James 2
Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
Chap. 2:1-13.] The sin of respect of persons: as the first of a series of reproofs for errors in practice which spring out of the mention of the νόμος τέλειος ὁ τῆς ἐλευθερίας: cf. ch. 1:25 and ver. 12. The Apostle begins, as is his wont, with strong blame of the sin: then illustrates it, vv. 2-4: then gives the ground of its sinfulness, vv. 5-11, and concludes, vv. 12, 13, with a reference again to the law of liberty.

1-4.] The warning, and its practical ground.

1.] My brethren, do not (ἔχετε is not, as Schneckenburger, al., interrogative, but imperative, as ch. 1:16; 3:1. The interrogative with μή may not always require a negative answer, but it always implies a doubt as to the fact questioned: ‘Surely.… not …?’ e. g. μήτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ χριστός: “Surely this cannot be the Christ?” John 4:29: μὴ πλείονα σημεῖα ποιήσει; “Surely he will not do more signs?” John 7:31: &c. See Winer, § 57. 3, b. And this clearly cannot be the case here) in respectings of persons (ἐν, ‘in,’ i. e. in the practice of, in the midst of: see on ἔχετε below. The subst. is plur., to point out the various kinds and occasions of the fault. The fault itself, as here intended, is easily explained by the context, where an example is taken of one kind of it. Theile says well that it is, “iniquitas singulos Christianos non virtute sua christians, sed fortuna qualitatibusque externis metiendi atque secundum hanc normam alios aliis præferendi.” Notice, that ἐν προσωπολ. is put first, as carrying the weight of the dehortation, ἔχειν τὴν πίστιν following, as matter of course and existing fact) hold (ἔχετε has been taken wrongly: e. g. by Grot., “detinere velut captivam et inefficacem,” = κατέχειν in the saying of St. Paul in Romans 1:18, τῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἐν ἀδικίᾳ κατεχόντων: by Pott, as ἔχειν τινὰ ἐν ὀργῇ, ἐν αἰτίαις, ἐν ἐπιγνώσει, as Romans 1:28, explaining it “religiosis partibus nimium studere,” which however this construction would hardly bear. ἔχειν is simply to have or to hold, as ever in St. James, cf. ch. 1:4; 3:14: and see reff.) the faith (not merely ‘faith in,’ but the faith of, thus setting before them more forcibly the utter inconsistency of such respect of persons with the service of Christ) of our Lord Jesus Christ, (the Lord) of glory (such I believe, with most Commentators, to be the construction of τῆς δόξης, though it is somewhat harsh and unusual. Others have been proposed, but all of them are more objectionable still: e. g. by Erasm. (“Nolite facere discrimen personarum juxta rerum mundanarum æstimationem”), and Calvin (“ex opinione”), as if it were ἐν δόξῃ προσωπολημψίας or -ῶν: by Bengel (“Est appositio, ut ipse Christus dicatur ἡ δόξα, gloria, cf. Luke 2:32: Isaiah 40:5: Ephesians 1:17: 1Peter 4:14;” none of which places justify the idea, seeing that in the two former a genitive follows δόξα, and the two latter rather support the common view): by Laurentius, who unites τῆς δόξης with χριστοῦ (“Christus gloriæ = Christus gloriosus”): finally by Huther, who would join τῆς δόξης with τὴν πίστιν (differing however from Grot. who doing this had made τοῦ κυρίου dependent on it, τὴν πίστιν τῆς δόξης τοῦ κυρίου, and from Gataker and Hottinger, who also doing it, make it = τὴν πίστιν ἔνδοξον), making it a gen. of the object, and τοῦ κυρ. ἡμ. Ἰ. χρ. a gen. of the subject—the faith, resting on our Lord Jesus Christ, in the (future) glory, i. e. τὴν μέλλουσαν δόξαν ἀποκαλυφθῆναι εἰς ἡμᾶς, Romans 8:18. And, he adds, this belief in the glory which shall be revealed is the more naturally mentioned here, because of the contrast between it and the passing glory of this world’s pomp. Exactly: but that contrast is just as vivid on the common hypothesis. This last, complicated and harsh as it is, seems to me the only admissible one of all these interpretations. But it is surely far better, either to govern τῆς δόξης by κυρίου, as a second genitive, or to regard it as the epithetal genitive which so constantly follows the mention of the divine Name, as ὁ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης and the like. Both these are abundantly justified: see reff. Huther’s objection to the first, that the full name Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ entirely completes the idea, and forbids another genitive following, is not decisive: just for the same reason that the full Name is given, viz. to make the contrast more solemn and striking, is the additional title τῆς δόξης given, to increase still further that solemnity. It is to be again noticed, how expressly St. James grounds Christian practice on the faith of Christ, in all its fulness. The θρησκεία just spoken of is here taken up and enlarged on; but its root and ground is πίστις, and that, ἡ πίστις τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ τῆς δόξης).

2-4.] Hypothetical example, to explain to them that to which he especially points. The hypothesis carries however in itself a foundation of fact, and appeals (γάρ) to the consciences of the readers whether it were not so.

2.] For (q. d. that which I mean, is) if there chance to have come (aor. because the entrance is accomplished when that which is alleged takes place. This is better than to account for the aor., with Huther, by its being St. James’s manner to designate by aorists a fact habitually repeated; the examples which he gives, ch. 1:11, 24, resting on another ground: see there) into your assembly (some have too hastily inferred from the word συναγωγή that the Jewish synagogue is meant. This, in the face of the organization of the church implied in ch. 5:14, would be impossible. The word may well be understood of a Christian assembly, so in Test. XII. Patrum, p. 747, ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς τῶν ἐθνῶν,—or as merely an assembly in general, cf. ref. Heb., μὴ ἐγκαταλείποντες τὴν ἐπισυναγωγὴν ἑαυτῶν. But it is most likely here, from the allusions to sitting and standing below, a place of Christian worship, the name being a natural one, considering by whom the Epistle was written and to whom it is addressed) a man with gold rings (this ἅπαξ λεγόμενον is expressed by χρυσόχειρ in Lucian, Timon, § 20. Wetst. has accumulated evidence of the practice of overloading the fingers with rings: e. g. Lucian, Somn. (Gall) 12, ἐγὼ δὲ ἔχων.… δακτυλίους βαρεῖς ὅσον ἑκκαίδεκα ἐξημμένους τῶν δακτύλων: Martial xi. 60, “Senos Charinus omnibus digitis gerit, Nec nocte ponit annulos, nec dum lavatur”) in a splendid garment (glittering, either in colour, or with ornaments), and there have come in also a poor man in a vile garment (reff.),

