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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies
James 1



Other Authors
Verse 1

Jesus Christ

Only here and in James 2:1; nowhere in the speeches of James (Acts 15:14, Acts 15:15; Acts 21:20sq.). Had he used Jesus' name it might have been supposed to arise from vanity, because he was the Lord's brother. In all the addresses of epistles the full name, Jesus Christ, is given.

Servant ( δοῦλος )

Properly, hired servant. Compare Philemon 1:1; Judges 1:1.

That are scattered abroad ( ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ )

Lit., in the dispersion; on which see on 1 Peter 1:1. Rev., which are of the dispersion.

Greeting ( χαίρειν )

Lit., rejoice. The ordinary Greek salutation, hail! welcome! Also used at parting:joy be with you. Compare the same expression in the letter from the church at Jerusalem, Acts 15:23; one of the very few peculiarities of style which connect this epistle with the James of the Acts. It does not occur in the address of any other of the Apostolic Epistles.

Verse 2

All joy ( πᾶσαν χαρὰν )

Joy follows up the rejoice of the greeting. The all has the sense of wholly. Count it a thing wholly joyful, without admixture of sorrow. Perhaps, as Bengel suggests, the all applies to all kinds of temptations.

When ( ὅταν )

Lit., whenever: better, because it implies that temptation may be expected all along the Christian course.

Ye fall into ( περιπέσητε )

The preposition περί , around, suggests falling into something which surrounds. Thus Thucydides, speaking of the plague at Athens, says, “The Athenians, having fallen into ( περιπεσόντες ) such affliction, were pressed by it.”

Divers ( ποικίλοις )

Rev., manifold. See on 1 Peter 1:6.

Temptations ( πειρασμοῖς )

In the general sense of trials. See on Matthew 6:13; and 1 Peter 1:6.

Verse 3

Trying ( δοκίμιον )

Rev., proof; but the American Revisers insist on proving, and rightly. See on 1 Peter 1:7.

Worketh ( κατεργάζεται )

The compound verb with κατά , down through, indicates accomplishment. The proving will work successfully and thoroughly. This harmonizes with a perfect work, James 1:4.

Patience ( ὑπομονήν )

See on 2 Peter 1:6, and James 5:7.

Verse 4

Perfect work ( ἔργον τέλειον )

“This is followed by a perfect man. The man himself is characterized from his condition and work” (Bengel). Work ( ἔργον ) is the word with which κατεργάζεται , worketh, is compounded. It is the accomplished result of patience in moral purification and ennobling. Compare work of faith, 1 Thessalonians 1:3.

Perfect and entire ( τέλειοι καὶ ὁλόκληροι )

The two words express different shades of thought. Τέλειοι , perfect, from τέλος , fulfilment or completion (perfect, from perfectus, per factus, made throughout )denotes that which, h has reached its maturity or fulfilled the end contemplated. Ολόκληροι , from ὅλος , entire, and κλῆρος , a lot or allotment; that which has all which properly belongs to it; its entire allotment, and is, therefore, intact in all its parts. Thus Peter (Acts 3:16) says of the restored cripple, “faith has given him this perfect soundness ( ὁλοκληρίαν )Compare the familiar phrase, an accomplished man. Note, also, James' repetition of the key-words of his discourse, rejoice, joy, patience, perfect.

Wanting nothing ( ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι )

Rev., more literally, lacking in nothing. Note James' characteristic corroboration of a positive statement by a negative clause: entire, lacking in nothing; God that giveth and upbraideth not; in faith, nothing doubting. The conditional negative μηδενὶ , nothing, is used, rather than the absolute negative οὐδενὶ , as implying nothing which may be supposed; no possible thing.

Verse 5


Omitted in A. V. In pursuing this perfection you will find yourselves lacking in wisdom. One may say, “I know not how to become perfect;” but, if any man, etc.


Note the repetition.

Of God that giveth ( τοῦ διδόντος Θεοῦ )

The Greek puts it so that giving is emphasized as an attribute of God. Lit., “Ask of the giving God, or of “God the giver.”

