

But the error of the worldly Christians whom St. James is here rebuking does not end with dishonoring the poor whom God has honored; they also pay special respect to the rich. Have the rich, as a class, shown that they deserve anything of the kind? Very much the reverse, as experience is constantly proving. "Do not the rich oppress you, and themselves drag you before the judgment-seats? Do not they blaspheme the honorable name by the which ye are called?" Unless we consider the "synagogue" mentioned above to be a Jewish one, in which Christians still worship, as in the Temple at Jerusalem, the gold-ringed worshipper is to be understood as a Christian; and reasons have been given above for believing that the "synagogue" is a Christian place of worship. But in any case the rich oppressors here spoken of are not to be thought of as exclusively or principally Christian. They are the wealthy as a class, whether converts to Christianity or not; and apparently, as in James 5:1-6, it is the wealthy, unbelieving Jews who are principally in the writer’s mind. St. James is thinking of the rich Sadducees, who at this period (A.D. 35-65) were among the worst oppressors of the poorer Jews, and were of course specially bitter against those who had become adherents of "the Way," and who seemed to them to be renegades from the faith of their forefathers. It was precisely to this kind of oppression that St. Paul devoted himself with fanatical zeal previous to his conversion. [Acts 9:1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Philippians 3:6]

"The judgment-seats" before which these wealthy Jews drag their poorer brethren may be either heathen or Jewish courts, {comp. 1 Corinthians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 6:4} but are probably the Jewish courts frequently held in the synagogues. The Roman government allowed the Jews very considerable powers of jurisdiction over their own people, not only in purely ecclesiastical matters, but in civil matters as well. The Mosaic Law penetrated into almost all the relations of life, and where it was concerned it was intolerable to a Jew to be tried by heathen law. Consequently the Romans found that their control over the Jews was more secure, and less provocative of rebellion, when the Jews were permitted to retain a large measure of self-government. This applied not only to Palestine, but to all places in which there were large settlements of Jews. Even in the New Testament we find ample evidence of this. The high-priest grants Saul "letters to Damascus, unto the synagogues" to arrest all who had become converts to "the Way". [Acts 9:2] And St. Paul before Herod Agrippa II declares that, in his fury against converts to Christianity, he "persecuted them even unto foreign cities". [Acts 26:11] Most, if not all, of the five occasions on which he himself "received of the Jews forty stripes save one" [2 Corinthians 11:24] must have been during his travels outside Palestine. The proconsul Gallio told the Jews of Corinth, not only that they might, but that they must, take their charges against Paul, for breaking a Jewish law, to a Jewish tribunal; and when they ostentatiously beat Sosthenes before his own tribunal, for some Jewish offence, he abstained from interfering. It is likely enough that provincial governors, partly from policy, partly from indifference, allowed Jewish officials to exercise more power than they legally possessed; but they possessed quite enough to enable them to handle severely those who contravened the letter or the traditional interpretation of the Mosaic Law. That the dragging before the judgment seats refers to bringing Christians before Roman magistrates, in a time of persecution, is a gratuitous hypothesis which does not fit the context. It was the mob, rather than the rich, that in the earlier persecutions acted in this way. The rich were contemptuously indifferent. There is, therefore, no evidence here that the letter was written during the persecution under Domitian or under Trajan. Nevertheless, their Christianity, rather than their debt, was probably the reason why these poor Jewish Christians were prosecuted in the synagogue courts by the wealthy Jews.

So far from this passage being evidence that the Epistle was written at a time long after the death of St. James, it is, as Renan has carefully shown, almost a proof that it was written during his lifetime. As regards the relations between rich and poor, "the Epistle of James is a perfect picture of the Ebionim at Jerusalem in the years which preceded the revolt." The destruction of Jerusalem introduced so complete a change into the situation of Judaism and of Christianity, that it is easy to distinguish a writing subsequent to the catastrophe of the year 70 from a writing contemporary with the third Temple. Pictures evidently "referring to the internal contests between the different classes in Jerusalem society, such as that which is presented to us in the Epistle of James, are inconceivable after the revolt of the year 66, which put an end to the reign of the Sadducees." These were the times when women bought the priesthood for their husbands from Herod Agrippa II, and went to see them officiate, over carpets spread from their own door to the Temple; when wealthy priests were too fastidious to kill the victims for sacrifice without first putting on silk gloves; when their kitchens were furnished with every appliance for luxurious living, and their tables with every delicacy; and when, supported by the Romans, to whom they truckled, they made war upon the poor priests, who were supported by the people. Like Hophni and Phinehas, they sent out their servants to collect what they claimed as offerings, and if payment was refused the servants took what they claimed by force. Facts like these help us to understand the strong language used here by St. James, and the still sterner words at the beginning of the fifth chapter. In such a state of society the mere possession of wealth certainly established no claims upon the reverence of a Christian congregation; and the fawning upon rich people, degrading and unchristian at all times, would seem to St. James to be specially perilous and distressing then.

"Do not they blaspheme the honorable Name by which ye are called?" The last clause literally means "which was called upon you" ( το επικληθεν εφ υμας); and we need not doubt that the reference is to the Name of Christ which was invoked upon them at their baptism; quod invocatum est super vos, as the Vulgate has it. The same expression is found in tile Septuagint of those who are called by God’s name. [2 Chronicles 7:14; Jeremiah 14:9; Jeremiah 15:16; Amos 9:12] Some have suggested that the name here indicated is that of "poor," or of "brethren," or of "Christian"; but none of these is at all probable. It may be doubted whether the last was already in common use; and "blaspheme" would be a very strong expression to use of any of them; whereas both it and "honorable" are quite in keeping if the name be that of Christ. The word rendered "honorable" ( καλον) cannot be adequately translated. It is the same as that which is rendered "good" when we read of "the Good Shepherd". [John 10:11] It suggests what is beautiful, noble, and good, as opposed to what is foul, mean, and wicked; and such is the Name of Christ, which is called in a special sense "the Name." [Acts 5:41; 3 John 1:7] Comp. Ignatius, "Ephesians" 3., 7.; "Philad." 10.; Clem. [Romans 2:13] That the blasphemers are not Christians is shown by the clause "which was called upon you." Had Christians been intended, St. James would have written "Do not they blaspheme the honorable Name which was called upon them?" That they blasphemed the Name in which they were baptized would have been such an aggravation of their offence that he would not have failed to indicate it. These blasphemers were no doubt Jews; and St. James has in his mind the anathemas against Jesus Christ which were frequent utterances among the Jews, both in the synagogues and in conversation. St. Paul alludes to these when he says, "No man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema"; and Justin Martyr writes, "That which is said in the Law, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree, confirms our hope which is hung upon the crucified Christ, not as if God were cursing that crucified One, but because God foretold that which would be done by all of you (Jews) and those like you…And you may see with your eyes this very thing coming to pass; for in your synagogues you curse all those who from Him have become Christians" ("Trypho," 96.). The text, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree," was a favorite one with the Jews in their controversies with Christians, as St. James would know well; {see Galatians 3:13} and all this tends to show that he refers to literal blasphemy by word of mouth, and not to the virtual blasphemy which is involved in conduct that dishonors Christ.

His argument, therefore, amounts to this, that the practice of honoring the rich for their riches is (quite independently of any dishonor done to the poor) doubly reprehensible. It involves the meanness of flattering their own oppressors, and the wickedness of reverencing those who blaspheme Christ. It is a servile surrender of their own rights, and base disloyalty to their Lord.

But, perhaps (the argument continues), some will defend this respect paid to the rich as being no disloyalty to Christ, but, on the contrary, simple fulfillment of the royal law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Be it so, that the rich as a class are unworthy of respect and honor, yet nevertheless they are our neighbors, and no misconduct on their side can cancel the obligation on our side to treat them as we should wish to be treated ourselves. We ourselves like to be respected and honored, and therefore we pay respect and honor to them. To those who argue thus the reply is easy. Certainly, if that is your motive, ye do well. But why do you love your neighbor as yourselves if he chances to be rich, and treat him like a dog if he chances to be poor? However excellent your reasons for honoring the wealthy may be, you still do not free yourselves from the blame of showing an unchristian respect of persons, and therefore of committing sin, "being convicted by the law as transgressors."

The law of loving one’s neighbor as oneself is a "royal law," not as having emanated from God or from Christ as King, still less as being a law which binds even kings, or which makes kings of those who observe it. It is a royal law, as being sovereign over other laws, inasmuch as it is one of those two on which "hang all the Law and the Prophets". [Matthew 22:40] Indeed, either of the two may be interpreted so as to cover the whole duty of man. Thus St. Paul says of this royal law, "The whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." [Galatians 5:14] And St. John teaches the same truth in a different way, when he declares that "he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen cannot love God whom he hath not seen". [1 John 4:20] The expression "royal law" occurs nowhere else, either in the New Testament or in the Septuagint, but it is found in a dialogue entitled "Minos", which is sometimes wrongly attributed to Plato. It is one which might readily occur to any one as a name for a supreme moral principle.

"Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all." The law is the expression of one and the same principle-love; and of one and the same will-the will of God. Therefore he who deliberately offends against any one of its enactments, however diligently he may keep all the rest, is guilty of offending against the whole. His guiding principle is not love, but selfishness-not God’s will, but his own. He keeps nine tenths of the law because he likes to do so, and he breaks one tenth because he likes to do so. The fact of his willful disobedience proves that his obedience is not the fruit of love or loyalty, but of self-seeking. If we ask what his character is, the answer must be, "He is a lawbreaker." These respecters of persons claimed to be observers of the law, because they treated their rich neighbors as they would have liked to be treated themselves. St. James shows them that, on the contrary, they are transgressors of the law, because they pick and choose as to what neighbors shall be treated thus kindly. They keep the law when it is convenient to keep it, and break it when it is inconvenient to keep it. Such keeping of the law is in its essence, not obedience, but disobedience. He who follows honesty only because honesty is the best policy is not an honest man, and he who obeys the law only because obedience suits him is not an obedient man. There is no serving God with reservations. However small the reservation may be, it vitiates all the rest. In order to "fulfill the law" (a rare expression, found only here and in Romans 2:27), we must keep it all round, independently of our own likes and dislikes.

St. James is not here countenancing the severity of Draco, that small crimes deserve death, and that there is no worse punishment for great crimes; nor yet the paradox of the Stoics, that the theft of a penny is as bad as parricide, because in either case the path of virtue is left, and one is drowned as surely in seven feet of water as in seventy fathoms. He is not contending that all sins are equal and that to break one of God’s commands is as bad as to break them all. What he maintains is that no one can claim to be a fulfiller of the law in virtue of his extensive obedience so long as there is any portion of the law which he willfully disobeys. Why does he disobey in this? Because it pleases him to do so. Then he would disobey in the rest if it pleased him to do so. The motive of his conduct is not submission, but self-will. He is in character "a transgressor of the law."

