Survey of James

Book Type: One of the New Testament’s General Epistles; the twentieth book of the New Testament; the fifty-ninth book of the Bible.

Author: James, the half-brother of Jesus, as identified in James 1:1. James was known as a pillar of the faith (Galatians 2:9). James was the also the brother of Jude, the author of the book of Jude (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). The speech given by James in Acts 15 is similar to the points made in this letter. Additional church traditions credit this book to the half-brother of Jesus Christ. Tradition says James died in AD 62 as a martyr for the faith.

Audience: As a General Epistle, James was written “to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (James 1:1). The context indicates the audience was Jewish Christians throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. These believers would be encouraged by a letter from the leader of the Jerusalem church and half-brother of Jesus Christ. These believers faced various trials (James 1:2) and needed encouragement to live out the full expression of the gospel (James 1:22).

Date: The book of James would have been written prior to his death in AD 62. This letter makes no mention of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) which occurred around AD 49. As a result, many believe James was written between AD 44 and 49. However, any time between the AD 40s and AD 62 is possible. This opens the possibility for James to be the earliest-written book of the New Testament.

Overview: The five chapters of James address many smaller teaching sections, which can be grouped in many different ways. However, five key themes can be identified. The first theme involves enduring trials (James 1:1–18). James teaches his readers to endure trials with joy (James 1:2–4), asking God for wisdom (James 1:5–8), with the right perspective (James 1:9–11). Believers must also understand the power of temptation (James 1:12–15) and be thankful for God’s goodness (James 1:16–18).

The second section focuses on living out God’s truth (James 1:19–2:26). This includes handling anger well (James 1:19-21), being actual “doers” of God’s words (James 1:22–27), not showing favoritism (James 2:1–13), and showing faith by righteous actions (James 2:14–26).

The third section focuses on wisdom and controlling one’s words (James 3). The tongue is said to be powerful, yet also dangerous (James 3:1–12). James also distinguishes between heavenly and human wisdom (James 3:13–18).

The fourth section emphasizes humility (chapter 4). Many live opposed to the Lord as His enemy (James 4:1–6). In contrast, believers are to draw near to God and humble themselves before Him so they may be lifted up (James 4:7–17).

The fifth section emphasizes patience and prayer (James 5). James speaks against rich oppressors (James 5:1–6), extols patience (James 5:7–12), encourages faithful prayer (James 5:13–18), and teaches the need to show love to those in error (James 5:19–20).

Key Verses (ESV):

James 1:2–3: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

James 1:19: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

James 2:17–18: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

James 3:5: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”

James 5:16: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”


Further Reading




James is one of the books which bad a very hard fight to get into the New Testament. Even when it did come to be regarded as Scripture, it was spoken of with a certain reserve and suspicion, and even as late as the sixteenth century Luther would gladly have banished it from the New Testament altogether.


In the Latin-speaking part of the Church it is not until the middle of the fourth century that James emerges in the writings of the fathers. The first list of New Testament books ever to be compiled is the Muratorian Canon, which dates to about A.D. 170, and James is absent from it. Tertullian, writing in the middle of the third century, is an immense quoter of Scripture; he has 7,258 quotations from the New Testament, but never one from James. The first appearance of James in Latin is in a Latin manuscript called the Codex Corbeiensis, which dates to about A.D. 350. This manuscript attributes the authorship of the book to James the son of Zebedee; and includes it, not with the universally acknowledged New Testament books, but with a collection of religious tracts written by the early fathers. James has now emerged, but it is accepted with a certain reservation. The first Latin writer to quote James verbatim is Hilary of Poitiers in a work On the Trinity, written about A.D. 357.

If, then, James was so late in emerging in the Latin Church and if, when it did emerge, it was still regarded with some uncertainty, how did it become integrated into the New Testament? The moving influence was that of Jerome, for he unhesitatingly included James in his Vulgate version of the New Testament. But even then there is an accent of doubt. In his book On Famous Men, Jerome writes, “James, who is called the brother of the Lord…wrote only one epistle, which is one of the seven catholic epistles, and which, some people say, was issued by someone else under James’ name.” Jerome fully accepted the letter as Scripture, but he felt that there was some doubt as to who the writer was. The doubt was finally set at rest by the fact that Augustine fully accepted James, and was not in doubt that the James in question was the brother of our Lord.

James was late in emerging in the Latin Church; for long there was a kind of question mark against it; but Jerome’s inclusion of it in the Vulgate and Augustine’s full acceptance of it, brought it in the end, albeit after a struggle, full recognition.


One would have thought that the Syrian Church would have been the first to accept James, if it was really written in Palestine and was really the work of the brother of our Lord; but in the Syrian Church there was the same oscillation. The official New Testament of the Syrian Church is called the Peshitto. This was to the Syrian Church what the Vulgate was to the Latin Church. It was made by Rabbula, the Bishop of Edessa, about A.D. 412 and in it for the first time James was translated into Syriac. Up to that time there was no Syriac version of the book, and Up tO A.D. 451 there is no trace of James in Syriac religious literature. After that James was widely enough accepted, but as late as A.D. 545 Paul of Nisibis was still questioning its right to be in the New Testament. It was not, in fact, until midway through the eighth century that the great authority of John of Damascus did for James in the Syrian Church what Augustine had done for it in the Latin.


Although James emerged sooner in the Greek-speaking Church than it did in the Latin and Syrian, it was none the less late in making a definite appearance. The first writer to quote it by name is Origen, head of the school of Alexandria. Writing almost midway through the third century, he says, “If faith is called faith, but exists apart from works, such a faith is dead, as we read in the letter which is currently reported to be by James.” It is true that in other works he quotes it as being without doubt by James and shows that he believes James to be the brother of our Lord; but once again there is the accent of doubt. Eusebius, the great scholar of Caesarea, investigated the position of the various books in the New Testament or on its fringe midway through the fourth century. He classes James amongst the books which are “disputed”; and he writes of it: “The first of the epistles called Catholic is said to be his (James’); but it must be noted that some regard it as spurious; and it is certainly true that very few of the ancient writers mention it.” Here again is the accent of doubt. Eusebius himself accepted James but he was well aware that there were those who did not. The turning-point in the Greek-speaking Church came in A.D. 367. In that year Athanasius issued his famous Easter Letter in Egypt. Its purpose was to inform his people what books were Scripture and what were not, because apparently their reading had become too wide, or at least, too many books were being regarded as Holy Writ. In that Letter James was included without qualification; and its position was thenceforth safe.

So, then, in the early church no one really questioned the value of James; but in every branch of it it was late in emerging and had to go through a period when its right to be considered a New Testament book was under dispute.

In fact the history of James is still to be seen in its position in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1546 the Council of Trent once and for all laid down the Roman Catholic Bible. A list of books was given to which none could be added and from which none could be subtracted, and which had to be read in the Vulgate Version and in no other. The books were divided into two classes; those which were proto-canonical, that is to say, those which had been unquestioningly accepted from the beginning; and those which were deutero-canonical, that is to say, those which only gradually won their way into the New Testament. Although the Roman Catholic Church never had any doubts about James, it is none the less in the second class that it is included.


In our own day it is true to say that James, at least for most people, does not occupy a position in the forefront of the New Testament. Few would mention it in the same breath as John or Romans, or Luke or Galatians. There is still for many a kind of reservation about it. Why should that be? It cannot have to do with the doubt about James in the early church, for the history of the New Testament books in these distant days is not known to many people in the modern Church. The reason lies in this. In the Roman Catholic Church the position of James was finally settled by the Edict of the Council of Trent; but in the Protestant Church its history continued to be troubled, and indeed, became even more troubled, because Luther attacked it and would have ejected it from the New Testament altogether. In his printing of the German New Testament Luther had a contents page with the books set out and numbered. At the end of the list there was a little group, separate from the others and with no numbers assigned to them. That group comprised James, Jude, Hebrews and Revelation. These were books which he held to be secondary.

Luther was specially severe on James, and the adverse judgment of a great man on any book can be a millstone round its neck for ever. It is in the concluding paragraph of his Preface to the New Testament that there stands Luther’s famous verdict on James:

In sum: the gospel and the first epistle of St. John, St. Paul’s epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians and Ephesians; and St. Peter’s first epistle, are the books which show Christ to you. They teach everything you need to know for your salvation, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or hear any other teaching. In comparison with these the epistle of James is an epistle full of straw, because it contains nothing evangelical. But more about this in other prefaces.

As he promised, Luther developed this verdict in the Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude. He begins: “I think highly of the epistle of James, and regard it as valuable although it was rejected in early days. It does not expound human doctrines, but lays much emphasis on God’s law. Yet to give my own opinion, without prejudice to that of anyone else, I do not hold it to be of apostolic authorship.” He then goes on to give his reasons for this rejection.

First, in direct opposition to Paul and the rest of the Bible, it ascribes justification to works, quoting Abraham wrongly as one who was justified by his works. This in itself proves that the epistle cannot be of apostolic origin.

Second, not once does it give to Christians any instruction or reminder of the Passion, Resurrection, or Spirit of Christ. It mentions Christ only twice. Then Luther goes on to state his own principle for testing any book: “The true touchstone for testing any book is to discover whether it emphasises the prominence of Christ or not…. What does not teach Christ is not apostolic, not even if taught by Peter or Paul. On the other hand what does preach Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, or Herod does it.” On that test James fails. So Luther goes on: “The epistle of James however only drives you to the law and its works. He mixes one thing to another to such an extent that I suspect some good and pious man assembled a few things said by disciples of the apostles, and put them down in black and white; or perhaps the epistle was written by someone else who made notes of a sermon of his. He calls the law a law of freedom (Jas. 1:25; Jas. 2:12), although St. Paul calls it a law of slavery, wrath, death, and sin” (Gal.3:23f.; Rom.4:15; Rom.7:10f.).

So Luther comes to his conclusion: “In sum: he wishes to guard against those who depended on faith without going on to works, but he had neither the spirit, nor the thought, nor the eloquence equal to the task. He does violence to Scripture, and so contradicts Paul and all Scripture. He tries to accomplish by emphasising law what the apostles bring about by attracting man to love. I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of my Bible; but I would not prevent anyone else placing him or raising him where he likes, for the epistle contains many excellent passages. One man does not count as a man even in the eyes of the world; how then shall this single and isolated writer count against Paul and all the rest of the Bible?”

Luther does not spare James; and it may be that once we have studied the book we may think that for once he allowed personal prejudice to injure sound judgment.

Such, then, is the troubled history of James. Now we must try to answer the questions it poses regarding authorship and date.


The author of this letter gives us practically no information about himself He calls himself simply: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Jas. 1:1). Who then is he? In the New Testament there are apparently at least five people who bear that name.

(i) There is the James who was the father of the member of the Twelve called Judas, not Iscariot (Lk.6:16). He is no more than a name and cannot have had any connection with this letter.

(ii) There is James, the son of Alphaeus, who was a member of the Twelve (Matt.10:3; Mk.3:18; Lk.6:15; Ac.1:13). A comparison of Matt.9:9 with Mk.2:14 makes it certain that Matthew and Levi were one and the same person. Levi was also a son of Alphaeus, and therefore Matthew and this James must have been brothers. But of James, the son of Alphaeus, nothing else is known; and he also can have had no connection with this letter.

(iii) There is the James who is called James the Younger and is mentioned in Mk.15:40 (compare Matt.27:56; Jn.19:25). Again nothing is known of him, and he cannot have had any connection with this letter.

(iv) There is James, the brother of John, and the son of Zebedee, a member of the twelve (Matt.10:2; Mk.3:17; Lk.6:14; Ac.1:13). In the gospel story James never appears independently of his brother John (Matt.4:21; Matt.17:1; Mk.1:19; Mk.1:29; Mk.5:37; Mk.9:2; Mk.10:35,41; Mk.13:3; Mk.14:33; Lk.5:10; Lk.8:51; Lk.9:28; Lk.9:54). He was the first of the apostolic band to be martyred, for he was beheaded on the orders of Herod Agrippa the First in the year A.D. 44. He has been connected with the letter. The fourth century Latin Codex Corbeiensis at the end of the epistle, has a note quite definitely ascribing it to James the son of Zebedee. The only place where this ascription of authorship was taken seriously was in the Spanish Church, in which, down to the end of the seventeenth century, he was often hold to be the author. This was due to the fact that St. James of Compostella, the patron saint of Spain, is identified with James the son of Zebedee; and it was natural that the Spanish Church should be predisposed to wish that their country’s patron saint should be the author of a New Testament letter. But the martyrdom of James came too early for him to have written the letter, and in any event there is nothing beyond the Codex Corbeiensis to connect him with it.

(v) Finally, there is James, who is called the brother of Jesus. Although the first definite connection of him with this letter does not emerge until Origen in the first half of the third century, it is to him that it has always been traditionally ascribed. The Roman Catholic Church agrees with this ascription, for in 1546 the Council of Trent laid it down that James is canonical and is written by an apostle.

Let us then collect the evidence about this James. From the New Testament we learn that he was one of the brothers of Jesus (Mk.6:3; Matt.13:55). We shall later discuss in what sense the word brother is to be taken. During Jesus’ ministry it is clear that his family did not understand or sympathize with him and would have wished to restrain him (Matt.12:46-50; Mk.3:21; Mk.3:31-35; Jn.7:3-9). John says bluntly, “For even his brothers did not believe in him” (Jn.7:5). So, then, during Jesus’ earthly ministry James was numbered amongst his opponents.

With Acts there comes a sudden and unexplained change. When Acts opens, Jesus’ mother and his brothers are there with the little group of Christians (Ac.1:14). From there onwards it becomes clear that James has become the leader of the Jerusalem Church although how that came about is never explained. It is to James that Peter sends the news of his escape from prison (Ac.12:17). James presides over the Council of Jerusalem which agreed to the entry of the Gentiles into the Christian Church (Ac.15). It is James and Peter whom Paul meets when he first goes to Jerusalem; and it is with Peter, James and John, the pillars of the Church, that he discusses and settles his sphere of work (Gal.1:19; Gal.2:9). It is to James that Paul comes with his collection from the Gentile Churches on the visit to Jerusalem which is destined to be his last and which leads to his imprisonment (Ac.21:18-25). This last episode is important, for it shows James very sympathetic to the Jews who still observe the Jewish law, and so eager that their scruples should not be offended, that he actually persuades Paul to demonstrate his loyalty to the law by assuming responsibility for the expenses of certain Jews who are fulfilling a Nazirite vow.

Plainly, then, James was the leader of the Jerusalem Church. As might be expected, this was something which tradition greatly developed. Hegesippus, the early historian, says that James was the first bishop of the Church at Jerusalem. Clement of Alexandria goes further and says that he was chosen for that office by Peter and John. Jerome in his book, On Famous Men, says, “After the Passion of the Lord, James was immediately ordained bishop of Jerusalem by the apostles…. He ruled the Church of Jerusalem for thirty years, that is, until the seventh year of the reign of Nero.” The Clementine Recognitions take the final step in the development of the legend, for they say that James was ordained Bishop of Jerusalem by none other than Jesus himself. Clement of Alexandria relates a strange tradition: “To James the Just, and John and Peter, after the Resurrection, the Lord committed knowledge; they committed it to the other apostles; and the other apostles to the seventy.” The later developments arc not to be accepted but the basic fact remains that James was the undisputed head of the Church at Jerusalem.


Such a change must have some explanation. It may well be that we have it in a brief sentence in the New Testament itself. In 1Cor.15 Paul gives us a list of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus and includes the words: “Then he appeared to James” (1Cor.15:7). It so happens that there is a strange reference to James in the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which was one of the early gospels which did not gain admittance to the New Testament but which, to judge from its surviving fragments, had much of value in it. The following passage from it is handed down by Jerome:

Now the Lord, when he had given the linen cloth unto the servant of the High Priest, went unto James and appeared to him (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour, wherein he had drunk the Lord’s cup, until he should see him risen again from among them that sleep). And again after a little, “Bring ye,” saith the Lord, “a table and bread,” and immediately it is added: “He took bread and blessed and brake it and gave it unto James the Just and said unto him, `My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of Man is risen from among them that sleep.'”

That passage is not without its difficulties. The beginning seems to mean that Jesus, when he rose from the dead and emerged from the tomb, handed the linen shroud, which he had been wearing in death, to the servant of the High Priest and went to meet his brother James. It also seems to imply that James was present at the Last Supper. But although the passage has its obscurities, one thing is clear. Something about Jesus in the last days and hours had fastened on James’ heart and he had vowed that he would not eat until Jesus had risen again; and so Jesus came to him and gave him the assurance for which he waited. That there was a meeting of James and the Risen Christ is certain. What passed at that moment we shall never know. But we do know this, that after it the James who had been hostile and unsympathetic to Jesus became his servant for life and his martyr in death.


That James died a martyr’s death is the consistent statement of early tradition. The accounts of the circumstances vary, but the fact that he was martyred remains constant. Josephus’ account is very brief (Antiquities 20: 9.1):

So Ananus, being that kind of man, and thinking that he had got a good opportunity because Festus was dead and Albinus not yet arrived, holds a judicial council; and he brought before it the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ–James was his name–and some others, and on the charge of violating the Law he gave them over to be stoned.

Ananus was a Jewish High Priest; Festus and Albinus were procurators of Palestine, holding the same position as Pilate had held. The point of the story is that Ananus took advantage of the interregnum between the death of one procurator and the arrival of his successor to eliminate James and other leaders of the Christian Church. This, in fact, well fits the character of Ananus as it is known to us and would mean that James was martyred in A.D. 62.

A much longer account is given in the history of Hegesippus. Hegesippus’ history is itself lost, but his account of the death of James has been preserved in full by Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 2: 23). It is lengthy, but it is of such interest that it must be quoted in its entirety.

To the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles succeeded the Lord’s brother, James, he whom all from the time of the Lord to our own day call the Just, as there were many named James. And he was holy from his mother’s womb; wine and strong drink he drank not, nor did he eat flesh; no razor touched his head, he anointed himself not with oil, and used not the bath. To him alone was it permitted to enter the Holy Place, for neither did he wear wool, but linen clothes. And alone he would enter the Temple, and be found prostrate on his knees beseeching pardon for the people, so that his knees were callous like a camel’s in consequence of his continual kneeling in prayer to God and beseeching pardon for the people. Because of his exceeding righteousness he was called the Just, and Oblias, which is in Greek Bulwark of the People, and Righteousness, as the prophets declare concerning him.

Therefore, certain of the seven sects among the people, already mentioned by me in the Memoirs, asked him: “What is the door of Jesus?” and he said that He was the Saviour–of whom some accepted the faith that Jesus is the Christ. Now the aforesaid sects were not believers either in a Resurrection or in One who should come to render to every man according to his deeds; but as many as believed did so because of James. So, since many of the rulers, too, were believers, there was a tumult of the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, for they said there was danger that all the people would expect Jesus the Christ. Accordingly they said, when they had met together with James: “We entreat thee restrain the people since it has gone astray unto Jesus, holding him to be the Christ. We entreat thee to persuade concerning Jesus all those who come to the day of the Passover, for we all listen to thee. For we and all the people testify to thee that thou art just and that thou respectest not persons. So thou, therefore, persuade the people concerning Jesus, not to go astray, for all the people and all of us listen to thee. Take thy stand, therefore, on the pinnacle of the Temple, that up there thou mayest be well seen, and thy words audible to all the people. For because of the Passover all the tribes have come together and the gentiles also.”

So the aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees set James on the pinnacle of the Temple and called to him: “O thou, the Just, to whom we all ought to listen, since the people is going astray after Jesus the crucified, tell us what is the door of Jesus?” And with a loud voice he answered: “Why do you ask me concerning the Son of Man? He sitteth himself in heaven on the right hand of the great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven.” And when many were convinced and gave glory for the witness of James, and said, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” then again the same Scribes and Pharisees said to one another, “We were wrong to permit such a testimony to Jesus; but let us go up and cast him (James) down, that through fear they may not believe him.” And they cried out saying, “Ho, Ho! even the Just has gone astray,” and they fulfilled the Scriptures written in Isaiah: “Let us away with the Just, because he is troublesome to us; therefore they shall eat the fruits of their doings.”

Accordingly they went up and cast the Just down. And they said to one another, “Let us stone James the Just,” and they began to stone him, since he was not killed by the fall, but he turned and knelt down saying, “I beseech thee, Lord God Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And so, as they were stoning him, one of the Priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of Rechabim. mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet, cried out saying, “Stop! what are ye doing? The Just prays for you.” And a certain one of them, one of the fullers, taking the club with which he pounds clothes, brought it down on the head of the Just; and so he suffered martyrdom.

And they buried him there on the spot, near the Temple. A true witness has he become both to Jews and Greeks that Jesus is Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieges them.

The last sentence shows that Hegesippus had a different date for the death of James. Josephus makes it A.D. 62; but, if this happened just before the siege of Vespasian, the date is perhaps about A.D. 66.

Much in the story of Hegesippus may well be legendary but from it two things emerge. First, it is again evidence that James died a martyr’s death. Second, it is evidence that, even after James became a Christian, he remained in complete loyalty to the orthodox Jewish Law. So loyal that the Jews regarded him as one of themselves. This would fit well with what we have already noted of James’ attitude to Paul when he came to Jerusalem with the collection for the Jerusalem Church (Ac.21:18-25).


There is one other question about the person of James which we must try to solve. In Gal.1:19 Paul speaks of him as the Lord’s brother. In Matt.13:55 and in Mk.6:3 he is named among the brothers of Jesus; and in Ac.1:14, although no names are given, the brothers of Jesus are said to be amongst his followers in the earliest Church. The question of the meaning of brother is one which must be faced, for the Roman Catholic Church attaches a great deal of importance to the answer, as does the Anglo-Catholic section of the Anglican Church. Ever since the time of Jerome there has been continuous argument in the Church on this question. There are three theories of the relationship of these “brothers” to Jesus; and we shall consider them one by one.



The Hieronymian Theory takes its name from Jerome, who in Greek is Hieronymos (GSN0000). It was he who worked out the theory which declares that the “brothers” of Jesus were in fact his cousins; and this is the settled belief of the Roman Catholic Church, for which it is an article of faith. It was put forward by Jerome in A.D. 383 and we shall best grasp his complicated argument by setting it out in a series of steps.

(i) James the brother of our Lord is included among the apostles. Paul writes: “But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Gal.1:19).

(ii) Jerome insists that the word apostle can be used only of the Twelve. If that be so, we must look for James among them. He cannot be identified with James, brother of John and son of Zebedee, who apart from anything else was martyred by the time of Gal.1:19, as Ac.12:2 plainly tells us. Therefore he must be identified with the only other James among the Twelve, James the son of Alphaeus.

(iii) Jerome proceeds to make another identification. In Mk.6:3 we read: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, brother of James and Joses?”; and in Mk.15:40 we find beside the Cross Mary the mother of James the Younger and of Joses. Since James the Younger is the brother of Joses and the son of Mary, he must therefore be the same person as the James of Mk.6:3, who is the brother of our Lord. Therefore, according to Jerome, James the brother of the Lord, James the son of Alphaeus and James the Younger are the same person under different descriptions.

(iv) Jerome bases the next and final step of his argument on a deduction made from the lists of the women who were there when Jesus was crucified. Let us set down that list as given by the three gospel writers.

In Mk.15:40 it is:

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome.

In Matt.27:56 it is:

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Younger and of Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

In Jn.19:25 it is:

Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.

Now let us analyse these lists. In each of them Mary Magdalene appears by name. It is safe to identify Salome and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. But the real problem is how many women are there in John’s list? Is the list to be read like this:

(i) Jesus’ mother; (ii) Jesus’ mother’s sister; (iii) Mary the wife of Cleopas; (iv) Mary Magdalene.

Or is the list to be read like this:

(i) Jesus’ mother; (ii) Jesus’ mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas; (iii) Mary Magdalene.

Jerome insists that the second way is correct and that Jesus’ mother’s sister and Mary, the wife of Cleopas, are one and the same person. If that be so, she must also be the Mary who in the other lists is the mother of James and Joses. This James who is her son is the man who is variously known as James the Younger and as James the son of Alphaeus and as James the apostle who is known as the brother of our Lord. This means that James is the son of Mary’s sister and therefore is Jesus’ cousin.

There, then, is Jerome’s argument. Against it at least four criticisms can be levelled.

(i) Again and again James is called the brother of Jesus or is numbered amongst the brothers of Jesus. The word used in each case is adelphos (GSN0000), the normal word for brother. True, it can describe people who belong to a common fellowship, just as the Christians called each other brother. True, it can be used as a term of endearment and we may call someone with whom we enjoy personal intimacy a brother. But when it is used of those who are kin, it is, to say the least of it, very doubtful that it can mean cousin. If James was the cousin of Jesus, it is extremely unlikely–perhaps impossible–that he would be called the adelphos (GSN0000) of Jesus.

(ii) Jerome was quite wrong in assuming that the term apostle could be used only of the Twelve. Paul was an apostle (Rom.1:1; 1Cor.1:1; 2Cor.1:1; Gal.1:1). Barnabas was an apostle (Ac.14:14; 1Cor.9:6). Silas was an apostle (Ac.15:22). Andronicus and Junia were apostles (Rom.16:7). It is impossible to limit the word apostle to the Twelve; since, therefore, it is not necessary to look for James the Lord’s brother among the Twelve, the whole argument of Jerome collapses.