Liberally ( ἁπλῶς )

Only here in New Testament. Literally the word means simply, and this accords with the following negative clause, upbraiding not. It is pure, simple giving of good, without admixture of evil or bitterness. Compare Romans 12:8, where a kindred noun is used: “He that giveth let him do it with simplicity ( ἐν ἁπλότητι ).” Compare, also, Proverbs 10:22. Men often complicate and mar their giving with reproach, or by an assumption of superiority.

Verse 6

Doubting ( διακρινόμενος )

Compare Matthew 21:21. Not equivalent to unbelief, but expressing the hesitation which balances between faith and unbelief, and inclines toward the latter. This idea is brought out in the next sentence.

A wave ( κλύδωνι )

Rev., surge. Only here and Luke 8:24; though the kindred verb occurs at Ephesians 4:14. The word is admirably chosen, as by a writer who lived near the sea and was familiar with its aspects. The general distinction between this and the more common κῦμα , wave, is that κλύδων describes the long ridges of water as they are propelled in horizontal lines over the vast surface of the sea; while κῦμα denotes the pointed masses which toss themselves up from these under the action of the wind. Hence the word κλύδων here is explained, and the picture completed by what follows: a billow or surge, driven by the wind in lines, and tossed into waves. Both here and in the passage in Luke the word is used in connection with the wind. It emphasizes the idea of extension, while the other word throws forward the idea of concentrating into a crest at a given point. Hence, in the figure, the emphasis falls on the tossing; not only moving before the impulse of the wind, but not even moving in regular lines; tossed into rising and falling peaks.

Driven by the wind ( ἀνεμιζομένῳ )

Only here in New Testament.

Tossed ( ῥιπιζομένῳ )

Only here in New Testament. From ῥιπίς , a fan. Anyone who has watched the great ocean-swell throwing itself up into pointed waves, the tops of which are caught by the wind and fanned off into spray, will appreciate the vividness of the figure.

Verse 7

That man ( ἐκεῖνος )

Emphatic, and with a slightly contemptuous force.


i.e., which he asks for.

Verse 8

A double-minded man is unstable, etc

The A. V. puts this as an independent apophthegm, which is wrong. The sentence is a comment and enlargement upon that man. “Let not that man think,” etc., “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” So Rev.

Double-minded ( δίψυχος )

Peculiar to James, here and James 4:8. Not deceitful, but dubious and undecided.

Unstable ( ἀκατάστατος )

Only here in New Testament. The kindred ἀκαταστασία , confusion, is found James 3:16, and elsewhere.

Verse 9


Omitted in A. V. Introducing a contrast with the double-minded.

The brother of low degree ( ὁ ἀδελφὸς ὁ ταπεινὸς )

Lit., the brother, the lowly one. Not in the higher Christian sense of ταπεινὸς (see on Matthew 11:29), but, rather, poor and afflicted, as contrasted with rich.

Rejoice ( καυχάσθω )

Not strong enough. It is, rather, boast. So Rev., glory. Compare Romans 5:3; Philemon 3:3.

In that he is exalted ( ἐν τῷ ὕψει αὐτοῦ )

Lit., in his exaltation. Rev., in his high estate.

Verse 10

In that he is made low ( ἐν τῇ ταπεινώσει αὐτοῦ )

A form of expression similar to the preceding. Lit., in his humiliation. Both the A. V. and Rev. preserve the kinship between ταπεινὸς and ταπεινώσει , by the word low.

Flower ( ἄνθος )

Only here, James 1:11, and 1 Peter 1:24.

Verse 11

For the sun is no sooner risen, etc. ( ἀνέτειλεν γὰρ ὁ ἥλιος )

By the use of the aorist tense James graphically throws his illustration into the narrative form: “For the sun arose - and withered, etc.