Both defects are common enough still, and are likely to remain so. Paying respect to persons, dignities, and positions is a frequent form of meanness, especially in the manner here condemned, of courting the rich and slighting the poor. It is a Christian duty to respect the rank or the office of those whom God has placed in a position superior to ourselves, and it is also a Christian duty to reverence those who by God’s grace are leading lives of virtue and holiness; hut it is unchristian partiality to honor a man merely for his wealth, or to dishonor him merely for his poverty. And, secondly, we are all of us prone to plead, both before the world and our own consciences, the particulars in which we do not offend as a set-off against those in which we do. To detect ourselves thus balancing a transgression here, against many observances there, ought at once to startle us into the conviction that the whole principle of our lives must be faulty. Our aim is, not to love God, or to obey Him, but to get to heaven, or at least to escape hell, on the cheapest terms.


Verses 14-26

Chapter 12

FAITH AND WORKS: THREE VIEWS OF THE RELATION , OF THE TEACHING OF ST. JAMES TO THE TEACHING OF ST. PAUL-THE RELATION OF LUTHER TO BOTH.

James 2:14-26

"What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself. Yea, a man will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works; show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith. Thou believest that God is One; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and shudder. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect; and the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith. And in like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead."- James 2:14-26

THIS famous passage has been quoted in full, because one needs to have the whole of it before one in order to appreciate the value of the arguments used on this side and on that as to its relation to the teaching of St. Paul on the connection between faith and works; for which purpose mere extracts will not do; and also because considerable changes, some of them important, have been made throughout the passage by the Revisers, and these will influence the impression derived from reading the passage’ as a whole.

It might be thought that here, at any rate, we have got, in this singularly practical and undogmatic Epistle, a paragraph which is, both in intention and in effect, distinctly doctrinal. It seems at first sight to be a careful exposition of St. James’s views as to the nature and value of faith and its relation to conduct. But a little attention will prove to us that throughout the passage St. James is as practical in his aim as in any part of the letter, and that whatever doctrinal teaching there may be in the passage is there because the practical purpose of the writer could not be fulfilled without involving doctrine, and not at all because the writer’s object is to expound or defend an article of the Christian faith. He has agenda rather than credenda in his mind. An orthodox creed is assumed throughout. What needs to be produced is not right belief, but right action.

In this affectionate pastoral St. James passes in review the defects which he knows to exist in his readers. They have their good points, but these are sadly marred by corresponding deficiencies. They are swift to hear, but also swift to speak and slow to act. They believe in Jesus Christ; but they dishonor Him by dishonoring His poor, while they profess to keep the law of charity by honoring the rich. They are Orthodox in a Monotheistic creed; but they rest content with that, and their orthodoxy is as barren as a dead tree. It is with this last defect that St. James is dealing in the passage before us. And as so often, [James 1:12; James 1:19; James 2:1; James 3:1; James 3:13; James 4:1; James 4:13; James 5:1; James 5:7; James 5:13] he clearly states his main point first, and then proceeds to enforce and elucidate it.

"What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? Can that faith save Him? That faith" is literally "the faith," or "his faith"; viz., such faith as he professes, a faith that produces nothing. There is no emphasis on "say." St. James is not insinuating that the man says he has faith, when he really has none. If that were the case, it would be needless to ask, "Can his faith save him?" The question then would be, "Can his profession of faith save him?" But St. James nowhere throws doubt on the truth of the unprofitable believer’s professions, or on the possibility of believing much and doing nothing. Why, then, does he put in the "say"? Why not write, "If a man have faith"? Perhaps in order to indicate that in such cases the man’s own statement is all the evidence there is that he has faith. In the case of other Christians their works prove them to be believers; but where there are no works you can only have the man’s word for it that he believes. The case is parallel to that sketched by our blessed Lord, which St. James may have in his mind. "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by Thy Name, and by Thy Name cast out devils, and by Thy Name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity". [Matthew 7:21-23] In this case it is manifest that the profession of faith is not mere empty hypocrisy; it is not a saying of "Lord, Lord," to one who is not believed to be the Lord. It is a faith that can remove mountains, but divorced from the love which makes it acceptable. The two, which God hath joined together, have by man’s self-will been put asunder.

The relation, therefore, of the teaching of St. James to that of His Divine Brother is clear: the two are in perfect harmony. What is its relation to the teaching of St. Paul? Omitting minor differences, there are in the main three answers to this question:

(1) The writer of this Epistle is deliberately contradicting and correcting the teaching of St. Paul

(2) St. James is correcting prevalent misunderstandings, or is anticipating probable misunderstandings, of the teaching of St. Paul.

(3) St. James writes without reference to, and possibly without knowledge of, the precise teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles respecting the relation between faith and works.

(1) Those who hold the first of these three views naturally maintain that the Epistle is not genuine, but the production of some one of a later age than St. James, who wished to have the great authority of his name to cover an attack upon the teaching of St. Paul. Thus F. C. Baur maintains that the doctrine of this Epistle must be considered as intended to correct that of Paul. This, which is taken from the second edition of his work on the "Life and Work of St. Paul," published after his death in 1860, by his pupil Zeller, may be taken as his matured opinion. In his history of the "Christian Church of the First Three Centuries," published in 1853, he expresses himself a little less positively: "It is impossible to deny that the Epistle of James presupposes the Pauline doctrine of justification. And if this be so, its tendency is distinctly anti-Pauline, though it may not be aimed directly against the Apostle himself. The Epistle contends against a one-sided conception of the Pauline doctrine, which was dangerous to practical Christianity." In both works alike Baur contends that the Epistle of James cannot be genuine, but is the product of some unknown writer in the second century. The opinions that our Epistle is directed against the teachings of St. Paul, and that it is not genuine, naturally go together. It is against all probability that St. James, who had supported St. Paul in the crisis at Jerusalem in A.D. 50, [Acts 15:1-41] and who had given to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, [Galatians 2:9] should attack St. Paul’s own teaching. But to deny the authenticity of the Epistle, and place it in a later age, does not really avoid the difficulty of the supposed attack on St. Paul, and it brings with it other difficulties of a no less serious character. In any case the letter is addressed to Jewish Christians; [James 1:1] and what need was there to put them on their guard against the teaching of a man whom they regarded with profound distrust, and whose claim to be an Apostle they denied? It would be as reasonable to warn Presbyterians against the doctrine of the Infallibility of the Pope. Besides all which, as Renan has shown, the letter sketches a state of things which would be inconceivable after the outbreak of the war which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem; i.e., it cannot be placed later than A.D. 66.

Dr. Salmon justly observes, "To a disciple of Baur there is no more disappointing document than this Epistle of James. Here, if anywhere in the New Testament, he might expect to find evidence of anti-Pauline rancor. There is what looks like flat contradiction between this Epistle and the teaching of St. Paul But that opposition to Paul which, on a superficial glance, we are disposed to ascribe to the Epistle of James, disappears on a closer examination. I postpone for the moment the question whether we can suppose that James intended to contradict Paul; but whether he intended it or not, he has not really done so; he has denied nothing that Paul has asserted, and asserted nothing that a disciple of Paul would care to deny. On comparing the language of James with that of Paul, all the distinctive expressions of the latter are found to be absent from the former. St. Paul’s thesis is that a man is justified not by works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. James speaks only of works without any mention of the law, and of faith without any mention of Jesus Christ, the example of faith which he considers being merely the belief that there is one God. In other words, James is writing not in the interests of Judaism, but of morality. Paul taught that faith in Jesus Christ was able to justify a man uncircumcised and unobservant of the Mosaic ordinances. For this Pauline teaching James not only has no word of contradiction, but he gives no sign of ever having heard of the controversy which, according to Baur, formed the most striking feature in the early history of the Church…Whatever embarrassment the apparent disagreement between the Apostles has caused to orthodox theologians is as nothing in comparison with the embarrassment caused to a disciple of Baur by their fundamental agreement."

We may, therefore, safely abandon a theory which involves three such difficulties. It assigns a date to the Epistle utterly incompatible with its contents. It makes the writer warn Jewish Christians against teaching which they, of all Christians, were least likely to find attractive. And after all, the warning is futile; for the writer’s own teaching is fundamentally the same as that which it is supposed to oppose and correct. Besides all which, we may say with Reuss that this Tubingen criticism is merely baseless ingenuity. It "overlooks the unique originality of the Epistle"; and to ascribe to the writer of it "any ulterior motives at all is simply a useless display of acuteness."

(2) This last remark will not predispose us to regard with favor the second hypothesis mentioned above-that in this passage St. James is correcting prevalent misunderstandings, or is anticipating probable misunderstandings, of the teaching of St. Paul. There is no trace of any such intention, or of any anxiety on the subject. The purpose of the passage is not doctrinal at all, but, like the rest of the Epistle, eminently practical. The writer’s object throughout is to inculcate the necessity of right conduct. Readiness in hearing the Word of God is all very well, and correctness of belief in God is all very well; but without readiness to do what pleases Him it is as useless as a dead vine. Whether St. James remembered the words, "We reckon that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law," [Romans 3:28] must remain doubtful; for, as has been pointed out in a previous exposition, there is some reason for believing that he had seen the Epistle to the Romans. But there is no reason for believing that he was acquainted with the parallel statement in the Epistle to the Galatians, "We being Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, save through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believe on Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law; because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified". [James 2:15-16] Of one thing, however, we may feel confident, that, had St. James been intending to give the true meaning of either or both of these statements by St. Paul, in order to correct or obviate misunderstanding, he would not have worded his exposition in such a way that it would be possible for a hasty reader to suppose that he was contradicting the Apostle of the Gentiles instead of merely explaining him. He takes no pains to show that while St. Paul speaks of works of the law, i.e., ceremonial observances, he himself is speaking of good works generally, which St. Paul no less than himself regarded as a necessary accompaniment and outcome of living faith.

Moreover, was there any likelihood that the Jewish Christians would thus misinterpret St. Paul? Among Gentile Christians there was danger of this, because they misunderstood the meaning of the Christian liberty which he so enthusiastically preached. But with Jewish converts the danger was that they would refuse to listen to St. Paul in anything, not that they would be in such a hurry to accept his teaching that they would go away with a wrong impression as to what he really meant. And precisely that doctrine of St. Paul which was so liable to be misunderstood St. James proclaims as clearly as St. Paul does in this very Epistle. He also declares, more than once, that the Gospel is the "law of liberty". [James 1:25; James 2:12] Had St. James been writing to Gentiles, there might have been some reason for his putting his readers on their guard against misinterpreting St. Paul’s manner of preaching the Gospel: in writing "to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion" there was little or no reason for so doing.

