Epistle of James Chapter 2:1-13 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday, August 2, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series

Books referenced here are:

1.) The Letter of James, Anchor Bible Commentary, by Luke Timothy Johnson

2.) Epistle of James, New International Greek Testament Commentary, by Peter Davids

3. IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, by Craig Keener
James 2:1
Faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ: Greek pistis tou kurion hemon Iesou Christou. There is the continuing argument over whether this should be translated “faith IN” or “faith OF” Christ. Johnson opts for the subjective “faith of”, for two reasons:

1)The Christology of James is weak, for most statements of faith in it aim at God the Father.
2)The continued use of Jesus’ sayings in James suggest a meaning “the faith from/ declared by” Jesus Christ.(Johnson)

It must be remembered that the use of “faith of Christ” doesn’t preclude the author from holding the importance of faith IN Christ.

Our glorious Lord: In the Greek, tou kuriou (our Lord) is separated from tes doxes (the glory). This leads to various translations: Lord Jesus Christ of glory; who is the glory; glorious Lord, glorious faith, faith in the glory. The use of glory as a modifier for “Lord Jesus Christ” seems most likely.(Davids, Johnson)

Glory, Greek doxa, is frequently used in the NT as shorthand for Jesus’ resurrection (Lk 24:26; Acts 22:11; Jn 17:5; 1 Cor 2:8, 15:43; 2 Cor 4:6, Phlp 2:11, 3:21; Col 1:11; Heb 2:7; 1 Pet 1:11). It was also used to translate the Hebrew kabod, the shining manifestation of God’s person in the OT, especially in bringing salvation to Israel (Ex 14:17-18; Ps 96:3; Is 60:1-2; Ezk 39:21-22; Zech 2:5-11. It is a term then of exaltation and eschatological salvation, and is similarly used in the NT: (Tit 2:13; 1 Pet 4:13; Lk 9:32, 24:26; Jn 1:14, 17:5; Rom 8:17; 1 Cor 2:8; Phil 3:21) (Johnson, Davids)

Without showing favoritism/ with respect to persons: Greek prosopolempeia, a Christian-coined term based one the Hebrew nasa panim, translated in the Greek OT as lambanein prosopon, literally “to lift up the face” (Lev 19:15; Mal 1:18) in the sense of favoring people (Lk 20:21; Gal 2:6; Did 4:3; Barn 19:4). Aprosopolempsia in the NT is a sign of God’s righteousness: God doesn’t play favorites (Acts 10:34; Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25) (Johnson)

James 2:2
a man with a gold ring and fine clothes: The description shouts “rich” without using the word.

meeting/assembly: Greek synagoge. Roughly equivalent to ekklesia. You cannot make a hard and fast rule about synagogue meaning Jewish religious assembly and ekklesia a Christian religious assembly, for while Justin Martyr did use them to separate the two, many others used them interchangeably (Ign Pol 4:2, Tral 2:1; Herm Man 11:9, 13:4, Justin M Trypho 63:5). The synagogue functioned as a place of worship (Acts 16:13; 3 Macc 7:20), a place of scripture study (Acts 15:21), the location for the board of elders to settle disputes (2 Macc 1:10, 11:27) and a clearinghouse for distribution of alms to the needy. (Johnson)

poor man: Greek ptochos, literal poverty. Such poverty was seen as the result of human evil and oppression (P 9:19, 30; Ps 34:10, 36:14, 39:18, 108:16; Sir 4:1,4:4, 13:3; Amos 4:1, 8:4; Is 3:14-15, 10:1-2)(Johnson)

James 2:3
look with favor/ have respect: Greek epiblepein, literally “to look upon”, but in Greek OT it is used as “look on favorably” (Ps 12:4, 24:16, 32:13, 68:17, 73:20). Notice that the favoritism is based entirely on the rich man’s fine appearance. (Johnson)

You sit/ you stand there: The rich man is invited to sit, and close, while the poor man is told to stand at a distance.(Johnson)

Sit below my footrest: This is positively insulting language, sitting below someone, at their feet, as if a student, or worse, a slave.(Johnson)

James 2:4
Discriminated/ partial: form of the Greek diakrino, with ambiguity in the meaning. One can see the active sense of “make distinctions/ discriminate in it (Mat 16:3, Acts 11:12, 15:9) while also hinting at internal division, trying to have something
both ways (Mat 21:21, Mark 11:23; Acts 10:20, Rom 4:20, 14:23; James 1:6).(Johnson)

judge with/of evil thoughts: Lev 19:15 forbids favoritism in judging. The Christian background in Mat 18:15-20, 1 Cor 5:3-5, 6:1-8; 1 Tim 5:19-24. This is especially evil as ancient patronage was a tit for tat thing where the people involved were expected to exchange favors. (Johnson)

Roman law favored the rich, supposedly with the notion that the poor would try to use the courts to steal from the rich or punish them. Thus in Roman courts only social/economic superiors could bring lawsuits; lower class types could not. Furthermore, lower class types were sentenced more harshly than their social/economic superiors. Typically, what seemed a good idea was warped to something quite wrong. (Keener)

