James 2
Vincent's Word Studies
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
Have (ἔχετε)

Rev., hold, not in the sense of hold fast, cleave to, but of possessing, occupying, and practising, as a matter of habit. Thus we say that a man holds his property by a certain tenure. A rented estate is a holding. So of an opinion, or set of opinions, with which one is publicly identified. We say that he holds thus and so.

With respect of persons (ἐν προσωπολημψίαις)

From πρόσωπον, the countenance, and λαμβάνω, to receive. To receive the countenance is a Hebrew phrase. Thus Leviticus 19:15 (Sept.): Οὐ λήψῃ προσωπον πτωχοῦ: Thou shalt not respect the person (receive the countenance) of the poor. Compare Luke 20:21; Romans 2:11; and Jde 1:16.

The Lord of glory

Compare 1 Corinthians 2:8; Acts 7:2; Ephesians 1:17.

For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
Assembly (συναγωγὴν)

The word synagogue is a transcript of this. From σύν, together, and ἄγω, to bring. Hence, literally, a gathering or congregation, in which sense the word is common in the Septuagint, not only of assemblies for worship, but of gatherings for other public purposes. From the meeting itself the transition is easy to the place of meeting, the synagogue; and in this sense the term is used throughout the New Testament, with the following exceptions: In Acts 13:43, it is rendered congregation by the A. V., though Rev. gives synagogue; and in Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9, the unbelieving Jews, as a body, are called synagogue of Satan. As a designation of a distinctively Jewish assembly or place of worship it was more sharply emphasized by the adoption of the word ἐκκλησία, ecclesia, to denote the Christian church. In this passage alone the word is distinctly applied to a Christian assembly or place of worship. The simplest explanation appears to be that the word designates the place of meeting for the Christian body, James using the word most familiar to the Jewish Christians; an explanation which receives countenance from the fact that, as Huther observes, "the Jewish Christians regarded themselves as still an integral part of the Jewish nation, as the chosen people of God." As such a portion they had their special synagogue. From Acts 6:9, we learn that there were numerous synagogues in Jerusalem, representing different bodies, such as the descendants of Jewish freedmen at Rome, and the Alexandrian or Hellenistic Jews. Among these would be the synagogue of the Christians, and such would be the case in all large cities where the dispersed Jews congregated. Alford quotes a phrase from the "Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs:" the synagogue of the Gentiles. Compare Hebrews 10:25, "the assembling together (ἐπισυναγωγὴν) of yourselves."

With a gold ring (χρυσοδακτύλιος)

Only here in New Testament. Not a man wearing a single gold ring (as A. V. and Rev.), which would not attract attention in an assembly where most persons wore a ring, but a gold-ringed man, having his hands conspicuously loaded with rings and jewels. The ring was regarded as an indispensable article of a Hebrew's attire, since it contained his signet; and the name of the ring, tabbath, was derived from a root signifying to impress a seal. It was a proverbial expression for a most valued object. See Isaiah 22:24; Haggai 2:23. The Greeks and Romans wore them in great profusion. Hannibal, after the battle of Cannae, sent as a trophy to Carthage, three bushels of gold rings from the fingers of the Roman knights slain in battle. To wear rings on the right hand was regarded as a mark of effeminacy; but they were worn profusely on the left. Martial says of one Charinus that he wore six on each finger, and never laid them aside, either at night or when bathing. The fops had rings of different sizes for summer and winter. Aristophanes distinguishes between the populace and those who wear rings, and in his comedy of "The Clouds" uses the formidable word σφραγιδονυχαργοκομῆται, lazy, long-haired fops, with rings and well-trimmed nails. Demosthenes was so conspicuous for this kind of ornament that, at a time of public disaster, it was stigmatized as unbecoming vanity. Frequent mention is made of their enormous cost. They were of gold and silver, sometimes of both; sometimes of iron inlaid with gold. The possible beauty of these latter will be appreciated by those who have seen the elegant gold and iron jewellery made at Toledo, in Spain. Sometimes they were of amber, ivory, or porcelain. The practice of wearing rings was adopted by the early Christians. Many of their rings were adorned with the symbols of the faith - the cross, the anchor, the monogram of Christ, etc. Among the rings found in the catacombs are some with a key, and some with both a key and a seal, for both locking and sealing a casket.

Goodly apparel (ἐσθῆτι λαμπρᾷ)

Lit., bright or shining clothes. Rev., fine clothing.

