An Exposition of James 2

Lorin L. Cranford  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 29 - Fall 1986

What About Your Faith?

To believe affects more than just the head, more than the head and the heart; believing most ultimately affect one’s lips and hands. This is James’s point in chapter two. Religious appearance must have substance, not just image (cf. 1:26-27). The key to substance is one’s faith (2:1-26). But what about faith? What does James mean by pistis?

To understand this concept better one must give careful attention to the context in which James’s discussion takes place. Context suggests several dimensions of insight. These need to be explored before analyzing the details of the text itself.


Literary Context of James 2

Where does chapter two fall in the thought flow of the epistle? One’s conclusions will make an impact upon the process of exegeting the text significantly. But coming to firm conclusions on this matter poses substantial difficulties. Form critical assessment of James has been influenced greatly throughout most of the twentieth century by Martin Dibelius’s contention that James represents a form of early Christian paraenesis.[1]Martin Dibelius, Der Brief des Jakobus, vol. 15 of Kritiscb­ exegetiscber Kommentar uber das Neue Testament, 12th ed., by Heinrich Greeven, (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984), pp. 16f.: “Wir diirfen also den Jakobus – ‘Brief’ nach Priifung seiner literarischen Art in allen seinen ‘Ieilen als Paraenese bezeichnen.” See the Hermeneia volume on James for a translation and further revision of Dibelius’s work. The book is thus seen as a loosely connected string of admonitions to Christian conduct. No central organizing theme or structure is to be found; natural literary units of text must be isolated (such as wisdom sayings, diatribe) and then be exegeted in relative isolation from each other. The only possible link between pericopes is the existence of “catch-words,” such as “CHAIRein” (1:1); “CHARan”  (1:2-4); “LEIPomenoi” (1:2-4); “LEIPetai” (1:5-8). These serve more as phonetical links than as conceptual links.

Many, however, have not been content with such a loose “disorganization” perspective.[2]For helpful assessment of this reaction to Dibelius’s approach see Leo G. Perdue, “Paraenesis and the Epistle of James,” Zeitscbrift fur die neutestamentlicbe Wissenscbaft 72 (1981):241-56; P. B. R. Forbes, “The Structure of the Epistle of James,” Evangelical Quarterly 44 (1972):147-53; Edmond Hiebert, “Unifying Theme of the Epistle of James,” Bibliotbeca Sacra 135 (1978):221-31; Franz Mussner, Der Jakobusbrief, vol. 13.1 of Herders tbeologiscber Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 4th ed., eds. Alfred Wikenhauser and Anton Voegtle (Freiburg: Herder, 1981), pp. 56-59 (very helpful summation of developing approaches); Peter Davids, Commentary onJames, in New International Greek Testament Commentary, eds. I. Howard Marshall and W. Ward   Gasque (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), pp. 22-28 [hereafter referred to as NIGTC]; M. Gertner, “Midrashirn in the New Testament,” Journal of Semitic Studies 7 (1962):267-92 [hereafter referred to as JSS]. Some commentators superimpose a logical outline onto the text, sometimes giving attention to either the “catch­ words” or a perceived key theme in each periscope.[3]For an analysis of this tendency see Frank Stagg, ”An Analysis of the Book of James,” Review and Expositor 56 (1969):365-68. More recently in English-speaking circles[4]See Mussner, pp. 56-58, for German efforts at finding an orga­nizing key, beginning at the close of the last century. efforts have been made to discover a semantic structure to the book which provides a literary context from which to exegete each pericope.[5]The most thorough and persuasive effort thus far is that of Peter Davids, NIGTC, pp. 22-28, and also Davids, James in Good News Commentaries, ed. W. Ward Gasque (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), pp. xx-xxii [hereafter referred to as GNC].

Thus with the older paraenesis presupposition chapter two turns a corner into a new topic.[6]Thus Stagg, in “Exegetical Themes in James 1 and 2” [Review and Expositor 56 (1969):339], says in regard to 2:1-13, ”Abruptly, James turns to a new theme, although there is some continuity between the concern for widows and orphans (1:27) and the poor who are discriminated against not only in the courts (2:6) but even in services of worship (2:2-3).” Also, Dibelius, pp. 156f.: “Was diese Ausfiihrungen [2:1-13] von Kap. 1unterscheidet, ist leicht einzusehen. Dort herrschte die Spruchform, der Zusammenhang war locker, der Gedanke schweifte von einem zum andern. Hier gruppieren sich die Gedanken, enger verbunden, um ein Thema, und so zeigen die drei kleinen Abschnitte 2.1ff. 2.14ff. 3.1ff. relative Geschlossenheit. In diesen Ausfiihrungen herrscht also ein durchaus anderer Stil als in Kap. 1; es ist irn wesentlichen der Stil der Diatribe; man wird die drei Abschnitte 2.1ff. 2 .14ff. 3.1ff. demnach als ‘Abhandlungen’ bezeichnen duerfen.” The parameters of definition for pistis must then emerge from within the pericopes (2:1-13, 14-26) themselves. On the other hand, in the newer literary analysis chapter two is seen as a repetition of earlier themes set forth in chapter one. For example, Davids sees chapter two as the expansion of the themes of wealth (1:9-11) and charity (1:22-27) set forth in the introduction (James 1).[7]NIGTC, p. 105; GNC, p. 31. Thus the rich in 2:2-3, 6b-8 are identified with the rich in 1:10; the poor in 2:2-3, 5-6a with 1:9. Literary context then makes a substantial difference in exegesis.

On the surface, David’s approach has great appeal. The constant frustration with the sense of disorientation which has long bothered commentators seems to be overcome. But does the text support such an organizing structure? The subsequent analysis will explore this thesis. Externally, the earlier research of Fred O. Francis[8]The form and function of the opening and closing paragraphs of James and John,” Zeitschrift fiir die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 61 (1970):110-26. seems to establish a justifiable basis for such an approach. But Davids is not without his critics, who see in such an effort a compulsion to organize James after the fashion of Paul.[9]E.g., Alec Motyer, The Message of James, in The Bible Speaks Today, ed. John R. W. Stott (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1985), pp. 11-13 [hereafter referred to as BST]. Motyer is primarily critical of Davids ‘s presupposition of a two-stage development lead­ing to the perceived structure: first a series of homilies and then an epistle in which a redactor edited the pieces together. See also Mussner, pp. 58f.


Internal Literary Structure of James 2

Literary context is determined not only externally but internally as well. The meaning of pistis will be shaped heavily by its usage within the internal structure of the pericope whe5e it shows up. In chapter two this means two basic questions: Is chapter two one pericope or two (2:1-13, 14-26)? If two, are there identifiable literary structures within each pericope? And do they relate to each other? Form critical analysis has identified the literary genre of chapter two as containing a type of “treatise.”[10]Dibelius, pp. 157, 53-57 (Eng. ed., pp. 124f., 34-38). These ”Abhandlungen” comprise a more structured unit of thought, in distinction to the “sayings” materials also found in James, and more along the pattern of the Greek diatribe (dialogue between author and either imaginary opponent or readers). In Christian, Jewish, and Hellenistic circles this style was extensively used in speeches/sermons. Thus one would expect to find a reasonably well-defined literary structure in chapter two. Such is the case.

The chapter falls into two parallel sections: 1-13; 14-26. Within each there is a similar semantic structure: thesis and illustration, followed by exposition of both in tandem with each other. The exposition is brought to a logical climax. The structure is parallel as follows:


Thesis:        2:1                    2:14

Illustration: 2:24                    2:15-17

Exposition: 2:5-13                 2:18-26

Conclusion: 2:12-13               2:24-26

The links between the two sections exist primarily in the common use of pistis (2:1, 5, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 26) and the negative treatment of the poor in both illustrations. An additional link most likely exists in the “not showing mercy” of 2:13 and the failure of the congregation to help their needy members in the illustration of 2:15-17.[11]Such showing of mercy (poiein eleos) was frequently associated with taking care of the poor through alms giving (eleemosyne). See Davids, NIGTC, p. 119, GNC, p. 47; J. H. Ropes, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of St. James, in International Critical Commentary, eds. Allred Plummer and Francis Brown Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1916), p. 202 [hereafter referred to as ICC]; Mussner, p. 127; Jean Cantinat, Les Epitres de Saint Jacques et de Saint Jude, in Sources Bibliques (Paris: J. Gabalda, 1973), p. 136. Thus, while each section contains distinctive elements, numerous common elements exist so as to mandate a careful consideration of this internal literary context.[12]Contra Dibelius, p. 184: “Ein Zusammenhang mit der vorigen Abhandlung ist nicht zu behaupten.”


Text Analysis of James 2:1-13

In this first section of chapter two James deals with the issue of faith and discrimination. T. B. Maston’s words about this text are still as relevant today as in 1969 when he wrote them:

This passage on respect of persons, partiality, favoritism, or snobbery is one of the most abidingly challenging and relevant sections of James. It not only challenges but poses a threat to color and culture conscious contemporary Christians and churches.[13]T. B. Maston, “Ethical Dimensions of James,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 12 (1969):25.