3.] and (the δέ just expresses the change of subject, from the persons entering in, to the congregation) ye look upon (with respect, see reff.: so as to take into consideration) the man wearing a splendid garment (thus designated, because it is this which wins for him the respect—which attracts your notice) and say, Sit thou (κάθου for κάθησο, occurring Matthew 22:44: Luke 20:42: Acts 2:34: 1Kings 1:23; 1Kings 22:5: 4 Kings 2:6 al., is not found in pure Greek. See Winer, § 14. 4) here (pointing out a spot to him: and that, as the contrast between ὧδε and ἐκεῖ (shews, in the midst, near (for the words must be supposed to be spoken by those who would be the mouthpiece of the assembly) those in honour) in a good place (not, “honorifice,” as Wahl, still less must καλῶς be supposed to mean “be so good as to” &c., as Storr), and ye say to the poor man, Stand thou there, or sit under (i. e. not literally underneath; but ‘on the ground beside,’ ‘down by’) my footstool (Wiesinger calls ὑποπόδιον an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον: but see reff. Thus it is implied that the speaker is in a good place and furnished with a footstool.

The question, argued at considerable length by Wiesinger and Huther, who these incomers are supposed to be, whether Christians, or Jews who have looked in as strangers, is perhaps hardly worth the trouble spent upon it. The illustration merely requires that they should be strangers, not having a regular place in the congregation. Certainly so far I agree with Huther, that there appears nothing in the text which compels us to assume them to be Christians. They are taken merely as samples of a class, the rich and the poor: and these two are dealt with again in vv. 5 ff., as classes of persons, out of one of which God hath chosen His people for the most part, and out of the other of which the oppressors of His people arise. So that it is better to leave the examples in their general reference),

4.] (Now comes the apodosis in the form of a question)—did ye not (in the case supposed) doubt (such is the constant sense of διακρίνομαι in the N. T. throughout (reff.), except in two passages, Acts 11:2: Jude 1:9, where it means “disputing,” a sense which cannot enter here (on Jude 1:22, see there). And here, the sense seems very good: ‘Did ye not, in making such distinction between rich and poor, become of the number of those who doubt respecting their faith, ch. 1:6? Your faith abolishes such distinction: you set it up in practice. You are not then whole in that faith.’ Various other explanations have been given, which Huther enumerates thus: διακρίνεσθαι 1. = “separare:” thus Schulthess, Semler, Erasm. Schmid, al., with the verb either passive, “Nonne inter vos ipsos estis discreti et separati?” or middle, “Nonne vos discernitis inter vos ipsos?” 2. = “discrimen facere:” a. the verb active, and that, α. interrogative: “Nonne discrimen fecistis apud vos ipsos?” so Laurentius, Grot., Wolf, Hottinger, Knapp: thus ἐν ἑαυτοῖς = ἐν ἀλλήλοις: Schneckenburger however gives it “in animis vestris,” and makes “discrimen facere” to pass into an act of individual judgment, “statuere:” β. negative: “Then ye have not made a sound distinction in yourselves:” so Grashof: b. the verb passive, “Inter vos ipsos non estis discriminati, N. E. cessat piorum et impiorum differentia,” Oeder. 3. = “judicare:” a. the verb active: and that, α. interrogative: “Nonne judicastis, deliberastis ipsi?” i. e. are ye not yourselves persuaded how wrong this is? Augusti:) β. negative: “Non discrevistis justa deliberatione, considerantia et æstimatione, quid tribuendum esset pauperi potius vel certe non minus quam diviti,” Bengel (Luther combines this rendering with that under (2): und bedenket es nicht recht, sondern ihr werdet Richter, und macht bösen Unterschied): here also comes in the explanation of Œc.: τὸ διακριτικὸν ὑμῶν διεφθείρατε, μηδεμίαν συζήτησιν ποιήσαντες πότερον τιμητέον, … ἀλλʼ οὕτως ἀδιακρίτως κ. ἐν προσωποληψίᾳ τὸν μὲν ἐτιμήσατε … τὸν δὲ ἠτιμάσατε: b. the verb passive: and that, α. interrogative: “Nonne vos in conscientiis dijudicati, h. e. convicti estis?” Paræus: β. negative: “Et dijudicati inter vos ipsos non estis ut judicastis secundum prava ratiocinia vestra,” Heisen. Cajetan, somewhat differently, “Hæc faciendo non estis judicati in vobis ipsis, sed estis judicati in vestibus et divitis et pauperis:” laying the chief stress on ἐν ἑαυτοῖς. 4. διακρίνεσθαι = ‘dubitare,’ to entertain doubts: α. interrogative: “Et non dubitastis apud vosmetipsos? et facti estis iniqui judices?” “Should you not yourselves have entertained doubts? should you actually have passed evil-minded judgment?” Theile: β. negative: “Non dubitastis apud animum, ne scilicet quidem hæc cogitatio, id factum forte malum esse, sed certo apud vos statuistis id jure ac bene fieri.”

The meaning above given is held by Keen, De Wette, Wiesinger, Huther) within yourselves (in your own minds, being at issue with your own faith), and become judges (in the case of the rich and poor; judges of the case before you), of evil thoughts (the gen. is one of quality, like ὁ κριτὴς τῆς ἀδικίας, Luke 18:6: ἀκροατὴς ἐπιλησμονῆς, ch. 1:25: not an objective gen., as Elsner, “Iniquas illas cogitationes approbastis:” and Bengel, “judices, approbatores, malarum cogitationum: i. e. divitum, foris splendentium, sed malis cogitationibus scatentium.” The evil thoughts are in the judges themselves, and consist in the undue preference given by them to the rich. The same blame, of being a judge when a man ought to be an obeyer of the law, is found in ch. 4:11. Notice also the parallel containing the same paronomasia, in Rom_14: σὺ δὲ τί κρίνεις τὸν ἀδελφόν σου; (ver. 10:).… ὁ δὲ διακρινόμενος ἐὰν φάγῃ κατακέκριται (ver. 23))?

