The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:12–17

Byz Nes V S TR

12  Blessed is the man who endures temptation; because when he is approved, he shall receive the crown of life which YHWH promised to those who love Him.

Byz Nes S TR

13  Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

13  No one should say, when he is tempted, that he was tempted by God. For God does not entice toward evils, and he himself tempts no one.

Byz Nes TR

14  But each [one] is tempted by his own lusts, being drawn away and being seduced [by them].

14  Yet truly, each one is tempted by his own desires, having been enticed and drawn away.

14  But every man is tempted by his own lust; and he covets and is enticed.

14f sin, desire, death Rom 7:8-10
Byz S TR
Nes TR

15  Then lust, when it conceives, gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

15  Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death.

15  Thereafter, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. Yet truly sin, when it has been consummated, produces death.

Byz Nes

16  Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.

16  And so, do not choose to go astray, my most beloved brothers.

16  Do not err, my beloved brethren.

Byz Nes S TR

17  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

17  Every excellent gift and every perfect gift is from above, descending from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor any shadow of alteration.



16 Do not be led astray Transitive or Intransitive Meaning? The present middle form used here can be translated:

  • as a transitive passive verb: "Do not be led astray!"
  • as a reflexive verb: "Do not deceive yourselves!"
  • as an intransitive verb: "Do not go astray!"

Suggestions for Reading

12 Transitional Verse The relationship of verse 12 to other passages in James is debated. It seems to be a transitional verse, linking the earlier discussion on external trials (Jas 1:2–4)—and more loosely, his discussion of single-minded prayer and the piety of the poor—with the clarification that internal trials (temptations) are not from God (Jas 1:13–15).

  • It serves naturally as a conclusion to the discussion on trials (peirasmoi), testing (dokimion), and perseverance (hupomonê) in Jas 1:2–4.
  • If one connects the "humble brother" of Jas 1:9 with the person who endures trials (Jas 1:2–4), then this verse can also be connected with the immediately preceding passage (Jas1:9–11). The "crown of life" in v. 12 explicates the "exaltation" of the humble brother (v. 9); its eschatological connotation suggests that vv. 10–11 discuss not only the fleeting nature of wealth in this life, but also refer to an eschatological judgment on the rich. This humble brother who endures trial is further contrasted with the double-minded person (Jas 1:5–8).
  • V. 12 is verbally connected with the following discussion (Jas 1:13–15) on the source of temptation (peirazô) (see Literary Devices Jas 1:12–15).


12b having been tested Result of testing See Vocabulary 1:3.

13f tried Polysemous Verb See (Vocabulary 1:2).

14 dragged away Hapax NT The Greek verb exelkô "to drag away" is not found anywhere else in the NT; it is present in G; e.g. Madianites dragging Joseph in Gn 37:28.

Literary Devices

2ff,12 perseverance Introducing the Theme Jas 1:2–4,12 introduces the theme of perseverance, which is further explicated in Jas 5:7–11: the exhortation to wait patiently for the coming of the Lord.

12b that the Lord promised Imagery of the Promise James clearly sees a functional equivalence between receiving "the crown of life" and inheriting the "kingdom."  The man who perseveres through trials, moreover, is equivalent to "the poor of the world." This latter connection supports the identification of the "humble brother" (Jas 1:9) with the one who endures trials (Jas 1:2–4). James' thought is echoed further (Literary Devices Jas2:5c).


Literary Genre

12 Blessed Macarism The saying is a beatitude (macarism), a device commonly used in both ancient Greco-Roman, Hebrew, and early Christian literature. Beatitudes are used frequently in Psalms (e.g., Ps 1:1), and are found frequently in the tradition of Jesus' sayings: the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:3–12) and Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6:20–23), and 13 times in the Ev. Thom..

If this verse is considered as a conclusion to the discussion of testing in Jas 1:2–4 (sections Jas 1:5–8 and Jas 1:9–11 taken as more loosely related material), this would fall in with James' technique of finishing a discussion with a general maxim; cf. Jas 2:13; 3:18; 4:17.


Biblical Intertextuality

16 do not be led astray Images and Connotations

  • In the Synoptic tradition, Jesus warns about not being misled (planaô) in the last days (Mk 13:5)
  • The image of sinners as sheep going astray (planaô) is found, e.g., in 1Pt 2:25 (cf. G-Is 53:6).


Literary Devices

17b Father of lights Characterization of God as (Source of) Light While never directly comparing God with light, James describes an image of God as pure light in which there is no darkness (Vocabulary Jas 1:17c; Grammar Jas1:17c).


Jewish Tradition

14 desire Connection with the Rabbinic Concept of the “Evil Inclination” in Humanity? Some commentators identify epithumia with the rabbinic concept of the evil inclination (yṣr hrʽ) placed by God in the human heart :

This teaching  developed from the "two ways" tradition :

Given James' strong emphasis that God gives only good gifts (Jas 1:17), this identification is not very plausible (Jewish Tradition 1:8; Peritestamental Literature 1:8).

For example, →b. Sûk. 52a compares the righteous winning their struggle against temptation to one who conquers a mountain; →b. Sûk. 52b advises that one can melt and smash the evil urge by engaging in Torah study. God will help defeat it.


12–18 Use in Lectionary RML : Tuesday, Week 6, Year 2

17–27 Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 17, Year B

17–21 Use in Lectionary RML (1570) : 4th Sunday after Easter


Literary Devices

13ff desire Repeated Theme: The Danger of Desire James' criticism of unrestrained desire (epithumia) and passion in the community recurs in Jas 4:1–5. There James blames the vices of envy and strife on selfish desires,  using the closely related term hêdonê (desire for pleasure) and the verbal form epithumeô (Jas 4:2).

Textual Criticism

12c the Lord Specifying the Subject of “Promised” The original text (witnessed in the most important Greek MSS), likely did not specify the subject of the verb "promised. " To make the subject explicit, C and P (followed by Byz and TR) read "the Lord;" a few Greek miniscules (followed by V and S) read "God."


Ancient Cultures

12b crown Symbolism of the Crown In Greco-Roman culture, the crown (stephanos) was commonly a wreath fashioned from twigs, grass, leaves, or flowers, and thus a sign of life and fertility. Crowning could have religious connotations: priests wore crowns while offering sacrifices (Xenophon Anab. 7.1.40) and participants in religious processions wore crowns (Livius Ab Urb. Cond. 27.37.13). Political leaders also wore crowns (Aeschines Tim. 19) as a sign of their authority, and could be associated with royalty (although the royal crown was more commonly called a "diadem" [diadêma]). At the Olympic games, victors were crowned with olive wreaths ( Pausanias Descr. 5.15.3). The wearing of a crown also connoted a general sense of joy and celebration: brides wore crowns, as did participants in banquets (Plato Symp. 212e). See also Biblical Intertextuality 1:12b and Peritestamental Literature 1:12b.

Peritestamental Literature

12b crown Crown as Eschatological Reward for Endurance

  • In Second Temple apocalyptic literature, the "crown of glory" is an eschatological reward: Mart. Ascen. Isa. 11.40;  1QS 4.7;  2 Bar.15:8: "a crown with great glory"; 4 Esd. 2:43–46).
  • 4 Macc. 17:11, alluding to an athletic crown as a prize (Ancient Cultures 1:12b) for the Maccabean martyrs, parallels James' teaching closely: "Truly divine was the contest in which they were engaged. On that day virtue was the umpire and the test to which they were put (dokimazo) was a test of endurance (hupomonê). The prize for victory was incorruption in long-lasting life."
  • See also 4 Macc. 17:15: "Piety won the victory and crowned (stephanoô) her own contestants" (OTP 2:562).  
  • See also 2 Bar. 52:5–7: "Enjoy yourselves in the suffering which you suffer now…Prepare your souls for that which is kept for you, and make ready your souls for the reward which is preserved for you" (OTP 2:639).