(3) We fall back, therefore, upon the far more probable view that in this passage St. James is merely following the course of his own argument, without thinking of St. Paul’s teaching respecting the relation between faith and works.

How much of St. Paul’s teaching he knew depends upon the date assigned to this Epistle, whether before A.D. 50 or after A.D. 60. At the later date St. James must have known a good deal, both from St. Paul himself, and also from many Jews of the Dispersion, who had heard the preaching of the Apostle in his missionary journeys, had seen some of his letters and brought both good and evil reports of his work to the Church at Jerusalem. Each year, at the Passover and other festivals, James would receive multitudes of such visitors. But it does not follow that because he knew a good deal about St. Paul’s favorite topics, and his manner of presenting the faith to his hearers, therefore he has his teaching in his mind in writing to Jewish converts. The passage before us is thoroughly intelligible, if it is treated on its own merits without any reference to Pauline doctrine; and not only so, but we may say that it becomes more intelligible when so treated.

At the opening of the Epistle St. James insists on the necessity of faith: "knowing that the proof of your faith worketh patience" (James 1:3); and "Let him ask in faith, nothing doubting" (James 1:6). Then he passes on to insist upon the necessity of practice: "Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves" (James 1:22); and "Being not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh" (James 1:25). At the beginning of the second chapter he does exactly the same. He first assumes that as a matter of course his hearers have faith (James 2:1), and then goes on to show how this must be accompanied by the practice of charity and mercy towards all, and especially towards the poor (James 2:2-13). The passage before us is precisely on the same lines.

It is assumed that his readers profess to have faith (James 2:14; James 2:19); and St. James does not dispute the truth of this profession. But he maintains that unless this faith is productive of a corresponding practice, its existence is not proved, and its utility is disproved. It is as barren as a withered tree, and as lifeless as a corpse. Three times over he asserts, with simple emphasis, that faith apart from practice is dead (James 2:17; James 2:20; James 2:26). All which tends to show that the present paragraph comes quite naturally in the course of the exhortation, without any ulterior motive being assumed to explain it. It is in close harmony with what precedes, and thoroughly in keeping with the practical aim of the whole letter. We see how easily it might have been written by any one who was in earnest about religion and morality, without having heard a word about St. Paul’s teaching respecting faith in Christ and works of the law.

It has been already pointed out that a letter addressed by a Jewish Christian to Jewish Christians would not be very likely to take account of St. Paul’s doctrine, whether rightly or wrongly understood. It has also been shown that St. James, as is natural in such a letter, makes frequent appeals to the Old Testament, and also has numerous coincidences with portions of that now much-neglected Jewish literature which forms a connecting-link between the Old and the New, especially with the Books of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus. It was in the period in which that literature was produced that discussions as to the value of faith in God, as distinct from the fear of God, and in particular as to the faith of Abraham, the friend of God, began to be common among the Jews, especially in the Rabbinical schools. We find evidence of this in the Apocrypha itself. "Abraham was a great father of many people…and when he was proved he was found faithful" (Sirach 44:19-20). "Was not Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness," {RAPC 1 Maccabees 2:52} where the interrogative form of sentence may have suggested the interrogation of St. James. It will be observed that in these passages we have the adjective "faithful" ( πιστος); not. yet the substantive "faith" ( πιστος). But in the composite and later work which in our Bibles bears the name of the Second Book of Esdras we have faith frequently spoken of. "The way of truth shall be hidden, and the land shall be barren of faith" (5:1). "As for faith, it shall flourish, corruption shall be overcome, and the truth, which hath been so long without fruit, shall be declared" (6:28) "Truth shall stand, and faith shall wax strong" (7:34). And in two remarkable passages faith is spoken of in connection with works. "And every one that shall be saved, and shall be able to escape by his works, and by faith, whereby ye have believed, shall be preserved from the said perils, and shall see My salvation" (9:7, 8). "These are they that have works and faith towards the Most Mighty" (13:23). With Philo faith and the faith of Abraham are common topics. He calls it "the queen of the virtues," and the possessor of it "will bring a faultless and most fair sacrifice to God." Abraham’s faith is not easy to imitate, so hard is it to trust in the unseen God rather than in the visible creation; whereas he without wavering believed that the things which were not present were already present, because of his most sure faith in Him Who promised. Other instances might be quoted from Jewish literature; but these suffice to show that the nature of faith, and the special merit of Abraham’s faith, were subjects often discussed among Jews, and were likely to be familiar to those whom St. James addresses. This being so, it becomes probable that what he has in his mind is not Pauline doctrine, or any perversion of it, but some Pharisaic tenet respecting these things. The view that faith is formal orthodoxy-the belief in one God-and that correctness of belief suffices for the salvation of a son of Abraham, seems to be the kind of error against which St. James is contending. About faith in Christ or in His Resurrection there is not a word. It is the cold Monotheism which the self-satisfied Pharisee has brought with him into the Christian Church, and which he supposes will render charity and good works superfluous, that St. James is condemning. So far from this being a contradiction to St. Paul, it is the very doctrine which he taught, and almost in the same form of words. "What doth it profit ( τι δφελος), my brethren," asks St. James, "if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing," says St. Paul. "And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing." ( ουδεν ωφελουμαι).

St. Paul and St. James are thus found to be agreed. It remains to be shown that in spite of his own statements to the contrary, Luther was as fully agreed with the latter as with the former. When he writes about St. James, Luther’s prejudices lead him to disparage a form of teaching which he has not been at the pains to comprehend. But when he expounds St. Paul he does so in words which would serve excellently as an exposition of the teaching of St. James. In his preface to the Epistle to the Romans he writes thus: "But faith is a Divine work in us, that changes us and begets us anew of God"; [John 1:13] and kills the old man, and makes of us quite other men in heart, courage, mind, and strength, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. Oh, it is a living, active, energetic, mighty thing, this faith, so that it is impossible that it should not work what is good without intermission. It does not even ask whether good works are to be done, but before one asks it has done them, and is ever doing. But he who does not do such works is a man without faith, is fumbling and looking about him for faith and good works, and knows neither the one nor the other, yet chatters and babbles many words about both.

"Faith is a living deliberate confidence in the grace of God, so sure that it would die a thousand times for its trust. And such confidence and experience of Divine grace make a man merry, bold, and joyful towards God and all creatures; all which the Holy Spirit does in faith. Hence the man without compulsion becomes willing and joyful to do good to every one, to serve every one, to endure everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. Therefore it is impossible to sever works from faith; yea, as impossible as to sever burning and shining from fire."


Verse 19

; James 2:21; James 2:25

Chapter 13

THE FAITH OF THE DEMONS THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM AND THE FAITH OF RAHAB THE HARLOT.

James 2:19; James 2:21; James 2:25

IN the preceding chapter several points of great interest were passed over, in order not to obscure the main issue as to the relation of this passage to the teaching of St. Paul. Some of these may now be usefully considered.

Throughout this book, as in that on the Pastoral Epistles and others for which the present writer is in no way responsible, the Revised Version has been taken as the basis of the expositions. There may be reasonable difference of opinion as to its superiority to the Authorized Version for public reading in the services of the Church, but few unprejudiced persons would deny its superiority for purposes of private study and both private and public exposition. Its superiority lies not so much in happy treatment of difficult texts, as in the correction of a great many small errors of translation, and above all in the substitution of a great many true or probable readings for others that are false or improbable. And while there are not a few cases in which there is plenty of room for doubt whether the change, even if clearly a gain in accuracy, was worth making, there are also some in which the uninitiated student wonders why no change was made. The passage before us contains a remarkable instance. Why has the word "devils" been retained as the rendering of δαιμονια, while "demons" is relegated to the margin?

There are two Greek words, very different from one another in origin and history, which are used both in the Septuagint and in the New Testament to express the unseen and spiritual powers of evil. These are διαβολος and δαιμονιον, or in one place δαιμων. [Matthew 22:31; not Mark 5:12; Luke 7:29, or Revelation 16:14 and Revelation 18:2] The Scriptural usage of these two words is quite distinct and very marked. Excepting where it is used as an adjective, [John 6:70; 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 3:3; Titus 2:3] διαβολος is one of the names of Satan, the great enemy of God and of men, and the prince of the spirits of evil. It is so used in the Books of Job and of Zechariah, as well as in RAPC Wisdom of Solomon 2:24, and also throughout the New Testament, viz., in the Gospels and Acts, the Catholic and Pauline Epistles, and the Apocalypse. It is, in fact, a proper name, and is applied to one person only. It commonly, but not invariably [1 Chronicles 21:1; Psalms 108:5; Psalms 109:5] has the definite article. The word δαιμονιον, on the other hand, is used of those evil spirits who are the messengers and ministers of Satan. It is thus used in Isaiah, the Psalms, Tobit, Baruch, and throughout the New Testament. It is used also of the false gods of the heathen, which were believed to be evil spirits, or at least the productions of evil spirits, who are the inspirers of idolatry; whereas Satan is never identified with any heathen divinity. Those who worship false gods are said to worship "demons," but never to worship "the devil." Neither in the Old Testament nor in the New are the two words ever interchanged. Satan is never spoken of as a δαιμων or δαιμονιον, and his ministers are never called διαβολοι. Is it not a calamity that this very marked distinction should be obliterated in the English Version by translating both Greek words by the word "devil," especially when there is another word which, as the margin admits, might have been used for one of them? The Revisers have done immense service by distinguishing between Hades, the abode of departed spirits of men, and Hell or Gehenna, the place of punishment. [James 3:6] Why did they reject a similar opportunity by refusing to distinguish the devil from the demons over whom he reigns? This is one of the suggestions of the American Committee which might have been followed with great advantage and (so far as one sees) no loss.

St. James has just been pointing out the advantage which the Christian who has works to show has over one who has only faith. The one can prove that he possesses both; the other cannot prove that he possesses either. The works of the one are evidence that the faith is there also, just as leaves and fruit are evidence that a tree is alive. But the other, who possesses only faith, cannot prove that he possesses even that. He says that he believes, and we may believe his statement, but if any one doubts or denies the truth of his profession of faith he is helpless. Just as a leafless and fruitless tree may be alive; but who is to be sure of this? We must note, however, that in this case the statement is not doubted. "Thou hast faith, and I have works"; the possibility of possessing faith without works is not disputed. And again, "Thou believest that God is one"; the orthodox character of the man’s creed is not called in question. This shows that there is no emphasis on "say" in the opening verse, "If a man say he hath faith, but have not works"; as if such a profession were incredible. And this remains equally true if, with some of the best editors, we turn the statement of the man’s faith into a question, "Dost thou believe that God is One?" For "Thou doest well" shows that the man’s orthodoxy is not questioned.

