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The Letter of James: Chapter 1

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1James, a servant a Gk slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

2My brothers and sisters, b Gk brothers whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

5If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8for the doubter, being double–minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

9Let the believer c Gk brother who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

12Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord a Gk he; other ancient authorities read God has promised to those who love him. 13No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14But one is tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. 16Do not be deceived, my beloved. b Gk my beloved brothers

17Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. c Other ancient authorities read variation due to a shadow of turning 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19You must understand this, my beloved: b Gk my beloved brothers let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. 21Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves d Gk at the face of his birth in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

26If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.


a Gk slave

b Gk brothers

c Gk brother

a Gk he; other ancient authorities read God

b Gk my beloved brothers

c Other ancient authorities read variation due to a shadow of turning

d Gk at the face of his birth

Text Commentary view alone
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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