13b cannot be tried by evil Active or Passive? The verbal adjective apeirastos is a cognate of the verb peirazo "to try." It may have an active (“one who does not tempt”) or passive (“one who cannot be tempted”) sense. James' use of the contrastive particle de indicates that the word should be taken as passive, in contrast to the active sense in the following clause, “He himself tempts no one” (Comparison of Versions 1:13-15).

Another possible translation is, “God ought not to be tested by evil [people].” If this is the sense, James may be thinking of passages such as Dt 6:16: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (cf. Marginal References 1:13).

Literary Genre

13a Let no one say Diatribe: Imaginary Opponent or Objection James directly quotes an imaginary opponent of his own theological position, who insists "I am tempted by God." This literary technique is common in the "diatribe" genre, wherein an imaginary opponent presents a position that is then corrected by the author. In 1 Corinthians, for example, Paul introduces his imaginary opponent, "But someone may say, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?'" (1Cor 15:35), allowing Paul to respond with the correct teaching on the resurrection body (→James: Diatribe Style and James).

The technique however, is also used in Jewish wisdom literature, e.g., Sir 5:3–6: "Do not say, 'Who can prevail against me?' for the Lord will exact punishment. Do not say, 'I have sinned, yet what has happened to me?' for the Lord is slow to anger! Do not be so confident of forgiveness that you add sin upon sin. Do not say, 'His mercy is great; my many sins he will forgive.' For mercy and anger alike are with him; his wrath comes to rest on the wicked."

Literary Devices

14f by his own desire + when desire has conceived: Sorites James again uses the device of sorites to highlight the continuity of action: having conceived, desire gives birth to sin, sin when fully grown gives birth to death (Literary Devices 1:3-5).

14 dragged away and lured Fishing Imagery an Ancient Topos The verb deleazô literally refers to baiting or luring an animal or fish; exelkô can refer to reeling in a fish (Ancient Texts 1:14; Christian Tradition 1:14).


Peritestamental Literature

14 dragged away and lured Passion Controlling a Person Philo parallels James' vocabulary and imagery in several passages:

  •  Philo Prob. 159 describes a soul that is driven by desire (pros epithumias elaunetai), or enticed by pleasure (huph' hêdonês deleazetai) as an enslaved soul (Colson 1941, 9:101–2). 
  •  Philo Agric. 103 "For there is no single thing that does not yield to the enticement of pleasure (ho mê pros hêdonês deleasthen), and get caught (heilkustai) and dragged along in her entangling nets, through which it is difficult to slip and make your escape" (Colson 1930, 3:160–61).



15b when it is fully grown Etymology and Connotations: A Perfect Sin Our translation renders here a single word: the passive participle apotelestheisa, from the verb apoteleô. With its tel root and the prefix ana it conveys the sense of "perfection" or completion, namely "an accomplished sin", "fully matured sin." Its positive connotation, therefore, contrasts the negative meaning of the whole phrase (Literary Devices 1:15b). 

16 Do not be led astray Astronomical Connotations The verb planaô in an active form literally means "to cause to wander" or "to lead astray;" in a moral context it has the sense of leading one away from the truth or the right path; James clearly uses this sense in Jas 5:19a: "if anyone among you strays away from the truth" (Grammar 1:16).

The verb was applied to heavenly bodies which appear to "wander" in their paths across the sky (hence the English word "planets;" see e.g., Plato Leg. 822a). It is possible that James intended his readers to hear an echo of this sense, since the following verse is charged with astronomical allusions (Vocabulary 1:17c).

Textual Criticism

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Various Attempts to Clarify James’ Meaning The vocabulary of this phrase is obscure, giving rise to a number of variant readings. The two best supported:

  • The reading parallagê hê tropês aposkiasmatos, witnessed by א and B, which seems to mean "variation consisting of the turn of the shadow." 
  • The reading parallagê ê tropês aposkiasma, read in this translation, is supported by the second corrector of א and A (Vocabulary 1:17c).


Biblical Intertextuality

17b Father of lights Allusion to the Creation of Heavenly Lights James here likely refers to biblical passages in which God is portrayed as the creator of the sun, moon, and stars  (see Gn 1:14–18, Ps 136:7–9; Sir 43:1–10). See also Christian Tradition 1:17b.

Peritestamental Literature

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Unchangeable Nature of God Philo often contrasts the unchangeability of God with the changeability of creation (cf. Ancient Cultures 1:17c, Ancient Texts 1:17c):

  •  Philo Leg. 2.33: “Now every created thing must necessarily undergo change (trepesthai), for this is its property, even as unchangeableness (atrepton) is the property of God" (Colson 1929, 1:246).
  •  Philo Cher.   87–90 contrasts God’s unchangeable nature with the changeability of all things, including the heavenly bodies.
  •  Philo Deus 22 concludes: "For what greater impiety could there be than to suppose that the Unchangeable (atreptos) changes?" (Colson 1930, 3:20).


Comparison of Versions

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Attempt to Clarify James’ Meaning Copt. Sah. reads: "[there is not any] shadow or change or variation."


17c no alternation or obumbration of change Eternal, Immutable Nature of God The Catholic Catechism cites this passage in its description of the unique, eternal nature of God (Christian Tradition 1:17c):

  • CCC 212 "Over the centuries, Israel's faith was able to manifest and deepen realization of the riches contained in the revelation of the divine name. God is unique; there are no other gods besides him. He transcends the world and history. He made heaven and earth: 'They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment.…but you are the same, and your years have no end' (Ps 102:26-27) In God 'there is no variation or shadow due to change' (Jas 1:17) God is 'HE WHO IS', from everlasting to everlasting, and as such remains ever faithful to himself and to his promises."


Literary Devices

17a every good giving, every perfect gift Frequent Parallelism Some interpreters have argued that James seeks to contrast two types or aspects of gifts or giving (G: dosis and dôrêma), but most likely this is simply another example of James' fondness for pairing close synonyms. This device may reflect an attempt to emphasize a point or simply for stylistic variation. For example, see


Biblical Intertextuality

14 lured The Lure of Desire 2Pt 2:18 echoes James' vocabulary, speaking of false teachers luring (deleazô) people through desires (epithumiai; Literary Devices 1:14; Peritestamental Literature 1:14).

12b crown Crown as a Symbol for Eternal Reward The NT regularly uses the crown or wreath (stephanos; Ancient Cultures 1:12b) to symbolize eternal life as a reward for a life well and faithfully lived. Paul (1Cor 9:24–25) compares the perishable crown for which athletes in a race strive with the imperishabe crown for which believers strive; cf. 2Tm 4:8: "the crown of uprightness which the Lord, the upright judge, will give to me on that Day"; Rv 2:10: "the crown of life"; 1Pt 5:4: "the crown of glory." The image appears already in Ws 5:15–16; cf. G-Zec 6:14.

