The Bible in Its Traditions

James 2:2–4

Byz Nes TR V S

For if a man enters into your assembly with a gold ring, in fine clothes, and there should also come in a poor [man] in dirty clothes,

1ff do not show partiality Lv 19:15; Dt 1:17; 1Tm 5:21
Byz TR Nes S

and you have respect for him that wears the fine clothes and you say to him, "You sit here in a good seat,"and say to the poor man, "You stand there,"or, "Sit here under my footstool,"

and if you are then attentive to the one who is clothed in excellent apparel, so that you say to him, “You may sit in this good place,” but you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit below my footstool,”

3 Public displays of social rank Lk 14:7-11
Byz Nes

and so did you not differentiate among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

are you not judging within yourselves, and have you not become judges with unjust thoughts?

Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

Suggestions for Reading

1–26 Appraisal of Faith-inspired Action This chapter presents James' demonstration of the integral relationship between genuine faith and actions. It falls into two basic sections:

  • Jas 2:1–13: The faith of Jesus Christ is incompatible with actions showing favoritism towards the rich. This section is a chiselled rhetorical argument (Literary Devices 2:1–13).
  • Jas 2:14–26: Verbal acceptance of the faith of Jesus Christ is not a true faith unless it is expressed through concrete actions, especially actions that assist the poor.


Literary Genre

1–26 Deliberative Rhetoric The whole of chapter 2 is a fine example of deliberative (sumbouleutikon) rhetoric (see Aristotle Rhet. 1.3.3), where the speaker seeks to dissuade his audience from a certain action or exhort them to it. Here James attempts to dissuade his readers from showing favoritism to the rich (Jas 2:1–13) and to exhort them to live out their faith through actions (Jas 2:14–26). The diatribe style is used frequently in deliberative rhetoric.

Literary Devices

2b sordid Echo James uses the noun form (rhuparia) of this same word (rhuparos)  for an "unclean action" in Jas 1:21

Textual Criticism

3d Adding “here” for Parallelism The likely original reading (witnessesd in A, the original hand of C, and Ψ, and followed by V) lacks "here" (de). P74 (vid.),  א , C2 (followed by Byz, TR, S) read "here" (de) after "sit" in order to create a better parallelism in the imperatives, i.e., "stand there" balances "sit here."


4b evil thoughts Allusion to a Corrupt Legal Judgment? The Greek word for "reasoning" (dialogismos) is also a technical term for a judge's decision (cf. →BGU 1. 226.22); thus the phrase may mean, "judges who give corrupt decisions." See V.

Suggestions for Reading

1–13 Exhortation to Impartiality towards the Rich


Jas 2:1–13: The faith of Jesus Christ is incompatible with actions showing favoritism towards the rich. This section is a chiselled rhetorical argument (Literary Devices 2:1–13).

Contextual Contrast and Continuities


Two specific passages have attracted the greatest attention in the history of interpretation:


2f gleaming Semantics The adjective lampros literally means bright or shiny, referring to fine clothes that would be noticed by others (cf. Philo Ios. 105). In Acts 10:30 it is used of an angel's appearance or banquets Sir 29:28 (G-Sir 29:22) See also Ancient Cultures 2:2-3.

2a synagogue Semantics The Greek word sunagôgê literally means a "gathering together"; by metonymy it refers to the building in which the gathering happens (Ancient Cultures 2:2a).


Biblical Intertextuality

2a synagogue A Gathering of the Church Heb 10:25 uses the closely related episunagôgê to refer to the gathering of the church (Vocabulary 2:2a).



3,8,19 nobly Semantic Field of Kalôs The Greek adjective kalos denotes something excellent in quality, morally good, or beautiful. James uses the adjective and its adverbial form several times in this pericope (Jas 2:1–13). The present translation as "noble" attempts to render the connotations expressing both external and internal value qualities of persons and actions.

An Honored Social Position

In Jas 2:3, the Greek reads the adverb "sit here well" (kalôs). James here intends a contrast with the seating of the poor man—"sit here by my footstool." The contrast is clearly between seating one in a place of honor (appropriate to his rank as a wealthy man) and seating another, the poor man, in a less honorable position. Alternatively, kalôs can also be taken as a term of politeness, as in the NRSV rendering, "Have a seat here, please."

Contrast with the "Noble Name"?

In Jas 2:7, James applies the adjective kalos to God's name; he may intend a contrast between the false honor of giving preferential treatment to a rich man and the true honor associated with God.

