James 2






1 “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory,

with respect of persons."  The translation is doubtful, two renderings being possible.


  • That of the Authorized Version and Revised Version, "Hold not the faith of our

Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons."


  • That of the Revised Version margin and Westcott and Hort, "Do ye, in accepting

persons, hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory?" According

to this view, the section commences with a question, as does the following one,

v. 14.  According to the former view, which is on the whole preferable, it is

parallel to ch.  3:1. The faith of our Lord. "The faith" here may be either:


Ø      objective (tides quae creditur), as in the Epistle of St. Jude 1:3, 20; or

Ø      subjective (tides qua creditur), "Have the faith which believes in," etc.

(compare Mark 11:22).


Our Lord Jesus Christ. Exactly the same title occurs in Acts 15:26, in the letter written

from the Apostolic Council to the Syrian Churches - a letter which was probably drawn

up by St. James himself. The Lord of glory. The same title is given to our Lord in

I Corinthians 2:8, and seems to be founded on Psalm 24:7, etc. The genitive, τῆς δόξης -

taes doxaes - of glory, must depend on Κυρίου - Kuriou - Lord in spite of the intervening

Ἰησοῦ Ξριστοῦ - Iaesou Christou - Jesus Christ. Similar trajections occur elsewhere;

e.g. Hebrews 12:11, where δικαιοσύνης - dikaiosunaes - peaceable depend, on καρπόν -

karpon - fruit, and, according to a possible view, Luke 2:14 (see Hort's 'Greek

Testament,' vol. 2, appendix, p. 56). Bengel's view, that τῆς δόξης (of glory) is in

apposition with Κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Ξριστοῦ (Lord Jesus Christ) can scarcely be maintained,

in the absence of any parallel expression elsewhere. Respect of persons (ἐν

προσωποληψίαις - en prosopolaepsiais literally, reception of faces. The substantive

is found here and three times in St. Paul's Epistles - Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9;

Colossians 3:25; the verb (προσωποληπτεῖτε - prosopolaepteite - ye are showing

partiality) only here in v. 9; προσωπολήπτης - prosopolaeptaes - partial; respector

of persons in Acts 10:34. None of them occur in the Septuagint, where, however,

we find πρόσωπον λαμβάνειν prosopon lambanein - in Leviticus 19:15; Malachi 2:9,

etc. (compare Luke 20:21), for the Hebrew גַשָׂז פָנִים. Bishop Lightfoot has pointed

out ('Galatians,' p. 108) that, in the Old Testament, the expression is a neutral one,

not necessarily involving any idea of partiality, and more often used in a good than

in a bad sense. "When it becomes an independent Greek phrase, however, the bad

sense attaches to it, owing to the secondary meaning of πρόσωπον as a mask,' so

that πρόσωπον λαμβάνειν signifies 'to regard the external circumstances of a man' -

his rank, wealth, etc. - as opposed to his real intrinsic character. Thus in the

New Testament it has always a bad sense." It is exactly this regard to external

circumstances against which St. James is warning his readers; and the fact that

our Lord Jesus Christ had Himself been known, when on earth, as no respecter

of persons (Luke 20:21), would give point to his warning. The plural

ἐν προσωποληψίαις (respector of persons; reception of faces) is perhaps used

to include the different kinds of manifestations of the sin.


Proof that They were Guilty of Respect of Persons (vs. 2-4)


Observe the insight which this passage gives us into the character of the assemblies

of the early Christians, showing:


Ø      that the entrance of a rich man was not entirely unknown, but

Ø      that it was probably exceptional, because so much was made of him. Notice:

Ø      συναγωγή - sunagogae - a bringing together used here, and here only in the

New Testament, of a Christian assembly for worship (cf. Ignatius, 'Ad Polye.,'

c. 4, Πυκνότερον συναγωγαὶ γινέσθωσαν). (On the distinction between

συναγωγὴ (synagogue) and ἔκκλησία - ekklaesia - assembly; church;

congeregation, and the history of the terms and their use, see an

interesting section in Trench's ' Synonyms,' p. 1.)


2 "For if there come unto your assembly 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; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my

footstool:"  A man with a gold ring (ἀνὴρ χρυσοδακτύλιος - anaer chrusodaktulios -

 man gold-fingered).  The word is found here only. The English Versions (both

Authorized Version and Revised Version) needlessly limit its meaning. The man was

probably bedecked with a number of rings, and had not one only. In goodly apparel.

The same phrase is rendering "gay clothing" in v. 3. The variation is quite unnecessary,

the Greek being identical in both places, and rightly rendered by Revised Version

"fine clothing." It is curious to find a similar needless variation in the Vulgate,

which has in veste candida in v. 2, and veste proeclara in v. 3.



  • One great function of Christianity was to create a sphere in which there

            should be neither Jew nor Gentile, Greek nor barbarian, bond nor free.

            “All equal are within the Church’s gate” is true, not only of the material

            building, but equally of the spiritual fabric of the Church, which,

            like her Divine Head, is no respecter of persons.  The equality of

            Christians, indicated by the name “brethren” (v.1), is the foundation of

            the admonition with which the chapter opens.


  • THE EVIL HERE CONDEMNED. (v.1.) “Respect of persons” (ἐν

προσωποληψίαις) pros-o-pol-ape-see’-ah; from [proswpolh>pthv]; 

            partiality, i.e. favoritism: — respect of persons - literally, reception of         

faces.   As an independent Greek phrase, it is used in a bad sense owing

            to the secondary meaning of πρόσωπον as a mask,’ so that  πρόσωπον

λαμβάνειν signifies ‘to regard the external circumstances of a man’ -          

            his rank, wealth, etc. - as opposed to his real intrinsic character. Thus in      

the New Testament it has always a bad sense.  It is exactly this regard to   

            external circumstances against which St. James is warning his readers;       

            and the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ had Himself been known, when on

earth, as no respecter of persons (Luke 20:21), would give point to his       

            warning. The plural (ἐν προσωποληψίαις) is perhaps used to include

            the different kinds of manifestations of the sin. It is that of Pharisaic

            contempt of the poor. The apostle does not, of course, mean that

            social distinctions are nowhere to be recognized by God’s people.

            The Scriptures teach no such doctrine. Rather they enjoin Christians

            to “render honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). In

            ordinary society we are to act with manly deference towards our

            superiors, whether they be such in age, rank, office, knowledge,

            wealth, or influence. The apostle refers in this exhortation to the

            spiritual sphere. He urges that within the sacred circle of our Church

            life respect is to be paid to religious character, and not to material

            wealth. A true pure faith in “the Lord of glory” is incompatible

            with the entire spirit of snobbery, and especially with the

            maintenance of unchristian distinctions of caste within the Church.