The literary structure of the passage is clear: thesis (2:1); illustration (2:2-4); exposition of illustration in the light of the thesis (2:5-13).[14]Contra Sophie Laws, A Commentary on The Epistle of James, in Harper’s New Testament Commentaries (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1980), p. 93 [hereafter referred to as HNTC]. Laws divides the passage into two sections: 1-9 and 10-13; this is based upon the loosely connected paraenesis presupposition. Thus 2:1-9 and 2:10-13 are sections six and seven of fifteen sections in the epistle, in her schema. No justification for such a division of 2:1-9 and 2:10-13 is provided; it is merely assumed. Completely overlooked is the formal connection of gar (foe) at the beginning of verse 10. This and the content of 2:10-11 argue strongly for this section as a defense of the argument in 2 :8-9. For a helpful assessment of the literary unity of this section see Wollgang Schrage, “Der Jakobusbrief,” in vol. 10 of Das Neue Testament Deutsch, eds. Gerhard Friedrich and Peter Stuhlmacher, 12th ed. (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980), pp. 25f. [hereafter referred to as NTD]. For a differing assessment of internal structure see Mussner, p. 114. Some possible connections of 2:1-13 to themes in chapter one exist: the rich and the poor (1:9-11) to the rich man and the beggar (2:2-3); the orphans and widows ministry (l:27a) to non-discrimination against the poor (2:2-6a).[15]Davids (NIGTC, p. 105, GNC, p. 31) overstates his case that 2:1-13 is an exposition of 1:9-11 and 1:22-27. More restrained is Cantinat, p. 119. Laws’s “theme of consistency” (HNTC, p. 93) as the connecting link between 2:1-9 and 1:19-27 adds little insight.

Intriguing but unconvincing is the effort by M. Gertner to see the epistle as a midrashic exposition of Ps. 12:1-5 (JSS, pp. 288f.): “The second chapter with the theme of ‘division’ (in the assembly, between commandments of the Torah, and between faith and works) corresponds to the two meanings of the Psalm’s halagoth in the second verse [of the Psalm].”

Thesis (2:1)

The foundational principle of this section (2:1-13) is set forth at the beginning as a warning to the readers. James couches it in the common homiletical addressing of his readers as “brothers.”[16]See 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19. James often follows a command to his readers with either “brothers” or “my (beloved) brothers”: 1:2, 16, 19; 2:5; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7. Sometimes the pastoral address precedes the command: 2:1; 5:12, 19. For helpful discussion of early Christian use, as well as earlier Jewish use, of adelphos see Ropes, ICC, pp. 13lf.; Mussner, p. 63, fn. 4. This serves both to indicate his attitude toward them, as well as rhetorically to introduce a new topic.[17]Cf. 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7, 12, 19. See Ropes, ICC, p. 185.

The thrust of the warning is against discrimination: me en prosopolempsiais echete ten pistis. The prohibition of prosopolempsia is found in the Old Testament (Lev. 19:15; Ps. 132:2; Mal. 2:9); it is contrary to God (Deut. 10:17; Job 34:19; Eccles. 35:13; cf. Acts 10:34; Barnabas 19:7). This Greek word is here translated in a variety of ways in an effort to capture its meaning: “respect of persons” (KJV); “partiality” (Wey.); “personal favoritism” (NASB); “snobbery” (NEB); “worship of rank” (TCNT). The plural form of the word is more accurately brought out by C. B. Williams’s translation of it as “acts of partiality.”[18]For fuller discussion see Eduard Lohse, “Prosopolempsia,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, eds. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. G. W. Bromiley, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968) 6:779f. Also helpful is Davids, NIGTC, pp. 105f., Mussner, pp. 115f., and C. Leslie Mitton, The Epistle of James (Greenwood, S.C.: Attic Press, Inc., 1966), pp. 80-82. The warning is expressed as a prohibition against continuation of an action already in progress.[19]In the Greek a present imperative of prohibition. For helpful comments on this see Ropes, ICC, p. 186;James Adamson, The Epistle ofJames, in New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), p. 102 [hereafter referred to as NIC). Contrary to the Westcott­ Hort Greek text, the sentence is imperative, not interrogative. See punctuation apparatus of the United Bible Societies’ third edition Greek text for further examples of those taking the sentence as a rhetorical question. Technically, it could be either in the Greek, but the vast majority favor the imperative understanding. Thus James’s illustration (2:2-4) is drawn out of actual occurrence, not a hypothetical possibility.

The warning prohibits possessing faith while expressing discrimination. Pistis here is better under­ stood as personal commitment, than as a system of belief (i.e., the Christian faith).[20]Cf. Ropes, ICC, p. 187; Curtis Vaughan, James: A Study Guide (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 44; Motyer, BST, p. 79, fn. 1. For detailed study in regard to chapter two see Adoll Schlatter, Der Glaube im Neuen Testament, 5th ed. (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1963), pp. 418-66. Pistis is qualified by “our Lord Jesus Christ.” The connection is best understood with Christ as the object of the believer’s faith.[21]In the Greek, kyriou Iesou Christou is objective Genitive; the article ten with pistin is possessive; thus the translation is “your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Wms., cf. NEB, TCNT, NIV et al.). For detailed discussion see Dibelius, pp. 158-61 (Eng. ed., pp. 126-28). More difficult to determine is the sense of tes doxes.[22] For detailed discussion see Adamson, NIC, pp. 102-4; Davids, NIGTC, pp. 106f.; Ropes, ICC, pp. 187f. While it may serve as an adjective modifier of “Lord” (thus “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ”: NASB, NIV et al.), more likely it is in apposition to “Lord Jesus Christ” (thus “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory [i.e. the Shekinah]”: Wey., cf. NEB).[23]For defense of this see W. E. Oesterley, “The General Epistle of James,” in vol. 4 of the Expositor’s Greek Testament, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967) 4:435f.; Adamson, NIC, pp. 103f. (Adamson’s transferring of hemon [“our”] to modify “Glory” is unconvincing, however.) For a brief survey of the interpretative history of this see J. Brinktrine, “Zu Jak. 2,1: me en prosopolepsiais echete ten pistin tou kyriou hemon Iesou Christou tes doxes,” Biblica 35 (1954):40-42. Christ is the new covenant manifestation of the divine presence!

Thus to claim faith in Him who is the divine presence while discriminating against others is an impossible position. God does not discriminate; neither are His people allowed to do such. Faith that does is not life-changing commitment to Jesus Christ! Thus, “the church ought to show no partiality, no concern about the outward beauty, wealth, or power of a person.”[24]Davids, GNC, p. 31.

Illustration (2:2-4)

Verses two through four comprise one sentence in the Greek text. The long “if” clause (vv. 2-3) sets up the situation and the two main clauses (v. 4) critique the situation by raising two rhetorical questions. These questions then become the issues which pro­ vide the basis for the following exposition (vv. 5-13).

The situation (vv. 2-3) is described as the appearance of two men at “your meeting” (synagogen hymon; v. 2). This is most likely a regular Christian worship service.[25]Contra Davids, NIGTC, pp. 107ff., who argues for a special Christian meeting to conduct a trial in the synagogue pattern of a beth-din (cf. 1 Cor. 6:1-11 for clearer example). Davids presses the judicial language of 2:1-13 too literalistically, as he picks up on the suggestion of R. B. Ward in “Partiality in the Assembly: James 2:2-4,” Harvard Theological Review 62 (1969):87-97. This single NT use of synagoge foe a Christian assembly or assembly room provides no real clue as to dating the epistle or to the geographical setting of the epistle. (See Wollgang Schrage, “Synagoge,” Tbeological Dictionary of the New   Testament 7:798-841 [esp.   840f.].). Two new people show up and need to be told where to sit.[26]They may be recent converts [cf. C. Burchard, “ZuJakobus 2, 14-26,” Zeitschrift fiir die neutestamentlich Wissenschaft 71 (1980):28-30], or, more likely, visitors [Laws, HNTC, pp. 99f.]. Their appearance attracts immediate attention. One is “wearing a gold ring and fine clothes” (NIV), while the other is “in shabby clothes” (NIV). The rich man, who may possibly be a Christian,[27]See Davids, NIGTC, p. 108. Dibelius, p. 168 (Eng. ed., p. 135, has additional documentation), suggests that the question of the spiritual status of both men is insignificant to James’s point. Their economic difference is the thing being stressed. is described in terms which could apply to any wealthy first-century person—Hellenistic or Jewish.[28]Davids, NIGTC, p. 108. Contra Bo Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude, vol. 37 of Anchor Bible, eds. W. F. Albright and D. N. Freedman, 2d ed. (New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1978), p. 27, who argues that the description best fits a Roman nobleman. The poor man has the appearance of a beggar.[29]The phrase ptochos en hrypara estheti suggests an extreme situation of poverty. Cf. Vaughan, p. 47. The sin of the Christian community occurs in the discriminating instructions given to these as to where they can be seated (v. 3). To the rich visitor comes the instruction: “Have this best seat here” (TEV).[30]The Greek adverb kalos (good) also has the meaning of “please.” Thus the RSV renders the command as “Have a seat here, please.” J. B. Phillips combines the two ideas into “Please sit here – it’s an excellent seat.” This discriminating instruction is introduced with the verb epiblepsete (you look with favor at). Note that no mention is made of visual action in regard to the poor man. But to the poor man: “You stand there,” or “Sit on the floor by my feet” (NIV).[31]The Greek text varies in the instructions given to the poor man. In some manuscripts the adverb ekei (there) is with the first verb (stand there); in others with both verbs (stand or sit there). The contrastive adverb bode (here) shows up in a few with the second verb (stand there or sit here) to give sharper contrast to the two alternatives proposed to the poor man. For assessment of the textual situation see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1971), pp. 680f. The tone to the rich man is respectful, but to the poor man, abrupt and rude.[32]An interesting early Christian application of this passage is cited by Ropes, ICC, pp. 190, from the Ethiopic Statutes of the Apostles. With the entrance of a wealthy Christian the spiritual leader is to continue on without paying attention to this one’s presence. But when a poor Christian comes. to church, he is to stop his speaking and personally escort the individual to a seat, giving up his own if need be for the poor brother to have a place.

