The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:18,21

Byz Nes TR

18  Exercising His will He begat us by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

18  For by his own will he produced us through the Word of truth, so that we might be a kind of beginning among his creatures.

18  It is he, who begot us of his own will with the word of truth, that we should be the firstfruits of his creatures.

18 first-fruits Lv 2:12; Rom 11:16; Rom 16:5; Rv 14:4
Nes S TR

21  Therefore laying aside all filthiness and abundance of evil, in meekness receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

21  Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

21  Because of this, having cast away all uncleanness and an abundance of malice, receive with meekness the newly-grafted Word, which is able to save your souls.

21a gentleness Mt 11:29l Gal 5:12 putting away sordidness Rom 3:12; Col 3:8; 1Pt 2:1 21b receiving the implanted word Prv 4:10; Zep 3:7; Mk 4:3-20; Acts 8:14



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

19–27 Use in Lectionary


Ancient Texts

21b implanted word Stoic Philosophy: Innate Moral Concepts The Stoics taught that the faculty of reason (logos) is not fully developed in the human soul until later in life (see Aetius Prooem. 2; [→SVF 2.83]), but that already from the beginning certain preconceptions (prolêpsis) are innate in the soul, including our innate sense of right and wrong.

  •  Cicero Tusc. 3.2 "The seeds of virtue are inborn (semina innata virtutum) in our dispositions, and, if they were allowed to ripen, nature's own hand would lead us on to happiness of life" (King 1927, 226).
  • Epictetus Diatr. 2.11.3 "who has come into being without an innate concept (emphyton ennoian) of what is good (agathos) and evil (kakos), honourable and base…what we ought to do and what we ought not to do?" (Oldfather 1928, 1:276).
  • Epictetus Diatr. 1.22.9–10 "To be eduated (paideuesthai) involves learning how to apply these natural preconceptions (phusikê prolêpsis) to particular situations" (Oldfather 1928, 1:142–43).



21b gentleness One of the Fruits of the Spirit Catholic tradition, based on Gal 5:22–23, identifies gentleness (L = mansuetudo) as one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1832).



21a put away Literal and Metaphorical Meanings: Allusion to Baptism? The literal meaning of the Greek apotithêmi is to take off one’s clothes (see Herodotus Hist. 4.78.4). Metaphorically it is often used in the NT to admonish believers to put off various kinds of ethical evil (see Rom 13:12; Col 3:8; 1Pt 2:1). This metaphorical sense may allude to the physical act of taking off one’s clothes during the baptismal ceremony (Literary Devices 1:21a).

21a all sordidness Specification as "Earwax"?

  • The Greek noun ruparia, a hapax legomenon in the Bible, literally means "dirt" or "filth" and was used metaphorically for moral uncleanness, especially greediness. Plutarch Adul. amic. 19 [Mor. 60E] parallels ruparia with mikrologia, "stinginess" or "pettiness" (Literary Devices 1:21a).
  • The specific meaning "earwax"  in Hippocrates Epid. 6.5.1, ôtos rupos, is also attested; with his emphasis on proper hearing (Jas 1:19–25), James may allude to this meaning.


21b with gentleness An Ambiguous Modifier The adverbial phrase "with gentleness" (en prautêti) may modify either the expression "after you have put away" or the imperative "receive" (Literary Devices 1:21b; Biblical Intertextuality 1:21b).

Literary Devices

21b with gentleness Contrast James contrasts the virtue of gentleness (prautês) with the ungodly vice of anger (orgê) mentioned in Jas 1:20 (Ancient Texts 1:21b).


Biblical Intertextuality

21b receive the implanted word The Word as the Gospel The NT often refers to receiving (dechomai) the word of God as a synonym for accepting the gospel message.  Jesus' parable speaks of those who receive the word with joy (Lk 8:13); Samaria received the word of God (Acts 8:14); cf. Acts 11:1; 17:11; 1Thes 1:6; 2:13 (Christian Tradition 1:21b).



21b implanted Innate or Simply Firmly Established Qualities? The Greek emphutos literally means "implanted," and refers metaphorically to things innate or natural in humans. Plato Phaedr. 237d speaks of our innate desire for pleasure (emphutos epithumia hêdonôn) in contrast to opinions that are acquired (epiktêtos doxa; Fowler 1913, 444–45).