The object of St. James is not to prove that the man is a hypocrite, and that his professions are false; but that, on his own showing, he is in a miserable condition. He may plume himself upon the correctness of his Theism; but as far as that goes, he is no better than the demons, to whom this article of faith is a source, not of joy and strength, but of horror.

It is most improbable that, if he had been alluding to the teaching of St. Paul, St. James would have selected the Unity of the Godhead as the article of faith held by the barren Christian. He would have taken faith in Christ as his example. But in writing to Jewish Christians, without any such allusion, the selection is very natural. The Monotheism of his creed, in contrast with the foolish "gods many, and lords many," of the heathen, was to the Jew a matter of religious and national pride. He gloried in his intellectual and spiritual superiority to those who could believe in a plurality of deities. And there was nothing in Christianity to make him think less highly of this supreme article of faith. Hence, when St. James desires to give an example of the faith on which a Jewish Christian, who had sunk into a dead formalism, would be most likely to rely, he selects this article, common to both the Jewish and the Christian creed, "I believe that God is One," "Thou doest well," is the calm reply; and then follows the sarcastic addition, "The demons also believe-and shudder."

Is St. James here alluding to the belief mentioned above, that the gods of the heathen are demons? They, of all evil spirits, might be supposed to know most about the Unity of God, and to have most to fear in reference to it. "They sacrificed unto demons, which were no God," we read in Deuteronomy. [Deuteronomy 32:17] And again in the Psalms, "They sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto demons" (Psalms 106:37, Comp. Psalms 96:5). In these passages the Greek word δαιμονια represents the Elilim or Shedim, the nonentities who were allowed to usurp the place of Jehovah. And St. Paul affirms, "That the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God". [1 Corinthians 10:20] It is quite possible, therefore, that St. James is thinking of demons as objects of idolatrous worship, or at any rate as seducing people into such worship, when he speaks of the demons’ belief in the Unity of God.

But a suggestion which Bede makes, and which several modern commentators have followed, is well worth considering. St. James may be thinking of the demons which possessed human beings, rather than those which received or promoted idolatrous worship. Bede reminds us of the many demons who went out at Christ’s command, crying out that He was the Son of God, and especially of the man with the legion among the Gadarenes, who expressed not only belief, but horror: "What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure Thee by God, that Thou torment me not." Without falling into the error of supposing that demons can mean demoniacs, we may imagine how readily one who had witnessed such scenes as those recorded in the Gospels might attribute to the demons the expressions of horror which he had heard in the words and seen on the faces of those whom demons possessed. Such expressions were the usual effect of being confronted by the Divine presence and power of Christ, and were evidence both of a belief in God and of a dread of Him. St. James, who was then living with the mother of the Lord, and sometimes followed His Divine Brother in His wanderings, would be almost certain to have been a witness of some of these healings of demoniacs. And it is worth noting that the word which in the Authorized Version is rendered "tremble," and in the Revised "shudder" ( φρισσειν), expresses physical horror, especially as it affects the hair; and in itself it implies a body, and would be an inappropriate word to use of the fear felt by a purely spiritual being. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; but in the Septuagint we find it used in the book of Job: "Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up". [Job 4:15] It is a stronger word than either "fear" or "tremble," and strictly speaking can be used only of men and other animals.

This horror, then, expressed by the demons through the bodies of those whom they possess, is evidence enough of faith. Can faith such as that save any one? Is it not obvious that a faith which produces, not works of love, but the strongest expressions of fear, is not a faith on which any one can rely for his salvation? And yet the faith of those who refuse to do good works, because they hold that their faith is sufficient to save them, is no better than the faith of the demons. Indeed, in some respects it is worse. For the sincerity of the demons’ faith cannot be doubted; their terror is proof of it: whereas the formal Christian has nothing but cold professions to offer. Moreover, the demons are under no self-delusion; they know their own terrible condition. For the formalist who accepts Christian truth and neglects Christian practice there is a dreadful awakening in store. There will come a time when "believe and shudder" will be true also of him. "But, before it is too late, wiliest thou to get to know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren?"

"Wilt thou know" does not do full justice to the meaning of the Greek ( θελεις γνωναι). The meaning is not, "I would have you know," but, "Do you wish to have acquired the knowledge?" You profess to know God and to believe in Him; do you desire to know what faith in Him really means? "O vain man" is literally. "O empty man," i.e., empty-headed, empty-handed, and empty-hearted. Empty-headed, in being so deluded as to suppose that a dead faith can save; empty-handed, in being devoid of true spiritual riches; empty-hearted, in having no real love either for God or man. The epithet seems to be the equivalent of Raca, the term of contempt quoted by our Lord as the expression of that angry spirit which is akin to murder. [Matthew 5:22] The use of it by St. James may be taken as an indication that the primitive Church saw that the commands in the Sermon on the Mount are not rules to be obeyed literally, but illustrations of principles. The sin lies not so much in the precise term of reproach which is employed as in the spirit and temper which are felt and displayed in the employment of it. The change from "dead" (A.V.) to "barren" (R.V.) is not a change of translation, but of reading ( νεκρα το αργη), the latter term meaning "workless, idle, unproductive". [Matthew 20:3; Matthew 20:6; 1 Timothy 5:13; Titus 1:12; 2 Peter 1:8] Aristotle ("Nic. Eth.," 1. 7:11) asks whether it is likely that every member of a man’s body should have a function or work ( εργον) to perform, and that mart as a whole should be functionless ( αργος). Would nature have produced such a vain contradiction? We should reproduce the spirit of St. James’s pointed interrogation if we rendered "that faith without fruits is fruitless."

In contrast with this barren faith, which makes a man’s spiritual condition no better than that of the demons, St. James places two conspicuous instances of living and fruitful faith-Abraham and Rahab. The case of "Abraham our father" would be the first that would occur to every Jew. As the passages in the Apocrypha (RAPC Wisdom of Solomon 10:5; Sirach 44:20; 1 Maccabees 2:52) prove, Abraham’s faith was a subject of frequent discussion among the Jews, and this fact is quite enough to account for its mention by St. James, St. Paul, [Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6] and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, [Hebrews 11:17] without supposing that any one of them had seen the writings of the others. Certainly there is no proof that the writer of this Epistle is the borrower, if there is borrowing on either side. It is urged that between the authors of this Epistle and that to the Hebrews there must be dependence on one side or the other, because each selects not only Abraham, but Rahab, as an example of faith; and Rahab is so strange an example that it is unlikely that two writers would have selected it independently. There is force in the argument, but less than at first sight appears. The presence of Rahab’s name in the genealogy of the Christ, [Matthew 1:5] in which so few women are mentioned, must have given thoughtful persons food for reflection. Why was such a woman singled out for such distinction? The answer to this question cannot be given with certainty. But whatever caused her to be mentioned in the genealogy may also have caused her to be mentioned by St. James and the writer of Hebrews; or the fact of her being in the genealogy may have suggested her to the author of these two Epistles. This latter alternative does not necessarily imply that these two writers were acquainted with the written Gospel of St. Matthew, which was perhaps not in existence when they wrote. The genealogy, at any rate, was in existence, for St. Matthew no doubt copied it from official or family registers. Assuming, however, that it is not a mere coincidence that both writers use Abraham and Rahab as examples of fruitful faith, it is altogether arbitrary to decide that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote first. The probabilities are the other way. Had St. James known that Epistle, he would have made more use of it.

The two examples are in many respects very different. Their resemblance consists in this, that in both cases faith found expression in action, and this action was the source of the believer’s deliverance. The case of Abraham, which St. Paul uses to prove the worthlessness of "works of the law" in comparison with a living faith, is used by St. James to prove the worthlessness of a dead faith in comparison with works of love which are evidence that there is a living faith behind them. But it should be noticed that a different episode in Abraham’s life is taken in each Epistle, and this is a further reason for believing that neither writer refers to the other. St. Paul appeals to Abraham’s faith in believing that he should have a son when he was a hundred, and Sarah ninety years of age. [Romans 4:19] St. James appeals to Abraham’s faith in offering up Isaac, when there seemed to be no possibility of the Divine promise being fulfilled if Isaac was slain. The latter required more faith than the former, and was much more distinctly an act of faith; a work, or series of works, that would never have been accomplished if there had not been a very vigorous faith to inspire and support the doer. The result ( εξ εργων) was that Abraham was "justified," i.e., he was counted righteous, and the reward of his faith was with still greater solemnity and fullness than on the first occasion [Genesis 15:4-6] promised to him: "By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My voice". [Genesis 22:16-18]

With the expression "was justified as a result of works" ( εξ εργων εδικαιωθη), which is used both of Abraham and of Rahab, should be compared our Lord’s saying, "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned," [Matthew 12:37] which are of exactly the same form; literally, "As a result of thy words thou shalt be accounted righteous, and as a result of thy words thou shalt be condemned" ( εκ των λογων σου δικαιωθηση καιγων σου καταδικασθηση); that is, it is from the consideration of the words in the one case, and of the works in the other, that the sentence of approval proceeds; they are the source of the justification. Of course from the point of view taken by St. James words are "works"; good words spoken for the love of God are quite as much fruits of faith and evidence of faith as good deeds. It is not impossible that this phrase is an echo of expressions which he had heard used by Christ.

That the words rendered "offered up Isaac his son upon the altar" really mean this, and not merely "brought Isaac his son as a victim up to the altar," is clear from other passages where the same phrase ( αναφερειν επι τοριον) occurs. Noah "offering burnt offerings on the altar" [Genesis 8:20] and Christ "offering our sins on the tree" [1 Peter 2:24] might be interpreted either way, although the bringing up to the altar and to the tree does not seem so natural as the offering on them. But a passage in Leviticus about the offerings of the leper is quite decisive: "Afterward he shall kill the burnt offering: and the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the meal offering upon the altar". [Leviticus 14:19-20] It would be very unnatural to speak of bringing the victim up to the altar after it had been slain. {Comp. /RAPC Baruch 1:10; 1 Maccabees 4:53} The Vulgate, Luther, Beza, and all English versions agreed in this translation; and it is not a matter of small importance, not a mere nicety of rendering. In all completeness, both of will and deed, Abraham had actually surrendered and offered up to God his only son, when he laid him bound upon the altar, and took the knife to slay him-to slay that son of whom God had promised, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." Then "was the Scripture fulfilled"; i.e., what had been spoken and partly fulfilled before Genesis 15:6 received a more complete and a higher fulfillment. Greater faith hath no man than this, that a man gives back his own promises unto God. The real but incomplete faith of believing that aged parents could become the progenitors of countless thousands had been accepted and rewarded. Much more, therefore, was the perfect faith of offering to God the one hope of posterity accepted and rewarded. This last was a work in which his faith co-operated, and which proved the complete development of his faith; by it "was faith made perfect."

