Home  |  New Testament Studies  |  James Table of Contents  |  Previous Section  |  Next Section  |

÷÷JAMES 2

JAMES 2:1-26

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Warning Against Partiality Beware of Personal Favoritism The Respect Due to the Poor Warning Against Prejudice Respect for the Poor
2:1-4 2:1-13 2:1-7 2:1-7 2:1-4
2:5-13 2:5-9
2:8-13 2:8-13
2:10-13
Faith and Works Faith Without Works is Dead Faith and Works Faith and Actions Faith and Deeds
2:14-17 2:14-26 2:14-27 2:14-17 2:14-17
2:18-26 2:18-26 2:18-24 2:18-23
2:24-26
2:25
2:26

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO 2:1-13 

A. James 2:1-13 is an expansion of the discussion about the relationship between the rich and poor in James 1:9-11,27.

 

B. It is uncertain whether the rich referred to in James 1:10-11; 2:6 or 5:1-6 are believers. Possibly they were wealthy Jews, the very ones who persecuted the early Christians.

 

C. Wealth in the OT was a sign of God's pleasure (cf. Lev. 26; Deut. 27), but later teachings bring the needed balance to this concept (cf. Job, Ps. 73; Matt. 5-7). Poverty even came to be a metaphor for spiritual hunger (cf. Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20).

 

D. The section develops into two related topics:

1. the ways of this age (James 2:1-7)

2. the ways of the coming Messianic Age (James 2:8-13)

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

÷JAMES 2:1-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: JAMES 2:1-7
 1My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?  5Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

2:1 "My brethren" See notes at James 1:2 and 1:9.

▣ "do not hold" This is a present active imperative with a negative particle which usually means to stop an act that is already in process. The Williams translation has "stop trying to maintain. . ." This implies that the people acting this way were misguided believers.

NASB, NJB"your faith"
NKJV"the faith"
NRSV"really believe"
TEV"as believers"

This is not "faith" in the sense of doctrine, as in Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; Gal. 1:23; 3:23; 6:10; Phil. 1:27; Jude 3 and 20, but personal trust in Christ (objective genitive).

▣ "in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ" This genitive phrase is literally "of the glory" and is in apposition to the genitive phrase literally "of the Lord." This is a title for deity in the Bible (cf. Ps. 29:1-9; Acts 7:2; Eph. 1:17). The rabbis used the term "Shekinah glory" to speak of YHWH dwelling with Israel (cf. Exod. 16:10; 2 Chr. 7:1-3).

Here the phrase describes Jesus (cf. Luke 2:32; John 1:14; 17:5; 1 Cor. 2:8; Heb. 1:3). Notice that Jesus is called (1) Messiah (Christ in Greek); (2) Lord (Greek translation of YHWH using the meaning of the substituted term Adonai); and (3) "of glory" (unique title for YHWH). These titles are a literary technique of attributing the divine characteristics of YHWH to Jesus of Nazareth.

SPECIAL TOPIC: GLORY (DOXA)

▣ "Lord" The term Kurios only appears once in this context, not twice as in the RSV, NKJV, TEV, and NJB translations.

NASB"with an attitude of personal favoritism"
NKJV"with partiality"
NRSV"with your acts of favoritism"
TEV"you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance"
NJB"do not let class distinctions enter"

This reflects an OT idiom, "to lift the face." God does not show partiality (cf. Deut. 10:17) nor should Israel's judges (cf. Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17; 16:19; 24:17). The NT counterpoint of God's impartiality is found in Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:9; and 1 Pet. 1:17. Believers must be careful of worldly distinctions. They must also be impartial. God (in Christ), has torn down every barrier that humans have raised to their fellow man: rich-poor; Jew-Gentile; slave-free; and men-women (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).

Grammatically, verse 1 is either a statement or a question which expects a "no" answer (NRSV). Most translations make it a statement (NASB, NKJV, TEV, NJB, NIV).

SPECIAL TOPIC: RACISM

SPECIAL TOPIC: WOMEN IN THE BIBLE

2:2 "if" This is a third class conditional which refers to potential action. This refers to (1) hypothetical wealthy visitors coming to a Jewish, Christian worship meeting or (2) a synagogue-like Christian court setting.