Vile (ῥυπαρᾷ)

Compare James 1:21; and see on 1 Peter 3:21.

And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
Ye have respect (ἐπιβλέψητε)

Lit., ye look upon, with the idea of respectful consideration; ye regard. Compare Luke 1:48; Luke 9:38.

In a good place (καλῶς)

Lit., honorably; in a seat of honor.


Not literally underneath, but down on the ground beside. Compare Matthew 23:6, on the fondness of the Jews for the chief places in the synagogue.

Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
Are ye not partial in yourselves? (οὐ διεκρίθητε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς)

Wrong. The constant sense of the verb in the New Testament is doubt, except Acts 11:2; Jde 1:9, where it means dispute. Compare James 1:6. The meaning here is, therefore, that, in making a distinction between the rich and the poor, they expressed a doubt concerning the faith which they professed, and which abolished such distinctions. Hence, Rev., rightly, Are ye not divided in your own mind?

Judges of evil thoughts (κριταὶ διαλογισμῶν πονηρῶν)

Better, as Rev., "judges with evil thoughts." The form of expression is the same as in Luke 18:6, κριτὴς τῆς ἀδικίας, the judge of injustice, i.e., the unjust judge. So James 1:25, a hearer of forgetfulness. The word thoughts is, rather, reasonings. See on deceiving yourselves (James 1:22). Compare Luke 5:21. Their evil processes of thought lead to these unjust discriminations.

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
Hearken, my beloved brethren

Alford cites this phrase as one of the very few links which connect this epistle with the speech of James in Acts 15:13.

The poor of this world (τοὺς πτωχοὺς τοῦ κόσμου)

But the correct reading is τῷ κόσμῳ, to the world; and the expression is to be explained in the same way as ἀστεῖος τῷ Θεῷ, fair unto God, Acts 7:20, and δυνατὰ τῷ Θεῷ, mighty through (Rev., before) God, 2 Corinthians 10:4. So Rev., poor as to the world, in the world's esteem. Poor, see on Matthew 5:3.

Rich in faith

The Rev., properly, inserts to be, since the words are not in apposition with poor, but express the object for which God has chosen them. Faith is not the quality in which they are to be rich, but the sphere or element; rich in their position as believers. "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 every believer is rich" (Wiesinger, cited by Alford).

But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?
Despised (ἠτιμάσατε)

Not strong enough. They had manifested their contempt; had done despite to them. Rev., correctly, dishonored. From the use of the aorist tense, ye dishonored, which the A. V. and Rev. render as a perfect, ye have dishonored, the reference would appear to be to a specific act like that described in James 2:2, James 2:3.

Oppress (καταδυναστεύουσιν)

Only here and Acts 10:38. The preposition κατά, against, implies a power exercised for harm. Compare being lords over, 1 Peter 5:3, and exercise dominion, Matthew 20:25, both compounded with this preposition.

Draw (ἕλκουσιν)

Not strong enough. The word implies violence. Hence, better, as Rev., drag. Compare Livy's phrase, "a lictoribus trahi, to be dragged by the lictors to judgment;" Acts 8:3, of Saul haling or hauling men and women to prison; and Luke 12:58.

Judgment-seats (κριτήρια)

Only here and 1 Corinthians 6:2, 1 Corinthians 6:4.

Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
They (αὐτοὶ)

Emphatic. "Is it not they who blaspheme?"

Worthy (καλὸν)

Rev., better, because stronger, honorable. By this epithet the disgracefulness of the blasphemy is emphasized.

By the which ye are called (τὸ ἐπικληθὲν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς)

Lit., which is called upon you; the name of Christ, invoked in baptism. The phrase is an Old-Testament one. See Deuteronomy 28:10, where the Septuagint reads that the name of the Lord has been called upon race. Also, 2 Chronicles 7:14; Isaiah 4:1. Compare Acts 15:17.

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
Fulfil the royal law (νόμον τελεῖτε βασιλικὸν)

The phrase occurs only here and Romans 2:27. Τελεῖν, fulfil, is stronger than the more common word τηρεῖν, observe or keep, which appears in James 2:10. Compare, also, Matthew 19:17; Matthew 23:3; John 14:15, etc. James here speaks of a single commandment, the proper word for which is ἐντολή, while νόμος is the body of commandments. It is appropriate here, however, since this special commandment sums up the entire law. See Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14. It is the royal law; the king of all laws.

