The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:16,19

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 S TR

19  So then, my beloved brothers, let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

19  Ye know [this], my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath

19  You know this, my most beloved brothers. So let every man be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to anger.

19 slow to speak Prv 29:20; Eccl 5:1 19c slow to anger Prv 16:32; Mt 5:22; Col 3:8; Eph 4:31 19 Controlling one’s speech Jas 1:26; 3:1-12; Prv 16:32; Mt 5:22; Col 3:8; Eph 4:31


Comparison of Versions

19c slow to speak Parallelism V adds the word autem ("however")  after "slow" to parallel the autem of the previous phrase (19b). 



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!"

Literary Genre

19 Maxim The verse takes the form of a three part maxim (G= gnômê; L = sententia); parallels to it can be found in ancient Jewish wisdom literature, Christian literature, and Greco-Roman moral literature. 


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).



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

19a beloved brothers A More Gentle Appeal This is one of only three times (with Jas 1:16 and Jas 2:5) that James uses the intimate agapêtos to qualify his address to his "brothers" in the faith (Literary Devices 1:2). This together with his use of indirect third-person imperatives ("Let everyone"), instead of direct, second-person imperatives ("Do;" "Do not"), shows James wants to exhort his audience with a gentler tone.



19–27 Use in Lectionary



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).


19a know Indicative or Imperative The Greek verb  iste may either be an indicative, "you know [this]," or an imperative, "Know [this]!" Cf. Textual Criticism 1:19a and Literary Devices 1:19a.

Literary Devices

19a You know Paraenetic Discourse: Appeal to Shared Knowledge James assumes that his readers already know his following admonition: he is simply reminding them (cf. Jas 1:3; 3:1). In this case, the reminder is of traditional moral wisdom, not necessarily a particular Christian teaching.

Textual Criticism

19a Therefore, my beloved brothers Unclear Relationship with Previous Verse

  • The likely original reading iste ("you know") is read by  א, A, B (followed by V).
  • hôste ("therefore") is read by P and ψ (followed by Byz and TR).
  • S simply reads "and."

The alternative readings are likely scribal attempts to avoid the ambiguous original reading iste (it is not obvious what the author expects his readers to know; Grammar 1:19a) and connect this verse more smoothly with the previous verse.


19b let everyone be quick Semiticism? The construction "let every man" (estô pas anthrôpos) is not a typical Greek expression. It may be a Semiticism; cf. the rabbinic yh’ kl ’ḥd (e.g., in b. B. Meṣ. 42a).


Biblical Intertextuality

19c slow to anger General Biblical and Jesus' Teaching on Anger

Biblical Parallels

The wisdom tradition teaches the need to control anger:

  • G-Prv 16:32: “A man who is slow to anger (makrothumos) is better than the mighty; and he who controls his temper (ho kratôn orgês) better than one who captures a city.” 

  • Prv 12:16: “Fools immediately show their anger.” 

  • Prv 29:8: “Pestilent men set a city aflame, but the wise turn away wrath” (hoi sophoi apestrepsan orgên). 

  • Sir 27:30: “Anger and wrath, these also are abominations, yet a sinner holds on to them.” 

Several aspects may be noted in the NT:

  • It appears in NT vice lists: Col 3:8 and Eph 4:31 include both orgê and thumos in their lists. These lists parallel the Stoic view that sees anger (orgê) as a wholly negative vice. 1Tm 2:8 admonishes believers to be “without anger or argument” (dialogismos), suggesting the connection between uncontrolled anger and disputes in the community). See also Ancient Texts 1:19c

  • Eph 4:26, however, suggests that anger is not sinful in itself, but only if it is uncontrolled: “Be angry but do not sin (orgizesthe kai mê hamartanete); do not let the sun set on your anger” (epi parorgismôᵢ humôn). 

  • Anger, in the sense of punishing a wrongdoing, is only proper to God (“the wrath of God”); see Jn 3:36; Rom 1:18; Rom 5:9; 1Thes 1:10. Thus Rom 12:19, “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord,’” but cf. Rom 13:4: governing powers are “the servant of God to inflict wrath.” 