5.] Listen, my beloved brethren (bespeaking attention to that which follows, as shewing them in a marked manner the sin of their προσωπολημψία), Did not God choose out (in His proceeding, namely, in the promulgation of the gospel by Christ, Matthew 5:3 ff.: Luke 6:20. See also 1Corinthians 1:27) the poor (τούς, as a class, set against οἱ πλούσιοι as a class, below) as regards the world (reff.: or, those who in the world’s estimation are accounted poor; but the dative of reference is most likely here, as in παιδία ταῖς φρεσίν, and the like) rich in faith (i. e. to be rich in faith, or so that they are rich in faith: the words are not in apposition with τοὺς πτωχούς, as Erasmus, al., but form a predicatory specification of them. ἐν πίστει, as the element, the world, so to speak, in which they pass for rich, as in ref. 1 Tim.: not as the material of which their riches consist, as in ref. Eph. Wiesinger well says, “Not the measure of faith, in virtue of which one man is richer than another, is before the Writer’s mind, but the substance of the faith, by virtue of which substance every believer is rich. The riches are the treasures of salvation, and especially, owing to the following κληρονόμους, the sonship in God’s family.” And similarly Calvin, “Non qui fidei magnitudine abundant, sed quos Deus variis Spiritus sui donis locupletavit, quæ fide percipimus”), and heirs of the kingdom which He promised (Luke 12:31, Luke 12:32 al.) to them that love Him?

6.] Contrast to God’s estimate of the poor. But ye dishonoured the poor man (in the case just now put: with reference also to which the aor. is used. “Indignum est dejicere quos Deus extollit, et quos honore dignatur probrose tractare: atqui Deus pauperes honorat: ergo pervertit Dei ordinem quisquis eos rejicit.” Calv. This is his first argument. Now, vv. 6, 7, he brings in another, deduced from the conduct of rich men towards Christians and towards Christ Himself). Do not the rich (opposed as a class, to τοὺς πτωχούς above. This serves to shew that ὁ πλούσιος, when generally spoken of in the Epistle, as e. g. ch. 1:10, is not the Christian rich man, but the rich man as such, in his worldliness and enmity to God) oppress you (see ref. So κατακυριεύειν, Matthew 20:25: 1Peter 5:3: κατεξουσιάζειν, Matthew 20:25: all signifying to use power, or lordship, or licence, against any to his hurt), and is it not they that (such is the force of the αὐτοί, again repeated below: not that they themselves ἕλκουσιν κ.τ.λ.) drag you (so “a lictoribus trahi,” Livy ii. 27: see reff. The term implies violence) to courts of judgment (see ch. 5:6, κατεδικάσατε, ἐφονεύσατε τὸν δίκαιον. The words may refer either to persecutions, or to oppressive law-suits; or perhaps to both, as Apollinarius in the Catena, τοῦτο μὲν οἱ τῶν Ἰουδαίων ἄρχοντες, ἐκ τῶν καρποφοριῶν πλουτοῦντες· τοῦτο δὲ καὶ οἱ τὰ Ῥωμαίων διοικοῦντες πράγματα, εἰδωλολατροῦντες τότε.

See on the matter, ref. 1 Cor.)?

7.] Is it not they that (on αὐτοί, see above) blaspheme (actually and literally, in words, it being, as we have maintained throughout, ungodly and heathens who are pointed at. Those who maintain them to be Christian rich men, would understand βλασφημεῖν, to disgrace by their lives: but apart from other objections, Huther has remarked well, that when the verb is thus used, it is ordinarily in the passive with διὰ,—see Romans 2:24: Titus 2:5: 2Peter 2:2: Isaiah 52:5,—not as a direct active governing a case, which is far more naturally taken in its literal sense) the goodly name which was called on you (i. e. which when you were admitted into Christ’s Church by baptism was made yours, so that you are called χριστοῦ, 1Corinthians 3:23 (not necessarily χριστιανοί: no particular form of the appropriation of the name is alluded to, but only the fact of the name being called over them. The appellation may or may not have been in use at this time, for aught that this shews). The name is of course that of Christ: not that of “God,” as Storr and Schulthess, nor that of “brethren,” as some. On the phrase ἐπικληθὲν ἐφʼ, see, besides reff., Deuteronomy 28:10: 2Chronicles 7:14: Isaiah 4:1: also Genesis 48:16)? So that if ye thus dishonour the poor in comparison with the rich, you are, 1. contravening the standard of honour which God sets up in His dealings: 2. opposing your own interest: 3. helping to blaspheme the name of Christ.

8-11.] Proof that this behaviour is a transgression of God’s law. The connexion is somewhat recondite. The adversative μέντοι clearly takes exception at something expressed or understood. Calvin, Corn. a-Lap., Laurentius, al., and Theile, Wiesinger, and Huther, suppose the Apostle to be meeting an objection of his readers: “But thus, according to you, we should be breaking the injunction, Love thy neighbour &c., for we should view the rich with hatred and contempt.” Then he replies, “Certainly, if ye &c. ye do well:” understanding καλῶς π. as a very feeble approbation. But this seems to me very unnatural. It contains indeed the germ of the true view, which appears to be this: The Apostle is not replying to a fancied objection on the part of others, but is guarding his own argument from misconstruction: q. d. ‘All this is true of the rich. Still I do not say, hate them, drive them from your assemblies &c.: if you choose to observe faithfully the great command, Love others as yourselves, in your conduct to all, well and good (καλῶς ποιεῖτε): but respect of persons, instead of being a keeping, is a breach of this law; for I have proved it to be sin, and he who commits sin is a transgressor of the law, of the whole law, by the very terms of legal obedience.’ Thus the context seems to run smoothly and naturally.