With a burning heat ( τῷ καύσωνι )

Rev., with the scorching wind. The article denotes something familiar; and the reference may be to the scorching east-wind (Ezekiel href="/desk/?q=eze+17:10&sr=1">Ezekiel 17:10), which withers vegetation. Some of the best authorities, however, prefer the rendering of the A. V.

Falleth ( ἐξέπεσεν )

Aorist tense. Lit.,fell off.

The grace of the fashion ( εὐπρέπεια τοῦ προσώπου )

Lit., the beauty of its face or appearance. Εὐπρέπεια only here in New Testament.

Fade away ( μαρανθήσεται )

See on 1 Peter 1:4.

Ways ( πορείαις )

Rev., goings. Only here and Luke 13:22. His goings to and fro in acquiring riches.

Verse 12

Is tried ( δόκιμος γενόμενος )

Lit.,having become appro ved. See on trial, 1 Peter 1:7. The meaning is not, as the A. V. suggests, when his trial is finished, but when he has been approved by trial. Rev., rightly, when he hath been approved.

The crown ( στέφανον )

See on 1 Peter 5:4.

Of life ( τῶς ζωῆς )

Lit., the life: the article pointing to the well-known eternal life. The figure is not that of the athlete's crown, for an image from the Grecian games, which the Jews despised, would be foreign to James' thought and displeasing to his readers. Rather the kingly crown, the proper word for which is διάδημα , diadem. In Zechariah href="/desk/?q=zec+6:11&sr=1">Zechariah 6:11, Zechariah 6:14, the reference seems to be to a priestly crown, forming part of the high-priest's mitre.

Verse 13

Of God ( ἀπὸ Θεοῦ )

Lit.,from God. Not by God, as the direct agent, but by agency proceeding from God. Compare Matthew 4:1, where the direct agency, “by the spirit,” “by the devil,” is expressed by ὑπό .

Cannot be tempted ( ἀπείραστος ἐστι )

Lit., is incapable of being tempted. But some of the best expositors render is unversed in, evil things, as better according both with the usage of the word and with the context, since the question is not of God's being tempted, but of God's tempting. Rev. gives this in margin. Ἀπείραστος , only here in New Testament.

Neither tempteth he ( πειράζει δὲ αὐτὸς )

The A. V. fails to render αὐτὸς : “He himself tempteth no man.” So Rev.

Verse 14

Drawn away ( ἐξελκόμενος )

Only here in New Testament. This and the following word are metaphors from hunting and fishing. Drawn away, as beasts are enticed from a safecovert into a place beset with snares. Note the present participle, as indicating the progress of the temptation: “is being drawn away.”

Enticed ( δελεαζόμενος )

As a fish with bait. Also the present participle. See on 2 Peter 2:14.

Verse 15

The lust

Note the article, omitted in A. V. The peculiar lust of his own.

Hath conceived ( συλλαβοῦσα )

Lit., having conceived.

Bringeth forth ( τίκτει )

Metaphor of the mother. Rev., beareth.

When it is finished ( ἀποτελεσθεῖσα )

Better, Rev., when it is full grown. Not when the course of a sinful life is completed; but when sin has reached its full development.

Bringeth forth ( ἀποκύει )

A different verb from the preceding, bringeth forth. Rev. has rendered τίκτει , beareth, in order to avoid the repetition of bringeth forth. The verb is used by James only, here and at James 1:18. The image is interpreted in two ways. Either (1) Sin, figured as female, is already pregnant with death, and, when full grown, bringeth forth death (so Rev., and the majority of commentators). “The harlot, Lust, draws away and entices the man. The guilty union is committed by the will embracing the temptress: the consequence is that she beareth sin … .Then the sin, that particular sin, when grown up, herself, as if all along pregnant with it, bringeth forth death” (Alford). Or (2) Sin, figured as male, when it has reached maturity, becomes the begetter of death. So the Vulgate, generat, and Wyc., gendereth. I am inclined to prefer this, since the other seems somewhat forced. It has the high endorsement of Bishop Lightfoot. There is a suggestive parallel passage in the “Agamemnon” of Aeschylus, 751-771:

“There is a saying old,

Uttered in ancient days,

That human bliss, full grown,

Genders, and dies not childless:

And, for the coming race,

Springs woe insatiate from prosperity.

