James 1:16-27


AAT captions this section "God's Children." We agree with this inasmuch as the word "Father" occurs in verses 17 and 27. Furthermore, verse 18 tells us how we become God's children. The entire paragraph describes the careful obedience of God's children.

We follow the paragraphing Nestle Greek text and of the NIV: Verses 16-18; 19-21; 22-25; and, 26-27.

James 1:16 Don't be deceived, my dear brothers.

This verse has been called a "hinge verse." It introduces a new paragraph and also concludes the preceding one.

Bengel: 'Do not err', it is a great error to attribute to God the evils we receive and not the blessings.
Kretzmann: The first sentence serves as a transition between the two paragraphs . . . To think that God can in any way be made responsible for sin is a through which so strongly savors of blasphemy that all Christians must flee the very suggestion.
Kistemaker: The readers ought not to think that God instigates evil.
Lenski: 'Do not be deceived,' namely in this matter of temptation, as if you could in some way shift the blame onto God.

James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

In this verse we have a beautiful, unexpected hexameter line. Form critics claim that James borrowed this line from pagan literature. But they cannot prove it. No such line is extant in pagan literature. James could easily slip into poetic verse. This proves that he was a well-read, intelligent man.

God does not give imperfect, sinful gifts. The origin of the gifts "it is coming down from the Father of lights." He is the Creator and Originator of all lights, be they physical or spiritual.

Various translations for the last words of the text. NIV: "Who does not change like shifting shadows." AAT: "Who doesn't , like the sun and the moon, move or by changing cast a shadow." 

Rienecker: God's benevolence is like a light which cannot be extinguished, eclipsed, or 'shadowed out' in any way at all.
Bengel: Variation and change, if they occur at all, occur to us, and not in the Father of lights.
Kretzmann: There is no spiritual enlightenment without His almighty power. The continual bestowing of good things comes down from Him. . . The moon may have her phases and the sun his eclipses, but our God shines upon His spiritual children in undimmed glory.

We think of 1 John 1:5: "God is light; in him there is not darkness at all." Or of Malachi 3:6: "I am the Lord; I change not." Or of Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever." Unlike His creation, God does not change.

 The Formula of Concord (Tappert 600.49): Since there is no variation with God, James 1:17, nothing was added to or detracted from the essence and properties of the divine nature of Christ through the incarnation, nor was the divine nature intrinsically diminished or augmented thereby.

James 1:18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.

Lenski: God resolved by free choice not to let us perish in sin . . . This will of his is without variation or change . . . With his Word of truth God brings forth a holy first fruits that are consecrated, freed from sin and death . . . We reborn children of God are not only created by him but also brought forth in a spiritual birth by means of his Word.

Many modern commentators speak at this point about redemption as re-creation, a second creation.

Bengel: We are of God by creations and generation, his workmanship, Ephesians 2:10, and offspring, Acts 17:29.
Kretzmann: Just as the first-fruits of every harvest in Judea were consecrated to the Lord, thus we Christians have been set apart from the sinful world to be creatures of God, in whom the image of God is being renewed, through whom God is truly honored.

"By the will of God" clearly implies that redemption is completely monergistic.

Look at 2 Timothy 2:15; 1 Peter 1:23. Since Christians are "a certain first fruit among God's creatures" they are certainly the crown of His creation, the foolish ideas of the evolutionists notwithstanding. AAT translates: "The first and best of His creatures." James 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,

Note that "my dear brothers" is also found in verse 16. James loved them.

"Take note of this" could be also "this you know." This means that it looks to what follows, not to what precedes.

Kistemaker: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry . . . Listening is an art that is difficult to master, for it means to take an intense interest in the person who is speaking . . . Listening is loving the neighbor as oneself. . . He wants us to be wise in our speaking.

Parallel passages: Proverbs 10:19; Psalm 4:4; Ephesians 4:26; Matthew 5:22; 1 Timothy 2:8, Ephesians 4:27. Note that Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land because he became angry. See Numbers 20:10-12, 24; 27:14; Deuteronomy 1:37; 3:26-27.

Bengel: 'Swift to hear' is discussed in verses 21-27 and the whole of chapter 3. 'Slow to speak' is discussed in verse 26 and in chapter 3. . . Hastiness drives to sin.
Kretzmann: While there is a righteous indignation over sin it remains true of every form of wrath that it does not work and promote the righteousness of God.

James 1:20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

"Righteousness of life" is "the way of life, in deed and thought, which He requires of us." Bengel says that James is speaking about "natural wrath, without grace." AAT translates: "An angry man doesn't do what's right before God." TEV: "Man's anger does not achieve God's righteous purpose." Human anger defeats God's purposes. We've learned that also from experience. Who does not have to confess that he has fallen short many times of God's will in this area?

James 1:21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

There has been much discussion as to what several of the words in this verse mean. "Therefore" means that verse 21 is the cure for the ills in verse 20. According to verse 21 this requires meekness, gentleness and humility, the very antithesis to the arrogance and anger of verse 20.

This verse reminds a person of Ephesians 4:22. It's a radical putting away of all spiritual filthiness. AAT renders "every breaking out of wickedness." 