With pointed caricature James sets up the example of failure to be consistent with the Christian principle of impartiality (v. 1).[33]Dibelius, pp. 164f., concludes that James’s heavy stylization of the instructions suggests a purely hypothetical situation; thus, no conclusion can be drawn about the presence or existence of partiality in early Christian church life. Laws, HNTC, p. 98, rightly rejects this in favor of the presupposition of the existence of such attitudes and practices, though, most likely, not to the extreme which James describes in his illustration. The hypothetical nature of the illustration is further underscored with the use of the Greek con­junction ean (if) to introduce this long third-class conditional protasis. Here it is based upon economic discrimination. But any expression of discrimination—whether based on race, economics, sex, or whatever-stands under the scope of what the sacred text is addressing.

The two main clauses (the apodosis; v. 4) provide the evaluation of the actions described in the long ”if” clause (the protasis; vv. 2-3). With forceful literary style James sets forth his critique in two rhetorical questions, thus eliciting agreement from his readers.[34]The negative particle ou expects an affirmative answer. This is brought out in the NIV translation: “Have you not discrimi­nated . . . and become . . . ?” The two questions are linked together by a play on words: dieKRITHete (v. 4a); KR/Tai (v. 4b). Thus the scope of their meaning is closely linked together.

The verb of the first question is variously understood.[35]The basic range of meanings for ou diekrithete en heautois is reflected in the translations: (1) interpersonal actions: “Have you not discriminated among yourselves? (NIV); (2) interpersonal attitude: ”Are you not drawing distinctions in your minds?” (Mof.); (3) inward uncertainty: “Is not this to doubt within yourselves?” (Alf.); or “Is it not plain that in your hearts you have little faith?” (Wey.).

The link of the verb diekrithete to the following kritai argues for the sense of (1) “discriminate” or (2) “make a distinction.” The third meaning of “doubt” is based on the use of the same verb in 1:6 where that is its meaning. Whether the “making a distinction” is an action or an attitude is contingent upon whether the prepositional phrase en heautois means “among yourselves”   or “within yourselves.” Although both meanings are possible, the action orientation of the long “if” clause favors the “among yourselves” translations. To be sure, actions reflect attitudes; but, the emphasis here is primarily on actions. Contra the Vulgate: nonne iudicatis apud vosmetipsos?
But the better understanding is the sense of discriminating action. James is here leveling the charge that such discriminating treatment between the rich and the poor by the community of faith is indeed a violation of the principle of impartiality implicit in its faith commitment to Jesus Christ, the Shekinah presence of God. The second question presses the inward point, thus condemning the mental activity which produced the action. Such actions associate the believing community with the unjust judge so frequently condemned in the Old Testament.[36]”And I charged your judges at that time: . . . Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God” (Deut. 1:16-17; NIV). Cf. also 10:17; Lev. 19:15; Prov. 18:5 et al. Jesus picked up on this negative image as the backdrop for the righteousness of God in answering the prayers of His people in the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-6).

The believing community is playing the role of the unjust judge, not functioning· as ecclesiastical judges in a church court as Davids mistakenly contends (NIGTC, pp. 109f.). Thus through associating such actions with such a negative image [See Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 7th ed. (Munich: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1979) 3:754, for rabbinic stress], James skillfully drives home his condemnation of such dis­ crimination. This focus on a corrupt court system surfaces again in 2:6 and 5:6.
These “judges” employ dialogismon ponerom, that is, “evil reasoning.”[37]The phrase includes both deliberation and purpose. Cf. Ropes, ICC, p. 193. Such is utterly foreign to the great Judge of humanity “who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes” (Deut. 10:17; NIV). How then can a believer claim faith in such a God and at the same time discriminate against others? Something is dreadfully wrong with such a faith!

Exposition (2:5-13)

In this third section James hammers his readers with the wrongness of discrimination. He builds on the illustration (vv. 2-4) in light of the initial thesis of the inconsistency of partiality with faith in Jesus Christ (v. 1). First, discrimination against the poor contradicts God’s treatment of them (vv. 5b-6a); second, favoritism of the rich is illogical in the light of their oppression of the community of faith (vv.6b-7); third, such actions represent an intolerable selective obedience to God’s Word (vv. 8-11); finally, the believing community faces a more demanding divine judgment through the liberating message of the gospel (vv. 12-13).[38]Davids, NIGTC, p. 111, breaks vv. 5-13 into three parts: rational argument (vv. 5-7); biblical argument (vv. 8-12); concluding summary (v. 13). Such a division fails to consider the interrelatedness of the section and results in a misleading distancing of the sub-units. The attitude toward the poor and the rich (vv. 5-7) is treated in chiastic fashion [a:b::B:A] in the following section (vv. 8-11). Thus (a) poor in vv. 5b-6a = (A) do not discriminate in v. 9, while (b) rich in vv. 6b-7 = love your neighbor in v. 8. Verses 10-11 then set forth the impossibility of such selective obedience. Cf. Schrage, NTD, p. 26.

The exposition begins with the sharp injunction: “Listen, my beloved brothers!” The sternness of a genuinely concerned pastor sets the stage for James’s treatment of the seriousness of discrimination.[39]Cf. Mussner, p. 119; Adamson, NIC, p. 109; Davids, NIGTC, p. 111.

The Poor (2:5b-6a)

The point in the rhetorical question and its answer in this section is to show the diametrically opposite attitudes toward the poor on the part of God and the “believing” community. First, God’s attitude is set forth as His election of the poor to salvation.[40]Divine election of the poor is a strong theme first in the Old Testament (e.g., Deut. 16:3; 26:7), then in the intertestamental and rabbinic literature (e.g., Sir. 10:22-24; lQpHab 12:3), also in the teaching of Jesus (e.g., Luke 6:20). See Davids, NIGTC, pp. 111f.; Cantinat, pp. 125f. The designation “poor” presupposes a pious devotion to God.[41]See Dibelius, pp. 58-66, 170ff. (Eng. ed., 39-45, 137f.) for help­ful discussion of the tendency to associate poverty and piety. In the view of the surrounding world[42]To kosmo is better understood “poor in the view of the world” than “poor with respect to worldly belongings.” The textual variants attempt to smooth out the construction in this sense by the reading tou kosmou. the poor possess nothing. But in God’s view these are destined to possess the spiritual wealth that accompanies faith[43]Plousious en pistin is better taken as “rich in the sphere of faith” than as “rich in faith.” Faith is not the result of God’s having chosen them, rather, the blessings that accompany faith, as the next reference “heirs of His Kingdom” makes clear. Contra Cantinat, p. 126; per Dibelius, pp. 171f. which ultimately means inheriting the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 16:19-31). But the discriminating treatment of the poor by the community of faith (2:3b) reveals the exact opposite attitude and action: “But you have dishonored the poor” (v. 6a). How can this contradiction between faith in God and discrimination against the poor who are objects of God’s grace be defended? It cannot! Instead, it reveals a piety unacceptable before God (cf. 1:26-27).[44]As Dibelius, pp. 170f., notes, the application is broader than just the rude treatment of the poor in the preceding illustration. The illustration is but one example of discriminating activity. But Dibelius is wrong to detach this verse from the preceding illustration and declare “v. 5ff. warnt nicht vor Parteilichkeit beim Verteilen der Platze, sondern vor Parteilichkeit schlechthin.”