▣ "your assembly" This is literally "synagogue," which means "to bring together." The use of this uniquely Jewish term (found only here in the NT) reflects (1) the early date of the letter when Christians and Jews were still worshiping together (cf. Heb. 10:25) or (2) the early Jewish Christians' worship services patterned after a synagogue structure. The presence of "seats of honor" and "footstool" in the Jewish Synagogue (cf. Matt. 23:6) seems to confirm this interpretation (cf. James 2:3). I think the assembly described is not a worship setting but a Christian court similar to those held in the synagogue (cf. Mark 13:9; Luke 21:12). If so, the two visitors (litigants) are part of a legal proceeding. This may explain (1) why they do not know where to sit and (2) the reference to "drag you into court" in James 2:6 (cf. Lev. 19:15).

▣ "gold ring" This was a sign of wealth; often in the Greco-Roman culture several rings were worn on each hand.

NASB, NRSV"poor man in dirty clothes"
NKJV"a poor man in filthy clothes"
TEV"a man in ragged clothes"
NJB"a poor man. . .in shabby clothes"

This implies not only poverty, but a beggar, the cultural opposite of the finely dressed man.

2:4 "have you not made distinctions among yourselves" Verses 4 and 5 are questions which expect a "yes" answer. Believers were and are guilty of showing distinctions and favoritism (much like the church in Corinth, i.e., chapter 11). "Distinctions" is a compound word of dia (through) with krina (judge).

2:5 "Listen" This is an aorist active imperative which expresses urgency. Remember James' emphasis is on the word of God!

"my beloved brethren" See notes at James 1:2 and 1:9.

▣ "did not God choose the poor of this world" "Choose" is an aorist middle indicative (cf. Eph. 1:4). We get the English word "elect" from this Greek term. Notice how election is linked with a certain socio-economic group, not a national group (i.e., Israel, Romans 9) nor individuals. God's ways are so different from the world (i.e., Isa. 55:6-13).. Reversals are typical (in Scripture).

"Of this world" is literally "in this world" used in the sense of this world's goods. The irony is that God has chosen to bless the poor and socially ostracized. God has chosen them and made them rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, but the local worship leaders were favoring the wealthy and powerful. These were the very ones who were persecuting the early believers. The gospel being preached to the poor was a sign of the New Age (cf. Isa. 61ff; Matt. 11:5; Luke 1:51-53; 4:18; 7:22).

The poor have always felt ostracized from "official" religion, but they were wonderfully accepted and embraced by Jesus. The poor gladly accepted Christ, while the rich tended to trust in their own resources (cf. Matt. 19:23-26). This is not to imply that every poor person is saved, but they surely are welcome to come to Jesus. Most of the early church were from the poorer classes of society.

▣ "heirs" See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: BELIEVERS' INHERITANCE

"the kingdom" This is a key phrase in the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus' first and last sermons, and most of His parables, dealt with this topic.

The phrase relates to the eschatological (end-time) thrust of Jesus' teachings (followed by James). This "already, but not yet" theological paradox relates to the Jewish concept of two ages (see Special Topic at James 5:2-3), the current evil age and the righteous age to come, which will be inaugurated by the Spirit through the Messiah. The Jews expected only one coming of a Spirit-empowered military leader (like the Judges in the OT). The two comings of Jesus caused an overlapping of the two ages. The Kingdom of God has broken into human history with the incarnation at Bethlehem. However, Jesus came the first time not as the military conqueror of Rev. 19, but as the Suffering Servant (cf. Isa. 53) and the humble leader (cf. Zech.9:9).

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE KINGDOM OF GOD

▣ "which He promised to those who love Him" See note at James 1:12.

2:6 "But you" This is an emphatic contrast (much like Heb. 6:9) to what God has done for the poor, powerless, and ostracized of James 2:5.

▣ "the rich" The rich are characterized as (1) oppressing you; (2) dragging you to court; and (3) blaspheming the name by which you are called. Can these be wealthy believers? I think not! See note at James 2:2.

