A project of the Bible in Its Traditions Research Program AISBL
Directed by the École Biblique et Archéologique in Jerusalem
To support us, click here
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and [the] Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
27 This is religion, clean and undefiled before God the Father: to visit orphans and widows in their tribulations, and to keep yourself immaculate, apart from this age.
27 For a pure and holy ministry before God, the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
26f Clarifying the Relationship between Jas 1:22–25 and 1:26–27
27a Religion pure and undefiled The False Christianity of Slave Holders The social reformer and former slave Frederick Douglass's best-known speech, "What is the Slave to the Fourth of July" (1852) refers to Jas 1:27 and Jas 3:17 in his condemnation of Christian supporters of slavery.
See also Christian Tradition 3:17.
27c the world Fallenness James' conception of "the world" as a realm opposed to God corresponds with what later Christian theology identifies as the fallen state of humans and of the world (see →CCC 402–409; esp. 408–9 on the "world"). See also Biblical Intertextuality 1:27c; Christian Tradition 1:27c.
27 Religion pure and undefiled Alllusions in Charles Wesley's Hymns Charles Wesley's hymn, "Aldersgate Street," clearly alludes to Jas 1:27:
27 pure and undefiled …unstained: Use of Cultic Purity Language James readily applies cultic purity language to ethical and religious contexts: see Jas 1:18b; 3:6a; 3:17b; 4:8. This passage has specific verbal echoes with other phrases in James:
27c,3:6,4:4 world Negative Connotations The word kosmos is negative in James's worldview, expressing a realm or state opposed to God (Biblical Intertextuality 1:27; Christian Tradition 1:27; Christian Tradition 4:4b).
27b look after orphans and widows Synecdoche Many commentators do not take James's singling out of orphans and widows literally: by synecdoche, he uses the specific example of orphans and widows to stand for care of the poor and vulnerable in general. See also the occurrences of this fixed expression in the OT (Marginal References 1:27b).
27 pure and undefiled ...unstained: Cultic Purity James uses words taken originally from semantic realm of cultic purity (cf. Biblical Intertextuality 1:27). The same vocabulary is found often in other Greek writers:
The terms are also applied to the moral realm:
27c the world The World (Kosmos): A Realm Opposed to God In the NT, "world" (kosmos) can have the sense of a realm opposed to God (cf. Jas 4:4: "Don't you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?"). In this sense, Satan is seen as the ruler of this world (Jn 12:31; 16:11;1 Jn 5:19; 2Cor 4:4). The standards of this world are not the standards of God (1Cor 2:12,3:19). The world hates Christ and his followers, since they are not of the world (Jn 7:7; Jn 15:18f; 17,14). The "world" is equivalent to the current "age" (aiôn) that will soon pass away (2Cor 4:4; cf. Christian Tradition 1:27c; Theology 1:27c).
27a religion pure and undefiled Accommodating the Teaching to the Hearers
27c world The World: a Realm Opposed to God.
27 Religion pure and undefiled The Principle of Subsidiarity
27a Vatican II’s Focus on Love
27 pure and undefiled Series of Parallelisms James's fondness for parallel constructions is apparent in this verse:
27 orphans and widows in their affliction Vulnerable Social Position Widows and orphans represent two of the most vulnerable social groups in ancient Mediterranean societies (→James: Rich and Poor; Biblical Intertextuality 1:27b).
At Athens, widows were expected to live under the protection of a male relative and were encouraged to remarry, especially if young. A widow's dowry reverted to the man who protected her. Roman widows could receive a portion of her husband's property if she did not remarry.
An early 3rd c. AD legal petition from a widow in Egypt illustrates the vulnerability of the widow:
A 2nd c. AD Egyptian papyrus reads similarly:
18–27 Exhortation to Doing the Word
26f religious Semantics of "religion" The adjective thrêskos ("religious") is found only here in the whole NT; the adjective is not found in G. The cognate noun form used later in the verse, thrêskeia, is well attested.