            (American Churches of the twenty-first century unhappily need the           

warning of this passage almost as much as the congregations of the

            Dispersion in the apostolic age – CY – 2009)


  • St. James gives but one instance of the kind of respect of persons which

            is forbidden, viz. the respect shown to the rich in assemblies of Christians

            for worship. Other forms of the same sin are common enough and are

            equally reprehensible, e.g. the homage paid to a man in society because he

            is rich, without regard to his character and moral worth. True reverence

            and submission are in no way condemned by this Scripture, but their excess

            and gross extreme, the preference for vulgar wealth, the adulation of success,

            the worship, in short, of some new golden calf” (Punchard).  Often, with

            the temptations of riches come sensuality and greed!



                        case supposed is in all respects an extreme one; yet how correctly it

depicts human nature! It presents the thought of “the influences of            

                        clothes,” or that “society is founded upon cloth” (Carlyle). The

                        deference paid to the gold-ringed man in presence of the congregation

                        is described with dramatic realism. A cordial welcome greets him when

                        he enters, and he is conducted fussily to a principal seat; while the poor                 

man in the squalid clothing is coldly pointed to a place where he may

                        stand, or at most is permitted to sit in an uncomfortable corner. The           

                        apostle’s graphic picture suggests to the thoughtful reader other

                        examples of the same sin. We shall mention only one or two. The               

                        arrangements for seating a congregation amongst ourselves some-

                        times show “respect of persons,” as in the case of an elevated and            

luxurious pew for the lord of the manor. Ministers in the pulpit are

                        tempted to avoid enforcing practical duties too pointedly, lest

                        their exhortations and reproofs should be unpalatable to influential             

families.  (Yet how many examples of ministerial fidelity may be

                        readily recalled.  Numerous cases are historical: Elijah, Micaiah,

                        John the Baptist, Knox, Howe, Massillon, etc.). Congregations have

                        been known to elect men of substance to spiritual office, rather than

                        those who possessed the requisite qualifications of mind and character;

and, on the other hand, members of Churches are sometimes actuated

                        by mean jealousy of a wealthy fellow-worshipper, even to such an

                        extent that they would fain, were it possible, abridge his liberty in the        

                        exercise of his ordinary rights as a member of the congregation. In

                        these and many other ways Christian people have often shown

                        themselves to be “evil-thinking judges,” and have thereby entailed

                        upon the Church much mischief and damage.


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

The copula (καὶ - kai - and ) of the Received Text is certainly spurious. It is found in

K, L, but is wanting in א, A, B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic. B also omits the negative

οὐ - ou - not (so Westcott and Herr margin). If this manuscript is followed, the

sentence must be read as a direct statement, and not as interrogative. But if

(with most manuscripts and editions) the interrogative be retained, the translation

is still doubtful. Διεκρίθητε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς - diekrithaete en heautois - ye were

discriminating among yourselves may mean:


(1) "Are ye not divided in your own mind?" so the Syriac and Revised Version,

which would imply that this respect of persons showed that they were halting

between God and the world - in fact, double-minded.


(2) "Do ye not make distinctions among yourselves?" Revised Version, margin;

this gives an excellent sense, but is wanting in authority, as there appears to be no

other instance forthcoming of the passive with this meaning.


(3) "Did you not doubt among yourselves?" this (doubt) is the almost invariable

meaning of διακρίναομαι - diakrinaomai in the New Testament, and the word

has already been used in this sense by James ch. 1:6. Hence this rendering is

to be preferred. So Huther, Plumptre, and Farrar, the latter of whom explains the

passage as follows: "It shows doubt to act as though Christ had never promised

His kingdom to the poor, rich in faith; and wicked reasonings to argue mentally

that the poor must be less worthy of honor than the rich." Judges of evil thoughts

(κριταὶ διαλογισμῶν πονηρῶν - kritai dialogismon ponaeron - judges of wicked

reasonings); i.e. their own (thoughts), which caused them to respect persons.

Thus the phrase is equivalent to "evil-thinking judges." (On the genitive, see

Winer, 'Gram. of N. T. Greek,' p. 233; and cf. James 1:25, ἀκροάτης

ἐπιλησμονής - aakroataes epilaesmonaes - forgetful listener).


  • Respect of persons, regard to outward appearances, the gold ring and

            fine clothing, evince not merely evil thinking but want of faith (v.4);

            i.e. a halting between God, who is no respecter of persons, and the world,

            which judges only by that which is external. It shows doubt to act as

            though Christ had never promised His kingdom to the poor, rich in faith;

            and wicked reasonings to argue mentally that the poor must be less worthy

            of honor than the rich.   Judges of evil thoughts (κριταὶ διαλογισμῶν

πονηρῶν); sc. their own (thoughts), which caused them to respect persons.

            Thus the phrase is equivalent to “evil-thinking judges.”How foolish also to

            regard the persons of men, when the object of our faith is the Lord of

            glory Himself!



Proof of the Sinfulness of Respect of Persons (vs. 5-9)


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?  Hearken (ἀκούσατε - akousate). This has been noticed as a

coincidence with the speech of St. James in Acts 15:13. It is, however, too slight to

be worth much (compare Acts 7:2; 13:16; 22:1). For τοῦ κόσμου τούτου - tou kosmou

toutou - of this world, read τῷ κόσμῳ - to kosmo -  (א, A, B, C), "poor as to the world;"

perhaps "in the estimation of the world." These God chose (to be) rich in faith, and

heirs of the kingdom, etc. The kingdom; mentioned here only by St. James (and

even here, א, A read ἐπαγγελίας - epaggelias - promised); compare νόμον βασιλικόν -

nomon basilikon - royal law in v. 8. Which He hath promised. As Dean Plumptre

has pointed out, "it is scarcely possible to exclude a direct reference to the words

of Christ, as in Luke 6:20; 12:31-32; and so we get indirect proof of a current

knowledge, at the early period at which St. James wrote, of teaching which

was afterwards recorded in the written Gospels."



                        reproof is faithful, but it is also affectionately tender (vs. 1,5).


Ø      Mere earthly distinctions should be indiscernible in the

                                    presence of the Lord of glory. (v.1.) Worldly

                                    distinctions of wealth and rank should be dwarfed into

                                    nothingness before our minds when we realize that those

                                    who assemble in the house of God are the guests of “the

                                    Lord of glory.”


Ø      Respect of persons is inconsistent with sound Christian

       principle. (v. 4.) The believer “looks at the things which are

      not seen;” and he ought not to do so with a wavering mind or

      a vacillating will. Ecclesiastical servility towards the rich is a

      form of mammon-worship; while the one power which

                                    the Church should exalt is that of character.


