Jacob (James)

This epistle was probably written right after Paul wrote Galatians, dating it to the late 40s AD.

Other than Revelation, the Epistle of James is the most misunderstood book of the New Testament because parts seem to dilute the teachings of Paul. It’s for this reason Luther himself wished to drop it from the canon of the New Testament.

 

However, the work is correctly viewed as the other side of a coin. Whereas Paul goes into great detail about how one passes from a state of death to eternal life through faith, James deals with the issue of clarifying what the faith that Saves looks like in actual practice.

 

Since the word “justification” is used by both men, the cults universally assume James and Paul are both talking about how one achieves salvation, because they misunderstand how the word is used in the New Testament. If “justification” always refers to being placed in a state of salvation, the New Testament must apparently teach that we are saved by a variety of things: speaking the right words (Matt. 12:37), by admitting we are sinners and asking for mercy (Luke 18:14), by believing the right things (Acts 13:39), by faith (Gal. 3:24), by works (James 2:21), by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 6:11), by keeping the Law (Romans 2:13), by grace (Romans 3:24), and so on.

 

So...are we saved by Words? Mercy? Intellectual belief? Faith? Works? Keeping the Law of Moses? Grace? All of the above?

 

In the case of Paul and James, both men, though using similar language, are actually speaking of two different levels of justification. Paul breaks it down into the root of justification--in the sense of salvation--while James speaks of the fruit of justification in one’s life. In the end, both men fundamentally believe the same thing. The heresy has been to derive a notion from James’ words that God will somehow review one’s earthly deeds at the Last Judgment to determine whether or not he has truly been saved. Anyone who believes this is almost certainly disqualified from salvation because what he thinks is faith will ultimately consist of intellectual belief to which denominational works and obedience are then added in an attempt to “prove” the faith is real, or to keep from losing salvation by failing to measure up to a standard he believes God requires.

 

This is why the cults so love the epistle of James--it draws the spirit of deception from them like a poultice, making their error clear for anyone with a correct understanding of salvation to see and avoid, and reveals the cults for the wolves that they really are.

 

In contrast, the true Christian understands that any godliness in a believer’s life is only the fruit of salvation, and never any sort of measuring rod as to whether he has done well enough to escape damnation. In the end, it’s not that a man’s deeds are measured to see if he is saved, but those deeds prove he is saved. In fact, as we get into James’ epistle, we will see that where he gets into the notion of being justified by what one does, in both cases he does not speak of a lifetime of deeds and obedience--as the cults insist is necessary to enter into eternal life--but that he instead points to one single deed! Thus, our choice is either to believe that the one deed was the ‘work’ God accepted to declare the person righteous; or we can see that the one event was instead the proof that the person had believed in the first place, and the deed they enacted simply arose as the fruit of belief.

 

Finally, there is a myth floating around that James--whose true name was Jacob--was in effect renamed to James out of deference to King James of England, whose team assembled the famous King James version of the Bible. In fact, he was called James in some English versions of the Bible written before the KJV was undertaken, so this belief is not true.

 

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 1

1 James,1 a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes2 which are scattered abroad, greeting.

2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;

3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth3 is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.4

8 A double minded5 man is unstable in all his ways.

9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:

10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.

11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:6

14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust,7 and enticed.

15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights,8 with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:

20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.9

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.10

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit11 the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

1 James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes of Israel scattered outside of the land. Greetings!

2 My brothers, (do not grumble, but) rejoice when various sorts of troubles come your way!

3 For know that the faith you stand in during trials will develop perseverance and constancy.

4 But let the fortitude that comes from perseverance make you into a mature man who lacks nothing.

5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God, who gives it to all men generously--without criticism--and he shall receive it.

6 But let him ask in faith, with no uncertainty over whether or not God will answer. For the man whose faith wavers is like a wave of the sea tossed this way and that by the wind.

7 Let a doubter like that not fool himself into thinking he will receive anything at all from the Lord!

8 For a man who wavers between two different opinions without committing to one and sticking to it is a man unstable in everything he does.

9-10 (Moving on,) let the brother who is a poor man rejoice in his exaltation, but the rich man that God has humbled him--because, like flowering grass, he will pass away.

