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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

James 1

Verse 1

James 1:1 . The greeting is in one of the ordinary forms with which public or private letters open ( cf. Acts 15:23). Like his brother Judas ( Jude 1:1), James calls himself “ servant of . . . Jesus Christ” : he would no longer claim a brother’ s relation, except what all shared ( Mark 3:35). On our theory we might easily conjecture that James wrote simply “ servant of God,” the additional words being a very early adaptation to overtly Christian use. “ The Twelve Tribes settled in foreign lands” retain their ideal completeness ( Acts 26:7, Matthew 19:28, Revelation 7:4 ff; Revelation 21:12), though but few ( cf. Luke 2:36) could trace their descent to the “ Lost Ten.” God was “ able of the stones to raise up children” to Israel.

Verses 2-8

James 1:2-8 . The paragraph, like its successors, has no special link with its context: it is the writer’ s habit to throw out a series of aphoristic comments on topics, with as much connexion as there is between the essays of Bacon or successive cantos of Tennyson’ s In Memoriam. It is the manner of “ Wisdom” literature ( cf. especially Ecclus.). The paradox with which the epistle opens is an expansion of the Beatitudes ( Luke 6:20-23). The tense of the verb, “ when you have fallen,” gives the key. James has not forgotten the Lord’ s Prayer; but when a devout man has been “ brought into trial,” he recognises it as God’ s will, and therefore to be received with joy. He who has inflicted the “ trial” will “ deliver from the evil” which alone makes it distressing. “ A man untried is rejected,” was a saying attributed to Christ. The word “ rejected” is the negative of the adjective here wrongly translated “ proof” : read (as in 1 Peter 1:7) “ the approved (genuine) part”—“ what is sterling in your belief.” “ Faith,” as elsewhere in Jas., means religious belief or creed. Truth which has been “ inwardly digested,” and not swallowed whole, can produce spiritual robustness. “ Endurance” is a great note of Jas. ( cf. James 5:11). “ Let it work thoroughly, and you will be thorough and complete, with nothing wanting.” By a characteristic feature of style, the word “ wanting” suggests the next thought. “ Wisdom,” practical knowledge that informs conduct, is to be had for the asking from the “ only Wise.” God gives to “ all” ( Matthew 5:45) “ bountifully”— Gr. nearly as in Romans 12:8— without reproaches for their failure to attain. Cf. especially 1 Kings 3:9-12. Note the echo of Matthew 7:7. The condition of James 1:6 is also from Christ’ s teaching ( Mark 11:23, etc.). “ He who hesitates is lost” when he prays. For the simile, cf. Isaiah 57:20, Ephesians 4:14. The “ two-selfed” man— a trimmer or wobbler, or even one living a double life, a Dr. Jekyll alternating with Mr. Hyde— cannot expect to win the answer that only Faith’ s virile grasp can seize. The man “ has no firm footing, whatever path he treads.”

Verses 9-11

James 1:9-11 . The paradox of a “ bragging” that comes of humility and faith is common to James and Paul: it starts from Jeremiah 9:23 t The “ brotherhood” which levels all differences into a glorious “ liberty, fraternity, and equality” is the community of God’ s faithful people. The rich man, as such, has only the common lot to expect: he needs to be lifted down, as the beggar is lifted up, to the place of eternal safety. James vividly expands the famous simile of Isaiah 40:6 from the conditions of Palestine: the easterly sirocco at sunrise ( Mark 4:6) blasted vegetation ( cf. Psalms 103:16). The “ goings” are trade journeys ( cf. James 4:13)— he is cut off while still “ on the move.”

Verses 12-18

James 1:12-18 . The Beatitude on Endurance ( cf. James 5:11 and note). “ Trial” is still neutral: it is affliction which tests and develops loyalty. But since human nature has a bias towards evil, a trial “ exerted upon man’ s evil “ desire” ( James 1:14) becomes a “ temptation.” As in Romans 5:4, “ endurance” produces approvedness,” which brings the reward. The word “ crown” (as papyri show), can mean a royal diadem as well as a wreath of victory: the latter is better here. Peter’ s “ unfading crown of glory” is the same idea, and both (as in Revelation 2:10) go back probably to an unrecorded saying of Jesus ( cf. 2 Timothy 4:8, also Deuteronomy 30:20). The denial that God “ tempts” is based on the self-evidenced fact that there is nothing in Him to supply the seed of evil. This comes from our “ desire” when still unbent by submission to God’ s will. In itself “ desire” is neutral; Jesus Himself had it ( Luke 22:15). The allegory of Sin as mother of Death is magnificently worked out by Milton, P.L. ii. In contrast to this error, James declares that “ Every gift that is good, every bounty that is flawless ‘ droppeth from heaven upon the place beneath’”— so we may render to suggest the effect of a metrical quotation probably recognisable in the original. For “ the Father of the (heavenly) lights,” cf. Job 38:7. Unlike the moving sun, the earth and moon with light and shadow succeeding, He knows “ no mutability, nor overshadowing of change.” We are His offspring by the act of His will through Truth’ s own fiat: not literally the “ first-fruits” of His creation, Man becomes such in dignity by the fact that God is his Father, and not only his Creator.

Verses 19-27

James 1:19-27 . “ Be sure of it” ( cf. mg.) , he goes on, and turns to ask what conduct right views of God should produce. Humility and self-control, firstly, then purity, gentleness, and teachableness, with unsparing honesty that turns every creed into a code of action. “ Quick to hear” not only God’ s warning, but both sides of a human quarrel, “ slow to speak” angry words, the peril of which James expounds in ch. 3 , such conduct will be free from that “ human wrath which can never help forward God’ s ideal of Right.” “ Filthiness” or “ baseness”— the word was often used of counterfeit coin (but cf. also Revelation 22:11)— is coupled with a “ rank growth of malice,” lit. “ overflow” : there is an allusion to the Lord’ s reminder that speech is “ the overflow of the heart.” “ The implanted word” ( cf. Matthew 13:21) can “ save” the whole self” : it is the phrase which in ordinary parlance means “ to save lives.”— The teaching on Hearers and Doers comes from the lips of Jesus ( Matthew 7:24 ff.): cf. also Romans 2:13. The “ natural face,” the features of “ birth,” contrasted implicitly with the unchanging and eternal Ideal, may be studied” (the word of Luke 12:24— it does not imply a mere glance) in the more or less polished metal mirror ( 1 Corinthians 13:12), but memory refuses to preserve the picture after the man goes away. To print the image of the Ideal on our souls we must “ look right down into” it ( Luke 24:12, John 20:5; John 20:11, 1 Peter 1:12) and “ stay by” it, so as to transform the momentary hearing into permanent working. The Law that is Liberty ( James 2:12) is called “ perfect” or “ mature” because it works by the complete coincidence of man’ s will with God’ s—“ Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.” Romans 8:2 might be an intended comment. The passionate love of the pious Jew for the Law ( cf. Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:97) colours this estimate of its ideal. A final foil is provided by the self-deceived “ worshipper,” punctilious in external religion, but cruel, foul, or frivolous of tongue ( cf. James 3:2 ; James 3:9; Matthew 12:36). Such “ worship” is “ futile,” for it never reaches the Throne. For God is Father, and He only receives the worship of love towards His needy children, and of purity from the world’ s selfishness (see 1 John 4:20). “ Visit” is a strong word ( cf. Luke 16:8, etc.). The depreciation of external religion as an end is very striking from the Ups of one so noted for his love of it as a means of grace.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on James 1". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.