Ø      God is no respecter of persons. (v. 5.) The New

      Testament rings with declarations of this truth. “The Lord

      of glory,” when He lived on earth, was no sycophant of the

      rich. He was Himself a poor man. He chose the poor rather than

      the rich to possess spiritual means in His kingdom. In

                                    dishonoring the poor man,” therefore, the Church was

                                    despising one for whom Christ died, and a possible heir of

                              the heavenly glory.  Worldly poverty (v. 5) is by no means              

                              inconsistent with true riches:  rather it is often accompanied

                              by them, for “God chose the poor as to the world to be rich

                              in faith, and heirs of the kingdom” not as if poverty were

                              necessarily accompanied by goodness, or as if all the rich

                                    were rejected. But “not many wise after the flesh, not many

mighty, not many noble, are called” (I Corinthians 1:26-27)

whilethe poor,” as a class, “have the gospel preached to

                                    them.” (Matthew 11:5) It has been well said that “the temptations

of riches assumed in that age very gross forms of sensuality or of

                                    greed.”  (What about America and the world today who seem

obsessed with materialism?  We each need to ponder the meaning  

                                    of Jesus when He asked the question “If ye have been 

unfaithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit

to your trust the TRUE RICHES?” -  CY – 2009)


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?" You have dishonored by your treatment the poor man,

whom God chose; while those rich men to whom ye pay such honor are just the

very persons who"


  • oppress you and
  • blaspheme God and Christ.


Poor... rich. In the Old Testament we occasionally find the term "poor" parallel to

"righteous" (Amos 2:6; 5:12); and "rich" to "wicked" (Isaiah 53:9). St. James's

use here is somewhat similar (see on ch. 1:9, etc.). "Christiani multi ex pauperibus

erant: pauci ex divitibus" (Bengel). The "rich men" here alluded to are evidently

such as was the Apostle Paul before his conversion.


  • They dragged the poor Christians before the judgment-seat (ἕλκουσιν ὑμᾶς

εἰς κριτήρια - helkousin humas eis kritaeria - are drawing you into tribunals).

So Saul, "haling (σύρων - suron) men and women, committed them to prison"

(Acts 8:3).


  • They blasphemed the honorable Name by which Christians were called.

So Saul thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the Name of

Jesus of Nazareth, and strove to make them blaspheme (Acts 26:9-11).


  • All this they did in person (αὐτοί - autoi - themselves, just as Saul did.


No difficulty need be felt about the presence of these rich men in the synagogues of

the Christians. It will be noticed that St. James never calls them "brethren." Further,

it must be remembered that, at this early date, the Church had not yet learned by bitter

experience the need for that secrecy with which in later days she shrouded her worship.

At this time the Christian assemblies were open to any who chose to find their way in.

All were welcome, as we see from I Corinthians 14:23, etc., where the chance entry

of "men unlearned or unbelieving" is contemplated as likely to happen. Hence

there is no sort of difficulty in the presence of the "rich man" here, who might be

eagerly welcomed, and repay his welcome by dragging them to the judgment-seat.

Draw you before the judgment-seats. The account given by Josephus of the death

of St, James himself affords a good illustration of the manner in which Christians

were liable to this. But the tribunals need not be confined to Jewish ones. Other

instances of similar treatment, illustrating the thoughts and language of the

passage before us, may be found in Acts 16:19; 17:6; 18:12. Litigation of an

entirely different character between Christians themselves is alluded to and

condemned by St. Paul in I Corinthians 6.


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

That worthy Name (τὸ καλὸν ὄνομα - to kalon onoma - the honorable Name);

probably the Name of Christ, by which the disciples were known (Acts 11:26),

and for which they suffered (Acts 5:41; 1 Peter 5:14-16). By the which ye are

called; literally, which was called upon you (τὸ ἐπικληθὲν ἐφ ὑμᾶς - to epiklaethen

eph humas - the one being invoked over you). A similar expression is found in St.

James's speech in Acts 15:17, in a quotation from Amos 9:12.


  • The rich as a class had been the enemies both of Christ and His people. (vs. 6-7.)

      With a few noble exceptions, the upper classes persecuted the Christians in the

      days of the apostles. They harassed them with lawsuits. ( compare the actions

            of the modern ACLU in the United States – CY 2009)  Draw you before the    

            judgment-seats. The account given by Josephus of the death of St, James

            himself affords a good illustration of the manner in which Christians were liable   

            to this:  {Josephus, ‘Ant.,’ 19. 9:1: “Caesar, having learnt the death of Festus,       

            sends Albinus as governor of Judaea... Ananus... supposing that he had a   

            favorable opportunity in consequence of the death of Festus, Albinus

            being still on the way, assembled the Sanhedrim, and brought before it

            James [the brother of him who is called Christ], and some others, and

            having charged them with breaking the laws, delivered them over to be

            stoned. But those of the city who seemed most moderate and most

            accurate in observing the Law were greatly offended at this, and secretly

            sent to the king, entreating him to send to Ananus with the request not to

            do these things, saying that he had not acted legally even before this.”

            Eusebius (Bk. II. 23.) and Origen (Matthew 13:55, ‘Contr. Celsus,’

            1:47; 2:13) also ascribe to the Jewish historian the statement that the

            murder of James was the immediate cause of the siege of Jerusalem and the

            troubles which fell upon the Jews.”} They slandered them before the judges.

            They cursed the blessed Name of Christ which it is the mission of the Church to   

            exalt. To court the rich showed a deficiency of common sense. It was disloyal to  

            the blessed Name.  The faith of Christians is precisely that faculty of their nature  

            by which they discern and espouse spiritual things as distinguished from the         

            things of the world. And in virtue of this faith they are supposed to be raised        

            above the tyranny of world-attractions. The glory of earth does not dazzle

            them, for their faith has caught the vision of a higher glory, even a heavenly,

            of which Jesus Christ is Lord. They sit in heavenly places with Him. 

            (Ephesians 2:6)


8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love

thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well:”   What is the connection with the foregoing?

Μέντοιmentoihowbeit is ignored altogether by the Authorized Version.  

Translate, with Revised Version, howbeit if ye fulfill, etc.; Vulgate, tamen.

According to Huther, St. James here meets the attempt which his readers might,

perhaps, make to justify their conduct towards the rich with the law of love; whilst

he grants to them that the fulfillment of that law is something excellent, he designates

προσωποληπτεῖτε (showing partialities) directly as a transgression of the law. Alford

thinks that the apostle is simply guarding his own argument from misconstruction –

a view which is simpler and perhaps more natural. The royal law. Why is the law

of love thus styled? (The Syriac has simply "the law of God.")


(1) As being the most excellent of all laws; as we might call it the sovereign principle

of our conduct (cf. Plato 'Min.,' p. 317, c, Τὸ ὀρθὸν νόμος ἐστὶ βασιλικός). Such an

expression is natural enough in a Greek writer; but it is strange in a Jew like St. James

(in the Septuagint, βασιλικόςbasilikoskingdom) is always used in its literal

meaning); and as the "kingdom" has been spoken of just before (v. 5), it is better:


(2) to take the expression as literal here - "the law of the kingdom" (cf. Plumptre, in loc.).