2:7

NASB"blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called"
NKJV"blaspheme that noble name by which you are called"
NRSV"blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you"
TEV"who speak evil of that good name which has been given to you"
NJB"who insult the honorable name which has been pronounced over you"

This is literally "called upon you." Culturally this could refer to

1. a patriarchal family blessing (cf. Gen. 48:16)

2. a way to designate YHWH's people (cf. 2 Chr. 7:14; Jer. 14:9; Dan. 9:19; Amos 9:12 [quoted in Acts 15:17])

3. a wife taking her husband's name (cf. Isa. 4:1)

4. a slave becoming a permanent property of another

5. a baptismal formula (cf. Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:21,38)

6. an Old Testament title for the covenantal people of God (cf. Deut. 28:10; 2 Chr. 6:33, 7:14)

7. the title "Christian" (little Christs), first given in derision to believers at Antioch of Syria (cf. Acts 11:26).

In context #5 fits best.

÷JAMES 2:8-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: JAMES 2:8-13
  8If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. 9But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

2:8 "If" Both verses 8 and 9 start with first class conditional sentences which are assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. His hearers/readers were fulfilling the royal law if they loved appropriately.

▣ "royal law" This concept goes by several names (cf. James 1:25; 2:12; Rom. 8:2; Gal. 6:2). It obviously points back to the Ten Commandments (cf. James 2:11) but reaches into the inaugurated New Age of Jesus' teachings, a new way of treating God and our covenant partners (cf. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5-7).

▣ "according to the Scripture" This is a quote from Lev. 19:18, but with an eye toward Lev. 19:15 (i.e., you shall not be partial).

▣ "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" Appropriate self-love, in a Christian sense, is crucial in appropriately loving others (cf. Matt. 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:9). Jesus often used Lev. 19:18, along with Deut. 6:4-5, as summaries of the whole law (cf. Matt. 7:12; 22:40).

2:9 "if you show partiality" This is another first class conditional sentence, like James 2:8. It is a strong word for the church today. We dare not play favorites with those for whom Christ died (cf. Rom. 14:15,20; 1 John 2:9-11; 3:9-18).

▣ "you are committing sin" "Sin" is in an emphatic position in the Greek sentence. Showing partiality was a violation of the Mosaic covenant and the law of love (the royal law).

▣ "convicted by the law as transgressors" Transgression means to "step over a known boundary" and was one of the OT definitions of sin. Notice this is not ignorance, but willful action against God's revealed will.

2:10 "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" This is an important verse in helping to explain the theological difficulty of righteousness by human merit and the purpose of the Mosaic law (cf. Gal. 3:15-29). Partial obedience, or temporary obedience, was never enough to be accepted by God through the Mosaic covenant (cf. Matt. 5:19; Gal. 5:3). This type of summary statement about keeping the whole law (boys from age 13) and (Jewish girls from age 12) is the theological basis of Paul's OT quotes and strong summary statement of mankind's sinfulness in Rom. 3:9-23.

2:11 This is the order of the Ten Commandments in the Septuagint (which shows James' early Jewish flavor), which was the Greek translation of the OT begun about 250 b.c. and is quoted by most NT authors.

2:12 "So speak and so act" These are both present active imperatives. Believers' words and lives must agree. We must practice what we preach (cf. Matt. 7). This is the major theme of the book!

▣ "who are to be judged" All humans will be judged (cf. Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:6,16; 3:6; Rev. 20:11-15). Even Christians will be judged (cf. Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10), but apparently not for sin, but for their attitudes, availability and for the use of their spiritual gifts.

2:13 "judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy" This is the spiritual principle that humans reap what they sow (cf. Matt. 6:14-15; 7:1-5; 18:22-35;Gal. 6:7). It may have been a well-known proverb in Palestine. It is the negative of Jesus' statement in Matt. 5:7. This is not works-oriented salvation, but the family characteristics of God should be evident in His children's lives (cf. Matt. 7:13-27; 1 Corinthians 13).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How do we discriminate in our churches today?

