Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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JAMES - Chapter 1

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James 1

Supplemental Commentary:

Introduction  1, 1

In his salutation St. James, like Sts. Peter, Paul, and Jude, calls himself a servant, that is, a slave, out of humility, signifying thereby his absolute dependence upon God and Jesus Christ.  Greeting: i.e., "joy be with you."  This was an ordinary form of address used in public and private letters (cf. Acts. 15, 23).

I.  EXHORTATION TO PATIENCE IN TRIALS  1, 2-18

1, 2-12:  Wisdom in Trials.  St. James exhorts the faithful to bear joyfully and patiently their trials and afflictions.    2.  Trials are understood here in the sense of misfortunes and persecutions due to external causes, rather than temptations in the moral sense of the term.    4.  Patience is the guide to perfection, and its perfect exercise together with other virtues, especially charity, helps men to lead a more virtuous life and obtain eternal salvation (5, 11; cf. Rom. 5, 3 ff).    9-11.  The poor should glory, that is, rejoice in the dignity which faith and grace have bestowed upon them.  The rich Christian should be happy to lower himself before God and recognize how perishable are his goods.

1, 13-18:  Sources of Evil and Good.  In contrast to the preceding section, St. James found it necessary to speak of temptation in the stricter sense of the term.    13.  He is tempted by God: the Greek reads, "I am tempted by God."  God is no tempter to evil: according to the Greek text the meaning probably is that God is not subject to temptation, neither does He tempt any man.    14 f.  St. James therefore explains the true origin of temptation.    17.  In sharp contrast to his explanation regarding the origin of sin and its effect, death, the Apostle emphatically declares that every good gift and every perfect gift comes from God.  The Father of Lights: literally, a reference to the celestial bodies, but here it is understood metaphorically as is seen in the following (cf. 1 John 1, 5; Eph. 5, 8).    18.  Begotten us: i.e., in our regeneration through Baptism; note the contrast between the generation of evil and our creation.  By the word of truth: St. James probably had the gospel in mind, but undoubtedly he is also referring to the Word of God (John 1, 1-13).  This is further illustrated when he reminds us that we are the first-fruits of his creatures: the figure is taken from the Jewish ritual of offering the harvest to God, by presenting the first sheaves at the temple.  As Christians, we are His offspring, not merely because He is our creator, but because by Baptism, without any merits of our own, we have been spiritually regenerated (cf. 1 Pet. 1, 3.23; Gal. 3, 27).

II.  LIVING AND ACTIVE FAITH  1, 19 -- 2, 26

1, 19-27:  Hearers and Doers of the Word of God.    19.  They should be swift to hear the word of God, and slow to speak in controversy.    21.  The Greek expression usually refers to the lack of physical cleanliness.  In the present context it is used metaphorically of what defiles the soul.  Abundance of malice: i.e., not merely excessive, but manifold wickedness which must be discarded before the word of God can be received (Rom. 1, 16; Col. 3, 8; 1 Pet. 2, 1).  Ingrafted word: i.e., a word which is not ours by nature.    22-26.  But be doers of the word and not hearers only: this forms one of the main themes of the Epistle, which is more fully explained in the following chapter.  Throughout the Epistle we notice a gradual development of the doctrine.  Hitherto St. James has spoken about faith which is proved chiefly by enduring trials, and he points out that this is a necessary condition of efficacious prayer.  Then he goes on to show the necessity of practising charity without which faith is unprofitable (cf. 1 Cor. 13, 2).  Here he reminds his readers of the need of practising as well as hearing the word of God, that is, the word of God must be made the rule of their lives (Matt. 7, 21).  This in turn suggests that real charity is complemented by fruitful works (1 John 3, 17.18), and it is exemplified by an illustration: a mere hearer of the gospel is like a person who looks at  himself in a mirror, and going away immediately forgets what he looks like; the mirror is the gospel which shows us what our lives should be.  On the other hand, the Christian who not only hears, but practises what he hears, examines closely the perfect law of liberty, i.e., the gospel which frees him from sin and the bondage of the Old Law.  In it he sees not only his imperfections, but the ideal of Christian perfection.  Blessed in his deed: i.e., shall merit eternal happiness as the reward of following Christ's teachings.    26.  Religion means religious observance.

27.  Consequently, doers of the word of God or religious-minded persons must be charitable in speech, pure of heart, and ready to help the poor and afflicted.


Confraternity Bible:

Greeting  1 James, the servant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes that are in the Dispersion: greeting.

Wisdom of Trials  2 Esteem it all joy, my brethren, when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the trying of your faith begets patience.  4 And let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing.

5 But if any of you is wanting in wisdom, let him ask it of God, who gives abundantly to all men, and does not reproach; and it will be given to him.  6 But let him ask with faith, without hesitation.  For he who hesitates is like a wave of the sea, driven and carried about by the wind.  7 Therefore, let not such a one think that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

9 But let the brother of lowly condition glory in his high estate, 10 and the rich man in his low condition; for he will pass away like the flower of the grass.  11 For the sun rises with a burning heat and parches the grass, and its flower falls and the beauty of its appearance perishes.  So too will the rich man wither in his ways.

12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been tried, he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.

Sources of Evil and Good  13 Let no man say when he is tempted, that he is tempted by God; for God is no tempter to evil, and he himself tempts no one.  14 But everyone is tempted by being drawn away and enticed by his own passion.  15 Then when passion has conceived, it brings forth sin; but when sin has matured, it begets death.  16 Therefore, my beloved brethren, do not err.

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration.  18 Of his own will he has begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be, as it were, the first-fruits of his creatures.

Hearers and Doers of the Word of God  19 You know this, my beloved brethren.  But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.  20 For the wrath of man does not work the justice of God.  21 Therefore, casting aside all uncleanness and abundance of malice, with meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls.  22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror: 24 for he looks at himself and goes away, and presently he forgets what kind of man he is.  25 But he who has looked carefully into the perfect law of liberty and has remained in it, not becoming a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, shall be blessed in his deed.  26 And if anyone thinks himself to be religious, not restraining his tongue but deceiving his own heart, that man's religion is vain.  27 Religion pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to give aid to orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself unspotted from this world.