(iii) It is on the face of it much more likely that Jn.19:25 is a list of four women, not three, for, if Mary the wife of Cleopas were the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother, it would mean that there were two sisters in the same family both called Mary, which is extremely unlikely.

(iv) It must be remembered that the Church knew nothing of this theory until A.D. 383 when Jerome produced it; and it is quite certain that it was produced for no other reason than to conserve the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

The theory that those called Jesus’ brothers were, in fact, his cousins must be dismissed as rendered quite untenable by the facts of the case.


The second of the great theories concerning the relationship of Jesus and his “brothers” holds that these “brothers” were, in fact, his half-brothers, sons of Joseph by a previous marriage. This is called the Epiphanian Theory after Epiphanius who strongly affirmed it about A.D. 370. He did not construct it. It existed long before this and may indeed be said to be the most usual opinion in the early church. The substance of it already appears in an apocryphal book called the Book of James or the Protevangelium which dates back to the middle of the second century. That book tells how there was a devout husband and wife called Joachim and Anna. Their great grief was that they had no child. To their great joy in their old age a child was born to them, and this too, apparently, was regarded as a virgin birth. The child, a girl, was called Mary and was to be the mother of Jesus. Joachim and Anna vowed their child to the Lord; and when she reached the age of three they took her to the Temple and left her there in the charge of the priests. She grew up in the Temple; and when she reached the age of twelve the priests took thought for her marriage. They called together the widowers of the people, telling each man to bring his rod with him. Among them came Joseph the carpenter. The High Priest took the rods, and Joseph’s was last. To the other rods nothing happened; but from the rod of Joseph there flew a dove which came and settled on Joseph’s head. In this way it was revealed that Joseph was to take Mary to wife. Joseph at first was very unwilling. “I have sons,” he said, “and I am an old man, but she is a girl: lest I become a laughing-stock to the children of Israel” (Prolevangelium 9: 1). But in the end he took her in obedience to the will of God, and in due time Jesus was born. The material of the Protevangelium is, of course, legendary; but it shows that by the middle of the second century the theory which was one day to bear the name of Epiphanius was widely held.

There is no direct evidence for this theory whatsoever and all the support adduced in its favour is of an indirect character.

(i) It is asked: would Jesus have committed his mother to the care of John, if she had other sons besides himself? (Jn.19:26-27). The answer is that, so far as we know, Jesus’ family were quite out of sympathy with him and it would hardly have been possible to commit his mother to their care.

(ii) It is argued that the behaviour of Jesus’ “brothers” to him is that of elder brothers to a younger brother. They questioned his sanity and wished to take him home (Mk.3:21; Mk.3:31-35); they were actively hostile to him (Jn.7:1-5). But it could just as well be argued that their conduct was due to the simple fact that they found him an embarrassment to the family in a way that had nothing to do with age.

(iii) It is argued that Joseph must have been older than Mary because he vanishes completely from the gospel story and, therefore, probably had died before Jesus’ public ministry began. The mother of Jesus was at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, but there is no mention of Joseph (Jn.2:1). Jesus is called, at least sometimes, the son of Mary, and the implication is that Joseph was dead and Mary was a widow (Mk.6:3; but compare Matt.13:55). Further, Jesus’ long stay in Nazareth until he was thirty years of age (Lk.3:23), is most easily explained by the assumption that Joseph had died and that Jesus had become responsible for the support of the household. But the fact that Joseph was older than Mary does not by any means prove that he had no other children by her; and the fact that Jesus stayed in Nazareth as the village carpenter in order to support the family would much more naturally indicate that he was the eldest, and not the youngest, son.

To these arguments Lightfoot would add two more of a general nature.

First, he says that this is the theory of Christian tradition; and, second, he claims that anything else is “abhorrent to Christian sentiment.”

But basically this theory springs from the same origin as the Hieronymian theory. Its aim is to conserve the perpetual virginity of Mary. There is no direct evidence whatsoever for it; and no one would ever have thought of it had it not been for the desire to think that Mary never ceased to be a virgin.


The third theory is called the Helvidian Theory. It states quite simply that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were in the full sense of the term his brothers and sisters, that, to use the technical term, they were his uterine brothers and sisters. Nothing whatever is known of the Helvidius with whose name this theory is connected except that he wrote a treatise to support it which Jerome strongly opposed. What then may be said in favour of it?

(i) No one reading the New Testament story without theological presuppositions would ever think of anything else. On the face of it that story does not think of Jesus’ brothers and sisters as anything else but his brothers and sisters in the full sense of the term.

(ii) The birth narratives both in Matthew and Luke presuppose that Mary had other children. Matthew writes: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not till she had borne a son” (Matt.1:24-25). The clear implication is that Joseph entered into normal married relationships with Mary after the birth of Jesus. Tertullian, in fact, uses this passage to prove that both virginity and the married state are consecrated in Christ by the fact that Mary was first a virgin and then a wife in the full sense of the term. Luke in writing of the birth of Jesus says: “She gave birth to her first-born son” (Lk.2:7). To call Jesus a first-born son is plainly to indicate that other children followed.

(iii) As we have already said, the fact that Jesus remained in Nazareth as the village carpenter until the age of thirty is at least an indication that he was the eldest son and had to take upon himself the responsibility of the support of the family after the death of Joseph.

We believe that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were in truth his brothers and sisters. Any other theory ultimately springs from the glorification of asceticism and from a wish to regard Mary as for ever a virgin. It is surely a far more lovely thing to believe in the sanctity of the home than to insist that celibacy is a higher thing than married love.

So, then, we believe that James, called the Lord’s brother, was in every sense the brother of Jesus.


Can we then say that this James was also the author of this letter? Let us collect the evidence in favour of that view.

(i) If James wrote a letter at all, it would most naturally be a general epistle, as this is. James was not, like Paul, a traveller and a man of many congregations. He was the leader of the Jewish section of the Church; and the kind of letter we would expect him to write would be a general epistle directed to all Jewish Christians.

(ii) There is scarcely anything in the letter that a good Jew could not accept. So much so that there are those who think that it is actually a Jewish ethical tract which has found its way into the New Testament. A. H. McNeile has pointed out that in instance after instance there are phrases in James which can be read equally well in a Christian or a Jewish sense. The Twelve Tribes of the Dispersion (Jas. 1:1) could be taken either of the exiled Jews scattered all over the world or of the Christian Church, the new Israel of God. “The Lord” can again and again in this letter be understood equally well of Jesus or of God (Jas. 1:7; Jas. 4:10,15; Jas. 5:7-8; Jas. 5:10-11; Jas. 5:14-15). Our bringing forth by God by the word of his truth to be the first fruits of his creation (Jas. 1:18) can equally well be understood of God’s first act of creation or of his re-creation of men in Jesus Christ. The perfect law and the royal law (Jas. 1:25; Jas. 2:8), can equally well be understood of the ethical law of the Ten Commandments or of the new law of Christ. The elders of the Church, the ekklesia (GSN0000) (Jas. 5:14), can equally well be understood as meaning the elders of the Christian Church or the Jewish elders, for in the Septuagint ekklesia (GSN0000) is the title of the chosen nation of God. In Jas. 2:2 “your assembly” is spoken of. The word there used for assembly is sunagoge (GSN0000), which can mean the synagogue even more readily than it can mean the Christian congregation. The habit of addressing its readers as brothers is thoroughly Christian, but it is equally thoroughly Jewish. The coming of the Lord and the picture of the Judge standing at the door (Jas. 5:7,9) are just as common in Jewish thought as in Christian thought. The accusation that they have murdered the righteous man (Jas. 5:6) is a phrase which occurs again and again in the prophets, but a Christian could read it as a statement of the Crucifixion of Christ. There is nothing in this letter which an orthodox Jew could not heartily accept, if he read it in his own terms.

It could be argued that all this perfectly suits James. He was the leader of what might be called Jewish Christianity; he was the head of that part of the Church which remained centred in Jerusalem. There must have been a time when the Church was very close to Judaism and it was more a reformed Judaism than anything else. There was a kind of Christianity which had not the width or the universality which the mind of Paul put into it. Paul himself said that the sphere of the Gentiles had been allocated to him and the sphere of the Jews to Peter, James and John (Gal.2:9). The letter of James may well represent a kind of Christianity which had remained in its earliest form. This would explain two things.

First, it would explain the frequency with which James repeats the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. We may, out of many instances, compare Jas. 2:12-13 and Matt.6:14-15; Jas. 3:11-13 and Matt.7:16-20; Jas. 5:12 and Matt.5:34-37. Any Jewish Christian would be supremely interested in the ethical teaching of the Christian faith.

Second, it would help to explain the relationship of this letter to the teaching of Paul. At a first reading Jas. 2:14-26 reads like a direct attack on Paulinism. “A man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24) seems a flat contradiction of the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith. But what James is attacking is a so-called faith which has no ethical results and one thing is quite clear–anyone who charges Paul with preaching such a faith cannot possibly have read his letters. They are full of ethical demands, as, for instance, a chapter like Rom.12 illustrates. Now James died in A.D. 62 and, therefore, could not have read Paul’s letters which did not become the common property of the Church until at least A.D. 90. Therefore what James is attacking is either a misunderstanding of what Paul said or a perversion of it; and nowhere was such a misunderstanding or perversion more likely to arise than in Jerusalem, where Paul’s stress on faith and grace and his attack on the law were likely to be regarded with more suspicion than anywhere else.

(iii) It has been pointed out that James and the letter of the Council of Jerusalem to the Gentile Churches have at least two rather curious resemblances. Both begin with the word Greeting (Jas. 1:1; Ac.15:23). The Greek is chairein (GSN0000). This was the normal Greek beginning to a letter, but nowhere else in all the New Testament is it found other than in the letter of Claudius Lysias, the military officer, to the governor of the province quoted in Ac.23:26-30. Second, Ac.15:17 has a phrase in the letter of the Council of Jerusalem in which it speaks of the Gentiles who are called by my name. This phrase occurs nowhere else in the New Testament other than in Jas. 2:7 where it is translated the name by which you are called. Although the Revised Standard Version translations differ slightly, the Greek is exactly the same. It is curious that the letter of the Council of Jerusalem presents us with two unusual phrases which recur only in James, when we remember that the letter of the Council of Jerusalem must have been drafted by James.

There is then evidence which lends colour to the belief that James was the work of James, the Lord’s brother and head of the Jerusalem Church.

On the other hand there are facts which make us a little doubtful if he was, after all, the author.

(i) If the writer was the brother of our Lord, we would have expected him to make some reference to that fact. All he calls himself is “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Jas. 1:1). Such a reference would not have been in any sense for his own personal glory, but simply to lend authority to his letter. And such authority would have been specially useful outside Palestine, in countries where James could hardly have been known. If the author was indeed the Lord’s brother, it is surprising that he makes no reference, direct or indirect, to that fact.

(ii) Failing a reference to his relationship to Jesus, we would have expected a reference to the fact that he was an apostle. It was Paul’s regular custom to begin his letters with a reference to his apostleship. Again it is not a question of personal prestige but simply a guarantee of the authority by which he writes. If this James was indeed the Lord’s brother and the head of the Jerusalem Church, we should have expected some reference at the beginning of the letter to his apostolic status.

(iii) The most surprising fact of all is that which made Luther question the right of this letter to a place in the New Testament–the almost complete absence of any references to Jesus Christ. Only twice in the whole letter is his name mentioned and these mentions are almost incidental (Jas. 1:1; Jas. 2:1).

There is no reference at all to his Resurrection. We know well that the early church was built on faith in the Risen Christ. If this letter is the work of James, it is contemporary, with the events of Acts in which the Resurrection is mentioned no fewer than twenty-five times. What makes it still more surprising is that James had a personal reason for writing about the appearance of Jesus which may well have been what changed the direction of his life. It is surprising that anyone writing at such a time in the Church’s history should write without reference to the Resurrection of Jesus; and it is doubly surprising if the writer should be James the brother of our Lord.

Further, there is no reference to Jesus as Messiah. If James, the leader of the Jewish Church, was writing to Jewish Christians in these very early days, one would have thought his main aim would have been to present Jesus as Messiah or that at least he would have made his belief in that fact plain; but the letter does not mention it.

(iv) It is plain that the writer of this letter is steeped in the Old Testament; it is also plain that he is intimately acquainted with the Wisdom Literature; and that in James is only to be expected. There are in his letter twenty-three apparent quotations from the Sermon on the Mount; that too is easy to understand, because from the very beginning, long before the gospels were written, compendiums of Jesus’ teaching must have circulated. It is argued by some that he must have known Paul’s letters to the Romans and to the Galatians in order to write as he does about faith and works, and it is argued rightly that a Jew who had never been outside Palestine and who died in A.D. 62 could not have known these letters. As we have seen, this argument will not stand, because the criticism of Paul’s doctrine in James is criticism which could have been offered only by someone who had not read the letters of Paul at first hand and who is dealing with a misunderstanding or a perversion of Pauline doctrine. But the phrase in Jas. 1:17: “Every good endowment and every perfect gift,” is an hexametre line and clearly a quotation from some Greek poet; and the phrase in Jas. 3:6: “the cycle of nature” may be an Orphic phrase from the mystery religions. How could James of Palestine pick up quotations like these?

There are things which are difficult to account for on the assumption that James, the brother of our Lord, was the author of this letter.

The evidence for and against James’ authorship of this letter is extraordinarily evenly balanced. For the moment we must leave the matter in suspense and turn to certain other questions.


When we turn to the evidence for the date of the letter we find this same even balance. It is possible to argue that it is very early, and equally possible to argue that it is rather late.

(i) When James was writing, it is clear that the hope of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was still very real (Jas. 5:7-9). Now the expectation of the Second Coming never left the Christian Church, but it did to some extent fade from the foreground of its thought as it was unexpectedly long delayed. This would suggest an early date.

(ii) In the early chapters of Acts and in the letters of Paul, there is a continuous background of Jewish controversy against the accepting of the Gentiles into the Church on the basis of faith alone. Wherever Paul went the Judaizers followed him, and the acceptance of the Gentiles was not a battle which was readily won. In James there is not even a hint of this Jewish-Gentile controversy, a fact which is doubly surprising when we remember that James, the Lord’s brother, took a leading part in settling it at the Council of Jerusalem. That being so, this letter could be either very early and written before that controversy emerged; or, it could be late and written after the last echo of the controversy had died away. The fact that there is no mention of the Jewish-Gentile controversy can be used as an argument either way.

(iii) The evidence from the Church order reflected in the letter is equally conflicting. The meeting place of the Church is still called the sunagoge (GSN0000) (Jas. 2:2). That points to an early date; later an assembly of Christians would definitely be called the ekklesia (GSN0000), for the Jewish term was soon dropped. The elders of the Church are mentioned (Jas. 5:14), but there is no mention of either deacons or bishops. This again indicates an early date, and possibly a Jewish connection, for the eldership was a Jewish institution before it was a Christian one. James is worried about the existence of many teachers (Jas. 3:1). This could well indicate a very early situation, before the Church had systematized its ministry and introduced some kind of order; or, it could indicate a late date, when many false teachers had arisen to plague the Church.

There are two general facts which seem on the whole to indicate that James is late. First, as we have seen there is hardly any mention of Jesus at all. The subject of the letter is, in fact, the inadequacies and the imperfections, the sins and the mistakes of the members of the Church. This seems to point to a fairly late date. The early preaching was ablaze with the grace and the glory of the Risen Christ; later preaching became, as it so often is today, a tirade against the imperfections of the members of the Church. The second general fact is the condemnation of the rich (Jas. 2:1-3; Jas. 5:1-6). The flattery of the rich and the arrogance of the rich seem to have been real problems when this letter was written. Now in the very early church there were few, if any, rich men (1Cor.1:26-27). James seems to indicate a later time when the once poor Church was being threatened with a spirit of worldliness in its members.



It will help us to date this so-called letter of James and may also help us to identify its author, if we place it in its context in the ancient world.

The sermon is identified with the Christian Church, but it was by no means its invention. It had roots in both the Hellenistic and the Jewish world; and when we set James beside the Hellenistic and the Jewish sermons we cannot fail to be struck by the resemblances.

1. Let us look first at the Greek preachers and their sermons. The wandering philosopher was a common figure in the ancient world. Sometimes he was a Stoic; far more often he was a Cynic. Wherever men were gathered together you would find him there calling them to virtue. You would find him at the street comer and in the city squares; you would find him at the vast concourses which gathered for the games: you would even find him at the gladiatorial games, sometimes, even directly addressing the emperor, rebuking him for luxury and tyranny, and calling him to virtue and justice. The ancient preacher, the philosopher-missionary, was a regular figure in the ancient world. There was a time when philosophy had been the business of the schools, but now its voice and its ethical demands were to be heard daily in the public places.

These ancient sermons had certain characteristics. The method was always the same; and that method had deeply influenced Paul’s presentation of the gospel, and James was in the same line of descent. We list some of the tricks of the trade of these ancient preachers, noting bow they occur in James and bearing in mind the way in which Paul writes to his Churches. The main aim of these ancient preachers, it must be remembered, was not to investigate new truth; it was to awaken sinners to the error of their ways and compel them to look at truths, which they knew but were deliberately neglecting or had forgotten. Their aim was to confront men with the good life in the midst of the looseness of their living and their forgetfulness of the gods.

(i) They frequently carried on imaginary conversations with imaginary opponents, speaking in what has been called a kind of “truncated dialogue.” James also uses that method in Jas. 2:18f. and Jas. 5:13f.

(ii) They habitually effected their transition from one part of the sermon to another, by way of a question which introduced the new subject. Again James does that in Jas. 2:14 and Jas. 4:1.

(iii) They were very fond of imperatives in which they commanded their hearers to right action and to the abandoning of their errors. In James’ 108 verses there are almost 60 imperatives.

(iv) They were very fond of the rhetorical question flung out at their audience. James frequently employs such questions (compare Jas. 2:4-5; Jas. 2:14-16; Jas. 3:11-12; Jas. 4:4).

(v) They frequently dealt in apostrophes, vivid direct addresses to particular sections of the audience. So James apostrophizes the merchants out for gain and the arrogant rich (Jas. 4:13; Jas. 5:6).

(vi) They were fond of personifying virtues and vices, sins and graces. So James personifies sin (Jas. 1:15); mercy (Jas. 2:13); rust (Jas. 5:3).

(vii) They sought to awaken the interest of their audience by pictures and figures from everyday life. The figure of the bridle, the rudder and the forest fire are standard figures in the ancient sermons (compare Jas. 3:3-6). Amongst many others James vividly uses the picture of the farmer and his patience (Jas. 5:7).

(viii) They frequently used the example of famous men and women to point their moral. So James uses the examples of Abraham (Jas. 2:21-23); Rahab (Jas. 2:25); Job (Jas. 5:11); Elijah (Jas. 5:17).

(ix) It was the custom of the ancient preachers to begin their sermon with a paradox which would arrest the attention of their hearers. James does that by telling a man to think it all joy when he is involved in trials (Jas. 1:2). In the same way the ancient preachers often pointed out how true goodness meant the reversal of all popular verdicts on life. So James insists that the happiness of the rich lies in their being brought low (Jas. 1:10). They used the weapon of irony as James does (Jas. 2:14-19; Jas. 5:1-6).

(x) The ancient preachers could speak with harshness and with sternness. So James addresses his reader as: “Foolish fellow!” and calls those who listen to him unfaithful creatures (Jas. 2:20; Jas. 4:4). The ancient preachers used the lash and so does James.

(xi) The ancient preachers had certain standard ways of constructing their sermons.

(a) They often concluded a section with a vivid antithesis, setting the right beside the wrong way. James follows the same custom (compare Jas. 2:13; Jas. 2:26).

(b) They often made their point by means of a searching question fired at the hearer; and so does James (Jas. 4:12).

(c) They often used quotations in their preaching. This also James does (Jas. 5:20; Jas. 1:11,17; Jas. 4:6; Jas. 5:11).

It is true that we do not find in James the bitterness, the scolding, the frivolous and often broad humour that the Greek preachers used; but it is plain to see that he uses all the other methods which the wandering Hellenistic preachers used to win their way into the minds and hearts of men.

2. The Jewish world also had its tradition of preaching. That preaching was done mainly by the Rabbis at the services of the synagogue. It had many of the characteristics of the preaching of the Greek wandering philosophers. It had its rhetorical questions and its imperatives and its pictures taken from life, and its quotations and its citations of the heroes of the faith. But Jewish preaching had one curious characteristic. It was deliberately disconnected. The Jewish masters instructed their pupils never to linger for any length of time on any one subject, but to move quickly from one subject to another in order to maintain the interest of the listener. Hence one of the names for preaching was charaz (GSN0000), which literally means stringing beads. The Jewish sermon was frequently a string of moral truths and exhortations coming one after another. This is exactly what James is. It is difficult, if not impossible, to extract from it a continuous and coherent plan. Its sections follow each other with a certain disconnectedness. Goodspeed writes: “The work has been compared to a chain, each link related to the one before and the one after it. Others have compared its contents to beads on a string…. And, perhaps, James is not so much a chain of thoughts or beads as it is a handful of pearls dropped one by one into the hearer’s mind.”

James, whether looked at from the Hellenistic or from the Jewish point of view, is a good example of an ancient sermon. And here is, perhaps, the clue we need to its authorship. With all this in mind, let us now turn to ask who the author is.


There are five possibilities.

(i) We begin with a theory worked out in detail by Meyer more than half a century ago and revived by Easton in the new Interpreter’s Bible. One of the commonest things in the ancient world was for books to be published in the name of some great figure of the past. Jewish literature between the Testaments is full of writings like that, ascribed to Moses, the Twelve Patriarchs, Baruch, Enoch, Isaiah, and people of like standing in order that the added authority might give greater encouragement to their readers. This was an accepted practice. One of the best-known books in the Apocrypha is the Wisdom of Solomon, in which the later Sage attributes new wisdom to the wisest of the kings.

Let us remember three things about James. (a) There is nothing in it which an orthodox Jew could not accept, if the two references to Jesus in Jas. 1:1 and Jas. 2:1 are removed, as they easily may be. (b) The Greek for James is in fact Iakobos (GSN0000) which of course is the Old Testament Jacob. (c) The book is addressed to “the twelve tribes who are scattered abroad.” This theory holds that James is nothing other than a Jewish writing, written under the name of Jacob and meant for the Jews who were scattered throughout the world to encourage them in faith and belief amidst the trials through which they might be passing in Gentile lands.

This theory is further elaborated in this way. In Gen.49 we have Jacob’s last address to his sons. The address consists of a series of short descriptions in which each son is in turn characterized. Meyer professed to be able to find in James allusions to the descriptions of each of the patriarchs and, therefore, of each of the twelve tribes, in Jacob’s address. Here are some of his identifications.

Asher is the worldly rich man; Jas. 1:9-11; Gen.49:20. Issachar is the doer of good deeds; Jas. 1:12; Gen.49:14-15. Reuben is the first fruits; Jas. 1:18; Gen.49:3. Simeon stands for anger; Jas. 1:19-20; Gen.49:5-7. Levi is the tribe which is specially connected with religion and is alluded to in Jas. 1:26-27. Naphtali is characterized by peace; Jas. 3:18; Gen.49:21. Gad stands for wars and fightings; Jas. 4:1-2; Gen.49:19. Dan represents waiting for salvation; Jas. 5:7; Gen.49:18. Joseph represents prayer; Jas. 5:13-18; Gen.49:22-26. Benjamin stands for birth and death; Jas. 5:20; Gen.49:27.

That is a most ingenious theory. No one can either finally prove it or disprove it; and it certainly would explain in the most natural way the reference in Jas. 1:1 to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. It would hold that some Christian came upon this Jewish tract, written under the name of Jacob to all the exiled Jews, and was so impressed with its moral worth, that he made certain adjustments and additions to it and issued it as a Christian book. There is no doubt that this is an attractive theory–but it is possible for a theory to be too ingenious.

(ii) Just as the Jews did, the Christians also wrote many books under the names of the great figures of the Christian faith. There are gospels issued under the name of Peter and Thomas and James himself; there is a letter under the name of Barnabas; there are gospels of Nicodemus and Bartholomew; and there are Acts of John, Paul, Andrew, Peter, Thomas, Philip and others. The technical title for these books is pseudonymous, that is, written under a false name.

It has been suggested that James was a letter written by someone else under the name of the Lord’s brother. That is apparently what Jerome thought when he said that this letter “was issued by someone under James’ name.” But, whatever else this work is, it cannot be that because, when anyone wrote such a book, he was careful to make quite clear who was supposed to have written it. If this had been pseudonymous no possible doubt would have been left that the author was supposed to be James the brother of our Lord; but this fact is not mentioned at all.

(iii) Moffatt inclined to the theory that the writer was not the brother of our Lord, or any other well-known James, but simply a teacher called James of whose life and story we have no information whatever. That is by no means impossible for the name James was just as common then as it is now; but it would be rather difficult to understand how such a book gained entry into the New Testament, and how it came to be connected with the name of the Lord’s brother.

(iv) The traditional view is that the book was written by James, the Lord’s brother. We have already seen that it seems strange that such a book should have only two incidental references to Jesus, and none at all to the Resurrection or to Jesus as the Messiah. A further and most serious difficulty is this. The book is written in good Greek. Ropes says that Greek must have been the mother tongue of the man who wrote it; and Mayor, himself one of the greatest of Greek scholars, says, “I should be inclined to rate the Greek of this epistle as approaching more nearly to the standard of classical purity than that of any other book in the New Testament with the exception perhaps of the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Quite certainly James’ mother tongue was Aramaic and not Greek; and quite certainly he would not be a master of classical Greek. His orthodox Jewish upbringing would make him despise and avoid it, as a Gentile and accursed tongue. It is next door to impossible to think of James actually penning this letter.

