The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:15

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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.

14f sin, desire, death Rom 7:8-10 sin and death Gn 2:17; Ez 18:4; Rom 5:12,21; 1Cor 15:21,56; Ws 2:23-24

Reception

Liturgies

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

Text

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).

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).

Vocabulary

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). 

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

15b sin ...gives 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

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).

Reception

Theology

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.

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)

Theology

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.

Text

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.

Suggestions for Reading

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

Thematic Contrast

Reception

Reception

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. 

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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

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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).

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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.

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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. Vat.gr. 1613. Image 131.→  

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

Text

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").

Reception

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).

Christian Tradition

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).