Acting Well, or Honorably

James also uses the adverb kalôs in Jas 2:8: the one who fulfills the royal law does well; one could also translate "acts nobly;" see the same phrase in Jas 2:19. The adjective kalos in Jas 3:13 and Jas 4:17 is also with a clear stress on the morally good aspect.


4a made distinctions Active, Passive, or Middle Meaning? The passive aorist diekrithête can be interpreted in a threefold manner.

  • Understood as a verbum deponens, it is rendered “to make distinctions,” “to judge” (cf. V).
  • Understood in the passive transitive sense of the verb diakrinô “to be separated,” “to be discriminated,” “to be judged,” gives the translation, “Have not you been judged/divided within yourselves?” Cf. S.
  • Or understood as a middle voice, which has a reflexive meaning, its sense is “to be at variance with oneself,” “to hesitate” — “Were you not hesitating within yourselves?” Cf. Jas 1:6

Literary Devices

1–13 Rhetorical Structure Watson 1993a analyzes the rhetorical structure of this section as follows (cf. Ps.-Cicero Rhet. Her. 2.18.28 for the categories). 

Propositio (the proposition to be proved; Jas 2:1): The faith of Jesus Christ is incompatible with displays of partiality towards the rich and powerful within the Christian community. 

Ratio (the causal basis for the propositio; Jas 2:2–4): The specific example of partiality in seating the rich and influential shows that community members are making judgments incompatible with the non-judgmental faith of Jesus Christ. 

Confirmatio (further confirmation of the propositio; Jas 2:5–7): In aligning themselves with the rich, church members align themselves with enemies of the faith: it is the rich who oppress poor community members and who blaspheme the name of the Lord Jesus: 

  • Jas 2:5–6a: partiality directly contradicts God’s preference for the poor; 
  • Jas 2:6bc: partiality supports the very people who oppress the community; 
  • Jas 2:7: partiality supports the blasphemy of the rich against God. 

Exornatio (embellishment and enrichment of the argument once the propositio is established; Jas 2:8–11): the one who shows favoritism violates the royal law (i.e., the faith of Jesus Christ: the Torah of the Kingdom taught by Jesus). 

Conplexio (a brief conclusion summarizing the argument; Jas 2:12–13): James exhorts the community to abandon favoritism and to speak and act in a way consistent with the royal law. If they continue with their unwarranted judgmental and partial behavior, they themselves can expect a harsh judgment.

1–13 beloved brothers Softening of the Criticism While strongly criticizing the community for the sin of partiality towards the rich, James uses rhetorical techniques to soften his criticism’s harshness:

He also employs hypothetical scenarios and rhetorical questions instead of directly accusing members of sin:

  • Jas 2:2: “if a man wearing gold rings”; 
  • Jas 2:4: “have you not made distinctions”; 
  • Jas 2:9: “if you show partiality”. 

Only at Jas 2:6a does one find direct accusation: “But you have dishonored the poor person.” 

2–7 Enthymeme Wachob 2000 analyzes this section as an enthymeme (77). Aristotle Rhet. 1.2.8 defines the enthymeme as a rhetorical syllogism.

  • Major premise (unstated): making distinctions within the community between rich and poor is incompatible with holding the faith of the Lord Jesus.
  • Minor premise: making distinctions between rich and poor is an act of partiality (Jas 2:4).
  • Conclusion: acts of partiality are incompatible with holding of the faith of the Lord Jesus and should not be done.

4–7 have you not made distinctions Confirmatio: Rhetorical Questions Written in the diatribe style, this section asks a series of rapid-fire rhetorical quesitons (cf. Epictetus Diatr. 1.12; cf.  Quintilian Inst. 9.2.6–11 on using rhetorical questions in proofs):

  • "Have you not made distinctions?"
  • "Has not God chosen the poor?"
  • "Are not the rich exploiting you?"
  • "Is it not they [i.e., the rich] who blaspheme?"

In each case, the expected answer is "Yes": these are points that James' readers should know.

James' questions also gives a clue as to the social location of James' audience. Since he questions them on their response to both rich and poor, it may be inferred that they themselves are at neither extreme. 


Ancient Cultures

1–4 Judicial Setting The legal system in the Roman Empire enshrined preferential treatment for the rich and powerful.