11 For the sun is no sooner risen with its burning heat, than the grass is withered away and the wildflowers lose their petals, and with them their beauty. So also the rich man, in his pursuits, will fade from the scene.

12 Now blessed is the man who perseveres through the trials of life, for when they are over he will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

13 And let no man say, when he is tempted to sin, “God sent this temptation.” God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does He tempt any man to do evil.

14 But every man is tempted when his ungodly wants and desires get the better of him.

15 Those ungodly desires lead to committing actual sin, and sin ultimately results in death.

16 Make no mistake, my beloved brethren:

17 Every good and perfect gift is that which is from above, and comes down to us from the Father of the Stars, who (--unlike them--) never turns from light to darkness, for He never varies from what He is.

18 Of His own will, He gave us (spiritual) birth through His Message of truth so we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

19 Because of this, my beloved brethren, let every man be quick to listen (to exhortation and correction), slow (to give his own opinion), and slow to become angry.

20 For human anger does nothing to develop the righteousness of God in a man’s life.

21 Because of this, lay down all the world’s various lusts and unrighteousness, and receive--in a spirit of meekness--the engrafted Message (about Christ into your hearts), which enables you to (overcome your fallen nature).

22 But you should be doers of the Message, and not just hearers of it, otherwise you are only fooling yourselves!

23 For a man who hears, but does not do what the Message instructs him to is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror.

24 This sort of man sees his reflection and disheveled appearance, but he goes away without combing his hair, and forgets the fact that he looks terrible.

25 But whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it without forgetting what he’s heard--but instead doing what he’s been taught--shall be blessed in that (and everything he does)!

26 If any man among your community has an outward appearance of being religious, yet cannot control the words he speaks--well, this man is deceiving himself, and his “religion” is simple vanity.

27 True religion, which is pure and acceptable to God, is this: To see to the needs of the fatherless and the widows when they are in lack; and to keep oneself untainted by the (evil and lusts) of this world.

1. As noted, his true name was Jacob, not James.

2. It is important to note this work is penned solely to Jewish Christians, and not to Gentile believers.

3. “Wavereth” is better translated as: “Doubts,” or better paraphrased as: “Stops believing what he started to, and considers whether something else may be true.”

4. This is an unpopular verse with some who oppose the Faith movement, for James makes it clear that faith, or lack of it, determines whether or not a person can receive from God.

5. “Double minded” is actually translated as “twice soulish,” and refers to one who is moved to abandon his beliefs based on the circumstances that he sees.

6. James here is rebuking someone who may fall into sin and then blame God for somehow sending the temptation that he gave into.

7. “Own lust” is better understood as: “His own sinful nature and thoughts.

8. The “lights” refers to the stars. There were common beliefs in that era that the stars were heavenly beings in a sense, or else had spirit beings in charge of them. Paul seems to indicate (Eph. 6) that some of the spirits in the heavens were among those who joined the devil in his rebellion, and Jesus (Mark 13:25) could imply a similar view. How closely these were identified with actual visible phenomena in the sky we cannot say, but it is possible that a belief was around back then that the fallen angels mentioned in Genesis 6 were some sort of heavenly bodies from the terrestrial universe who left their place there to interact with humans, and were judged for it. (Though traditionally viewed as angels in Genesis 6, the name could have been given to any supernatural creature that the people did not understand.)

Additionally, there was a legend which possibly, if not probably, James refers to here: that some of the stars rebelled on the day of their creation and refused to take their assigned places in space, being banished as punishment. The Book of Enoch, cited by Jude, offers one view of this legend:

 

And in the columns of heaven I beheld fires, which descended without number, but neither on high, nor into the deep. Over these fountains also I perceived a place which had neither the firmament of heaven above it, nor the solid ground underneath it; neither was there water above it; nor anything on wing; but the spot was desolate.

And there I beheld seven stars, like great blazing mountains, and like spirits entreating me.

Then the angel said, This place, until the consummation of heaven and earth, will be the prison of the stars, and the host of heaven.

The stars which roll over fire are those which transgressed the commandment of God before their time arrived; for they came not in their proper season. Therefore was He offended with them, and bound them, until the period of the consummation of their crimes in the secret year.