"He was called the Friend of God." Abraham was so called in Jewish tradition; and to this day this is his name among his descendants the Arabs, who much more commonly speak of him as "the Friend" (El Khalil), or "the Friend of God" (El Khalil Allah), than by the name Abraham. Nowhere in the Old Testament does he receive this name, although our Versions, both Authorized and Revised, would lead us to suppose that he is so called. The word is found neither in the Hebrew nor in existing copies of the Septuagint. In 1 Chronicles 20:7, "Abraham Thy friend" should be "Abraham Thy beloved"; and in Isaiah 41:8, "Abraham My friend" should be "Abraham whom I loved." In both passages, however, the Vulgate has the rendering amicus, and some copies of the Septuagint had the reading "friend" in 2 Chronicles 20:7, while Symmachus had it in Isaiah 41:8 (See Field’s "Hexapla," 1. p. 744; 2. p. 513). Clement of Rome (10., 17.) probably derived this name for Abraham from St. James. But even if Abraham is nowhere styled "the friend of God," he is abundantly described as being such. God talks with him as a man talks with his friend, and asks, "Shall I, Abraham that which hide from I do?" [Genesis 18:17] which is the very token of friendship pointed out by Christ. "No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known unto you". [John 15:15] It is worthy of note that St. James seems to intimate that the word is not in the sacred writings. The words "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness," are introduced with the formula, "The Scripture was fulfilled which saith." Of the title "Friend of God," it is simply said "he was called," without stating by whom.

"In like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works?" It is because of the similarity of her case to Abraham’s, both of them being a contrast to the formal Christian and the demons, that Rahab is introduced. In her case also faith led to action, and the action had its result in the salvation of the agent. If there had been faith without action, if she had merely believed the spies without doing anything in consequence of her belief, she would have perished. She was glorified in Jewish tradition, perhaps as being a typical forerunner of proselytes from the Gentile world; and it may be that this accounts for her being mentioned in the genealogy of the Messiah, and consequently by St. James and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Talmud mentions a quite untrustworthy tradition that she married Joshua, and became the ancestress of eight persons who were both priests and prophets, and also of Huldah the prophetess. St. Matthew gives Salmon the son of Naasson as her husband; he may have been one of the spies.

But the contrast between Abraham and Rahab is almost as marked as the similarity. He is the friend of God, and she is of a vile heathen nation and a harlot. His great act of faith is manifested towards God, hers towards men. His is the crowning act of his spiritual development; hers is the first sign of a faith just beginning to exist. He is the aged saint, while she is barely a catechumen. But according to her light, which was that of a very faulty moral standard, "she did what she could," and it was accepted.

These contrasts have their place in the argument, as well as the similarities. The readers of the Epistle might think, "Heroic Acts are all very suitable for Abraham; but we are not Abrahams, and must be content with sharing his faith in the true God; we cannot and need not imitate his acts." "But," St. James replies, (and he writes ομοιως δε, not καιως), "there is Rahab, Rahab the heathen, Rahab the harlot; at least you can imitate her." And for the Jewish Christians of that day her example was very much in point. She welcomed and believed the messengers, whom her countrymen persecuted, and would have slain. She separated herself from her unbelieving and hostile people, and went over to an unpopular and despised cause. She saved the preachers of an unwelcome message for the fulfillment of the Divine mission with which they had been entrusted. Substitute the Apostles for the spies, and all this is true of the believing Jews of that age. And as if to suggest this lesson, St. James speaks not of "young men," as Joshua 6:23, nor of "spies," as Hebrews 11:31, but of "messengers," a term which is as applicable to those who were sent by Jesus Christ as to those who were sent by Joshua.

Plutarch, who was a young man at the time when this Epistle was written, has the following story of Alexander the Great, in his "Apothegms of Kings and Generals": The young Alexander was not at all pleased with the success of his father, Philip of Macedon. "My father will leave me nothing," he said. The young nobles who were brought up with him replied, "He is gaining all this for you," Almost in the words of St. James, though with a very different meaning, he answered, "What does it profit ( τι οφελος) if I possess much and do nothing? "The future conqueror scorned to have everything done for him. In quite another spirit the Christian must remember that if he is to conquer he must not suppose that his heavenly Father, who has done so much for him, has left him nothing to do. There is the fate of the barren fig-tree as a perpetual warning to those who are royal in their professions of faith, and paupers in good works.


Verse 21

; James 2:21; James 2:25

Chapter 13

THE FAITH OF THE DEMONS THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM AND THE FAITH OF RAHAB THE HARLOT.

James 2:19; James 2:21; James 2:25

IN the preceding chapter several points of great interest were passed over, in order not to obscure the main issue as to the relation of this passage to the teaching of St. Paul. Some of these may now be usefully considered.

Throughout this book, as in that on the Pastoral Epistles and others for which the present writer is in no way responsible, the Revised Version has been taken as the basis of the expositions. There may be reasonable difference of opinion as to its superiority to the Authorized Version for public reading in the services of the Church, but few unprejudiced persons would deny its superiority for purposes of private study and both private and public exposition. Its superiority lies not so much in happy treatment of difficult texts, as in the correction of a great many small errors of translation, and above all in the substitution of a great many true or probable readings for others that are false or improbable. And while there are not a few cases in which there is plenty of room for doubt whether the change, even if clearly a gain in accuracy, was worth making, there are also some in which the uninitiated student wonders why no change was made. The passage before us contains a remarkable instance. Why has the word "devils" been retained as the rendering of δαιμονια, while "demons" is relegated to the margin?

There are two Greek words, very different from one another in origin and history, which are used both in the Septuagint and in the New Testament to express the unseen and spiritual powers of evil. These are διαβολος and δαιμονιον, or in one place δαιμων. [Matthew 22:31; not Mark 5:12; Luke 7:29, or Revelation 16:14 and Revelation 18:2] The Scriptural usage of these two words is quite distinct and very marked. Excepting where it is used as an adjective, [John 6:70; 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 3:3; Titus 2:3] διαβολος is one of the names of Satan, the great enemy of God and of men, and the prince of the spirits of evil. It is so used in the Books of Job and of Zechariah, as well as in RAPC Wisdom of Solomon 2:24, and also throughout the New Testament, viz., in the Gospels and Acts, the Catholic and Pauline Epistles, and the Apocalypse. It is, in fact, a proper name, and is applied to one person only. It commonly, but not invariably [1 Chronicles 21:1; Psalms 108:5; Psalms 109:5] has the definite article. The word δαιμονιον, on the other hand, is used of those evil spirits who are the messengers and ministers of Satan. It is thus used in Isaiah, the Psalms, Tobit, Baruch, and throughout the New Testament. It is used also of the false gods of the heathen, which were believed to be evil spirits, or at least the productions of evil spirits, who are the inspirers of idolatry; whereas Satan is never identified with any heathen divinity. Those who worship false gods are said to worship "demons," but never to worship "the devil." Neither in the Old Testament nor in the New are the two words ever interchanged. Satan is never spoken of as a δαιμων or δαιμονιον, and his ministers are never called διαβολοι. Is it not a calamity that this very marked distinction should be obliterated in the English Version by translating both Greek words by the word "devil," especially when there is another word which, as the margin admits, might have been used for one of them? The Revisers have done immense service by distinguishing between Hades, the abode of departed spirits of men, and Hell or Gehenna, the place of punishment. [James 3:6] Why did they reject a similar opportunity by refusing to distinguish the devil from the demons over whom he reigns? This is one of the suggestions of the American Committee which might have been followed with great advantage and (so far as one sees) no loss.

St. James has just been pointing out the advantage which the Christian who has works to show has over one who has only faith. The one can prove that he possesses both; the other cannot prove that he possesses either. The works of the one are evidence that the faith is there also, just as leaves and fruit are evidence that a tree is alive. But the other, who possesses only faith, cannot prove that he possesses even that. He says that he believes, and we may believe his statement, but if any one doubts or denies the truth of his profession of faith he is helpless. Just as a leafless and fruitless tree may be alive; but who is to be sure of this? We must note, however, that in this case the statement is not doubted. "Thou hast faith, and I have works"; the possibility of possessing faith without works is not disputed. And again, "Thou believest that God is one"; the orthodox character of the man’s creed is not called in question. This shows that there is no emphasis on "say" in the opening verse, "If a man say he hath faith, but have not works"; as if such a profession were incredible. And this remains equally true if, with some of the best editors, we turn the statement of the man’s faith into a question, "Dost thou believe that God is One?" For "Thou doest well" shows that the man’s orthodoxy is not questioned.

The object of St. James is not to prove that the man is a hypocrite, and that his professions are false; but that, on his own showing, he is in a miserable condition. He may plume himself upon the correctness of his Theism; but as far as that goes, he is no better than the demons, to whom this article of faith is a source, not of joy and strength, but of horror.

It is most improbable that, if he had been alluding to the teaching of St. Paul, St. James would have selected the Unity of the Godhead as the article of faith held by the barren Christian. He would have taken faith in Christ as his example. But in writing to Jewish Christians, without any such allusion, the selection is very natural. The Monotheism of his creed, in contrast with the foolish "gods many, and lords many," of the heathen, was to the Jew a matter of religious and national pride. He gloried in his intellectual and spiritual superiority to those who could believe in a plurality of deities. And there was nothing in Christianity to make him think less highly of this supreme article of faith. Hence, when St. James desires to give an example of the faith on which a Jewish Christian, who had sunk into a dead formalism, would be most likely to rely, he selects this article, common to both the Jewish and the Christian creed, "I believe that God is One," "Thou doest well," is the calm reply; and then follows the sarcastic addition, "The demons also believe-and shudder."

Is St. James here alluding to the belief mentioned above, that the gods of the heathen are demons? They, of all evil spirits, might be supposed to know most about the Unity of God, and to have most to fear in reference to it. "They sacrificed unto demons, which were no God," we read in Deuteronomy. [Deuteronomy 32:17] And again in the Psalms, "They sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto demons" (Psalms 106:37, Comp. Psalms 96:5). In these passages the Greek word δαιμονια represents the Elilim or Shedim, the nonentities who were allowed to usurp the place of Jehovah. And St. Paul affirms, "That the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God". [1 Corinthians 10:20] It is quite possible, therefore, that St. James is thinking of demons as objects of idolatrous worship, or at any rate as seducing people into such worship, when he speaks of the demons’ belief in the Unity of God.