14 desire Epithumia: Good and Bad Desire

In the Septuagint

  • Epithumia is a neutral term that can refer to a good or bad desire: Ws 6:20 speaks of the “desire for wisdom”; the desire of the righteous is all good (Prv 11:23).
  • At times, it refers to ungodly desires (e.g., G-Ps 105:14): the Israelites "craved with craving" (epethumêsan epithumian) in the wilderness and "put God to the test" (peirazô; NETS). In the Ten Commandments, the cognate verb epithumeô is used for prohibiting the unlawful desire for neighbor's wife, house, field, animals or other possessions (Ex 20:17).

In the New Testament 

Natural, Positive 

In the NT, epithumia may refer to a natural desire (e.g., of a hungry man for food at Lk 16:21) or a positive desire: "If anyone aspires to the position of a bishop, he desires a good work" (1Tm 3:1).


Generally, however, it refers to the desire for a negative object (e.g, Eph 2:3: "desires of the flesh") or is simply characterized as negative in itself (e.g., Tt 3:3; 1Pt 4:3).

  • The object of negative desire is generally possessions (cf. Paul's statement, "I have never wanted (epithumeô) anyone's silver or gold or clothing" (Acts 20:33; cf. Ex 20:17a: neighbor's house) or sexual desire (e.g., Ex 20:17, coveting the neighbor's wife; or Jesus' teaching on the Sermon on the Mount: "everyone who looks at a woman with lust (ho blepôn pros to epithumêsai) has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:28).
  • Also relevant is the close connection of epithumia with the standards of "the world" (kosmos) in 1Jn 2:15–17; cf. Jas 4:4.

Opposed to God's Law and God's Will

  • Particularly relevant for James is the NT's emphasis on desire as a violation of God's law (Rom 7:7; 13:9), where "do not covet" is summarized as a general commandment without an object. For James, a person's epithumia is opposed by the "implanted word" (Jas 1:21), a natural law whose written form is the Law, presumably the Torah (Jas 1:22–25). 
  • 1Pt 4:2 contrasts human desires with following the will of God; cf. Jude 18. Tt 2:12 also equates godlessness (asebeia) with worldly desires  (kosmikai epithumiai; cf. James' [Jas 4:4] understanding of kosmos as the anti-God realm).

15b sin birth to death: Connection between Sin and Death The connection between sin and death is a consistent biblical theme. 

  • In the archetypical account in Genesis, Adam is warned that eating from the tree will result in death (Gn 2:16).
  • Rom 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death." Paul also links desire, sin, and death in Rom 7:8–10: "But sin... produced in me every kind of covetousness (epithumia).…but when the commandment came, sin became alive; then I died, and the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me."

See also Ez 18:4; Ws 2:23–24; Rom 5:12,21; 1Cor 15:21,56.

Peritestamental Literature

14 desire Epithumia a Negative Passion  The Jewish Hellenistic tradition in general takes desire (epithumia) as a destructive passion, not neutral desire:

  • Ws 4:12 “roving desire (rhembasmos epithumias) perverts the innocent mind" (noun akakon; RSV).
  • 4 Macc. 3:2: “none of you can eradicate (ekkopsai) that kind of desire, but reason (logismos) can provide a way for us not to be enslaved by desire” (NRSV).

Paralleling James Philo Decal. 142 sees desire as intrinsic to the person: desire is the worst of the passions, for other passions seem to be involuntary and attack the sould from the outside, but epithumia  “alone originates with ourselves, and is voluntary" (tên archên ex hêmôn autôn lambanei kai estin hekousios; Colson 1937, 7:76–79).

Sexual and Birth Imagery

James' use of sexual and birth imagery for desire is paralleled in Philo,

  •  Philo Praem. 117; Philo Cher. 71 desire (epithumia) and desire for pleasure (hêdonê) are "mistresses" (despoinai) who treat the soul badly.
  •  Philo Spec. 4.80 : epithumia gives birth to (entiktô) "fierce and endless yearnings" (Colson 1939, 8:56–57).
  •  Philo Leg. 75–76: When caught up in love of money, glory, and pleasure (hêdonê), the soul is in labor, but cannot give birth, "for the soul of the worthless (phaulos) man has not by nature the power to bring forth any offspring."  Rather it produces only "wretched abortions and miscarriages, devouring half of its flesh, an evil tantamount to the death of the soul" (Colson 1929, 1:196–97).

15a desire...bears sin Desire as the Source of Sin Second Temple texts agree with James in identifying epithumia as the primary source of sin:

  •  Philo Spec. 4.84 identifies epithumia as “the fountain of all evils" (apantôn pêgê tôn kakôn). For plunderings and robberies and repudiations of debts and false accusations and outrages, also seductions, adulteries, murders and all wrongful actions (adikêmata)…from what other source do they flow?” (Colson 1939, 8:58–61; cf. Philo Decal. 142–53);
  • L.A.E. / Apoc. Mos. 19.3: Epithumia is the evil poison (ios tês kakias) that the serpent sprinkled on the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The text comments further, "epithumia is the origin of every sin." (The critical text reads: epithumia gar estin pasês hamartias; some mss. specify that epithumia is "head" (kephalê) of every sin, while another ms., that it is the root and source (riza kai archê) of every sin (OTP 2:279; Tromp 2005, 144). Cf. the later Christian tradition in Herm. Mand. 12.2.2: "this evil desire (epithumia ponêra) is the daughter of the devil" (Ehrman 2003, 2:294–95).


Christian Tradition

14 dragged away and lured Amplification: The Bait of Pleasure

  •  Erasmus Iac. Par. in his paraphrase describes pleasure as "enticing on the outside and giving promise of something sweet, conceals a deadly hook under the bait of pleasure" (voluptatis; Bateman 1993, 141; Bateman 1997, 127). Cf. Vocabulary 1:14.

17a Every good giving Introduction to the Celestial Hierarchy  Ps.-Dionysius Cael. Hier. 1.1 begins with a quotation of Jas 1:17 (and possibly a liturgy related to Basil of Caesaria Lit. Bas.; cf. Liturgies 1:17). Ps.-Dionysius understands the gift as God's illuminating light which enlightens humans and draws them towards union with God.


15b sin …death: Connection of Sin and Death  Conc. Vat. II. Gaud. Spes 18 cites this passage in support of the teaching that humans would have been preserved from bodily death if they had not sinned.

17a every good giving Proof-text for the Necessity of Grace Before Faith The conclusion (redacted by Caesarius of Arles) to the canons of the Second Council of Orange, addressed against Pelagianism, quotes Jas 1:17ab in support of the Council's teaching on grace:

  • →Conc. Arausc. II "free will has been so distorted and weakened by the sin of the first man that thereafter no one could love God as was required, or believe in God, or perform for the sake of God what is good, unless the grace of the divine mercy first attained him" (nisi eum gratia misericordiae divinae praevenerit; DzH 396); cf. a similar use of the passage in Caesarius of Arles Serm. 226.6 (Christian Tradition 1:17a).


17 Every good giving ...coming down from the Father of lights: Allusion in The Divine Comedy

  •  Dante Div. Comm. Par. 25.29–30 likely alludes to this passage when he has Beatrice address James, "Illustrious living soul, you who wrote of the abundant gifts of our heavenly court" (la larghezza de la nostra basilica).