 

9. Better paraphrased as: “For human wrath does nothing to develop the righteousness of God in a man’s life.”

10. At first glance, there is obviously quite a bit of difference between Save your souls, and Overcome your fallen nature. As I go on to explain further in the epistle, my view is that James is dealing less with the mechanics of salvation, and more with what proper Christianity entails and looks like, and how his admonitions to his readers to remain pure and steadfast will keep them from the judgment of God that is coming to the earth.

While the words Save your souls to a modern evangelical seem obvious they must be talking about salvation, one must remember that James is not writing to Western evangelicals, but rather the Jews of his time. Though using the Greek word psuche, he is actually thinking in a Jewish context, in which the word nephesh is what is in his mind. Nephesh, in the Old Testament, can mean physical life or a man's immortal essence. However, it typically refers to one's innermost being and conscience-his “mind, will, and emotions” as many modern Christians would state it. Psalm 11:5, for instance: The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.

God obviously does not have a soul in the sense of a spirit part of a physical body. But God does have a seat of innermost being from which His thoughts and actions proceed, just as we do.

So too James here is not so much limiting himself to the immortal spirit of a man that will dwell with or apart from God, but rather he is talking about complete wholeness and transformation that goes beyond initial salvation, which involves the seat of thinking and emotions we all need to be delivered from because of their natural fallen state which hinder us from conformity into the image of Christ. We can surmise this by the following verses:

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

Unless one believes that a person is not in a state of salvation at conversion, but is simply starting a journey to ultimately reach a point of earning or being granted salvation through what he does in his earthly life, James must be talking about behavior that follows or springs out of salvation. His repeated use of the term "My beloved brethren," and the lack of a clear iteration of Christ as savior and Messiah that Judaism must embrace or be lost, show he is not reaching out to the unsaved, telling them to embrace the Gospel message to avoid damnation. Instead, he is clearly talking to people who have heard and given their assent to the Gospel. James would thus be exhorting those who have already heard this message to put it into their day-to-day lives, and overcome the sin within them that prompts them to live in a manner antithetical to what Christ taught. Thus, "save your souls" is not really the same as a preacher shouting out to the sinner, "You need to get saved!"; it refers to Christians who have experienced initial salvation but who still need to overcome the flesh and Work out their salvation with fear and trembling.

Some other New Testament verses can help bring out his points here more clearly.

James: Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness…

Peter: 1 Peter 2:11. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;

Peter's comments are absolutely addressed to the brethren in Christ. So we see that both Peter and James affirm that the world's various temptations war against the soul of the Christian, and the Christian should avoid these. But both men are talking to men who are already saved.

James: …and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Peter: 1 Peter 1:22-23. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:

Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

Peter expresses a bit more fully what James has said in one brief sentence: That the "word" (or decree/command of God) through the Gospel message has the power to save and sanctify both the mortal and immortal parts of a man who receives that message and walks in it. One is, as Peter points out, "born again" by what God does in us. However, we--through the regenerating power of the Spirit--can purify our "souls" (or our inner man) by yielding to the Spirit in perfecting our love and obedience. As Paul says:

For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting--Gal. 6:8

So then, when James speaks of the Word of God saving the soul, while salvation certainly is included in the statement, the saving he is primarily speaking of here, and throughout the rest of the epistle, is the sort of saving that sees the born-again and already-saved Christian progressively conformed into the image of Christ from the inside out, something accomplished by the Spirit as we resist the sin of the world and yield to the prompting to righteousness:

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord--2 Cor. 3:18.

11. “Visit” doesn’t mean now what it did then; it means see to the needs of.

 

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 2

1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.

2 For if there come unto your assembly1 a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;

3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place;2 and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:

4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?3

5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?

7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?

8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.4

11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.5

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?6

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.7

18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.8

20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

21 Was not Abraham our father justified9 by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?10

23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified,10 and not by faith only.11

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also

1 My brethren, don’t let the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, be tainted by partiality.

2 If a man with a fancy gold ring and fine clothes visits your synagogue, and a poor man dressed in rags comes as well,

3 And you honor the man in fine clothes, and say to him, “Sit in one of the good seats,” while you say to the poor man, “Stand out of the way, or sit on the floor”--

4 Aren’t you showing partiality, and becoming judges who make biased decisions?

5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Hasn‘t God chosen the poor people of the world to be rich in faith, and to be full heirs of the kingdom He has promised to those who love Him?