8.] Yet (for the connexion see above. Keen, Schneckenburger, al. try to make μέντοι mean “igitur,” which it never can: see reff.) if ye fulfil (emphasis on τελεῖτε, as put before the epithet; if ye really choose to fulfil in its completeness that law) the royal law (the law which is the king of all laws, as the old saying makes law itself king of all: νόμος πάντων βασιλεύς. Love fulfils the whole law, πλήρωμα νόμου ἡ ἀγάπη, Romans 13:10. See similar expressions in Wetst. and Kypke from Plato, al.: the most remarkable being this: ἐν τοῖς συγγράμμασι τοῖς περὶ τῶν δικαίων καὶ ἀδίκων, καὶ ὅλως περὶ πόλεως διακοσμήσεώς τε καὶ περὶ τοῦ ὡς χρὴ πόλιν διοικεῖν, τὸ μὲν ὀρθὸν νόμος ἐστὶ βασιλικός, τὸ δὲ μὴ ὀρθὸν οὐ δοκεῖ νόμος εἶναι βασιλικός.… ἐστὶ γὰρ ἄνομον. Plato, Minos, pp. 566 f. The explanations, Because it proceeds from God, the great King (Raphel, Wetst., Wolf, al.), from Christ (Grot.), because it applies to kings as well as other men (Michaelis), because “reges facit” (Thomus), Calvin’s, “Regia lex dicitur, ut via regia, plana scilicet, recte et æquabilis, qui sinuosis deverticulis, vel ambagibus tacite opponitur,” &c., are all objectionable, as not bringing in any epithet contextually justified, or peculiarly belonging to this and not to other laws: whereas “that first of all laws” fits excellently the requirements of the context), according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well (i. e. well and good: see above: if you choose to do this, ‘do manus,’ I have nothing to object. But then, this you can never do, as long as you respect persons):

9.] but if ye respect persons, it is sin that ye are working (not obedience to this royal law), being (i. e. seeing that ye are) convicted by the law as transgressors (viz. by virtue of what I have already proved as wrong in your conduct. “Deus enim proximos jubet diligere, non eligere personas.” Calv.).

10.] The fact of transgression of this law is proved by its solidarity, not admitting of being broken in one point and yet kept in the whole. “Hoc tantum sibi vult,” says Calvin, “Deum nolle cum exceptione coli, neque ita partiri nobiscum, ut nobis liceat si quid minus allubescit, ex ejus lege resecare.” For whosoever shall have kept (reff.) the whole law, but shall have offended (stumbled) in (the matter of: as in ch. 3:2: see there) one thing (one thing enjoined, one commandment, as by and by explained: not as Schulthess, ἑνὶ ἀνθρώπῳ; nor as Œc., al., τοῦτο περὶ ἀγάπης εἴρηκε (so the Schol.-Matthæi, ἐν ἑνὶ πταίσειν ἐστί, τὸ μὴ τελείαν ἔχειν ἀγάπην): nor is it to be limited to commandments carrying capital punishment, as Grot., al. It is better to understand ἐντάλματι than νόμῳ (as De W., Wies., Huther, al.), seeing that νόμος here is evidently used collectively for the sum of the commandments, and so πάντων τῶν νόμων could not be said), has become guilty (brought into the condemning power of, involved in, see reff. The more usual construction is to put the punishment, in which a man is involved, in the genitive, as in reff. Matt. and Mark: sometimes in the dative, as in Matthew 5:21 f. The classical construction is to put both the crime and the punishment in the dative: so ἔνοχος τῇ προδοσίᾳ, Demosth.: τῇ γραφῇ, δίκαις, ὀνείδει, &c., Plato, Xen. Sometimes however we have the gen.: as ἔνοχος λειποταξίου, Demosth. See Palm and Rost, sub voce) of all (things mentioned as objects of prohibition—for such is the reference here, see below—in the law).

11.] Reason for this assertion: the unity of the divine Author of the whole law, and of that law, as the exponent of His will: “Unus est, qui totam legem tulit: cujus voluntatem qui una in re violant, totam violant,” Bengel. Cf. also Ep. ad Hieronym. on this passage. For He who said, Commit not adultery, said also, Commit not murder; now if thou committest no adultery (οὐ, and not μή, because the attention is fixed on the fact of no committal of adultery having taken place. It corresponds, in fact, to μὴ μοιχεύσῃς above in prohibition. See Winer, § 55. 2, c. d: and cf. ch. 1:23; 3:2: 1Corinthians 16:22), but committest murder, thou hast become a transgressor of the law. (Various fanciful reasons have been given for the selection of these two commandments: “because these two were punished with death,” Baumgarten: “because no one had laid a charge of adultery against the readers, but the other they violated by violating the law of love,” Wiesinger. But it is far more likely that they are alleged as the two first which regard our duty to our neighbour generally: μὴ μοιχεύσῃς being put first, as in Mark 10:19: Luke 18:20: Romans 13:9: Philo de Decalog. § 10, 12, 24, 82, vol. ii. pp. 186, 189, 201, 207, who lays a stress on this order as shewing that adultery is μέγιστον ἀδικημάτων: see also De Spec. Leg. ad 6 Est_7 Dec. Cap. § 2, p. 300. So that this order must have been one preserved in ancient tradition: or perhaps found anciently in the LXX. The Rabbis have the same sentiment as this: Wolf quotes from the Talm. Sabbath, fol. lxx. 2, where R. Jochanan says of the 39 precepts of Moses, “Quod si faciat omnia, unum vero omittat, omnium et singulorum reus est.”)

12, 13.] Concluding and summary exhortations, to speak and act as subject to the law of liberty and love.

12.] So speak (pres. as regarding a habit of life) and so do (οὕτως both times does not regard what has gone before, but what follows: οὕτως, ὡς. Speaking had been before hinted at in ch. 1:19: and will come again under consideration in ch. 3.), as being about to be judged by (by means of, as the measure by which your lives will be estimated) the law of liberty (the same as in ch. 1:25: that perfect expansion of God’s will, resting on the free unrestrained principle of love, which is the moral code of the gospel. And the point of the exhortation is as Schol.-Matthæi, οὕτως τὸ ἀγαθὸν ἐργάζεσθε ὡς μὴ ὑπὸ νόμου ἀναγκαζόμενοι, ἀλλʼ αὐθαίρετοι).