(v) So we come to the fifth possibility. Let us remember how closely James resembles a sermon. It is possible that this is, in substance, a sermon preached by James, taken down by someone else, translated into Greek, added to and decorated a little and then issued to the Church at large so that all men should benefit from it. That explains its form and how it came to be attached to the name of James. It even explains the scarcity of the references to Jesus, to the Resurrection, and to the Messiahship of Jesus; for in one single sermon James could not go through the whole gamut of orthodoxy and is, in fact, pressing moral duty upon men, and not talking about theology. It seems to us that this is the one theory which explains the facts.

One thing is certain–we may approach this little letter feeling that it is one of the lesser books of the New Testament; but if we study it faithfully, we will lay it down thanking God that it was preserved for our edification and inspiration.






Jas. 1:1

James, the slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, sends greetings to the twelve tribes who are scattered throughout the world.

At the very beginning of his letter James describes himself by the title wherein lies his only honour and his only glory, the slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. With the exception of Jude he is the only New Testament writer to describe himself by that term (doulos, GSN1401) without any qualification. Paul describes himself as the slave of Jesus Christ and his apostle (Rom.1:1; Php.1:1). But James will go no further than to call himself the slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are at least four implications in this title.

(i) It implies absolute obedience. The slave knows no law but his master’s word; he has no rights of his own; he is the absolute possession of his master; and he is bound to give his master unquestioning obedience.

(ii) It implies absolute humility. It is the word of a man who thinks not of his privileges but of his duties, not of his rights but of his obligations. It is the word of the man who has lost his self in the service of God.

(iii) It implies absolute loyalty. It is the word of the man who has no interests of his own, because what he does, he does for God. His own profit and his own preference do not enter into his calculations; his loyalty is to him.

(iv) Yet, at the back of it, this word implies a certain pride. So far from being a title of dishonour it was the title by which the greatest ones of the Old Testament were known. Moses was the doulos (GSN1401) of God (1Kgs.8:53; Dn.9:11; Mal.4:4); so were Joshua and Caleb (Josh.24:29; Num.14:24); so were the great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deut.9:27); so was Job (Jb.1:8); so was Isaiah (Isa.20:3); and doulos (GSN1401) is distinctively the title by which the prophets were known (Am.3:7; Zech.1:6; Jer.7:25). By taking the title doulos (GSN1401) James sets himself in the great succession of those who found their freedom and their peace and their glory in perfect submission to the will of God. The only greatness to which the Christian can ever aspire is that of being the slave of God.

There is one unusual thing about this opening salutation. James sends greetings to his readers; using the word chairein (GSN5463) which is the regular opening word of salutation in secular Greek letters. Paul never uses it. He always uses the distinctively Christian greeting, “Grace and peace” (Rom.1:7; 1Cor.1:3; 2Cor.1:2; Gal.1:3; Eph.1:2; Php.1:2; Col.1:2; 1Th.1:1; 2Th.1:2; Phm.3). This secular greeting occurs only twice in the rest of the New Testament, in the letter which Claudius Lysias, the Roman officer, wrote to Felix to ensure the safe journeying of Paul (Ac.23:26), and in the general letter issued after the decision of the Council of Jerusalem to allow the Gentiles into the Church (Ac.15:23). This is interesting, because it was James who presided over that Council (Ac.15:13). It may be that he used the most general greeting that he could find because his letter was going out to the widest public.


Jas. 1:1 (continued)

The letter is addressed to the twelve tribes who are scattered abroad. Literally the greeting is to the twelve tribes in the Diaspora (GSN1290), the technical word for the Jews who lived outside Palestine. All the millions of Jews who were, for one reason or another, outside the Promised Land were the Diaspora (GSN1290). This dispersal of the Jews throughout the world was of the very greatest importance for the spread of Christianity, because it meant that all over the world there were synagogues, from which the Christian preachers could take their start; and it meant that all over the world there were groups of men and women who themselves already knew the Old Testament, and who had persuaded others among the Gentiles, at least to be interested in their faith. Let us see how this dispersal took place.

Sometimes–and the process began in this way–the Jews were forcibly taken out of their own land and compelled to live as exiles in foreign lands. There were three such great movements.

(i) The first compulsory removal came when the people of the Northern Kingdom, who had their capital in Samaria, were conquered by the Assyrians and were carried away into captivity in Assyria (2Kgs.17:23; 1Chr.5:26). These are the lost ten tribes who never returned. The Jews themselves believed that at the end of all things all Jews would be gathered together in Jerusalem, but until the end of the world these ten tribes, they believed, would never return. They founded this belief on a rather fanciful interpretation of an Old Testament text. The Rabbis argued like this: “The ten tribes never return for it is said of them, `He will cast them into another land, as at this day’ (Deut.29:28). As then this day departs and never returns, so too are they to depart and never return. As this day becomes dark, and then again light, so too will it one day be light again for the ten tribes for whom it was dark.”

(ii) The second compulsory removal was about 580 B.C. At that time the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom whose capital was at Jerusalem, and carried the best of the people away to Babylon (2Kgs.24:14-16; Ps.137). In Babylon the Jews behaved very differently; they stubbornly refused to be assimilated and to lose their nationality. They were said to be congregated mainly in the cities of Nehardea and Nisibis. It was actually in Babylon that Jewish scholarship reached its finest flower; and there was produced the Babylonian Talmud, the immense sixty-volume exposition of the Jewish law. When Josephus wrote his Wars of the Jews, the first edition was not in Greek but in Aramaic, and was designed for the scholarly Jews in Babylon. He tells us that the Jews rose to such power there that at one time the province of Mesopotamia was under Jewish rule. Its two Jewish rulers were Asidaeus and Anilaeus; and on the death of Anilaeus it was said that no fewer than 50,000 Jews were massacred.

(iii) The third compulsory transplantation took place much later. When Pompey conquered the Jews and took Jerusalem in 63 B.C., he took back to Rome many Jews as slaves. Their rigid adherence to their own ceremonial law and their stubborn observance of the Sabbath made them difficult slaves; and most of them were freed. They took up residence in a kind of quarter of their own on the far side of the Tiber. Before long they were to be found flourishing all over the city. Dio Cassius says of them, “They were often suppressed, but they nevertheless mightily increased, so that they achieved even the free exercise of their customs.” Julius Caesar was their great protector and we read of them mourning all night long at his bier. We read of them present in large numbers when Cicero was defending Flaccus. In A.D. 19 the whole Jewish community was banished from Rome on the charge that they had robbed a wealthy female proselyte on pretence of sending the money to the Temple and at that time 4,000 of them were conscripted to fight against the brigands in Sardinia; but they were soon received back. When the Jews of Palestine sent their deputation to Rome to complain of the rule of Archelaus, we read that the deputation was joined by 8,000 Jews resident in the city. Roman literature is full of contemptuous references to the Jews, for anti-Semitism is no new thing; and the very number of the references is proof of the part that the Jews played in the life of the city.

Compulsory transplantation took the Jews by the thousand to Babylon and to Rome. But far greater numbers left Palestine of their own free-will for more comfortable and more profitable lands. Two lands in particular received thousands of Jews. Palestine was sandwiched between the two great powers, Syria and Egypt and was, therefore, liable at any time to become a battleground. For that reason many Jews left it to take up residence either in Egypt or in Syria.

During the time of Nebuchadnezzar there was a voluntary exodus of many Jews to Egypt (2Kgs.25:26). As far back as 650 B.C. the Egyptian king Psammetichus was said to have had Jewish mercenaries in his armies. When Alexander the Great founded Alexandria special privileges were offered to settlers there and the Jews came in large numbers. Alexandria was divided into five administrative sections; and two of them were inhabited by Jews. In Alexandria alone there were more than 1,000.000 Jews. The settlement of the Jews in Egypt went so far that about 50 B.C. a temple, modelled on the Jerusalem one, was built at Leontopolis for the Egyptian Jews.

The Jews also went to Syria. The highest concentration was in Antioch, where the gospel was first preached to the Gentiles and where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. In Damascus we read of 10,000 of them being massacred at one time.

So, then, Egypt and Syria had very large Jewish populations. But they had spread far beyond that. In Cyrene in North Africa we read that the population was divided into citizens, agriculturists, resident aliens and Jews. Mommsen, the Roman historian, writes: “The inhabitants of Palestine were only a portion, and not the most important portion, of the Jews; the Jewish communities of Babylonia, Syria, Asia Minor and Egypt were far superior to those of Palestine.” That mention of Asia Minor leads us to another sphere in which the Jews were numerous. When Alexander’s empire broke up on his death, Egypt fell to the Ptolemies, and Syria and the surrounding districts fell to Seleucus and his successors, known as the Seleucids. The Seleucids had two great characteristics. They followed a deliberate policy of the fusion of populations hoping to gain security by banishing nationalism. And they were inveterate founders of cities. These cities needed citizens, and special attractions and privileges were offered to those who would settle in them. The Jews accepted citizenship of these cities by the thousand. All over Asia Minor, in the great cities of the Mediterranean sea coast, in the great commercial centres, Jews were numerous and prosperous. Even there there were compulsory transplantations. Antiochus the Great took 2,000 Jewish families from Babylon and settled them in Lydia and Phrygia. In fact, so great was the drift from Palestine that the Palestine Jews complained against their brethren who left the austerities of Palestine for the baths and feasts of Asia and Phrygia; and Aristotle tells of meeting a Jew in Asia Minor who was “not only Greek in his language but in his very soul.”

It is quite clear that everywhere in the world there were Jews. Strabo, the Greek geographer, writes: “It is hard to find a spot in the whole world which is not occupied and dominated by Jews.” Josephus, the Jewish historian writes: “There is no city, no tribe, whether Greek or barbarian, in which Jewish law and Jewish customs have not taken root.” The Sibylline Oracles, written about 140 B.C., say that every land and every sea is filled with the Jews. There is a letter, said to be from Agrippa to Caligula, which Philo quotes. In it he says that Jerusalem is the capital not only of Judaea but of most countries by reason of the colonies it has sent out on fitting occasions into the neighbouring lands of Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria, Coelesyria, and the still more remote Pamphylia and Cilicia, into most parts of Asia as far as Bithynia, and into the most distant corners of Pontus; also to Europe, Thessaly, Boeotia, Macedonia, Aetolia, Attica, Argos, Corinth, and the most and best parts of the Peloponnese. And not only is the continent full of Jewish settlements, but also the more important islands–Euboea, Cyprus, Crete–to say nothing of the lands beyond the Euphrates, for all have Jewish inhabitants.

The Jewish Diaspora was coextensive with the world; and there was no greater factor in the spread of Christianity.


Jas. 1:1 (continued)

James writes to the twelve tribes in the Diaspora. Who has he in his mind’s eye as he writes? The twelve tribes in the Diaspora could equally well mean any of three things.

(i) It could stand for all the Jews outside of Palestine. We have seen that they were numbered by the million. There were actually far more Jews scattered throughout Syria and Egypt and Greece and Rome and Asia Minor and all the Mediterranean lands and far off Babylon than there were in Palestine. Under the conditions of the ancient world it would be quite impossible to send out a message to such a huge and scattered constituency.

(ii) It could mean Christian Jews outside Palestine. In this instance, it would mean the Jews in the lands closely surrounding Palestine, perhaps particularly those in Syria and in Babylon. Certainly if anyone was going to write a letter to these Jews, it would be James, for he was the acknowledged leader of Jewish Christianity.

(iii) The phrase could have a third meaning. To the Christians, the Christian Church was the real Israel. At the end of Galatians Paul sends his blessing to the Israel of God (Gal.6:16). The nation Israel had been the specially chosen people of God; but they had refused to accept their place and their responsibility and their task. When the Son of God came they had rejected him. Therefore all the privileges which had once belonged to them passed over to the Christian Church, for it was in truth the chosen people of God. Paul (compare Rom.9:7-8) had fully worked out the idea. It was his conviction that the true descendants of Abraham were not those who could trace their physical descent from him but those who had made the same venture of faith as he had made. The true Israel was composed not of any particular nation or race but of those who accepted Jesus Christ in faith. So, then, this phrase may well mean the Christian Church at large.

We may choose between the second and the third meanings, each of which gives excellent sense. James may be writing to the Christian Jews scattered amidst the surrounding nations; or he may be writing to the new Israel, the Christian Church.


Jas. 1:2-4

My brothers, reckon it all joy whenever you become involved in all kinds of testings, for you are well aware that the testing of your faith produces unswerving constancy. And let constancy go on to work out its perfect work that you may be perfect and complete, deficient in nothing.

James never suggested to his readers that Christianity would be for them an easy way. He warns them that they would find themselves involved in what the King James Version calls divers temptations. The word translated temptations is peirasmos (GSN3986), whose meaning we must fully understand, if we are to see the very essence of the Christian life.

Peirasmos (GSN3986) is not temptation in our sense of the term; it is testing (trial in the Revised Standard Version). Peirasmos (GSN3986) is trial or testing directed towards an end, and the end is that he who is tested should emerge stronger and purer from the testing. The corresponding verb peirazein (GSN3985), which the King James Version usually translates to tempt, has the same meaning. The idea is not that of seduction into sin but of strengthening and purifying. For instance, a young bird is said to test (peirazein, GSN3985) its wings. The Queen of Sheba was said to come to test (peirazein, GSN3985) the wisdom of Solomon. God was said to test (peirazein, GSN3985) Abraham, when he appeared to be demanding the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen.22:1). When Israel came into the Promised Land, God did not remove the people who were already there. He left them so that Israel might be tested (peirazein, GSN3985) in the struggle against them (Judg.2:22; Judg.3:1,4). The experiences in Israel were tests which went to the making of the people of Israel (Deut.4:34; Deut.7:19).

Here is a great and uplifting thought. Hort writes: “The Christian must expect to be jostled by trials on the Christian way.” All kinds of experiences will come to us. There will be the test of the sorrows and the disappointments which seek to take our faith away. There will be the test of the seductions which seek to lure us from the right way. There will be the tests of the dangers, the sacrifices, the unpopularity which the Christian way must so often involve. But they are not meant to make us fall; they are meant to make us soar. They are not meant to defeat us; they are meant to be defeated. They are not meant to make us weaker; they are meant to make us stronger. Therefore we should not bemoan them; we should rejoice in them. The Christian is like the athlete. The heavier the course of training he undergoes, the more he is glad, because he knows that it is fitting him all the better for victorious effort. As Browning said, we must “welcome each rebuff that turns earth’s smoothness rough,” for every hard thing is another step on the upward way.


Jas. 1:2-4 (continued)

James describes this process of testing by the word dokimion (GSN1383). It is an interesting word. It is the word for sterling coinage, for money which is genuine and unalloyed. The aim of testing is to purge us of all impurity.

If we meet this testing in the right way, it will produce unswerving constancy (or steadfastness as the Revised Standard Version translates it). The word is hupomone (GSN5281), which the King James Version translates as patience; but patience is far too passive. Hupomone (GSN5281) is not simply the ability to bear things; it is the ability to turn them to greatness and to glory. The thing which amazed the heathen in the centuries of persecution was that the martyrs did not die grimly, they died singing. One smiled in the flames; they asked him what he found to smile at there. “I saw the glory of God,” he said, “and was glad.” Hupomone (GSN5281) is the quality which makes a man able, not simply to suffer things, but to vanquish them. The effect of testing rightly borne is strength to bear still more and to conquer in still harder battles.

This unswerving constancy in the end makes a man three things.

(i) It makes him perfect. The Greek is teleios (GSN5046) which usually has the meaning of perfection towards a given end. A sacrificial animal is teleios (GSN5046) if it is fit to offer to God. A scholar is teleios (GSN5046) if he is mature. A person is teleios (GSN5046) if he is full grown. This constancy born of testing well met makes a man teleios (GSN5046) in the sense of being fit for the task he was sent into the world to do. Here is a great thought. By the way in which we meet every experience in life we are either fitting or unfitting ourselves for the task which God meant us to do.

(ii) It makes him complete. The Greek is holokleros (GSN3648) which means entire, perfect in every part. It is used of the animal which is fit to be offered to God and of the priest who is fit to serve him. It means that the animal or the person has no disfiguring and disqualifying blemishes. Gradually this unswerving constancy removes the weaknesses and the imperfections from a man’s character. Daily it enables him to conquer old sins, to shed old blemishes and to gain new virtues, until in the end he becomes entirely fit for the service of God and of his fellow-men.

(iii) It makes him deficient in nothing. The Greek is leipesthai (GSN3007) and it is used of the defeat of an army, of the giving up of a struggle, of the failure to reach a standard that should have been reached. If a man meets his testing in the right way, if day by day he develops this unswerving constancy, day by day he will live more victoriously and reach nearer to the standard of Jesus Christ himself.


Jas. 1:5-8

If any of you is deficient in wisdom, let him ask it from God, who gives generously to all men and never casts up the gift, and it will be given to him. Let him ask in faith, with no doubts in his mind; for he who oscillates between doubts is like a surge of the sea, wind-driven and blown hither and thither. Let not that man think that he will receive anything from the Lord, a man with a divided mind, inconstant in all his ways.

There is a close connection between this passage and what has gone before. James has just told his readers that, if they use all the testing experiences of life in the right way, they will emerge from them with that unswerving constancy which is the basis of all the virtues. But immediately the question arises, “Where can I find the wisdom and the understanding to use these testing experiences in the right way?” James’ answer is, “If a man feels that he has not the wisdom to use aright the experiences of this life–and no man in himself possesses that wisdom–let him ask it from God.”

One thing stands out. For James, the Christian teacher with the Jewish background, wisdom is a practical thing. It is not philosophic speculation and intellectual knowledge; it is concerned with the business of living. The Stoics defined wisdom as “knowledge of things human and divine.” But Ropes defines this Christian wisdom as “the supreme and divine quality of the soul whereby man knows and practises righteousness.” Hort defines it as “that endowment of heart and mind which is needed for the right conduct of life.” In the Christian wisdom there is, of course, knowledge of the deep things of God; but it is essentially practical; it is such knowledge turned into action in the decisions and personal relationships of everyday life. When a man asks God for that wisdom, he must remember two things.

(i) He must remember how God gives. He gives generously and never casts up the gift. “All Wisdom,” said Jesus the son of Sirach, “cometh from the Lord and is with him for ever” (Sir.1:1). But the Jewish wise men were well aware how the best gift in the world could be spoiled by the manner of the giving. They have much to say about how the fool gives. “My son, blemish not thy good deeds, neither use uncomfortable words when thou givest anything…Lo, is not a word better than a gift? But both are with a gracious man. A fool will upbraid churlishly, and a gift of the envious consumeth the eyes” (i.e., “brings tears”) (Sir.18:15-18). “The gift of a fool shall do thee no good when thou hast it; neither yet of the envious for his necessity; for he looketh to receive many things for one. He giveth little, and upbraideth much; he openeth his mouth like a crier; today he lendeth, and tomorrow will he ask it again; such an one is to be hated of God and man” (Sir.20:14-15). The same writer warns against “upbraiding speeches before friends” (Sir.41:22). There is a kind of giver who gives only with a view to getting more than he gives; who gives only to gratify his vanity and his sense of power by putting the recipient under an obligation which he will never be allowed to forget; who gives and then continuously casts up the gift that he has given. But God gives with generosity. Philemon, the Greek poet, called God “the lover of gifts,” not in the sense of loving to receive gifts, but in the sense of loving to give them. Nor does God cast up his gifts; he gives with all the splendour of his love, because it is his nature to give.

(ii) We must remember how the asker must ask. He must ask without doubts. He must be sure of both the power and the desire of God to give. If he asks in doubt, his mind is like the broken water of the sea, driven hither and thither by any chance wind. Mayor says that he is like a cork carried by the waves, now near the shore, now far away. Such a man is unstable in his ways. Hort suggests that the picture is of a man who is drunk, staggering from side to side on the road and getting nowhere. James says vividly that such a man is dipsuchos (GSN1374), which literally means a man with two souls, or two minds, inside him. One believes, the other disbelieves; and the man is a walking civil war in which trust and distrust of God wage a continual battle against each other.

If we are to use aright the experiences of life to beget a sterling character, we must ask wisdom from God. And when we ask, we must remember the absolute generosity of God and see to it that we ask believing that we shall receive what God knows it is good and right for us to have.


Jas. 1:9-11

Let the lowly brother be proud of his exaltation; and let the rich brother be proud of his humiliation; for he will pass away like a flower of the field. The sun rises with the scorching wind and withers the grass, and the flower wilts, and the beauty of its form is destroyed. So the rich will wither away in all his ways.

As James saw it, Christianity brings to every man what he needs. As Mayor put it “As the despised poor learns self-respect, so the proud rich learns self-abasement.”

(i) Christianity brings to the poor man a new sense of his own value. (a) He learns that he matters in the Church. In the early church there were not class distinctions. It could happen that the slave was the minister of the congregation, preaching and dispensing the sacrament, while the master was no more than a humble member. In the Church the social distinctions of the world are obliterated and none matters more than any other. (b) He learns that he matters in the world. It is the teaching of Christianity that every man in this world has a task to do. Every man is of use to God and even if he be confined to a bed of pain, the power of his prayers can still act on the world of men. (e) He learns that he matters to God As Muretus said long ago, “Call no man worthless for whom Christ died.”

(ii) Christianity brings to the rich man a new sense of self-abasement. The great peril of riches is that they tend to give a man a false sense of security. He feels that he is safe; he feels that he has the resources to cope with anything and to buy himself out of any situation he may wish to avoid.

James draws a vivid picture, very familiar to the people of Palestine. In the desert places, if there is a shower of rain, the thin green shoots of grass will sprout; but one day’s burning sunshine will make them vanish as if they had never been. The scorching heat is the kauson (GSN2742). The kauson was the south-east wind, the Simoon. It came straight from the deserts and burst on Palestine like a blast of hot air when an oven door is opened. In an hour it could wipe out all vegetation.

This is a picture of what a life dependent on riches can be like. A man who puts his trust in riches is trusting in things which the chances and changes of life can take from him at any moment. Life itself is uncertain. At the back of James’ mind there is Isaiah’s picture: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people is grass” (Isa.40:6-7; compare Ps.103:15).

James’ point is this. If life is so uncertain and man so vulnerable, calamity and disaster may come at any moment. Since that is so, a man is a fool to put all his trust in things–like wealth–which he may lose at any moment. He is only wise if he puts his trust in things which he cannot lose.

So, then, James urges the rich to cease to put their trust in that which their own power can amass. He urges them to admit their essential human helplessness and humbly to put their trust in God, who alone can give the things which abide for ever.


Jas. 1:12

Happy is the man who meets trial with steadfast constancy because, when he has shown himself of sterling worth, he will receive the crown of life which he has promised to those who love him.

To the man who meets trials in the right way there is joy here and hereafter.

(i) In this life he becomes a man of sterling worth. He is dokimos (GSN1384); he is like metal which is cleansed of all alloy. The weaknesses of his character are eradicated; and he emerges strong and pure.

(ii) In the life to come he receives the crown of life. There is far more than one thought here. In the ancient world the crown (stephanos, GSN4735) had at least four great associations.

(a) The crown of flowers was worn at times of joy, at weddings and at feasts (compare Isa.28:1-2; SS.3:11). The crown was the sign of festive joy.

(b) The crown was the mark of royalty. It was worn by kings and by those in authority. Sometimes this was the crown of gold; sometimes it was the linen band, or fillet, worn around the brows (compare Ps.21:3; Jer.13:18).

(c) The crown of laurel leaves was the victor’s crown in the games, the prize which the athlete coveted above all (compare 2Tim.4:8).

(d) The crown was the mark of honour and of dignity. The instructions of parents can bring a crown of grace to those who listen to them (Prov.1:9); Wisdom provides a man with a crown of glory (Prov.4:9); in a time of disaster and dishonour it can be said, “The crown has fallen from our head” (Lam.5:16).

We do not need to choose between these meanings. They are all included. The Christian has a joy that no other man can ever have. Life for him is like being for ever at a feast. He has a royalty that other men have never realized for, however humble his earthly circumstances, he is the child of God. He has a victory which others cannot win, for he meets life and all its demands in the conquering power of the presence of Jesus Christ. He has a new dignity for he is ever conscious that God thought him worth the life and death of Jesus Christ.

What is the crown? ]t is the crown of life; and that phrase means that it is the crown which consists of life. The crown of the Christian is a new kind of living which is life indeed; through Jesus Christ he has entered into life more abundant.

James says that if the Christian meets the testings of life in the steadfast constancy which Christ can give, life becomes infinitely more splendid than ever it was before. The struggle is the way to glory, and the very struggle itself is a glory.


Jas. 1:13-15

Let no man say when he is tempted, “My temptation comes from God.” For God himself is untemptable by evil and tempts no man. But temptation comes to every man, because he is lured on and seduced by his own desire; then desire conceives and begets sin; and, when sin has reached its full development, it spawns death.

At the back of this passage lies a Jewish way of belief to which all of us are to some extent prone. James is here rebuking the man who puts the blame for temptation on God.

