James 2:1-5,8-10,14-19


James 2:1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism.

In this letter James addresses his readers with "brothers" fifteen times. 1:2,16,19; 2:1,5,14; 3:1,10,12; 4:11; 5:7,9,10,12,19. Furthermore, he mentions "faith" sixteen times, and thirteen of those are found in the second chapter. 2:1,5,14,17,18,20,22,24,26. And, finally, the word LORD occurs thirteen times.

We mention these statistics because Lutherans, more or less, have sometimes considered this book  "second rate" because it is called an antilogomenon and because Luther had "problems" with this book.

Concerning the so-called differences between Paul and James,

Kistemaker: Paul and James do not stand face to face fighting against each other, but back to back fighting opposite foes.
Lenski: Both James and Paul attribute salvation to a living faith, Mark 16:16; John 3:16, but Paul lays stress on what must be removed if a man is to have and to retain this faith, James on what dare not be absent when a man has and wants to retain this faith. Paul roots out what destroys and excludes faith; James stimulates sluggish faith.

Well said. In this first verse of chapter two James prohibits a "faith" which, unlike God Himself, is partial, making social distinctions among men where they ought not be made. Of course, such a faith does not exist. But, evidently, James' hearers were calling it faith nonetheless.

NASB "With an attitude of personal favoritism." TEV: "According to their outward appearances." God Himself is no respected of persons. Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6. This applies to all areas of Law, Gospel, justice and judgment.

Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and the partiality described in verses 2-3 are utterly contradictory.

"Our glorious Lord" is often translated as "The Lord of Glory" or "our glorified Lord," or "Who reigns in glory." In any case, James had a very high view of Jesus. He warns here about misusing saving faith for selfish and sluggish reasons.

James 2:2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.

This is an example. "Meeting" means "synagogue," or "assembly," or "meeting." Most commentators think it means a divine service.

The first person is not called "rich" though that is the impression given. But the second is called "poor," here obviously meaning "poor in this world's goods."

The point of this verse is that the eye is attracted by the external circumstances which attraction leads to the partiality described in verses 3 and 4.

James 2:3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, " Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 

"A good seat" can mean "please" or "in a good place." In either case it denotes an attitude of deference to this rich man. Lenski mentions that evidently the people are delighted at the condescension of this rich man to visit them.

Kistemaker: Practicing discrimination is the exact opposite of loving one's neighbor as oneself.
Kretzmann: History repeats itself also in this, that these very conditions obtain in many so-called Christian houses of worship to this day. . . They are dividing the congregation of the Lord into parties without the consent of the Lord, in a manner which in no way accords with His own acceptance of publican and sinners.

Audiences at athletic contests become irate when and if the referee shows partiality to one side. Even the world knows that partiality is wrong.

James 2:4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Verses 2 and 3 comprise the protasis of a conditional sentence. Verse 4 is the apodosis, the main clause. It is in the form of a question which expects the answer "yes."

This verse involves us in difficulties: the meaning of the two main phrases. The first one "make, create, distinctions among yourselves," or "contradicted yourselves." Lenski suggests "did you not get into doubt in your own selves?" We think the first translation is the best. The second one: the meaning of "judges with evil thoughts."

Actually, in this verse we have two questions which answer themselves. Davids calls our attention to the very similar thought in Leviticus 19:15: "You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly."

Note how utterly incongruous saving faith and partiality are. This kind of discrimination is a mark of the unregenerate, not of the regenerate.

James 2:5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

Davids: As in 1:16,19 and eight other places in James the imperative precedes the vocative address.

Now follows another question which expects an answer in the affirmative. "Chosen" does not refer to eternal election. Here it shows God's impartiality toward men. "Poor" means those who are the world's destitute.

Bengel: Poverty and riches of themselves do not render any man good or evil.

Just because a man is poor does not mean that he will become a Christian. And just because a man is wealthy does not mean that God is opposed to him. But people very often discriminate against the poor simply because they are poor. God does not.

Kistemaker: The poor are precious in God's sight.
Lenski: James is not speaking of the earthly poor in general but, like Paul in 1 Corinthians. 1:26, of the membership of the church, where we find 'not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.'

On the one hand they are called poor, so far as the world is concerned, but on the other hand they are called wealthy, in faith. They are also identified as "heirs of the Kingdom of God." Evidently James is speaking here of everlasting life.