The word is sometimes used in the sense of something firmly established, but not necessarily inborn or innate:

  • Barn. 1.2: "his grace planted within you" (emphuton charin; Ehrman 2003, 2:12–13);
  • Barn. 9.9: Jesus' "placing the implanted gift (emphuton dôrean) of his teaching in us" (Ehrman 2003, 2:44).

21c save your souls Eschatological Salvation

In James

James uses the verb "to save" sôᵢzô in four other passages:

  • Jas 2:14: "Can this faith save him?"
  • Jas 4:12: "There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save or to destroy."
  • Jas 5:15: "and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up."
  • Jas 5:20: "he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."

Jas 4:12 and 5:20 clearly refer to eschatological judgment; it is likely that all five of James' references have this connotation (Literary Devices 5:15ab).

In some passages (Jas 2:14; 4:12; 5:15), James speaks of saving the person; in others (Jas 1:21; 5:20) of saving the soul. It is thus likely that James thinks of the soul (G= psuchê) not as an immaterial spirit apart from the body (James uses the term "spirit"—pneuma—for this: 2:26), but rather as a term for the whole of the human person, body and spirit (cf. Heb. nefeš): cf. 1Cor 15:45: "The first man, Adam, became a living soul," which is a quote of Gn 2:7 (wayᵉhî hā-’ādām, lᵉnefeš hayyâ = kai egeneto ho anthrôpos eis psuchên zôsan).


21b receive Imperative Aorist The Greek dechomai means "to receive" (e.g., a gift), "to welcome a person" (cf. Lk 16:4), or "to receive a teaching" (e.g., Lk 8:13: "receive the word with joy"). The aorist aspectual form of the imperative suggests that the action take place once, completely. Thus it should be translated simply as "receive," and should not convey continuous duration (e.g., "be receptive to," "keep receiving," etc.). Nevertheless, the reception history of this passage shows that this continuous, durative interpratation of receiving the word was not necessarily excluded (not all languages have aspectual markers; Christian Tradition 1:21b). In this verse, then, the verb may be understood to denote:

  • receiving or accepting the message of the gospel; 
  • or receiving, i.e. being open to, the natural sense of right and wrong that exists in one's conscience.

Literary Devices

21a all sordidness and abundance of wickedness Creating an Impression of Comprehensive Evil James uses two strong phrases to create an impression of the pervasive and comprehensive evil of the world:

  • "all sordidness" (pasa ruparia);
  • "abundance of evil" (perisseia kakias).

18b first-fruits Cultic Purity Language James' language is full of allusions to Israel's worship and Israel's concept of purity. Here James calls church members, “a sort of first-fruits” (aparchê) of his creatures,” alluding to the first portion offered in a sacrifice. James employs purity language elsewhere:

  • Jas 1:27:  religion that is “pure (katharos) and undefiled” (amiantos) consists in caring for orphans and widows and keeping oneself “unstained” (aspilos) from the world;
  • Jas 3:6c: [the tongue] "defiling (spiloô) the whole body";
  • Jas 3:17b: the “wisdom from above” is called “pure” (hagnos);
  • Jas 4:8bc:  “Cleanse (katharizô; cf. kathoros in Jas 1:27) [your] hands, you sinners, and purify (hagnizo; cf. agnos in Jas 3:17) [your] hearts, you double-minded.”

Even the pervasive concept of "wholeness" (expressed especially with the word teleios: see Jas 1:4,17,25; 3:2; cognates and verbal expressions in Jas 1:15; 2:8,22; 5:11) is cultic, alluding to the requirement that a sacrifice should be whole (teleios; cf. Literary Devices 1:27; Ancient Cultures 1:18b).


Biblical Intertextuality

18a word of truth Possible Referents of “the word of truth”  The term "word of truth" (logos alêtheias) may refer to several concepts found in Scripture. Its meaning is closely connected with how the exegete understands the phrase: "he gives birth to us." Does the "us," refer to (1) all humanity, (2) Israel, or (3) Christians? 

