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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

James 5

Verses 1-20

Rebuke and Encouragement

2. Are corrupted, etc.] prophetic tense, in which the future is spoken of as though it were already come to pass.

3. For the last days] RVin the last days.’ The warning was fulfilled during the siege of Jerusalem, when many rich Jews were slain by Zealots (Jos. ’Wars,’

5. 10).

4. Lord of Sabaoth] an OT. phrase = ’Lord of Hosts.’ It is not found elsewhere in the NT., except once in a quotation (Romans 9:29).

5. As in a day of slaughter] omit ’as,’ and cp. Jeremiah 12:3; Jeremiah 25:34.

6. The just] RV ’righteous one,’ may refer (as Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52) to our Lord, but is perhaps a general statement, although in that case the plural rather than the singular would naturally be used.

7-11. A message of patience and hope to the persecuted Christians.

7. There will be a final Judgment, when justice will be done. Therefore be patient (better, ’longsuffering,’ Romans 2:4).

8. The coming of the Lord] here clearly the reference is to the Lord Christ, to whom St. James applies the sacred Name given by the Jews to God the Father. To a Christian Jew the promise was fulfilled in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Early and latter rain] Another illustration from Palestine (Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24; Joel 2:23; Zechariah 10:1).

9. Do not let your irritation and soreness at outside oppression vent itself in impatience and grumbling towards one another.

11. Patience] better, ’endurance.’ This is the only NT. reference to Job, though the book is quoted 1 Corinthians 3:19. End of the Lord] In the end God turned Job’s sorrow into joy, and showed that He is full of compassion and mercy.

12. See Matthew 5:33-37. It was a common Jewish sin to confirm statements by an oath or curse (Matthew 23:16; Mark 14:71). The question of judicial oaths is not touched either here or in the Gospels. Above all things] i.e. in your controversies and quarrels (referring back to James 5:9) ’avoid especially the use of an oath to strengthen your assertions in ordinary conversation. ’The use of oaths when seriously taken as in the presence of God was allowed both by the Old and the NT. (Deuteronomy 6:13; Psalms 63:11; Isaiah 65:16; Jeremiah 4:2; Romans 1:9; Romans 9:1; 2 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 11:31 etc).

13. The true means of sanctifying times of excitement, whether joyful or sorrowful. We must make the worship of God the outlet for our emotion.

14-16. In order to understand this passage, round which much controversy has raged, we must remember that it was, and is, a Jewish custom for a sick man to make his confession to some rabbi or rabbis. Elaborate rules to guide those who receive such clinical confessions are found in the Talmud. St. James is telling his readers that this custom was to be continued by Christian Jews, and that the confession of the sick man was to be made to the clergy (’presbyters’) of the Church. They would then (1) pray over him for the pardon of his sins, and (2) anoint him with oil (the recognised remedy, Isaiah 1:6; Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34). By these means he would obtain forgiveness of his sins, and (if it were God’s will) recover from his sickness. It is scarcely necessary to point out that the Roman Catholic doctrine of Extreme Unction receives no justification from this passage. In the Prayer-Book (’Office for the Visitation of the Sick’) the lines laid down by St. James are closely followed. To a Jew sickness and sin were associated (John 9:2).

16. Confess your faults] RV ’Confess therefore your sins,’ referring back to the previous vv. St. James is throughout talking about the confession of a sick man to the elders. He does not touch upon the wider question of the lawfulness of confession generally.

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man] better, ’the supplication of a just man availeth much in its working.’ Once more St. James draws his illustration from the OT. Elijah, though a great and holy man, was yet a man of like nature with any other man. But, being holy, he was mighty in intercession. His intercessions not only removed the national trouble, sent as a punishment for national sins, but also (for the time, at least), brought about a national repentance and therefore the divine pardon. The supplication of Elijah for the sick nation is analogous to the supplication of the presbyter for the sick man.

19. The glorious privilege of the man who brings a human soul to repent and believe. He saves a soul from spiritual death, and is himself blessed.

20. The concluding words (quoted from Proverbs 10:12 and found also in 1 Peter 4:8) are usually referred to the sinner. But passages like Sirach 3:30; Daniel 4:27; Tobit 4:10; Tobit 12:9 show that the later Jews held that good deeds blot out the sins of those who do them. Probably St. James has these passages in his mind, and teaches that he who waters others shall be watered also himself—that, in covering the sins of another a man may be covering his own.

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on James 5". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.