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, etc. (Leviticus 19:18). The law had received

the sanction of the King Himself (Matthew 22:39; Luke 10:26-28).




9 “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the

law as transgressors.”  And are convinced, etc.; better, with Revised Version,

being convicted by the law (ἐλεγχόμενοι ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμουelegchomenoi hupo

tou nomoubeing exposed by the law). The Law of Moses directly forbade all

respect of persons; see Leviticus 19:15 (three verses above the passage just

quoted by St. James), Οὐ λήψῃ πρόσωπον πτωχοῦ οὐδὲ μὴ θαυμάσῃς πρόσωπον

δυνάστονOu laepsae prosopon ptochou oude mae thaumasaes prosopon

dunastonthou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person

of the mighty.


10 “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is

guilty of all.”  In this verse the subjunctives τηρήσῃ πταίσῃ - taeraesae ptaisae

shall be keeping; shall be tripping, are rightly read by the Revisors, with א, B, C.

The Law was express on the need of keeping all the commandments; see Leviticus

19:37 (the same chapter to which St. James has already referred), Καὶ φυλάξωσθε

πάντα τὸν νόμον μου καὶ πάντα τὰ προστάγματά μου καὶ ποιήσετε αὐτά - Kai

phulaxosthe panta ton nomon mou kai panta ta prostagmata mou kai poiaesete

autaAnd therefore ahll ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and

do them). He is guilty of all. The very same thought is found in rabbinical writers

(Talmud, 'Schabbath,' fol. 70); a saying of R. Johanan: "Quodsi racist omnia unum

vero omitter omnium est singulorum reus." Other passages to the same effect may

be seen in Schottgen, 'Horae Hebraicae,' vol. 1. p. 1017, etc.; and cf., 'Pirqe Aboth,'

4:15. Was it a false inference from St. James's teaching in this verse that led the

Judaizers of Acts 15:1 to lay down the law "Except ye be circumcised after the

customs of Moses ye cannot be saved"? "Whosoever shall keep the whole Law,

and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all," might seem to suggest such an

inference: "To whom," says St. James himself, "we gave no commandment"

(Acts 15:24). (On the teaching of this tenth verse there is an interesting letter

of Augustine's to Jerome, which well repays study: 'Ep.' 167.)


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.” Do not commit adultery... do not kill. The order

of the commandments is remarkable; what is now the seventh is placed before

the sixth. This appears to have been the usual order at that time. In this order

our Lord quotes them in Luke 18:20, and St. Paul in Romans 13:9. Philo also

has the same order, and expressly comments on it, drawing from it an argument

for the heinousness of adultery ('Dec.,' 12:24). In the Vatican Manuscript of

the Septuagint in Exodus 20:13-15 the order is, "Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not kill." But the Alexandrian Manuscript has

the usual order, which is also found in Matthew 19:18 and Mark 10:19

(according to the correct reading).


God’s law is the law of love; and love is kingly. The Divine nature itself is the

foundation of virtue; and “God is love.” Hence the Divine law is the eternal rule

and final standard of rectitude. It possesses supreme excellence and supreme



The apostle cites, as the great precept which forbids respect of persons, the words

of Leviticus 19:18, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself — the same

precept which our Lord had employed as His summary of the principle

underlying the last six commandments. We are to love our neighbor, i.e.

any one to whom we have it within our power to become helpful, even

although he may be a stranger and a Samaritan. Those who discharge this

duty aright “do well.” But, enlightened love for ones neighbor is

inconsistent with respect of persons. We may not limit the precept either to

our wealthy neighbor or to our poor neighbor. Indeed, to show partiality is

not so much to limit the precept as to discard it altogether. Favoritism is

the outcome of selfishness, rather than of the love that seeketh not its

own.” (I Corinthians 13:5) Those, therefore, who practice it are not guilty of a

trifling impropriety, but of direct and palpable sin, both against the Old

Testament law and “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”


The Law of Moses directly forbade all respect of persons.  “Ye shall do no

unrighteousness in judgment:  thou shalt not respect the person of the

poor, nor honor the person of the mighty:  but in righteousness shalt

thou judge thy neighbor”.  (Leviticus 19:15)  “Therefore shall ye

observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them:  I am

the Lord”.  (Leviticus 19:37)



            “Whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he

            is guilty of all.” (v. 10) Why, since the breach of but one command is

            certainly not as sinful as the breach of all? Because:


ü      “the principle of duty and of obedience to all the commandments is

      one; so that if we choose for ourselves nine commandments to keep,

      and one to break, we are not doing God’s will, but our own;


ü      all the precepts are alike expressions of one Divine will, and rest on



ü      all the precepts are manifestations of love at work - love first to God,

                        and then to our neighbor; and each particular failure shows defect in this.

                         “A garment is torn, though you only take away one piece of it; a

                        harmony in music is spoiled if only one voice be out of tune”. The

                        perfect figure of the circle is marred by a flaw in any one part of it.

                        So to break one command out of all is to violate the whole principle

                        of obedience. Thus men have no right to pick and choose which

                        commandments they will keep, or to


                                    “Compound for sins they are inclined to,

                                    By damning those they have no mind to.”


                        As Christians, we are not entitled to bow down in the house of

                        Rimmon, (II Kings 5:18) nor does the strictest obedience to one

                        command give us a dispensation to break another; e.g. spotless chastity

                        on the part of the unfallen will not atone for Pharisaism and harshness

                        to the fallen, for “if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou

                        art become a transgressor of the Law.”



      LAW. (vs.10-11.) The apostle assures us that partiality is a sin, and that he

            who indulges in it disobeys the whole moral law.


ü      The Lawgiver is One. (v.11.) Every precept of the law possesses the

                        same Divine authority. The sixth commandment is invested with the

                        same solemn sanctions as the seventh. “God spake all these words.”

                        (Exodus 20:1)  To disregard any one precept, therefore, is to violate

                        the entire authority by which the whole Law has been ordained. It

                        follows from this that:


ü      The Law itself is one. How immeasurably “the royal law” is exalted, in

                        its grand essential unity, above human systems of jurisprudence! The

Divine legislation forms a perfect code; for it is a perfect reflection and

                        expression of the mind or’ God.  Having for its Author the God of love,

                        its vital unity is found in the principle of loving obedience. “Love

                        worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfillment of the

                        law (Romans 13:10).  So, to “stumble in one point” is to break the

                        whole law. For, as has been said, the law is a seamless robe, which is

                        torn although only a part be torn; or a musical harmony, which is marred

                        if one voice be singing out of tune; or a necklace of pearls, from which a

single pearl cannot be dropped without breaking the string upon which

the others hang, and letting them fall to the ground.