13.] Reason why we should be careful thus to speak and do: viz. that if we do not, we cast ourselves out of that merciful judgment at God’s hands which is promised to the merciful: Matthew 5:7, μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες· ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται, which is the key to our verse. For the judgment (which is coming)(shall be) unmerciful (Luther makes ἀνέλεος an epithet, es wird ein unbarmherziges Gericht ergeben, which would require the absence of the article) to him who wrought not (the aor. is proleptical, the Writer standing at the day of the judgment and looking back over life) mercy: mercy boasteth over judgment (without a copula, the sentence is introduced more emphatically and strikingly. The meaning is, the judgment which would condemn any and all of us, is, in the case of the merciful, overpowered by the blessed effect of mercy, and mercy prevails over it. The saying is abstract: to turn it into a concrete, ‘the merciful man,’ or to appropriate the ἔλεος, ‘the mercy of God,’ is to limit that which is purposely and weightily left unlimited as an universal truth).

14-26.] In close connexion with what has gone before, the Apostle sets forth that bare faith without works can never save a man. The following remarks of De Wette on the passage are important, and well condensed. They have been impugned by many, among whom are Neander, Schneckenburger, Theile, Thiersch, Hofmann: but they seem to me best to represent the simple and honest view of the matter, without any finessing to make the two Apostles in exact accord in their meaning of terms and their positions respecting them (Hofmann, Schriftbeweis, i. pp. 556-563, is worth consulting for a good statement of the other view): “In order rightly to understand this polemical passage, it is necessary accurately to define St. James’s ideas of faith, of works, and of justification, and to compare them with those of St. Paul. Faith is, according to St. James, the result of the reception of the Word (ch. 1:22), especially in a moral point of view: moral conviction (Romans 14:23): and although he recognizes it also as belief in Christ (ch. 2:1), as trust (1:6; 5:15), and truth (i. 3), yet he makes these particulars here of so little moment, that he regards it as theoretical belief only, and ascribes it to the evil spirits (2:19). Widely different from this is St. Paul’s idea of faith, which presupposes self-abasement, the feeling of unworthiness and incapability (Romans 3:9 ff., Romans 3:23), and consists in trust on the grace of God revealed in the atoning death of Christ (Romans 3:25; Romans 5:8: 2Corinthians 5:18 f.). Of this faith, moral faith is a branch (Romans 14:23): but this latter, which is the adoption of the working principle of love (Galatians 5:6), can only spring from the purification of the inner man by faith in the atonement. So that it is impossible to say, as some have done, that the idea of faith in the two Apostles is the same. Works, according to St. James, are not the works of the law in the lower sense, the mere observance of carnal ordinances and usages,—but an active life of practical morality, the rule of which is indeed found in the Mosaical law, and especially in the command to love one another, but so found, as apprehended and appropriated by the spirit of liberty (see ch. 1:25; 2:12). St. Paul also understands by ‘the works of the law’ not merely ceremonial observances, as plainly appears from Romans 7:14 ff.: but when he contends against the Jewish righteousness by works, and their pride, as in Romans 9:30 ff., he includes these observances in that to which he refers. As regards justification, St. James understands it in a proper, or moral sense (cf. Matthew 12:37), which St. Paul also recognizes. But in the latter Apostle’s idea of justification, we must distinguish a threefold point of view: 1. the general moral, at which he stops, Romans 2:13 (cf. ib. ver. 5 ff.), taking no account, how the highest aim of morality, there indicated, is to be attained, and is attained: 2. in his polemical point of view, as combating Jewish righteousness by works, he denies that we can, by the fulfilment of the law (even of its moral part, seeing that no man fulfils it aright), attain justification or well-pleasingness to God (Romans 3:20: Galatians 2:16): 3. in the third point of view also, in the Christian life itself, St. Paul recognizes the inadequacy of a good conscience to give peace and blessedness to men (1Corinthians 4:4), and finds peace only in faith in God, who justifies him of His free grace, i. e. so looks on and accepts him, as if he were righteous. This higher kind of justification, St. James does not recognize.” A good résumé of the literature of the passage will be found in Wiesinger, p. 122, note. The whole question of fact, as to whether St. Paul’s teaching, or some misunderstanding of it, or neither the one nor the other, was in St. James’s view here, I have discussed in the Prolegomena, § iii. 5 ff.

14.] What is the profit (arising from that to be mentioned: the resulting profit), my brethren, if (so ἐάν, after τί ὠφεληθήσεται, Matthew 16:26: 1Corinthians 13:3) any man say (there is no emphasis on λέγῃ, as many (Vorst, Piscator, Wolf, Baumgarten, Pott, Stier) have supposed: both its place in the sentence, after πίστιν, forbids this, and more decisively still the context, in which the whole argument proceeds on the hypothesis of his possessing faith: and in ver. 19, faith is actually ascribed to the τίς. At the same time it is not to be wholly passed over, that the Apostle has written not ἔχῃ, but λέγῃ ἔχειν. While this does not imply any want of genuineness in the faith, it perhaps slightly distinguishes the possession of such faith from the absolute πίστιν ἔχειν: or, as Huther, belongs to the dramatic form of the hypothesis, in which the man is introduced boasting of and appealing to his faith) that he has faith (no stress to be laid on the failure of the art. before πίστιν, as is done by Schneckenburger, “Recte articulo caret, quum non habeat τὴν πίστιν.” This is sufficiently refuted by St. Paul’s similar anarthrous use of πίστις, where it is spoken of in the highest sense, and by our Lord’s command, ἔχετε πίστιν θεοῦ, Mark 11:22) but have not works (i. e. those acts in his life which are proofs and fruits of faith: not mere ceremonial works: see De Wette’s remarks cited above)? (a note of interrogation, not a comma, is to be placed here. The sentence contains two distinct but connected questions: ‘What is the profit, if’ &c.? and, ‘Can’ &c.? Otherwise we leave τἱ τὸ ὄφελος insulated, and make μὴ δύναται stand unnaturally in an interrogative apodosis) Can (his) faith (, merely because, by the hypothesis λέγῃ πίστιν ἔχειν, the πίστις is now become definite, is appropriated, according to the general rule by which that which has been anarthrously introduced at the first mention, has the art. when next mentioned: not as , “fides ilia, quam vos habere dicitis:” nor as Theile, “quæ non habetur revera sed dicitur tantummodo et jactatur”) save him (see for σῶσαι, ch. 1:21. αὐτόν is noticeable, as confining the question within the limits of the hypothesis, by making this particular man, who has faith and not works, the object of the question, and not τινα, any, or every man. Here, and not in λέγῃ, nor in ἡ πίστις, lies the true key to the nullity of the faith in question)?

