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The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Study Bible that provides essential scholarship and guidance for Bible readers.

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Commentary on The Letter of James

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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

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 .

1.1 :Salutation.

Servant of God occurs elsewhere only in Titus 1.1 . In the Hebrew Bible, “servant of the LORD” or “my servant” is applied to Moses (Deut 34.5; Josh 1.1 ), David (2 Sam 7.5; Ps 78.70 ), Daniel (Dan 6.20 ), and Israel (Isa 42.1; 49.3 ). Dispersion, Greek “diaspora,” the scattering of Jews outside Palestine, here applied to Christians (see 1 Pet 1.1 ). Twelve tribes, the church as the new Israel. Greetings, a Hellenistic literary refinement (see Acts 15.23 ).

1.2–8 :Faith that rejoices in trials.

2 :

Trials, or “temptations,” “tests” (see Gen 22.1; Mt 4.1–14; Heb 4.15; 1 Pet 1.6 ).

3–4 :

Testing … endurance … complete, a catena, or series of linked phrases, that builds to a climax; cf. Rom 5.3–4 . Mature and complete, better “and perfect,” recalling the teaching of Jesus (Mt 5.48 ).

5 :

Wisdom, ask God, cf. 1 Kings 3 .

6 :

Wave … sea … wind, see also 3.4; cf. Isa 57.20 .

8 :

Double‐minded, trying to hold two incompatible views; used in 4.8 , and nowhere else in early Christian writings. The author's vocabulary includes other rare terms (“Father of lights” 1.17 , “implanted word” 1. 21 , “cycle of nature” 3.6).

1.9–11 :A reversal of fortunes.

9–10 :

Lowly … the rich, wealthy people can be Christians; the issue is not social standing but unjust behavior; see 2.2–6; 5.1–6 .

10 :

Like a flower, see Ps 103.15; Isa 40.6–7 .

11 :

On the reversal of fortune, see 1 Sam 2.7; Lk 1.52–53; 6.20–26; 16.19–31 .

1.12–18 :God who rewards faithful endurance.

12 :

Blessed is reminiscent of the Beatitudes (Mt 5.3–11; Lk 6.20–22 ) and the refrain in the Psalms (e.g., 1.1 ). The crown of life, the only other occurrence is in Rev 2.10 . A reiteration of vv. 2–3 . Promised to those who love him; cf. Ex 20.6; Deut 5.10; Rom 8.28 .

13–16 :

Some Hellenistic Jews believed that each person has both an evil inclination and a good inclination; because God created both, the individual might blame God for moral lapses. James vigorously refutes this position (see Sir 15.11–20 ) without compromising a pastoral stance (my beloved).

17–18 :

A return to the subject of God's generosity (v. 5 ). Father of lights, the title also occurs in CD 5.17–18 ; Apocalypse of Moses 36.5 ; Testament of Abraham 7.60; cf. Gen 1.15–16; Ps 136.7 . Gave us birth, i.e., as Christians (cf. 1 Pet 1.23 ). Word of truth, i.e., the gospel (see Eph 1.13; Col 1.5 ). The Christian life thus constitutes a new creation.

1.19–25 :Righteousness in word and deed.

19 :

A three‐part wisdom saying (cf. Sir 5.11 ) alerts the reader to an important distinction between James and Paul. Paul (2 Cor 5.21 ) probably means a “righteousness found in God” but imparted to believers as a gift, whereas the Jewish Christian James means a standard of righteousness established by God to which the believer seeks to conform.

21 :

Implanted word, a rare phrase meaning the same as “word of truth” in 1.18 .

22–25 :

Righteousness for James is a unity of word and deed.

22 :

Be doers of the word, see Mt 7.24–27; cf. Rom 2.13 .

25 :

Perfect law, the law of liberty, enables Christians to become perfect ( 1.4; cf. Ps 18.8 ).

1.26–27 :Religion that is personal and social.

A summary focus on the outward practice of one's faith (cf. Acts 26.5; Wis 14.27; 1 Clem 62.1 ).

26 :

Bridle their tongues refers to 1.13,19 , but also anticipates the discussion of speech ethics in 3.2–12 .

27 :

Orphans and widows are wards of God the father (Deut 10–18; Ps 68.5 ) in whose distress believers are also to show mercy and love (cf. Sir 4.10 ).

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