6 But you have turned your noses up at the poor. Yet isn’t it the rich who oppress you, and drag you before the seats of judges?

7 Isn’t it the rich who blaspheme the honored name of Christ that was invoked upon you (when you believed and were baptized)?

8 If you obey the royal command of the Scripture--Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself--well, then you‘re doing excellently.

9 But if you show partiality to one person over another, you commit sin, and are guilty under the Torah as transgressors.

10 For whoever keeps the whole of the Torah, except for one small point, has not kept the whole of it, but has broken it--period!

11 For He who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. So if you don‘t commit adultery, but yet go murder someone--well, you‘re guilty of transgressing the Torah!

12 So don‘t just talk a good talk--walk a good walk, just as those should do who will be judged (not by the Torah, but) by the Law of Liberty.

13 For judgment without mercy will be upon the man who shows no mercy, and mercy triumphs over judgment. (So how would you have it in your case: Judgment or mercy?)

14 What good does it do then, brethren, if a man says he has faith, yet shows no evidence of it in the way he lives his life? Can that sort of “faith” save him (from judgment)?

15 (Here’s an example:) A brother or sister in the community is naked, and without food,

16 And one of you responds by saying, “Depart in peace--be warm and filled!,” without lifting a finger to help provide the things he needs. What good is that?

17 In the same way, faith that is lip service, with no deeds behind it, is dead faith.

18 Someone may say that, “You have faith, and I have works”. Well, show me your “faith” with no works, and I’ll show mine with them! (Then we’ll see who has the real faith.)

19 Oh, but you believe in one God (and are not a pagan polytheist). Well, good--the demons believe that too...but that knowledge doesn’t save them; it terrifies them!

20 Are you willing to know, O empty-headed man, that faith without deeds is dead?

21 Didn’t our father Abraham prove what he claimed to believe by offering his son Isaac on the altar (--and didn’t this act prove his faith, and secure his position with God)?

22 Do you see how faith walked hand-in-hand with his deeds, and by his deeds his faith achieved its ultimate fullness?

23 In fact, it was this very act, which God knew would happen, that was the basis of His being able to declare, years before it occurred, that: Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (Thus, the act was the zenith and proof of his faith, the basis and fulfillment of the declaration God made decades before Isaac was even born.)

24 So you see that a man‘s actions help place him in right standing with God, something that “faith“--with no accompanying evidence--cannot.

25 Similarly, didn’t Rahab the prostitute prove her faith, and secure her position with God through her actions, when she received the spies, and then sent them out of the city by another road?

26 For as the human body is dead without the spirit, so faith is dead if there are no accompanying actions consistent with what a man says he believes.

1. This is an anti-Semitic translation of the text. “Assembly” should be translated “synagogue.”

2. It is common practice in Judaism to this day to give those who donate the most money to the synagogue preferential seating near the lectern, or next to the ark where the Torah scroll is kept.

3. Better understood as: “Judges who make biased decisions.”

4. A doctrine vehemently denied by Judaism, which claims that a person can break one or more of the commandments and yet he has still “kept the Torah.” James here is pointing out that if one command of the Torah is broken, then a man has broken the Torah--period.

5. Better translated as: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” This is one reason why even people who think they have committed the Unforgivable Sin can receive forgiveness if they are willing to repent.

6. This verse is universally used by the cults to “prove” that works are required for salvation. It is better rendered as “can that faith save him?” not “can faith save him?” First, the cults don’t have a clear understanding about what the man is talking about here. When he refers to being ‘saved,’ he is not necessarily making a theological point about how to become Born Again, though Saving faith certainly accomplishes this. James is primarily dealing with the topic of being saved from the wrath of God to come upon the earth (reiterated more strongly in chapter 5). This is why Rahab’s faith is cited to show how she obtained deliverance from God’s wrath on Jericho. Her actions did not and could not obtain eternal life for her, for she could no more have been judged worthy of eternal life through hiding the spies than an atheist in Nazi Germany could have earned eternal life by hiding Jews from the SS, no matter how noble an act that would have been. Rather, what she did proved that she actually believed what she claimed to, because such belief required some obvious actions. Her belief thus saved her from dying in judgment with her city, as our faith in a much greater thing (Christ) saves us from judgment, damnation, and the wrath of God to come on the earth. Rahab, meanwhile, then went on to become a true worshipper of God, and through that gained eternal life.

