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The Letter of James: Chapter 2

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1My brothers and sisters, e Gk My brothers do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? a Or hold the faith of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ without acts of favoritism 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” b Gk Sit under my footstool 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. c Gk brothers Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, c Gk brothers if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Notes:

e Gk My brothers

a Or hold the faith of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ without acts of favoritism

b Gk Sit under my footstool

c Gk brothers

Text Commentary view alone

2.1–13 :Faith and acts of discrimination.

The first of two large units in this chapter addresses the problem of discrimination based on social class.

1 :

Favoritism, better, “acts of discrimination” or hurtful partiality based solely on outward appearance and social position (see 2.9n.). Our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, a highly embellished phrase; perhaps an editorial flourish.

2–4 :

A flagrant case of class discrimination. Your assembly, lit. “synagogue.” Evidently, rich and poor participated in the worship services.

5 :

Has not God chosen the poor … to be rich in faith, continues the theme of reversal begun in 1.9–10; cf. 1 Sam 2–8 . Christians who show class prejudice are oppressing part of God's elect.

7 :

The excellent name, that of Jesus Christ, invoked at the time of baptism.

8–13 :

This segment discusses partiality as a matter of law.

8 :

The royal law, a designation of Lev 19.18 that is unique to James. He attributes prominence to this precept because of its elevated status in the teachings of Jesus (Mt 22.39; Mk 12.31; Lk 10.27; cf. John 13.34 and Gal 5.14; Rom 13.9 ).

9 :

Concern for impartiality in the assembly originated as part of the Hebrew Bible's social legislation (e.g., Deut 15 and Lev 19 ).

10–11 :

Citing the Decalogue (Ex 20.13–14; Deut 5.17–18 ). Similar to the “law of solidarity” (“If a man does all things, but omits one, he is guilty of all,” cf. Deut 27.26; 4 Macc 5.20 ; T. Asher 2.5–10 ).

12–13 :

Cf. Mt 6.14–15 .

2.14–26 :The unity of faith and deeds.

14–17 :

The author again appeals to a flagrant example (see 2.2–4 ).

18 :

The use of an imaginary interlocutor was a popular debating technique, called diatribe. James gives his view of the relationship between faith and works, probably from Pauline slogans (Rom 3.28; Gal 2.16 ).

18–26 :

Faith demonstrated by acts: the examples of Abraham and Rahab.

19 :

God is one, Deut 6.4 . Even the demons believe, see Mk 1.24; 5.7 .

21 :

Our ancestor Abraham, a contrast to Paul's focus on Abraham's obedience and acceptance of God's promises (Rom 4.1–3; 9–13; Gal 3.6–9 ). James places the distinctive criterion for Abraham's righteousness on the willingness to sacrifice Isaac as a work (Gen 22.9–14; cf. Heb 11.17 ).

23 :

Quoting Gen 15.6 . Friend of God, see Isa 41.8; 2 Chr 20.7 .

25 :

Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho (Josh 2.1–21 ), is also a heroine of the faith in Heb 11.31 .

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