Jesus’ Teaching

Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount singles out anger as a serious sin: “whoever is angry (orgizomenos) with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ [i.e., rêqâ / rêq’ā – “fool, worthless person”] will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna” (Mt 5:22). 

With James’ admonition to be slow to anger, he seems to accept the view that anger should be controlled as opposed to being completely eradicated.


Christian Tradition

19f quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger Drawing on the Greco-Roman Tradition Commentatators add similar quotations and examples from the Greco-Roman writers, showing their conviction that James' advice is not narrowly Jewish or Christian, but draws on a wider tradition.

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. cites the example of the Pythagoreans—“endowed with the capacity to reach natural knowledge” (naturalis scientiae magisterio praediti)—who insisted that their listeners keep silence for five years before they were allowed to preach (Hurst 1983, 190; Hurst 1985, 18).  See also Ancient Texts 1:19c.
  • Lapide Comm. ad loc.: After insisting that "all ancient wise men (omnes prisci sapientes), both pagan and Christian, taught this type of wisdom" (hunc sapientiae modum) Lapide quotes relevant sayings from Apollodorus, Zeno, Theocritus, Demosthenes, Isocrates, Nicostratus, Xenocrates, Plutarch, and Martial (20:74–75).
  • Gloss. Ord. quotes Seneca's lengthy description of an angry man (Seneca Ira 3.1.3-4 [col. 1271]).

19b quick to hear, slow to speak Interpretations of Listening and Speaking

Advice for Teachers and Bishops

The tradition often connects James' admonitions with advice for teachers, and especially for bishops in their role as teachers. 

Augustine of Hippo preached a sermon on Jas 1:19,22, applying the admonition to himself and his fellow preachers. He admits that he himself prefers listening, because when he preaches he is in danger of self-conceit. Cf. his application of the passage in Augustine of Hippo Ep. 193:13: "For I prefer…to learn rather than to teach" (Teske 1923, 2: 286).

  •  Augustine of Hippo Serm.  179.2 "when we listen, we are humble; but when we preach, even if we are not in danger (periclitamur) of pride, assuredly we are at least restrained" (certe vel frenamur; Boodts 2016, 620; cf. Hill 1997, 3: 299).

He further reflects on Mary of Bethany, who sat and listened to Jesus' words (Lk 10:38–42). Hearing the words of the Lord is beneficial in this world and will continue into eternity. See the similar application to his work as a preacher in Augustine of Hippo Retract. Prol. 2; Augustine of Hippo Tract Ev. Jo. 57.3.

Lapide Comm. ad loc. gives the example of Thomas Aquinas, who listened attentively to his teacher Albert the Great and was so silent that he earned the nickname "the Dumb Ox" (bos mutus). Albert defended him saying that "the dumb ox would soon send forth such bellowings that the whole world would hear them" (20:73).

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. "And properly he first advises (ammonet) each to lend his ear rather quickly to someone teaching, but only later to open his mouth to teach, because it is foolish (stultum) for anyone to wish to preach to others what he himself had not learned. Let anyone who loves wisdom, therefore, first beg this from God, as he advised above (Jas 1:5), then let the humble hearer (humilis auditor) seek out a teacher of truth, and all the while let him not only most carefully restrain his tongue from idle conversations (otiotis sermonibus) but also hold back from preaching the very truth which he has recently learned" ( Hurst 1983, 190; Hurst 1985, 17–18). Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. also connects Jas 1:19 and the warning to teachers in Jas 3:1.
  • Gloss. Ord. thus glosses "slow to speak": "do not presume to teach before the right time" (ne ante tempus praesumat docere); i.e., make sure that one is properly prepared before beginning to teach. (col. 1272).

Eager to Hear Beneficial Words

  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. : James refers to listening to divine words and profitable stories (Sedlacek 1910, 91; Syriac – ibid., 119).
  •  Gloss. Ord.: The words "quick to listen" are glossed with "to the teachers of truth" (doctoribus veritatis; col 1272).

Guard against Idle Words

  • Gregory the Great  Reg. Past. 3.14 quotes several passage from James in his discussion on how the pastor should admonish talkative people: Jas 1:26; 1:19; 3:8.  Gregory connects these passages with Jesus' saying, "on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak" (Mt 12:36): "For indeed every word is idle (otiosum) that lacks either a reason of just necessity or an intention of pious usefulness" (Barmby 1895, 38; Judic, Rommel and Morel 1992, 348).