The Rich (2:6b-7)

Now James turns to the attitude toward the rich.[45]Notice the sequence of treatment from the illustration (vv. 2-4) to the exposition (vv. 5-7): rich:poor::poor:rich. Also, the versifica­ tion which wrongly splits the two ri)etorical questions and creates a false division of subject area here, as it did in verses 5b-6a. He levels three charges against the rich: oppression, legal persecution, and blasphemy. Both rhetorical questions in which these occur expect an affirmative answer from the readers, agreeing that such charges are real, not hypothetical. The rich here are clearly outside the church: “they…you.”[46]Davids, NIGTC, p. 112, suggests that James here uses the direct reference plousioi, rather than the circumlocution used in the illus­ tration, because here the non-Christian rich are in view whereas the rich visitor was probably a Christian brother unfamiliar with that particular congregation. The literary structure of the passage argues against such; also, such a shift in perspective about the rich would diminish the forcefulness ofJames’s condemnation of discrimination. It is better to see the same designation of rich in both the illustration and the exposition. The first two charges, oppression and legal persecution, are closely related, the first general and the second specific.[47]Unspecified is the motivation behind the opposition. Is it based on religion or economics? Only the third charge of blasphemy hints at a religious motivation behind the opposition. But it is focused more on the name of Christ than on the Christians themselves. The language of the first rhetorical question is strongly oriented to the Old Testament tradition of the oppression of the poor by the rich.[48]Cf.Jer. 7:6, 22:3; Ezek. 18:7, 12, 16 et al. Especially important are Amos 4:1 [LXX: hai katadunasteuousai ptochous] and Jer. 7:6 [LXX: orphanon kai charan me katadunasteusete; cf. 1:27]. The specific charge that the Christians are being ”dragged into courts” suggests the use of a corrupt legal system by the wealthy to disenfranchise them.[49]Davids, NIGTC, p. 113, rightly suggests that the setting here is that of Christians in poverty being hauled into synagogue courts or other local jurisdictions for civil actions “to rob the Christians ‘legally’ of what was rightfully theirs.” The admonition to rejoice in trials (1:2-4) most likely has a connection to this situation, as well as 1 Peter. For a helpful detailed analysis see Dibelius, pp. 172-75 (Eng. ed., 138-41). The third charge is that of blasphemy against “that honorable name by which you are called” (RSV).[50]The participial phrase to epiklethen eph’ hymas is “a septua­gintalism, indicating possession or relationship, particularly relationship to God” (Davids, NIGTC, p. 113). It suggests tones of con­ fession, possibly to be associated with one’s baptismal confession of faith in Christ (Adamson, NIC, p. 113; Dibelius, pp. 175f.; Mitton, p. 88; Davids, NIGTC, p. 113; Mussner, p. 122). The rich were slandering the name of Jesus.[51]The specific name is variously identified: “Christian” – Adamson, NIC, pp. 112f.; “Christ” -Ropes, ICC, p. 196; “Jesus” – Davids, NIGTC, p. 113; Laws, HNTC, p. 105; Mussner, p. 122; Cantinat, pp. 129ff.

Of the three charges leveled by James this is the easiest to see as justifying his condemnation of the community of faith showing favoritism to the rich. “By siding with the rich the church was siding with blasphemers!”[52]Davids, NIGTC, p. 114. The logic of James in the third charge is similar to the first two: The church in its favoritism has identified itself with the oppressive rich who stand under the condemnation of Almighty God.[53]See Amos 4:1-3 et al. Ironically the church is the poor who are the object of such maltreatment!

Selective Obedience (2:8-11)

James now appeals to Scripture as he continues to drive home his condemnation of discrimination. The issue is set up in the form of two conditional sentences (vv. 8-9), followed by two explanatory assertions establishing the hypocrisy in the discrimination between rich and poor. The two “if” clauses are best seen as continuing the structure of rich and poor seen in the preceding sections.[54]Contra Davids, NIGTC, pp. 114f. Thus in the exposition the chiasm surfaces: poor (vv. 5b-6a) : rich (vv. 6b-7) : : rich (v. 8) : poor (v. 9). Interestingly the first “if” clause dealing with the royal law is taken from Lev. 19:18, while the second “if” clause dealing with partiality comes from Lev. 19:15.[55]James ‘s use of Lev. 19:12-18 as a scriptural background to his exhortations at numerous points in the epistle has been convincingly set forth by Luke T. Johnson in “The Use of Leviticus 19 in the Letter of James,” Journal of Biblical Literature 101 (1982):392-401. What James does is analogous to a similar approach to Leviticus 19 taken in the earlier Jewish writing The Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides. James raises the point of selective obedience by saying, in essence, “Read all your Bible! You can’t pick out only the convenient part for superficial obedience.”[56]This understanding best explains the concessive meaning present in the conjunction mentoi. Mussner, p. 123, tries in vain to explain away this concessive meaning. He, and those who follow this approach, then set verses 8-9 in contrast to the preceding section. But this fails to pick up on the chiasm as well as the natural conces­ sive tone which verse 8 carries. (The concessive meaning is clearly the thrust of the other seven uses in the NT; see Davids, NIGTC, 114.) James concedes to these believers a claim to loving their neighbor in their friendliness to the rich. Perhaps in the tradition from Jesus in Matt. 5:43-47 the church could answer James by claim­ ing to have obeyed its Lord by loving its enemies, the rich.

In the first issue (v. 8), James raises the question as to what constitutes neighbor love. The church lays claim to its treatment of the rich as an expression of neighbor love. James concedes the possible legitimacy of the claim: “you do well.” But the concession is not wholehearted. The concessive mentoi as well as the following declaration (v. 9) strongly suggest that the church has too narrowly and conveniently defined “neighbor.” Beyond the definition of neighbor as enemy (Matt. 5:43-47) in the teaching of Jesus is person-in-need as seen in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The poor man (vv. 2-4) was neighbor as well. This command to love stands as the authoritative law of the King.[57]The adjective basilikon is best seen as emphasizing this command as God’s authoritative word. Jesus’ repetition of Lev. 19:18 (Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27) as well as Paul’s use (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14) serve to underscore its importance. See Laws, HNTC, pp. 107-110; Dibelius, pp. 177ff. (Eng. ed., 142f.). But “royal” does not mean “the most important.” (cf. Mark 12:31) under which all others are subsumed (cf. Paul’s use).

Jewish tradition made this connection between loving one’s neigh­ bor and caring for the poor. For example, the Testament of Issachar 5:2, “Love the Lord and your neighbor; be compassionate toward poverty and sickness” (James H. Charlesworth, ed., Tbe Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1983) 1:803).

In the second issue (v. 9), James focuses on the matter of the church’s treatment of the poor man. To express partiality means to commit sin; God’s authoritative word also declares this (Lev. 19:15). While the church may claim to be obedient in its faith by loving the rich man as neighbor, its hypocrisy is laid bare by its sinful treatment of the poor man. The same authoritative law of God strips away the pretense of faithfulness. Its verdict: you have committed sin (i.e., “have fallen short of God’s expectation” in the sense of bamartian) and stand convicted as a transgressor of divine law (i.e., ”have intentionally rebelled against God’s leadership” in the sense of parabatai).

The third section (vv. 10-11) reinforces the preceding issues with two justifying statements (the sense of gar). The first sets forth the principle; the second graphically illustrates and thus reinforces it. The principle (v. 10) affirms the unitary nature of the law of God.[58]The concept is deeply rooted in Jewish rabbinical thought: “If a man perform all the commandments, save one, he is guilty of all and each; to break one precept is to defy God who commanded the whole” (b. Shab. !xx. 2 as quoted by Adamson, NIC, p. 116). See Davids, NIGTC, pp. 116f. for helpful discussion. Also Ropes, ICC, p. 200, lists several Jewish sources for this understanding. This rabbinical tradition is also deeply rooted in Christian circles as well: Matt. 5:18-19; 23:23; Gal. 3:10; 5:3. A sin against any specific law means a sin against law! Picking and choosing which ones to keep and which ones to ignore will not work! Thus no claim to loving one’s neighbor while violating God’s prohibition against showing partiality is legitimate. Obeying a “more important” law does not excuse breaking a “lesser” law. The illustration (v. 11) force­ fully drives home this point. No one could excuse the act of murder by saying, “I haven’t committed adultery!”[59]The selection of these two commands from the Decalogue is more likely based on their dramatic effect than on any other basis. They represent the ethical heart of the Decalogue. The sequence, adultery then murder, is a reversal of the sequence in the Hebrew text, but is the order in some LXX and Hebrew manuscripts as well as in certain NT texts (e.g., Luke 18:20; Mark 10:19 in codex D; Rom. 13:9). A more likely reason for this sequence than textual tradition is the associating of wealth with adultery (cf. 4:4). Cf. Davids, NIGTC, p. 117. Thus selective obedience is unjustifiable-then, and now!