But I alone

Cherish within my breast another thought.

The impious deed

Begets a numerous brood alike in kind;

While households ruled by right inflexible

Blossom with offspring fair. Insolence old

In men depraved begetteth insolence,

Which springs afresh from time to time

As comes the day of doom, and fresh creates

In Ate's dismal halls

Fierce wrath from light,

Unhallowed Daring, fiend invincible,

Unconquered, with its parents' likeness stamped.”

The magnificent passage in Milton's “Paradise Lost,” ii., 760-801, is elaborated from these verses of James.

Verse 17

The first words of this verse form a hexameter line, thus:

Πᾶσα δό | σις ἀγα | θὴ καὶ | πᾶν δῶ | ρημα τέ | λειον .

Such verses, or parts of verses, occur occasionally in the New Testament. Sometimes they are quotations from the Greek poets; sometimes the writer's words unconsciously fall into metrical form. Poetical quotations are confined to Paul, Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12.

Every good gift and every perfect gift (see Greek above)

The statement that these gifts are from God is in pursuance of the idea that God does not tempt men to evil. The gifts of God are contrasted with the evil springing from man's lust. Two words are used for gifts. Δόσις occurs only here and Philemon 4:15; there in an active sense; but here passive, as in Romans href="/desk/?q=ro+5:16&sr=1">Romans 5:16. It enlarges slightly upon the other word in emphasizing the gift as free, large, full; an idea which is further developed in James 1:18, of hi s own will. The Rev., rather awkwardly, endeavors to bring out the distinction by the word boon, for which the American Revisers insist on retaining gift. Boon originally means a petition; favor being a secondary and later sense, as of something given in response to a petition. The word is of Scandinavian origin, and the meaningfavor seems to indicate a confusion with the Latin bonus, good; French, bonPerfect

Enlarges upon good, bringing out more distinctly the moral quality of the gift.

And cometh down ( καταβαῖνον )

A present participle, to be construed with ἄνωθεν ἐστιν , is from above. Lit.,is coming down, from above. As usual, this union of the participle with the finite verb denotes something habitual. Render, descendeth from above. Compare James 3:15.

Father of lights ( τοῦ πατρὸς τῶν φώτων )

Lit., the lights, by which are meant the heavenly bodies. Compare Jeremiah 4:23 (Sept.). God is called “the Father of the lights,” as being their creator and maintainer. Compare Job href="/desk/?q=job+38:28&sr=1">Job 38:28; Psalm 8:3; Amos 5:8.

Is no variableness ( ἔνι )

Abbreviated from ἔνεστι , is in. Stronger than the simple is, and denoting inherence or indwell ing. Rev., can be.

Variableness ( παραλλαγὴ )

Better, Rev., variation. The word is not used, as some suppose, in a technical, astronomical sense, which James' readers would not have understood, but in the simple sense of change in the degree or intensity of light, such as is manifested by the heavenly bodies. Compare Plato, “Republic,” vii., 530: “Will he (the astronomer) not think that the heaven and the things in heaven are framed by the Creator in the most perfect manner? But when he reflects that the proportions of night and day, or of both, to the month, or of the month to the year, or of the other stars to these and to one another, are of the visible and material, he will never fall into the error of supposing that they are eternal and liable to no deviation ( οὐδὲν παραλλάττειν ) - that would be monstrous.”

Shadow of turning ( τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα )

This is popularly understood to mean that there is in God not the faintest hint or shade of change, like the phrase, a shadow of suspicion. But the Greek has no such idiom, and that is not James' meaning. Rev., rightly, renders, shadow that is cast by turning; referring still to the heavenly orbs, which cast shadows in their revolution, as when the moon turns her dark side to us, or the sun is eclipsed by the body of the moon.