  • (1) The word by which God created all humans. Cf. Gn 1:26–27: God creates through speaking and Jon 1:1–3: God creates all humans and all things through his Word.
  • (2) The Torah. The Law is called a “word of truth” in Ps 119:43. In this case, the reference is to the word of the Torah “giving birth” to the people of Israel as the “first fruits” of creation—a people set apart and specially dedicated to God. If this is the meaning, then the interpreter must decide if the reference to Israel applies literally to Jews or in an extended sense to followers of Jesus.
  • (3) The gospel message. “Now you too, in him, have heard the message of the truth (logos alêtheias)  and the gospel of your salvation.” (Eph 1:13, cf. Col 1:5; 2Tm 2:15). In this case, the language of “giving birth” refers to God “giving birth” to the Christian in baptism (cf. Jn 1:13; 3:3–5; 1Pt 1:23–25; cf. Paul’s image of giving birth to members of his churches: 1Cor 4:15 and Gal 4:10).

The three options as not necessarily mutually exclusive. In the Hellenistic Jewish-Christian context presupposed by the Letter of James, one could well understand the word (logos) as the rational power through which the cosmos was created and is upheld, the Torah as the written expression of that cosmic logos, and the Christian message as the Lord Jesus' interpretation of the Torah (Christian Tradition 1:18a).

Peritestamental Literature

18a Of his own will God’s Free Creation Philo uses the same participle (the passive of boulomai) to express God's careful planning of his creation:

  •  Philo Opif. 16 "When he willed (bouletheis) to create this visible world, He first fully formed the intelligible world, in order that He might have the use of a pattern, wholly God-like and incorporeal" (Colson 1929, 1:14–15).

See also Opif. 44 wherein God willed to create the cyclical patterns of nature (Ancient Texts 1:18a).

18a word The Role of God’s Logos in Creation, Especially of Humans

 God's Creation through the Word

Philo Migr. 6 teaches that God used his logos as an instrument (organon) to fashion the world (Colson 1932, 134–35).

God's Word is the Model for the Human Soul

  • Philo Opif. 139 ( cf. Philo Leg. 3.96): God's creation of the human soul is particularly associated with his logos: "for the Creator, we know, employed for its making no pattern (paradeigma) taken from among created things, but solely, as I have said, creation,  his own Word" (logos). This special creation through the Word is connected with humans being made in the "likeness and imitation" (apeikonisma kai mimêma) of God (Colson 1929, 110–11).

The human mind is thus in contact with divine reason:

  • Philo Opif. 146 "Every man, in respect of his mind is allied to the divine reason (kata tên dianoian ôᵢkeiôtai logôᵢ theiô); having come into being as a copy or fragment or ray of that blessed nature" (Colson 1929, 114–15).

21b implanted Virtues Implanted in the Human Soul  Philo Plant. 37 speaks of virtues implanted in the human rational soul (cf. Ancient Texts 1:21b; Christian Tradition 1:21b):

  • Scriptural references to the trees in the Garden of Eden (the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) are allegorical: "these can be no growths of earthly soil, but must be those of the reasonable soul" (psuchê logike).
  • “We must conceive therefore that the bountiful God plants (emphuteuô) in the soul as it were a garden of virtues (paradeison aretôn) and of the modes of conduct corresponding to each of them (tôn kat' autas praxeôn) garden that brings the soul to perfect happiness" (Colson 1930, 3:230–31).


Comparison of Versions

21a sordidness S's Use of Ritual Purity Language S translates "sordidness" with ṭnpwt’ ("uncleanness"). The word is also used at Dn 11:31 ("the abomination that makes desolate") and in several NT texts, e.g., Gal 5:19 and Eph 4:19, where it translates the Greek akatharsia ("impurity"). 

21b the implanted word The Word Implanted in Human Nature S adds "in our nature" (bkynn) after "implanted," supporting the interpretation that James here refers to a characteristic implanted in all human beings, rather than a special grace given to Christians (Christian Tradition 1:21b).  S uses this same word in Jas 3:7: "Every kind (kyn’) of beast…nature (kyn’) of human beings."

Christian Tradition

18a by the word of truth Identify of the Word? The tradition offers several possibilities concerning the identify of “the word of truth.”