Jewish thought was haunted by the inner division that is in every man. It was the problem which haunted Paul: “I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members” (Rom.7:22-23). Every man was pulled in two directions. Purely as an interpretation of experience the Jews arrived at the doctrine that in every man there were two tendencies. They called them the Yetser (HSN3336) Hatob (HSN2896), the good tendency, and the Yetser (HSN3336) Hara` (HSN7451), the evil tendency. This simply stated the problem; it did not explain it. In particular, it did not say where the evil tendency came from. So Jewish thought set out to try to explain that.

The writer of Ecclesiasticus was deeply impressed with the havoc that the evil tendency causes. “O Yetser (HSN3336) Hara` (HSN7451), why wast thou made to fill the earth with thy deceit?” (Sir.37:3). In his view the evil tendency came from Satan, and man’s defence against it was his own will. “God made man from the beginning and he delivered him into the hand of him who took him for a prey. He left him in the power of his will. If thou willest, thou wilt observe the commandments, and faithfulness is a matter of thy good pleasure” (Sir.15:14-15).

There were Jewish writers who traced this evil tendency right back to the Garden of Eden. In the apocryphal work, The Life of Adam and Eve, the story is told. Satan took the form of an angel and, speaking through the serpent, put into Eve the desire for the forbidden fruit and made her swear that she would give the fruit to Adam as well. “When he had made me swear,” says Eve, “he ascended up into the tree. But in the fruit he gave me to eat he placed the poison of his malice, that is, of his lust. For lust is the beginning of all sin. And he bent down the bough to the earth, and I took of the fruit and ate it.” In this conception it was Satan himself who succeeded in inserting the evil tendency into man; and that evil tendency is identified with the lust of the flesh. A later development of this story was that the beginning of all sin was in fact Satan’s lust for Eve.

The Book of Enoch has two theories. One is that the fallen angels are responsible for sin (85). The other is that man himself is responsible for it. “Sin has not been sent upon the earth, but man himself created it” (98: 4).

But every one of these theories simply pushes the problem one step further back. Satan may have put the evil tendency into man; the fallen angels may have put it into man; man may have put it into himself. But where did it ultimately come from?

To meet this problem, certain of the Rabbis took a bold and dangerous step. They argued that, since God has created everything, he must have created the evil tendency also. So we get Rabbinic sayings such as the following. “God said, It repents me that I created the evil tendency in man; for had I not done so, he would not have rebelled against me. I created the evil tendency; I created the law as a means of healing. If you occupy yourself with the law, you will not fall into the power of it. God placed the good tendency on a man’s right hand, and the evil on his left.” The danger is obvious. It means that in the last analysis a man can blame God for his own sin. He can say, as Paul said, “It is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells in me” (Rom.7:15-24). Of all strange doctrines surely the strangest is that God is ultimately responsible for sin.


Jas. 1:13-15 (continued)

From the beginning of time it has been man’s first instinct to blame others for his own sin. The ancient writer who wrote the story of the first sin in the Garden of Eden was a first-rate psychologist with a deep knowledge of the human heart. When God challenged Adam with his sin, Adam’s reply was, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” And when God challenged Eve with her action, her answer was, “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.” Adam said, “Don’t blame me; blame Eve.” Eve said, “Don’t blame me; blame the serpent” (Gen.3:12-13).

Man has always been an expert in evasion.

Robert Burns wrote:

Thou know’st that Thou hast formed me With passions wild and strong; And list’ning to their witching voice Has often led me wrong.

In effect, he is saying that his conduct was as it was because God made him as he was. The blame is laid on God. So men blame their fellows, they blame their circumstances, they blame the way in which they are made, for the sin of which they are guilty.

James sternly rebukes that view. To him what is responsible for sin is man’s own evil desire. Sin would be helpless if there was nothing in man to which it could appeal. Desire is something which can be nourished or stifled. A man can control and even, by the grace of God, eliminate it if he deals with it at once. But he can allow his thoughts to follow certain tracks, and his steps to take him into certain places and his eyes to linger on certain things; and so foment desire. He can so hand himself over to Christ and be so engaged on good things that there is no time or place left for evil desire. It is idle hands for which Satan finds mischief to do; it is the unexercised mind and the uncommitted heart which are vulnerable.

If a man encourages desire long enough, there is an inevitable consequence. Desire becomes action.

Further, it was the Jewish teaching that sin produced death. The life of Adam and Eve says that the moment Eve ate of the fruit she caught a glimpse of death. The word which James uses in Jas. 1:15, and which the King James and the Revised Standard Versions translate brings.forth death, is an animal word for birth; and it means that sin spawns death. Mastered by desire, man becomes less than a man and sinks to the level of the brute creation.

The great value of this passage is that it urges upon man his personal responsibility for sin. No man was ever born without desire for some wrong thing. And, if a man deliberately encourages and nourishes that desire until it becomes full-grown and monstrously strong, it will inevitably issue in the action which is sin–and that is the way to death. Such a thought–and all human experience admits it to be true–must drive us to that grace of God which alone can make and keep us clean, and which is available to all.


Jas. 1:16-18

My dear brothers, do not he deceived. Every good gift and every perfect boon comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is none of that changeableness which comes from changing shadows. Of his own purpose he has begotten us by the word of truth so that we might be, as it were, the first-fruits of his created things.

Once again James stresses the great truth that every gift that God sends is good. Jas. 1:17 might well be translated: “All giving is good.” That is to say, there is nothing which comes from God which is not good. There is a strange phenomenon here in the Greek. The phrase which we have translated, “Every good gift and every perfect boon,” is, in fact, a perfect hexametre line of poetry. Either James had a rhythmic ear for a fine cadence or he is quoting from some work which we do not know.

What he is stressing is the unchangeableness of God. To do so he uses two astronomical terms. The word he uses for changeableness is parallage (GSN3883), and the word for the turn of the shadow is trope (GSN5157). Both these words have to do with the variation which the heavenly bodies show, the variation in the length of the day and of the night, the apparent variation in the course of the sun, the phases of waxing and waning, the different brilliance at different times of the stars and the planets. Variability is characteristic of all created things. God is the creator of the lights of heaven–the sun, the moon, the stars. The Jewish morning prayer says, “Blessed be the Lord God who hath formed the lights.” The lights change but he who created them never changes.

Further, his purpose is altogether gracious. The word of truth is the gospel; and by the sending of that gospel it is God’s purpose that man should be reborn into a new life. The shadows are ended and the certain word of truth has come.

That rebirth is a rebirth into the family and the possession of God. In the ancient world it was the law that all first-fruits were sacred to God. They were offered in grateful sacrifice to God because they belonged to him. So, when we are reborn by the true word of the gospel, we become the property of God, even as the first-fruits of the harvest did.

James insists that, so far from ever tempting man, God’s gifts are invariably good. In all the chances and changes of a changing world they never vary. And God’s supreme object is to re-create life through the truth of the gospel, so that men should know that they belong by right to him.


Jas. 1:19-20

All this, my dear brothers, you already know. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness which God desires.

There are few wise men who have not been impressed by the dangers of being too quick to speak and too unwilling to listen. A most interesting list could be compiled of the things in which it is well to be quick and the things in which it is well to be slow. In the Sayings of the Jewish Fathers we read: “There are four characters in scholars. Quick to hear and quick to forget; his gain is cancelled by his loss. Slow to hear and slow to forget; his loss is cancelled by his gain. Quick to hear and. slow to forget; he is wise. Slow to hear and quick to forget; this is an evil lot.” Ovid bids men to be slow to punish, but swift to reward. Philo bids a man to be swift to benefit others, and slow to harm them.

In particular the wise men were impressed by the necessity of being slow to speak. Rabbi Simeon said, “All my days I have grown up among the wise, and have not found aught good for a man but silence…Whoso multiplies words occasions sin.” Jesus, the son of Sirach, writes, “Be swift to hear the word that thou mayest understand…If thou hast understanding, answer thy neighbour; if not, lay thy hand upon thy mouth, lest thou be surprised in an unskilful word, and be confounded” (Sir.5:11-12). Proverbs is full of the perils of too hasty speech. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov.10:19). “He who guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Prov.13:3). “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise” (Prov.17:28). “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov.29:20).

Hort says that the really good man will be much more anxious to listen to God than arrogantly, garrulously and stridently to shout his own opinions. The classical writers had the same idea. Zeno said, “We have two ears but only one mouth, that we may hear more and speak less.” When Demonax was asked how a man might rule best, he answered, “Without anger, speaking little, and listening much.” Bias said, “If you hate quick speaking, you will not fall into error.” The tribute was once paid to a great linguist that he could be silent in seven different languages. Many of us would do well to listen more and to speak less.

It is James’ advice that we should also be slow to anger. He is probably meeting the arguments of some that there is a place for the blazing anger of rebuke. That is undoubtedly true; the world would be a poorer place without those who blazed against the abuses and the tyrannies of sin. But too often this is made an excuse for petulant and self-centred irritation.

The teacher will be tempted to be angry with the slow and backward and still more with the lazy scholar. But, except on the rarest occasions, he will achieve more by encouragement than by the lash of the tongue. The preacher will be tempted to anger. But “don’t scold” is always good advice to him; he loses his power whenever he does not make it clear by every word and gesture that he loves his people. When anger gives the impression in the pulpit of dislike or contempt it will not convert the souls of men. The parent will be tempted to anger. But a parent’s anger is much more likely to produce a still more stubborn resistance than it is to control and direct. The accent of love always has more power than the accent of anger; and when anger becomes constant irritability, petulant annoyance, carping nagging, it always does more harm than good.

To be slow to speak, slow to anger, quick to listen is always good policy for life.


Jas. 1:21

So then strip yourself of all filthiness and of the excrescence of vice, and in gentleness receive the inborn word which is able to save your souls.

James uses a series of vivid words and pictures.

He tells his readers to strip themselves of all vice and filthiness. The word he uses for strip is the word used for stripping off one’s clothes. He bids his hearers get rid of all defilement as a man strips off soiled garments or as a snake sloughs off its skin.

Both the words he uses for defilement are vivid. The word we have translated filthiness is ruparia (GSN4507); and it can be used for the filth which soils clothes or soils the body. But it has one very interesting connection. It is a derivative of rupos (GSN4509) and, when rupos is used in a medical sense, it means wax in the ear. It is just possible that it still retains that meaning here; and that James is telling his readers to get rid of everything which would stop their ears to the true word of God. When wax gathers in the ear, it can make a man deaf; and a man’s sins can make him deaf to God. Further, James talks of the excrescence (perisseia, GSN4050) of vice. He thinks of vice as tangled undergrowth or a cancerous growth which must be cut away.

He bids them receive the inborn word in gentleness. The word for inborn is emphutos (GSN1721), and is capable of two general meanings.

(i) It can mean inborn in the sense of innate as opposed to acquired. If James uses it in that way he is thinking of much the same thing as Paul was thinking of when he spoke of the Gentiles doing the works of the law by nature because they have a kind of law in their hearts (Rom.2:14-15); it is the same picture as the Old Testament picture of the law “very near you; it is in your mouth, and in your heart” (Deut.30:14). It is practically equal to our word conscience. If this is its meaning here, James is saying that there is an instinctive knowledge of good and evil in a man’s heart whose guidance we should at all times obey.

(ii) It can mean inborn in the sense of implanted, as a seed is planted in the ground. In 4 Ezra 9: 31 we read of God saying: “Behold, I sow my law in you, and you shall be glorified in it for ever.” If James is using the word in this sense, the idea may well go back to the Parable of the Sower (Matt.13:1-8), which tells how the seed of the word is sown into the hearts of men. Through his prophets and his preachers, and above all through Jesus Christ, God sows his truth into the hearts of men and the man who is wise will receive it and welcome it.

It may well be that we are not required to make a choice between these two meanings. It may well be that James is implying that knowledge of the true word of God comes to us from two sources, from the depths of our own being, and from the Spirit of God and the teaching of Christ and the preaching of men. From inside and from outside come voices telling us the right way; and the wise man will listen and obey.

He will receive the word with gentleness. Gentleness is an attempt to translate the untranslatable word prautes (GSN4240). This is a great Greek word which has no precise English equivalent. Aristotle defined it as the mean between excessive anger and excessive angerlessness; it is the quality of the man whose feelings and emotions are under perfect control. Andronicus Rhodius, commenting on Aristotle, writes, “Prautes (GSN4240) is moderation in regard to anger…You might define prautes (GSN4240) as serenity and the power, not to be lead away by emotion, but to control emotion as right reason dictates.” The Platonic definitions say that prautes (GSN4240) is the regulation of the movement of the soul caused by anger. It is the temperament (krasis) of a soul in which everything is mixed in the right proportions.

No one can ever find one English word to translate what is a one word summary of the truly teachable spirit. The teachable spirit is docile and tractable, and therefore humble enough to learn. The teachable spirit is without resentment and without anger and is, therefore, able to face the truth, even when it hurts and condemns. The teachable spirit is not blinded by its own overmastering prejudices but is clear-eyed to the truth. The teachable spirit is not seduced by laziness but is so self-controlled that it can willingly and faithfully accept the discipline of learning. Prautes (GSN4240) describes the perfect conquest and control of everything in a man’s nature which would be a hindrance to his seeing, learning and obeying the truth.


Jas. 1:22-24

Prove yourselves to be doers of the word, and not only hearers, for those who think that hearing is enough deceive themselves. For, if a man is a hearer of the word and not a doer of it, he is like a man who looks in a mirror at the face which nature gave him. A glance and he is gone; and he immediately forgets what kind of man he is.

Again James presents us with two of the vivid pictures of which he is such a master. First of all, he speaks of the man who goes to the church meeting and listens to the reading and expounding of the word, and who thinks that that listening has made him a Christian. He has shut his eyes to the fact that what is read and heard in Church must then be lived out. It is still possible to identify Church attendance and Bible reading with Christianity but this is to take ourselves less than half the way; the really important thing is to turn that to which we have listened into action.

Second, James says such a man is like one who looks in a mirror–ancient mirrors were made, not of glass, but of highly polished metal–sees the smuts which disfigure his face and the dishevelment of his hair, and goes away and forgets what he looks like, and so omits to do anything about it. In his listening to the true word a man has revealed to him that which he is and that which he ought to be. He sees what is wrong and what must be done to put it right; but, if he is only a hearer, he remains just as he is, and all his hearing has gone for nothing.

James does well to remind us that what is heard in the holy place must be lived in the market place–or there is no point in hearing at all.


Jas. 1:25

He who looks into the perfect law, which is the law in the observance of which a man finds freedom, and who abides in it and shows himself not a forgetful hearer but an active doer of the word, will be blessed in all his action.

This is the kind of passage in James which Luther so much disliked. He disliked the idea of law altogether, for with Paul he would have said, “Christ is the end of the law” (Rom.10:4). “James,” said Luther, “drives us to law and works.” And yet beyond all doubt there is a sense in which James is right. There is an ethical law which the Christian must seek to put into action. That law is to be found first in the Ten Commandments and then in the teaching of Jesus.

James calls that law two things.

(i) He calls it the perfect law. There are three reasons why the law is perfect. (a) It is God’s law, given and revealed by him. The way of life which Jesus laid down for his followers is in accordance with the will of God. (b) It is perfect in that it cannot be bettered. The Christian law is the law of love; and the demand of love can never be satisfied. We know well, when we love some one, that even though we gave them all the world and served them for a lifetime, we still could not satisfy or deserve their love. (c) But there is still another sense in which the Christian law is perfect. The Greek word is teleios (GSN5046) which nearly always describes perfection towards some given end. Now, if a man obeys the law of Christ, he will fulfil the purpose for which God sent him into the world; he will be the person he ought to be and will make the contribution to the world he ought to make. He will be perfect in the sense that he will, by obeying the law of God, realize his God-given destiny.

(ii) He calls it the law of liberty; that is, the law in the keeping of which a man finds his true liberty. All the great men have agreed that it is only in obeying the law of God that a man becomes truly free. “To obey God,” said Seneca, “is liberty.” “The wise man alone is free,” said the Stoics, “and every foolish man is a slave.” Philo said “All who are under the tyranny of anger or desire or any other passion are altogether slaves; all who live with the law are free.” So long as a man has to obey his own passions and emotions and desires, he is nothing less than a slave. It is when he accepts the will of God that he becomes really free–for then he is free to be what he ought to be. His service is perfect freedom and in doing his will is our peace.


Jas. 1:26-27

If anyone thinks that he is a worshipper of God and yet does not bridle his tongue, his worship is an empty thing. This is pure and undefiled worship, as God the Father sees it, to visit the orphans and the widows, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

We must be careful to understand what James is saying here. The Revised Standard Version translates the phrases at the beginning of Jas. 1:27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled is…..” The word translated religion is threskeia (GSN2356), and its meaning is not so much religion as worship in the sense of the outward expression of religion in ritual and liturgy and ceremony. What James is saying is, “The finest ritual and the finest liturgy you can offer to God is service of the poor and personal purity.” To him real worship did not lie in elaborate vestments or in magnificent music or in a carefully wrought service; it lay in the practical service of mankind and in the purity of one’s own personal life. It is perfectly possible for a Church to be so taken up with the beauty of its buildings and the splendour of its liturgy that it has neither the time nor the money for practical Christian service; and that is what James is condemning.

In fact James is condemning only what the prophets had condemned long ago. “God,” said the Psalmist, “is a father of the fatherless, and protector of widows” (Ps.68:5). It was Zechariah’s complaint that the people pulled away their shoulders and made their hearts as adamant as stone at the demand to execute true justice, to show mercy and compassion every man to his brother, to oppress not the widow, the fatherless, the stranger and the poor, and not to entertain evil thoughts against another within the heart (Zech.7:6-10). It was Micah’s complaint that all ritual sacrifices were useless, if a man did not do justice and love kindness and walk humbly before God (Mic.6:6-8).

All through history men have tried to make ritual and liturgy a substitute for sacrifice and service. They have made religion splendid within the Church at the expense of neglecting it outside the Church. This is by no means to say that it is wrong to seek to offer the noblest and the most splendid worship within God’s house; but it is to say that all such worship is empty and idle unless it sends a man out to love God by loving his fellow-men and to walk more purely in the tempting ways of the world.


Jas. 2:1

My brothers, you cannot really believe that you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, and yet continue to have respect of persons.

Respect of persons is the New Testament phrase for undue and unfair partiality; it means pandering to someone, because he is rich or influential or popular. It is a fault which the New Testament consistently condemns. It is a fault of which the orthodox Jewish leaders completely acquitted Jesus. Even they were bound to admit that there was no respect of persons with him (Lk.20:21; Mk.12:14; Matt.22:16). After his vision of the sheet with the clean and unclean animals upon it, the lesson that Peter learned was that with God there is no respect of persons (Ac.10:34). It was Paul’s conviction that Gentile and Jew stand under a like judgment in the sight of God, for with God there is no favouritism (Rom.2:11). This is a truth which Paul urges on his people again and again (Eph.6:9; Col.3:25).

The word itself is curious–prosopolempsia (GSN4382). The noun comes from the expression prosopon (GSN4383) lambanein (GSN2983). Prosopon (GSN4383) is the “face”; and lambanein (GSN2983) here means “to lift up.” The expression in Greek is a literal translation of a Hebrew phrase. To lift up a person’s countenance was to regard him with favour, in contradistinction perhaps to casting down his countenance.

Originally it was not a bad word at all; it simply meant to accept a person with favour. Malachi asks if the governor will be pleased with the people and will accept their persons, if they bring him blemished offerings (Mal.1:8-9). But the word rapidly acquired a bad sense. It soon began to mean, not so much to favour a person, as to show favouritism, to allow oneself to be unduly influenced by a person’s social status or prestige or power or wealth. Malachi goes on to condemn that very sin when God accuses the people of not keeping his ways and of being partial in their judgments (Mal.2:9). The great characteristic of God is his complete impartiality. In the Law it was written, “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour” (Lev.19:15). There is a necessary emphasis here. A person may be unjust because of the snobbery which truckles to the rich; and may be equally unjust because of the inverted snobbery which glorifies the poor. “The Lord,” said Ben Sirach, “is judge and with him is no respect of persons” (Sir.35:12).

The Old and New Testaments unite in condemning that partiality of judgment and favouritism of treatment which comes of giving undue weight to a man’s social standing, wealth or worldly influence. And it is a fault to which every one is more or less liable. “The rich and the poor meet together,” says Proverbs, “the Lord is the maker of them all” (Prov.22:2). “It is not meet,” says Ben Sirach, “to despise the poor man that hath understanding; neither is it fitting to magnify a sinful man that is rich” (Sir.10:23). We do well to remember that it is just as much respect of persons to truckle to the mob as it is to pander to a tyrant.


Jas. 2:2-4

For, if a man comes into your assembly with his fingers covered with gold rings and dressed in elegant clothes and a poor man comes in dressed in shabby clothes, and you pay special attention to the man who is dressed in elegant clothes and you say to him: “Will you sit here, please?” and you say to the poor man, “You stand there!” or, “Squat on the floor beside my footstool!” have you not drawn distinctions within your minds, and have you not become judges whose thoughts are evil?

It is James’ fear that snobbery may invade the Church. He draws a picture of two men entering the Christian assembly. The one is well-dressed and his fingers are covered with gold rings. The more ostentatious of the ancients wore rings on every finger except the middle one, and wore far more than one on each finger. They even hired rings to wear when they wished to give an impression of special wealth. “We adorn our fingers with rings,” said Seneca, “and we distribute gems over every joint.” Clement of Alexandria recommends that a Christian should wear only one ring, and that he should wear it on his little finger. It ought to have on it a religious emblem, such as a dove, a fish or an anchor; and.the justification for wearing it is that it might be used as a seal.

So, then, into the Christian assembly comes an elegantly dressed and much beringed man. The other is a poor man, dressed in poor clothes because he has no others to wear and unadorned by any jewels. The rich man is ushered to a special seat with all ceremony and respect; while the poor man is bidden to stand, or to squat on the floor, beside the footstool of the well-to-do.

That the picture is not overdrawn is seen from certain instructions in some early service order books. Ropes quotes a typical passage from the Ethiopia Statutes of the Apostles: “If any other man or woman enters in fine clothes, either a man of the district or from other districts, being brethren, thou, presbyter, while thou speakest the word which is concerning God, or while thou hearest or readest, thou shalt not respect persons, nor leave thy ministering to command places for them, but remain quiet, for the brethren shall receive them, and if they have no place for them, the lover of brothers and sisters, will rise, and leave a place for them … And if a poor man or woman of the district or of other districts should come in and there is no place for them, thou, presbyter, make place for such with all thy heart, even if thou wilt sit on the ground, that there should not be the respecting of the person of man but of God.” Here is the same picture. It is even suggested that the leader of the service might be liable, when a rich man entered, to stop the service and to conduct him to a special seat.

There is no doubt that there must have been social problems in the early church. The Church was the only place in the ancient world where social distinctions did not exist. There must have been a certain initial awkwardness when a master found himself sitting next his slave or when a master arrived at a service in which his slave was actually the leader and the dispenser of the Sacrament. The gap between the slave, who in law was nothing more than a living tool, and the master was so wide as to cause problems of approach on either side. Further, in its early days the Church was predominantly poor and humble; and therefore if a rich man was converted and came to the Christian fellowship, there must have been a very real temptation to make a fuss of him and treat him as a special trophy for Christ.

The Church must be the one place where all distinctions are wiped out. There can be no distinctions of rank and prestige when men meet in the presence of the King of glory. There can be no distinctions of merit when men meet in the presence of the supreme holiness of God. In his presence all earthly distinctions are less than the dust and all earthly righteousness is as filthy rags. In the presence of God all men are one.

In Jas. 2:4 there is a problem of translation. The word diekrithete (GSN1252) can have two meanings: (i) It can mean, “You are wavering in your judgments, if you act like that.” That is to say, “If you pay special honour to the rich, you are torn between the standards of the world and the standards of God and you can’t make up your mind which you are going to apply.” (ii) It may mean, “You are guilty of making class distinctions which in the Christian fellowship should not exist.” We prefer the second meaning, because James goes on to say, “If you do that, you are judges whose thoughts are evil.” That is to say, “You are breaking the commandment of him who said, `Judge not that you be not judged'” (Matt.7:1).


Jas. 2:5-7

Listen, my dear brothers. Did God not choose those who are poor by the world’s valuation to be rich because of their faith and to be heirs of the Kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you dishonour the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you, and is it not they who drag you to the law-courts? And is it not they who abuse the fair name by which you have been called?

“God,” said Abraham Lincoln, “must love the common people because he made so many of them.” Christianity has always had a special message for the poor. In Jesus’ first sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth his claim was: “He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Lk.4:18). His answer to John’s puzzled inquiries as to whether or not he was God’s Chosen One culminated in the claim: “The poor have good news preached to them” (Matt.11:5). The first of the Beatitudes was “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt.5:3). And Luke is even more definite: “Blessed are you poor; for yours is the Kingdom of God (Lk.6:20). During the ministry of Jesus, when he was banished from the synagogues and took to the open road and the hillside and the seaside, it was the crowds of common men and women to whom his message came. In the days of the early church it was to the crowds that the street preachers preached. In fact the message of Christianity was that those who mattered to no one else mattered intensely to God. “For consider your call, brethren,” wrote Paul to the Corinthians, “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1Cor.1:26).