But a suggestion which Bede makes, and which several modern commentators have followed, is well worth considering. St. James may be thinking of the demons which possessed human beings, rather than those which received or promoted idolatrous worship. Bede reminds us of the many demons who went out at Christ’s command, crying out that He was the Son of God, and especially of the man with the legion among the Gadarenes, who expressed not only belief, but horror: "What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure Thee by God, that Thou torment me not." Without falling into the error of supposing that demons can mean demoniacs, we may imagine how readily one who had witnessed such scenes as those recorded in the Gospels might attribute to the demons the expressions of horror which he had heard in the words and seen on the faces of those whom demons possessed. Such expressions were the usual effect of being confronted by the Divine presence and power of Christ, and were evidence both of a belief in God and of a dread of Him. St. James, who was then living with the mother of the Lord, and sometimes followed His Divine Brother in His wanderings, would be almost certain to have been a witness of some of these healings of demoniacs. And it is worth noting that the word which in the Authorized Version is rendered "tremble," and in the Revised "shudder" ( φρισσειν), expresses physical horror, especially as it affects the hair; and in itself it implies a body, and would be an inappropriate word to use of the fear felt by a purely spiritual being. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; but in the Septuagint we find it used in the book of Job: "Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up". [Job 4:15] It is a stronger word than either "fear" or "tremble," and strictly speaking can be used only of men and other animals.

This horror, then, expressed by the demons through the bodies of those whom they possess, is evidence enough of faith. Can faith such as that save any one? Is it not obvious that a faith which produces, not works of love, but the strongest expressions of fear, is not a faith on which any one can rely for his salvation? And yet the faith of those who refuse to do good works, because they hold that their faith is sufficient to save them, is no better than the faith of the demons. Indeed, in some respects it is worse. For the sincerity of the demons’ faith cannot be doubted; their terror is proof of it: whereas the formal Christian has nothing but cold professions to offer. Moreover, the demons are under no self-delusion; they know their own terrible condition. For the formalist who accepts Christian truth and neglects Christian practice there is a dreadful awakening in store. There will come a time when "believe and shudder" will be true also of him. "But, before it is too late, wiliest thou to get to know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren?"

"Wilt thou know" does not do full justice to the meaning of the Greek ( θελεις γνωναι). The meaning is not, "I would have you know," but, "Do you wish to have acquired the knowledge?" You profess to know God and to believe in Him; do you desire to know what faith in Him really means? "O vain man" is literally. "O empty man," i.e., empty-headed, empty-handed, and empty-hearted. Empty-headed, in being so deluded as to suppose that a dead faith can save; empty-handed, in being devoid of true spiritual riches; empty-hearted, in having no real love either for God or man. The epithet seems to be the equivalent of Raca, the term of contempt quoted by our Lord as the expression of that angry spirit which is akin to murder. [Matthew 5:22] The use of it by St. James may be taken as an indication that the primitive Church saw that the commands in the Sermon on the Mount are not rules to be obeyed literally, but illustrations of principles. The sin lies not so much in the precise term of reproach which is employed as in the spirit and temper which are felt and displayed in the employment of it. The change from "dead" (A.V.) to "barren" (R.V.) is not a change of translation, but of reading ( νεκρα το αργη), the latter term meaning "workless, idle, unproductive". [Matthew 20:3; Matthew 20:6; 1 Timothy 5:13; Titus 1:12; 2 Peter 1:8] Aristotle ("Nic. Eth.," 1. 7:11) asks whether it is likely that every member of a man’s body should have a function or work ( εργον) to perform, and that mart as a whole should be functionless ( αργος). Would nature have produced such a vain contradiction? We should reproduce the spirit of St. James’s pointed interrogation if we rendered "that faith without fruits is fruitless."

In contrast with this barren faith, which makes a man’s spiritual condition no better than that of the demons, St. James places two conspicuous instances of living and fruitful faith-Abraham and Rahab. The case of "Abraham our father" would be the first that would occur to every Jew. As the passages in the Apocrypha (RAPC Wisdom of Solomon 10:5; Sirach 44:20; 1 Maccabees 2:52) prove, Abraham’s faith was a subject of frequent discussion among the Jews, and this fact is quite enough to account for its mention by St. James, St. Paul, [Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6] and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, [Hebrews 11:17] without supposing that any one of them had seen the writings of the others. Certainly there is no proof that the writer of this Epistle is the borrower, if there is borrowing on either side. It is urged that between the authors of this Epistle and that to the Hebrews there must be dependence on one side or the other, because each selects not only Abraham, but Rahab, as an example of faith; and Rahab is so strange an example that it is unlikely that two writers would have selected it independently. There is force in the argument, but less than at first sight appears. The presence of Rahab’s name in the genealogy of the Christ, [Matthew 1:5] in which so few women are mentioned, must have given thoughtful persons food for reflection. Why was such a woman singled out for such distinction? The answer to this question cannot be given with certainty. But whatever caused her to be mentioned in the genealogy may also have caused her to be mentioned by St. James and the writer of Hebrews; or the fact of her being in the genealogy may have suggested her to the author of these two Epistles. This latter alternative does not necessarily imply that these two writers were acquainted with the written Gospel of St. Matthew, which was perhaps not in existence when they wrote. The genealogy, at any rate, was in existence, for St. Matthew no doubt copied it from official or family registers. Assuming, however, that it is not a mere coincidence that both writers use Abraham and Rahab as examples of fruitful faith, it is altogether arbitrary to decide that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote first. The probabilities are the other way. Had St. James known that Epistle, he would have made more use of it.

The two examples are in many respects very different. Their resemblance consists in this, that in both cases faith found expression in action, and this action was the source of the believer’s deliverance. The case of Abraham, which St. Paul uses to prove the worthlessness of "works of the law" in comparison with a living faith, is used by St. James to prove the worthlessness of a dead faith in comparison with works of love which are evidence that there is a living faith behind them. But it should be noticed that a different episode in Abraham’s life is taken in each Epistle, and this is a further reason for believing that neither writer refers to the other. St. Paul appeals to Abraham’s faith in believing that he should have a son when he was a hundred, and Sarah ninety years of age. [Romans 4:19] St. James appeals to Abraham’s faith in offering up Isaac, when there seemed to be no possibility of the Divine promise being fulfilled if Isaac was slain. The latter required more faith than the former, and was much more distinctly an act of faith; a work, or series of works, that would never have been accomplished if there had not been a very vigorous faith to inspire and support the doer. The result ( εξ εργων) was that Abraham was "justified," i.e., he was counted righteous, and the reward of his faith was with still greater solemnity and fullness than on the first occasion [Genesis 15:4-6] promised to him: "By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My voice". [Genesis 22:16-18]

With the expression "was justified as a result of works" ( εξ εργων εδικαιωθη), which is used both of Abraham and of Rahab, should be compared our Lord’s saying, "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned," [Matthew 12:37] which are of exactly the same form; literally, "As a result of thy words thou shalt be accounted righteous, and as a result of thy words thou shalt be condemned" ( εκ των λογων σου δικαιωθηση καιγων σου καταδικασθηση); that is, it is from the consideration of the words in the one case, and of the works in the other, that the sentence of approval proceeds; they are the source of the justification. Of course from the point of view taken by St. James words are "works"; good words spoken for the love of God are quite as much fruits of faith and evidence of faith as good deeds. It is not impossible that this phrase is an echo of expressions which he had heard used by Christ.

That the words rendered "offered up Isaac his son upon the altar" really mean this, and not merely "brought Isaac his son as a victim up to the altar," is clear from other passages where the same phrase ( αναφερειν επι τοριον) occurs. Noah "offering burnt offerings on the altar" [Genesis 8:20] and Christ "offering our sins on the tree" [1 Peter 2:24] might be interpreted either way, although the bringing up to the altar and to the tree does not seem so natural as the offering on them. But a passage in Leviticus about the offerings of the leper is quite decisive: "Afterward he shall kill the burnt offering: and the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the meal offering upon the altar". [Leviticus 14:19-20] It would be very unnatural to speak of bringing the victim up to the altar after it had been slain. {Comp. /RAPC Baruch 1:10; 1 Maccabees 4:53} The Vulgate, Luther, Beza, and all English versions agreed in this translation; and it is not a matter of small importance, not a mere nicety of rendering. In all completeness, both of will and deed, Abraham had actually surrendered and offered up to God his only son, when he laid him bound upon the altar, and took the knife to slay him-to slay that son of whom God had promised, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." Then "was the Scripture fulfilled"; i.e., what had been spoken and partly fulfilled before Genesis 15:6 received a more complete and a higher fulfillment. Greater faith hath no man than this, that a man gives back his own promises unto God. The real but incomplete faith of believing that aged parents could become the progenitors of countless thousands had been accepted and rewarded. Much more, therefore, was the perfect faith of offering to God the one hope of posterity accepted and rewarded. This last was a work in which his faith co-operated, and which proved the complete development of his faith; by it "was faith made perfect."

"He was called the Friend of God." Abraham was so called in Jewish tradition; and to this day this is his name among his descendants the Arabs, who much more commonly speak of him as "the Friend" (El Khalil), or "the Friend of God" (El Khalil Allah), than by the name Abraham. Nowhere in the Old Testament does he receive this name, although our Versions, both Authorized and Revised, would lead us to suppose that he is so called. The word is found neither in the Hebrew nor in existing copies of the Septuagint. In 1 Chronicles 20:7, "Abraham Thy friend" should be "Abraham Thy beloved"; and in Isaiah 41:8, "Abraham My friend" should be "Abraham whom I loved." In both passages, however, the Vulgate has the rendering amicus, and some copies of the Septuagint had the reading "friend" in 2 Chronicles 20:7, while Symmachus had it in Isaiah 41:8 (See Field’s "Hexapla," 1. p. 744; 2. p. 513). Clement of Rome (10., 17.) probably derived this name for Abraham from St. James. But even if Abraham is nowhere styled "the friend of God," he is abundantly described as being such. God talks with him as a man talks with his friend, and asks, "Shall I, Abraham that which hide from I do?" [Genesis 18:17] which is the very token of friendship pointed out by Christ. "No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known unto you". [John 15:15] It is worthy of note that St. James seems to intimate that the word is not in the sacred writings. The words "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness," are introduced with the formula, "The Scripture was fulfilled which saith." Of the title "Friend of God," it is simply said "he was called," without stating by whom.

"In like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works?" It is because of the similarity of her case to Abraham’s, both of them being a contrast to the formal Christian and the demons, that Rahab is introduced. In her case also faith led to action, and the action had its result in the salvation of the agent. If there had been faith without action, if she had merely believed the spies without doing anything in consequence of her belief, she would have perished. She was glorified in Jewish tradition, perhaps as being a typical forerunner of proselytes from the Gentile world; and it may be that this accounts for her being mentioned in the genealogy of the Messiah, and consequently by St. James and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Talmud mentions a quite untrustworthy tradition that she married Joshua, and became the ancestress of eight persons who were both priests and prophets, and also of Huldah the prophetess. St. Matthew gives Salmon the son of Naasson as her husband; he may have been one of the spies.