The Pre-existent Word through Whom the World was Created

The Incarnate Word

The Word of the Gospel (= Acceptance of the Christian Message)

Other Interpretations

Cornelius à Lapide lists several other interpretive options, including a sacramental sense: it refers to the “word” spoken in the sacraments (e.g., in baptism, “I baptize you,” in penance, “I absolve you,” or the words of consecration during Mass). This refers to Scholastic sacramental theology, wherein a specific verbal formula is necessary (along with proper matter and intention) to effect the sacrament. 

Here is the moral sense:

  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. “The moral sense (moraliter) of the passage is that it teaches about the divine sonship in which Christians become heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, sharers of the divine nature. God is the father, the seed is prevenient grace, breathed upon through the passion and merits of Christ, the mother is our will, whose seed is the consent to the grace and vocation of God: the offspring is the new person (homo novus) living a life of grace” (20:70).

18a Of his own will He gave us birth God's Unmerited Election Commentators, both Catholic and Protestant, find here a reference to God's unmerited grace in salvation:

  •  Bede Ep. cath. ad loc.: God begets a new person in baptism "not because of our merits (non nostris meritis) but because of the generosity of his will" (Hurst 1983, 189; Hurst 1985, 17); similarly Augustine of Hippo Enarrat. Ps. 67.12; Augustine of Hippo Ep. 149.6.
  •  Gloss. Ord. ad loc. "Every good is from God, and you have not come to this through your merits, but only through the grace of the divine will" (sola gratia divinae voluntatis; col. 1271).
  •   Calvin Comm. Iac. "But this passage teaches us, that as our election before the foundation of the world (nostra electio ante mundum conditum) was gratuitous (gratuita), so we are illuminated by the grace of God alone as to the knowledge of the truth so that our calling (vocatio) corresponds with our election" (Owen 1849, 292; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 392).
  •  Lapide Comm. "without our merit, he mercifully called, elected, justified, and regenerated…we are born from him by his certain plan, deliberation, proposition, and predestination" (certo consilio, deliberatione, proposito et praedestinatione Dei; 20:70).

Reformation Debate on Free Will

  •   Luther Serv. arbit. 5 holds that this text proves that human free will has absolutely no role in becoming a new creature in God's Kingdom—this is completely due to God's working: God's grace gives birth, and the human is passive (LW 33:243; WA 18:754).
  • In reply Erasmus Hyper. insists that a human must have some positive role in cooperating with God's grace in becoming a new creature; "Of his own will He gave us birth" simply means that salvation is a free gift of God that cannot be earned by humans, but it does not preclude the free will to cooperate or not cooperate with that grace" (Miller 2000, 622–25).

Other Interpretations

Bernard of Clairvaux Serm. Cant. 16.4 connects the passage with the Christian's ability to call on God as Father.

18b first-fruits Identity of the “First-Fruits” The tradition offers two main options for the identity of the “first fruits.”

Human Beings are the First Fruits of God’s Creation

Several authors interpret “first fruits” as humanity; in particular, “first fruits” refers to humanity’s privileged place over the rest of creation.

Christians are the First Fruits

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. sees the reference to giving birth (v. 18a) as a reference to baptism: “he has changed us from sons of darkness into sons of light through the water of regeneration” (Hurst 1983, 189; Hurst 1985, 17).
  • Aquinas ST 3.23.2 applies this passage to spiritual re-birth (regeneratio spiritualis; English Dominicans 1947, 4:2142).
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. “For as man excels among all creatures, so the Lord elects some from the whole mass and separates them as a holy offering, to himself” (segregat sibi in sanctam oblationem; Owen 1849, 293; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 392); cf. also Luther Lect. Heb. ad 3:14.
  • Baptist Statement 2 refers the passage to the new birth in Christ (CCFCT 3:810).

Similarly: Augustine of Hippo Ep. 140.62.

Distinction between “Giving Birth” and the Father’s Begetting the Son

In referencing this passage, the tradition is careful to distinguish the “giving birth” of Christians from God’s begetting of his Son: Augustine of Hippo Cons. 2.3.6 (Weirich 1903, 87); Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. (Hurst 1985, 17); Ps.-Andreas Catena ad loc.; Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. Jac. ad loc. (col. 465); Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 2.1 (Preus 2008, 1:156).