It is not that Christ and the Church do not want the great and the rich and the wise and the mighty; we must beware of an inverted snobbery, as we have already seen. But it was the simple fact that the gospel offered so much to the poor and demanded so much from the rich, that it was the poor who were swept into the Church. It was, in fact, the common people who heard Jesus gladly and the rich young ruler who went sorrowfully away because he had great possessions. James is not shutting the door on the rich–far from that. He is saying that the gospel of Christ is specially dear to the poor and that in it there is a welcome for the man who has none to welcome him, and that through it there is a value set on the man whom the world regards as valueless.

In the society which James inhabited the rich oppressed the poor. They dragged them to the law-courts. No doubt this was for debt. At the bottom end of the social scale men were so poor that they could hardly live and moneylenders were plentiful and extortionate. In the ancient world there was a custom of summary arrest. If a creditor met a debtor on the street, he could seize him by the neck of his robe, nearly throttling him, and literally drag him to the law-courts. That is what the rich did to the poor. They had no sympathy; all they wanted was the uttermost farthing. It is not riches that James is condemning; it is the conduct of riches without sympathy.

It is the rich who abuse the name by which the Christians are called. It may be the name Christian by which the heathen first called the followers of Christ at Antioch and which was given at first as a jest. It may be the name of Christ, which was pronounced over a Christian on the day of his baptism. The word James uses for called (epikaleisthai, GSN1941) is the word used fora wife taking her husband’s name in marriage or for a child being called after his father. The Christian takes the name of Christ; he is called after Christ. It is as if he was married to Christ, or born and christened into the family of Christ.

The rich and the masters would have many a reason for insulting the name Christian. A slave who became a Christian would have a new independence; he would no longer cringe at his master’s power, punishment would cease to terrorize him and he would meet his master clad in a new manhood. He would have a new honesty. That would make him a better slave, but it would also mean he could no longer be his master’s instrument in sharp practice and petty dishonesty as once he might have been. He would have a new sense of worship; and on the Lord’s Day he would insist on leaving work aside in order that he might worship with the people of God. There would be ample opportunity for a master to find reasons for insulting the name of Christian and cursing the name of Christ.


Jas. 2:8-11

If you perfectly keep the royal law, as the Scripture has it: “You must love your neighbour as yourself,” you do well. But if you treat people with respect of persons, such conduct is sin and you stand convicted by the law as transgressors. For, if a man keeps the whole law and yet fails to keep it in one point, he becomes guilty of transgressing the law as a whole. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not kill.” If you do not commit adultery but kill, you become a transgressor of the law.

The connection of thought with the previous passage is this. James has been condemning those who pay special attention to the rich man who enters the Church. “But,” they might answer, “the law tells me to love my neighbour as myself. Therefore we are under duty to welcome the man when he comes to Church.” “Very well,” answers James, “If you are really welcoming the man because you love him as you do yourself, and you wish to give him the welcome you yourself would wish to receive, that is fine. But, if you are giving him this special welcome because he is a rich man, that is respect of persons and that is wrong–and so far from keeping the law, you are in fact breaking it. You don’t love your neighbour, or you would not neglect the poor man. What you love is wealth–and that is not what the law commands.”

James calls the great injunction to love our neighbour as ourselves the royal law. There can be various meanings of the phrase. It may mean the law which is of supreme excellence; it may mean the law which is given by the King of the kings; it may mean the king of all laws; it may mean the law that makes men kings and is fit for kings. To keep that greatest law is to become king of oneself and a king among men. It is a law fit for those who are royal, and able to make men royal.

James goes on to lay down a great principle about the law of God. To break any part of it is to become a transgressor. The Jew was very apt to regard the law as a series of detached injunctions. To keep one was to gain credit; to break one was to incur debt. A man could add up the ones he kept and subtract the ones he broke and so emerge with a credit or a debit balance. There was a Rabbinic saying, “Whoever fulfils only one law, good is appointed to him; his days are prolonged and he will inherit the land.” Again many of the Rabbis held that “the Sabbath weighs against all precepts,” and to keep it was to keep the law.

As James saw it, the whole law was the will of God; to break any part of it was to infringe that will and therefore to be guilty of sin. That is perfectly true. To break any part of the law is to become a transgressor in principle. Even under human justice a man becomes a criminal when he has broken one law. So James argues: “No matter how good you may be in other directions, if you treat people with respect of persons, you have acted against the will of God and you are a transgressor.”

There is a great truth here which is both relevant and practical. We may put it much more simply. A man may be in nearly all respects a good man; and yet he may spoil himself by one fault. He may be moral in his action, pure in his speech, meticulous in his devotion. But he may be hard and self-righteous; rigid and unsympathetic; and, if so, his goodness is spoiled.

We do well to remember that, though we may claim to have done many a good thing and to have resisted many an evil thing, there may be something in us by which everything is spoiled.


Jas. 2:12-13

So speak and so act as those who are going to be judged under the law of liberty. For he who acts without mercy will have judgment without mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

As he comes to the end of a section, James reminds his readers of two great facts of the Christian life.

(i) The Christian lives under the law of liberty, and it is by the law of liberty he will be judged. What he means is this. Unlike the Pharisee and the orthodox Jew, the Christian is not a man whose life is governed by the external pressure of a whole series of rules and regulations imposed on him from without. He is governed by the inner compulsion of love. He follows the right way, the way of love to God and love to men, not because any external law compels him to do so nor because any threat of punishment frightens him into doing so, but because the love of Christ within his heart makes him desire to do so.

(ii) The Christian must ever remember that only he who shows mercy will find mercy. This is a principle which runs through all Scripture. Ben Sirach wrote, “Forgive thy neighbour the hurt that he hath done thee, so shall thy sins also be forgiven. One man beareth hatred against another, and doth he seek pardon from the Lord? He showeth no mercy to a man who is like himself; and doth he ask forgiveness for his own sins?” (Sir.28:2-5). Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt.5:7). “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt.6:14-15). “Judge not that you be not judged, for with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged” (Matt.7:1-2). He tells of the condemnation which fell upon the unforgiving servant and ends the parable by saving, “So, also, my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt.18:22-35).

Scripture teaching is agreed that he who would find mercy must himself be merciful. And James goes even further, for in the end he says that mercy triumphs over judgment; by which he means that in the day of judgment the man who has shown mercy will find that his mercy has even blotted out his own sin.


Jas. 2:14-26

My brothers, what use is it if a man claims to have faith and has no deeds to show? Are you going to claim that his faith is able to save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear, and if they have not enough for their daily food, and if one of you says to them, “Go in peace! Be warmed and fed!” and yet does not give them the essentials of bodily existence, what use is that? So, if faith too has no deeds to show, by itself it is dead.

But someone may well say, “Have you faith?” My answer is, “I have deeds. Show me your faith apart from your deeds, and I will show you my faith by means of my deeds.” You say that you believe that there is one God. Excellent! The demons also believe the same thing–and shudder in terror.

Do you wish for proof, you empty creature, that faith without deeds is ineffective? Was not our father Abraham proved righteous in virtue of deeds when he was ready to offer Isaac his own son upon the altar? You see how his faith cooperated with his deeds and how his faith was completed by his deeds, and so there was fulfilled the passage of Scripture which says, “Abraham believed in God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness, for he was the friend of God.” You see that it is by deeds that a man is proved righteous, and not only by faith.

In the same way was Rahab the harlot not also proved righteous by deeds, when she received the messengers and sent them away by another way? For just as the body without breath is dead, so faith without works is dead.

This is a passage which we must take as a whole before we look at it in parts, for it is so often used in an attempt to show that James and Paul were completely at variance. It is apparently Paul’s emphasis that a man is saved by faith alone and that deeds do not come into the process at all. “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom.3:28). “A man is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ…because by works of the law shall no one be justified” (Gal.2:16). It is often argued that James is not simply differing from Paul but is flatly contradicting him. This is a matter we must investigate.

(i) We begin by noting that James’ emphasis is in fact a universal New Testament emphasis. It was the preaching of John the Baptist that men should prove the reality of their repentance by the excellence of their deeds (Matt.3:8; Lk.3:8). It was Jesus’ preaching that men should so live that the world might see their good works and give the glory to God (Matt.5:16). He insisted that it was by their fruits that men must be known and that a faith which expressed itself in words only could never take the place of one which expressed itself in the doing of the will of God (Matt.7:15-21).

Nor is this emphasis missing from Paul himself. Apart from anything else, there can be few teachers who have ever stressed the ethical effect of Christianity as Paul does. However doctrinal and theological his letters may be, they never fail to end with a section in which the expression of Christianity in deeds is insisted upon. Apart from that general custom Paul repeatedly makes clear the importance he attaches to deeds as part of the Christian life. He speaks of God who will render to every man according to his works (Rom.2:6). He insists that every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom.14:12). He urges men to put off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light (Rom.13:12). Every man shall receive his own reward according to his labour (1Cor.3:8). We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that every one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body (2Cor.5:10). The Christian has to put off the old nature and all its deeds (Col.3:9).

The fact that Christianity must be ethically demonstrated is an essential part of the Christian faith throughout the New Testament.

(ii) The fact remains that James reads as if he were at variance with Paul; for in spite of all that we have said Paul’s main emphasis is upon grace and faith and James’ upon action and works. But this must be said–what James is condemning is not Paulinism but a perversion of it. The essential Pauline position in one sentence was: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Ac.16:31). But clearly the significance we attach to this demand will entirely depend on the meaning we attach to believe. There are two kinds of belief.

There is belief which is purely intellectual. For instance, I believe that the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the squares on the other two sides; and if I had to, I could prove it–but it makes no difference to my life and living. I accept it, but it has no effect upon me.

There is another kind of belief. I believe that five and five make ten, and, therefore, I will resolutely refuse to pay more than ten pence for two fivepenny bars of chocolate. I take that fact, not only into my mind, but into my life and action.

What James is arguing against is the first kind of belief, the acceptance of a fact without allowing it to have any influence upon life. The devils are intellectually convinced of the existence of God; they, in fact, tremble before him; but their belief does not alter them in the slightest. What Paul held was the second kind of belief For him to believe in Jesus meant to take that belief into every section of life and to live by it.

It is easy to pervert Paulinism and to emasculate believe of all effective meaning; and it is not really Paulinism but a misunderstood form of it that James condemns. He is condemning profession without practice and with that condemnation Paul would have entirely agreed.

(iii) Even allowing for that, there is still a difference between James and Paul–they begin at different times in the Christian life. Paul begins at the very beginning. He insists that no man can ever earn the forgiveness of God. The initial step must come from the free grace of God; a man can only accept the forgiveness which God offers him in Jesus Christ.

James begins much later with the professing Christian, the man who claims to be already forgiven and in a new relationship with God. Such a man, James rightly says, must live a new life for he is a new creature. He has been justified; he must now show that he is sanctified With that Paul would have entirely agreed.

The fact is that no man can be saved by works; but equally no man can be saved without producing works. By far the best analogy is that of a great human love. He who is loved is certain that he does not deserve to be loved; but he is also certain that he must spend his life trying to be worthy of that love.

The difference between James and Paul is a difference of starting-point. Paul starts with the great basic fact of the forgiveness of God which no man can earn or deserve; James starts with the professing Christian and insists that a man must prove his Christianity by his deeds. We are not saved by deeds; we are saved for deeds; these are the twin truths of the Christian life. Paul’s emphasis is on the first and James’ is on the second. In fact they do not contradict but complement each other; and the message of both is essential to the Christian faith in its fullest form. As the paraphrase has it:

Let all who hold this faith and hope In holy deeds abound; Thus faith approves itself sincere, By active virtue crown’d.


Jas. 2:14-17

My brothers, what use is it, if a man claims to have faith and has no deeds to show? Are you going to claim that his faith is able to save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and if they have not enough for their daily food, and if one of you says to them, “Go in peace! Be warmed and fed!” and yet does not give them the essentials of bodily existence, what use is that? So, if faith too has no deeds to show, by itself it is dead.

The one thing that James cannot stand is profession without practice, words without deeds. He chooses a vivid illustration of what he means. Suppose a man to have neither clothes to protect him nor food to feed him; and suppose his so-called friend to express the sincerest sympathy for his sad plight; and suppose that sympathy stops with words and no effort is made to alleviate the plight of the unfortunate man, what use is that? What use is sympathy without some attempt to turn that sympathy into practical effect? Faith without deeds is dead. This is a passage which would appeal specially to a Jew.

(i) To a Jew almsgiving was of paramount importance. So much so that righteousness and almsgiving mean one and the same thing. Almsgiving was considered to be a man’s one defence when he was judged by God. “Water will quench a flaming fire,” writes Ben Sirach, “and alms maketh an atonement for sin” (Sir.3:30). In Tobit it is written, “Everyone who occupieth himself in alms shall behold the face of God, as it is written, I will behold thy face by almsgiving” (Tob.4:8-10). When the leaders of the Jerusalem Church agreed that Paul should go to the Gentiles the one injunction laid upon him was not to forget the poor (Gal.2:10). This stress on practical help was one of the great and lovely marks of Jewish piety.

(ii) There was a strain of Greek religion to which this stress on sympathy and almsgiving was quite alien. The Stoics aimed at apatheia, the complete absence of feeling. The aim of life was serenity. Emotion disturbs serenity. The way to perfect calm was to annihilate all emotion. Pity was a mere disturbance of the detached philosophic calm in which a man should aim to live. So Epictetus lays it down that only he who disobeys the divine command will ever feel grief or pity (Discourses 3: 24, 43). When Virgil in the Georgics (2: 498) draws the picture of the perfectly happy man, he has no pity for the poor and no grief for the sorrowing, for such emotions would only upset his own serenity. This is the very opposite of the Jewish point of view. For the Stoic blessedness meant being wrapped up in his own philosophic detachment and calm; for the Jew it meant actively sharing in the misfortunes of others.

(iii) In his approach to this subject James is profoundly right. There is nothing more dangerous than the repeated experiencing of a fine emotion with no attempt to put it into action. It is a fact that every time a man feels a noble impulse without taking action, he becomes less likely ever to take action. In a sense it is true to say that a man has no right to feel sympathy unless he at least tries to put that sympathy into action. An emotion is not something in which to luxuriate; it is something which at the cost of effort and of toil and of discipline and of sacrifice must be turned into the stuff of life.


Jas. 2:18-19

But some one may well say, “Have you faith?” My answer is, “I have deeds. Show me your faith apart from your deeds and I will show you my faith by means of my deeds.” You say that you believe there is one God. Excellent! The demons also believe the same thing–and shudder in terror.

James is thinking of a possible objector who says, “Faith is a fine thing; and works are fine things. They are both perfectly genuine manifestations of real religion. But the one man does not necessarily possess both. One man will have faith and another will have works. Well, then, you carry on with your works and I will carry on with my faith; and we are both being truly religious in our own way.” The objector’s view is that faith and works are alternative expressions of the Christian religion. James will have none of it. It is not a case of either faith or works; it is necessarily a case of both faith and works.

In many ways Christianity is falsely represented as an “either or” when it must properly be a “both and”.

(i) In the well-proportioned life there must be thought and action. It is tempting and it is common to think that one may be either a man of thought or a man of action. The man of thought will sit in his study thinking great thoughts; the man of action will be out in the world doing great deeds. But that is wrong. The thinker is only half a man unless he turns his thoughts into deeds. He will scarcely even inspire men to action unless he comes down into the battle and shares the arena with them. As Kipling had it:

O England is a garden and such gardens are not made By saying, “O how beautiful,” and sitting in the shade; While better men than we began their working lives By digging weeds from garden paths with broken dinner knives.

Nor can anyone be a real man of action unless he has thought out the great principles on which his deeds are founded.

(ii) In the well-proportioned life there must be prayer and effort. Again it is tempting to divide men into two classes–the saints who spend life secluded on their knees in constant devotion and the toilers who labour in the dust and the heat of the day. But it will not do. It is said that Martin Luther was close friends with another monk. The other was as fully persuaded of the necessity of the Reformation as Luther was. So they made an arrangement. Luther would go down into the world and fight the battle there; the other would remain in his cell praying for the success of Luther’s labours. But one night the monk had a dream. In it he saw a single reaper engaged on the impossible task of reaping an immense field by himself The lonely reaper turned his head and the monk saw his face was the face of Martin Luther; and he knew that he must leave his cell and his prayers and go to help. It is, of course, true that there are some who, because of age or bodily weakness, can do nothing other than pray; and their prayers are indeed a strength and a support. But if any normal person thinks that prayer can be a substitute for effort, his prayers are merely a way of escape. Prayer and effort must go hand in hand.

(iii) In any well-proportioned life there must be faith and deeds. It is only through deeds that faith can prove and demonstrate itself; and it is only through faith that deeds will be attempted and done. Faith is bound to overflow into action; and action begins only when a man has faith in some great cause or principle which God has presented to him.


Jas. 2:20-26

Do you wish for proof, you empty creature, that faith without deeds is ineffective? Our father Abraham was proved righteous in consequence of deeds, when he was ready to offer Isaac his son upon the altar. You see how his faith cooperated with his deeds and how his faith was completed by his deeds, and so there was fulfilled the passage of Scripture which says, “Abraham believed in God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness and he was called the friend of God.” You see that it is by deeds that a man is proved righteous and not only by faith. In the same way was Rahab the harlot not also proved righteous by.deeds, when she received the messengers and sent them away by another way? For just as the body without the breath is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James offers two illustrations of the point of view on which he is insisting. Abraham is the great example of faith; but Abraham’s faith was proved by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac at the apparent demand of God. Rahab was a famous figure in Jewish legend. She had sheltered the spies sent to spy out the Promised Land (Josh.2:1-21). Later legend said that she became a proselyte to the Jewish faith, that she married Joshua and that she was a direct ancestress of many priests and prophets, including Ezekiel and Jeremiah. It was her treatment of the spies which proved that she had faith.

Paul and James are both right here. Unless Abraham had had faith he would never have answered the summons of God. Unless Rahab had had faith, she would never have taken the risk of identifying her future with the fortunes of Israel. And yet, unless Abraham had been prepared to obey God to the uttermost, his faith would have been unreal; and unless Rahab had been prepared to risk all to help the spies, her faith would have been useless.

These two examples show that faith and deeds are not opposites; they are, in fact, inseparables. No man will ever be moved to action without faith; and no man’s faith is genuine unless it moves him to action. Faith and deeds are opposite sides of a man’s experience of God.


Jas. 3:1

My brothers, it is a mistake for many of you to become teachers, for you must be well aware that those of us who teach will receive a greater condemnation.

In the early church the teachers were of first rate importance Wherever they are mentioned, they are mentioned with honour. In the Church at Antioch they are ranked with the prophets who sent out Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey (Ac.13:1). In Paul’s list of those who hold great gifts within the Church they come second only to the apostles and to the prophets (1Cor.12:28; compare Eph.4:11). The apostles and the prophets were for ever on the move. Their field was the whole Church; and they did not stay long in any one congregation. But the teachers worked within a congregation, and their supreme importance was that it must have been to them that the converts were handed over for instruction in the facts of the Christian gospel and for edification in the Christian faith. It was the teacher’s awe-inspiring responsibility that he could put the stamp of his own faith and knowledge on those who were entering the Church for the first time.

In the New Testament itself we get glimpses of teachers who failed in their responsibility and became false teachers. There were teachers who tried to turn Christianity into another kind of Judaism and tried to introduce circumcision and the keeping of the law (Ac.15:24). There were teachers who lived out nothing of the truth which they taught, whose life was a contradiction of their instruction and who did nothing but bring dishonour on the faith they represented (Rom.2:17-29). There were some who tried to teach before they themselves knew anything (1Tim.1:6-7); and others who pandered to the false desires of the crowd (2Tim.4:3).

But, apart altogether from the false teachers, it is James’ conviction that teaching is a dangerous occupation for any man. His instrument is speech and his agent the tongue. As Ropes puts it, James is concerned to point out “the responsibility of teachers and the dangerous character of the instrument they have to use.”

The Christian teacher entered into a perilous heritage. In the Church he took the place of the Rabbi in Judaism. There were many great and saintly Rabbis, but the Rabbi was treated in a way that was liable to ruin the character of any man. His very name means, “My great one.” Everywhere he went he was treated with the utmost respect. It was actually held that a man’s duty to his Rabbi exceeded his duty to his parents, because his parents only brought him into the life of this world but his teacher brought him into the life of the world to come. It was actually said that if a man’s parents and a man’s teacher were captured by an enemy, the Rabbi must be ransomed first. It was true that a Rabbi was not allowed to take money for teaching and that he was supposed to support his bodily needs by working at a trade; but it was also held that it was a specially pious and meritorious work to take a Rabbi into the household and to support him with every care. It was desperately easy for a Rabbi to become the kind of person whom Jesus depicted, a spiritual tyrant, an ostentatious ornament of piety, a lover of the highest place at any function, a person who gloried in the almost subservient respect showed to him in public (Matt.23:4-7). Every teacher runs the risk of becoming “Sir Oracle.” No profession is more liable to beget spiritual and intellectual pride.

There are two dangers which every teacher must avoid. In virtue of his office he will either be teaching those who are young in years or those who are children in the faith. He must, therefore, all his life struggle to avoid two things. He must have every care that he is teaching the truth, and not his own opinions or even his own prejudices. It is fatally easy for a teacher to distort the truth and to teach, not God’s version, but his own. He must have every care that he does not contradict his teaching by his life, continually, as it were, not, “Do as I do,” but, “Do as I say.” He must never get into the position when his scholars and students cannot hear what he says for listening to what he is. As the Jewish Rabbis themselves said, “Not learning but doing is the foundation, and he who multiplies words multiplies sin” (Sayings of the Fathers 1: 18).

It is James’ warning that the teacher has of his own choice entered into a special office; and is, therefore, under the greater condemnation, if he fails in it. The people to whom James was writing coveted the prestige of the teacher; James demanded that they should never forget the responsibility.


Jas. 3:2

There are many things in which we all slip up; but if a man never slips up in his speech, he is a perfect man, able to keep the whole body also on the rein.

James sets down two ideas which were woven into Jewish thought and literature.

(i) There is no man in this world who does not sin in something. The word James uses means to slip up. “Life,” said Lord Fisher, the great sailor, “is strewn with orange peel.” Sin is so often not deliberate but the result of a slip up when we are off our guard. This universality of sin runs all through the Bible. “None is righteous, no not one,” quotes Paul. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:10; Rom.3:23). “If we say we have no sin,” says John, “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1Jn.1:8). “There is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins,” said the preacher (Ecc.7:20). “There is no man,” says the Jewish sage, “among them that be born, but he hath dealt wickedly; and among the faithful there is none who hath not done amiss” (2Esdr.8:35). There is no room for pride in human life, for there is not a man upon earth who has not some blot of which to be ashamed. Even the pagan writers have the same conviction of sin. “It is the nature of man to sin both in private and in public life,” said Thucydides (3: 45). “We all sin,” said Seneca, “some more grievously, some more lightly” (On Clemency 1: 6).

(ii) There is no sin into which it is easier to fall and none which has graver consequences than the sin of the tongue. Again this idea is woven into Jewish thought. Jesus warned men that they would give account for every word they spoke. “By your words you will be justified; and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt.12:36-37). “A soft answer turns away wrath; but a harsh word stirs up anger…. A gentle tongue is a tree of life; but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Prov.15:1-4).

Of all Jewish writers, Jesus ben Sirach, the writer of Ecclesiasticus, was most impressed with the terrifying potentialities of the tongue. “Honour and shame is in talk; and the tongue of man is his fall. Be not called a whisperer, and lie not in wait with the tongue; for a foul shame is upon the thief, and an evil condemnation upon the double tongue…. Instead of a friend become not an enemy; for thereby thou shalt inherit an ill name, shame and reproach; even so shall a sinner that hath a double tongue” (Sir.5:13-6:1). “Blessed is the man who has not slipped with his mouth” (Sir.14:1). “Who is he that hath not offended with his tongue?” (Sir.19:15). “Who shall set a watch before my mouth and a sea, of wisdom upon my lips, that I shall not suddenly fall by them and my tongue destroy me not?” (Sir.22:27).

He has a lengthy passage which is so nobly and passionately put that it is worth quoting in full:

Curst the whisperer and the double-tongued; for such have destroyed many that were at peace. A backbiting tongue hath disquieted many and driven them from nation to nation; strong cities hath it pulled down and overthrown the houses of great men. It hath cut in pieces the forces of people and undone strong nations. A backbiting tongue hath cast out virtuous women and deprived them of their labours. Whoso hearkeneth unto it shall never find rest and never dwell quietly, neither shall he have a friend in whom he may repose. The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword; but not so many as have fallen by the tongue. Well is he that is defended from it and has not passed through the venom thereof; who hath not drawn the yoke thereof, nor hath been bound in her bands. For the yoke thereof is a yoke of iron and the bands thereof are bands of brass. The death thereof is an evil death, the grave were better than it…. Look that thou hedge thy possession about with thorns and bind up thy silver and gold and weigh thy words in a balance and make a bridle for thy lips and make a door and bar for thy mouth. Beware thou slide not by it, lest thou fall before him that lieth in wait and thy fall be incurable unto death (Sir.28:13-26).


Jas. 3:3-5a

If we put bits into horses’ mouths to make them obedient to us, we can control the direction of their whole body as well. Look at ships, too. See how large they are and how they are driven by rough winds, and see how their course is altered by a very small rudder, wherever the pressure of the steersman desires. So, too, the tongue is a little member of the body, but it makes arrogant claims for itself.