Ancient Texts

14 desire Desire (Epithumia) in Greco-Roman Philosophical Traditions


In Plato Resp. 4 [440–41], Plato divides the soul into three "parts": the "appetitive" ( epithumêtikon), the "spirited (thumoeides), and the rational (logistikon); cf. Philo Conf. 21. Desires (epithumiai) are generally associated with the lower part of the soul, the epithumêtikon. Plato Resp. 8 [558 D–559], however, also speaks of "essential" (or "necessary": anagkaiai) and non-essential desires. The necessary desires are desires for food and good health; the unnecessary are desires which go beyond these natural, healthy desires.


 Aristotle Eth. Nic. 2.5 [1105 B] classes epithumia as one of the passions (pathê), along with anger (orgê), fear (phobos), envy (phthonos), joy (chara) and others. A person cannot be praised or blamed for his passions, since they are not a matter of choice. People go astray (hamartanô) when they pursue desires in excess or in the wrong way (Aristotle Eth. Nic. 4.11 [1118b]).

Stoic Tradition

  • For the Stoics, desire (epithumia) is one of the four primary passions  (pathê), along with fear (phobos), distress (lupê), and pleasure (hêdonê; →SVF, 3.378 [92]); Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.111). A passion is a "movement of the soul that is irrational (alogos) or disobedient to reason and contrary to nature (para phusin), "something that happens contrary to the right and natural reason" (para ton orthon kai kata phusin logon). Epithumia is an irrational desire for something that appears to be good (Long and Sedley 1987, 410–12; →SVF 3.378, 389, 394).
  •  Within epithumia, the Stoics included several subcateories: "anger (orgê; cf. Jas 1:19–20) and its species....intense sexual desires, cravings and yearnings, love of pleasure (philêdoniai) and riches (philoploutiai) and honours (philodoxiai), and the like" (Long and Sedley 1987, 412; →SVF 3.394 [96]). Cicero Tusc. 4.7.16 classes the following states of mind under the heading of “desire” (libidinus): anger (ira), rage, hatred (odium), enmity, greed (discordia) and other similar states of mind (King 1927, 344–45).
  • For the Stoics, according to Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.116–17, the opposite of desire is wishing (boulêsis). The good feelings associated with boulêsis are “benevolence, friendliness, respect and affection" (agapêsis; Hicks 1925, 220–21). Epithumia is passive, an emotion that controls the person. The wise person seeks to become dispassionate (apathê)—not to be confused with the usual connotations of "apathy"—and to live a life grounded in reason.

James, then, concurs with the Stoic tradition's understanding epithumia as a negative passion that leads to sin, strife, and ultimately death. 

13c he himself tries no one God Is Not the Cause of Evil Greek philosophical tradition parallels James in rejecting the claim that the divine can be the source of evil:

  •  Plato Resp. 2 [380b] "We must resist at all costs anyone in his own state saying that god is the cause of anyone’s evils" (kakôn de aition phanai theon tini gignesthai; Adam 1902, 1:206-7). 
  • Marcus Aurelius Med. 6.1 "The Universal Substance is docile and ductile; and the Reason that controls it has no motive in itself to do wrong (kakopoiein). For it has no wrongness and does no wrong, nor is anything harmed by it" (Haines 1916, 130–31).

14 dragged away and lured Fishing Imagery an Ancient Topos The words exelkô, deleazô, and their cognates are frequently combined:

  • Aelian Nat. an. 5.3 "when the worm is secured on the hook and has swallowed the bait (delear), the men haul" (anelkousi; Scholfield 1959, 1:290–91);
  • cf. Herodotus Hist. 2.70 on baiting and hauling in a crocodile.

See also:

  • Plato Phaedr. 14 [238A] "desire irrationally drags us towards pleasures" (epithumia alogôs helkousê epi hêdonas; Fowler 1913, 444–45)
  • Plato Tim. 69d notes that the desire for pleasure (hêdonê) is "a mighty lure to evil" (megiston kakou delear; Bury 1925, 180–81).

13b God cannot be tried by evil The Divine Has No Connection with Evil James' claim is supported by Greek philosophers:

  •  Plato Tim. 29E "He [the constructor—dêmiourgos—of the kosmos] was good (agathos), and in him that is good no envy arises ever concerning anything" (Bury 1925, 54–55)
  • Epicurus apud Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 10.139 "A blessed and eternal being (makarion kai aphtharton) has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; hence he is exempt from movements of anger and partiality" (Hicks 1925, 662–63).


Literary Devices

16 Do not be led astray Rhetorics: Elocutio

Diatribe Style

The phrase mê planasthe is used to focus the listener's attention on what is to follow, a rhetorical technique used in many genres and forms, including the diatribe style (→James: Diatribe Style and James).

  • 1Cor 6:9: "Do not be deceived, neither fornicators nor idolaters…will inherit the kingdom of God."
  • 1Cor 15:33: "Do not be led astray: 'Bad company corrupts good morals.'" Paul uses the formula to introduce a quotation from Menander.
  • Gal 6:7: "Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows."

See also Epictetus Diatr. 4.6.23, "Men, be not deceived…" (Oldfather 1928, 2:353).

Word Choice: Contrast with God’s Immutability

In choosing the verb planaô (to wander aimlessly; to be led astray) James may intend to contrast  human waywardness with God's unchangeable nature, referred to in Jas 1:17, especially since both verses use vocabulary that has astronomical connotations (Vocabulary 1:16; Vocabulary 1:17c; Peritestamental Literature 1:17c; Christian Tradition 1:17c).

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Preciosity: Three NT Hapax Legomena Enhancing Divine Transcendence  In this one phrase alone, James uses three nouns which do not occur anywhere else in the NT: aposkiasma "shadow;" parallagê "change, variation;" tropê "turn, turning, change." This suggests that James may be employing a more specialized vocabulary—in this case, terms used in astrological writings (Vocabulary Jas 1:17c).


Christian Tradition

15 conceived …gives birth to sin…fully grown: Stages of Temptation and Sin

Stages of Temptation

The tradition focuses on the developmental sense of James' passage, identifying stages of temptation.

  •  Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. (Hurst 1985, 15; Hurst 1983, 188) uses the three stages of temptations described by  Gregory the Great Hom. ev. 16 (14).1 and applies them to James: "Temptation is carried out in three ways, by suggestion (suggestio), by delight (delectatio), by consent" (consensus; Hurst 1983, 102; PL 76: 1135).

Bede's commentary describes the process.

  • Suggestio: Temptation begins with the suggestion of "the enemy" (i.e., the devil). A person resisting this suggestion can attain the crown of life (Jas 1:12). For example, Joseph was tempted at this level by Potiphar's wife, but did not give in to the next two stages.  Gregory the Great Hom. ev. 16 (14).1 writes that Jesus experienced only the first stage of suggestion.
  • Delectatio: This involves "taking delight in" the suggestion of sin; "we offend by taking delight (delectando quidem offendimus) but we do not yet incur the death penalty." For example, David was tempted by the sight of Bathsheba (stage 1), and succumbed to stage two, by being dragged away and lured by his own desire (Jas 1:14).
  • Consensus: consenting to and doing the evil action. Thus David consented and committed adultery. This final stage results in the spiritual death of the person. Cf. Bede Hom. Ev. 2.12.201–12. The Gloss. Ord. ad loc. gives a version of Bede's teaching (attributed to Augustine) (col. 1269).

Erasmus Iac. Par. also describes different stages.