Having warned the readers about judgment to come, James then goes on, not to contradict the notion that a man will be preserved by his faith, nor to ask if faith can save a man from damnation, but he outlines the distinction between true faith that produces evidence of salvation, versus an intellectual agreement that lacks the power to actually save one from anything--which is proven by a lack of love, along with committing deeds of unrighteousness and oppression. As already pointed out, if James is somehow tying works to eternal life, the examples he gives are not of a lifetime of deeds and obedience, but one single incident that would have earned the individuals in question true justification with God.

 

* This warning of God’s wrath to come upon the earth is a constant point of most New Testament epistles, to which Habakkuk 2:4 is even appealed to by Paul to show the means of escaping this wrath is through faith. Almost universally, Paul’s citation of the verse in Romans 1 is misunderstood as speaking only about imputed righteousness leading to eternal life. While it is certainly true that faith Saves the soul and Paul is affirming that, Paul is equally appealing to the verse to show how the same true faith will enable one to escape the wrath to come (as shown by the following verse in Romans). This was part of the same message of Habakkuk.

 

7. This is not saying we must in any way add good works to our faith in order to be saved. James is saying that if a man’s faith shows no real evidence of it in his lifestyle, then clearly the man has not truly Believed. That, or his behavior shows he has rejected the truth he once embraced. Heretics, of course, misapply James’ words and conclude that our works will somehow be factored in by God as a measuring rod as to whether we are saved or not. The natural question that arises from this false doctrine is: How many good works must we do, or how godly must we live, to be sure of salvation? The heretic cannot answer the question, of course, and is forced to respond that we must just do the best we can. This is why the person who holds this doctrine is probably headed for a Christless eternity--he has denied the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement and seeks to become “perfect (i.e. complete) in the flesh.” As Paul states in Galatians, the man who ultimately bases his security in the fact he is doing certain things, lest he be lost, is in a position where Christ will “profit him nothing.”

8. This is more of a clarification between true faith and intellectual knowledge. As James points out, bringing to mind an incident in Matt. 8:29, demons might intellectually understand and even verbally confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God--then, in the same breath, affirm that judgment awaits them. Thus, their intellectual assent is not faith and does not save them--it terrifies them!

9. “Justified” here has the sense of Abraham, by his deed, proving he had faith in what God had promised to do through the boy. As Hebrews mentions, Abraham proved his belief by his obedience, counting God able to resurrect Isaac if necessary to fulfill His promise through the boy.

10. The point here is not that Abraham had to go out and “do” something in order for his faith to be real faith, or for him to gain God’s approval. Rather, the final goal God had for Abraham’s faith was to get him to a point where he would absolutely believe His word in the face of anything. By commanding him to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham retained his faith that he would still have descendants through the boy despite sacrificing him. By this, according to both John’s Gospel and the book of Hebrews, he received a revelation that God’s own son would die and be resurrected.

11. “Justified” does not mean, “declared by God to be righteous enough to warrant salvation.” It means to prove before God that one believes what he claims to believe.

12. “Not by faith only” is not a repudiation of Paul’s revelation of salvation by faith alone, but James throughout the chapter has been dealing with intellectual belief versus true faith. The difference again is between faith that has works as its fruit, and intellectual belief to which one adds works. Had James written in English, his point would almost certainly have been more clear.

 

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 3

1 My brethren, be not many masters1, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

3 Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!2

6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:

8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?

12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation3 his works with meekness of wisdom.

14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

1 My brethren, not many of you should be Torah teachers, because we teachers will be judged more severely than other people.

2 For we are imperfect, and can stumble in many things (and if we teach incorrectly, we cause many others to stumble as well). If a man never causes offense by anything that comes out of his mouth--well, that man has arrived, and is able to control his whole body.

3 Look--we put bits in horses’ mouths to make them obey us, and we can turn their whole bodies in any direction we want them to go.

4 Also ships, though they be a great size and are driven by fierce winds, are turned by a small rudder that goes in the direction that the helmsman turns it.

