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James 2 Study Notes

2:1-26 In this chapter James discussed worship in the synagogue. References to the treatment of the wealthy versus the poor are reminiscent of 1:9-11. The focus on the ethics of true spirituality is linked closely with chap. 1.

2:1 The phrase show favoritism is addressed four times in the NT (cp. Rm 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25), each time indicating that God does not show favoritism. When we sin by showing “favoritism” we imply that God did not make all men and women equal. Thus anyone who shows favoritism is guilty of having “evil thoughts” (2:4).

2:2-3 James portrayed favoritism by illustrating contrasting attitudes toward a wealthy man and a poor man who enter the meeting. The attendance of a wealthy man promises financial advantage since his tithes and offerings may be large, thus the people in the assembly look with favor on him. Look with favor is related in meaning to “showing favoritism” in v. 1.

2:4 James condemned favoritism with a rhetorical question (haven’t you made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?), to which his audience could only answer, “Yes.” To make “distinctions” suggests that pandering had created divisions within the fellowship of the synagogue. Probably neither the wealthy man nor the poor man was a member of the synagogue.

2:5 God’s choice of the poor here is not favoritism because the choice was not based on bias. Discrimination occurs when one ignores the fact that the “law of freedom” (1:25) applies to all people, obligating us to treat everyone equally.

2:7 The good name refers to Jesus Christ. Blaspheme means that the wealthy blaspheme either by speaking against Christ directly or through their actions against the members of the assembly.

2:8-11 Attitudes among Christians should be based on the royal law, which says Love your neighbor as yourself (Lv 19:18; Mt 19:19; 22:39; Mk 12:31; Rm 13:9; Gl 5:14). Favoritism violates this command, thus convicting those guilty of its practice as transgressors of the law.

2:12-13 James exhorted his readers to have proper attitudes. The phrase speak and act refers to “hearing and doing” and tempered speech, as in 1:19-27. The law of freedom, or the gospel, will serve as the basis for eschatological judgment (1:2-12).

2:14-26 In this section James continues with the theme of “being hearers and doers of the word” (1:19-27) by focusing on the relationship between faith and works.

2:14 Can such faith save him should be understood to mean, “Can a faith that does not express itself in good works be a saving faith?” The answer is no.

2:15-17 Giving a blessing to someone in need without offering tangible aid is useless. If faith is not accompanied by works, it is dead by itself.

2:18 The argument turns to the relationship between faith and works. Beginning in this verse James answered a “straw man” argument (but someone will say) against his assertion that faith without works is dead.

2:19-20 The demons believe—and they shudder is an answer to the mistaken assertion that belief in God by itself is sufficient for salvation. Demons believe, but it is impossible for them to be saved. Saving faith entails more than mere knowledge. It includes trust and obedience, for faith without works is useless.

2:21-23 The example of Abraham and his offer of Isaac as a sacrifice (Gn 22:1-19) affirms James’s teachings about faith. What exactly a biblical author means by justified depends on the context in which he uses it. For instance, Paul (Gl 3:6-14) argued that “works of the law” cannot make one “justified” because he wished to make clear that salvation is a gift given only through faith. Abraham believed God, and his trust in God was counted as righteousness (Gn 15:6; Gl 3:6). James focuses more on the role good works play in proving faith genuine. Abraham’s faith was proven genuine by his obedience to God’s command. His faith made his good works possible.

2:24-26 James’s declaration that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone may seem to contradict Rm 3:28, but note that Paul was writing about “works of the law,” meaning the Mosaic law, whereas James spoke only of “works,” which has in view good deeds. James’s references to law are to “the law of freedom” (the gospel; see 2:12) and to “the royal law” (v. 8; Lv 19:18), both of which affirm his assertion that true faith is expressed through good works.

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