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).


Biblical Intertextuality

18–21 Drawing on a Common Christian Baptismal Exhortation?

James and 1 Peter

Jas 1:18–21 and 1Pt 1:23–2:2 have several parallels: 

  • 1Pt 1:23: “You have been born anew” (anagegennêmenoi) || Jas 1:18: “Of his own will, He gave us birth by the word of truth.” 
  • 1Pt 1:23: “through the living and abiding word of God” (dia logou zôntos theou) || Jas 1:18,21: “gave us birth by the word of truth (logôᵢ alêtheias)…receive the implanted word” (emphuton logon).
  • 1Pt 2:1: “Rid yourselves (apothemenoi) of all malice” || Jas 1:21: “put away (apothemenoi) all sordidness”; cf. 1Pt 3:21: “not a removal of dirt (apothesis rhupou) from the body.” 
  • 1Pt 2:2: reference to salvation (sôteria) || Jas 1:21: reference to saving (sôsai) your souls.

Some scholars explain these parallels by suggesting that Peter and James draw on a common Christian teaching associated with the spiritual renewal of life at baptism. Other posit some literary relationship between Peter and James.

Other Parallel Uses of "Putting Away"

One should also note other NT uses of the verb "to put away" (apotithêmi) which may originally have been baptismal exhortations. All passages refer to "putting away" one's old sinful life; many specify sinful vices (e.g., anger, slanderous speech) that James also warns against. Several also parallel James' use of "all" and "every", emphasizing the exhortation to make a complete change of life.

  • Rom 13:12: "let us then throw off the works (erga) of darkness."
  • Eph 4:22: "that you should put away the old self of your former way of life."
  • Eph 4:25: "Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another."
  • Col 3:8: "But now you must put them all away: anger (orgê), fury, malice (kakia), slander, obscene language."
  • Heb 12:1:  "let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us."



19,22 Liturgical Reading from Augustine Augustine of Hippo Serm. 179 is based on a liturgical reading from Jas 1:19 and 1:22.

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.

Suggestions for Reading

18–27 Exhortation to Doing the Word

Thematic Structure 

Although some interpreters see Jas 1:19 as a thematic statement developed in Jas 1:20–27, the following thematic flow of thought is evident:

  • Vv. 18–21: An example of God's good gift: "the word of truth." God implants (Jas 1:21)  a "word of truth" (Jas 1:18), the natural law of right and wrong, within each person. This law exhorts one to bridle his speech and his passions (such as anger). 
  • Vv. 22–27: One must not only hear this law, but act on it. Bridling one's tongue (Jas 1:19; 26) and caring for widows and orphans (Jas 1:27) are two specific ways of living out this law.

Interpretive Issues

  • Jas 1:18–21: One interpretive crux is clarifying the identity of the "word of truth" and the "first-fruits of his creatures" (Jas 1:18) together with the "implanted word" (Jas 1:21). One strand takes the "first fruits" as Christians, and thus the "the word of truth" and the "implanted word" as the gospel message of salvation through Jesus. Another strand, in contrast, takes the "word" to be God's word at creation, and thus the "first-fruits" to be humanity in its pre-eminence over the rest of creation (Christian Tradition 1:18b; Christian Tradition 1:21a).
  • Jas 1:19: James' advice on controlling anger renewed a classical ethical debate on whether anger should be rooted out as a wholly negative vice, or whether controlled anger has a place in the struggle to attain justice and the good (Ancient Texts 1:19c ; Christian Tradition 1:19–20). 
  • Jas 1:23–25: The word of truth is identified with the Torah. Comparing the "word of truth" to a mirror in which a human can see a reflection of his original, God-given nature (Jas 1:23–24, James then identifies the mirror with the "perfect law of freedom," the Torah as interpreted by Jesus (Jas 1:25). 
  • Jas 1:26: James' advice to bridle the tongue is situated within a rich Greco-Roman ethical tradition that valued brevity of speech and self-control; many biblical parallels are also apparent (Ancient Texts 1:26bLiterary Devices 1:26b; Biblical Intertextuality 1:26b).
  • Jas 1:27:  James' admonition to care for orphans and widows develops a common scriptural topos (Biblical Intertextuality 1:27). The tradition understood James' admonition both literally and as referring to the care of the poor and vulnerable in general (Christian Tradition 1:27; Christian Tradition 1:27b).