ü      The spirit of obedience is one. True reverence for the law is inspired by

                        love to the Lawgiver; and therefore obedience is impartial, and strives to   

                        be perfect. Our first parents, in eating the forbidden fruit, fell from the      

                        spirit of obedience, and dishonored the whole law. In like manner, the

                        man who habitually breaks one of the commandments shows that in

principle he is disloyal, and that he would transgress any other  

                        precept were he exposed to similar temptation to do so.




ü      We are obligated  to render perfect obedience to the law of God.

ü      It is impossible for us to do so in our own strength, or during the present


ü       The necessity of clothing ourselves with the righteousness of Christ.



Conclusion of the Subject (vs. 12-13)

                           (νόμος ἐλευθερίας [law of liberty] from ch. 1:25).


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.”  A clear reminiscence of our Lord's

teaching in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:1, etc.; 5:7): Μακάριοι οἱ

ἐλεήμονες ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται Makarioi oi eleaemones hoti autoi

eleaethaesontaiHappy are the merciful ones that they shall be being

merciful; Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Ἀνέλεος

Aneleosunpropituous is certainly the right form of the word (א, A, B, C, K),

not ἀνιλέωςanileoswithout mercy (Receptus with L), and the καὶ (and) of the

Textus Receptus is entirely wanting in manuscript authority, and should be deleted.

The subject is ended by the abrupt declaration, almost like a cry of triumph,

"Mercy glorieth against judgment."


LAW AND JUDGMENT.  In these weighty words James reminds his readers that

they are on their way to a dread tribunal where they shall be judged according to

their works, and where with what measure they mete it shall be measured to

themselves.  (There are two Divine imperatives for each of us:  [1] “Ye must

be born again”  {John 3:7}  [2] “We must all appear before the judgment

seat of Christ” {II Corinthians 5:10} CY – 2009)


  • THE CERTAINTY OF JUDGMENT.   (Ponder Acts 17:31 –  “Because He

hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness

by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance to

all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.”  - CY – 2018)  The

apostle takes the fact for granted. This certainty is attested by:


ü      Human nature.  Man possesses intuitively the conviction of his

      moral responsibility. Conscience anticipates even now the sentence

      which shall proceed from the bar of God.


ü      Divine Providence. While there is abundant evidence that the world

      is under moral government, it is also plain that there are many

      inequalities which require adjustment. The world is full of

      unredressed wrongs and undiscovered crimes. Providence itself,

      therefore, points to a DAY OF RECTIFCATIONS .


ü      The Word of God. The Bible everywhere represents the Eternal

      as a moral Governor; and the New Testament in particular describes

      the final judgment as a definite future event which is to take place



  • THE STANDARD OF JUDGMENT. The poor heathen, since they sin

            without law, shall be judged without law. (Romans 2:14-16)  Those who

            possess the Bible shall be tried by the higher standard of that written

            revelation. Believers in Christ, however, shall be “judged by a law of

            liberty (v.12). This law is, of course, just the moral law viewed in the

            light of gospel privilege. In the Decalogue, the form which the law assumes

            is one of outward constraint.  As proclaimed from Sinai, it constituted really

            an indictment against the human race;” and it was surrounded there with

            most terrible sanctions. (Exodus 19:16-18) But now, to the Christian, the

            law comes bound up with the gospel; and the power of gospel grace within

            the heart places him on the side of the law, and makes it the longer the more         

            delightful for him to obey it. In the believer’s ear the law no longer thunders,        

            “Thou shalt not.” To him “love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans

            13:10) The commandments, being written now upon his heart, are no longer          

            grievous(1 John 5:3). The law has become to him “a law of liberty.”


  • THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF JUDGMENT. “So speak ye, and so

            do” (v.12). The standard will be applied to our words and to our

            actions. The apostle has already touched upon the government of the

            tongue in James 1:19, 26; and he has dealt with practical conduct in

            the intervening verses. His teaching here is an echo of that of the Lord

            Jesus upon the same theme (Matthew 12:34-37; 7:21-23). A man’s

            habits of speech and action are always a true index of his moral state.

            If we compare human character to a tree, words correspond to its leaves,

            deeds to its fruit, and thoughts to its root underground. Words and actions

            will be judged in connection with “the counsels of the hearts” of which

            they are the exponents.


  • THE PRINCIPLE OF JUDGMENT. (v.13.) This doctrine of

            merciless judgment to the unmerciful is enunciated in many parts of

            Scripture. It receives especial prominence in the teaching of our Lord

            (Matthew 5:7; 6:12, 14, 15; 7:1; 18:23-35). We can never, of course,

            merit eternal life by cherishing a compassionate spirit. But, since

            mercy or love is the supreme element in the character of God, it is plain

            that those who do not manifest active pity towards others have not

            themselves been renewed into His image. The purpose of the

            gospel is to restore man’s likeness to God, who “is love;” so that the man

            who exhibits no love shows that he has not allowed the gospel to exercise

            its sanctifying power within him, and he shall therefore be condemned for

            rejecting it. But the medal has another side; for the apostle adds, “Mercy

            glorieth against judgment.” This seems to mean that the tender-hearted

            and actively compassionate follower of Christ need not fear the final

            judgment.  His mercifulness is an evidence that he is himself a partaker

            of the mercy of God in Christ. He shall lift up his head with joy when

            he stands before the bar of Heaven (Matthew 25:34-40). His Judge will be

            the Lord Jesus, at whose cross mercy and judgment met together.

            God himself, in order to effect our redemption, sheathed the sword of

            justice in the heart of mercy; and His redeemed people, in their intercourse

            with their fellow-men, learn to imitate Him by cultivating the spirit of

            tenderness and forgiveness. Thus it is an axiom in the world of grace,

            acted on both by God and by His people, that “mercy glorieth against



THE CONCLUSION OF ALL THIS:   “With what measure we mete, it shall be

measured to us again.” A law of liberty, but not of liberty to sin. And if we

disregard the law that should make us free, for us there is, not love, but judgment.


            “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge

             of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a

            certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation,

            which shall devour the adversaries.  He that despised Moses’

            law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:

            Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be

            thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God,

            and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was

            sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the

            Spirit of grace?  For we know him that hath said, Vengeance

            belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again,

            The Lord shall judge His people.  It is a fearful thing to fall into

            the hands of the living God.  (Hebrews 10:26-31)


A merciless judgment, if we have been merciless. But if, on the other hand,

our hearts have been loving, and. our lives merciful, through the faith of

Christ, then judgment shall be disarmed, and we shall learn what those

words mean, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”

(Matthew 5:7)





                       A MERE BARREN ORTHODOXY (vs. 14-26)




vs. 14-26 – FAITH AND WORKS - God has joined faith and works together;

but perverse human nature will insist upon putting them asunder. In the apostolic

age, Paul met with many people who made works everything, to the neglect of faith;

and James met with others who made faith everything, to the neglect of works.. In

our time, too, multitudes outside the Church are saying that good conduct is

the one thing needful, while orthodoxy of creed is comparatively unimportant.

