Letter of James chapters 01 and 02


Cockerill, Gareth Lee.  The Epistle to the Hebrews.  Part of the New International Commentary on the New Testament edited by Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon D. Fee.  (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2012).

Elliott, John H..  1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  Part of the Anchor Bible Commentary series edited by William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman.  (Doubleday, New York, 2000).

Harrington, Daniel J., S.J.  Jude and 2 Peter.  Part of the Sacra Pagina commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S. J..  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2003).

Harten, Patrick J.  James. Part of the Sacra Pagina commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S. J..  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2003).

Koester, Craig R.  Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  Part of the Anchor Bible commentary series edited by William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman.  (Doubleday, New York, 2001).

Long, Thomas G.  Hebrews.  Part of the Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching series edited by James Luther Mays.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1997).

Mitchell, Alan C.  Hebrews.  Part of the Sacra Pagina commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S. J..  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2007).

Perkins, Pheme.   First and Second Peter, James, and Jude.  Part of the Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching series edited by James Luther Mays.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1995).

Senior, Donald P., C.P.   1 Peter.  Part of the Sacra Pagina commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S. J..  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2003).

Wright, N. T.  Hebrews for Everyone.  Part of the New Testament for Everyone series edited by N. T. Wright.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2003).


A Brief Overview
This letter defies easy classification or categorization.

Hartin p. 1: “Of all New Testament writings the letter of James appears to lie closest to Jesus’ spirit and message.”

Hartin p. 4: “James’s instructions are intended to build up the community and to socialize the individual into the community of believers.  Consequently, James’s morality differs greatly from the individualistic ethic of the twenty-first century.  This community ethic challenges believers to be aware of their identity as the “first fruits of (God’s) creatures” (1:18).”

Deeply rooted in Judaism, theo-centric rather than Christo-centric, this letter challenges the hearing community and its members to put faith into action.

Hartin p. 8: “It appears that in the Western Church James was not considered canonical before the fourth center C.E..”  Martin Luther rejected it, perhaps for this reason, perhaps because he did not like its theology (importance of works vs. justification by faith/grace alone).  While not actually removing it from the NT canon Luther moved the book to the end and indicated that it was a “lesser” writing.

James has “Wisdom” themes throughout – moral exhortation and precepts.  Central argument is “friendship with God, not with the world”.

It was a letter sent to all of the churches scattered through the Christian world (around the Mediterranean Sea) at the time – hence there are no personal details or names as in the letters of Paul.

Hartin p. 16: “The author presents himself in the role of Jacob (James) in the Hebrew Scriptures as he addresses a letter to the new twelve-tribe people on how they are to live.”

Written by a “James” in the NT?  Only possible candidate is James the Brother of the Lord.  Hartin p. 24: “Taking all this into consideration, James of Jerusalem, “the brother of the Lord”, remains the most reasonable candidate for the authorship of this writing.”   Hartin p. 25: “This letter is sent in the name of James shortly after his death in order to remind communities in the Diaspora of his teachings …”

Date?  Late 60’s.  Before the rebellion against Rome and the consequent destruction of the Temple.

The letter was written in excellent Greek.

HOWEVER: Perkins (p. 85): “The author of James appears to have been a Greek-speaking Jewish Christian.”


James 1:1 Greeting

“slave” – ebed in Hebrew, doulos in Greek.  A very Jewish self-identification.

Hartin p. 49: “In this vein James presents himself to his hearers/ readers as one whose whole aim is to carry out God’s will.  While elsewhere in the New Testament James may be referred to as “the brother of the Lord,” this is not the designation he chooses for himself.  Instead he selects a term that captures the essence of the relationship between God and the believer.”

The Pope sometimes uses the self-identifier of “servant of the servants of God”.

Addressed to Jewish Christians living in communities outside of Jerusalem / Palestine

“12 tribes” runs deep in Jewish tradition – from the 12 sons of Jacob / Israel through the Exodus, Sinai, taking possession of the Promised Land.  Carries with it a note of “restoration”, of “end-times” or Kingdom of God re-established.


James 1:2-11 Testing, Wisdom, and the Lowly

“testing” of faith is also a deep theme of the OT – Abraham tested with delayed promise and then of sacrificing Isaac; the community tested by time in the dessert, etc.

Hartin p. 65: “Nothing is really said about the nature of the trials that the hearers / readers are enduring.  Some idea can be inferred from subsequent passages.  Not only are individuals exposed to personal difficulties, but the communities are also undergoing trials of their faith.  James says that whenever these believers as a group are involved in the ordeal of suffering it ought not to be endured with grumbling, but should be accepted joyfully.”

Hartin p. 58: “The perfect work produced by endurance is the perfection of the believer.  The believer can become an integral person, as opposed to the divided person in 1:6-8.  The completeness embraces conformity to God’s ideal for the human person.”

Only perfect ‘first fruits’ of flock and field could be offered in the Temple

Perkins p. 97: “James opens with a striking reminder that Christians are not willing simply to get through life.  Disciples look to God for standards of behavior that challenge the conventional standards of society.  The “perfect work” that stems from endurance under trials is a characteristic that will be exhibited in the good works described in the letter.”