Verse 18

Begat ( ἀπεκύησεν )

Rev., brought forth. See on James 1:15, and compare 1 John 3:9; 1 Peter 1:23.

A kind of first-fruits ( ἀπαρχήν τινα )

A kind of indicates the figurative nature of the term. Time figure is taken from the requirement of the Jewish law that the first-born of men and cattle, and the first growth of fruits and grain should be consecrated to the Lord. The point of the illustration is that Christians, like first-fruits, should be consecrated to God. The expression “first-fruits is common in the New Testament. See Romans 8:23; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 1 Corinthians 15:23; Revelation 14:4.

Verse 19


The A. V. follows the reading ὥστε . But the correct reading is ἴστε , ye know, and so Rev. Others render it as imperative, know ye, as calling attention to what follows.

Verse 21

Filthiness ( ῥυπαρίαν )

Only here in New Testament, but James uses the kindred adjective (James 2:2), “vile raiment.” Ῥύπος , filth, occurs in 1 Peter 3:21- on which see notes; and the verb ῥυπόω , to be filthy, is found in Revelation 22:11.

Superfluity of naughtiness ( περισσείαν κακίας )

A translation which may be commended to the attention of indiscriminate panegyrists of the A. V. Περισσεία is an unclassical word, and occurs in three other New-Testament passages - Romans 5:17; 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 10:15. In all these it is rendered abundance, both by A. V. and Rev. There seems to be no need of departing from this meaning here, as Rev., overjoying. The sense is abounding or abundant wickedness. For haughtiness Rev. gives wickedness, as in 1 Peter 2:1, 1 Peter 2:16, where it changes malice to wickedness. It is mostly rendered malice in both A. V. and Rev. In this passage, as in the two from Peter, Rev. gives malice, in margin. Malice is an adequate translation, the word denoting a malevolent disposition toward one's neighbor. Hence it is not a general term for moral evil, but a special form of vice. Compare the wrath of man, James 1:20. Naughtiness has acquired a petty sense in popular usage, as of the mischievous pranks of children, which renders it out of the question here.

With meekness ( ἐν πραΰ́τητι )

Lit., “in meekness;” opposed to malice.

Engrafted ( ἔμφυτον )

Only here in New Testament. Better, and more literally, as Rev., implanted. It marks a characteristic of the word of truth (James 1:18). It is implanted; divinely given, in contrast with something acquired by study. Compare Matthew 13:19, “the word of the kingdom - sown in his heart.” Grafted or graffed is expressed by a peculiar word, employed by Paul only, ἐγκεντρίζω , from κέντρον , a sharp point, thus emphasizing the fact of the incision required in grafting. See Romans 11:17, Romans 11:19, Romans 11:23, Romans 11:24.

Which is able to save ( τὸν δυνάμενον σῶσαι )

Compare Romans 1:16, “the power of God unto salvation.

Verse 22

Hearers ( ἀκροαταὶ )

Used by James only.

Deceiving ( παραλογιζόμενοι )

From παρά , beside, contrary to, and λογίζομαι , to reckon, and hence to conclude by reasoning. The deception referred to is, therefore, that into which one betrays himself by false reasoning - reasoning beside the truth.

Verse 23

Beholding ( κατανοοῦντι )

With the notion of attentively considering ( κατά , down into, or through; compare εἰς , into, James 1:25). Compare Luke 12:24, Luke 12:27; Hebrews 3:1. So that the contrast is not between a hasty look and a careful contemplation (James 1:25, looketh )It is not mere careless hearing of the word which James rebukes, but the neglect to carry into practice what is heard. One may be an attentive and critical hearer of the word, yet not a doer.

His natural face ( τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως )

Lit.,the countenance of his birth; the face he was born with.

In a glass ( ἐν ἐσόπτρῳ )

Better, Rev., a mirror; a metallic mirror. The word occurs only here and 1 Corinthians 13:12.