  • The first stage is attributed to the consequences of original sin: "A certain propensity to vicious behavior has been implanted (insita) in our souls from the vice of our first parents. This propensity is, as it were, the seed of sin."  
  • "If this seed has been admitted into the soul and taken root, the mind has now, so to speak, conceived sin"
  • "If the vicious desire (viciosa cupiditas) is not weeded out of the soul, that evil foetus gradually becomes larger and stronger until birth is given to a mortal sin (capitale peccatum), which…produces the worst offspring of all, namely, eternal death" (Bateman 1993, 141; Bateman 1997, 126–27).

The same stages are evident in other authors.

  •  Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad 1:2: "temptations are produced in three modes (tribus modis temptationes fiunt): persuasion, delight, and consent (suasione, delectatione, consensu). The devil persuades, the flesh (caro) delights, and the soul (animus) consents" (col. 63).
  •  Thomas à Kempis Imit. Chr. 1.13.5 also describes this psychological process: "Tempation, at first, is but a simple thought (cogitatio) in the mind; the imagaination then embellishes it and it takes on the appearance of something quite desireable (delectatio); then follows a powerful attraction and finally the will's consent" (assensio; Tylenda 1998, 17; St. John 1902, 24).
  • Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 16.3.2 cites the traditional exegesis of James as referring to the stages of sin (including references to Isidore and Peter Lombard) with approval (Preus 2008, 2:1274).

Compare Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 20th century explication of James.

  •  Bonhoeffer Versuchung, "desire in itself does not make me sinful.…Desire conceives by the union of my 'I' with it.…As long as desire remains untouched by my self, it is in 'It.' But sin occurs only through the 'I.' Thus the source of temptation lies in the epithumia, the souce of sin is in my self, and in my self alone. Therefore I must acknowledge that mine alone is the guilt and that I deserve eternal death when in temptation I succumb to sin" (Downhaim 1955, 27).

Distinction between Venial and Mortal sins 

  • Catholic authors identified sin when it is first "conceived" as venial sin; the sin that is fully grown and results in death is mortal sin, e.g., Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. So too Dionysius the Carthusian En. jac., commenting that mortal sin (peccatum mortale) involves full consent (plenus consensus) to the temptation, either in act or thought (560–61); cf. Lapide Comm. ad loc. (20:57–58). Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 16.2 agrees with this interpretation (Preus 2008, 2:1270-71)
  •  Francis de Sales Love 4.2, "The sin however, though sin indeed, does not always beget the death of the soul, but then only when it is complete in malice, and when it is consummate and accomplished, as Saint James says. And he here establishes so clearly the difference between mortal and venial sin, that it is strange that some in our age have had the temerity to deny it" (Mackey 1883, 169; Mackey 1894, 220)

Is Desire (Concupiscentia) a Sin?: Reformation Debate

  • Conc. Trid. Pecc. orig. 5 (DzH 1515) teaches that concupiscense (concupiscentia), defined as an inclination towards sin, remains in a person after baptism. Admitting that Scripture ocassionally calls this desire "sin" (e.g., Rom 7:7), Trent declared, "The Catholic Church has never understood that it is called sin because it would be sin in the true and proper sense in those who have been reborn, but because it comes from sin and inclines to sin" (ex peccato est et ad peccatum inclinat); cf. Erasmus Iac. Par., "A certain propensity (proclivitas) to vicious behavior has been implanted in our souls from the vice of our first parents. This propensity is, as it were, the seed of sin" (seminarium peccati; Bateman 1993, 141; Bateman 1997, 126).
  • Although Trent does not quote Jas 1:15 in support of this teaching, Calvin's commentary on this passage (Calvin Comm. Iac.; cf. Calvin Inst. Rel. 3.3.13) claims that Catholics use this passage to deny the label of sin to the early stages of temptation ("the Papists ignorantly lay hold on this passage, and seek to prove from it that vicious, yea, filthy, wicked, and the most abominable lusts are not sins, provided there is no assent (modo ne accedat consensus; Owen 1849, 290; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 391).
  •  Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 7.8.4, however, sees distinctions of sin in this passage. When desire (concupiscence) is aroused, this pertains to original sin. "But concupiscence is actual sin when the desire is added and also the consent" (Preus 2008, 1:574–75).
  • The Reformed confessions also cite Jas 1:15: WCF 6.4: "From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil; do proceed all actual transgressions" (CCFCT 2:614; Carruthers 1937, 101); cf. WLC Q. 95.

The Moral Lesson

The moral lesson (moraliter) of James' teaching here, writes Lapide Comm., is that desires are to be resisted at the earliest stage of temptation; the most efficacious remedy against temptation is prayer (20:58). Augustine also refers to this passage in exhorting his listeners to fight against desire (Augustine of Hippo Serm. 59.9; Augustine of Hippo Serm. 77A.3)


13ff he himself tries no one ...tried by his own desire: Temptation and the Cause of Evil

God is Not the Cause of Sin 

CCC 2846 references Jas 1:13 in its insistence that the petition in the Lord's Prayer ("lead us not into temptation") does not imply that God actively tempts anyone to sin—rather sin always involves a free choice. The petition means, "We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin" (Christian Tradition 1:13-14).

Different Types of Temptations

Following a clear line in the tradition (Christian Tradition 1:2), CCC 2847 distinguishes between trials that can be spiritually beneficial and temptations towards sin. "The Holy Spirit makes us discern between trials, which are necessary for the growth of the inner man (referencing Lk 8:13–15; Acts 14:22; Rom 5:3–5; 2Tm 3:12) and temptation, which leads to sin and death (referencing Jas 1:14–15).

Christian Tradition

13–18 Divisio Textus

  • In Ps.-Andreas Catena, Jas 1:13–18 is presented under the heading, "Concerning the burning desire (purôsis) in us and the passions [that arise] from it: that the cause is not from God (ou para tou theou to aition). For if there is anything good (agathon) in us, it is from him" (Cramer 1844, 8:5).
  •  Langton Comm. Iac. labels Jas 1:13–18, "To encourage the imperfect so that they resist interior trials" (ut resistant temptationibus interioribus; Arnold 2013, 83).

See further →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.


1–12 Use in Lectionaries — Calendar The beginning of the letter of James is often read on the feast day of James, brother of the Lord:

  • BL: October 23.
  • Georgian church: December 28.


Literary Devices

15b when it is fully grown An Ironic Use of Perfection / Wholeness The participle apotelestheisa, conveys the basic sense of "perfection" or completion (→James: Perfection / Wholeness in James). Here the sense of becoming fully grown is primary. In this instance, James' usual practice of identifying "perfection" and "completeness" as qualities associated with God and virtue is reversed: sin is "perfect" and "complete." 

The prefix apo- is repeated in the next word, apokuei, creating assonance and adding to the rhetorical insistence of the sentence.


Biblical Intertextuality

13c he himself tries no one Parallels in Sirach

  • Sir 15:11-12: "Do not say, 'On account of the Lord (dia kurion), I fell away,' for what he hates, he will not do. Do not say, 'It was he who led me astray,' (me eplanêsen) for he has no need of a sinful man" (NETS). Sirach thus concurs with James in teaching that God can in no way be the cause of sin. 
  • Sir 15:14-15a goes on to emphasize the reality of human free will, "It was he who from the beginning made humankind, and left him in the hand of his deliberation (en cheiri diabouliou autou). If you want to (thelêᵢs), you shall preserve the commandments" (NETS). 

See also →James: Peirazô / Peirasmos (Temptation and Trials).