Conclusion (2:12-13)

James now closes this exposition by a pair of commands reinforced by two basic truths.[60]Strangely Davids, NIGTC, p. 118, includes verse 12 with the preceding section and verse 13 begins a new section. But he exegetes them in close relation to one another. They are better taken together as a unit with gar (v. 13) giving explanatory justification for the two preceding commands (Ropes, ICC, p. 201). The two commands, expressed as ongoing responsibilities by means of the present imperative Greek verb form, cover all the actions of a person.[61]Speaking and doing are seen as the sum of outwardly expressed human activity; cf. Acts 1:1; 7:22; 1 John 3:18; also Test. Gad 6:1. They are especially focused on the illustration in 2:2-4, as Cantinat, p. 136, observes: “La formule ‘parlez et agissez’ englobe bien Jes paroles et Jes attitudes adoptees envers Jes riches et Jes pauvres (2, 2-3).” Mussner, p. 126, wrongly interprets laleite as “ermahnt einander” (“admonish one another”). One’s speech and actions must be carefully controlled for he faces a certain accounting for them in final judgment.[62]The participial construction mellontes krinesthai underscores the certainty of judgment, not especially its nearness (Davids, NIGTC, p. 118). Elsewhere James also reflects the anticipation of divine judgment over one’s speech as well as deeds (words: 1:19, 26; 3:1-12; 4:11-16; 5:12; deeds: 1:27; 4:1-10; 5:1-6). This is much in line with the teachings of Jesus (Matt. 12:36; 25:31-45). The solemnity of the admonitions is underscored by the repetition of boutos with both verbs.[63]Davids, NIGTC, p. 118. That which will serve as the criteria of judgment is the “law of liberty” (cf. 1:25).[64]The phrase nomou eletherias is best understood as “the law which makes free” (Bas.). Eletherias is objective Genitive. But what is the identity of this “law”? Rabbinic Judaism spoke of the Torah as setting one free (Aboth 3:5; 6:2; Baba Kamma 8:6; Baba Metzia 85b). Is James here defining the gospel in the same way as Paul (Gal. 5:1-6:2) as freedom from the legalism of the Torah? It is doubtful (Mussner, p. 107). In his Jewish Christian heritage James sees the “law of liberty” as the law of Moses as interpreted (and to some extent altered) by Jesus and the early church, which took its cues from Jesus” (Davids, NIGTC, pp. 118, 99f.). Thus his use of Leviticus 19 above. In union with Christ one discovers the spiritual dynamic enabling him to live obediently to God’s will. But this principle will eventually become the divine standard of evaluation!

What implication does this suggest? The two following statements expressed as a proverb[65]Dibelius, p. 183 (ein selbstiindiger Spruch); Mussner, p. 126 (eine ziemlich festgepragten Sentenz). A signal of this is the shift in verse 13 to an impersonal third person “to the one . . .” from the direct second person “you” in verse 12. Dibelius is wrong, however, when he sees little connection of this statement to the verse 12 admonitions. The conjunction gar sets up a formal explanatory/justificational link which then gives interpretative help for compre­ hending the specific meaning of this proverb (which, as do proverbs in general, has a broad, somewhat unclear meaning and thus depends on a specific context to determine precise meaning). imply the perimeters of judging done through the law of liberty. On the negative side, failure to show mercy[66]Note Matt. 6:12, 14-15 as antecedent for this in Jesus’ teachings, though the principle is deeply rooted in the OT and Judaism (Jer. 9:26; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:8; Sir. 27:30-28:7; Tob. 4:9-11 et al.). means failure to receive God’s mercy in judgment. The mistreatment of the poor man (2:2-4) raises the specter of stern treatment by God in judgment! What is the solution? Mercy! It has the power to triumph over judgment” (v. 13b).[67]67 See Davids, NIGTC, p. 119, for persuasive defense of this view of katakauchatai eleos kriseos. Dibelius, (Eng. ed.) p. 148, quotes a Jewish source establishing such a perspective: “For mercy rescues from punishment those who in purity practice mercy, since at the time of judgment it stands by the royal throne.” Thus both strict justice and mercy stand as perimeters of judgment. The believer’s nondemonstration/demonstration of mercy will be the determinative factor in that judgment.

Thus James has forcefully underscored that real faith must issue forth in proper attitudes and actions toward people. For it to fail to do so is to invite disaster before the judgment bar of God. The key to proper relationships is mercy which in the Jewish heritage of James especially means caring for the poor—the very thing the church failed to do when the beggar showed up at church one day!



In a pattern similar to the first section James now presses the issue of faith’s significance into a broader field. Whereas the claim to faith while demonstrating partiality was rejected as false in 2:1-13, the claim to faith while failing to engage in deeds of obedience is now rejected as false in 2:14-26. James follows the same basic structure in making his case here as earlier: thesis (2:14); illustration (2:15-17); exposition (2:18-26).[68] This division is somewhat contrary to that of G. M. Burge, “‘.And Threw Them Thus on Paper’: Recovering the Poetic Form of James 2:14-26,” Studia Biblica et Tbeologica 7 (1977):31-45. See my James Diagrammed for details based on a literary structural analysis of the Greek text. We do agree that a fundamental parallelism exists between the two sections; our difference is over how that parallelism is best understood. Motyer, BST, pp. 107f., incorrectly understands the rhetorical structure of the text. The four illustrations as the organizing structure of the text cannot be justified in the face of a well-defined literary structure embedded in the text.

For a helpful study of the efforts to find parallelism between these two sections of James 2, as well as another proposal, see Christop Burchard, “Zu Jakobus 2, 14-26,” Zeitschrift fur die neutestament­ liche Wissenschaft 71 (1980):27-45. For an American writer who symphathizes with Dibelius’s rejection of any parallelism [p.’ 184: “Ein Zusammenhang mit der vorigen Abhandlung ist nicht zu behaupten.”), see Roy B. Ward, “The Works of Abraham. James 2:14-26,” Harvard Theological Review 61 (1968):14-26).


Thesis (2:14)

By two pointed rhetorical questions James raises the issue of faith and works.[69]The nature of the questions in4icates the use of the Greek diatribe in which the writer carries on a dialogue with an imaginary person, in this case, an imaginary member of the community of faith to which James is writing. This literary device was common in the ancient Hellenistic world both in Greek and in Hellenistic synagogue circles. The “straw man” is referred to only as tis (“someone”). For a helpful analysis of this literary style see Ropes, ICC, pp. 12-18, and especially important are Rudolf Bulrmann, Der Stil derpaulinischen Predigt und die kynisch-stoische Diatribe (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1910, pp. 10ff. and Hartwig Thyen, Der Stil derjudisch­ Hellenistischen Homilie (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1935), pp. 40ff. Although he is carrying on a dialogue with an imaginary individual, the someone who lays claim to possessing faith, he elicits the agreement of his readers, ”my brothers,” with his view of the falseness of the claim by the “someone.”[70]The main clause of the first question, ti to ophelos, has the clear point of rejecting the situation described in the “if” clause. The second question carries a similar rejection of the claim to faith by the use of the negative particle me, which predisposes the expected answer as a rejection of the issue in the question (Davids, NIGTC, p. 120). This is brought over into English as: “Such faith cannot save him, can it?” The distinguishing factor between faith which is worth something (v. 14a) which saves (v. 14b) and that which ipsofacto is worthless (v. 14a) which does not save (v. 14b) is the presence or absence of erga ­ “works.”[71]Contra Dibelius, pp. 187f. (Eng. ed., pp. 151f.), who sees but one undefined conception of faith in James. He wrongly rejects the idea of a true and a false faith here.

What does he mean by erga?[72]For a helpful discussion of the Pauline faith verses James’s works in the history of interpretation, especially since Luther, see Eduard Lohse, “Glaube und Werke,” Zeitschrift fur die neutesta­ mentliche Wissenschaft 48 (1957):1-22; Joachim Jeremias, “Paul and James,” Expository Times 66 (1954-1955):368-71; Arthur E. Travis, “James and Paul, A Comparative Study,” Southwestern journal of Theology 12 (1969):57-70; also of some help is Nigel M. Watson, “Justified by Faith, Judged by Works -an Antinomy?” New Testament Studies 29 (1983):209-21. As Davids[73]NIGTC, p. 120. rightly points out, James’s “works” are the merciful deeds of charity already suggested in 2:13, while the works which Paul so vigorously opposed (cf. Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 2:16; 3:10-12; 5:2-4) are those of the ritual law. C. L. Mitton[74]Mitton, p. 99. quoting Calvin correctly observes that 2:14-26 is an effective commentary on Paul’s statement in Gal. 5:6b: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (NIV).[75]See further Eph. 2:10 (works as purpose of salvation); 2 Cor. 9:8; Col. 1:10; 2 Thess. 2:17; 1 Tim. 3:1. Schlatter, Glaube, p. 418, calls attention to the similarity (“eine gewisse Verwandtschaft”) of James and 1 Timothy in their understanding of the significance of faith (“Glaubensbegriff”).

James’s thesis clearly reiterates his previous position: “Do not fool yourselves by just listening to his word. Instead, put it into practice” (1:22; TEV). It also echoes the words of Jesus: “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter into the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do” (Matt. 7:21; TEV).[76]Schrage, NTD, p. 31, correctly identifies James with Matthew 7 and sees the contrast as between a fruitful faith and worthless “lip confession” of faith: “Es geht also nicht um den notwendigen Zusammenhang von Glaube und Werken, sondern um den fatalen Kontrast von guten Worten und guten Tuten (vgl. Mt. 7, 21), und der Glaube gerat dabei in eine verdachtige Nahe zu blossen Lippen­ bekenntnissen.”