15, 16.] The quality, and unprofitableness, of such faith shewn, as in vv. 2, 3, by a familiar example.

15.] But (δέ takes up the argument against the person supposed, or against his fautors: and is not, as Wiesinger, merely transitional [it is best rendered in English by beginning the sentence abruptly, not giving any word for it]) if a brother or a sister (the case of a Christian brother or sister is supposed, to bring out more strongly the obligation to help, as a duty) be (found, on your access to them: see, on ὑπάρχω and εἰμί, reff.: and note, Acts 16:20) naked (there is no need to interpret γυμνοίmale vestiti,” as so many Commentators: extreme destitution and nakedness in the literal, or almost literal sense, might well go together) and destitute of (reff.: Pind. Isthm. ii. 18, κτεάνων λειφθεὶς ἅμα καὶ φίλων: Soph. Trach. 932, οὔτʼ ὀδυρμάτων ἐλείπετʼ οὐδέν. The usage is confined to St. James in the N. T.) daily food (the food for each day, τῆς καθʼ ἡμέραν ἀναγκαίας τροφῆς: not “quod in unum diem sufficit,” as Morus, nor “for the current day,” as Hottinger),

16.] and (δέ brings in the slight contrast between the want and the manner of its supply) some one from among you (not, as Grot., of you “qui fidem creditis sufficere ad salutem,” hut generally; and put in this form to bring the inference nearer home to themselves) say (rather, ‘shall have said,’ not λέγῃ: but the force of the aor. cannot be given in English without overdoing it), Go in peace (see, besides reff., Judges 18:6: 2Kings 15:9 LXX. The words would imply, that the wants were satisfied), be warmed (as being γυμνοί) and filled (both are in the present, as indicating the state in which),—but ye (answering to the τίς ἐξ ὑμῶν, and now applying the hypothesis to all) give them not (have not given them: but see above on εἴπῃ) the necessaries of the body (so Herod, ii. 174, ὅκως μιν ἐπιλείποι τὰ ἐπιτήδεια κ.τ.λ: Thuc. ii. 23, ὅσον εἶχον τὰ ἐπιτήδεια. See Kypke’s note here, and Wetstein), what is the profit (τό, see above, ver. 14)?

17.] Application of the similitude. So also faith, if it have not (be not accompanied by as its proper result. Here, again, the quasi-identification of the πίστις with the man, and ascription of the ἔργα to it as a possession, shew in what relative places the two stand in the Apostle’s estimate) works, is dead (so Plautus in a remarkably similar passage, Epidic. i. 2. 13, “Nam quid te igitur retulit Beneficum esse orations, si ad rem auxilium emortuum est?”) in itself (not as E.V., “being alone,” καθʼ ἑαυτὴν οὖσα: nor, “against itself” = καθʼ ἑαυτῆς, as Möller, al.; nor is it to be joined to πίστις, “fides sola,” as Knapp and Baumgarten (“in as far as it is alone”): but the words belong to and qualify νεκρά, as De W., Huther, al.; it is dead, not merely “ad rem,” as Plaut. above, but absolutely, καθʼ ἑαυτήν, in itself: has no living root whereby it energizes. Cf. Palm and Rost under ἑαυτοῦ, καθʼ ἑαυτό, an und fur sich).

18.] But (in any case of faith without works, analogous to that supposed above, of one of you having dismissed the naked and hungry with mere words) some one will say (he will be liable to this reproach from any one who takes the more effectual and sensible method, of uniting faith with works), Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me (not, ‘prove to me,’ but ‘exhibit to me,’ ‘ostenta mihi’) thy faith without the works (which ought to accompany it), and I will shew thee my faith by (from the evidence of, out of, as the ground of the manifestation) my works. The whole difficulty found in this verse by Commentators has arisen from overlooking the fact that it continues the argument from the previous verses, and does not begin a new portion of the subject. And the reason why this has been overlooked, is, the occurrence between the two of the general clause in ver. 17. The same mistaken person is in the Apostle’s view throughout, down to ver. 22: and it is as addressed to him, on the part of a chance objector to his inconsistency, that the ἀλλʼ ἐρεῖ τις is introduced: the ἀλλά conveying the opposition of an objection not to the Apostle himself, but to him whom the Apostle is opposing. For the various and curious difficulties and confusions which have been raised on the verse, see Huther’s note.

19.] Still addressed to the same soli-fidian, but now directly, and not in the person of the ἀλλʼ ἐρεῖ τις. This is better than to suppose the τις still speaking; on account of the length of argumentation before the second person singular is dropped, and the analogy of the two arguments drawn from Abraham and Rahab, both of which most naturally come, as the latter on any view does, from the Apostle himself. Thou believest (better without an interrogation: see John 16:31, note) that God is one (or with the reading εἷς θεός, ‘that there is one God.’ The Apostle selects, from all points of dogmatic belief, that one which stands at the head of the creed of Jews and Christians alike. Cf. especially Deuteronomy 6:4: Nehemiah 9:6: Mark 12:29, Mark 12:32: Romans 3:30: 1Corinthians 8:4, 1Corinthians 8:6: ch. 4:12: and the Shepherd of Hermas, ii. 1, p. 914, πρῶτον πάντων πίστευσον ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ θεός. De Wette and Wiesinger have noticed that the construction with ὅτι after πιστεύεις instead of εἰς or ἐν, implies that merely a theoretical faith is spoken of. But against this view there are two objections: 1. that εἰς or ἐν could hardly have been used in this case, where the existence (εἷς θεός) or the unity (εἷς ὁ θεός) of God is spoken of as the object of belief: 2. that ὅτι after πιστεύω does undoubtedly elsewhere express the highest kind of realizing faith: e. g. Mark 11:23, Mark 11:24: John 6:69; John 11:27, John 11:42; John 14:10, John 14:11; John 17:8, John 17:21; John 20:31 al.): thou doest well (i. e. either understood simply,‘so far is well:’ ‘it is a good faith, as far as it goes:’ or understood ironically, as Calv. al., “ac si dixisset. Hoc magnum est, infra diabolos subsidere:” only that “infra diab.” is further than the text assumes: rather, ‘diabolis, quod ad fidem, æquari.’ The former seems preferable; it is hardly likely that the Apostle would speak slightingly even ‘argumenti causa,’ of so fundamental an article of the faith): the dæmons also (not, the dæmoniacs, as Wetst., though his explanation is specious, “qui per exorcismos et pronuntiationem nominum Dei Hebræorum sanari dicuntur:” nor as Schneckenburger, al., the dæmons in the possessed, who trembled at the sacred Name: but simply, as usually, the evil spirits) believe (the verb is purposely used absolutely: not merely, ‘believe this truth,’ but, ‘thus far, are believers in common with thyself’), and (not to be diluted into ἀλλὰ καί, as Pott, or “atqui,” as Theile: the keenness of the sarcasm lies in the simple copula) shudder (φρίσσω, properly of the hair standing on end with terror. Their belief does nothing for them but certify to them their own misery. “Hoc, præter exspectationem lectoris additum, magnam vim habet.” Bengel).