Verse 24

He beholdeth ( κατενόησεν )

The aorist tense, throwing the sentence into a lively, narrative form: he beheld himself and forgot. Compare James 1:11.

Verse 25

Whoso looketh ( ὁ παρακύψας )

Rev., more strictly, he that looketh. See on 1 Peter 1:12. The verb is used of one who stoops sideways ( παρά ) to look attentively. The mirror is conceived as placed on a table or on the ground. Bengel quotes Wisdom of Sirach 14:23: “He that prieth in at her (Wisdom's) windows shall also hearken at her doors.” Coleridge remarks: “A more happy or forcible word could not have been chosen to express the nature and ultimate object of reflection, and to enforce the necessity of it, in order to discover the living fountain and spring-head of the evidence of the Christian faith in the believer himself, and at the same time to point out the seat and region where alone it is to be found” (“Aphorisms”).

Into ( εἰς )

Denoting the penetration of the look into the very essence of the law.

The perfect law of liberty ( νόμον τέλειον τὸν τῆς ἐλευθερίας )

Lit., the perfect law, the law of liberty. So Rev. The law of liberty is added as defining the perfect law.

Continueth therein

Better, Rev., so continueth; i.e., continues looking.

Forgetful hearer ( ἀκροατὴς ἐπιλησμονῆς )

The latter word only here in New Testament. Lit., a hearer of forgetfulness; whom forgetfulness characterizes. Rev., very happily, a hearer that forgetteth; a rendering which gives the proper sense of forgetfulness as a characteristic better than A. V.,a forgetful hearer.

Doer of the work

Lit., of work, as the noun has no article. Rev., a doer that worketh.

In his deed ( ἐν τῇ ποιήσει αὐτοῦ )

More correctly, as Rev., in his doing. Only here in New Testament. The preposition ἐν (in) marks the inner connection between doing and blessedness. “The life of obedience is the element wherein the blessedness is found and consists” (Alford).

Verse 26

Seem to be ( δοκεῖ )

Rev., correctly, thinketh himself to be. A man can scarcely seem to be religious, when, as Trench observes, “his religious pretensions are belied and refuted by the allowance of an unbridled tongue.”

Religious ( θρῆσκος )

Only here in New Testament, and nowhere in classical Greek. The kindred noun θρησκεία , religion, occurs Acts 26:5; Colossians 2:18; James 1:26, James 1:27; and means the ceremonial service of religion. Herodotus (ii., 37) uses it of various observances practised by the Egyptian priests, such as wearing linen, circumcision, shaving, etc. The derivation is uncertain. Θρέομαι , to mutter forms of prayer, has been suggested, as the followers of Wycliffe were called Lollards, from the old Dutch lullen or lollento sing. Hence the adjective here refers to a zealous and diligent performance of religious services.

Bridleth ( χαλιναγωγῶν )

Used by James only. See James 3:2. Lit., to guide with a bridle. So Plato, “Laws,” 701: “I think that the argument ought to be pulled up from time to time, and not to be allowed to run away, but held with bit and bridle.”

Verse 27

Undefiled ( ἀμίαντος )

See on 1 Peter 1:4. The two adjectivespure and undefiled, present the positive and negative sides of purity.

To visit ( ἐπισκέπτεσθαι )

See on Matthew 25:36. James strikes a downright blow here at ministry by proxy, or by mere gifts of money. Pure and undefiled religion demands personal contact with the world's sorrow: to visit the afflicted, and to visit them in their affliction. “The rich man, prodigal of money, which is to him of little value, but altogether incapable of devoting any personal attention to the object of his alms, often injures society by his donations; but this is rarely the case with that far nobler charity which makes men familiar with the haunts of wretchedness, and follows the object of its care through all the phases of his life” (Lecky, “History of European Morals,” ii., 98).

To keep ( τηρεῖν )

See on 1 Peter 1:4.

Unspotted ( ἄσπιλον )

See on 1 Peter 1:19.


Copyright Statement
The text of this work is public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on James 1:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

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