What a person does meekly he does trustingly, without any arrogance.  "Implanted" is a better translation than "ingrafted." It was implanted in a person at the time of conversion. James is saying: "You don't need look around you, for you already have this Word, this Gospel." 

The message which saves me will cause me to act correctly toward God and man. That is the Gospel. See Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:2; Ephesians 1:13. We must turn our backs on ourselves, our sins, our lusts and humbly look to Jesus. Unless we deny ourselves we shall be lost.

James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Verses 22-25 form a unit. These verses are not speaking about a person who hears well but performs poorly. James is warning about the kind of hearing that deceives itself, a kind of hearing that promptly forgets after the person has heard. Being only a hearer means to hear without real faith.

That's why James spoke as he did in verse 21. The flesh had gained control of James' audience. They needed repentance.

"Doers of the Word" means "doers of what the Word requires," and that means repentance, faith and newness of life.

The last three words in Greek in this verse mean "hearers who deceive themselves." That means "hearers who are not really hearing." We are reminded of Matthew 7:21 and 26.

By the way, many commentators call our attention to the similarity of this passage in James to that in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Of course. Both are the Word of God. It's as simple as that.

Kretzmann: The words which introduce this paragraph may be said practically to form the topic of the entire letter . . . . The Jewish Christians of Judea had now heard the Gospel message for about a generation, and they were in danger of falling away from the first love . . . Hearing should be accompanied by a living faith . . . Sanctification is the correlate of justification. . . Unless sanctification follows justification, they are deceiving their own hearts.

James 1:23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror James 1:24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

Verses 23 and 24 form a unit. James uses an illustration from life to make a point about the man he has just discussed in verse 22. A hearer of the Word who is not a doer is a forgetful hearer. It means nothing to him. He is not spiritually alive. There is no faith.

This man looks at his natural face in a mirror. The grammar perfectly points out the uselessness or ineffectiveness of the fleeting glance into the mirror. The verb means "take a good look at." But despite this  "good look" he forgets immediately. This is reminiscent of the problem in the Parable of the Sower.

Davids: The point is that the impression is only momentary. . . The momentariness and lack of real effect is the point of the parable.

There's nothing lasting about it. The impression does not endure. James is talking about the lack of saving faith.

James 1:25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it -- he will be blessed in what he does.

This is in direct contrast to verse 24. This man takes a good look and he remains in what he saw. The translations have "the perfect law of liberty" or "the perfect law of freedom." 

Franzmann: This description of God's Word is in a series with the life-giving 'Word of Truth,' verse 18, and the 'implanted Word which is able to save,' verse 21. It is therefore best taken as signifying the Gospel in its transforming and formative impact on man's life.

Davids, a non-Lutheran commentator, horrifies us at this point by speaking about Jesus as a "new law- giver." Non-Lutheran commentators are confused here because they confuse Law and Gospel. In the Parable of the Sower the life-giving Word caused some to produce fruit in patience, Luke 8:15. That's the Gospel. Likewise here in James 1:25.

"Is blessed" is always used of the person whose relationship to the Lord is the correct one. Look at John 13:17. This is not the word which means that a person is blessed by God. This relationship word for blessing shows a person's relationship to God, not what God does to him. AAT is recommended as a translation: "You'll be happy as you do it," LB is not recommended: "God will greatly bless him in everything he does." The point is that his doing is proof of correct hearing. It is a hearing and doing by faith.

James 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

The words "among you," which are found in the text of the Majority and therefore also in KJV and NKJV are not found in the other versions. KJV uses the word "seems," while NKJV corrected this with "thinks." That makes the phrase "that he is religious" indirect discourse.

James is warning against mere external religiosity, whereby a person deceives his inner being. Note that James warns against self-deception three times in our text: verses 16, 22 and 26. And each time a different word is used for deception.

Kistemaker: The author of this epistle introduces the subject of the tongue in the first chapter, 1:19, mentions it here in connection with religion, and then returns to it more explicitly in the third chapter. There he compares the tongue to horses that have bits in their mouths so that they obey their masters, 3:8.
Lenski: James returns to verses 19-20, his starting point: a lot of talk about religion and wrathful contention about it are anything but what God wants.

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Mere external religiosity is easy. It pleases the flesh. But true sanctification is not easy. It pleases only the new man, not the flesh. James does not describe pure and spotless religion in detail. He gives two examples whereby a person can identify true religion. Note the importance of the prepositional phrase beginning with "is this." Christians are not asked to visit any and all widows and orphans but only those who are afflicted. In our time much stress is laid on caring for refugees. Like widows and orphans these refugees are often helpless and afflicted. They need our help. It takes real love to care for such people. God cares for such people. Psalm 68:5 and 146:9. Look at Matthew 25:35-40.

Another example is that of keeping oneself unstained by the world. On this thought look at John 17:14. Christians are in the world but not of the world.  "World" here, as in John's Gospel, is the ungodly, unbelieving mass of humanity.

The preacher cannot be reminded enough that all his preaching and teaching must finally center in the preaching of repentance. Compare Matthew 4:7 and the first of Luther's 95 theses.


(Adapted from Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts, Series B, Sundays after Pentecost,
by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 64-67)

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