It might be argued against James’ terror of the tongue that it is a very small part of the body to make such a fuss about and to which to attach so much importance. To combat that argument James uses two pictures.

(i) We put a bit into the mouth of a horse, knowing that if we can control its mouth, we can control its whole body. So James says that if we can control the tongue, we can control the whole body; but if the tongue is uncontrolled, the whole life is set on the wrong way.

(ii) A rudder is very small in comparison with the size of a ship; and yet, by exerting pressure on that little rudder, the steersman can alter the course of the ship and direct it to safety. Long before, Aristotle had used this same picture when he was talking about the science of mechanics: “A rudder is small and it is attached to the very end of the ship, but it has such power that by this little rudder, and by the power of one man–and that a power gently exerted–the great bulk of ships can be moved.” The tongue also is small, yet it can direct the whole course of a man’s life.

Philo called the mind the charioteer and steersman of man’s life; it is when the mind controls every word and it itself is controlled by Christ that life is safe.

James is not for a moment saying that silence is better than speech. He is not pleading for a Trappist life where speech is forbidden. He is pleading for the control of the tongue. Aristippus the Greek had a wise saying, “The conqueror of pleasure is not the man who never uses it. He is the man who uses pleasure as a rider guides a horse or a steersman directs a ship, and so directs them wherever he wishes.” Abstention from anything is never a complete substitute for control in its use. James is not pleading for a cowardly silence but for a wise use of speech.


Jas. 3:5b-6

See how great a forest how little a fire can set alight. And the tongue is a fire; in the midst of our members the tongue stands for the whole wicked world, for it defiles the whole body and sets on fire the ever-recurring cycle of creation, and is itself set on fire by hell.

The damage the tongue can cause is like that caused by a forest fire. The picture of the forest fire is common in the Bible. It is the prayer of the Psalmist that God may make the wicked like chaff before the wind; and that his tempest may destroy them as fire consumes the forest and the flame sets the mountains ablaze (Ps.83:13-14). Isaiah says “wickedness burns like a fire, it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest” (Isa.9:18). Zechariah speaks of “a blazing pot in the midst of wood, like a flaming torch among sheaves” (Zech.12:6). The picture was one the Jews of Palestine knew well. In the dry season the scanty grass and low-growing thorn bushes and scrub were as dry as tinder. If they were set on fire, the flames spread like a wave which there was no stopping.

The picture of the tongue as a fire is also a common Jewish picture. “A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire,” says the writer of the Proverbs (Prov.16:27). “As pitch and tow, so a hasty contention kindleth fire” (Sir.28:11). There are two reasons why the damage which the tongue can do is like a fire.

(i) It is wide-ranging. The tongue can damage at a distance. A chance word dropped at one end of the country or the town can finish up by bringing grief and hurt at the other. The Jewish Rabbis had this picture: “Life and death are in the hand of the tongue. Has the tongue a hand? No, but as the hand kills, so the tongue. The hand kills only at close quarters; the tongue is called an arrow because it kills at a distance. An arrow kills at forty or fifty paces, but of the tongue it is said (Ps.73:9), `They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.’ It ranges over the whole earth and reaches to heaven.” That, indeed, is the peril of the tongue. A man can ward off a blow with the hand, for the striker must be in his presence. But a man can drop a malicious word, or repeat a scandalous and untrue story, about someone whom he does not even know or about someone who stays hundreds of miles away, and cause infinite harm.

(ii) It is uncontrollable. In the tinder-dry conditions of Palestine a forest fire was almost immediately out of control; and no man can control the damage of the tongue. “Three things come not back–the spent arrow, the spoken word and the lost opportunity.” There is nothing so impossible to kill as a rumour; there is nothing so impossible to obliterate as an idle and malignant story. Let a man, before he speaks, remember that once a word is spoken it is gone from his control; and let him think before he speaks because, although he cannot get it back, he will most certainly answer for it.


Jas. 3:5b-6 (continued)

We must spend a little longer on this passage, because in it there are two specially difficult phrases.

(i) The tongue, says the Revised Standard Version is an unrighteous world. That ought to be the unrighteous world. In our bodies, that is to say, the tongue stands for the whole wicked world. In Greek the phrase is ho (GSN3588) kosmos (GSN2899) tes (GSN3588) adikias (GSN0093), and we shall best get at its meaning by remembering that kosmos (GSN2889) can have two meanings.

(a) It can mean adornment, although this is less usual. The phrase, therefore, could mean that the tongue is the adornment of evil. That would mean that it is the organ which can make evil attractive. By the tongue men can make the worse appear the better reason; by the tongue men can excuse and Justify their wicked ways; by the tongue men can persuade others into sin. There is no doubt that this gives excellent sense; but it is doubtful if the phrase really can mean that.

(b) Kosmos (GSN2889) can mean world. In almost every part of the New Testament kosmos (GSN2889) means the world with more than a suggestion of the evil world. The world cannot receive the Spirit (Jn.14:17). Jesus manifests himself to the disciples but not to the world (Jn.14:22). The world hates him and therefore hates his disciples (Jn.15:18-19). Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (Jn.18:36). Paul condemns the wisdom of this world (1Cor.1:20). The Christian must not be conformed to this world (Rom.12:2). When kosmos (GSN2889) is used in this sense it means the world without God, the world in its ignorance of, and often its hostility to, God. Therefore, if we call the tongue the evil kosmos (GSN2889), it means that it is that part of the body which is without God. An uncontrolled tongue is like a world hostile to God. It is the part of us which disobeys him.

(ii) The second difficult phrase is what the Revised Standard Version translates the cycle of nature (trochos (GSN5164) geneseos, GSN1083). It literally means the wheel of being.

The ancients used the picture of the wheel to describe life in four different ways.

(i) The wheel is a circle, a rounded and complete whole, and, therefore, the wheel of life can mean the totality of life.

(ii) Any particular point in the wheel is always moving up or down. Therefore, the wheel of life can stand for the ups and downs of life. In this sense the phrase very nearly means the wheel of fortune, always changing and always variable.

(iii) The wheel is circular; it is always turning back upon itself in exactly the same circle; therefore, the wheel came to stand for the cyclical repetition of life, the weary round of an existence which is ever repeating itself without advancing.

(iv) The phrase had one particular technical use. The Orphic religion believed that the human soul was continually undergoing a process of birth and death and rebirth; and the aim of life was to escape from this treadmill into infinite being. So the Orphic devotee who had achieved could say, “I have flown out of the sorrowful, weary wheel.” In this sense the wheel of life can stand for the weary treadmill of constant reincarnation.

It is unlikely that James knew anything about Orphic reincarnation. It is not at all likely that any Christian would think in terms of a cyclical life which was not going anywhere. It is not likely that a Christian would be afraid of the chances and changes of life. Therefore, the phrase most probably means the whole of life and living. What James is saying is that the tongue can kindle a destructive fire which can destroy all life; and the tongue itself is kindled with. the very fire of hell. Here indeed is its terror.


Jas. 3:7-8

Every kind of beast and bird, and reptile and fish, is and has been tamed for the service of mankind; but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

The idea of the taming of the animal creation in the service of mankind is one which often occurs in Jewish literature. We get it in the creation story. God said of man, “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen.1:28). It is, in fact, to that verse that James is very likely looking back. The same promise is repeated to Noah: “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered (Gen.9:2). The writer of Ecclesiasticus repeats the same idea: “God put the fear of man upon all flesh, and gave him dominion over beasts and fowls” (Sir.17:4). The Psalmist thought on the same lines: “Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet; all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field; the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea” (Ps.8:6-8). The Roman world knew of tame fish in the fish-ponds which were in the open central hall or atrium of a Roman house. The serpent was the emblem of Aesculapius, and in his temples tame serpents glided about and were supposed to be incarnations of the god. People who were ill slept in the temples of Aesculapius at night, and if one of these tame serpents glided over them, that was supposed to be the healing touch of the god.

Man’s ingenuity has tamed every wild creature in the sense of controlling and making useful; that, says James, is what no man by his own unaided efforts has ever been able to do with the tongue.


Jas. 3:9-12

With it we bless the Lord and Father and with it we curse the men who have been made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth there emerge blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers. Surely the one stream from the same cleft in the rock does not gush forth fresh and salt water? Surely, brothers, a fig-tree cannot produce olives, nor a vine figs, nor can salt water produce fresh water?

We know only too well from experience that there is a cleavage in human nature. In man there is something of the ape and something of the angel, something of the hero and something of the villain, something of the saint and much of the sinner. It is James’ conviction that nowhere is this contradiction more evident than in the tongue.

With it, he says, we bless God. This was specially relevant to a Jew. Whenever the name of God was mentioned, a Jew must respond: “Blessed be he!” Three times a day the devout Jew had to repeat the Shemoneh Esreh, the famous eighteen prayers called Eulogies, every one of which begins, “Blessed be thou, O God.” God was indeed eulogetos (GSN2128), The Blessed One, the One who was continually blessed. And yet the very mouths and tongues which had frequently and piously blessed God, were the very same mouths and tongues which cursed fellowmen. To James there was something unnatural about this; it was as unnatural as for a stream to gush out both fresh and salt water or a bush to bear opposite kinds of fruit. Unnatural and wrong such things might be, but they were tragically common.

Peter could say, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Matt.26:35), and that very same tongue of his denied Jesus with oaths and curses (Matt.26:69-75). The John who said, “Little children, love one another,” was the same who had once wished to call down fire from heaven in order to blast a Samaritan village out of existence (Lk.9:51-56). Even the tongues of the apostles could say very different things.

John Bunyan tells us of Talkative: “He was a saint abroad and a devil at home.” Many a man speaks with perfect courtesy to strangers and even preaches love and gentleness, and yet snaps with impatient irritability at his own family. It has not been unknown for a man to speak with piety on Sunday and to curse a squad of workmen on Monday. It has not been unknown for a man to utter the most pious sentiments one day and to repeat the most questionable stories the next. It has not been unknown for a woman to speak with sweet graciousness at a religious meeting and then to go outside to murder someone’s reputation with a malicious tongue.

These things, said James, should not be. Some drugs are at once poisons and cures; they are benefits to a man when wisely controlled by his doctor but harmful when used unwisely. The tongue can bless or curse; it can wound or soothe; it can speak the fairest or the foulest things. It is one of life’s hardest and plainest duties to see that the tongue does not contradict itself but speaks only such words as we would wish God to hear.


Jas. 3:13-14

Who among you is a man of wisdom and of understanding? Let him show by the loveliness of his behaviour that all he does is done with gentleness. If in your hearts you have a zeal that is bitter, and selfish ambition, do not be arrogantly boastful about your attainments, for you are false to the truth.

James goes back, as it were, to the beginning of the chapter. His argument runs like this: “Is there any of you who wishes to be a real sage and a real teacher? Then let him live a life of such beautiful graciousness that he will prove to all that gentleness is enthroned as the controlling power within his heart. For, if he has a fanatical bitterness and is obviously controlled by selfish and personal ambition, then, whatever claims he makes in his arrogance, all he does is to be false to the truth which he professes to teach.”

James uses two interesting words. His word for zeal is zelos (GSN2205). Zelos (GSN2205) need not be a bad word. It could mean the noble emulation which a man felt when confronted with some picture of greatness and goodness. But there is a very narrow dividing line between noble emulation and ignoble envy. The word he uses for selfish ambition is eritheia (GSN2052) which was also a word with no necessarily bad meaning. It originally meant spinning for hire and was used of serving women. Then it came to mean any work done for pay. Then it came to mean the kind of work done solely for what could be got out of it. Then it entered politics and came to mean that selfish ambition which was out for self and for nothing else and was ready to use any means to gain its ends.

A scholar and a teacher is always under a double temptation.

(i) He is under the temptation to arrogance. Arrogance was the besetting sin of the Rabbis. The greatest of the Jewish teachers were well aware of that. In The Sayings of the Fathers we read, “He that is arrogant in decision is foolish, wicked, puffed up in spirit.” It was the advice of one of the wise men: “It rests with thy colleagues to choose whether they will adopt thy opinion: it is not for thee to force it upon them.” Few are in such constant spiritual peril as teachers and preachers. They are used to being listened to and to having their words accepted. All unconsciously they tend, as Shakespeare had it, to say,

“I am Sir Oracle, And when I ope my lips let no dog bark!”

It is very difficult to be a teacher or a preacher and to remain humble; but it is absolutely necessary.

(ii) He is under the temptation to bitterness. We know how easily “learned discussion can produce passion.” The odium theologicum is notorious. Sir Thomas Browne has a passage on the savagery of scholars to each other: “Scholars are men of peace, they bear no arms, but their tongues are sharper than Actius’ razor; their pens carry farther, and give a louder report than thunder: I had rather stand the shock of a basilisco, than the fury of a merciless pen.” Philip Lilley reminds us that Dr. H. F. Stewart said that the arguments of Pascal with the Jesuits reminded him of Alan Breck’s fight with the crew of the Covenant in Stevenson’s Kidnapped: “The sword in his hand flashed like quicksilver into the middle of our flying enemies, and at every flash came the scream of a man hurt.” One of the most difficult things in the world is to argue without passion and to meet arguments without wounding. To be utterly convinced of one’s own beliefs without at the same time being bitter to those of others is no easy thing; and yet it is a first necessity for the Christian teacher and scholar.

We may find in this passage four characteristics of the wrong kind of teaching.

(i) It is fanatical. The truth it holds is held with unbalanced violence rather than with reasoned conviction.

(ii) It is bitter. It regards its opponents as enemies to be annihilated rather than as friends to be persuaded.

(iii) It is selfishly ambitious. It is, in the end, more eager to display itself than to display the truth; and it is interested more in the victory of its own opinions than in the victory of the truth.

(iv) It is arrogant. Its attitude is pride in its knowledge rather than humility in its ignorance. The real scholar will be far more aware of what he does not know than of what he knows.


Jas. 3:15-16

Such wisdom is not the wisdom which comes down from above, but is earthly, characteristic of the natural man, inspired by the devil. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil thing.

This bitter and arrogant wisdom, so-called, is very different from real wisdom. James first of all describes it in itself, and then in its effects. In itself it is three things.

(i) It is earthly. Its standards and sources are earthly. It measures success in worldly terms; and its aims are worldly aims.

(ii) It is characteristic of the natural man. The word James uses is difficult to translate. It is psuchikos (GSN5591), which comes from psuche (GSN5590). The ancients divided man into three parts–body, soul and spirit. The body (soma, GSN4983) is our physical flesh and blood; the soul (psuche, GSN5590) is the physical life which we share with the beasts; the spirit (pneuma, GSN4151) is that which man alone possesses, which differentiates him from the beasts, which makes him a rational creature and kin to God. This is a little confusing for us, because we are in the habit of using soul in the same sense as the ancient people used spirit. James is saying that this wrong kind of wisdom is no more than an animal kind of thing; it is the kind of wisdom which makes an animal snap and snarl with no other thought than that of prey or personal survival.

(iii) It is devilish. Its source is not God, but the devil. It produces the kind of situation which the devil delights in, not God.

James then describes this arrogant and bitter wisdom in its effects. The most notable thing about it is that it issues in disorder. That is to say, instead of bringing people together, it drives them apart. Instead of producing peace, it produces strife. There is a kind of person who is undoubtedly clever, with acute brain and skilful tongue; but his effect, nevertheless, in any committee, in any church, in any group, is to cause trouble and to disturb personal relationships. It is a sobering thing to remember that the wisdom he possesses is devilish rather than divine.


Jas. 3:17-18

The wisdom which comes from above is first pure, then peaceable, considerate, willing to yield, full of mercy and of good fruits, undivided in mind, without hypocrisy. For the seed which one day produces the reward which righteousness brings can only be sown when personal relationships are right and by those whose conduct produces such relationships.

The Jewish sages were always agreed that the true wisdom came from above. It was not the attainment. of man but the gift of God. Wisdom describes this wisdom as “the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty” (Wis.7:25). The same book prays, “Give me the wisdom that sitteth by thy throne” (Wis.9:4); and again, “O send her from Thy holy heavens, and from the throne of thy glory” (Wis.9:8). Ben Sirach began his book with the sentence, “All wisdom cometh from the Lord, and is with him for ever” (Sir.1:1); and he makes Wisdom say, “I came out of the mouth of the Most High” (Sir.24:3). With one voice the Jewish sages agreed that wisdom came to men from God.

James uses eight words to describe this wisdom, and every one has a great picture in it.

(i) The true wisdom is pure. The Greek is hagnos (GSN0053) and its root meaning is pure enough to approach the gods. At first it had only a ceremonial meaning and meant nothing more than that a man had gone through the right ritual cleansings. So, for instance, Euripides can make one of his characters say, “My hands are pure, but my heart is not.” At this stage hagnos (GSN0053) describes ritual, but not necessarily moral, purity. But as time went on the word came to describe the moral purity which alone can approach the gods. On the Temple of Aesculapius at Epidaurus there was the inscription at the entrance: “He who would enter the divine temple must be pure (hagnos, GSN0053); and purity is to have a mind which thinks holy thoughts.” The true wisdom is so cleansed of all ulterior motives and of self that it has become pure enough to see God. Worldly wisdom might well wish to escape God’s sight; the true wisdom is able to bear his very scrutiny.

(ii) The true wisdom is eirenikos (GSN1516). We have translated this peaceable but it has a very special meaning. Eirene (GSN1515) means peace, and when it is used of men its basic meaning is right relationships between man and man, and between man and God The true wisdom produces right relationships. There is a kind of clever and arrogant wisdom which separates man from man, and which makes a man look with superior contempt on his fellows. There is a kind of cruel wisdom which takes a delight in hurting others with clever, but cutting, words. There is a kind of depraved wisdom which seduces men away from their loyalty to God. But the true wisdom at all times brings men closer to one another and to God.

(iii) The true wisdom is epieikes (GSN1933). Of all Greek words in the New Testament this is the most untranslatable. Aristotle defined it as that “which is just beyond the written law” and as “justice and better than justice” and as that “which steps in to correct things when the law itself becomes unjust.” The man who is epieikes (GSN1933) is the man who knows when it is actually wrong to apply the strict letter of the law. He knows how to forgive when strict justice gives him a Perfect right to condemn. He knows how to make allowances, when not to stand upon his rights, how to temper justice with mercy, always remembers that there are greater things in the world than rules and regulations. It is impossible to find an English word to translate this quality. Matthew Arnold called it “sweet reasonableness” and it is the ability to extend to others the kindly consideration we would wish to receive ourselves.


Jas. 3:17-18 (continued)

(iv) The true wisdom is eupeithes (GSN2138). Here we must make a choice between two meanings. (a) Eupeithes (GSN2138) can mean ever ready to obey. The first of William Law’s rules for life was, “To fix it deep in my mind that I have but one business upon my hands, to seek for eternal happiness by doing the will of God.” If we take the word in this sense, it means that the truly wise man is for ever ready to obey whenever God’s voice comes to him. (b) Eupeithes (GSN2138) can mean easy to persuade, not in the sense of being pliable and weak, but in the sense of not being stubborn and of being willing to listen to reason and to appeal. Coming as it does after epieikes (GSN1933), it probably bears this second meaning here. The true wisdom is not rigid but is willing to listen and skilled in knowing when wisely to yield.

(v) We take the next two terms together. The true wisdom is full of mercy (eleos, GSN1656) and good fruits. Eleos (GSN1656) is a word which acquired a new meaning in Christian thought. The Greeks defined it as pity for the man who is suffering unjustly; but Christianity means far more than that by eleos (GSN1656). (a) In Christian thought eleos (GSN1656) means mercy for the man who is in trouble, even if the trouble is his own fault. Christian pity is the reflection of God’s pity; and that went out to men, not only when they were suffering unjustly, but when they were suffering through their own fault. We are so apt to say of someone in trouble, “It is his own fault; he brought it on himself,” and, therefore, to feel no responsibility for him. Christian mercy is mercy for any man who is in trouble, even if he has brought that trouble on himself. (b) In Christian thought eleos (GSN1656) means mercy which issues in good fruits, that is, which issues in practical help. Christian pity is not merely an emotion; it is action. We can never say that we have truly pitied anyone until we have helped him.

(vi) The true wisdom is adiakritos (GSN0087), undivided. This means that it is not wavering and vacillating; it knows its own mind, chooses its course and abides by it. There are those who think that it is clever never to make one’s mind up about anything. They speak about having an open mind and about suspending judgment. But the Christian wisdom is based on the Christian certainties which come to us from God through Jesus Christ.

(vii) The true wisdom is anupokritos (GSN0505), without hypocrisy. That is to say, it is not a pose and does not deal in deception. It is honest; it never pretends to be what it is not; and it never acts a part to gain its own ends.

Finally, James says something which every Christian Church and every Christian group should have written on its heart. The Revised Standard Version correctly translates the Greek literally: “The harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” This is a highly compressed sentence. Let us remember that peace, eirene (GSN1515), means right relationships between man and man. So, then, what James is saying is this, “We are all trying to reap the harvest which a good life brings. But the seeds which bring the rich harvest can never flourish in any atmosphere other than one of right relationships between man and man. And the only people who can sow these seeds and reap the reward are those whose life work it has been to produce such right relationships.”

That is to say, nothing good can ever grow in an atmosphere where men are at variance with one another. A group where there is bitterness and strife is a barren soil in which the seeds of righteousness can never grow and out of which no reward can ever come, The man who disturbs personal relationships and is responsible for strife and bitterness has cut himself off from the reward which God gives to those who live his life.


Jas. 4:1-3

Whence come feuds and whence come fights among you? Is this not their source–do they not arise because of these desires for pleasures which carry on their constant warring campaign within your members? You desire but you do not possess; you murder; you covet but you cannot obtain. You fight and war but you do not possess, because you do not ask. You ask but you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, for your only desire is to spend what you receive on your own pleasures.

James is setting before his people a basic question–whether their aim in life is to submit to the will of God or to gratify their own desires for the pleasures of this world? He warns that, if pleasure is the policy of life, nothing but strife and hatred and division can possibly follow. He says that the result of the over-mastering search for pleasure is polemoi (GSN4171) “wars” and machai (GSN3163) “battles.” He means that the feverish search for pleasure issues in long-drawn-out resentments which are like wars, and sudden explosions of enmity which are like battles. The ancient moralists would have thoroughly agreed with him.

When we look at human society we so often see a seething mass of hatred and strife. Philo writes, “Consider the continual war which prevails among men even in times of peace, and which exists not only between nations and countries and cities, but also between private houses, or, I might rather say, is present with every individual man; observe the unspeakable raging storm in men’s souls that is excited by the violent rush of the affairs of life; and you may well wonder whether anyone can enjoy tranquility in such a storm, and maintain calm amidst the surge of this billowing sea.”

The root cause of this unceasing and bitter conflict is nothing other than desire. Philo points out that the Ten Commandments culminate in the forbidding of covetousness or desire, for desire is the worst of all the passions of the soul. “Is it not because of this passion that relations are broken, and this natural goodwill changed into desperate enmity? that great and populous countries are desolated by domestic dissensions? and land and sea filled with ever new disasters by naval battles and land campaigns? For the wars famous in tragedy…have all flowed from one source–desire either for money or glory or pleasure. Over these things the human race goes mad.” Lucian writes, “All the evils which come upon man–revolutions and wars, stratagems and slaughters–spring from desire. All these things have as their fountain-head the desire for more.” Plato writes, “The sole cause of wars and revolutions and battles is nothing other than the body and its desires.” Cicero writes, “It is insatiable desires which overturn not only individual men, but whole families, and which even bring down the state. From desires there spring hatred, schisms, discords, seditions and wars.” Desire is at the root of all the evils which ruin life and divide men.

The New Testament is clear that this overmastering desire for the pleasures of this world is always a threatening danger to the spiritual life. It is the cares and riches and pleasures of this life which combine to choke the good seed (Lk.8:14). A man can become a slave to passions and pleasures and when he does malice and envy and hatred enter into life (Tit.3:3).

The ultimate choice in life lies between pleasing oneself and pleasing God; and a world in which men’s first aim is to please themselves is a battleground of savagery and division.


Jas. 4:1-3 (continued)

This pleasure-dominated life has certain inevitable consequences.

(i) It sets men at each other’s throats. Desires, as James sees it, are inherently warring powers. He does not mean that they war within a man–although that is also true–but that they set men warring against each other. The basic desires are for the same things–for money, for power, for prestige, for worldly possessions, for the gratification of bodily lusts. When all men are striving to possess the same things, life inevitably becomes a competitive arena. They trample each other down in the rush to grasp them. They will do anything to eliminate a rival. Obedience to the will of God draws men together, for it is that will that they should love and serve one another; obedience to the craving for pleasure drives men apart, for it drives them to internecine rivalry for the same things.

(ii) The craving for pleasure drives men to shameful deeds. It drives them to envy and to enmity; and even to murder. Before a man can arrive at a deed there must be a certain driving emotion in his heart. He may restrain himself from the things that the desire for pleasure incites him to do; but so tong as that desire is in his heart he is not safe. It may at any time explode into ruinous action.

The steps of the process are simple and terrible. A man allows himself to desire something. That thing begins to dominate his thoughts; he finds himself involuntarily thinking about it in his waking hours and dreaming of it when he sleeps. It begins to be what is aptly called a ruling passion. He begins to form imaginary schemes to obtain it; and these schemes may well involve ways of eliminating those who stand in his way. For long enough all this may go on in his mind. Then one day the imaginings may blaze into action; and he may find himself taking the terrible steps necessary to obtain his desire. Every crime in this world has come from desire which was first only a feeling in the heart but which, being nourished long enough, came in the end to action.