2. Why has God chosen the poor to be blessed and saved? Why is it so hard for the rich to become believers? Why did this shock the Jews of Jesus' day?

3. Why is James 2:10 so important?

4. How do the OT commandments relate to "the law of liberty"?

5. How do verses 12-13 relate to justification by faith?

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS INTO JAMES 2:14-26

A. This section of James has caused major theological controversy. This comes not so much from the passage, contextually understood, but from our theological presuppositions and dogmatic systems of proof-texted, western theology.

 

B. James and Paul do not contradict, but complement one another. The seeming contradiction comes from a misunderstanding of (1) the purpose; (2) the recipients; and (3) definitions of key words (i.e., faith, works) of the NT books of Romans and James.

1. Paul is writing to Jews who believe that they are right with God on the basis of (1) their race (nationality) and (2) their keeping the law of Moses (legalism). Paul speaks of entering into the Christian life. He uses Abraham's life as an OT example of being declared right with God before circumcision and before the Mosaic Law (cf. Gen. 15:6), based solely on God's initiating grace and the appropriate faith response (cf. Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6).

2. James is writing to church people who are making Christianity a creed instead of a lifestyle (antinomians or intellectualists, Jewish Gnostics). These folks are asserting orthodoxy as the basis for their assurance of salvation. The books of James and 1 John assert that daily love in action is not an option for Christians, but is the evidence of their being Christians. For James, "works" are not Jewish rules, but love in action (cf. 1 Corinthians 13).

3. Paul and James are not giving two ways of salvation, but two aspects of one salvation. Paul speaks of the beginning of Abraham's walk of faith (cf. Genesis 15), and James speaks of its ongoing characteristics (birth of Isaac versus offering of Isaac, cf. Genesis 22).

4. It is not "faith or works" but "faith and works." Not only is faith without works dead, but works without faith is also dead (cf. Matt. 7:21-23; John 15:1-6). Being a carnal, weak, baby Christian is possible (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-3, 10-15; Heb. 5:11-14), but it is the exception, not the norm.

5. John Calvin said "faith alone justifies but the faith which justifies is not alone."

 

C. This section functions as an encouragement to active faith. In a sense it is a passage on assurance— not assurance as a doctrine, but as a lifestyle. Assurance is surely a biblical truth, but only in connection with daily Christlikeness, not systematic theology! We are saved to serve. Service is the evidence of salvation. It is never the means, but it is the goal, the fruit (cf. Eph. 2:8-9 and 10). This truth is much needed in our day of (1) easy believism and (2) assurance as a denominational theological tenet (usually given as a dogmatic statement at the beginning of the Christian life).

 

D. The entire book of James deals with the practical issue of how believers use their resources (physical and spiritual) on behalf of the Kingdom. Allocation of physical resources reveals the heart!

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

÷JAMES 2:14-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: JAMES 2:14-17
 14What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

2:14

NASB"What use is it"
NKJV"What does it profit"
NRSV, TEV"what good is it"
NJB"How does it help"

Grammatically this question expects a "no" answer. Faith without works is of no use, no profit.

▣ "my brethren" See notes at James 1:2 and 1:9.

▣ "if someone says" This is a third class conditional sentence, "someone may say." It is structured like the diatribe form (a supposed objector) of James 1:26.

▣ "he has faith" Biblical faith (pistis) has several aspects: (1) doctrine (cf. 1 John 4:1-6; Jude 3,20; (2) personal relationship and commitment to Jesus (cf. John 1:12; 3:16; Rom. 10:9-13); and (3) godly lifestyle (cf. James and 1 John). All three aspects are involved in genuine, mature faith.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the Old Testament (ןמא)

▣ "Can that faith save him" This is used in an eschatological sense. Judgment will be based on (1) works (cf. Matt. 25:31ff; Rom. 2:6; 2 Cor, 5:10; Gal. 6:7-9) and (2) faith (cf. Rom. 4; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; Gal. 3). This is the second question of verse 14. It also expects a "no" answer.

2:15 "if" This is a third class conditional sentence which is an example of how believers should not act, especially toward other believers.