20-23.] Proof of the uselessness of faith without works, from the example of Abraham: introduced by a severe and triumphant appeal to the objector.

20.] But (passing on to another example which is to prove it even more certainly) wilt thou know (the use of θέλεις serves to shew that the knowledge itself is plain and palpable, and the resisting it can only arise from perversity), O (this interjection is generally found, in the N. T., in conjurations or vituperations: e. g. Romans 2:1, Romans 2:3; Romans 9:20: 1Timothy 6:20: Galatians 3:1: see also Luke 24:25: Acts 13:10) empty (void of knowledge and seriousness: content with a dead and bootless notion: κενὸν ἐκάλεσεν ἄνθρωπον τὸν ψιλῇ τῇ πίστει αὐχοῦντα, μηδὲν τῆς διὰ τῶν ἔργων ὑποστάσεως κεκτημένον εἰς πλήρωσιν, Œc.) man (so in Romans 9:20), that faith (here abstract: all faith, faith αὐτὸ καθʼ αὑτό: not merely πίστις, faith, in any supposed case) separate from works (here again, τὰ ἔργα, abstract; and therefore, in subordination to the former abstract noun, the works which belong to it, which might be expected from it) is idle (bootless, without result: see reff. So Demosth. p. 815, ἀργὰ χρήματα: Isocr. Panegyr. p. 49, § 48, μήτε τυῖς ἰδιώταις μήτε.… ἀργὸν εἶναι τὴν διατριβήν. The idea is much the same if we read νεκρά; but seeing that none read ἀργή in vv. 17, 26, and it was hardly likely that the easy νεκρά here would be changed into the difficult ἀργή, this latter is beyond reasonable doubt the genuine reading)?

21.] The example of Abraham. Was not Abraham our father (the Apostle and his readers being all Jews) justified (accounted righteous before God. No other meaning will satisfy the connexion, inevitable to any intelligent reader, between this ἐδικαιώθη and the σῶσαι of ver. 14: which again is connected with the μέλλοντες κρίνεσθαι of ver. 12. Commentators have endeavoured to evade this full meaning, in various ways. Thus e. g. Calvin, “Notanda est hæc amphibologia; justificandi verbum Paulo esse gratuitam justitiæ imputationem apud Dei tribunal: Jacobo autem esse demonstrationem justitiæ ab effectis, idque apud homines, quemadmodum ex superioribus verbis colligere licet: ostende mihi fidem tuam” &c. It is manifest, that by such “amphibology,” any difficulties whatever may be explained away. On the difficulty itself, see in the Prolegomena) by (out of, as the ground of the justification: precisely as St. Paul so constantly uses the phrase δικαιοῦσθαι ἐκπίστεως) works (the category to which the ground of his justification belonged. It was one especial work, in matter of fact: and that work, itself springing out of preeminent faith) when he offered (not, as E.V., al., “had offered:” the aor. part., as so often, is synchronous with the aor. itself in the same sentence. ἀναφέρω in this reference with ἐπί is not ‘to offer up in sacrifice,’ but simply to offer, to bring as a sacrifice to the altar: whether the entire ‘offering up’ takes place or not. Where it did take place, the general meaning may be given: where it did not, as here, the particular one must be kept. Cf. 1Peter 2:24) Isaac his son at the altar?

22.] Thou seest (better not a question: in which case the καί of ver. 23 does not follow so naturally as when we couple the direct verb βλέπεις with the direct verb ἐπληρώθη) that (not, “how,” as E.V.: it is not the manner in which, nor even “how” in the sense of ‘how that,’ which is meant. The assertion is, that the inference is indubitable, that the fact was as stated) faith (the art. is abstract here, not possessive, as αὐτοῦ being expressed below shews) wrought (at the time, ‘was working,’ imperf.) with his works (τοῖς ἕργοις again categorical, the work in the example being but one), and by (out of, as the ground and source) works (again categorical; the general proposition proved by the particular case. Doubtless this second time it might be ‘by his works, his faith,’ &c.: but the other is more like St. James, who is singularly given to introduce abstract propositions as applicable to particular cases) faith (see above) was made complete (in one act, once for all: not imperf. as συνήργει, but aor.: not, as again many Commentators, even Bengel and De Wette, and so Calvin, “quod vera esse inde comprobetur;” an impossible meaning, and very far from the context of the Apostle’s argument; which is, that faith is developed and brought to perfection by obedience: see below on ver. 26. And hence also is it evident, how faith συνήργει τοῖς ἔργοις ἀυτοῦ. By the Apostle’s own comparison, ver. 26, faith is the body, obedience the spirit: faith without obedience is dead, until obedience, the spirit, sets faith in motion: then faith, like the limbs of the body, moves with and works with the acts of obedience. Which is prior in time, which the ground of the other, is a point not touched by St. James at all. Pool collects well in his Synops. ad loc., the opinions of others: “Opera autem fidem perficiunt ratione operationis et consummationis, quum per opera fides ad maturitatem pervenit, quomodo arbor perfecta sit quum ita excrevit ut fructum ferat, Numbers 17:8; et peccatum perficitur, Jac. 1:15, quum in habitum evasit … Fides tum demum consummata redditur, postquam bonos fructus protulit.” But when he goes on to say, “Fides est causa: opera, effectus. Causa autem non perficitur a suo effectu, sed perfecta declaratur: ut fructus boni arborem bonum non efficiunt, sed indicant,” he is travelling out of the record, and giving meanings unknown to this passage):