  • Aquinas ST 3.23.2 “There is this difference between an adopted son of God and the natural Son of God, that the latter is “begotten not made”; whereas the former is made (filius Dei naturalis est genitus non factus, filius autem adoptivus est factus), according to Jn. 1:12: “He gave them power to be made the sons of God.” Yet sometimes the adopted son is said to be begotten, by reason of the spiritual regeneration which is by grace, not by nature (spiritualem regenerationem, quae est gratuita); wherefore it is written (Jas 1:18): ‘Of His own will hath He begotten us by the word of truth’” (voluntarie genuit nos verbo veritatis; English Dominicans 1947, 4:2142).

21a all sordidness and abundance of wickedness Distinction: Inner and Outer Vices

Interior and Exterior Evils

The tradition distinguishes between the two terms "all sordidness" and "abundance of wickedness".  Bede Ep. cath.Hurst 1983, 191; Hurst 1985, 19); reproduced in the Gloss. Ord. ad loc. (col. 1272): 

  • sordidness: "both of body and of soul";
  • wickedness: "belongs particularly to the perversity of the inward man" (interior homo).

Preparation for Receiving the Word

Many interpreters see here James' admonition to prepare oneself to receive God's world:

  • Bede Ep. cath. "he orders that they cleanse both body and mind from vices, that they may be able to receive the word of salvation" (verbum salutis; Hurst 1983, 191; Hurst 1985, 19).

Building on James' reference to the implanted word, many see here an agricultural image: the person must clear away the weeds of sin before the word can grow:

  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. "if you want the seed of the evangelical word, which has been cast only once, to produce fruit in you…then clear away from the field of your breast…all the passions with which the human soul is polluted, the thorns of greed, the sand of rashness, the mud of lust, the rocks of pride and obstinacy" (Bateman 1993, 144).

21b with gentleness A Virtue Opposing Anger

  • Gloss. Ord. glosses "gentleness" (mansuetudo) with "against anger" (contra iram), in harmony with the Greco-Roman ethical tradition (col. 1271; Ancient Texts 1:21b).
  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc.  "The handing on of the teaching (paradochê didaskalias) should be with gentleness (en prautêti), and not with noise and confusion" (en thorubôᵢ kai tarachêᵢ; col. 468b).


Biblical Intertextuality

18b first fruits Literal and Metaphorical Meanings

Literal Meanings

  • According to the commandments of the Torah, the “first fruits” (Hebrew: bkkwrym or r’šyt; Greek: aparchê) refers to the first ripe grain and fruits (e.g., Ex 23:16; Lv 23:10) and the first pressings of wine and oil (e.g., Dt 18:4), which were offered in sacrifice to God. 
  • The first-born of animals and humans was also dedicated to God as sacred (e.g., Ex 13:2–16). 

Metaphorical Meanings, Especially the Holy Community as “First Fruits”

  • The term is applied to Israel as the “first fruits” of the Lord’s harvest (Jer 2:3). 
  • The NT’s use of aparchê is exclusively metaphorical. The Holy Spirit is the “first fruits” of the new life in Christ (Rom 8:23). 
  • The 144,000 in Revelation “have been ransomed as the first-fruits of the human race for God and the Lamb” (Rv 14:4). 
  • The term applies to the first members who join a Christian community (Rom 16:5; 1Cor 16:15). 
  • Paul also uses the word to refer to those of Israel who accept the Gospel (Rom 11:16). 
  • Christ, as the first to overcome death, is called the “first fruits” of those who will rise from the dead (1Cor 15:20–23). 


Literary Devices

18a gave birth to us Birth Imagery The Greek verb—apokueô—literally denotes the act of giving birth. In its metaphorical use, it is similar to the English "engender."

Contrastive Echo

James' use of birth imagery contrasts strongly with his previous use of that imagery:

  • Jas 1:15b: [sin] "gives birth (tiktei) to death";
  • Jas 1:18: [God the Father] "gave birth to us by the word of truth."

Feminine Imagery Applied to God

Having just described God as the Father of lights (Jas 1:17), James' use of a feminine methaphor is striking.