2:16 "Go in peace" This phrase is a Present active imperative. "Be warmed" is a present middle (deponent) imperative and "be filled" is a present middle imperative. This is a veiled prayer for God to provide their needs. It is an OT idiom for God's provision (cf. Judg. 18:6; 1 Sam. 1:17; 20:42; 2 Sam. 15:9). It reflects a shallow, flippant response, much like our "I will pray for you" (cf. 1 John 3:17-18) when used in an insincere manner. One thing is sure, the ones saying these veiled prayers are not going to do anything themselves to help!

2:17 "if" This is another third class conditional sentence. James is using this literary construction which suggests a contingency to illustrate the difference between true faith and fake faith or possibly mature faith versus weak faith.

This is an important theological summary statement (cf. James 2:20 and 26). In his Study Guide Commentary on James Curtis Vaughan sees these three summary statements as constituting the main outline: (1) genuine faith is not an empty claim (James 2:14-17); (2) genuine faith is not mere acceptance of a creed (James 2:18-20); and (3) genuine faith is faith that produces an obedient life (James 2:21-26, p. 56).

÷JAMES 2:18-26

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: JAMES 2:18-26
 18But 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." 19You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God. 24You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

2:18-20 Grammatically this is a very ambiguous passage as to punctuation and pronoun antecedents. It is uncertain whether there is (1) one supporter of James' position; (2) one objector to James' position; (3) one of each; or (4) two opposing hypothetical persons alluded to by James. It is uncertain whether the quotation stops at James 2:18a (NKJV, NRSV, NIV) or 18b (NASB, TEV) or if it goes through James 2:19.

It is possible that James' supposed objector is claiming that Christians have different spiritual gifts, some faith and some works. James responds that faith is not a gift, but a bedrock relationship of trust in Christ. To know Christ is to emulate Him; to live as He lived; to love as He loved; to give oneself to others as He gave Himself to others (cf. 1 John 3:16).

Spiritual giftedness is not a reduction of Christian responsibility, but an empowerment for effective ministry (in conjunction with other believers).

▣ "show me your faith without works" This is an aorist active imperative. This would be a similar truth to the parable of the sower in Matt. 13. Fruit-bearing, not initial response, proves genuineness (cf. Titus 1:16; 1 John 2:4). No fruit, no root!

2:19 "You believe that God is one" This truth (monotheism) was the first test of orthodoxy for Judaism (cf. Deut. 4:35,39; 6:4-5; Mark 12:29). Yet the demons believe this also (cf. Matt. 4:3; Mark 5:7). Christianity is not only correct doctrine, but a relationship of obedience and love. Orthodoxy alone, without orthopraxy, is empty (cf. 1 Corinthians 13). A theological, intellectual commitment to monotheism (cf. Rom. 3:30; 1 Cor. 8:4,6; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:5) does not make one right with God. Proper belief cannot save, for who among fallen humanity has perfectly accurate theology? Salvation through Christ affects the head (doctrine), the heart (volitional trust in Christ), and the hand (lifestyle Christlikeness).

▣ "the demons also believe" Demons know who Jesus is! Demons believe in monotheism!

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE DEMONIC (UNCLEAN SPIRITS)

▣ "and shudder" This is possibly related to the practice of exorcism in YHWH's name. This term was often used in this sense in the magical papyri found in Egypt.

2:20

NASB"that faith without works is useless"
NKJV"that faith without words is dead"
NRSV"that faith apart from works is barren"
NJB"that faith without deeds is useless"

Three possible translations come from the most ancient Greek manuscripts:

1. א, A, C2 have "dead," (cf. James 2:26)

2. B and CΑ have "barren"

3. P74, the Bodmer Papyri, has "vain" (used earlier in James 2:20)

USB4 rates #2 as "B" (almost certain").

2:21 This question expects a "yes" answer.

▣ "Abraham" He is used by both Paul (cf. Gen. 15 quoted in Rom. 4) and James (quotes Gen. 22) to prove their theological points, but each uses different events in his life. Paul speaks of his initial call and promises (i.e., the birth of Isaac), but James speaks of the consummation of his faith years later (i.e., the offering of Isaac).

