James illustrates "the perfect law of liberty"
in one particular instance of a sin against it, concluding with a
reference again to that law
(Jas 2:12, 13).
1. brethren--The equality of all Christians as "brethren," forms
the groundwork of the admonition.
the faith of . . . Christ--that is, the Christian
faith. James grounds Christian practice on Christian faith.
the Lord of glory--So
As all believers, alike rich and poor, derive all their glory from
their union with Him, "the Lord of glory," not from external advantages
of worldly fortune, the sin in question is peculiarly inconsistent with
His "faith." BENGEL, making no ellipsis of "the
Lord," explains "glory" as in apposition with Christ who is
the true Shekinah glory of the temple
English Version is simpler. The glory of Christ resting on the
poor believer should make him be regarded as highly by "brethren" as
his richer brother; nay, more so, if the poor believer has more of
Christ's spirit than the rich brother.
with respect of persons--literally, "in respectings of
persons"; "in" the practice of partial preferences of persons in
various ways and on various occasions.
2, 3. "If there chance to have come"
assembly--literally, "synagogue"; this, the latest honorable
use, and the only Christian use of the term in the New
Testament, occurs in James's Epistle, the apostle who maintained to the
latest possible moment the bonds between the Jewish synagogue and the
Christian Church. Soon the continued resistance of the truth by the
Jews led Christians to leave the term to them exclusively
The "synagogue" implies a mere assembly or congregation not
necessarily united by any common tie. "Church," a people bound together
by mutual ties and laws, though often it may happen that the members
are not assembled [TRENCH and VITRINGA]. Partly from James' Hebrew tendencies, partly
from the Jewish Christian churches retaining most of the Jewish forms,
this term "synagogue" is used here instead of the Christian term
"Church" (ecclesia, derived from a root, "called out," implying
the union of its members in spiritual bonds, independent of space, and
called out into separation from the world); an undesigned coincidence
and mark of truth. The people in the Jewish synagogue sat according to
their rank, those of the same trade together. The introduction of this
custom into Jewish Christian places of worship is here reprobated by
James. Christian churches were built like the synagogues, the holy
table in the east end of the former, as the ark was in the latter; the
desk and pulpit were the chief articles of furniture in
both alike. This shows the error of comparing the Church to the temple,
and the ministry to the priesthood; the temple is represented by the
whole body of worshippers; the church building was formed on the model
of the synagogue. See VITRINGA [Synagogue and
goodly apparel . . . gay clothing--As the
Greek, is the same in both, translate both alike, "gay," or
3. have respect to him, &c.--though ye know not who he is, when
perhaps he may be a heathen. It was the office of the deacons to direct
to a seat the members of the congregation
[CLEMENT OF ROME,
Apostolical Constitutions, 2.57, 58].
unto him--not in the best manuscripts. Thus "thou" becomes more
there--at a distance from where the good seats are.
here--near the speaker.
under my footstool--not literally so; but on the ground, down by
my footstool. The poor man must either stand, or if he sits,
sit in a degrading position. The speaker has a footstool as well
as a good seat.
4. Are ye not . . . partial--literally, "Have ye not
made distinctions" or "differences" (so as to prefer one to another)?
in yourselves--in your minds, that is, according to your carnal
are become judges of evil thoughts--The Greek words for
"judges" and for "partial," are akin in sound and meaning. A similar
translation ought therefore to be given to both. Thus, either for
"judges," &c. translate, "distinguishers of (that is,
according to your) evil thoughts"; or, do ye not partially
judge between men, and are become evilly-thinking judges
The "evil thoughts" are in the judges themselves; as in
the Greek, "judge of injustice," is translated, "unjust judge."
ALFORD and WAHL translate,
"Did ye not doubt" (respecting your faith, which is
inconsistent with the distinctions made by you between rich and poor)?