Jewish Tradition

19bc quick to hear …slow to anger: Controlling Speech and Anger The Mishnah has similar admonitions and teachings:

  •  m. 'Abot  5.11 "There are four kinds of student: (1) swift to hear and swift to lose [i.e., to forget: ’bd]—his gain is cancelled by his loss; (2) slow to hear and slow to lose [to forget: ’bd]—his loss is cancelled by his gain (3) swift to hear and slow to lose [forget: ’bd]this is a happy lot; (4) slow to hear and swift to lose [forget: ’bd]—this is an evil lot" (Danby 1933, 457).
  • m. 'Abot  2.10 "Be not easily provoked" (Danby 1933, 449).

Suggestions for Reading

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

Thematic Contrast


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. 1613. Image 131.→  

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

Christian Tradition

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:


Ancient Texts

19c slow to anger Differing Views on Anger Greco-Roman philosophical and ethical traditions were divided on the place of anger: for the Stoics and others such as Plutarch, it was a passion to be eradicated; Plato and Aristotle, by contrast, held that it was a important source of energy that one must harness and control.

Defintions of Anger

  • Aristotle Rhet. 2.2 [1378A] "Let us then define anger as a longing (orexis), accompanied by pain (lupê), for a real or apparent revenge for a real or apparent slight, affecting a man himself or one of his friends, when such a slight is undeserved" (mê prosêkontos; Freese 1926, 172–73).
  • The Stoics classify anger (orgê; Latin: ira) as a vice, a subcategory of "desire" (epithumia; Latin: libido; cf. Stobaeus Anth. 2.7 ; Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.113; Cicero Tusc. 4.7.16).
  • Likewise they say it is "a craving or desire (epithumia) to punish one who is thought to have done you an undeserved (ou prosêkontôs) injury" (Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.113;Hicks 1925, 218–19).

The terms orgê and thumos are both regularly used for the vice of anger (e.g., in Plutarch Cohib. Ira).

A Negative Passion Requiring Self-control

For the Stoics, anger is wholly negative and must entirely uprooted from a man if he wishes to be wise.

  • Seneca Ira 1.1–2: Anger is "the most hideous and frenzied (rabidum) of the emotions (affectus)…wholly violent…eager for revenge…a a temporary madness (brevis insania). Further, it is "devoid of self-control," "closed to reason," and "excited by trifling causes" (Basore 1928, 106–7).
  • Seneca Ira 2.36.6:  Anger is "the greatest of all evils…it brings into subjection all other passions." A greedy person forgets his greed due to anger; the ambitious man rejects an honor due to anger (Basore 1928,  250–51).
  • Seneca Ira 1.5.2: Anger is not in accord with nature (secundum naturam): Man is born for mutual help (homo in adiutorium mutuum genitus est); anger aims at mutual destruction (Basore 1928, 118–19). 
  • Seneca Ira 1.6.5 "Man's nature, then, does not crave vengeance; neither, therefore, does anger accord with man's nature, because anger craves vengeance (poena)…anger is contrary to nature" (non est naturalis;Basore 1928, 122–23).
  • Seneca Ira 1.9–10: Contrary to the opinion of Aristotle and others, controlled anger is not necessary to encourage action, e.g., in a dangerous situation. If anger can be controlled, then it is not truly anger, since the characteristic of anger is its lack of control. A virtue such as justice or courage should never depend upon a vice (Basore 1928, 128–33).
  • Seneca Ira 1.12–16: Criminals or wicked people should indeed be corrected or punished, but not with anger.
  • Seneca Ira 2.1–4: Anger is not an impulsive, automatic reaction to a wrong, but rather always involves a choice of the mind. After the initial reaction to being wronged, the mind determines whether to pursue revenge or punishment.

Even Plutarch, a Platonist and critic of Stoicism, agreed with the Stoic position that there is no positive use for anger, and one should work to get rid of it altogether.