23.] and the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, But (καί, LXX) Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness (i. e. that saying of Scripture, which long preceded the offering of Isaac, received its realization, not, it may be, its only realization, but certainly its chief one, in this act of obedience. It was not, until this, fulfilled, in the sense of being entirely exemplified and filled up. Wiesinger combats this sense as an unworthy one, and follows Wolf and Knapp in understanding πληρωθῆναι and τελεσθῆναι not only “cum illud ipsum quod prædictum erat evenit, sed etiam ubi tale quid accidit quo ejusmodi dicta.… quoquo modo vel confirmantur et illustrantur.” But this is not satisfactory, unless the case in point be such a prominent illustration as to constitute the main fulfilment; and then we come to much the same point. No such objection as that which Wiesinger brings (viz. that we make thus the truth of God’s saying depend on Abraham’s subsequent conduct) lies against our view, that the saying received on and not till this occasion its entire and full realization. It was true, when uttered: but it became more and more gloriously true of Abraham’s life and acts till it reached this its culminating point, in his chief act of self-denying obedience): and he was called (couple with ἐπίστευσεν not with ἐλογίσθη) God’s friend (‘amatus a Deo,’ not ‘amans Deum.’ This appellation of Abraham is not found in the LXX. In ref. Gen., where they have Ἀβραὰμ τοῦ παιδός μου, Philo, De Resip. Noë, § 11, vol. i. p. 401, cites it Ἀβρ. τοῦ φίλου μου. And in Isaiah 41:8 the words σπέρμα Ἀβραὰμ ὃν ἠγάπησα are rendered by the vulg. “semen Abraham amici mei,” and by the E.V. “the seed of Abraham my friend.” So also in 2Chronicles 20:7).

24.] General inference from the example of Abraham. Ye see (not imperative, nor interrogative) that by (from, out of, as a source) works a man is justified (accounted righteous before God, as above: not, as Calvin, “Fructibus cognoscitur et approbatur ejus justitia”), and not by (from) faith only (notice μόνον: St. James never says that a man is not justified by faith, provided that faith include in it the condition of obedience: but by faith μόνον, χωρὶς ἔργων, is no man justified. μόνον must be joined with πίστεως, not with οὐκ, as Theile, “Appositionis lege explenda est oratio: non solum fide, sed etiam operibus.… nempe cum fide conjungendis:” see similar instances of adverbs joined to substantives in 1Corinthians 12:31: 2Corinthians 11:23: Galatians 1:23: Philippians 1:26: and cf. Winer, § 54. 2, b).

25.] The example of Rahab. Various reasons have been assigned for this example being added. Bede says, “Ne se causarentur opera tanti patris Abrahæ imitari non valere, præsertim cum nullus eos modo cogeret Deo filios offerre perimendos, … addit et mulieris exemplum, mulieris criminosæ, mulieris alienigenæ, quæ tamen per opera misericordiæ, per officium hospitalitatis, etiam cum periculo vitæ suæ Dei famulis exhibitum, justificari a peccatis meruit” &c. Grotius, “Abrahami exemplum Hebræis ad Christum conversis sufficere debebat, sed quia etiam alienigenis scribebat, adjunxit exemplum fœminæ extraneæ:” and similarly Hofmann, Schriftb. i. 557. Schneckenburger, “Novum additur exemplum e sexu muliebri sumptum:” and so Bengel, “Post virum ponitur mulier: nam viros et mulieres appellat,” ch. 4:4 (see note there). When Delitzsch, on Hebrews 11:31, assigns as a reason that der Paulinismus had already used this example to prove justification sola ex fide, he does not necessarily assume the later date for our Epistle. See the whole matter discussed in the Prolegomena. And (the δέ brings out the contrast of the example, again affirming the Apostle’s proposition, to the ἐκ πίστεως μόνον, which has been just denied. Huther understands the δέ as bringing out the dissimilarity between the examples implied in πόρνη) in like manner (with Abraham) was not Rahab the harlot (not “caupona” or “hospita,” as Grot., not “idololatra,” as Rosenmüller, but to be taken literally: see on Hebrews 11:31) justified by works, when she received (not necessarily “clam excepit,” as Theile, see reff. It may be so, but the word does not express it. The word in Heb. is δεξαμένη) the messengers (κατασκόπους, Hebrews 11:31), and thrust them forth (in haste and fear. Joshua 2:15, Joshua 2:16: ἐκβαΛλειν is not simply ‘emittere:’ see reff.) by another way (viz. διὰ τῆς θυρίδος, Joshua 2:15 LXX. For the local dative, see Romans 4:12: Revelation 22:14: and Winer, § 31. 9)?

26.] General conclusion to the argument, but in the form of a comparison, as in ver. 17. For (γάρ binds the verse on to the foregoing, and makes it rather depend on this axiom, than this axiom a conclusion from it: ‘it must be so, Rahab must have been thus justified, seeing that’ &c.) just as the body without (separate from) spirit (or, the spirit) is dead, so also faith without works (or without its works, the works belonging to it: as in ver. 20) is dead. This comparison has been found matter of surprise to some Commentators, inasmuch as the things compared do not seem relatively to correspond. Faith is unquestionably a thing spiritual: works are external and material: so that it would seem as if the members of the comparison should have been inverted, and works made the body, faith the spirit. But the Apostle’s view seems rather to be this: Faith is the body, the sum and substance, of the Christian life.: works (= obedience), the moving and quickening of that body; just as the spirit is the moving and quickening principle of the natural body. So that as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Henry Alford - Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
James 1
Top of Page
Top of Page