"Those who love Him" means those who have the proper attitude of trust and confidence toward Him. James is not speaking of the poor among men indiscriminately. He is speaking especially about the converted poor. The poor among men are less inclined to make claims before God than are the wealthy. He is not partial. But sinful men so easily become partial toward those who can do them the most good. Some men become respecters of persons toward the poor because the poor can do them no good or they despise them. Some people become respecters of person toward the wealthy because they are jealous of them. The Lord loves all alike, be they poor or wealthy. And He has a special care for the destitute, be they poor or wealthy.

Verses 6 and 7 omitted.

James 2:8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right.

Verses 6 and 7 tell us that James' hearers had dishonored the poor and had favored the rich who had dragged them to court and had blasphemed the name of the Lord. They had closed their eyes to the destitution of the poor and they had closed their eyes to the sins of the rich. That kind of partiality, James told us in verse 1, is devastating to faith in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

And now he will go on to show that it also shows a lack of the correct attitude of the Christian toward other people, love.

RSV, NIV, AAT, and NKJV translate "really." NASB has "however." 

Davids: The particle 'really' points out that James does not begin a new topic: he continues the discussion of discrimination against the poor by showing that it violates the law of love. The particle appears to bear the force of the English concessive 'however.'
In both verses 8 and 9 we have fact conditions. James wants them to ask themselves: "Am I doing well or am I sinning?"

 "The royal law." He calls it that because, as often in Scripture, it is called the sum of the whole Law. Compare Matthew 22:40 and Galatians 5:14, also Romans 13:9 and 1 John 4:20-21.

 "Just as it is found in Scripture." Look at Leviticus 19:18.

James means "You must love the destitute poor and the arrogant rich, despite their attitude toward you, just as you love yourself."

The cure for partiality is true love, treating others as one treats himself, not in a partial way, and not letting him sin to his own hurt without telling him.

James 2:9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

Look at Leviticus 19:15 "You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly."

"Favoritism" means to treat a person according to external appearances. Note that all very forms in this fact condition are in the present tense. It denotes a way of life. Likewise in verse 8. Evidently James' hearers were in great danger.

"Convicted" is a strong word. You are being judged by the very law you break. You are convicted "as transgressors." 

James is tying this verse to verse 1. The respecter of persons sins against his faith and against the law.

James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

On this verse see Galatians 5:3 and Matthew 5:19.

"The whole law" means the law in its entirety.

"Whoever" means no matter who.

Sinful human nature constantly tends to minimize sin's enormity. It began in Eden. Evidently neither Eve nor Adam thought that the infraction of one rule was very bad. John the Baptist convicted Herod Antipas of his total sinfulness by attacking him for only one sin, living with his brother's wife, Luke 3:19. But Herod felt the conviction of the whole Law. Carefully read Luke 16:14-18. The money-loving Pharisees, who justified themselves before men, thought that the single sin of putting away their wives was not so bad. But look what Jesus says in verse 17.

With reference to James 2:10 our Catechism says "God wants us to keep His Commandments perfectly in thoughts, desires, words, and deeds."

Verses 11 through 13 omitted.

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?

At verse 1 we noted that James in his epistle calls his hearers "brothers" fifteen times. Despite their sins he constantly calls them brothers. Compare Paul's attitude toward his hearers in 1 Corinthians.

In this verse we have two questions: the first is a question of a fact. The second expects a negative answer. The reader gives a negative answer to both questions.

The first question comes in the form of a conditional sentence with apodosis placed first for emphasis. "Of what use is it?" The protasis is like our English "claims." "If someone claims to have faith but does not really have works." What he calls faith is not really faith.

Note Matthew 7:21 in the margin and the passage found there. Delusion concerning faith amounts to delusion concerning works. Paul and James are not in the least opposed to each other.

Take, for example, Romans 3:21-28. Paul is stressing the fact that works do not save. Only faith does that. James is stressing the fact that delusion concerning faith amounts at the same time to delusion concerning works.

In the second question in verse 14 the article is an example of the article of previous reference: "Can such a faith save him?" He is speaking of the delusion found earlier in the verse. James does not say: "Can such works save him?"

It is at this point that Lenski makes the observation which we quoted with reference to verse 1. And at that place we also noted Kistemaker's quote.

Kretzmann: The apostle here characterizes a person that has mere knowledge of the head, of the mind, concerning the facts of salvation, but is without the faith of the heart which is bound to be active in love.
James does not say "Can faith save him?" He says "Can SUCH a faith save him?" Compare Jesus' words in John 15:1-8. We cannot "see" faith. Works are the evidence of faith.

James 2:15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.

Verses 15 and 16 comprise another conditional sentence of the same type as in verse 14. We have a double protasis. The second protasis has a compound verb. The apododisis is the same as it was in verse 14 except that it is placed at the end, not at the beginning. The two are identical. James is stressing the futility of such a "workless delusion."