(iii) The craving for pleasure in the end shuts the door of prayer. If a man’s prayers are simply for the things which will gratify his desires, they are essentially selfish and, therefore, it is not possible for God to answer them. The true end of prayer is to say to God, “Thy will be done.” The prayer of the man who is pleasure-dominated is: “My desires be satisfied.” It is one of the grim facts of life that a selfish man can hardly ever pray aright; no one can ever pray aright until he removes self from the centre of his life and puts God there.

In this life we have to choose whether to make our main object our own desires or the will of God. And, if we choose our own desires, we have thereby separated ourselves from our fellow-men and from God.


Jas. 4:4-7

Renegades to your vows, do you not know that love for this world is enmity to God? Whoever makes it his aim to be the friend of thii world thereby becomes the enemy of God. Do you think that the saying of Scripture is only an idle saying: “God jealously yearns for the spirit which he has made to dwell within us”? But God gives the more grace. That is why Scripture says, “God sets himself against the haughty, but gives grace to the humble.” So, then, submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you; draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

The King James Version makes this passage even more difficult than it is. In it the warning is addressed to adulterers and adulteresses. In the correct text the word occurs only in the feminine. Further, the word is not intended to be taken literally; the reference is not to physical but to spiritual adultery. The whole conception is based on the common Old Testament idea of Jahweh as the husband of Israel and Israel as the bride of God. “Your Maker is your husband; the Lord of hosts is his name” (Isa.54:5). “Surely as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel, says the Lord” (Jer.3:20). This idea of Jahweh as the husband and the nation of Israel as the wife, explains the way in which the Old Testament constantly expresses spiritual infidelity in terms of physical adultery. To make a covenant with the gods of a strange land and to sacrifice to them and to intermarry with their people is “to play the harlot after their gods” (Exo.34:15-16). It is God’s forewarning to Moses that the day will come when the people “will rise and play the harlot after the strange gods of the land, where they go to be among them,” and that they will forsake him (Deut.31:16). It is Hosea’s complaint that the people have played the harlot and forsaken God (Hos.9:1). It is in this spiritual sense that the New Testament speaks of “an adulterous generation” (Matt.16:4; Mk.8:38). And the picture came into Christian thought in the conception of the Church as the Bride of Christ (2Cor.11:1-2; Eph.5:24-28; Rev.19:7; Rev.21:9).

This form of expression may offend some delicate modern ears; but the picture of Israel as the bride of God and of God as the husband of Israel has something very precious in it. It means that to disobey God is like breaking the marriage vow. It means that all sin is sin against love. It means that our relationship to God is not like the distant relationship of king and subject or master and slave, but like the intimate relationship of husband and wife. It means that when we sin we break God’s heart, as the heart of one partner in a marriage may be broken by the desertion of the other.


Jas. 4:4-7 (continued)

In this passage James says that love of the world is enmity with God and that he who is the friend of the world thereby becomes the enemy of God. It is important to understand what he means.

(i) This is not spoken out of contempt for the world. It is not spoken from the point of view which regards earth as a desert drear and which denigrates everything in the natural world. There is a story of a Puritan who was out for a walk in the country with a friend. The friend noticed a very lovely flower at the roadside and said, “That is a lovely flower.” The Puritan replied, “I have learned to call nothing lovely in this lost and sinful world.” That is not James’ point of view; he would have agreed that this world is the creation of God; and like Jesus he would have rejoiced in its beauty.

(ii) We have already seen that the New Testament often uses the word kosmos (GSN2889) in the sense of the world apart from God There are two New Testament passages which well illustrate what James means. Paul writes, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God;…those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom.8:7-8). What he means is that those who insist on assessing everything by purely human standards are necessarily at variance with God. The second passage is one of the most poignant epitaphs on the Christian life in all literature: “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2Tim.4:10). The idea is that of worldliness. If material things are the things to which he dedicates his life, clearly he cannot dedicate his life to God. In that sense the man who has dedicated his life to the world is at enmity with God.

(iii) The best commentary on this saying is that of Jesus: “No one can serve two masters” (Matt.6:24). There are two attitudes to the things of this world and the things of time. We may be so dominated by them that the world becomes our master. Or we may so use them as to serve our fellow-men and prepare ourselves for eternity, in which case the world is not our master but our servant. A man may either use the world or be used by it. To use the world as the servant of God and men is to be the friend of God, for that is what God meant the world to be. To use the world as the controller and dictator of life is to be at enmity with God, for that is what God never meant the world to be.


Jas. 4:4-7 (continued)

Jas. 4:5 is exceedingly difficult. To begin with, it is cited as a quotation from Scripture, but there is no part of Scripture of which it is, in fact, anything like a recognizable quotation. We may either assume that James is quoting from some book now lost which he regarded as Scripture; or, that he is summing up in one sentence what is the eternal sense of the Old Testament and not meaning to quote any particular passage.

Further, the translation is difficult: There are two alternative renderings which in the end give much the same sense. “He (that is, God) jealously yearns for the devotion of the spirit which he has made to dwell within us,” or, “The Spirit which God has made to dwell within us jealously yearns for the full devotion of our hearts.”

In either case the meaning is that God is the jealous lover who will brook no rival. The Old Testament was never afraid to apply the word jealous to God. Moses says of God to the people: “They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods” (Deut.32:16). He hears God say, “They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no God” (Deut.32:21). In insisting on his sole right to worship, God in the Ten Commandments says, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exo.20:5). “You shall worship no other god, for the Lord whose name is Jealous is a jealous God” (Exo.34:14). Zechariah hears God say, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy” (Zech.8:2). Jealous comes from the Greek zelos (GSN2205) which has in it the idea of burning heat. The idea is that God loves men with such a passion that he cannot bear any other love within the hearts of men.

It may be that jealous is a word which nowadays we find it difficult to connect with God, for it has acquired a lower significance; but behind it is the amazing truth that God is the lover of the souls of men. There is a sense in which love must be diffused among all men and over all God’s children; but there is also a sense in which love gives and demands an exclusive devotion to one person. It is profoundly true that a man can be in love only with one person at one time; if he thinks otherwise, he does not know the meaning of love.


Jas. 4:4-7 (continued)

James goes on to meet an almost inevitable reaction to this picture of God as the jealous lover. If God is like that, how can any man give to him the devotion he demands? James’ answer is that, if God makes a great demand, he gives great grace to fulfil it; and the greater the demand, the greater the grace God gives.

But grace has a constant characteristic–a man cannot receive it until he has realized his need of it, and has come to God humbly pleading for help. Therefore, it must always remain true that God sets himself against the proud and gives lavishly of his grace to the humble. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” This is a quotation from Prov.3:34; and it is made again in 1Pet. 5:5.

What is this destructive pride? The word for proud is huperephanos (GSN5244) which literally means one who shows himself above other people. Even the Greeks hated pride. Theophrastus described it as “a certain contempt for all other people.” Theophylact, the Christian writer, called it, “the citadel and summit of all evils.” Its real terror is that it is a thing of the heart. It means haughtiness; but the man who suffers from it might well appear to be walking in downcast humility, while all the time there is in his heart a vast contempt for all his fellow-men. It shuts itself off from God for three reasons.

(i) It does not know its own need. It so admires itself that it recognizes no need to be supplied. (ii) It cherishes its own independence. It will be beholden to no man and not even to God. (iii) It does not recognize its own sin. It is occupied with thinking of its own goodness and never realizes that it has any sin from which it needs to be saved. A pride like that cannot receive help, because it does not know that it needs help, and, therefore, it cannot ask.

The humility for which James pleads is no cringing thing. It has two great characteristics.

(i) It knows that if a man takes a resolute stand against the devil, he will prove him a coward. “The Devil,” as Hermas puts it, “can wrestle against the Christian, but he cannot throw him.” This is a truth of which the Christians were fond, for Peter says the same thing (1Pet. 5:8-9). The great example and inspiration is Jesus in his own temptations. In them Jesus showed that the devil is not invincible; when he is confronted with the word of God, he can be put to flight. The Christian has the humility which knows that he must fight his battles with the tempter, not in his own power, but in the power of God.

(ii) It knows that it has the greatest privilege of all, access to God. This is a tremendous thing, for the right of approach to God under the old order of things belonged only to the priests (Exo.19:22). The office of the priest was to come near to God for sin-stained people (Eze.44:13). But through the work of Jesus Christ any man can come boldly before the throne of God, certain that he will find mercy and grace to help in time of need (Heb.4:16). There was a time when only the High Priest might enter the Holy of Holies, but we have a new and a living way, a better hope by which we draw near to God (Heb.7:19).

The Christian must have humility, but it is a humility which gives him dauntless courage and knows that the way to God is open to the most fearful saint.


Jas. 4:8-10

Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be afflicted and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to sorrow, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourself before God and then he will exalt you.

In James’ thought the ethical demand of Christianity is never far away. He has talked about the grace which God gives to the humble and which enables a man to meet his great demands. But James is sure that there is something needed beyond asking and passive receiving. He is sure that moral effort is a prime necessity.

His appeal is addressed to sinners. The word used for sinner is hamartolos (GSN0268), which means the hardened sinner, the man whose sin is obvious and notorious. Suidas defines hamartoloi (GSN0268) as “those who choose to live in company with disobedience to the law, and who love a corrupt life.” From such people James demands a moral reform which will embrace both their outward conduct and their inner desires. He demands both clean hands and a pure heart (Ps.24:4).

The phrase cleanse your hands originally denoted nothing more than ceremonial cleansing, the ritual washing with water which made a man ceremonially fit to approach the worship of God. The priests must wash and bathe themselves before they entered on their service (Exo.30:19-21; Lev.16:4). The orthodox Jew must ceremonially wash his hands before he ate (Mk.7:3). But men came to see that God required much more than an outward washing; and so the phrase came to stand for moral purity. “I wash my hands in innocence,” says the Psalmist (Ps.26:6). It is Isaiah’s demand that men should “wash yourselves; make yourselves clean,” and that is equated with ceasing to do evil (Isa.1:16). In the letter to Timothy men are urged to lift holy hands to God in prayer (1Tim.2:8). The history of the phrase shows a deepening consciousness of what God demanded. Men began by thinking in terms of an outward washing, a ritual thing; and ended by seeing that the demand of God was moral, not ritual.

Biblical thought demands a fourfold cleansing. It demands a cleansing of the lips (Isa.6:5-6). It demands a cleansing of the hands (Ps.24:4). It demands a cleansing of the heart (Ps.73:13). It demands a cleansing of the mind (Jas. 4:8). That is to say, the ethical demand of the Bible is that a man’s words and deeds and emotions and thoughts should all be purified. Inwardly and outwardly a man must be clean, for only the pure in heart shall see God (Matt.5:8).


Jas. 4:8-10 (continued)

In his demand for a godly sorrow James is going back to the fact that Jesus had said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matt.5:4; Lk.6:20-26). We must not read into this passage something James does not mean. He is not denying the joy of the Christian life. He is not demanding that men should live a gloom-encompassed life in a shadowed world. He is doing two things. He is pleading for sobriety in place of frivolousness, and is doing so with all the intensity of one whose natural instincts are puritan; and he is describing, not the end, but the beginning of the Christian life. He demands three things.

(i) He demands what he calls affliction. The verb is talaiporein (GSN5003) and it can describe–Thucydides so uses it–the experiences of an army whose food is gone and who have no shelter from the stormy weather. What James is here demanding is a voluntary abstinence from lavish luxury and effeminate comfort. He is talking to people who are in love with the world; and he is pleading with them not to make luxury and comfort the standards by which they judge all life. It is discipline which produces the scholar; it is rigorous training which creates the athlete; and it is a wise abstinence which produces the Christian who knows how to use the world and its gifts aright.

(ii) He demands that they should mourn, that their laughter should be turned to sorrow and their joy to gloom. Here, James is describing the first step of the Christian life which is taken when a man is confronted with God and with his own sin. That is a daunting experience. When Wesley preached to the miners of Kingswood, they were moved to such grief that the tears made runnels as they ran down the grime of their faces. But that is by no means the end of the Christian life. The terrible sorrow of the realization of sin moves on to the thrilling joy of sins forgiven. But to get to the second stage a man must go through the first. James is demanding that these self-satisfied, luxury-loving, unworried hearers of his should be confronted with their sins and should be ashamed, grief-stricken and afraid; for only then can they reach out for grace and go on to a joy far greater than their earthbound pleasures.

(iii) He demands that they should weep. It is perhaps not reading too much into this to say that James may well be thinking of tears of sympathy. Up to this time these luxury-loving people have lived in utter selfishness, quite insensitive to what the poet called “the world’s rain of tears.” James is insisting that the griefs and the needs of others should pierce the armour of their own pleasure and comfort. A man is not a Christian until he becomes aware of the poignant cry of that humanity for which Christ died.

So, then, in words deliberately chosen to waken the sleeping soul, James demands that his hearers should substitute the way of abstinence for the way of luxury; that they should become aware of their own sins and mourn for them; and that they should become conscious of the world’s need and weep for it.


Jas. 4:8-10 (continued)

James concludes with the demand for a godly humility. All through the Bible there runs the conviction that it is only the humble who can know the blessings of God. God will save the humble person (Jb.22:29). A man’s pride will bring him low; but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit (Prov.29:23). God dwells on high, but he is also with him that is of a humble and a contrite spirit (Isa.57:15). They that fear the Lord will humble their souls in his sight, and the greater a man is the more he ought to humble himself, if he is to find favour in the sight of God (Sir.2:17; Sir.3:17). Jesus himself repeatedly declared that it was the man who humbled himself who alone would be exalted (Matt.23:12; Lk.14:11).

Only when a man realizes his own ignorance will he ask God’s guidance. Only when a man realizes his own poverty in the things that matter will he pray for the riches of God’s grace. Only when a man realizes his weakness in necessary things will he come to draw upon God’s strength. Only when a man realizes his own sin will he realize his need of a Saviour and of God’s forgiveness.

In life there is one sin which can be said to be the basis of all others; and that is forgetting that we are creatures and that God is creator. When a man realizes his essential creatureliness, he realizes his essential helplessness and goes to the source from which that helplessness can alone be supplied.

Such a dependence begets the only real independence; for then a man faces life not in his own strength but in God’s and is given victory. So long as a man regards himself as independent of God he is on the way to ultimate collapse and to defeat.


Jas. 4:11-12

Stop talking harshly about each other. He who speaks harshly of his brother, or who judges his brother, speaks harshly of the law and judges the law; and, if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. One is law-giver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge your neighbour?

The word James uses for to speak harshly of, or, to slander is katalalein (GSN2635). Usually this verb means to slander someone when he is not there to defend himself. This sin slander (the noun is katalalia, GSN2636) is condemned all through the Bible. It is the Psalmist’s accusation against the wicked man: “You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son” (Ps.50:20). The Psalmist hears God saying, “Him who slanders his neighbour secretly I will destroy” (Ps.101:5). Paul lists it among the sins which are characteristic of the unredeemed evil of the pagan world (Rom.1:30); and it is one of the sins which he fears to find in the warring Church of Corinth (2Cor.12:20). It is significant to note that in both these passages slander comes in immediate connection with gossip. Katalalia (GSN2636) is the sin of those who meet in corners and gather in little groups and pass on confidential tidbits of information which destroy the good name of those who are not there to defend themselves. The same sin is condemned by Peter (1Pet. 2:1).

There is great necessity for this warning. People are slow to realize that there are few sins which the Bible so unsparingly condemns as the sin of irresponsible and malicious gossip. There are few activities in which the average person finds more delight than this; to tell and to listen to the slanderous story–especially about some distinguished person–is for most people a fascinating activity. We do well to remember what God thinks of it. James condemns it for two fundamental reasons.

(i) It is a breach of the royal law that we should love our neighbour as ourselves (Jas. 2:8; Lev.19:18). Obviously a man cannot love his neighbour as himself and speak slanderous evil about him. Now, if a man breaks a law knowingly, he sets himself above the law. That is to say, he has made himself a judge of the law. But a man’s duty is not to judge the law, but to obey it. So the man who speaks evil of his neighbour has appointed himself a judge of the law and taken to himself the right to break it, and therefore stands condemned.

(ii) It is an infringement of the prerogative of God. To slander our neighbour is, in fact, to pass judgment upon him. And no human being has any right to judge any other human; the right of judgment belongs to God alone.

It is God alone who is able to save and to destroy. This great prerogative runs all through Scripture. “I kill and I make alive,” says God (Deut.32:39). “The Lord kills and brings to life,” says Hannah in her prayer (1Sam.2:6). “Am I God to kill and to make alive?” is the shocked question of the Israelite king to whom Naaman came with a demand for a cure for his leprosy (2Kgs.5:7). Jesus warns that we should not fear men, who at the worst can only kill the body, but should fear him who can destroy both body and soul (Matt.10:28). As the Psalmist had it, it is to God alone that the issues of life and of death belong (Ps.68:20). To judge another is to take to ourselves a right to do what God alone has the right to do; and he is a reckless man who deliberately infringes the prerogatives of God.

We might think that to speak evil of our neighbour is not a very serious sin. But Scripture would say that it is one of the worst of all because it is a breach of the royal law and an infringement of the rights of God.


Jas. 4:13-17

Come now, you who say, “Today, or tomorrow, we will go into this city, and we will spend a year there, and we will trade and make a profit.” People like you do not know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life like? You are like a mist which appears for a little time and then disappears. And yet you talk like that instead of saying, “If the Lord wills, we shall live, and we shall do this or that.” As it is, you make your arrogant claims in your braggart ways. All such arrogant claims are evil. So then, if a man knows what is good and does not do it, that to him is sin.

Here again is a contemporary picture which James’ readers would recognize, and in which they might well see their own portrait. The Jews were the great traders of the ancient world; and in many ways that world gave them every opportunity to practise their commercial abilities. This was an age of the founding of cities; and often when cities were founded and their founders were looking for citizens to occupy them, citizenship was offered freely to the Jews, for where the Jews came money and trade followed. So the picture is of a man looking at a map. He points at a certain spot on it, and says, “Here is a new city where there are great trade chances. I’ll go there; I’ll get in on the ground floor; I’ll trade for a year or so; I’ll make my fortune and come back rich.” James’ answer is that no man has a right to make confident plans for the future, for he does not know what even a day may bring forth. Man may propose but God disposes.

The essential uncertainty of the future was deeply impressed on the minds of men of all nations. The Hebrew sage wrote, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Prov.27:1). Jesus told his story of the rich but foolish man who made his fortune and built up his plans for the future, and forgot that his soul might be required of him that very night (Lk.12:16-21). Ben Sirach wrote, “There is that waxeth rich by his wariness and pinching, and this is the portion of his reward: whereas, he saith, `I have found rest and now will eat continually of my goods’; and yet he knoweth not what time shall come upon him and that death approacheth; and that he must leave these things to others and die” (Sir.11:18-19). Seneca said: “How foolish it is for a man to make plans for his life, when not even tomorrow is in his control.” And again: “No man has such rich friends that he can promise himself tomorrow.” The Rabbis had a proverb: “Care not for the morrow, for ye know not what a day may bring forth. Perhaps you may not find tomorrow.” Dennis Mackail was the friend of Sir James Barrie. He tells that, as Barrie grew older, he would never make an arrangement for even a social engagement at any distant date. “Short notice now!” he would always say.

James goes on. This uncertainty of life is not a cause either for fear or for inaction. it is a reason for realizing our complete dependence on God. It has always been the mark of a serious-minded man that he makes his plans in such dependence. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills” (1Cor.4:19). “I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits” (1Cor.16:7). Xenophon writes, “May all these things be, if the gods so will. If anyone wonders that we often find the phrase written, `if the gods will,’ I would have him to know that, once he has experienced the risks of life, he will not wonder nearly so much.” Plato relates a conversation between Socrates and Alcibiades. Alcibiades says: “I will do so if you wish, Socrates.” Socrates answers, “Alcibiades, that is not the way to talk. And how ought you to speak? You ought to say, `If God so wishes.'” Minucius Felix writes, “`God grant it’–it comes instinctively to the ordinary man to speak like that.” Constantly among the Arabs there is heard the expressions: “Imsh’ Allah–if Allah wills.” The curious thing is that there seems to have been no corresponding phrase which the Jews used. In this they had to learn.

The true Christian way is not to be terrorized into fear and paralysed into inaction by the uncertainty of the future; but to commit the future and all our plans into the hands of God, always remembering that these plans may not be within God’s purpose.

The man who does not remember that, is guilty of arrogant boasting. The word is alazoneia (GSN0212). Alazoneia was originally the characteristic of the wandering quack. He offered cures which were no cures and boasted of things that he was not able to do. The future is not within the hands of men and no man can arrogantly claim that he has power to decide it.

James ends with a threat. If a man knows that a thing is wrong and still continues to do it, that to him is sin. James is in effect saying, “You have been warned; the truth has been placed before your eyes.” To continue now in the self-confident habit of seeking to dispose of one’s own life is sin for the man who has been reminded that the future is not in his hands but in God’s.


Jas. 5:1-3

Come now, you rich, weep and wail at the miseries which are coming upon you. Your wealth is rotten and your garments are food for moths. Your gold and silver are corroded clean through with rust; and their rust is proof to you of how worthless they are. It is a rust which will cat into your very flesh like fire. It is a treasure indeed that you have amassed for yourselves in the last days!

Jas. 5:1-6 has two aims. First, to show the ultimate worthlessness of all earthly riches; and second, to show the detestable character of those who possess them. By doing this he hopes to prevent his readers from placing all their hopes and desires on earthly things.

If you knew what you were doing, he says to the rich, you would weep and wail for the terror of the judgment that is coming upon you at the Day of the Lord. The vividness of the picture is increased by the word which James uses for to nail. It is the verb ololuzein (GSN3649), which is onomatopoeic and carries its meaning in its very sound. It means even more than to wail, it means to shriek, and in the King James Version is often translated to howl; and it depicts the frantic terror of those on whom the judgment of God has come (Isa.13:6; Isa.14:31; Isa.15:2-3; Isa.16:7; Isa.23:1; Isa.23:14; Isa.65:14; Am.8:3). We might well say that it is the word which describes those undergoing the tortures of the damned.

All through this passage the words are vivid and pictorial and carefully chosen. In the east there were three main sources of wealth and James has a word for the decay of each of them.

There were corn and grain. That is the wealth which grows rotten (sepein, GSN4595).

There were garments. In the east garments were wealth. Joseph gave changes of garments to his brothers (Gen.45:22). It was for a beautiful mantle from Shinar that Achan brought disaster on the nation and death on himself and his family (Josh.7:21). It was changes of garments that Samson promised to anyone who would solve his riddle (Judg.14:12). It was garments that Naaman brought as a gift to the prophet of Israel and to obtain which Gehazi sinned his soul (2Kgs.5:5; 2Kgs.5:22). It was Paul’s claim that he had coveted no man’s money or apparel (Ac.20:33). These garments, which are so splendid, will be food for moths (setobrotos (GSN4598, compare Matt.6:19).

The climax of the world’s inevitable decay comes at the end. Even their gold and silver will be rusted clean through (katiasthai, GSN2728). The point is that gold and silver do not actually rust; so James in the most vivid way is warning men that even the most precious and apparently most indestructible things are doomed to decay.

This rust is proof of the impermanence and ultimate valuelessness of all earthly things. More, it is a dread warning. The desire for these things is like a dread rust eating into men’s bodies and souls. Then comes a grim sarcasm. It is a fine treasure indeed that any man who concentrates on these things is heaping up for himself at the last. The only treasure he will possess is a consuming fire which will wipe him out.

It is James’ conviction that to concentrate on material things is not only to concentrate on a decaying delusion; it is to concentrate on self-produced destruction.


Jas. 5:1-3 (continued)

Not even the most cursory reader of the Bible can fail to be impressed with the social passion which blazes through its pages. No book condemns dishonest and selfish wealth with such searing passion as it does. The book of the prophet Amos was called by J. E. McFadyen “The Cry for Social Justice.” Amos condemns those who store up violence and robbery in their palaces (Am.3:10). He condemns those who tread on the poor and themselves have houses of hewn stone and pleasant vineyards–which in the wrath of God they will never enjoy (Am.5:11). He lets loose his wrath on those who give short weight and short measure, who buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes, and who palm off on the poor the refuse of their wheat. “I will never forget any of their deeds,” says God (Am.8:4-7). Isaiah warns those who build up great estates by adding house to house and field to field (Isa.5:8). The sage insisted that he who trusts in riches shall fall (Prov.11:28). Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “Woe to you that are rich!” (Lk.6:24). It is only with difficulty that those who have riches enter into the Kingdom of God (Lk.18:24). Riches are a temptation and a snare; the rich are liable to foolish and hurtful lusts which end in ruin, for the love of money is the root of all evils (1Tim.6:9-10).

In the inter-testamental literature there is the same note. “Woe to you who acquire silver and gold in unrighteousness…. They shall perish with their possessions, and in shame will their spirits be cast into the furnace of fire” (Enoch 97: 8). In the Wisdom of Solomon there is a savage passage in which the sage makes the selfish rich speak of their own way of life as compared with that of the righteous. “Come on, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present; and let us speedily use created things like as in youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments: and let no flower of the spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they be withered; let there be no meadow but our luxury shall pass through it. Let none of us go without his part of our voluptuousness; let us leave tokens of our joyfulness in every place; for this is our portion, and our lot is this. Let us oppress the poor righteous man, let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the ancient grey hairs of the aged…. Therefore, let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn and is clean contrary to our doings; he upbraideth us with our offending of the law, and objecteth to our infamy, the sins of our way of life” (Wis.2:6-12).

