The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:18b

Reception

Liturgies

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

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

Text

Literary Devices

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).

Reception

Christian Tradition

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).

Context

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). 

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).

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."

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).

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.