Illustration (2:15-17)

Here James introduces an illustration in order to reinforce his thesis.[77]Cantinat, p. 141; Mussner, p. 131. Note that the absence of a formal conjunctory link (as gar in 2:4a) serves to heighten the force­ fulness of the illustration, not [contra Dibelius, p. 188 (Eng. ed. p. 152)) to send a misleading signal of the relation of the illustration to the thesis. Minuscule 1735 inserts gar, while A, C, et al. insert  de, in order to formalize the connection and parallel it with 2:4. He uses the same type of conditional sentence structure as in 2:2-4: a long “if” clause, vv. 15-16a, sets up the situation; the main clause (v. 16b), structured as a pointed rhetorical question (the same as v. 14a), evaluates the situation of the “if” clause.

The situation (vv. 15-16a) is that of a fellow believer (adelphos or adelpha) not having adequate clothes with which to keep warm[78]Gymnoi here means inadequate clothes, rather than not any clothes. Otherwise, the conversation, especially with the Christian sister, would not have taken place. This meaning of gymnos is well attested. See Davids, NIGTC, p. 121. That Christians in Palestine suffered from inadequate clothing and food in the middle part of the first century as a result of economic persecution and repeated famines is seen in the relief efforts of Paul for the “saints atJerusalem” (Acts 11:27-30; 2 Corinthians 8-9). and adequate food to get through each day.[79]Cf. Ropes, ICC, pp. 206f.; also C. B. Williams’s “no food for the day.” A conversation occurs between these and a member of the community of faith (v. 16a). Exactly who this person is and where the conversation takes place is not clearly defined, although it likely is in the same setting of a worship service as in 2:2-4.[80]Note a difference in the speakers between the two illustrations. In 2:2-4, the instructions to the rich man and the beggar are placed in the mouths of the entire congregation (second person plural verbs of speaking in v. 3). Thus guilt is placed on the entire congregation (2 :4). But, here the word of farewell to the needy believer is put in the mouth of tis ex bymon (“one of you”). However, the blame for inaction is placed on the entire congregation: “but you do not give . . .” (the verb is second person plural).

Is this a situation something like the pastor in our day standing at the door greeting folks as they leave the worship service? Likely James intentionally associates this unnamed church spokesman (tis, v. 16a) with his “straw man” (tis, v. 14a) who laid claim to a worthless, salvationless faith. If James has in mind a spiritual leader, then the reprehensibleness of his words are heightened.[81]The words bypagete en eirene express a typical Jewish farewell. Cf. Acts 16:36; Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50; Judg. 18:6; 1 Sam. 1:17 et al. Note C. B. Williams’s “Blessings on you!” or the NEB which captures something of the sarcasm contextually present: “Good luck to you!” The other two expressions thermainesthe kai chortadzesthe sarcastically take note of the two great needs in the other believer: clothes and food (cf. Matt. 6:25-34). As Davids notes, this non-response to need is calculated to shock the reader.[82]NIGTC, p. 121.

What a tragic state of affairs for a congregation to be under the leadership of one whose lack of saving relationship with Christ surfaces in such hypocritically pious words at the door of the church! It is little wonder that the church did not lift a finger to help one of its own. Its callused indifference simply reflected the spiritual state of its leader! James’s critique (v. 16b) raises the obvious question: “What good does it [faith] do?” The expected answer from his readers: “None!”

Verse seventeen then drives home the application of the illustration to his readers.[83]Houtos kai applies the illustration in James’s customary manner (cf. 1:11; 2:26; 3:5) as Davids, NIGTC, p. 122, notes. It is better translated as “Exactly so” (Ber.), rather than “In just the same way” (TCNT) which artificially distances the illustration from the application. The implication is given that what was said and done in the illustration had made no claim to faith. The articular pistis (v. 17) points back to a false claim to faith (v. 16) in the same way as the parallel construction in verse 14b points to the false claim in verse 14a. [Note the same verb for both claims: lege (“say”; v. 14a); eipe (“say”; v. 16).] A faith that speaks such hypocritical words and takes no action to meet dire need “is, by itself, a lifeless thing” (TCNT).[84]The prepositional phrase katb’heautan is better understood as “by itself” (that is, without works), than as “in itself” (cf. Acts 28:16; Rom. 14:22). See Mussner, p. 132. Contra Ropes, ICC, p. 208. This is borne out in the similar expressions in the passages: 2:20, 24, 26.

Exposition (2:18-26)

James moves to establish his thesis (v. 14) in light of the illustration (vv. 15-17), first, through answering an objection to his position (vv. 18-23), then, by reiteration of his thesis with the illustration of Rahab in a conclusion (vv. 24-26).[85]The organizing signal for this is the clear shift in the text between the plural and singular forms of second person reference in the passage. The “you” in verses 14-17, both directly (vv. 15-16) and indirectly (v. 14), is plural and focuses on the readers of the epistle. The “you” in verses 18-23 is singular and focuses onJames’s objector introduced in verse 18a. The plural “you” in verse 24 (Note the parallelism of verse 24 with verse 23 in the main clause: “You see that . . . .”) focuses back on the readers and brings the discussion to its climax in verse 26. Contra Davids, NIGTC, pp. 119-34, who follows Burge’s structure: (1) verses 14-17, 18-20; (2) verses 21-24, 25-26.

James’s approach here is basically the same as in the parallel section of 2:8-13. There he solidified his thesis by logically demonstrating how the church’s treatment of the two visitors stood contrary to God’s will (vv. 5-7), a position reinforced by Scripture proof (vv. 8-11), then concluded by an admonition to proper conduct in the light of eschatological judgment (vv. 12-13).

Here he solidifies this thesis with a diatribe (vv. 18-23) and a conclusion (vv. 24-26). The diatribe begins with a statement of the objection to the thesis (v. 18a). James’s response to the objection follows (vv. 18b-23) and contains a pledge to prove his thesis (v. 18b) together with his proofs (vv. 19-23): (1) a critique of the objector’s formalistic faith out of synagogue recitation of the Shema in Sabbath worship (v. 19) and (2) a Scripture appeal to Abraham as confirmation of his thesis (vv. 19-23).[86]Note how the two proofs parallel to James’s initial response to the objection. The objector’s formalistic faith (v. 19) corresponds with the challenge to the objector (v. 18b): “Show me your faith apart from works.” Its underlying presupposition that the objector canno meet the challenge is established in the reference to the demons faith in verse 19. James’s pledge to prove his thesis (v. 18c: “And I will show you my faith by my works”) is pointedly established by his appeal to Abraham’s offering up of Isaac (vv. 20-23). The conclusion (vv. 24-26) draws the readers back into focus (v. 24) first with a reiteration of his thesis which elicits their agreement in light of the Scripture proof of Abraham.[87]Note the parallel shift back to a second person plural frame of reference in both 2:12 and 2:24. Additionally, the frame of reference in the two exposition sections of chapter two is consistent with the frame of reference established in the thesis/illustration sections. In the thesis/illustration of verses 2-4, the second person plural frame of reference is established. The exposition then moves from second person plural (vv. 5-7) to a third person principle frame (vv. 8-11), then back to second person plural (v. 12) limaxe with a third person principle frame (v. 13). In the thesis/illustration of verses 14-17, both the second person plural (reader vantage point) and the second person singular (objector vantage point) are estab­ lished. The exposition section is consistent with this: second person singular (vv. 18-23); second person plural (vv. 24-26). The further Scripture proof of Rahab (v. 25) is added for the benefit of the reader James then climaxes with a restatement of his thesis m graphic comparative language (v. 26) similar to the earlier expression (v. 17) which concluded the illustration (vv. 15-17).[88]Both principle declarations are introduced by gar. They also bring their sections to a pointed theological climax.


Objection (2:18-23)

The objection is introduced m typical Jewish homiletical diatribe style: “But someone may object” (TCNT).[89]Cf. Bultmann, Stil, p. 60; Thyen, Stil, p. 41. For helpful surveys of the difficulties in verse 18 see Christiaan E. Danker, “Der Verfasser des Jak und sein Gegner,” Zeitschrift fiir die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 72 (1981):227-40; Heinz Neitzel, “Eine alte crux inter­ pretum imJakobusbrief 2, 18,” Zeitschrift fiir die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 73 (1983):286-93; D;ivids, NIGTC, pp. 123ff.; Laws, HNTC, pp. 122ff. But who is the objector and what is the nature of his objection? Most likely the objection is “You [James] have faith, and I [the Objector] have works.”[90]Neitzel, p. 293, suggests an alternative: “Do you [James) have faith? Now I (will tell you), I have works!” The objector casts doubt on the credibility of James’s claim to faith in response to the thesis rejection of the legitimacy of his faith (v. 14). James’s response begins with “Now I (will tell you), I have works! Show me your faith apart from works and I will by my works show you my faith.” The kago is seen as the shift of vantage points from objection to response, rather than the imperative deixon. The objection is cast in the form of a question rather than an acknowledgement. The issue is focused on who has the true faith, not on how the two claims to faith may distinguish themselves from one another. In this way the two tis (vv. 14, 17) refer to the same person. For a rejection of a similar proposal earlier by von Soden, see Danker, ZNW, pp. 227ff. But immediately the question arises: Is this the same fellow as in verse fourteen who laid claim to faith without possessing works? If so, then his position is reversed; his claim now is to possess works. He seemingly has switched to James’s position on the importance of works. His claim now to possess works is strange indeed if he is the same person intended in the illustration (v. 16) who uttered nothing but pious hypocrisy to the destitute fellow believers.