Within the Church, on the other hand, many are clinging to a lifeless formal

faith - a faith which assents to theological propositions, but which does

not influence dispositions. This latter error the apostle here exposes and



PRELIMINARY NOTE:   This is the famous passage which led to Luther’s

depreciation of the whole Epistle, which he termed a “right strawy” one. At first

sight it appears, indeed, diametrically opposed to the teaching of St. Paul; for:


  • St. Paul says (Romans 3:28), “We conclude that a man is justified

by faith apart from (χωρίςchoris - beside, by itself, without)

works of Law,” whereas St. James asserts (v. 26) that “faith without

(χωρίς) works is dead,” and that man is “justified by works and not

by faith only” (v. 24).



  • St. Paul speaks of Abraham as justified by faith (Romans 4,

Galatians 3:6); St. James says that he was justified by works (v. 21).


  • St. Paul, or the Pauline author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, appeals to

the case of Rahab as an instance of faith (Hebrews 11:31);   St. James refers

to her as an example of justification by works (v. 25). The opposition, however,

is only apparent; for:


  • The two apostles use the word ἔργαerga - works (from ἔργον - ergon;

[to work; toil {as an effort or occupation}; by implication an act.  deed, doing,

labor, work) in different senses. In St. Paul it always has a depreciatory sense,

unless qualified by the adjective καλὰ or ἄγαθα.   Kαλὰ from (καλοςkalon

of uncertain affinity; properly beautiful, but chiefly (figurative) good (literal

or moral), i.e. valuable or virtuous (for appearance or use, and thus

distinguished from ἄγαθαagatha - which is properly intrinsic) from

(ἄγαθοςagathos   better, fair, good (-ly), honest, meet, well, worthy.

The works which he denies to have any share in justification are legal works,”

not those which he elsewhere denominates the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians

5:22-23), which are the “works” of which St. James speaks.


  • The word πίστιςpistis - of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or

a religious teacher, especially reliance upon Christ for salvation; abstract

constancy in such profession; by extensive the system of religious [Gospel]

truth itself:  assurance, belief, believe, faith, fidelity) from (πείθωpeitho

persuasion, i.e.credence; moral conviction is also used in different senses.

In St. Paul it is πίστις δἰ ἀγαπῆς ἐνεργουμένηpistis di agapaes

energoumenaefaith which worketh by love; faith through love operating

 (Galatians 5:6); in St. James it is simply an orthodox creed, “Even the devils

πιστεύουσι pisteuousi -  are believing (v.19): it may, therefore, be

barren of works of charity.


  • The apostles are writing against different errors and tendencies: St.

Paul against that of those who would impose the Jewish Law and the rite

of circumcision upon Gentile believers; St. James against “the self-

complacent orthodoxy of the Pharisaic Christian, who, satisfied with the

possession of a pure monotheism and vaunting his descent from Abraham,

needed to be reminded not to neglect the still weightier matters of a self-

denying love” The tendency of the Jews to rely on their claim as “Abraham’s

children is rebuked by the Baptist (Matthew 3:9) and by our Lord (John 8:39).

            On the apparent difference between the teaching of St. James and of

            St. Paul, see Farrar’s ‘Early Days of Christianity,’ vol. 2. p. 99.We may

            thank God that the truth has been revealed to us under many lights; and

            that by a diversity of gifts the Spirit ministered to each apostle severally as

            He would, inspiring the one to deepen our spiritual life by the solemn truth

            that works cannot justify apart from faith, and the other to stimulate our

            efforts after a holy life by the no less solemn truth that faith cannot justify

            us unless it be the living faith which is shown’ by works. There is in the

            diversity a deeper unity. The Church, thank God, is ‘Circumamicta

            varietatibus’ — clothed in raiment of many hues. St. Paul had dwelt

            prominently on faith; St. Peter dwells much on hope; St. John insists most

            of all on love. But the Christian life is the synthesis of these Divine graces,

            and the works of which St. James so vehemently impresses the necessity,

            are works which are the combined result of operative faith, of constraining

            love, and of purifying hope.”


  • The apostles regarded the new dispensation from different standpoints.

With St. Paul' it is the negation of law: "Ye are not under Law, but under

grace" (Romans 6:14). With St. James it is the perfection of Law. But, as

Bishop Lightfoot has pointed out, "the ideas underlying these contradictory

forms of expression need not be essentially different." The mere ritual has

no value for St. James. Apart from anything higher it is sternly denounced

by him (ch. 1:20, etc.). The gospel is in his view a Law, but it is no mere system

of rules, "Touch not, taste not, handle not" (Colossians 2:21); it is no hard

bondage, for it is a law of liberty, which is in exact accordance with the

teaching of St. Paul, that "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty"

(II Corinthians 3:17). But:


  • The question now arises. Granting that St. James does not contradict the doctrine

of St. Paul, is he not opposing Antinomian perversions of it, and writing with

conscious reference to the teaching of the apostle of the Gentiles, and the

misuse which some had made of it? To this question different answers have

been returned. "So long as our range of view is confined to the apostolic

writings, it seems scarcely possible to resist the impression that St. James is

attacking the teaching, if not of St. Paul himself, at least of those who

exaggerated and perverted it. But when we realize the fact that the passage

in Genesis was a common thesis in the schools of the day, that the meaning

of faith was variously explained by the disputants, that diverse lessons were

drawn from it - then the case is altered. The Gentile apostle and the Pharisaic

rabbi might both maintain the supremacy of faith as the means of salvation;

but faith with St. Paul was a very different thing from faith with Maimonides,

for instance.


ü      With the one its prominent idea is a spiritual life, with the other

an orthodox creed;

ü      with the one the guiding principle is the individual conscience,

with the other an external rule of ordinances;

ü      with the one faith is allied to liberty, with the other to bondage.


Thus it becomes a question whether St. James's protest against reliance on

faith alone has any reference direct or indirect to St. Paul's language and

teaching. Whether, in fact, it is not aimed against an entirely different type

of religious feeling, against the Pharisaic spirit which rested satisfied with

a barren orthodoxy FRUITLESS in works of charity" (Lightfoot on

'Galatians,' p. 164; the whole essay should be carefully studied). In favor

of this view of the entire independence of the two writers, to which he

inclines, Bishop Lightfoot urges:


ü      That the object of the much-vaunted faith of those against whom

St. James writes is "the fundamental maxim of the Law,"

"Thou believest that God is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4); not

"the fundamental fact of the gospel," "Thou believest that God

raised Christ from the dead" (Romans 10:9).