Thrêskeia emphasizes the public cultus (see its use in Col 2:18 for the worship of angels; Ws 14:27: the worship of idols). It is often paired with eusebeia ("piety"). Eusebeia (adjective: eusebês) is generally understood as the state of being pious (corresponding to Latin pietas), while thrêskeia concerns outward acts of piety (corresponding to Latin religio):
27b look after Two Meanings The episkeptomai has two general meanings (the verb used in S keeps the same semantic field):
See also the cognate episkopos, literally "overseer," the one tasked with attending to matters and visiting subordinates. In turn, the Latin episcopus evolved into the English "bishop" (episcopus > [e]biscopus > *biscopo > bisceop; →OED ). Cf. →Ecclesiastical vocabulary among the first christian communities: episkopoi, presbuteroi, and diakonoi
27 pure and undefiled ...unstained: Imagery of Cultic Purity James' imagery draws on the world of cultic purity. All three terms are connected with ritual purity, e.g.,
In other scriptural texts, the vocabulary is applied in a more metaphorical sense:
27a religion pure and undefiled Religion Expressed in Virtues The concept of worshipping God through virtue and virtuous deeds is found in Judaism.
26f religious ...religion: Religion as Serving God S translates the adjective thrêskos (Vocabulary 1:26-27) with the Pa‘el participle of the verb šmš, literally meaning "to serve." S uses this same verb at the following places:
S uses the same root šmš for the noun at the end of the verse: "the service (tšmšth) of that person is worthless."
27 look after orphans ...keep oneself unstained from the world: James Describes Religious Orders The traditition often understands James to refer to the work of religious orders.
An early 13th century rule for anchoresses, sees in this passage a description of the two ways of religious life:
→ 2.3 (1.4) also applies "looking after orphans and widows" to the work of religious orders such as the Dominicans who are called to help parish priests in preaching and hearing confessions ( Impug. , 123).
27a before [our] God and Father Religion in God’s Eyes Bede comments on the distinction between human and divine concepts of religion.
27a religion pure and undefiled Distinction between "Pure" and "Undefiled"
27a religion …is this: to look after, A Favorite Deist Text The English Deist Matthew Tindal champions James' definition as a definition of true, natural religion focused on moral behavior, as opposed to the corrupted form that emphasizes belief in speculative doctrines such as the belief that God is a Trinity (→, 323). Chr.
27b to look after orphans and widows General Admonition to Act with Mercy and Compassion
The care of orphans and widows continued to be a special concern of the early Church:
→Didasc. 17: If a church member does not have his own children, he should adopt Christian orphans ( , 2:160; 1903, 1:176).
Several texts, including church orders, indicate that the office of widows was a specific ministry of the early Church. The precise duties of these women is unclear, but included a devotion to prayer and providing aid to those in need, particularly women.
Commentators often connect this passage with Jesus' parable on the sheep and the goats (Mt 25:31–46).
27c keep oneself unstained from the world How Does One Keep Onself Unstained from the World? → suggests the following ways of keeping oneself unstained from "the world" (defined as sinful values of a fallen world): Comm.
27b widows Legal Policies Concerning Widows The Mishnah spells out specific rights for widows and orphans, especially in relation to the widow's rights to her ketubah—the money and goods given to a couple by either the bride's family (dowry) or the groom or his family at the time of the marriage.
26f to look after orphans and widows in their affliction A Central Theme: Concern for the Poor In his definition of "religion," James returns to a central theme of his letter: concern for the poor and vulnerable of society:
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 → 23 and Hist. eccl.→ 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also Vir. ill.→James: Introduction.
Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:
The following images are noteworthy:
James holds a club.
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.
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 → 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. Leg. aur.
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.
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
The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in → 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews). Vir. ill.
James holds a book and club.
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.
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.
27b orphans and widows Touchstone of Communitarian Ethics
The OT often singles out the widow (Hebrew: ’lmnh; Greek: chêra) and the orphan (Hebrew: ytwm; Greek: orphanos), often together with the "resident alien" (Hebrew: gēr; Greek: prosêlutos) for special concern.
Jesus' teaching referred to the plight of widows, criticizing injustice against them (see also Mk 12:41–44).
Widows, particularly elderly widows, were associated with an office of service in the early church.
See further Christian Tradition 1:27b.