Isaiah 40: 7-8

7 The grass withers, the flower wilts,

when the breath of the LORD blows upon it.”

“Yes, the people is grass!

8  The grass withers, the flower wilts,

but the word of our God stands forever.”


James 1:12-27 Testing, Hearers and Doers of the Word

“Blessed…”  a feature of Wisdom teaching.  Jesus’ beatitudes …

The text stresses that God does not tempt us to sin.   He DOES test people, but not with sin.

Hartin p. 91: “For James “desire” is not neutral; it is an interior force that drives the person to evil.  James thus reflects thoughts popular in both the Hellenistic world and the Jewish intertestamental writings.  Popular Hellenistic thought, influenced especially by Stoicism, tended to give “desire” an evil understanding …”

“word that has been planted in you” – the logos deep within all creation, what we might now call natural law. Alternatively – in baptism we are given the gospel.  In Jewish tradition God looked into the Torah and created the universe – therefore the Torah is embedded deep within it, all persons could come to discover it, and without acknowledging it and living according to it one is living in complete falsehood and mis-identity.  In Jewish tradition, far from being some sort of burden imposed from the outside, the Torah is a liberating law – just as we consider “natural law” to be.  Following it allows us to freely be who we are created to be.

Hartin p. 101: “In a figurative way James argues that his hearers / readers cannot consider themselves religious if they do not control their speech.”  “Lashon hara” in Hebrew – the “evil tongue” is considered one of the worst sins – kills reputations / good name of others.  In Judaism one is not to speak badly of others if it’s at all possible not to – even telling the truth about someone if it makes them look bad is not OK unless it cannot be avoided.


Hartin p. 115: “The function of the Torah in the letter of James is one of socialization: it provides the moral and social boundaries within which the members of his community must live.  Those who fulfill the Law give expression to their identity as members of God’s royal nation in separation from those of other nations.  The Law functions both as an identification marker and as a way to separate them from those who are outside.”


James 2:1-13 Do not show favoritism

Deuteronomy 10:17,18

17  For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, 18  who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing.

Hartin p. 118: “Given the context of 2:1, which warned against showing favoritism, and the use of the term (prosopolempsia), specifically within judicial contexts, James has in mind a community that  has gathered together to exercise a court proceeding.  Ward (1969, 87-97) has presented a decisive and convincing examination and argument for this setting as a judicial court.  The two parties who have entered the assembly are participants in a judicial process.”

Hartin p. 132: “Honor is afforded those with wealth and power, while those without do not deserve any.  The description of the wealthy person here could also be a sign of patronage.  The patron is due this honor from his very status.  James shows a strong critique of this culturally accepted way of life.”


Both Hartin and Perkins see the traditional structure of diatribe in this section in which a “straw man” is set up with outrageous examples and then beaten down by the author.  Perkins warns on p. 108 not to read too much into this example: “The audience would recognize typical situations and persons in the stock figures and episodes.  Since James has adopted the diatribe form, readers must be careful to distinguish between reality and the exaggerated generalizations characteristic of the genre.”

Hartin p. 120: the Kingdom in James is equivalent to “eternal life”.

Hartin p. 122: “James’s understanding reflects a universal belief within Judaism that since the Law and the commandments came from God and were an expression of God’s will they must all be 0obeyed.”

Pirke Avot – there are 613 commandments (some positive, others negative).  God does not tell us which are “important” and which are not on purpose – so that we

would obey all of them.  P. A. instructs readers to obey the Law, even in the most minor thing, with full attention and effort because we might find out later that particular thing was far more important than we finite humans may be able to see.  We fall short, of course, so we make amends and go from there.


James 2:14-26 Doers of the Word / Faith and Works

Faith is what saves us – but true faith is expressed through works of justice, charity, love etc.  Examples of Abraham (sacrifice of Isaac) and Rahab.

Hartin p. 150: “The contrast between being a doer of the word and not just a hearer (1:22-25) is echoed here in the contrast between faith and works.  One has to put faith into action: one must be a doer of faith.  A similar stress on the importance of good works is found in 2 Baruch 14:12; 51:7.”

Pirke Avot (Wisdom of the Fathers, part of the Talmud): If your deeds exceed your wisdom, your wisdom will endure.  If your wisdom exceeds your deeds, your wisdom will not endure.




Abraham, as “Father of the People” is an obvious choice for an example.  But why Rahab?  Both are on lists of important ancestors (genealogies) but also – both prime examples of hospitality.  Perhaps because of the felt need for hospitality for the earliest Christian missionaries?

Hartin p. 167 quotes St. Augustine: “Therefore the opinions of the two apostles, Paul and James, are not opposed to each other when the one says that man is justified by faith without works, and the other says that faith without works is useless: because the former (Paul) speaks about works that precede faith, while the latter (James) speaks about those that follow faith; as even Paul shows in many places” De diversis quaestionibus LXXXIII Liber Unus 76”




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