  • Plutarch Cohib. Ira 5 [Mor. 455f]  calls it "the most hated and despised of the passions" (Helmbold 1939, 109).

Anger Closely Connected with the Inability to Control One's Tongue

  • Plutarch Cohib. Ira  7 [456e] "the tongue of angry men becomes rough and foul and breaks out in unseemly speeches" (Helmbold 1939, 114–15).

Plato and Aristotle: Anger Has its Place

  • Plato Leg. 5 [731b–d] insists,"Every man ought to be at once both passionate (thumoeidê) and gentle (praos = praus) in the highest degree (Bury 1926, 1:337; cf. also Resp. 2 [375]). In general, one should be gentle when dealing with wrongdoers, since no one does wrong willingly (hekôn; alluding to the Platonic teaching that sin is ignorance of the true good). Obstinately violent and wicked people, however, cannot be dealt with gently. One must summon up one's passionate anger in order to fight them when necessary (e.g., in self-defense).
  • For Aristotle Eth. Nic. 4.5.14 [1126b], being angry is not good or bad in itself—as with all passions, one must allow it in the right amount. "The middle diposition (mesê hexis) is praiseworthy, which leads us to be angry (orgizometha) with the right people for the right things in the right manner and so on, while the various forms of excess and and defect are blameworthy" (Rackham 1934, 234–35).

Biblical Intertextuality

19bc quick to hear, slow to speak Topos Common in Wisdom Literature Parallels to James' thought abound in biblical wisdom literature.

  • Sir 5:13 (G-Sir 5:11):  "Be swift (tachus) to hear, but slow (en makrothumiaᵢ) to answer."

Be Eager to Listen to the Words of the Wise and Learn

  • Sir 6:33–35: "If you are willing to listen, you can learn; if you pay attention, you can be instructed. Stand in the company of the elders; stay close to whoever is wise. Be eager to hear every discourse; let no insightful saying escape you."

One’s Speech Should not be Hasty

  • Prv 29:20: "Do you see someone who speaks in haste (G: tachus en logois)? There is more hope for a fool than for them. 
  • Eccl 5:1:  "Be not hasty in your utterance and let not your heart be quick to utter a promise in God's presence. God is in heaven and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few." See also Biblical Intertextuality 1:26.

Peritestamental Literature

19c slow to anger Controlling One’s Tongue and Passions  James' admonitions to control one's tongue and passions such as anger are frequent in Jewish Hellenistic writing: 

Controlling One's Tongue

  • Ps.-Phoc. 20 "Take heed of your tongue, keep your word hidden in your heart" (van der Horst 1978, 88–89).
  • Philo Her. 10–12: Commenting on Dt 27:9: "Be silent and hear": "There are indeed some [e.g., the ignorant] whom it befits to hear but not to speak." Philo also sees here an admonition to listen to a speaker inwardly, not letting one's attention wander (Colson 1932, 4:288–89).

Controlling Anger

Some Hellenistic Jewish authors favor the Aristotelian view that passions such as anger should be controlled by reason, not completely eradicated (Ancient Texts 1:19c).

  • 4 Macc. 1:29: "Each of these (i.e., the passions), reason (logismos), the master gardener, purges thoroughly and prunes and binds up and waters and irrigates all around, and so domesticates the wild undergrowth of inclinations and passions" (pathê). 
  • 4 Macc. 2:16: the temperate mind (sôphrôn nous) has mastery over anger (thumos) and the other passions.
  • Ps.-Phoc. 57 advises, "Be not rash with your hands, but bridle (chalinoô; cf. Jas 1:26; 3:2–3) your wild anger" (orgê; van den Horst 1978, 90–91).
  •  Ps.-Phoc. 59 "Let your emotions be moderate (estô koina pathê), neither great nor overwhelming" (Van der Horst 1978, 92–93).
  •  Ps.-Phoc. 69b "Moderation is the best of all (pantôn metron aristôn); excesses are grieveous" (Van der Horst 1978, 92–93). 

Link between Controlling Speech and Anger

  •  Pss. Sol. 16:10 "May I speak the truth (lit.: clothe my tongue and my lips, in words of truth); put fierce rage and anger (orgên kai thumon alogon) far from me" (OTP 2:142–43).