But the contrast between Abraham and Rahab is almost as marked as the similarity. He is the friend of God, and she is of a vile heathen nation and a harlot. His great act of faith is manifested towards God, hers towards men. His is the crowning act of his spiritual development; hers is the first sign of a faith just beginning to exist. He is the aged saint, while she is barely a catechumen. But according to her light, which was that of a very faulty moral standard, "she did what she could," and it was accepted.

These contrasts have their place in the argument, as well as the similarities. The readers of the Epistle might think, "Heroic Acts are all very suitable for Abraham; but we are not Abrahams, and must be content with sharing his faith in the true God; we cannot and need not imitate his acts." "But," St. James replies, (and he writes ομοιως δε, not καιως), "there is Rahab, Rahab the heathen, Rahab the harlot; at least you can imitate her." And for the Jewish Christians of that day her example was very much in point. She welcomed and believed the messengers, whom her countrymen persecuted, and would have slain. She separated herself from her unbelieving and hostile people, and went over to an unpopular and despised cause. She saved the preachers of an unwelcome message for the fulfillment of the Divine mission with which they had been entrusted. Substitute the Apostles for the spies, and all this is true of the believing Jews of that age. And as if to suggest this lesson, St. James speaks not of "young men," as Joshua 6:23, nor of "spies," as Hebrews 11:31, but of "messengers," a term which is as applicable to those who were sent by Jesus Christ as to those who were sent by Joshua.

Plutarch, who was a young man at the time when this Epistle was written, has the following story of Alexander the Great, in his "Apothegms of Kings and Generals": The young Alexander was not at all pleased with the success of his father, Philip of Macedon. "My father will leave me nothing," he said. The young nobles who were brought up with him replied, "He is gaining all this for you," Almost in the words of St. James, though with a very different meaning, he answered, "What does it profit ( τι οφελος) if I possess much and do nothing? "The future conqueror scorned to have everything done for him. In quite another spirit the Christian must remember that if he is to conquer he must not suppose that his heavenly Father, who has done so much for him, has left him nothing to do. There is the fate of the barren fig-tree as a perpetual warning to those who are royal in their professions of faith, and paupers in good works.


Verse 25

; James 2:21; James 2:25

Chapter 13

THE FAITH OF THE DEMONS THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM AND THE FAITH OF RAHAB THE HARLOT.

James 2:19; James 2:21; James 2:25

IN the preceding chapter several points of great interest were passed over, in order not to obscure the main issue as to the relation of this passage to the teaching of St. Paul. Some of these may now be usefully considered.

Throughout this book, as in that on the Pastoral Epistles and others for which the present writer is in no way responsible, the Revised Version has been taken as the basis of the expositions. There may be reasonable difference of opinion as to its superiority to the Authorized Version for public reading in the services of the Church, but few unprejudiced persons would deny its superiority for purposes of private study and both private and public exposition. Its superiority lies not so much in happy treatment of difficult texts, as in the correction of a great many small errors of translation, and above all in the substitution of a great many true or probable readings for others that are false or improbable. And while there are not a few cases in which there is plenty of room for doubt whether the change, even if clearly a gain in accuracy, was worth making, there are also some in which the uninitiated student wonders why no change was made. The passage before us contains a remarkable instance. Why has the word "devils" been retained as the rendering of δαιμονια, while "demons" is relegated to the margin?

There are two Greek words, very different from one another in origin and history, which are used both in the Septuagint and in the New Testament to express the unseen and spiritual powers of evil. These are διαβολος and δαιμονιον, or in one place δαιμων. [Matthew 22:31; not Mark 5:12; Luke 7:29, or Revelation 16:14 and Revelation 18:2] The Scriptural usage of these two words is quite distinct and very marked. Excepting where it is used as an adjective, [John 6:70; 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 3:3; Titus 2:3] διαβολος is one of the names of Satan, the great enemy of God and of men, and the prince of the spirits of evil. It is so used in the Books of Job and of Zechariah, as well as in RAPC Wisdom of Solomon 2:24, and also throughout the New Testament, viz., in the Gospels and Acts, the Catholic and Pauline Epistles, and the Apocalypse. It is, in fact, a proper name, and is applied to one person only. It commonly, but not invariably [1 Chronicles 21:1; Psalms 108:5; Psalms 109:5] has the definite article. The word δαιμονιον, on the other hand, is used of those evil spirits who are the messengers and ministers of Satan. It is thus used in Isaiah, the Psalms, Tobit, Baruch, and throughout the New Testament. It is used also of the false gods of the heathen, which were believed to be evil spirits, or at least the productions of evil spirits, who are the inspirers of idolatry; whereas Satan is never identified with any heathen divinity. Those who worship false gods are said to worship "demons," but never to worship "the devil." Neither in the Old Testament nor in the New are the two words ever interchanged. Satan is never spoken of as a δαιμων or δαιμονιον, and his ministers are never called διαβολοι. Is it not a calamity that this very marked distinction should be obliterated in the English Version by translating both Greek words by the word "devil," especially when there is another word which, as the margin admits, might have been used for one of them? The Revisers have done immense service by distinguishing between Hades, the abode of departed spirits of men, and Hell or Gehenna, the place of punishment. [James 3:6] Why did they reject a similar opportunity by refusing to distinguish the devil from the demons over whom he reigns? This is one of the suggestions of the American Committee which might have been followed with great advantage and (so far as one sees) no loss.

St. James has just been pointing out the advantage which the Christian who has works to show has over one who has only faith. The one can prove that he possesses both; the other cannot prove that he possesses either. The works of the one are evidence that the faith is there also, just as leaves and fruit are evidence that a tree is alive. But the other, who possesses only faith, cannot prove that he possesses even that. He says that he believes, and we may believe his statement, but if any one doubts or denies the truth of his profession of faith he is helpless. Just as a leafless and fruitless tree may be alive; but who is to be sure of this? We must note, however, that in this case the statement is not doubted. "Thou hast faith, and I have works"; the possibility of possessing faith without works is not disputed. And again, "Thou believest that God is one"; the orthodox character of the man’s creed is not called in question. This shows that there is no emphasis on "say" in the opening verse, "If a man say he hath faith, but have not works"; as if such a profession were incredible. And this remains equally true if, with some of the best editors, we turn the statement of the man’s faith into a question, "Dost thou believe that God is One?" For "Thou doest well" shows that the man’s orthodoxy is not questioned.

The object of St. James is not to prove that the man is a hypocrite, and that his professions are false; but that, on his own showing, he is in a miserable condition. He may plume himself upon the correctness of his Theism; but as far as that goes, he is no better than the demons, to whom this article of faith is a source, not of joy and strength, but of horror.

It is most improbable that, if he had been alluding to the teaching of St. Paul, St. James would have selected the Unity of the Godhead as the article of faith held by the barren Christian. He would have taken faith in Christ as his example. But in writing to Jewish Christians, without any such allusion, the selection is very natural. The Monotheism of his creed, in contrast with the foolish "gods many, and lords many," of the heathen, was to the Jew a matter of religious and national pride. He gloried in his intellectual and spiritual superiority to those who could believe in a plurality of deities. And there was nothing in Christianity to make him think less highly of this supreme article of faith. Hence, when St. James desires to give an example of the faith on which a Jewish Christian, who had sunk into a dead formalism, would be most likely to rely, he selects this article, common to both the Jewish and the Christian creed, "I believe that God is One," "Thou doest well," is the calm reply; and then follows the sarcastic addition, "The demons also believe-and shudder."

Is St. James here alluding to the belief mentioned above, that the gods of the heathen are demons? They, of all evil spirits, might be supposed to know most about the Unity of God, and to have most to fear in reference to it. "They sacrificed unto demons, which were no God," we read in Deuteronomy. [Deuteronomy 32:17] And again in the Psalms, "They sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto demons" (Psalms 106:37, Comp. Psalms 96:5). In these passages the Greek word δαιμονια represents the Elilim or Shedim, the nonentities who were allowed to usurp the place of Jehovah. And St. Paul affirms, "That the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God". [1 Corinthians 10:20] It is quite possible, therefore, that St. James is thinking of demons as objects of idolatrous worship, or at any rate as seducing people into such worship, when he speaks of the demons’ belief in the Unity of God.

But a suggestion which Bede makes, and which several modern commentators have followed, is well worth considering. St. James may be thinking of the demons which possessed human beings, rather than those which received or promoted idolatrous worship. Bede reminds us of the many demons who went out at Christ’s command, crying out that He was the Son of God, and especially of the man with the legion among the Gadarenes, who expressed not only belief, but horror: "What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure Thee by God, that Thou torment me not." Without falling into the error of supposing that demons can mean demoniacs, we may imagine how readily one who had witnessed such scenes as those recorded in the Gospels might attribute to the demons the expressions of horror which he had heard in the words and seen on the faces of those whom demons possessed. Such expressions were the usual effect of being confronted by the Divine presence and power of Christ, and were evidence both of a belief in God and of a dread of Him. St. James, who was then living with the mother of the Lord, and sometimes followed His Divine Brother in His wanderings, would be almost certain to have been a witness of some of these healings of demoniacs. And it is worth noting that the word which in the Authorized Version is rendered "tremble," and in the Revised "shudder" ( φρισσειν), expresses physical horror, especially as it affects the hair; and in itself it implies a body, and would be an inappropriate word to use of the fear felt by a purely spiritual being. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; but in the Septuagint we find it used in the book of Job: "Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up". [Job 4:15] It is a stronger word than either "fear" or "tremble," and strictly speaking can be used only of men and other animals.

This horror, then, expressed by the demons through the bodies of those whom they possess, is evidence enough of faith. Can faith such as that save any one? Is it not obvious that a faith which produces, not works of love, but the strongest expressions of fear, is not a faith on which any one can rely for his salvation? And yet the faith of those who refuse to do good works, because they hold that their faith is sufficient to save them, is no better than the faith of the demons. Indeed, in some respects it is worse. For the sincerity of the demons’ faith cannot be doubted; their terror is proof of it: whereas the formal Christian has nothing but cold professions to offer. Moreover, the demons are under no self-delusion; they know their own terrible condition. For the formalist who accepts Christian truth and neglects Christian practice there is a dreadful awakening in store. There will come a time when "believe and shudder" will be true also of him. "But, before it is too late, wiliest thou to get to know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren?"