The phrase royal law is of Roman origin (lex regia). In the kingly period of Roman history it did not signify a law promulgated by the absolute authority of the king, but a law passed by a popular assembly under the presidency of the king. In later times the term was applied to all laws the origin of which was attributed to the time of the kings. Gradually the term came to represent less of the popular will, and to include all the rights and powers which the Roman people had formerly possessed, so that the emperor became what formerly the people had been, sovereign. "It was not," says Gibbon, "before the ideas and even the language of the Romans had been corrupted, that a royal law (lex regia) and an irrevocable gift of the people were created....The pleasure of the emperor, according to Justinian, has the vigor and effect of law, since the Roman people, by the royal law, have transferred to their prince the full extent of their own power and sovereignty. The will of a single man, of a child, perhaps, was allowed to prevail over the wisdom of ages and the inclinations of millions; and the degenerate Greeks were proud to declare that in his hands alone the arbitrary exercise of legislation could be safely deposited" ("Decline and Fall," ch. xliv.).

But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
Ye have respect to persons (προσωπολημπτεῖτε)

Only here in New Testament. See on James 2:1.

Ye commit sin (ἁμαρτίαν ἐργάζεσθε)

Lit., "work sin." Compare Matthew 7:23; Acts 10:35; Hebrews 11:33. The phrase is rather stronger than the more common ἁμαρτίαν ποιεῖν, to do sin, John 8:34; James 5:15; 1 Peter 2:22. The position of sin is emphatic: "it is sin that ye are working."

And are convinced (ἐλεγχόμενοι)

Rather, as Rev., convinced. The word, which is variously rendered in A. V. tell a fault, reprove, rebuke, convince, while it carries the idea of rebuke, implies also a rebuke which produces a conviction of the error or sin. See on John 8:46. Compare John 3:20; John 8:9; 1 Corinthians 14:24, 1 Corinthians 14:25.

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
Keep (τηρήσῃ)

See on James 2:8.

Offend (πταίσῃ)

Lit., as Rev., stumble.

He is guilty (γέγονεν ἔνοχος)

Lit., he is become guilty. Ἔνοχος, guilty, is, strictly, holden; within the condemning power of. Compare Matthew 26:66; Mark 3:29; 1 Corinthians 11:27. Huther cites a Talmudic parallel: "But if he perform all, but omit one, he is guilty of every single one."

For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
A transgressor (παραβάτης)

From παρά, beyond, and βαίνω, to go. A transgressor, therefore, is one who goes beyond the line. So, also, trespass, which is transpass, from the Latin trans, across, and passus, a step. A similar word occurs in Homer, ὑπερβασία, a transgression or trespass, from ὑπέρ, over, and βαίνω, to go.

So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

With reference to what follows, speak and do.

For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
He shall have judgment without mercy that hath shewed no mercy (ἡ γὰρ κρίσις ἀνίλεως τῷ μὴ ποιήσαντι ἔλεος)

Lit., as Rev., judgment is without mercy to him that hath shewed no mercy. Both A. gr. and Rev. omit the article "the judgment," that, namely, which is coming. Hath shewed, or, lit., shewed (aorist tense). The writer puts himself at the stand-point of the judgment, and looks backward.

Rejoiceth (κατακαυχᾶται)

The simple verb καυχάομαι means to speak loud, to be loud-tongued; hence, to boast. Better, therefore, as Rev., glorieth. Judgment and mercy are personified. While judgment threatens condemnation, mercy interposes and prevails over judgment. "Mercy is clothed with the divine glory, and stands by the throne of God. When we are in danger of being condemned, she rises up and pleads for us, and covers us with her defence, and enfolds us with her wings" (Chrysostom, cited by Gloag).

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
What doth it profit? (τί τὸ ὄφελος)

Lit., what is the profit? Ὄφελος, profit, only here, James 2:16, and 1 Corinthians 15:32.

If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
Be (ὑπάρχωσιν)

The distinction between this word and the simple εἶναι, to be, is very subtle. The verb ὑπάρχω originally means to make a beginning; hence, to begin or to come into being; and, though used substantially as a synonym of εἶναι, of a thing actually existing and at hand, it has a backward look to an antecedent condition which has been protracted into the present. Thus we might paraphrase here, "If a brother or sister, having been in a destitute condition, be found by you in that condition." Εἶναι, on the other hand, would simply state the present fact of destitution. See on 2 Peter 1:8.