5 Even so, the tongue is a small organ, yet can do serious damage, just as a little fire can burn up much wheat.

6 Yes, of all body parts, the tongue is a fire ready to burn whatever it comes into contact with. It has an unlimited potential for iniquity. The tongue defiles the whole body by placing itself at the disposal of hell, and it’s ready to inflame our nature with the fire of hell itself!

7 Every sort of beast on the earth--birds, snakes, and things in the sea--is tamed, and can be tamed by normal human methods.

8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is uncontrollably evil, and filled with deadly poison.

9 It’s with the tongue that we bless God the Father in one breath, and then curse men, made in the image of God, with the next.

10 Out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers, it should not be this way.

11 Does a spring flow with sweet and bitter water at the same time?

12 Or can a fig tree bring forth olives, my brethren? Or a thorny vine figs? So no spring flows with salt water and fresh water at the same time.

13 Who among you is a wise man, endowed with knowledge? Then let him show--through his lifestyle--deeds done in meekness and wisdom.

14 But if you have bitter jealousy and contention in your hearts, don’t be proud, and don’t fool yourself.

15 Anyone who thinks this sort of attitude is acceptable is following the logic and reasoning of mankind and hell (and not that of God and heaven).

16 For where jealousy and strife are, confusion and every evil deed invariably follow.

17 But the wisdom that is from heaven is, first of all, pure. (And a man who walks in it) is peaceful, gentle, willing to put others’ good before his own, full of mercy and good deeds, without partiality or prejudice, and without hypocrisy.

18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace through those who are peacemakers.

1. Better translated as: “Teachers.”

2. This appears to be a reference to an ancient proverb, attributed to Ben Sira, author of the apocryphal Book of Ecclesiasticus, still used by Jews today: A kindled (small) fire can burn many sheaves.

3. “Conversation” is more correctly translated as: “Lifestyle.”

 

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 4

1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.1

4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?2

6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.3

8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.

10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:

14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

1 Where do you think arguments and fights among you come from? Don’t these come from the selfish nature of your flesh?

2 You crave something, and don’t have it--and you’re willing to kill to get it! You fight for what you don’t have, and usually don’t even get it; and you don’t have it because you won’t ask God for it.

3 And if you do ask God for it and don‘t get it, the reason is because you asked for it out of a selfish motivation to satisfy your own lust.

4 You adulterers and adulteresses--do you not know that to be a friend with the (unbelieving) world is to make yourself an enemy of God? Whoever seeks to be thought of as a friend by the (unsaved) world is the enemy of God.

5 Do you think the Scriptures teach in vain that the (fallen nature) within us drives us to lust, and to envy what others have?

6 But God gives you all the grace you need to resist these drives in yourself. That’s why He tells us in Proverbs, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

7 So submit yourselves to God, and resist what the devil entices you with--and Satan will run from you!

8 Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you who sin; and purify your hearts, you doubters (who won’t make a commitment and stick to it).

9 Be afflicted! Mourn and weep (over your deeds). Let your laughter be turned to grief, and your joy to sorrow.

10 Get yourself off the throne of your own life, and let God rule there--and He will raise you up (higher than you will ever go on your own).

11 Brethren, don’t speak evil of each other. He who speaks evil of, and condemns his brother, speaks evil of, and condemns the Torah. And if you condemn the Torah, you are not a doer of the Torah but a judge over it.

12 There is only one Lawgiver whose judgment is right enough to save or condemn. Who are you to take that role to yourself, and judge someone else?

13 As for you who have the attitude that says, “Today or tomorrow we‘ll leave for such-and- such a city, stay there for a year, buying and selling, earning profit“--

14 You have no idea what tomorrow will bring! What is your life but a vapor that appears for a moment and vanishes away?

15 You should instead say, “If God wills, we shall be alive to do this or that.”

16 Otherwise, all you‘re doing is boasting of what you will decide to do, and that sort of boasting is evil (and idolatrous).

17 So then, a man who knows the right thing to do, but chooses not to do it--well, he is guilty of sin (and will reap the reward of sin).

1. An important verse showing that many prayers go unanswered because we ask selfishly.

2. No Scripture says this verbatim, and James is probably saying that it is a theological point of the Scriptures overall. Also, this verse is commonly misunderstood because the “spirit” referred to is thought by some to be the Holy Spirit. This is untrue, and the “spirit” James refers to is what Paul calls “the flesh.” James is speaking of the sinful nature of man.