ü      That the whole tone of the Epistle recalls our Lord's denunciations

of the scribes and Pharisees, and seems directed against a kindred

spirit. To these we may add:


ü      That the teaching of St. Paul and St. James is combined by

St. Clement of Rome ('Ep. ad Corinthians,' c. 12.) in a manner

which is conclusive as to the fact that he was unaware of any

divergence of view between them, whether real or apparent.

We conclude, then, that the teaching of St. James has no

direct relation to that of St. Paul, and may well have been

anterior in time to his Epistles to the Romans and Galatians.

(For the opposite view, see Farrar's 'Early Days of Christianity,'

vol. 2. p. 79, where an able discussion of the subject may be found.)


vs. 14-17 - First point: Faith without works is equivalent to profession without practice,

and is therefore dead.  The barren fig tree stands as an example of profession without

practice, a great show of foliage, the ordinary sign of the presence of fruit, but after

all, it had “nothing but leaves” (Matthew 21:17:20) 


14 “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have

not works? can faith save him?"  Omit the article (with B, C1), and read τί ὀφελος -

ti ophelos - what benefit: so also in v. 16. Can faith save him! rather, with Revised

Version, that faith (πίστις - hae pistis - the faith); the faith in question.


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

practical character of the illustration chosen, from works of mercy (compare ch. 1:27).

Ωσιν - osin - may be  in should be deleted (omitted by B, C, K); also the disjunctive

particle δὲ - de - yet at the commencement of the verse (with א, B).


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?"  Depart in peace (ὑπάγετε ἐν εἰρήνῃ -  hupagete en eiraenae -

be ye going away in peace); compare Acts 16:36. This is something quite different

from the fullness of our Lord's benediction, "Go into peace (ὕπαγε εἰς εἰρήνην -

hupage eis eiraenaen)" (Mark 5:34; compare Luke 7:50; 8:48).


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

(καθ ἑαυτήν - kath heautaen - according to itself); Revised Version, in itself.

But the rendering of the Authorized Version appears to be justified by the

Septuagint in Genesis 43:31, Παρέθηκαν αὐτῷ μόνῳ καὶ αὐτοῖς καθ ἑαυτούς κ.τ.λ. -

Parethaekan auto mono kai autois kath heatous k.t.l.


This is evidence of a barren faith.  Its weakness is seen in the fact that it is

unproductive.  A faith which does not fill one’s heart with love to God, and

which does not produce practical sympathy towards one’s fellow-men, is worthless

and an illegitimate faith!  Compare I John 3:17-18 – “But whoso hath this world’s

good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion

from him how dwelleth the love of God in him?  My little children, let us not love

in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth”!  It is the bitterest mockery

for a man who is himself living in ease and comfort to say to his shivering starving

brother, when he sends him away empty-handed, “Depart in peace; do not give way

to despondency; God has said He will never forsake His people; He shall give His

angels charge concerning you; and I myself will pray for you.  ‘Sentimental professions

of sympathy which have no outcome of practical help do not profit either person.

They tempt the destitute man to become a misanthrope; and they ruin the moral

health of the false sympathizer.


vs. 18-19 – Second Point:  Even the devils believe - πιστεύουσι (are believing) .

 How worthless, then, must be faith (πίστις) alone! 


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."

Yea, a man may say (ἀλλ ἐρεῖτις - all ereitis - but shall be declaring). The

objection in 1 Corinthians 15:35 is introduced by precisely the same words.

It is somewhat difficult to see their drift here, as what follows cannot be an

objection, for it is just the position which St. James himself adopts. The formula

must, therefore, be taken as introducing the perfectly fair retort to which the man

who gives utterance to the sentiments of v. 16 lays himself open. Without thy works.

Instead of χώρις (without) א, A, B, C, Latt., Syriac, Coptic, the Received Text has

the manifestly erroneous reading ἐκ (out) in K, L, in which it is happily not

followed by the Authorized Version.


19 "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe,

and tremble."


(1) "Thou believest that God is one," Revised Version, reading Ὅτι εῖςΘεός ἐστιν -

       Hoti heis ho Theos estin, or,

(2) "Thou believest that there is one God," Authorized Version and Revised Version

      margin, reading Ὅτι εῖς Θεὸς ἐστὶν - Hoti heis Theos estin.


The reading, and by consequence the translation, must be considered somewhat

doubtful, as scarcely any two uncials read the words in precisely the same order.

The illustration is taken from the central command of the Old Testament

(Deuteronomy 6:4), indicating that the case of Jews is under consideration.

The following quotations from the Talmud will show the importance attached by

the Jews to this command (Farrar, 'Early Days,' etc., p. 83).


  • It is said ('Berachoth,' fol. 13, 6) that whoever in repeating it "prolongs the

utterance of the word 'One,' shall have his days and years prolonged to him."


  • Again we are told that when Rabbi Akibah was martyred he died uttering

this word "One;" and then came a Bath Kol, which said, "Blessed art thou,

Rabbi Akibah, for thy soul and the word 'One' left thy body together."


"Thou believest that there is one God; (this clause is taken from the

central command of the Old Testament – Deuteronomy 6:4) thou doest well: the

devils also believe, and tremble.”  Should any professing Christian of “the

Dispersion” have been pluming himself upon his correct theology and. his

notional faith, here was a solemn warning to him. Should he have been

resting satisfied with the thought that, living in the midst of polytheism, he

was holding fast by the Hebrew doctrine of the unity of God, this verse

would remind him of the profitlessness of such a conviction, unless it;

expanded into the blossoms and fruits of holiness. “The demons believe,”

and yet they remain demons. The unclean spirits whom Jesus exorcised had

plenty of head-knowledge and head-faith about both God and Christ; but

their faith was of a kind that made them “shudder” with terror when they

realized the great spiritual truths. Being a merely intellectual credence, it could not

cleanse the soul; it could only produce the “fear” which “hath punishment.”

Learn, in conclusion, that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”

(Romans 10:10)  True saving faith not only asks, with Paul, “Who art thou,

Lord?” (Acts 9:5) but with him also passes from that question to this other,

“What shall I do, Lord?”  (Acts 9:6)


vs. 20-24 – Third Point - Proof from the example of Abraham that a man is justified

by works and not by faith only. In Genesis 15:6 we read of Abraham that “he believed

in the Lord; and he accounted it to him for righteousness” (Septuagint,  Ἐπίστευσεν

Αβραμ τῷ Θεῷ καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην -  Episteusen Abram to Theo kai

elogisthae hauto eis dikaiosunaen - And Abram believed in God and He counted it

to him for righteousness, quoted by St. Paul in Romans 4:3; and Galatians 3:6). But

years after this we find that God “tested Abraham” (Genesis 22:1). To this trial

St. James refers as that by which Abraham's faith was "perfected" (ἐτελειώθη -

eteleiothae), and by which the saying of earlier years found a more complete

realization (compare Ecclesiasticus. 44:20-21, "Abraham... kept the Law of the

Most High, and was in covenant with him... and when he was proved, he was

found faithful. Therefore He assured him by an oath, that He would bless the

nations in his seed," etc.).