James 2:5
Listen/hearken: Akouein, “listen”, emphasizing what comes next. Common intro to important statements in law (Deu 6:3-4, 9:1) prophets (Amo 3:1, 5:1; Mic 1:2, 6:1; Joel 1:2; Is 1:10, 7:3, 48:1) and gospels (Mat 13:18; Mark 7:14, Lk 18:6, Acts 1:22, 15:13, 22:1).(Johnson)

God chose the poor: James echoes OT message of God’s election of Israel as His people (Gen 28:4; Deu 4:37, 7:7; LXX Ps 32:12; 134:4; Is 14:1, 43:10) and carries over into the NT (Acts 13:17) and is then applied to the Christian assembly (Mark 13:20; Jn 15:16; Eph 1:4). Strong parallel to this in 1 Cor 1:27-28.(Johnson)

and heirs of the kingdom: Inheritance language runs thorough out the Bible, beginning with Abraham (Gen 28:4; Deu 1:8, 2:12, 4:1 Acts 7:5). LXX Ps 15:5 speaks of God as one’s inheritance, and Ps 36:18 of an eternal inheritance.(Johnson)

that He has promised: James uses common early Christian language here (Gal 3:18, 29; Heb 6:12, 11:19). The source of this idea is Jesus (Mat 5:3; Lk 6:20, Gos Tho 54)(Johnson)

James 2:6
Dishonored/despised: Greek atinazein, “to shame/hold in dishonor” (mark 12:4; Lk 20:11; Jn 8:49; Acts 5:41)(Johnson)

oppress you: Greek katadynasterein “to oppress or exploit someone” (Ex 1:13; Wis 2:10, 15:14), especially the wealthy exploiting the poor (Amos 4:1, 8:4; Zec 7:10; Jer 7:6, 22:3; Ezek 18:12, 22:7,29). In the Psalms and the Prophets the line between poor and rich tends to match the division between the righteous and sinners. Jesus Himself spoke of how hard it is for the rich to enter heaven.(Johnson)

James 2:7
Blaspheme: Greek blasphemein, literally “to speak harshly or slanderously against someone”. Such words become religious blasphemy when they involve the divine (Mat 9:3, 26:65; Lk 12:10; Jn 10:36)Christians face such language in Acts 26:11; 1 Tim 1:13.(Johnson)

Noble name/worthy name: “To call a name upon one” is taken from the Greek OT, and shows possession or relationship, especially relationship to God (Amos 9:12; Dt 28:10; 2 Chr 7:14; Is 43:7; Jer 14:9)

Comment: Much of James’ language about the setting of his example here is vague, but the language of law and favoritism in 2:8-10 makes one suspect a legal setting, where the church assembly become a court. James’ story matches the normal way of the world (where the rich get special treatment and the poor get shunned) but disparages it both in compassion within the Law (Lev 19:15, Deu 1:17) and especially Jesus’ sayings (Mat 5:3; Lk 6:20). The church then, is shown to have adopted the very attitudes of those who oppress the church, the rich and powerful of the world. This is true double-mindedness. (Johnson)

James 2:8
royal law: Greek basilikos can refer to something “kingly/excellent” in character, or something that belongs to a king, like his actions, or his property (clothes, palace, highway, etc). There is some argument among commentators whether “royal law” equals all the Law or just Lev 19:18 “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Johnson favors all of the Law.(Johnson)

James 2:10
Whoever keeps the entire law: There are textual variants here to show this phrase confused scribes. It is best translated “whoever tries to keep the whole law”. (Johnson)

yet fails/yet offend: Greek ptaio, “stumble, fall, err, sin” (Rom 11:11; 2 Pet 1:10)(Johnson)

is guilty of all: enchos in Greek “subject to/liable for”. It can mean subject to laws, bound by slavery, liable to a legal charge or penalty.(LXX Dt.27:26; Mat 5:18-19, 23:23; Gal 5:3) (Johnson, Davids)

James 2:11
For He who said: The key to James’ argument is quoting not just a text, but a person, namely God.(Johnson)

Do not commit adultery, do not kill: Interestingly, James quotes the Greek OT here, for it reverses the order of the Masoretic Hebrew Text’s killing then adultery. Murder and adultery are seen as demonstrating violation of the central commandments of God in Mat 5:21, 27, 19:18; Mark 10:19. (Johnson)

Lawbreaker/transgressor: Since the same authority (God) gave both commandments, breaking one commandment makes a person a violator of all, as they are view as a whole come from the same mind, God’s.(Johnson)

Keener speculates that the adultery/murder comparison here might be a reference to Jewish zealot assassins of the day, the Sicarii, who believed in strict keeping of the Law but so despised the Jewish aristocracy’s collaboration with Rome that they were regularly assassinating Jewish aristocrats with the very Temple grounds.(Keener)

James 2:13
Judgment is without mercy: James again emphasizes the “law of freedom” is primarily about love and mercy. Failure to exercise these qualities leads to judgment without them. The judgment referred to in v. 12-13 is doubtless that of Judgment Day itself. James is doubtless thinking of Mat 5:7 here(Johnson, Davids)

Mercy: Grek eleos, attested as a cardinal virtue in Jewish wisdom literature (Sir 27:30-28:7; Tob 4:9-11). In Sirach showing mercy is linked to sharing with the poor (Sir 29:1, 18: 13). This carries over into Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity, where James 2:13 was the standard proof-text for the efficacy of alms-giving for early Christian writers like Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, and John Chrysostom. (Johnson)

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