3. It is commonly missed by Christians that one resists the devil by submitting to God.

 

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 5

1 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

5 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

6 Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

9 Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.

10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.1

13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms2.

14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.3

16 Confess your faults one to another,4 and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.5

1 Listen up, you rich! Weep and howl for the miseries awaiting you!

2 Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten.

3 Your gold and silver are stricken with rust, and that rust will be a witness against you, and will burn up your flesh like fire--this is what you have banked up for you in the last days!

4 The wages of the workers in your fields who made you your profits--whose wages you cheated them of to line your own pockets--well, both their cries have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts!

5 You have lived earthly lives of pleasure and gluttony, and fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.

6 You have condemned and killed the just, who could not resist you.

7 Therefore, brothers, you be patient until the Lord returns. Remember the farmer awaits the precious crop he knows is coming, and he has long patience for it until he reaps his (two harvests).

8 You be patient as well, and don’t lose heart, for the coming of the Lord draws near.

9 Don’t hold grudges against each other, brethren, lest you be condemned, for the Judge stands at the door (ready to enter his court and pass judgment)!

10 My brethren, remember the prophets who spoke as ambassadors of the Lord. Use them as examples of patience in the face of suffering affliction.

11 Look--we consider those who endure to be happy. You’ve heard, for example, of the patience of Job, and have seen how God, in the end, rewarded him by showing pity and tender mercy for his own perseverance.

12 But above everything else, my brethren, don’t make oaths. Don’t swear by heaven, by the earth, or by any other thing (for you don’t know what the future holds, and whether you will be able to keep your word). Just say “yes” or “no,” and leave it at that. Otherwise, you risk condemnation.

13 Is any among you undergoing trials? Let him pray. Is he merry? Let him play psalms.

14 Is any on his deathbed among you? Let him summon the elders of the assembly, and let them pray for him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

15 For the prayer prayed with faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And (if the illness has been brought on because of sins he has committed,) his sins will be forgiven.

16 Admit your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. Remember that the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man unleashes great power!

17 Elijah, for instance, was a man who battled the same lust and passion we all do, but he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and the earth didn’t see rain for three-and-a-half years.

18 Then he prayed again, and the skies gave rain and the earth gave its harvest.

19 Brethren, know that if any of you backslides from the truth and another turns him back to the faith,

20 Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his ways shall both save that man, and will hide many of his own sins as well.

1. It is remarkable that James says that “above all things” we should not swear (that is, to invoke something like the name of God to “prove” we are telling the truth).

2. The Church of Christ has a doctrine that using musical instruments during worship is forbidden because the New Testament doesn’t give leave to do that. Well, their proof is actually right here, because what is translated as “sing psalms” in Greek actually refers to making music on an instrument.

3. James here is not making a theological point that prayer and anointing with oil accomplishes the forgiveness of sin in the sense of reconciling one to God; he is speaking of this remitting any temporal consequences of sin that may be upon a person. The Gospels are clear that some illness is caused by sin and/or demonic influence, and anointing with oil was often part of the healing process.

4. A verse used by the Catholic Church to justify the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). The problem is, we see no evidence in Scripture of the Sacrament in the form it eventually takes. The 1st century Didache also makes no direct allusion to it, although it does say to confess one’s sins “in church.”

5. Interestingly, the sentence in Greek seems to suggest that the sins covered are those of the person who converts the sinner, not those of the sinner himself! This is very Chassidic in thinking,* and taken in the only positive light available to reconcile this statement with the teachings of Paul, must be a further articulation that the temporal punishments for sin can be set aside by doing good, although the eternal consequences can only be atoned for by Christ's sacrifice. For those really uncomfortable with the apparent doctrine that sins are somehow covered by doing a good work, I should point out that some theologians would indeed hold that the verse means the sinner's transgressions are covered, but that seems to be a somewhat weaker textual position.

 

* A Chassid, for instance, would say that to convert a sinner is a mitzvah, or Good Work, and that because a man has done such a thing God will show mercy to him over his own sins. An Orthodox, conversely, would dismiss the notion and hold that one who converted a sinner had done no more than his duty according to Torah, and that he should expect no reward for doing what is expected of him.

 

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