Peritestamental Literature

13c he himself tries no one Humans, Not God, the Source of Sin and Evil

  •  1 En. 98.4, like James, attributes sin to humans: "I swear to you, sinners, that it was not ordained <for a man> to be a slave, nor was <a decree> given for a woman to be a handmaid; but it happened before of oppression. Thus lawlessness was not sent upon the earth; but men created it by themselves, and those who do it will come to a great curse" (OTP 1:149).
  • So too Philo Det. 122 "For Moses does not, as some impious people do, say that God is the author of ills (ton theon aition kakôn phêsi). Nay, he says that 'our own hands' (hêmeteras cheiras) cause them, figuratively (sumbolikôs) describing in this way our own undertakings (egcheirêmata), and the spontaneous [or "free"] movement of our minds to what is wrong" (hekousious tês dianoias pros to cheiron tropas; Colson 1929, 2:282–85).

Philo often describes God using a via negativa, insisting that God does not share in any human suffering, misfortune, or evil:

  •  Philo Cher.   86 "He is without grief or fear or share of ill (alupos esti kai aphobos kai akoinônêtos kakôn) without faintheartedness or pain or weariness" (Colson 1929, 2:60–61).


Christian Tradition

1–12 Divisio Textus

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.

Suggestions for Reading

13–17 Teaching About That Which Does (not) Come from God

Thematic Contrast


Christian Tradition

17b Father of lights Frequent Allusions Christian writers, attracted by the beauty of the passage, frequently allude to Jas 1:17 by incorportating images and vocabulary without direct quotation:

  •   John of Damascus Fid. orth. 90 [4.17] "[Scripture] sets our mind (dianoia) on the gold-gleaming, brilliant back of the divine dove, whose bright pinions bear up to the only-begotten (monogenês) Son and Heir of the Husbandman of that spiritual Vineyard and bring us through Him to the Father of Lights" (NPNF2 9:89b; Kotter 2010, 209–10).
  • Symeon the New Theologian Hymn. 12.54–55: "For God is in all things and everywhere, in whom there is not at all a shadow of change (tropês aposkiasma), or presence of night" (Koder 2003, 1:246).
  • Augustine of Hippo Conf. 3.6.10 "But I was hungering and thirsting not for those primary works but for you yourself, you who are Truth, in whom is no variation or shadow of turning" (non est commutatio nec momenti obumbratio; Hammond 2016, 1:106–7).

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.



17c alternation or obumbration of change Technical Astronomical Vocabulary


The noun parallagê (from parallassô) has the general sense of variation or a changing motion, especially alternating motion. It can also have a more specific astronomical sense (cf. the technical term "parallax"):

  • Strabo Geogr. 17.3.10 "the swiftness of its [the sun's] course" (tachos tês parallagês; Jones 1917, 8:176);
  • Cat. Cod. Astr. 8/3: 113: describes the changing motion of stars.


The noun aposkiasma is a hapax legomenon. It comes from the verb apo-skiazô "to throw a shadow from one object upon another" (cf. epi-skiazô "to throw a shadow upon" and kata-skiazô "to throw a shadow down upon"). James alludes to how shadows are cast by the apparent movement of the sun.

Change: Seasons of the Astronomical Year?

The noun tropê means "turning" or "change." It is frequently used in astronomical contexts. The "change" of the sun, e.g., winter or summer solstices:

  • Hesiod Op. 479: êelioio tropês (Most 2007, 126);
  • G-Dt 33:14 : the sun's changes: (hêliou tropôn);
  • Ws 7:18b: "The beginning and the end and the midpoint of times, the changes (tropôn) in the sun's course and the variations of the seasons."
  • See also Aristotle Cael. 2.14 [296b]: the turnings of the fixed stars.

See also Grammar Jas 1:17c.


17c obumbration of change Genetivus Explicativus?  The unclear expression can be understood as "shadow caused by change." James would here allude to how shadows change (lengthening or shortening) accordingly to the position of the sun which changes with the seasons (Vocabulary Jas1:17c).

  •  Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. takes "shadow" in a metaphorical sense: James says poetically that in God there is not the slightest hint or suggestion of change (col. 464d).

Literary Devices

15a when desire has conceived PERSONIFICATON: Sexual Imagery James personifies the forces of desire, sin, and death (see Rom 7:10–11). His feminine imagery may allude to the portrayal in Prv 5 of folly as a woman who seduces a young man away from the righteous path. The sexual imagery also builds on the sexual connotation of epithumia ("desire"). E.g., Ex 20:17: "You shall not covet (epithumeô) your neighbor's wife").


Ancient Texts

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Unchangeableness of the Divine The unchangeableness of the divine is a standard assumption in much of Greco-Roman philosophy:

  • Aristotle Cæl. 1.9 [279A] "in the more popular philosophical works, where divinity is in question, it is often made abundantly clear by the discussion that the foremost and highest divinity (to theion) must be entirely immutable" (ametablêton; Guthrie 1939, 92).
  • Aristotle Phys. 8.5 [258b] "the prime mover is unmoved" (to prôtôn kinoun akinêton;Wicksteed 1957, 336).
  • Plato Resp. 2 [381C] "it is impossible for a god to even want to change" (Adam 1902, 1:210); cf. also Ancient Cultures 1:17c.

Biblical Intertextuality

12 Blessed is the man... Current Suffering and Future Glory The structure of James' macarism is similar to macarisms of Jesus: one who currently suffers trials will receive a heavenly reward:

  • Mt 5:11–12a: "Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven" (=Lk 6:22–23); cf. Mt 10:22: "You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures (hupomenô) to the end will be saved."

  • Lk 6:20: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours."

The NT often compares present suffering with future glory:

  • Rv 2:10: "Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."
  •  Rom 8:18: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us."

On may also find Old Testament parallels where those suffering are admonished to endure in light of an eschatological reward:

  • Dn 12:12 (Theodotion): "Happy is the one who perseveres" (Makarios ho hupomenôn); cf. G-Zec 6:14

Peritestamental Literature

17a every perfect gift Perfection of God’s Gifts Philo teaches similarly:

  •  Philo Migr. 73 "But God bestows (charizetai) on those who obey Him no imperfect boon (ouden ateles). All His gifts are full and complete" (plêrê de kai teleia panta; Colson 1932, 4:172–73)
  •  Philo Post. 80 "God's gifts are all good" (dôreai d' hai tou theou kalai pasai; Colson 1929, 2:372–73); cf.  Philo Somn. 1.103: speech as the most excellent of God's gifts. See also Christian Tradition 1:17a.


Comparison of Versions

13ff God cannot be tried Active or Passive? V takes the Greek apeirastos in an active sense, "God is not a tempter of evil things/ bad people" (intemptator malorum); S take it as a passive expression: "God is not tempted by the evil (things)" (l’ mnsy bbyšt’; Grammar 1:13b).


17 A Favorite Liturgical Text

Christian Tradition

12a perseveres through trials Various Interpretations

 Trials are a Sharing of Christ's Cross

  • In his quotation of Jas 5:12, the Pachomian abbot, in Horsiesios Test. 50, connects the "trials" with a Christian's duty to carry his cross and his call to "share Christ's suffering" (Rom 8:17; Veilleux 1982, 3.209; Boon 1932, 142).
  • So too, Thomas à Kempis Imit. Chr. 2.12.4 perhaps alludes to James, "Gaze upwards and downwards, look inside you and outside you and everywhere you will find the cross. If you desire internal peace and want to gain an everlasting crown, then you must everywhere exercise patient resignation (patientia; Tylenda 1998, 67; St. John 1902, 98).