"Brother or sister" means "fellow Christian."

"Without clothes" means "poorly clothed." Look at Matthew 25:36. Poor clothing has most probably become a way of life for these people.

James 2:16 If one of you says to him,  "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,"  but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

In this verse we have an example of the heartless, faithless, deluded person who does no true works. At Galatians 5:6 Paul tells us that what DOES count is faith which is active through love. The person described in James 2:16 has neither this faith nor this love.

"Go" is the Greek word for the normal way people said "Good-bye" when Christians left each other. But that greeting was to be made by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But in this case the hypocritical man also says: "Keep warm and be well fed," whereas it is assumed that the person greeted is cold and shivering.

The second protasis in this conditional sentence reads in AAT: "But you don't give them what the body needs."

Lenski: James is an excellent teacher.


Kistemaker: The speaker reasons from his own point of view, for he himself has sufficient clothing to protect his body from the cold and sufficient food to keep himself well fed.
The cold and heartless attitude is proof of this man's spiritual deadness.

James 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Kretzmann: Works are a necessary concomitant, an inevitable fruit of real faith.

Compare the utter contrast in the faith of Abraham, 2:21, when he was willing to sacrifice his son. True faith in Christ is alive, like Christ Himself. But a dead faith is like Satan, cruel, heartless and unproductive.

Lenski: It may be some sort of a faith: general faith, faith that believes in God and in Christianity in a general way; an historical faith, a faith that knows the outward facts of the gospel history and would not deny them; a dogmatic faith, one that is posted regarding doctrines and is perhaps keen to argue about them like the faith of some scientific theologians.
In this verse the article "the faith" is not considered one of previous reference. It is simply translated "faith." 

AAT: "So faith by itself, if it doesn't have any works, is dead." TEV: "So it is with faith: if it is alone and has no actions with it, then it is dead."

James 2:18 But someone will say,  "You have faith; I have deeds."  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

Many pages have been written about this verse. The difficulty lies in identifying the pronouns. NASB should be rejected: "But someone may well say, You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." According to this punctuation only two people are involved in the dialogue and beginning with YOU to the end of the verse we have one statement by the challenger.

Kistemaker: The two remarks contradict each other if they come from the same person.
The TEV brings out the true sense: "But SOMEONE will say, ONE PERSON has faith ANOTHER has actions. MY answer is, Show we how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions."

"Someone" is the challenger, very likely a misinformed Christian. "One person" and "another" represent other challenges. And, finally, "my" represents James.

Kistemaker: The main point of the opponent in verse 18a is not the 'distribution' of faith and works to 'you' and 'me,' but rather the 'total separation' of faith and works in general.

We agree with this. Luther once said: "Faith alone justifies but faith is never alone." The first part of this statement is clearly stated in Romans 3:28. The second is clearly stated in Galatians 5:6.

In the commonly known prayer after communion the pastor speaks about "faith toward Thee and fervent love toward one another." James here says "I will show you my faith by my works." The only way in which we recognize saving faith in a fellow Christian is by his works. From genuine works we assume genuine faith.

James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that -- and shudder.

Though the appointed reading does not include this verse, we have included it. It is very important. The Nestle Greek text puts a question mark after "God." TEV does the same.

James is approving of the correct belief. James says: "Good! You do well! Fine!" In other words, James approves.

But now comes a staggering observation: "The demons also believe this but they shudder"

Kistemaker: Even among the demons doctrinal truth prevails.
Kretzmann: The devils have a very complete and accurate knowledge of the essence and qualities of God, Luke 8:2ff.
Davids: The demons themselves are quite orthodox, but they tremble in fear of judgment . . . the point is that the knowledge of who God is does not save them. . . A faith which cannot go beyond this level is worse than useless.
Lenski: The demons' faith certainly acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God, but that did not improve their faith. Dead faith is ready to say YES to all the articles of faith.
Look at Mark 1:24; 5:7; Luke 4:34. We cannot see the faith of the demons. But we can observe their deeds. Their deeds are quite clear among the devil's children, the unregenerate. From these deeds we rightly conclude that the faith of demons is reprobate, headed for hell.

If ever a passage is Law, bringing phoney faith out into the open, it is this text. If the preacher has correctly preached this text, at this point his hearers will be terrified, some more, some less. Like the distraught father in Mark 9:24 they are likely crying inwardly: "Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!" The Lord answered that man's prayer. Do not forget to answer your hearer's prayer. Smoother them with Gospel.


(Adapted from "Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts, Series B, Sundays after Pentecost,"
by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 68-72)

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