Destitute (λειπόμενοι)

Lit., left behind; and hence lacking, as Rev. Compare James 1:4, James 1:5. This usage of the word occurs in James only.

Daily (ἐφημέρου)

Only here in New Testament.

And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
Depart in peace (ὑπάγετε ἐν εἰρήνῃ)

Compare ὕπαγε or πορεύου εἰς εἰρηνήν, go into peace, Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50.

Be filled (χορτάζεσθε)

See on Matthew 5:6.

Those things which are needful (τὰ ἐπιτήδεια)

Only here in New Testament.

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Being alone (καθ' ἑαυτήν)

Wrong. Rev., correctly, in itself. The phrase belongs to dead. It is dead, not merely in reference to something else, but absolutely.

Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
Without (χωρὶς)

Rev., more literally, apart from.

And I will shew thee, etc

The Rev. brings out the antithesis more sharply by keeping more closely to the Greek order: I by my works will shew, etc.

Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
Tremble (φρίσσουσιν)

Only here in New Testament. It means, originally, to be rough on the surface; to bristle. Hence, used of the fields with ears of corn; of a line of battle bristling with shields and spears; of a silver or golden vessel rough with embossed gold. Aeschylus, describing a crowd holding up their hands to vote, says, the air bristled with right hands. Hence, of a horror which makes the hair stand on end and contracts the surface of the skin, making "gooseflesh." Rev., much better, shudder.

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Vain (κενέ)

Lit., empty, without spiritual life.

Dead (νεκρά)

But the best texts read ἀργή, idle; as of money which yields no interest, or of land lying fallow.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
When he had offered (ἀνενέγκας)

Incorrect. For the participle states the ground of his justification. By works gives the general ground; offered, etc., the specific work. Compare Genesis 22:16, Genesis 22:17. Rev., correctly, in that he offered. The word ἀνενέγκας is, lit., brought up to; and means, not actually to offer up in sacrifice (though Isaac was morally sacrificed in Abraham's will), but to bring to the altar as an offering See on 1 Peter 2:5.

Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
Wrought with his works (συνήργει τοῖς ἔργοις)

There is a play on the words in the Greek: worked with his works.

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
Was fulfilled (ἐπληρώθη)

Not was confirmed, which the word does not mean either in New-Testament or in classical usage, but was actually and fully realized. James here uses the formula which in the Old Testament is employed of the realizing of a former utterance. See 1 Kings 2:27; 2 Chronicles 36:22 (Sept.).

Imputed (ἐλογίσθη)

Lit., as Rev., reckoned.

He was called the friend of God

The term, however, does not occur either in the Hebrew or Septuagint, though it is found in the A. V. and retained in Rev. Old Testament. In 2 Chronicles 20:7 (Sept.), thy friend is τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ, thy beloved. In Isaiah 41:8 (Sept.), my friend is ὃν ἠγάπησα, whom I loved. "The friend of God" is still the favorite title of Abraham among the Jews and Mohammedans.

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

Also referred to in Hebrews 11:31, among the examples of faith. Dante places her in the third heaven:

"Thou fain wouldst know who is within this light

That here beside me thus is scintillating,

Even as a sunbeam in the limpid water.

Then know thou, that within there is at rest

Rahab, and being to our order joined,

With her in its supremest grade 'tis sealed.

First of Christ's Triumph was she taken up.

Full meet it was to leave her in some heaven,

Even as a palm of the high victory

Which he acquired with one palm and the other,

Because she favored the first glorious deed

Of Joshua upon the Holy Land."

Paradise, ix., 112-125.

Rahab became the wife of Salmon, and the ancestress of Boaz, Jesse's grandfather. Some have supposed that Salmon was one of the spies whose life she saved. At any rate, she became the mother of the line of David and of Christ, and is so recorded in Matthew's genealogy of our Lord, in which only four women are named. There is a peculiar significance in this selection of Rahab with Abraham as an example of faith, by James the Lord's brother.

Sent them out (ἐκβαλοῦσα)

Better, thrust them forth, implying haste and fear. Compare Mark 1:12; Luke 4:29; Acts 16:37.

Another way

Than that by which they entered. Through the window. See Joshua 2:15.

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Works (τῶν ἔργων)

Note the article: the works belonging or corresponding to faith; its works.

Vincent's Word Studies, by Marvin R. Vincent [1886].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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