Quite probable is the view that the objector here is not to be seen in detailed parallel to the tis either in verse fourteen or sixteen. Rather it is an objection which James sets up somewhat strangely as a way of calling attention on the inseparableness of faith and works.[91]So Dibelius, pp. 190-95 (Eng. ed., pp. 154-58); Ropes, ICC, pp. 208-14; Laws, HNTC, pp. 122-24; Mitton, pp. 108-10; Schrage, NTD, p. 32; Vaughan, p. 59; Davids, NIGTC, pp. 123-25. The objector wants to argue that one can stress either faith or works; James retorts by denying such. His challenge to the objector (“Show me your faith apart from works!”), as well as his pledge (“I will show you by my works my faith.”) both carry this presupposition of the inseparableness of faith and works.[92]Note the chiastic structure stressing this: faith:works::works:faith. Cf. Mussner, p. 138.

The rhetorical question form of verse nineteen carries a tone of challenge to James’s objector in the same way as his earlier “Show me your faith apart from works!” James appeals to the objector’s synagogue background in the beginning of Sabbath worship with the creedal confession of faith set forth in the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (NIV).[93]Deut. 6:4, Akoue, Israel: kyrios ho theos hymon heis estin. See Laws, HNTC, pp. 125f. for discussion of variations of James’s heis estin ho theos from the LXX reading. Metzger, Textual Com­ mentary, p. 681, contends that the United Bible Societies text reading, which has the greater support, is “in conformity with the prevailing formula of Jewish orthodoxy.” The objector’s faith stands as an empty formalism which he received out of his Jewish heritage. It is theologically correct (“You do well” v. 19b), but it fails to demonstrate its legitimacy (“Show me your faith apart from works” v. 18c). Consequently it is no more legitimate than the faith possessed by demons: “The demons also believe and tremble in fear.”[94]Cf. the fear of demons before Jesus (Mark l:23f.; 5:7). See Davids, NIGTC, pp. 125f.

James’s pledge (“I will show you by my works my faith” v. 18d) is carried out in convincing fashion by associating his position with the paradigm found in Abraham, an especially persuasive argument to one with a Jewish heritage (vv. 20-23).[95]The contrastive element in the conjunction de better fits this structural understanding. Thus the necessity of Davids, NIGTC, p. 126, and Mussner, p. 139, to explain around this so as to connect verse 20 with verse 19 rather than with verses 21-23 is eliminated. The pericope is more correctly defined as 20-23; Ropes, ICC, p. 216; Laws, HNTC, p. 128; Mitton, p. 111; Schrage, NTD, p. 32; Burchard, ZNw; p. 40. Walker, ZNw; p. 174, picturesquely drives home this point: “Jakobus legt eine neue Farbe auf seine Palette.” Dibelius,_ p. 197 (Eng. ed., p. 160), rejects this connection of verses 20-23 with verse 18d on the mistaken grounds that the pericope is verses 20-24 which implies that James is shifting away from his objector and has his readers actually in mind. Also, James is now defending the necessity of works but condemning “faith without works.” The seemingly sharp retort to James’s objector [“You fool! Do you want to be shown that . . .” (TEV).[96]Even more graphic are the Vulgate: “Vis autem scire o homo inanis, quoniam . . . ,” and the Jerusalemer Bibel: “Willst du nun aber einsehen, du hohler Mensch, dass. . . .”] is characteristic of the diatribe style[97]Cf. Bultmann, Stil, p. 14. as well as a cultural bluntness to which the English-speaking world is unaccustomed.[98]Cf. 4:4, moichalides. See Davids, NIGTC, p. 126, for detailed discussion. Davids[99]Ibid. demonstrates that kene is “the linguistic equivalent of hraka (Matt. 5:22) and has overtones not only of intellectual error . . . , but also of moral error (Judg. 9:4; 11:3 LXX), thus coming close to moros.” James rebuffs his objector by questioning whether the objector is open to conclusive proof that “faith apart from works is useless.”[100]Arge is better attested than nekra (“dead”) which would bring this statement in line with verses 17, 26. Cf. Metzger, Textual Com­mentary, p. 681. The word-play ergon arge is characteristically the style of James. Cf. Davids, NIGTC, p. 126. Ittakes on tones of a pun: works – unemployed (i.e., with nothing to do). Faith without works is unemployed! See A-G, p. 104.

This pattern of questioning his objector is continued by the next rhetorical question (v. 21): ‘”Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?”[101]The negative ouk expects a positive answer. Thus after shaking the Objector loose from his formalistic view of faith by his initially blunt question (v. 20), James now presses him for agreement with the opposite view.

For a helpful survey of the role of Abraham in New Testament thought see Edmond Jacob, ”Abraham et sa signification pour Ia foi chretienne,” Revue d’Historie et de Philosphie Religieuse 42 (1962): 148-56. Also for Abraham in ancient Jewish tradition see Dibelius pp. 206-14 (Eng. ed., pp. 168-74); Ward, HTR, pp. 285-87; Irvin Jacobs, “The Midrashic background for James ii. 21-3,” New Testament Studies 22 (1976):457-63.
As Davids notes, the crucial issue here is the precise meaning of ouk ex ergon edikaiothe.[102]NIGTC, p. 127. For a detailed treatment of the literary structure of the verses 20-24 pericope, see John G. Lodge, James and Paul at Cross-Purposes? James 2,22,” Bihlica 62 (1981):195-213. Lodge (pp. 202f.) sees here a fourfold inclusio, thus defining the pericope boundary:

theleis gnonai       anthrope   pistis               ergon       (v. 20)
horate                    ergon           anthropos   pisteos      (v. 24)

Within that boundary is the chiastic play on faith and works at the termini: faith:works (v. 20)::works:faith (v. 24). This same chiasm is reproduced in verse 22, the high point of the pericope. Addition­ ally a chiastic structure surfaces in the scope of the pericope:

Do you want to know faith -works?           a         v. 20
Abraham                    b         v. 21
Abraham                    B         v. 23
You see works -faith                                   A          v. 24

Thus a literary structural understanding is derived which sets a clearer context for interpreting the pericope.
Should this be expressed as “Was not our forefather Abraham MADE upright for his deeds” (Gspd.)?[103]Note the nearly identical expression by Paul in Rom. 4:2: ei Abraham ex ergon edikaiothe. If both Paul and James mean the same thing by the expression, then they are on opposite sides of the fence. James says YES and Paul says NO. Or should it be expressed as “Was not our forefather Abraham SHOWN TO BE upright by his good deeds” (Wms.)? The first translation pattern is in the Pauline meaning of the expression and refers to God’s pronouncement of acquittal on the guilty sinner.[104]Cf. Rom. 3:21-30. For helpful comparison of the language of James and Paul see Davids, NIGTC, pp. 130-32. Also Dibelius, pp. 214-21 (Eng. ed., pp. 174-80). For a reassessment of Paul at this point see Nigel M. Watson, ‘Justified by Faith; Judged by Works,” New Testament Studies 29 (1983):209-21.

But is James coming at the issue the same way as Paul? Throughout this chapter James has used erga to mean “deeds of mercy,” but how is Abraham’s offering up of Isaac a “deed of mercy”? Note also the plural “deeds” but the illustration of but one ”deed” in the matter of Isaac. Herein lies the solution of the correct understanding of James’s meaning in the phrase ouk ex ergon edikaiothe. James means by It the sense of the Williams translation above. This reflects the Jewish tradition about the offering up of Isaac as conclusive “evidence not only of Abraham’s obedience to God, but also of the value of his previous acts of mercy.”[105]Davids, NIGTC, p. 127. Cf. Adamson, NIC, pp. 128f.; Dibelius, pp. 206-14 (Eng. ed., pp. 168-74); Cantinat, pp. 149-51; Schlatter, Glaube, pp. 446-59. Ward, HTR, pp. 288f., offers this interpretative paraphrase of verse 21 in light of the Jewish tradition: “Was it not on the basis of his acts of mercy (i.e., his hospitality) that Abraham was justified -on the occasion of his trial, i.e., when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” The release of Isaac is seen as divine acceptance of Abraham’s deeds of mercy. Thus James is contending that this climactic act of Abraham stands as indisputable evidence of the legitimacy of Abraham’s faith, and thus of the genuineness of James’s position of the necessity of works as an out­growth of true faith. His objector must then argue against Abraham, as well as Jewish tradition, if he is to establish his contrary position.