21c save your souls Eschatological Salvation James uses the verb sôᵢzô ("save") in four other passages:

  • Jas 2:14: "Can this faith save him?"
  • Jas 4:12: "There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save or to destroy."
  • Jas 5:15: "and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up."
  • Jas 5:20: "he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."

Jas 4:12 and 5:20 clearly refer to eschatological judgment; it is likely that all five of James' references have this connotation (Literary Devices 5:15ab).

In some passages (Jas 2:14; 4:12; 5:15), James speaks of saving the person; in others (Jas 1:21; 5:20) of saving the soul. It is thus likely that James thinks of the soul (G= psuchê) not as an immaterial spirit apart from the body, but rather as a term for the whole of the human person, body and spirit.

21c,5:20b soul Multivalent Term The Greek psuchê is a multivalent term.

  • A basic meaning is the life-force that animates a body; e.g., Acts 20:10; cf. Aristotle De an. 2.4; (415b).
  • It can refer to the seat of a person's emotions: "My soul is sorrowful even to death" (Mt 26:38); cf. Mt 22:37
  • It can refer to a person's whole life, including physical life: "the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life (psuchê) as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45).

James' understanding of psuchê is not philosophically precise. The parallelism of Jas 4:8 identifies the dipsuchos (literally "two-souled") person with the sinner; the opposite of the dipsuchos is the person with a purified heart.  The soul here is understood as the seat of the thought and will, and thus, for James, essentially equivalent with the "heart" (G= kardia; cf. heart at Jas 1:26; 3:14; 5:5,8).

James' use of psuchê  is likely similar to its use in the Gospel tradition: "For whoever wishes to save his life (psuchê) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it" (Mk 8:35). The soul here is considered as the whole life of the person, including both the earthly, bodily existence and the transcendent existence that survives bodily death. Cf. also the usage of its Hebrew analogue, nepeš, which rendered psuchê in G: e.g., 1Cor 15:45: "The first man, Adam, became a living soul," which is a quote of Gn 2:7 (wayᵉhî hā-’ādām, lᵉnefeš hayyâ = kai egeneto ho anthrôpos eis psuchên zôsan). This transcendent element is clear in a further Synoptic saying,"And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna" (Mt 10:28). 

Jesus' reference to destroying soul and body in Gehenna is thus equivalent to James' reference to death: a sinner who is turned away from the error of this way will save his soul from this eschatological death. 

James also speaks of the "spirit" (pnuema = rûa; see Vocabulary 2:26a). Here pneuma is clearly the "life-force" of the physical body. James speaks further of the "the spirit which [God] made to live in us" (Jas 4:5). The relationship between pneuma and psuchê for James is not clear.


Ancient Cultures

18b first fruits Cultic Terminology In ancient Greek religion, "first fruits" (aparchê) is a technical term referring to the first part of a religious sacrifice or offering; it also refers to the first portion of anything that was held sacred or consecrated to the gods before the rest was put to secular use  (see Herodotus Hist. 1.92, 4.71; see also Biblical Intertextuality 1:18a, Peritestamental Literature 1:18b).

Ancient Texts

18a word The Rich Philosophical Background of Logos  Logos has a rich variety of meanings in ancient Greek philosophy, all occuring within the general semantic field of language and reason (→James: Philosophical Background of Logos ).

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."

Peritestamental Literature

21c able to save your souls Salvation of the Soul through the Logos

  •  Philo Leg. 3.137 "For only then does the soul (psuchê) begin to be saved (sôᵢzetai), when the seat of anger (thumos) has received reason (logos) as its charioteer" (hêniocheô; Colson and Whitaker 1929, 1:392–93).



18 Lectionary Reading RMLJas 1:18 is the basis for the Alleluia for the 8th and 22nd Sundays in Ordinary Time (Cycle B).

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).


