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The Letter of James: Chapter 4

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1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet a Or you murder and you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God b Gk He yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you doubleminded. 9Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

11Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. c Gk brothers Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” 14Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Notes:

a Or you murder and you covet

b Gk He

c Gk brothers

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

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 .

4.1–6 :Faithlessness in the community.

These unadorned scoldings may be directed at recent converts who through disputes and conflicts have brought about a deplorable situation in the community.

2 :

The violent rhetoric suggests that extreme socioeconomic disparities have caused Christians to lay aside their religious values. Want … murder, the awkward logical sequence recalls the progression in 1.15 :“desire … sin … death.”

4 :

Adulterers, see Ex 20.3; Deut 5.7; 6.13 ; self‐indulgence and greed at one level, but also idolatry (Hos 3.1 ). Friendship with the world, see Lk 16.13 .

5 :

The source of the quotation is unknown. God's “jealousy” is a prominent theme in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Ex 20.5; Deut 4.24; Zech 8.2 ). James contrasts the frightful community jealousies with God's jealous seeking of their souls' salvation.

6 :

Prov 3.34 (LXX); see also 1 Pet 5.5 .

4.7–10 :Corrective formulae: a call to repentance.

The formulaic framework for this call to repentance recalls the original conversion of members of the community and their baptismal catechism.

7 :

Submit … resist … is akin to 1.21 (“rid yourselves … welcome …”), but here reversed.

8 :

Double‐minded, see 1.8n.

10 :

Humble … exalt, the exaltation of the humble recalls 1.9–11; see Mt 23.12; Lk 14.18; 18.14; 1 Pet 5.6 .

4.11–12 :Warning against improper speech.

Continuing the theme of 1.26; 3.1–12 .

11 :

Judges another, see Mt 7.1–5; Lk 6.37–42; this also recalls Jas 2.2–4 . Doer of the law, cf. “doers of the word” ( 1.22 ); this close identification of the word with the law of the Hebrew Bible places James with Jesus as bridges between the Torah and later Christianity.

12 :

One … judge, cf. Rom 14.10 .

4.13–17 :Cautions to those who take God for granted.

The tone of this passage, like 5.1–6 , resembles a prophetic apostrophe; the concern about arrogant (boastful) merchants is placed within a lesson on the sovereignty of God (following up 4.12 ). It also recalls wisdom teaching on the uncertainty of life; see Prov 27.1 .

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