Verses twenty-two and twenty-three provide James’s interpretive application of the Abraham example.[106]Blepeis shows the homiletic style being continued; cf. verses 19-20. Davids, NIGTC, p. 128. It is correctly understood as a state­ ment rather than as a question (contra KJV). The “that clause” (v. 22) introduces four successive declarations pressing James’s point:

  1. His faith was at work in his actions (v. 22b)
  2. By his actions his faith was brought to maturity (v. 22c)
  3. The Scripture was fulfilled (v. 23a)
  4. He was called the Friend of God (v. 2 3b)

The ftrst two statements apply James’s thesis in regard to Abraham thus clarifying and pressing home his point. The second tw substantiate the first two points by means of a Scripture proof (#3) and an adoption of Jewish traditional interpretation oflsa. 41:8 and 2 Chron. 20:7 (#4). Cf. Mussner, p. 143. He is not going to give the objector any time before driving home his position. The first point is hepistis sunergei tois ergois autou. Does this have the sense of Phillips translation: “His faith and his actions were, so to speak, partners”? No, for such implies lifting works to the same level as faith so that they are interchangeable with each other.[107]Rolt Walker, ”Allein aus Werken. Zur Auslegung von Jakobus 2, 14-26″ Zeitschrift fur Theologie und Kirche 61 (1964):178-81. Walker correctly rejects the position of Hauck that “Glaube und Werke stehen als Partner an der gemeinsamen Aufgabe.” The sentence does not allow “His works worked together in his faith.” The context of verses 20-24 asJames’s expansion of his pledge to provide proof of his faith (v. 18d) precludes such. Consistently James has put the emphasis upon faith and how it is proven. The correct sense of the expression is therefore in the New English Bible: “faith was at work in his actions.”[108]Cf. Mussner, p. 142; Davids, NIGTC, p. 128. Contra Dibelius, pp. 200f., (Eng. ed., p. 163). See Adamson, NIC, p. 129, for rebuttal of Dibelius. His works verified his faith.

The second point is ek ton ergon be pistis eteleiothe. By his works Abraham’s faith was “brought to maturity.”[109]Davids, NIGTC, p. 128. Note that this is the second half of the chiasm in verse 22: faith:works (v. 22a)::works:faith (v. 22b). Thus both statements must be understood in close connection to one another. The nature of the parallelism in the two stichs is best seen as synthetic, where “the thought of the second line neither repeats nor contrasts the thought of the first line but rather supplements and brings it to completion” (Robert H. Stein, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978], p. 29). Does this suggest that something was wrong with Abraham’s faith before the offering up of Isaac? Not at all, as the Gen. 15:6 quote in the following verse demonstrates. Rather, James here brings to a climax his first point that faith cannot accomplish its intended purpose apart from dynamic expression in actions.[110]Mussner, p. 142, is correct in his declaration: “Der Glaube ist fiir Jak etwas Dynamisches. Bekenntnisglaube und Fiduazialglaube sind fiir ihn noch nicht der volle Glaube; seine Vollendung findet der Glaube erst durch Werke der Liebe und des Gehorsams gegen Gott.”

James’s third point is that Abraham’s offering up of Isaac was the fulfillment of Gen. 15:6. How is this? Genesis 15:6 refers to God’s acceptance of Abraham many years prior to the offering up of Isaac (Genesis 22). Is the sense of “fulfill” in Gen. 15:6 this subsequent act of obedience with Isaac? Most likely it is not. Instead, James followed the normal Jewish midrashic method of linking two Scripture texts together on the basis of a perceived common theme.[111]Davids, NIGTC, p. 129. For detailed discussion of this pro­ cedure both within ancient Judaism and early Christianity, see Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975). Thus the sense is that Gen. 15:6 proves what he has been contending about Abraham’s faith. His faith was ”credited to him as righteousness” according to Gen. 15:6.[112]For a helpful treatment of the meaning of the Gen. 15:6 expression, see Gerhard von Rad, “Die Anrechnung des Glaubens zur Gerechtigkeit,” Tbeologische Literaturzeitung 76 (1951):129-32. This “timeless sentence written over the life of Abraham”[113]Davids, NIGTC, p. 129. in Jewish tradition James adopts as the Scripture proof that Abraham’s faith was real because of its climactic activity in offering up Isaac. This stands in stark contrast to his objectors’ desire to separate faith from works (v. 18a).

The fourth point, philos theou eklethe (v. 23b), likewise expresses evidence of the genuineness of Abraham’s faith. This midrashic interpretation of passages such as Isa. 41:8 and 2 Chron. 20:7 (in LXX in the sense of “beloved of God”) was common in Jewish circles during James’s time.[114]Ropes, ICC, pp. 222f. et al. As a title it signified God’s acceptance of Abraham.

Thus with four conclusive declarations James has driven home his thesis to his objector: Abraham’s obedient faith substantiates the position that “faith apart from works is useless” (v. 20).[115]Burchard, ZNw, p. 42, notes that the third and fourth points are not proofs of points one and two but two more proofs of the thesis. in verse 21.


Conclusion (2:24-26)

Now James returns to his readers (plural you in borate) in order to secure their agreement with his position also.[116]Mussner, p. 145; Adamson, NIC, p. 132; Ropes, ICC, p. 223; Cantinat, p. 154; Davids, NIGTC, p. 130; Burchard, ZNw, p. 43. First, he repeats his thesis (v. 24) with a similar homiletical introduction as in verse twenty-two. This is intended to gain his readers’ affirmation of his thesis in light of his exposition of the Abraham example. He seeks agreement first from his objector and then from his readers. Next, he adds another example (Rahab, v. 25) as further confirmation of his thesis. Then, he sums up by repeating again his thesis in the earlier language (v. 17) of the deadness of a barren faith (v. 26).[117]Gar expresses in verse 26 the justification of the illustration of Rahab (v. 25). As in the illustration of Abraham (vv. 21-23), James sets forth the example in a rhetorical question which is followed by expositional defense. Note that the houtos kai (v. 26) suggests an inclusio to this section (vv. 18-26) in the way that the identical expression does in verse 17. Additionally, the same comparative language is used in stating his thesis. Cf. Mussner, p. 151; Davids, NIGTC, p. 133; Burchard, ZNW, p. 45.

Verse twenty-four elicits his readers’ acceptance of Abraham’s offering up of Isaac as proof of the necessity of an obedient faith.[118]Horate hoti carries an assumed audience agreement, as blepeis hoti did in verse 22. His expression of the thesis at first glance seems to suggest the concept faith plus works as a twofold requirement for justification before God.[119]Cf. Dibelius, p. 220 (Eng. ed., p. 179). Faith and works are “zwei verschiedene Grossen” which must be added together in order to justify. For an effective criticism see Mussner, p. 146. But such an impression comes from reading James through the eyes of Paul, rather than through the eyes of Jewish tradition out of which James formulates his thoughts.[120]See Davids, NIGTC, pp. 130-32, for detailed argumentation for the Jewish Sitz in Leben of James. This suggests that James either wrote before the Pauline faith/works controversy arose (pre-Acts 15 and pre-Galatians/Romans), or more likely, that the controversy was not a matter of concern to him. What was of concern was the evident tendency of some to settle for an “easy believism” that might especially appeal to the wealthy (cf. 2:2-4). Burchard, ZNW, pp. 28-30. Thus the Williams translation suggests the most accurate sense of James’s expression: “You see that a man is shown to be upright by his good deeds and not merely by his faith.”[121]Mussner, p. 146, most correctly expresses the concept: “Die Werke resultieren fiir Jak notwendig aus einem lebendigen Glauben.” Abraham has conclusively refuted the attempt to drive a wedge between faith and works as though one could then choose the more convenient path and still please God!

Rahab (v. 25) is introduced, as Abraham was (homoios kai), as a second proof of James’s thesis.[122]For detailed treatment of Rahab in early Jewish interpretation, see Strack-Billerbeck, 1:20-23. 1 Clement 12, in addition to Heb. 11:31, records additional Christian use of her example: “For her faith and hospitality Rahab the harlot was saved” (12:1). Of importance also is the similar use of Abraham (1 Clem. 10), then Rahab (1 Clem. 12) as examples of pistis kaiphiloxenia. See Davids, NIGTC, p. 133; Laws, HNTC, pp. 137-39. Her faith, though not mentioned explicitly, is assumed, as gar shows by linking verse twenty-six to verse twenty-five.[123]Davids, NIGTC, pp. 132ff. Her “faith vindicating deeds” were the welcoming of the two spies and sending them out by another route in order to avoid the soldiers.[124]Cf. Joshua 2. James’s readers, in their Jewish fascination with Rahab, would see in her example decisive proof of the necessity of an obedient faith. And to make sure of that, James sums up his point with Rahab in verse twenty-six with the comparison: ”As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (NIV). In typical Jewish Christian anthropology grounded in Gen. 2:7 (the person is composed of body and breath, soma kai pneuma), James contends that faith (soma), without works (pneuma) is nothing but a lifeless, rotting corpse![125]Cf. Davids, NIGTC, pp. 133f.; Mussner, p. 151; Laws, HNTC, 139; Cantinat, pp. 160f.; Walker, ZNw, pp. 186-189. Contra Dibelius, p. 206 (Eng. ed., pp. 167f.).

Thus James establishes his point that a barren faith is indeed worthless. One cannot pick faith or works; even more, as has been James’s main point, one cannot pick a faith without works!

What about your faith?


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