James and the Lord's Prayer

The tradition often uses Jas 1:12 and Jas 1:2 to contrast James' positive view of "tempation" or "trial" (peirasmos) with negative view of temptation implied in the petition in the Lord's Prayer, "lead us not into temption" (Christian Tradition 1:2)

  •  Cassian Coll. 9.23.1–2 (recording the teaching of Abbot Isaac): "For if we pray not to be allowed to be tried, how will the strength of our steadfastness be tested (si enim oramus ne permittamur temptari, et unde erit in nobis virtus constantiae conprobanda), according to the words: 'Whoever has not been tried has not been proven' (Sir 34:11). And again: 'Blessed is the man who undergoes trial"? (Jas 1:12). Therefore the words, 'Subject us not to the trial,' do not mean: Do not allow us ever to be tried, but rather, Do not allow us to be overcome when we are tried (ne permittas nos in temptatione positos superari). For Job was tried, but was not subjected to the trial (temptatus est enim Job, sed non est inductus in temptationem).…Abraham was tried, and Joseph was tried, but neither of them was subjected to the trial, for neither of them consented to the one trying them" (sed neuter illorum inductus est in temptationem, quia nullus eorum consensum praebuit temptatori; Ramsey 1997, 345; Petschenig 1886, 271-72); similarly Cyril of Jerusalem Cat. 23.17 (Myst. 5.17), quoting Jas 1:2 (Reischl and Rupp 1967, 390–93); also Bar Kepha Exp. Myst. (83).
  •  Albert Sup. Matt. ad 6:13:  Albert, in scholastic fashion, asks “Whether God leads anyone into temptation?” and contrasts Jas 1:13: “God tempts no one” with Mt 6:13: “Lead us not into temptation.” Albert distinguishes: God often leads in temptation (in temptatione) as when he appeared with the three young men in the fiery furnace (Dn 3:49), but God never leads into temptation (in temptationem) in the sense of seducing one into evil (Schmidt 1987, 214). 

Proof that Post-baptismal Sin is Possible

 Jerome Adv. Jov. 2.3 takes this verse as a proof (against the position of his opponant Jovianus) that the baptized can be tempted "and fall of their own free choice" (propria corruere voluntate; NPNF2 6:389; PL 23:299). Jerome also mentions Jas 1:22–24 and Jas 2:10 as further proofs of the possiblity of sin after baptism.

13f tried by his own desire Proof-text for Free Will and a Unified Human Nature

A Proof-text for the Reality of Human Free Will

  •  Augustine of Hippo Grat. (2) 3 writing to refute the belief that God's grace takes away true free will, comments on Jas 1:13–15 and other passages, "Look, we see most clearly expressed the free choice of the human will" (liberum humanae voluntatis arbitrium; Teske 1999, 72; PL 44:883); cf. also Jerome Adv. Jov. 2.3.  
  •  Augustine of Hippo Pecc. merit. 2.4: The petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation," is a call to God to help us overcome the temptation of our own desire (concupisence) that remains in every person due to original sin; it is not a temptation from God (Jas 1:13;Teske 1999, 83; Urba and Zycha 1902, 73); cf. Augustine of Hippo Serm.  58.9.
  •  Aquinas ST 1-2.9.2): "It is written (Jas 1:14): 'Every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured.' But man would not be drawn away by his concupisence, unless his will (voluntas) were moved by the sensitive appetite (appetitus sensitivus), wherein consupiscence resides." Thomas explains that a person can allow his free will to be dominated by a passion.
  • Erasmus lib. arbit. cites Jas 1:13–15 as proof of free will in his debate with Luther (Macardle 1999, 43; Walter 1910, 43). On the Lutheran side, Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 6.1 refers to the same passage in his nuanced understanding of free will, "When we say that the will is free in evil things…we have in mind Jas 1:14, Prv 2:14, Rom 1:28, Eph 4:18" (Preus 2008, 1:416).
  • WCF 9.1: Cited as a proof-text for the doctrine, "God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to do good or evil" (CCFCT  2:618; Carruthers 1937, 109).

A Proof-text for a Unified Human Nature

  •  Augustine of Hippo Contin. (7) 18 cites this text against the Manichean postition that two natures or principles, one good and one evil, are at war within each human. Rather, human nature is created good, but through human fault became corrupted: healing comes when the original goodness is restored with God's help. James clarifies that a person is tempted by his own desire, not by an alien nature (Kearney 1999, 203-4; Zycha 1900, 162)

15a bears sin Providing an Example and Specifying the Metaphor

  •  Fulgentius of Ruspe Ep. 1.12 applies James' description to his discussion of women who desire to marry after they have vowed celibacy (Bachelet 2004, 92).
  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. specifies James' metaphor: "Desire is the mother of sin; the father is free will" (libera voluntas; 20:62).

15b gives birth to death Earning Eternal Death

Parallel structure

 Bede Ep. cath. points out the parallel in James' thought.

  • The one who endures temptation will receive the crown of life (Jas 1:12)
  • The one who is overcome by temptation earns death (Jas 1:15; Hurst 1983, 189; Hurst 1985, 15–16).

Eternal Death

The interpretative tradition understands James' reference as a spiritual death:

  • Palamas Hom. 32.13: James refers here to "eternal (aiônios) death, the departure (chôrismos) of God from the soul on account of sin" (dia hamartian); for those who do not repent, this spiritual death is followed by eternal damnation (Veniamin 2009, 256–57).

16 Do not be led astray Error of Thinking that God Tempts Humans A consensus of patristic and medieval commentators understood this verse to apply to the error of thinking that God tempts people:

17a every good giving Identify of the “Good Gift”

God's Gift of Grace

The tradition sees here a reference to God's freely given grace. The passage then became a focus on debates about the relationship between God's grace and human free will.

  • Arguing that even faith is undeserved gift from God, Augustine of Hippo Ep. 186.10 writes: "For this reason even the merit of a human being is a gratuitous gift (ipsum hominis meritum donum est gratuitem), and no one merits to receive anything good from the Father of lights, from whom every best gift comes down, except by receiving what he does not merit" (Teske 2005, 3: 214; Goldbacher 1923, 57: 53–54). Cf. also Augustine of Hippo Ep. 194.21 where Augustine applies the passage to righteousness: it is God's gift, not earned.
  •  Augustine of Hippo Pat. 12 quotes this passage to teach that true patience (patientia) is a gift of God, not a virtue that one can attain through free will, as some erroneously believe.  Such thinking, Augustine asserts, again quoting James, is "not a wisdom from above, but an worldly, unspiritual, demonic wisdom" (Jas 3:15; NPNF1 3:531; Zycha 1892, 676).
  •  Cassian Coll. 13.3.5 gives the example of a farmer who produces a bountiful harvest. The harvest is due in part to is hard work, but he could not have achieved his success without God's grace in the form of God's gifts of timely rain, bodily strength, etc. "From this it is clear that the torigin not only of good acts but even of good throughts is in God (non solum actuum verum etiam cogitationum bonarum ex deo esse principium). He both inspires in us the beginnings of a holy will  (qui nobis et initia sanctae voluntatis inspirat), and grants the ability and the opportunity to bring to fulfillment the things that we rightly desire (virtutem atque oportunitatem eorum quae recte cupimus tribuit peragendi): for 'every good gift and every perfect benefit is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.' He it is who begins what is good and carries out and fulfills it in us" (qui et incipit quae bona sunt et exsequitur consummat in nobis; Ramsey 1997, 468; Petschenig 1886, 364; cf. Augustine of Hippo Conf. 3.16; Cassian Inst. 12.10).
  •  Fulgentius of Ruspe Ep. 4.6, explicating Jas 1:17ab, "There is no human who is able either to conceive or to do anything good, unless he is aided by the free gift of divine help" (nisi fuerit munere gratuito divinae opitulationis adiutus; Bachelet 2004, 212–13). Fulgentius's interpretation is quoted in the Gloss. Ord. (V) (col. 1270).
  • Maximus the Confessor Quae. Thal. 59.3 applies the passage to the grace of the Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets (Laga and Steel 1980, 2:47; Constas 2018, 413).
  • John of the Cross Cánt. Esp. 30.7 says similarly that that all good gifts are from God (quoting Jas 1:17ab, but notes that "still they enter into no soul without that soul’s concurrence and consent" (Kavanaugh and Rodríguez 1991, 347).
  •  Baptist Statement 25 "That there is not, neither ever was any man endued with any abilities and power to do the revealed will of God, but it was given him from above" (citing Jas 1:17; 3:95; Theology 1:17a).