Ancient Texts

21b,3:13b gentleness Virtue opposite to Anger; Trait of Socrates

  • Aristotle Rhetoric 2.3 [1380a] "becoming angry is the opposite of becoming mild, and anger (orgê) of mildness (praotêtis)…Let us then define making mild as the quieting and appeasing of anger" (Freese 1926, 184–85).
  • Aristotle Nic. Eth. 4.5.1 [1125B] "Gentleness (praotês) is the observance of the mean (mesotês) in relation to anger" (orgê; Rackham 1934, 230–31).
  • Plutarch Cohib. Ira portrays the man who acts with gentleness (using praus and cognates) as the opposite of the man who gives way to uncontrolled anger (e.g., 453c, 458e, 459c, 461a, 462a, 462d, 464d; Literary Devices 1:21b).
  • Plato Phaed. 116C: Socrates is called the "noblest, gentlest (praᵢotaton), and best" of men faced with death (Emlyn-Jones 1914, 516–17); cf. Biblical Intertextuality 1:21b,3:13b.

Peritestamental Literature

21b gentleness A Characteristic of God

  • Philo Det. 146 "But if He punishes us, He will of His gracious goodness, gently and kindly (epieikôs kai praᵢôs) correct our faults" (Colson and Whitaker 1929, 2:298–99).

Ancient Texts

18a Of his own will Willing in Greek Philosophy Although the verb boulomai is common; its use here may have a background in Greek philosophy.

One of the Three Good Emotional States

The Stoics identified the cognate noun boulêsis as one of the three good emotional states (eupatheia) that are the opposite of the vices. According to  Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.116:

  • joy (chara; Ancient Texts 1:2) is the opposite of pleasure (hêdonê; Ancient Texts 4:1; Ancient Texts 4:1b);
  • caution (eulabeia) is the opposite of fear (phobos);
  • wishing / willing (boulêsis) is the opposite of desire (epithumia; Jas 1:14–15).
  • Similarly, Aristotle Rhet. 1.10 [1369a] refers to wish (boulêsis) as a rational desire (logistikê orexis), while epithumia and anger (orgê) are irrational desires (alogoi orexeis).

Depending Virtues

Under the heading of boulêsis, the Stoics grouped the following virtues. Each one promotes good relationships between humans, while the vice of epithumia leads to conflicts.  Thus for Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.116 these are:

  • benevolence (eunoia);
  • friendliness (eumeneia);
  • respect (aspasmos);
  • affection (agapêsis).

James thus uses the verb boulomai to emphasize God's free choice to create (i.e., he did not create out of necessity; Peritestamental Literature 1:18a).


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.


Biblical Intertextuality

21b,3:13b gentleness Moses, Sirach, Jesus, Christians


Moses' Extraordinary Humility

The wise lawgiver Moses is known as having been most gentle, meek, and humble (Vocabulary 3:13b): 

  • Nm 12:3: "Now the man Moses was very gentle (Greek: praus; Hebrew: ‘nw "humble"), more than anyone else on earth."
  • Sir 45:4: "Because of his [Moses'] trustworthiness and gentleness (prautês) God selected him from all flesh."

Christians maintained this tradition of Moses' exceeding humility (e.g., Jerome of Stridon Ep. 82.3).

A Major Theme in Sirach

  • Sir 1:34–35 (G-1:27): "For the fear of the Lord is wisdom and discipline; faithfulness and gentleness (prautês) are his delight."
  • Sir 3:19 (G-3:17): "My son, conduct your affairs with gentleness (en prautêti), and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts"
  • Sir 4:8: "Give a hearing to the poor, and return their greeting with gentleness (en prautêti)
  • Sir 10:31 (G-10:28): "My son, with humility (en prautêti) have self-esteem; and give yourself the esteem you deserve."


Gentleness in Jesus' Teachings
  • Jesus says of himself, "I am gentle (praus) and humble (tapeinos) of heart" (Mt 11:29). Cf. Mt 21:5 and Paul's application to Jesus in 2Cor 10:1.
  • Mt 5:5: "Blessed are the meek."
Doing Deeds with Gentleness
  • 1Cor 4:21: "Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a gentle spirit (prautês)?"
  • Gal 6:1: "correct that one [i.e., a fellow Christian] in a gentle spirit" cf. 2Tm 2:25.
  • 1Pt 3:15–16: an admonition to explain Christian beliefs with gentleness.
A Christian Virtue

Prautês and its cognates are often linked with tapeinos ("humble") and its cognates: Is 26:6; Mt 11:29; Eph 4:2; Col 3:12; cf. Ancient Texts 1:21b,3:13b.