For the Greek constantly means "doubt" in all the New
Testament. So in
"staggered not." The same play on the same kindred words occurs in the
Ro 14:10, 23,
"judge . . . doubteth." The same blame of being a judge, when
one ought to be an obeyer, of the law is found in
5. Hearken--James brings to trial the self-constituted
poor of this world--The best manuscripts read, "those poor in
respect to the world." In contrast to "the rich in this world"
Not of course all the poor; but the poor, as a class,
furnish more believers than the rich as a class. The rich, if a
believer, renounces riches as his portion; the poor, if an unbeliever,
neglects that which is the peculiar advantage of poverty
1Co 1:26, 27, 28).
rich in faith--Their riches consist in faith.
"rich toward God."
"rich in good works"
Christ's poverty is the source of the believer's riches.
kingdom . . . promised--
6. The world's judgment of the poor contrasted with God's.
ye--Christians, from whom better things might have been
expected; there is no marvel that men of the world do so.
despised--literally, "dishonored." To dishonor the poor is to
dishonor those whom God honors, and so to invert the order of God
rich--as a class.
oppress--literally, "abuse their power against" you.
draw you--Translate, "is it not they (those very persons
whom ye partially prefer,
that drag you (namely, with violence)"
before . . . judgment seats--instituting persecutions
for religion, as well as oppressive lawsuits, against you.
7. "Is it not they that blaspheme?" &c. as in
[ALFORD]. Rich heathen must here chiefly be
meant; for none others would directly blaspheme the name of Christ.
Only indirectly rich Christians can be meant, who, by their
inconsistency, caused His name to be blasphemed; so
Eze 36:21, 22;
Besides, there were few rich Jewish Christians at Jerusalem
They who dishonor God's name by wilful and habitual sin, "take (or
bear) the Lord's name in vain" (compare
with Ex 20:7).
that worthy name--which is "good before the Lord's saints"
(Ps 52:9; 54:6);
which ye pray may be "hallowed"
and "by which ye are called," literally, "which was invoked" or,
"called upon by you" (compare
so that at your baptism "into the name" (so the Greek,
of Christ, ye became Christ's people
8. The Greek may be translated, "If, however, ye
fulfil," &c., that is, as ALFORD, after ESTIUS, explains, "Still I do not say, hate the
rich (for their oppressions) and drive them from your assemblies; if
you choose to observe the royal law . . . well and good; but
respect of persons is a breach of that law." I think the translation
is, "If in very deed (or 'indeed on the one hand') ye
fulfil the royal law . . . ye do well, but if (on the other
hand) ye respect persons, ye practice sin." The Jewish Christians
boasted of, and rested in, the "law"
(Ac 15:1; 21:18-24;
To this the "indeed" alludes. "(Ye rest in the law): If indeed
(then) ye fulfil it, ye do well; but if," &c.
royal--the law that is king of all laws, being the sum and
essence of the ten commandments. The great King, God, is love; His law
is the royal law of love, and that law, like Himself, reigns supreme.
He "is no respecter of persons"; therefore to respect persons is at
variance with Him and His royal law, which is at once a law of love and
The law is the "whole"; "the (particular) Scripture"
quoted is a part. To break a part is to break the whole
ye do well--being "blessed in your deed" ("doing,"
Margin) as a doer, not a forgetful hearer of the law
9. Respect of persons violates the command to love all
alike "as thyself."
ye commit sin--literally, "ye work sin,"
to which the reference here is probably, as in
Your works are sin, whatever boast of the law ye make in words
convinced--Old English for "convicted."
as transgressors--not merely of this or that particular command,
but of the whole absolutely.
10. The best manuscripts read, "Whosoever shall have kept
the whole law, and yet shall have offended (literally,
'stumbled'; not so strong as 'fall,'
in one (point; here, the respecting of persons), is (hereby)
become guilty of all." The law is one seamless garment which is rent if
you but rend a part; or a musical harmony which is spoiled if there be
one discordant note [TIRINUS]; or a golden chain
whose completeness is broken if you break one link [GATAKER]. You thus break the whole law, though not
the whole of the law, because you offend against love, which is
the fulfilling of the law. If any part of a man be leprous, the whole
man is judged to be a leper. God requires perfect, not partial,
obedience. We are not to choose out parts of the law to keep, which
suit our whim, while we neglect others.
11. He is One who gave the whole law; therefore, they who
violate His will in one point, violate it all
[BENGEL]. The law and its Author alike have a
adultery . . . kill--selected as being the most