▣ "our father" This term seems to reflect Jewish Christian recipients (cf. Matt. 3:9; John 8:39). However, Paul uses this same concept for Gentiles (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 4:11-12,16; Gal. 3:7; 6:16).

▣ "justified by works" This is the Greek verb dikaioō. The semantic field (possible meanings and connotations) this term has is interesting:

I. From Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (p. 196-197)

 A. "Show justice" or "do justice to someone"

 B. "Justify, vindicate, treat as just"

 C. Paul uses the term for God's judgment

1. of men

a. "be acquitted"

b. "be pronounced and treated as righteous"

2. of God's activity - "make upright"

3. "to make free or pure" (ACTIVE)

or "to be made free or pure" (PASSIVE)

4. "God is proved to be right"

II. From Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains, 2nd edition (vol. 2 p. 64).

A. "to put right with" (vol. 1, 34:46, p. 452)

B. "show to be right" (vol. 1, 86:16, p. 744)

C. "acquit" (vol. 1, 56:34, p. 557)

D. "set free" (vol. 1, 37:138, p. 489)

E. "obey righteous commands" (vol. 1, 36:22, p. 468)

When one compares these lexical usages it becomes clear how Paul could use this term in one way (specialized forensic sense of "made righteous") and James in another (shown to be righteous by one's godly living). The term is fluid enough to allow both. But please remember it is a "both/and" situation, not an "either/or." Also be careful of a set theological definition of this term (or any term) which is then read into every usage of the word in Scripture. Words only have meaning in specific contexts! See SPECIAL TOPIC: RIGHTEOUSNESS at James 1:20.

▣ "offered up Isaac" The offering of Isaac (cf. Genesis 22) was not the grounds of Abraham's faith (cf. Genesis 12,15), but the result and expression. James is using the term "works" in a different way than Paul. James is speaking of the Christian's lifestyle faith (cf. 1 John), while Paul is speaking of a works-righteousness of the Jews (or Judaizers of Galatians) as a basis for being accepted by God (cf. Rom. 10:2-3).

2:22 "faith was working with his works" This is an Imperfect active indicative which denotes continual action in past time. There is a word play between "working with" (syn + ergon) and "works" (ergōn). The word "work" is used eleven times in James 2:14-26 and only three times in the rest of the book of James.

▣ "faith was perfected" This is an aorist passive indicative. Faith is initiated and perfected by God, but believers' volition and actions are also part of the equation. The term "perfected" means "mature," "equipped for the assigned task," "complete."  The biblical covenant concept unites the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity to form a contract or agreement which has both benefits and obligations, a gift and a requirement.

SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT

2:23 "the Scripture" This refers to Genesis 15:6, as do Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6. James is saying that this verse was "fulfilled" by Abraham's later actions in his willingness to obey God and offer Isaac, the son of promise, as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah (cf. Genesis 22).

▣ "the friend of God" Abraham is called by this title two times in the OT (cf. 2 Chr. 20:7; Isa. 41:8).

2:24 "You" This is plural. James is now addressing his readers/hearers!

▣ "justified by works" See note at James 2:21.

2:25 "Rahab the harlot" She was Judaism's ultimate proof of God's forgiveness and the power of repentance (i.e., a Canaanite prostitute, cf. Joshua 2). She also is an ancestor of Jesus (cf. Matt. 1:4). James uses two extremes, Abraham and Rahab, to prove his point.

2:26 Active love is to faith what the breath is to the human body. We could summarize James' description of lifeless faith as (1) demonic, James 2:19; (2) vain, James 2:20; and (3) dead, James 2:26.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. What is faith?

2. Define the minimum biblical requirements for salvation.

3. Do Paul and James contradict each other? Why or why not?

4. Why do Paul and James both use Abraham as an example?

5. List the ways that Rahab is an opposite of Abraham.

6. How does James' necessity of "works" relate to carnal Christians?

 

Home  |  New Testament Studies  |  James Table of Contents  |  Previous Section  |  Next Section  |