One of the mysteries of social thought is how the Christian religion ever came to be regarded as “the opiate of the people” or to seem an other-worldly affair. There is no book in any literature which speaks so explosively of social injustice as the Bible, nor any book which has proved so powerful a social dynamic. It does not condemn wealth as such but there is no book which more strenuously insists on wealth’s responsibility and on the perils which surround a man who is abundantly blessed with this world’s goods.


Jas. 5:4-6

Look you, the pay of the reapers who reaped your estates, the pay kept back from them by you, cries against you, and the cries of those who reaped have come to the ears of the Lord of Hosts. On the earth you have lived in soft luxury and played the wanton; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You condemned, you killed the righteous man, and he does not resist you.

Here is condemnation of selfish riches and warning of where they must end.

(i) The selfish rich have gained their wealth by injustice. The Bible is always sure that the labourer is worthy of his hire (Lk.10:7; 1Tim.5:18). The day labourer in Palestine lived on the very verge of starvation. His wage was small; it was impossible for him to save anything; and if the wage was withheld from him, even for a day, he and his family simply could not eat. That is why the merciful laws of Scripture again and again insist on the prompt payment of his wages to the hired labourer. “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy…. You shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it); lest he cry against you to the Lord, and it be sin in you” (Deut.24:14-15). “The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning” (Lev.19:13). “Do not say to your neighbour, `Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’–when you have it with you” (Prov.3:27-28). “Woe to him that builds his house by unrighteousness and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbour serve him for nothing, and does not give him his wages” (Jer.22:13). “Those that oppress the hireling in his wages” are under the judgment of God (Mal.3:5). “He that taketh away his neighbour’s living, the bread gotten by sweat, slayeth him; and he that defraudeth the labourer of his hire, defraudeth his Maker, and shall receive a bitter reward, for he is brother to him that is a blood-shedder” (Sir.34:22). “Let not the wages of any man which hath wrought for thee tarry with thee, but give it him out of hand” (Tob.4:14).

The law of the Bible is nothing less than the charter of the labouring man. The social concern of the Bible speaks in the words of the Law and of the Prophets and of the Sages alike. Here it is said that the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts! The hosts are the hosts of heaven, the stars and the heavenly powers. It is the teaching of the Bible in its every part that the Lord of the universe is concerned for the rights of the labouring man.

(ii) The selfish rich have used their wealth selfishly. They have lived in soft luxury and have played the wanton. The word translated to live in soft luxury is truphein (GSN5171). It comes from a root which means to break down; and it describes the soft living which in the end saps and destroys a man’s moral fibre. The word translated to play the wanton is spatalan (GSN4684). It is a much worse word; it means to live in lewdness and lasciviousness. It is the condemnation of the selfish rich that they have used their possessions to gratify their own love of comfort and to satisfy their own lusts, and that they have forgotten all duty to their fellow-men.

(iii) But anyone who chooses this pathway has also chosen its end. The end of specially fattened cattle is that they will be slaughtered for some feast; and those who have sought this easy luxury and selfish wantonness are like men who have fattened themselves for the day of judgment. The end of their pleasure is grief and the goal of their luxury is death. Selfishness always leads to the destruction of the soul.

(iv) The selfish rich have slain the unresisting righteous man. it is doubtful to whom this refers. It could be a reference to Jesus. “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you” (Ac.3:14). It is Stephen’s charge that the Jews always slew God’s messengers even before the coming of the Just One (Ac.7:52). It is Paul’s declaration that God chose the Jews to see the Just One although they rejected him (Ac.22:14). Peter says that Christ suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust (1Pet. 3:18). The suffering servant of the Lord offered no resistance. He opened not his mouth and like a sheep before his shearers he was dumb (Isa.53:7), a passage which Peter quotes in his picture of Jesus (1Pet. 2:23). It may well be that James is saying that in their oppression of the poor and the righteous man, the selfish rich have crucified Christ again. Every wound that selfishness inflicts on Christ’s people is another wound inflicted on Christ.

It may be that James is not specially thinking of Jesus when he speaks about the righteous man but of the evil man’s instinctive hatred of the good man. We have already quoted the passage in The Wisdom of Solomon which describes the conduct of the rich. That passage goes on: “He (the righteous man) professeth to have the knowledge of God, and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. He was made to reprove our thoughts. He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion. We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his Father. Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected” (Wis.2:13-30). These, says the Sage, are the words of men whose wickedness has blinded them.

Alcibiades, the friend of Socrates, for all his great talents often lived a riotous and debauched life. And there were times when he said to Socrates: “Socrates, I hate you; for every time I see you, you show me what I am.” The evil man would gladly eliminate the good man, for he reminds him of what he is and of what he ought to be.


Jas. 5:7-9

Brothers. have patience until the coming of the Lord. Look you, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, patiently waiting for it until it receives the early and the late rains. So do you too be patient. Make firm your hearts for the coming of the Lord is near. Brothers, do not complain against each other, that you may not be condemned. Look you, the judge stands at the door.

The early church lived in expectation of the immediate Second Coming of Jesus Christ; and James exhorts his people to wait with patience for the few years which remain. The farmer has to wait for his crops until the early and the late rains have come. The early and the late rains are often spoken of in Scripture, for they were all-important to the farmer of Palestine (Deut.11:14; Jer.5:24; Jl.2:23). The early rain was the rain of late October and early November without which the seed would not germinate. The late rain was the rain of April and May without which the grain would not mature. The farmer needs patience to wait until nature does her work; and the Christian needs patience to wait until Christ comes.

During that waiting they must confirm their faith. They must not blame one another for the troubles of the situation in which they find themselves for, if they do, they will be breaking the commandment which forbids Christians to judge one another (Matt.7:1); and if they break that commandment, they will be condemned. James has no doubt of the nearness of the coming of Christ. The judge is at the door, he says, using a phrase which Jesus himself had used (Mk.13:29; Matt.24:33).

It so happened that the early church was mistaken. Jesus Christ did not return within a generation. But it will be of interest to gather up the New Testament’s teaching about the Second Coming so that we may see the essential truth at its heart.

We may first note that the New Testament uses three different words to describe the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

(i) The commonest is parousia (GSN3952), a word which has come into English as it stands. It is used in Matt.24:3; Matt.24:27; Matt.24:37,39; 1Th.2:19; 1Th.3:13; 1Th.4:15; 1Th.5:23; 2Th.2:1; 1Cor.15:23; 1Jn.2:28; 2Pet. 1:16; 2Pet. 3:4. In secular Greek this is the ordinary word for someone’s presence or arrival. But it has two other usages, one of which became quite technical. It is used of the invasion of a country by an army and specially it is used of the visit of a king or a governor to a province of his empire. So, then, when this word is used of Jesus, it means that his Second Coming is the final invasion of earth by heaven and the coming of the King to receive the final submission and adoration of his subjects.

(ii) The New Testament also uses the word epiphaneia (GSN2015) (Tit.2:13; 2Tim.4:1; 2Th.2:9). In ordinary Greek this word has two special usages. It is used of the appearance of a god to his worshipper; and it is used of the accession of an emperor to the imperial power of Rome. So, then, when this word is used of Jesus, it means that his Second Coming is God appearing to his people, both to those who are waiting for him and to those who are disregarding him.

(iii) Finally the New Testament uses the word apokalupsis (GSN0602) (1Pet. 1:7,13). Apokalupsis in ordinary Greek means an unveiling or a laying bare; and when it is used of Jesus, it means that his Second Coming is the laying bare of the power and glory of God come upon men.

Here, then, we have a series of great pictures. The Second Coming of Jesus is the arrival of the King; it is God appearing to his people and mounting his eternal throne; it is God directing on the world the full blaze of his heavenly glory.


Jas. 5:7-9 (continued)

We may now gather up briefly the teaching of the New Testament about the Second Coming and the various uses it makes of the idea.

(i) The New Testament is clear that no man knows the day or the hour when Christ comes again. So secret, in fact, is that time that Jesus himself does not know it; it is known to God alone (Matt.24:36; Mk.13:32). From this basic fact one thing is clear. Human speculation about the time of the Second Coming is not only useless, it is blasphemous; for surely no man should seek to gain a knowledge which is hidden from Jesus Christ himself and resides only in the mind of God.

(ii) The one thing that the New Testament does say about the Second Coming is that it will be as sudden as the lightning and as unexpected as a thief in the night (Matt.24:27; Matt.24:37,39; 1Th.5:2; 2Pet. 3:10). We cannot wait to get ready when it comes; we must be ready for its coming.

So, the New Testament urges certain duties upon men.

(i) They must be for ever on the watch (1Pet. 4:7). They are like servants whose master has gone away and who, not knowing when he will return, must have everything ready for his return, whether it be at morning, at midday, or at evening (Matt.24:36-51).

(ii) Long delay must not produce despair or forgetfulness (2Pet. 3:4). God does not see time as men do. To him a thousand years are as a watch in the night and even if the years pass on, it does not mean that he has either changed or abandoned his design.

(iii) Men must use the time given them to prepare for the coming of the King. They must be sober (1Pet. 4:7). They must get to themselves holiness (1Th.3:13). By the grace of God they must become blameless in body and in spirit (1Th.5:23). They must put off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light now that the day is far spent (Rom.13:11-14). Men must use the time given them to make themselves such that they can greet the coming of the King with joy and without shame.

(iv) When that time comes, they must be found in fellowship. Peter uses the thought of the Second Coming to urge men to love and mutual hospitality (1Pet. 4:8-9). Paul commands that all things be done in love–Maran-atha (GSN3134)–the Lord is at hand (1Cor.16:14,22). He says that our forbearance must be known to all men because the Lord is at hand (Php.4:5). The word translated “forbearance” is epieikes (GSN1933) which means the spirit that is more ready to offer forgiveness than to demand justice. The writer to the Hebrews demands mutual help, mutual Christian fellowship, mutual encouragement because the day is coming near (Heb.10:24-25). The New Testament is sure that in view of the Coming of Christ we must have our personal relationships right with our fellow-men. The New Testament would urge that no man ought to end a day with an unhealed breach between himself and a fellow-man, lest in the night Christ should come.

(v) John uses the Second Coming as a reason for urging men to abide in Christ (1Jn.2:28). Surely the best preparation for meeting Christ is to live close to him every day.

Much of the imagery attached to the Second Coming is Jewish, part of the traditional apparatus of the last things in the ancient Jewish mind. There are many things which we are not meant to take literally. But the great truth behind all the temporary pictures of the Second Coming is that this world is not purposeless but going somewhere, that there is one divine far-off event to which the whole creation moves.


Jas. 5:10-11

Brothers, take as an example of patience in hardship the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Look you, we count those who endure blessed. You have heard of Job’s steadfast endurance and you have seen the conclusion of his troubles which the Lord gave to him, and you have proof that the Lord is very kind and merciful.

It is always a comfort to feel that others have gone through what we have to go through. James reminds his readers that the prophets and the men of God could never have done their work and borne their witness had they not patiently endured. He reminds them that Jesus himself had said that the man who endured to the end was blessed for he would be saved (Matt.24:13).

Then he quotes the example of Job, of whom in the synagogue discourses they had often heard. We generally speak of the patience of Job which is the word the King James Version uses. But patience is far too passive a word. There is a sense in which Job was anything but patient. As we read the tremendous drama of his life we see him passionately resenting what has come upon him, passionately questioning the conventional arguments of his so-called friends, passionately agonizing over the terrible thought that God might have forsaken him. Few men have spoken such passionate words as he did; but the great fact about him is that in spite of all the agonizing questionings which tore at his heart, he never lost his faith in God. “Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope;” (Jb.13:15). “My witness is in heaven, and he that vouches for me is on high” (Jb.16:19). “I know that my redeemer lives” (Jb.19:25). His is no unquestioning submission; he struggled and questioned, and sometimes even defied, but the flame of his faith was never extinguished.

The word used of him is that great New Testament word hupomone (GSN5281), which describes, not a passive patience, but that gallant spirit which can breast the tides of doubt and sorrow and disaster and come out with faith still stronger on the other side. There may be a faith which never complained or questioned; but still greater is the faith which was tortured by questions and still believed. It was the faith which held grimly on that came out on the other side, for “the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Jb.42:12).

There will be moments in life when we think that God has forgotten, but if we cling to the remnants of faith, at the end we, too, shall see that God is very kind and very merciful.


Jas. 5:12

Above all things, my brothers, do not swear, neither by heaven nor by earth nor by any other oath. Let your yes be a simple yes and your no a simple no, lest you fall under judgment.

James is repeating the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5:33-37), teaching which was very necessary in the days of the early church. James is not thinking of what we call bad language but of confirming a statement or a promise or an undertaking by an oath. In the ancient world, there were two evil practices.

(i) There was a distinction–especially in the Jewish world–between oaths which were binding and oaths which were not binding. Any oath in which the name of God was directly used was considered to be definitely binding; but any oath in which direct mention of the name of God was not made was held not to be binding. The idea was that, once God’s name was definitely used, he became an active partner in the transaction, but he did not become a partner unless his name was so introduced. The result of this was that it became a matter of skill and sharp practice to find an oath which was not binding. This made a mockery of the whole practice of confirming anything by an oath.

(ii) There was in this age an extraordinary amount of oath-taking. This in itself was quite wrong. For one thing, the value of an oath depends to a large extent on the fact of it being very seldom necessary to take one. When oaths became a commonplace, they ceased to be respected as they ought to be. For another thing, the practice of taking frequent oaths was nothing other than a proof of the prevalence of lying and cheating. In an honest society no oath is needed; it is only when men cannot be trusted to tell the truth that they have to be put upon oath.

In this the ancient writers on morals thoroughly agreed with Jesus. Philo says, “Frequent swearing is bound to beget perjury and impiety.” The Jewish Rabbis said, “Accustom not thyself to vows, for sooner or later thou wilt swear false oaths.” The Essenes forbade all oaths. They held that if a man required an oath to make him tell the truth, he was already branded as untrustworthy. The great Greeks held that the best guarantee of any statement was not an oath but the character of the man who made it; and that the ideal was to make ourselves such that no one would ever think of demanding an oath from us because he would be certain that we would always speak the truth.

The New Testament view is that every word is spoken in the presence of God and ought, therefore, to be true; and it would agree that the Christian must be known to be a man of such honour that it will be quite unnecessary ever to put him on oath. The New Testament would not entirely condemn oaths but it would deplore the human tendency to falsehood which on occasion makes oaths necessary.


Jas. 5:13-15

Is any among you in trouble? Let him pray. Is any in good spirits? Let him sing a hymn. Is any among you sick? Let him call in the elders of the Church; and let them anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and pray over him; and the believing prayer will restore to health the ailing person, and the Lord will enable him to rise from his bed; and even if he has committed sin, he will receive forgiveness.

Here we have set out before us certain dominant characteristics of the early church.

It was a singing church; the early Christians were always ready to burst into song. In Paul’s description of the meetings of the Church at Corinth, we find singing an integral part (1Cor.14:15; 1Cor.14:26). When he thinks of the grace of God going out to the Gentiles, it reminds him of the joyous saying of the Psalmist: “I will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name” (Rom.15:9; compare Ps.18:49). The Christians they speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord (Eph.5:19). The word of Christ dwells in them, and they teach and admonish each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in their hearts to the Lord (Col.3:16). There was a joy in the heart of the Christians which issued from their lips in songs of praise for the mercy and the grace of God.

The fact is that the heathen world has always been sad and weary and frightened. Matthew Arnold wrote a poem describing its bored weariness.

“On that hard Pagan world disgust And secret loathing fell; Deep weariness and sated lust Made human life a hell. In his cool hall, with haggard eyes, The Roman noble lay; He drove abroad in furious guise Along the Appian Way; He made a feast, drank fierce and fast, And crowned his hair with flowers– No easier nor no quicker past The impracticable hours.”

In contrast with that weary mood the accent of the Christian is singing joy. That was what impressed John Bunyan when he heard four poor old women talking, as they sat at a door in the sun: “Methought they spake, as if joy did make them speak.” When Bilney, the martyr, grasped the wonder of redeeming grace, he said, “It was as if dawn suddenly broke on a dark night.” Archibald Lang Fleming, the first Bishop of the Arctic, tells of the saying of an Eskimo hunter: “Before you came the road was dark and we were afraid. Now we are not afraid, for the darkness has gone away and all is light as we walk the Jesus way.”

Always the church has been a singing Church. When Pliny, governor of Bithynia, wrote to Trajan, the Roman Emperor, in A.D. 111 to tell him of this new sect of Christians, he said that his information was that “they are in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it is light, when they sing in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as God.” In the orthodox Jewish synagogue, since the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, there has been no music, for, when they worship, they remember a tragedy; but in the Christian Church, from the beginning until now, there has been the music of praise, for the Christian remembers an Infinite love and enjoys a present glory.


Jas. 5:13-15 (continued)

Another great characteristic of the early church was that it was a healing Church. Here it inherited its tradition from Judaism. When a Jew was ill, it was to the Rabbi he went rather than to the doctor; and the Rabbi anointed him with oil–which Galen the Greek doctor called “the best of all medicines”–and prayed over him. Few communities can have been so devotedly attentive to their sick as the early church was. Justin Martyr writes that numberless demoniacs were healed by the Christians when all other exorcists had been helpless to cure them and all drugs had been unavailing. Irenaeus, writing far down the second century, tells us that the sick were still healed by having hands laid on them. Tertullian, writing midway through the third century, says that no less a person than the Roman Emperor, Alexander Severus, was healed by anointing at the hands of a Christian called Torpacion and that in his gratitude he kept Torpacion as a guest in his palace until the day of his death.

One of the earliest books concerning Church administration is the Canons of Hippolytus, which goes back to the end of the second century or the beginning of the third. ]t is there laid down that men who have the gift of healing are to be ordained as presbyters after investigation has been made to ensure that they really do possess the gift and that it comes from God. That same book gives the noble prayer used at the consecration of the local bishops, part of which runs: “Grant unto him, O Lord…the power to break all the chains of the evil power of the demons, to cure all the sick, and speedily to subdue Satan beneath his feet.” In the Clementine Letters the duties of the deacons are laid down; and they include the rule: “Let the deacons of the Church move about intelligently and act as eyes for the bishop…. Let them find out those who are sick in the flesh, and bring such to the notice of the main body who know nothing of them, that they may visit them, and supply their wants.” In the First Epistle of Clement the prayer of the Church is: “Heal the sick; raise up the weak; cheer the faint-hearted.” A very early Church code lays it down that each congregation must appoint at least one widow to take care of women who are sick. For many centuries the Church consistently used anointing as a means of healing the sick. In fact it is important to note that the sacrament of unction, or anointing, was in the early centuries always designed as a means of cure, and not as a preparation for death as it now is in the Roman Catholic Church. It was not until A.D. 852 that this sacrament did, in fact, become the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, administered to prepare for death.

The Church has always cared for her sick; and in her there has always resided the gift of healing. The social gospel is not an appendix to Christianity; it is the very essence of the Christian faith and life.


Jas. 5:16-18

Confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other, that you may be healed. The prayer of a good man, when it is set to work, is very powerful. Elijah was a man with the same emotions as ourselves, and he prayed earnestly that it should not rain, and for three years and six months no rain fell upon the earth. And he prayed again and the heaven gave rain; and the earth put forth her fruit.

There are in this passage three basic ideas of Jewish religion.

(i) There is the idea that all sickness is due to sin. It was a deeply-rooted Jewish belief that where there were sickness and suffering, there must have been sin. “There is no death without guilt,” said the Rabbis, “and no suffering without sin.” The Rabbis, therefore, believed that before a man could be healed of his sickness his sins must be forgiven by God. Rabbi Alexandrai said, “No man gets up from his sickness until God has forgiven him all his sins.” That is why Jesus began his healing of the man with the palsy by saying, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mk.2:5). The Jew always identified suffering and sin. Nowadays we cannot make this mechanical identification; but this remains true–that no man can know any health of soul or mind or body until he is right with God.

(ii) There is the idea that, to be effective, confession of sin has to be made to men, and especially to the person wronged, as well as to God. In a very real sense it is easier to confess sins to God than to confess them to men; and yet in sin there are two barriers to be removed–the barrier it sets up between us and God, and the barrier it sets up between us and our fellow-men. If both these barriers are to be removed, both kinds of confession must be made. This was, in fact, the custom of the Moravian Church and Wesley took it over for his earliest Methodist classes. They used to meet two or three times a week “to confess their faults to one another and to pray for one another that they might be healed.” This is clearly a principle which must be used with wisdom. It is quite true that there may be cases where confession of sin to each other may do infinitely more harm than good; but where a barrier has been erected because of some wrong which has been done, a man must put himself right both with God and his fellow-man.

(iii) Above all, there is the idea that no limits can be set to the power of prayer. The Jews had a saying that he who prays surrounds his house with a wall stronger than iron. They said, “Penitence can do something; but prayer can do everything.” To them prayer was nothing less than contacting the power of God; it was the channel through which the strength and grace life. How much more must this be so for a Christian?

Tennyson wrote:

“More things are wrought by prayer Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice Rise like a fountain for me night and day. For what are men better than sheep or goats That nourish a blind life within the brain, If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer Both for themselves and those who call them friend? For so the whole round earth is every way Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”

As the Jew saw it, and as indeed it is, to cure the his of life we need to be right with God and right with men, and we need to bring to bear upon men through prayer the mercy and the might of God.

Before we leave this passage there is one interesting technical fact that we must note. It quotes Elijah as an example of the power of prayer. This is an excellent illustration of how Jewish rabbinic exegesis developed the meaning of Scripture. The full story is in 1Kgs.17-18. The three years and six months–a period also quoted in Lk.4:25–is a deduction from 1Kgs.18:1. Further, the Old Testament narrative does not say that either the coming or the cessation of the drought was due to the prayers of Elijah; he was merely the prophet who announced its coming and its going. But the Rabbis always studied Scripture under the microscope. In 1Kgs.17:1 we read: “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” Now the Jewish attitude of prayer was standing before God; and so in this phrase the Rabbis found what was to them an indication that the drought was the result of the prayers of Elijah. In 1Kgs.18:42 we read that Elijah went up to Carmel, bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. Once again the Rabbis saw the attitude of agonizing prayer; and so found what was to them an indication that it was the prayer of Elijah which brought the drought to an end.


Jas. 5:19-20

My brothers, if any among you wanders from the truth and if anyone turns him again to the right way, let him know that he who has turned a sinner from his wandering way will save his brothel’s soul from death and will hide a multitude of his own sins.

In this passage there is set down the great differentiating characteristic of Christian truth. It is something from which a man can wander. It is not only intellectual, philosophical and abstract; it is always moral truth.

This comes out very clearly when we go to the New Testament and look at the expressions which are used in connection with truth. Truth is something which a man must love (2Th.2:10); it is something which a man must obey (Gal.5:7); it is something which a man must display in life (2Cor.4:2); it is something which must be spoken in love (Eph.4:15); it is something which must be witnessed to (Jn.18:37); it is something which must be manifested in a life of love (1Jn.3:19); it is something which liberates (Jn.8:32); and it is something which is the gift of the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus Christ (Jn.16:13-14).

Clearest of all is the phrase in Jn.3:21, he who does it,hat is true. That is to say, Christian truth is something which must be done. It is not only the object of the search of the mind; it is always moral truth issuing in action. It is not only something to be studied but something to be done; not only something to which a man must submit only his mind but something to which he must submit his whole life.


Jas. 5:19-20 (continued)

James finishes his letter with one of the greatest and most uplifting thoughts in the New Testament; and yet one which occurs more than once in the Bible. Suppose a man goes wrong and strays away; and suppose a fellow-Christian rescues him from the error of his ways and brings him back to the right path. That man has not only saved his brother’s soul, he has covered a multitude of his own sins. In other words, to save another’s soul is the surest way to save one’s own.

Mayor points out that Origen has a wonderful passage in one of his Homilies in which he indicates these six ways in which a man may gain forgiveness of his sins–by baptism, by martyrdom, by almsgiving (Lk.11:41), by the forgiveness of others (Matt.6:14), by love (Lk.7:47), and by converting a sinner from the evil of his ways. God will forgive much to the man who has been the means of leading another brother back to him.

This is a thought which shines forth every now and then from the pages of Scripture. Jeremiah says, “If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth” (Jer.15:19). Daniel writes: “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dn.12:3). The advice to the young Timothy is: “Take heed to yourself, and to your teaching; for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1Tim.4:16).

There is a saying of the Jewish Fathers: “Whosoever makes a man righteous, sin prevails not over him.” Clement of Alexandria says that the true Christian reckons that which benefits his neighbour his own salvation. It is told that an ultra-evangelical lady once asked Wilberforce, the liberator of the slaves, if his soul was saved. “Madame,” he answered, “I have been so busy trying to save the souls of others that I have had no time to think of my own.” It has been said that those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves; and certainly those who bring the lives of others to God cannot keep God out of their own. The highest honour God can give is bestowed upon him who leads another to God; for the man who does that does nothing less than share in the work of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of men.





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