Reformation Debate on Free Will and God's Grace

  • The Reformer Carolstadt Leip. Dis. asserts that the phrase "every good gift comes down" shows that free will cannot merit anything for itself independent of God's grace [27]).
  • Eck Ench. 31 cites Jas 1:17 as a text used by the "heretics" for their positions on free will (Fraenkel 1979, 319). Eck's response: "We believe that our merits are gifts from God, and given by God preveniently, cooperatively, and subsequently (data a Deo praeveniente, cooperante, et subsequente), but we do not deny that through this free will collaborates actively in a meritorius way" (non negatur per hoc liberum arbitrium concurrere active ad merita; Fraenkel 1979, 322).
  • Erasmus lib. arbit. Pt. 3 cites Jas 1:17 in a discussion on scriptural passages that seem to deny free will. The good gift of free will should indeed be understood as God's grace, but God's grace as the ultimate source of goodness. "These verses too aim to prevent us from claiming anything for ourselves and to make us attribute everything to the grace of God (ne quid arrogemus nobis, sed omnia referamus accepta gratiae divinae), who called us when we had turned away from him, purified us through faith, and enabled our will to be the co-worker with his grace (qui hoc ipsum donavit, ut nostra voluntas possit esse sunergos illius gratiae), even though grace alone is more than sufficient for everything and has no need of any assistance from human will" (Macardle 1999, 68; Walter 1910, 71).

Distinction Between the "Good Thing Given" and the "Perfect Gift."

The Latin tradition distinguishes between "every good thing given" (omne datum optimum) and the "every perfect gift" (omne donum perfectum).

  •  Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. gives two specific identifications: omne datum optimum: baptism; omne donum perfectum: penance; omne datum optimum: virginity; omne donum perfectum: continence (col. 66).

Eriugena, in his commentary on Ps.-Dionysius' Celestial Hierarchy, associated the datum with the goodness of nature, the donum with God's grace:

  • Eriugena Exp. Ier. Cael. 1.1 "everything that exists participates in the divine goodness in two ways (duobus modis divinam participat bonitatem), the first is seen in the creating of nature (in conditione nature), the other in the distrubution of grace" (in distributione gratie). Omne datum optimum (Eriugena prefers to render it as omnis datio optima) refers to every created thing, since Genesis states that God created all things good. Every thing good by nature reaches its perfection through God's grace which is given from above (Barbet 1975, 1–2; Rorem 2005, 180–81).

Eriugena's distinction is followed in much of later medieval tradition:

  • Gloss. Ord. ad loc.: the datum refers to nature (natura); the donum to grace (gratia); the Glossa clarifies that good of nature is also from God. The Glossa also associates the datum with the virtues and the donum with the performance of the virtues (executiuum ipsarum virtutuum) and the perfection of eternal life. In the context of baptism, the datum refers to baptismal grace, and the donum perfectum is the giving of the Holy Spirit (cols. 1269–70).
  • Langton Comm. Iac., noting that V uses the superlative optimum, concludes that this implies a ranking of goods in the datum: temporal goods are good, goods of the body are better, and goods of the soul are the best (Arnold 2013, 88). Hugh of St. Cher Post. offers a variation: temporary goods are good, natural goods (naturalia) are better, the best in this life are the virtues and gifts (gratiae; 313).
  • Dionysius the Carthusian En. jac. ad loc. comments that the datum includes the superior characteristics of humans (memory, intellect, and will), while the donum includes the infused, supernatural virtues (563).

Sexual Purity as God's Gift

  •  Jerome Adv. Jov. 1.39 believes that in this passages James, who was himself celibate, teaches in a "mystical sense" about virginity (mystice virginitatem docet). "Every perfect gift comes down from above, where marriage is unknown" (NPNF2, 6:377; PL 23:278).

Jerome quotes Jas 1:17–18 together, perhaps seeing in verse 18's reference to God giving birth to us by the word of truth a reference to virginity. Augustine of Hippo Ep. 188.6 also quotes this verse in writing of sexual purity as a gift of God's grace. Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. identifies the "good giving" (omne datum) with virginity (col 66).

Other Interpretations.

 John of Damascus Fid. orth. 88 [4.15] alludes to this passage in citing the efficacy of intercessory prayers to saints (NPNF2, 9:87; Kotter 1975, 204).

Lapide Comm. does not distinguish between the good giving (donum) and the perfect gift, as did the earlier tradition. He offers a variety of interpretations of the good or perfect gift from the tradition:

  • wisdom and patience;
  • love (cf. 1Cor 13);
  • the perfect strengthening given in the sacrament of confirmation (20:65–67).

God Sends Both Good and Bad

  • Didymus the Blind Ep. can. ad loc. comments that some interpreters take this verse to mean that only good things come from God. But in light of passages such as Mi 1:12 ("But evil has come down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem"), it clear that the judgments of God come to people as both pleasant and sad. Both are involved in the whole providence of God (cuncta providentia Dei; Zoepfl 1914, 4).
  • From a different perspective, Eckhart Serm. (D) 4 teaches that for those who love God, everything that occurs to them, including illness or poverty, is the best gift, because it is God's will (Quint 1958, 1:60–74; Tobin 1986, 247–9).

All Good Things are from God

  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. : every good thing given is from the giving God; every truly bad thing given is not from God, but either from a demon or from our desire (concupiscentia; 20:63).
  • Ris Menn. Art. 6 "we must here carefully distinguish between what God works directly…(It is of the highest importance to note this distinction, wherefore James says, 'Do not err' (Jas 1:16). God does not bring about the evil of sin, but permits, yet limits and overrules it"  (CCFCT, 3:159; Ris 1766, 16-17); cf. the citation of Jas 1:17 in the article on God's Providence in Presbyt. Conf. 6  (Christian Tradition 1:13-14).


14 desire Concupiscense V and the Latin tradition translate desire (epithumia) with concupiscentia

  • CCC 2515 elaborates on the meaning of concupiscense: “Etymologically, 'concupiscence' can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite (motus appetitus sensibilis) contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the 'flesh against the 'spirit' (cf. Gal 5:16,17,24; Eph 2:3). Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man's moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins" (cf. Conc. Trid. Pecc. orig., [DzH 1515]; Christian Tradition 1:14).