Apostles Philip and James the Less

Studying James 2 1-12

We are studying James 2:1-12 this week. We worked on this text a couple of years ago; there are notes on the text from that time. There is always something new in the text. [Some fresh questions on the text are here.] Here are a couple of additional notes on this text:

In v2, the word that shows up in English as “assembly” would in many other contexts be translated “synagogues.” We think of synagogues as more specific than “meetings” these days, and think Christians don’t go to them, but in the first century Greek world Christians seem to have done exactly that.

In v3, “you sit here, you stand there,” the contrast in the locations seems significant – with the speaker keeping the rich one closer, the poor one more distant. We might think about “including” and “excluding.” Relatively, anyway.

In v4, the theme of judgment and judges is introduced. Again, actually, because a different aspect of problematic judgment, doubting or vacillating, was raised in chapter one (vv5-8). This runs through the passage, and is really summed up in v13. In v6, the rich are described as “dragging you into court” – a place of judgment. In the context, this seems to be actual court. But: since “your” behavior, your undue regard for the rich one, also makes you liable for ultimate judgment, divine judgment, they are also dragging you into court in an even worse way. Ultimately, James’ audience will be judged by the law of freedom.

There may be a rhetorical implication here: don’t be a slave to these evil social distinctions. And don’t make others slaves, with your partiality.

James seems to be drawing specifically on Torah – the law of freedom – here: Deuteronomy 16:18-20, on the appointment of local judges, and the avoidance of partiality.

In v8, the word translated “fulfill” is related to the idea of completion or perfection that comes from accomplishing a purpose, the telos of a thing. So – getting to the purpose, the end-point, of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” This is more Torah (Leviticus 19:18, the center of the Torah).

In other words: if we were wondering what “judge not that ye be not judged” and “love your neighbor as yourself” means, here’s a practical, everyday example.

In v10, I always wonder, why the specific examples of adultery and murder? Were we talking about that??

But maybe we were. Maybe honoring the rich one is a kind of idolatry. Idolatry is a kind of adultery. There are plenty of examples of that equation in scripture.

And maybe dishonoring the poor one is a kind of murder. Certainly it’s a violation of the image of God in that person. And if you treat a person as nothing to you, how is that different from just killing them? It is, of course, but it’s a first step in the wrong direction. And it’s a symptom of a bad heart condition. #alllivesmatter

Image: Apostles Philip and James the Lesser, Duccio di Buoninsegna / Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

3 responses to “Studying James 2 1-12”

    • LOL – be careful what you wish for! You know, we meet by zoom these days, because we moved to Wednesday “nights” (5:30 p.m. – that gives you some idea) and none of us wants to drive all the way to church, so … you’re welcome any time. But it’s probably a lot different from what you imagine 😉 Anyway, feel free to contact me for the zoom link if you’re ever in the virtual neighborhood!

      Liked by 1 person

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