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

Faith without works is dead. The Received Text, followed by the Authorized

Version reads νεκρά - nekra - dead, with א, A, C3, K, L, Syriac, Vulgate

(Clementine).  The Revisers, following B, C1, if, read ἀργή - argae -"barren"

(so Vulgate Amiat. by a correction, otiosa).


21 "Was not Abraham our father justified 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?" 


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, and not by faith only.” 

And he was called the Friend of God. The expression comes from Isaiah 41:8;

II Chronicles 20:7 (in the Hebrew, א; Septuagint, ὅν ἠγάπησα τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ σου -

hon aegapaesa tgo aegapaemeno sou). The same title, φίλος Θεοῦ - philos Theou

is given to Abraham by Clement of Rome ('Ad Corinthians,' 10; 17.), and was

evidently a standing one among the Jews. Philo actually in one instance quotes

Genesis 18:17 as Ἀβραὰμ τοῦ φίλου μου - Abraam tou philou mou -  instead of

ποῦ παιδός μου - pou paidos mou . Illustrations from later rabbinical writers may

be found in Wetstein, and cf. Bishop Lightfoot on 'Clement of Rome,' p. 61. To

this day it is said that Abraham is known among the Arabs as El Khalil, equivalent

to "the Friend."


Since the day of Martin Luther, however, good men have been coming more and.

more to see that Paul and James, so far from opposing one another, are in reality

presenting different sides of the same great truth. Paul, in Romans and

Galatians, fights against self-righteousness; James, in this Epistle, contends

against formalism and licentiousness. James’s “faith without works” is not

the justifying faith of Romans 3:28 - “working through love;” it is

rather the useless faith without love of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians

13. The two apostles, as we understand the matter, both treat of the same

justification, but they do not contemplate it from the same point of view.

Paul looks at justification metaphysically, in its essence as meaning

acceptance with God on the ground of the righteousness of Christ; while

James views it practically, in its vital connection with sanctification, and its

efflorescence in a holy life. The “works” of James are just the “faith” of

Paul developed in action. In the verses before us, James continues his

illustration of the operative fruit-bearing nature of justifying faith. He

adduces two examples from the Old Testament Scriptures:


  • THE EXAMPLE OF ABRAHAM. (vs. 21-23.) It is remarkable that

            Paul employs the same illustration in setting forth the doctrine of

            justification by faith alone; and that he appeals also to the identical Old

            Testament statement (Genesis 15:6) here quoted respecting

            Abraham’s acceptance (Romans 4.; Galatians 3:6-7). Paul says that

            Abraham was justified by faith before Isaac was born; while James says

            that he was “justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon

            the altar” (v. 21). But James is careful to add, that in this crowning

            manifestation of his piety the patriarch’s faith co-operated with his works.

            The confidence which Abraham had reposed in God for so many years was

            the very life of his obedience to the dreadful command to kill his only son;

            and the reflex influence of his victorious passage through such an awful

            ordeal was that his strong trust in God was still further strengthened and

            made perfect” (v. 22). Abraham’s faith alone had been “reckoned unto

            him for righteousness” (Romans 4:9) ever since the day when he first

            went out, not knowing whither he went;” (Hebrews 11:8) but the longer

            that he persevered in believing, and kept adding practical virtues to his faith,

            his original justification was the more confirmed. So, as good works are vitally      

            connected with saving faith — being, in fact, wrapped up within it in germ from  

            the beginning - Abraham may be said to have been “justified by works.” (v.21)   

            The faith which saved him was a works-producing faith. And he was so greatly

            distinguished for the fruitfulness of his faith that he became known in Hebrew     

            history as “the friend of God.”


vs. 25-26 – Fourth Point – Proof from the case of Rahab the harlot of justification by

works (compare Joshua ch. 2;  6:25). Rahab is mentioned elsewhere in the New

Testament in Hebrews 11:31, where she also appears as Ῥαὰβπόρνη - Raab hae

pornae - the harlot Rahab; Rahab the prostitute, and is spoken of as having

"received the spies," δεξαμένη τοὺς κατασκόπους - dexamenae tous katqskopous;

compare here ὑποδεξαμένη τοὺς ἀγγέλους - hupodexamenae tous aggelous - when

entertaining the messengers. There, however, she is regarded as an instance of faith

(see above in preliminary note). The only other place where her name occurs is in

the genealogy of our Lord, in Matthew 1:5, "Salmon begat Booz of Rachab (ἐκ τῆς

Ραχάβ - ek taes Rachabout of Rahab)."




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.”

Conclusion of the whole matter: "As the body apart from the spirit is dead,

even so faith apart from works is dead."


  • THE EXAMPLE OF RAHAB. (v. 25.) Likewise also was not Rahab the

      harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and

      had sent them out another way.”  Her case seems to have been selected

      because it was so unlike the preceding. Abraham was a Jew, and the father

      of the chosen nation; Rahab was a heathen woman. Abraham had for many

      years received a special training in the school of faith; Rahab had enjoyed no

      training at all. Abraham was a good and pure man; Rahab had lived a loose

      and sensual life. Yet this degraded Canaanite obtained “like precious faith”

      (II Peter 2:1) with the illustrious patriarch. The same two Old Testament

      examples are cited also in Hebrews 11.; and certainly they take rank as the

      two extreme cases selected for special mention in that chapter. The contrast

      is useful as showing that, invariably, good works are found flowing from a living

      faith. The object of Rahab’s belief is expressed in her own words in Joshua

      2:9-11; and her strenuous exertions for the safety of the two spies, made at the

      risk of her life, bring her faith into prominence, as “working with her works.” 

      James has shown that the faith which lies only in the cold assent of the intellect

      to a system of divinity is more like a lifeless corpse than a living man!  For as

      the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

      (v. 26). Truly saving faith consists in such a warm personal trust of the heart as

      will manifest itself in a life of holy obedience. So the ethical in religion ought

never to be divorced from the evangelical. Every Christian minister should

preach many sermons on distinctively moral subjects, taking care, however,

that such discourses are informed with gospel motives. And every member

of the Church should practice in the market-place and the workshop the

morality of the Sermon on the Mount not simply because a holy life is

the appropriate evidence of faith, but rather because it is the great end in

order to which the believer’s faith is reckoned for righteousness.


Whatever saves us must change us!  Truly, that is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”

(Colossians 1:27)  Christ must live and work within us – (John 14:23, Galatians 2:20)


Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of

thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt

tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither

can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that bringeth not forth

good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye

shall know them.”  (Matthew 7:16-20)



                        FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD!




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