"Wilt thou know" does not do full justice to the meaning of the Greek ( θελεις γνωναι). The meaning is not, "I would have you know," but, "Do you wish to have acquired the knowledge?" You profess to know God and to believe in Him; do you desire to know what faith in Him really means? "O vain man" is literally. "O empty man," i.e., empty-headed, empty-handed, and empty-hearted. Empty-headed, in being so deluded as to suppose that a dead faith can save; empty-handed, in being devoid of true spiritual riches; empty-hearted, in having no real love either for God or man. The epithet seems to be the equivalent of Raca, the term of contempt quoted by our Lord as the expression of that angry spirit which is akin to murder. [Matthew 5:22] The use of it by St. James may be taken as an indication that the primitive Church saw that the commands in the Sermon on the Mount are not rules to be obeyed literally, but illustrations of principles. The sin lies not so much in the precise term of reproach which is employed as in the spirit and temper which are felt and displayed in the employment of it. The change from "dead" (A.V.) to "barren" (R.V.) is not a change of translation, but of reading ( νεκρα το αργη), the latter term meaning "workless, idle, unproductive". [Matthew 20:3; Matthew 20:6; 1 Timothy 5:13; Titus 1:12; 2 Peter 1:8] Aristotle ("Nic. Eth.," 1. 7:11) asks whether it is likely that every member of a man’s body should have a function or work ( εργον) to perform, and that mart as a whole should be functionless ( αργος). Would nature have produced such a vain contradiction? We should reproduce the spirit of St. James’s pointed interrogation if we rendered "that faith without fruits is fruitless."

In contrast with this barren faith, which makes a man’s spiritual condition no better than that of the demons, St. James places two conspicuous instances of living and fruitful faith-Abraham and Rahab. The case of "Abraham our father" would be the first that would occur to every Jew. As the passages in the Apocrypha (RAPC Wisdom of Solomon 10:5; Sirach 44:20; 1 Maccabees 2:52) prove, Abraham’s faith was a subject of frequent discussion among the Jews, and this fact is quite enough to account for its mention by St. James, St. Paul, [Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6] and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, [Hebrews 11:17] without supposing that any one of them had seen the writings of the others. Certainly there is no proof that the writer of this Epistle is the borrower, if there is borrowing on either side. It is urged that between the authors of this Epistle and that to the Hebrews there must be dependence on one side or the other, because each selects not only Abraham, but Rahab, as an example of faith; and Rahab is so strange an example that it is unlikely that two writers would have selected it independently. There is force in the argument, but less than at first sight appears. The presence of Rahab’s name in the genealogy of the Christ, [Matthew 1:5] in which so few women are mentioned, must have given thoughtful persons food for reflection. Why was such a woman singled out for such distinction? The answer to this question cannot be given with certainty. But whatever caused her to be mentioned in the genealogy may also have caused her to be mentioned by St. James and the writer of Hebrews; or the fact of her being in the genealogy may have suggested her to the author of these two Epistles. This latter alternative does not necessarily imply that these two writers were acquainted with the written Gospel of St. Matthew, which was perhaps not in existence when they wrote. The genealogy, at any rate, was in existence, for St. Matthew no doubt copied it from official or family registers. Assuming, however, that it is not a mere coincidence that both writers use Abraham and Rahab as examples of fruitful faith, it is altogether arbitrary to decide that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote first. The probabilities are the other way. Had St. James known that Epistle, he would have made more use of it.

The two examples are in many respects very different. Their resemblance consists in this, that in both cases faith found expression in action, and this action was the source of the believer’s deliverance. The case of Abraham, which St. Paul uses to prove the worthlessness of "works of the law" in comparison with a living faith, is used by St. James to prove the worthlessness of a dead faith in comparison with works of love which are evidence that there is a living faith behind them. But it should be noticed that a different episode in Abraham’s life is taken in each Epistle, and this is a further reason for believing that neither writer refers to the other. St. Paul appeals to Abraham’s faith in believing that he should have a son when he was a hundred, and Sarah ninety years of age. [Romans 4:19] St. James appeals to Abraham’s faith in offering up Isaac, when there seemed to be no possibility of the Divine promise being fulfilled if Isaac was slain. The latter required more faith than the former, and was much more distinctly an act of faith; a work, or series of works, that would never have been accomplished if there had not been a very vigorous faith to inspire and support the doer. The result ( εξ εργων) was that Abraham was "justified," i.e., he was counted righteous, and the reward of his faith was with still greater solemnity and fullness than on the first occasion [Genesis 15:4-6] promised to him: "By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My voice". [Genesis 22:16-18]

With the expression "was justified as a result of works" ( εξ εργων εδικαιωθη), which is used both of Abraham and of Rahab, should be compared our Lord’s saying, "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned," [Matthew 12:37] which are of exactly the same form; literally, "As a result of thy words thou shalt be accounted righteous, and as a result of thy words thou shalt be condemned" ( εκ των λογων σου δικαιωθηση καιγων σου καταδικασθηση); that is, it is from the consideration of the words in the one case, and of the works in the other, that the sentence of approval proceeds; they are the source of the justification. Of course from the point of view taken by St. James words are "works"; good words spoken for the love of God are quite as much fruits of faith and evidence of faith as good deeds. It is not impossible that this phrase is an echo of expressions which he had heard used by Christ.

That the words rendered "offered up Isaac his son upon the altar" really mean this, and not merely "brought Isaac his son as a victim up to the altar," is clear from other passages where the same phrase ( αναφερειν επι τοριον) occurs. Noah "offering burnt offerings on the altar" [Genesis 8:20] and Christ "offering our sins on the tree" [1 Peter 2:24] might be interpreted either way, although the bringing up to the altar and to the tree does not seem so natural as the offering on them. But a passage in Leviticus about the offerings of the leper is quite decisive: "Afterward he shall kill the burnt offering: and the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the meal offering upon the altar". [Leviticus 14:19-20] It would be very unnatural to speak of bringing the victim up to the altar after it had been slain. {Comp. /RAPC Baruch 1:10; 1 Maccabees 4:53} The Vulgate, Luther, Beza, and all English versions agreed in this translation; and it is not a matter of small importance, not a mere nicety of rendering. In all completeness, both of will and deed, Abraham had actually surrendered and offered up to God his only son, when he laid him bound upon the altar, and took the knife to slay him-to slay that son of whom God had promised, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." Then "was the Scripture fulfilled"; i.e., what had been spoken and partly fulfilled before Genesis 15:6 received a more complete and a higher fulfillment. Greater faith hath no man than this, that a man gives back his own promises unto God. The real but incomplete faith of believing that aged parents could become the progenitors of countless thousands had been accepted and rewarded. Much more, therefore, was the perfect faith of offering to God the one hope of posterity accepted and rewarded. This last was a work in which his faith co-operated, and which proved the complete development of his faith; by it "was faith made perfect."

"He was called the Friend of God." Abraham was so called in Jewish tradition; and to this day this is his name among his descendants the Arabs, who much more commonly speak of him as "the Friend" (El Khalil), or "the Friend of God" (El Khalil Allah), than by the name Abraham. Nowhere in the Old Testament does he receive this name, although our Versions, both Authorized and Revised, would lead us to suppose that he is so called. The word is found neither in the Hebrew nor in existing copies of the Septuagint. In 1 Chronicles 20:7, "Abraham Thy friend" should be "Abraham Thy beloved"; and in Isaiah 41:8, "Abraham My friend" should be "Abraham whom I loved." In both passages, however, the Vulgate has the rendering amicus, and some copies of the Septuagint had the reading "friend" in 2 Chronicles 20:7, while Symmachus had it in Isaiah 41:8 (See Field’s "Hexapla," 1. p. 744; 2. p. 513). Clement of Rome (10., 17.) probably derived this name for Abraham from St. James. But even if Abraham is nowhere styled "the friend of God," he is abundantly described as being such. God talks with him as a man talks with his friend, and asks, "Shall I, Abraham that which hide from I do?" [Genesis 18:17] which is the very token of friendship pointed out by Christ. "No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known unto you". [John 15:15] It is worthy of note that St. James seems to intimate that the word is not in the sacred writings. The words "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness," are introduced with the formula, "The Scripture was fulfilled which saith." Of the title "Friend of God," it is simply said "he was called," without stating by whom.

"In like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works?" It is because of the similarity of her case to Abraham’s, both of them being a contrast to the formal Christian and the demons, that Rahab is introduced. In her case also faith led to action, and the action had its result in the salvation of the agent. If there had been faith without action, if she had merely believed the spies without doing anything in consequence of her belief, she would have perished. She was glorified in Jewish tradition, perhaps as being a typical forerunner of proselytes from the Gentile world; and it may be that this accounts for her being mentioned in the genealogy of the Messiah, and consequently by St. James and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Talmud mentions a quite untrustworthy tradition that she married Joshua, and became the ancestress of eight persons who were both priests and prophets, and also of Huldah the prophetess. St. Matthew gives Salmon the son of Naasson as her husband; he may have been one of the spies.

But the contrast between Abraham and Rahab is almost as marked as the similarity. He is the friend of God, and she is of a vile heathen nation and a harlot. His great act of faith is manifested towards God, hers towards men. His is the crowning act of his spiritual development; hers is the first sign of a faith just beginning to exist. He is the aged saint, while she is barely a catechumen. But according to her light, which was that of a very faulty moral standard, "she did what she could," and it was accepted.

These contrasts have their place in the argument, as well as the similarities. The readers of the Epistle might think, "Heroic Acts are all very suitable for Abraham; but we are not Abrahams, and must be content with sharing his faith in the true God; we cannot and need not imitate his acts." "But," St. James replies, (and he writes ομοιως δε, not καιως), "there is Rahab, Rahab the heathen, Rahab the harlot; at least you can imitate her." And for the Jewish Christians of that day her example was very much in point. She welcomed and believed the messengers, whom her countrymen persecuted, and would have slain. She separated herself from her unbelieving and hostile people, and went over to an unpopular and despised cause. She saved the preachers of an unwelcome message for the fulfillment of the Divine mission with which they had been entrusted. Substitute the Apostles for the spies, and all this is true of the believing Jews of that age. And as if to suggest this lesson, St. James speaks not of "young men," as Joshua 6:23, nor of "spies," as Hebrews 11:31, but of "messengers," a term which is as applicable to those who were sent by Jesus Christ as to those who were sent by Joshua.

Plutarch, who was a young man at the time when this Epistle was written, has the following story of Alexander the Great, in his "Apothegms of Kings and Generals": The young Alexander was not at all pleased with the success of his father, Philip of Macedon. "My father will leave me nothing," he said. The young nobles who were brought up with him replied, "He is gaining all this for you," Almost in the words of St. James, though with a very different meaning, he answered, "What does it profit ( τι οφελος) if I possess much and do nothing? "The future conqueror scorned to have everything done for him. In quite another spirit the Christian must remember that if he is to conquer he must not suppose that his heavenly Father, who has done so much for him, has left him nothing to do. There is the fate of the barren fig-tree as a perpetual warning to those who are royal in their professions of faith, and paupers in good works.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on James 2:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/james-2.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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