  • Convicted men of the upper classes (senators, equestrians, decurions), known as honestiores, received lighter penalties (e.g., they were exempt from forced labor in the mines, flogging and execution by crucifixion or burning). The rest of the population, the humiliores, were liable to these harsher punishments (cf. Acts 16:37; 22:25, where Paul appeals to the rights of Roman citizens to be spared beatings and scourgings).
  • Tacitus Ann. 4.11 alludes to crucifixion as a "slave's punishment" (servile supplicium; Moore and Jackson 1937, 3:20–21; cf. Tacitus Hist. 2.72). 
  • In the courts, statements of the elite classes received greater weight than statements of the non-elites. Pliny Ep. 9.5 advises a provincial governor to "preserve the distinction of class and rank" (discrimina ordinum dignitatumque) in his administration of justice (Radice 1969, 1:86–87).

2f Public Reinforcement of Social Status In ancient Mediterranean societies, great importance was placed on clearly acknowleging social rank in public gatherings.

  • Seating persons of prominence in places of honor (Greek: proedria) at public games, theaters, and assemblies was a firmly established custom in the Hellenistic world (cf. Plato Leg. 881b). Patrons were often rewarded in such a fashion: a woman named Tation, who had paid for the construction of an assembly hall for the local Jewish assembly (sunagogê) in the 3rd century AD in the Ionian Greek city of Phocaea, was so recognized (CIJ 2.738).

Seating arrangements for meals in upper class society, for example, was strictly arranged by rank.

  • Pliny Ep. 2.6.2 describes the behavior of a host at a dinner party to which he was invited: "The best dishes were set in front of himself and a select few, and cheap scraps of food before the rest of the company. He had even put the wine into tiny little flasks, divided into three categories, not with the idea of giving his guests the opportunity of choosing, but to make it impossible for them to refuse what they were given. One lot was intended for himself and for us, another for his lesser friends (amici minores—that is, the patron's clients) and the third for his and our freedmen" (liberti; Radice 1969, 1:94–97).
  • Suetonius Aug. 44 reports Augustus' rule that only senators could be seated in the first row of public games (cf. Tacitus Ann. 15.32).
  • Juvenal Sat. 5 describes the poor meal served to a humiliated client invited to a meal by his patron.

Patron-Client Relationships

The patron-client (Latin: patronus-cliens) relationship was an important social relationship in ancient Mediterranean society. The patron, in a more powerful social position, provided protection and benefits to the client; the client in return pledged loyalty and provided various services to the patron.

Members of James' community may have been seeking the patronage of the rich man by giving him preferential treatment in the assembly.

Biblical Intertextuality

3 sit here Jesus' Criticism of Seeking Places of Honor

Criticism of Scribes and Pharisees

Jesus criticizes the scribes who seek "seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets" (Mk 12:39: prôtokathedriai en tais sunagôgais); cf. Lk 20:46; Mt 23:6). Here Jesus refers to the custom (common in both Jewish and Hellenistic cultures) of seating people according to social rank in public gatherings (Vocabulary 2:3; Ancient Cultures 2:2–3).

Encouragement of Humility

When invited to a wedding banquet, Jesus advises his followers not to sit in the place of honor.

  • Lk 14:10–11: "Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, 'My friend, move up to a higher position.' Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." 

While recognizing the reality of social ranking, Jesus calls his followers to practice humility—a key virtue for James (Jas 1:9–11; 4:6).

4b judges Churches: Warnings against Partiality in Legal Cases The early Christian communities held gatherings where judgments were made on cases within the church: Mt 18:15–20; 1Cor 5:3–5 (cf. 1Cor 6:1–8).

  • 1Tm 5:19–21 warns against showing partiality in such cases: "Do not accept an accusation against a presbyter unless it is supported by two or three witnesses. Reprimand publicly those who do sin, so that the rest also will be afraid. I charge you before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels to keep these rules without prejudice, doing nothing out of favoritism" (proklisis).


Christian Tradition

1–13 Liberation Theology Perspectives

Taking the Perspective of the Poor

Commenting on Jas 2:5b from the perspective of the Latin American poor, Elsa Tamez concludes,

  • James clearly states that God indeed has a partiality for the poor. "If favoritism is prohibited in the community it is because favoritism always favors the rich, never the poor."

Tamez criticizes contemporary biblical exegetes of Jas 2:1–13 on two points:

  • Many exegetes comment that one should not conclude from this passage that all wealthy people are bad or should be condemned (Christian Tradition 2:5b). Nothing in the text itself would occassion such a comment, and thus reveals that these exegetes write from the perspective of the wealthy and powerful.
  • Some exegetes argue that James' reference to "the poor" signifies those who are pious, and thus does not indicate their economic status.  In the view of these scholars, "The rich become the piously poor and the poor rich in piety, and the economic order and the unjust power stay as they are." In Tamez's view, James, on the contrary, clearly refers to the economically poor, and criticizes the wealthy for their oppression of them (Tamez 2002, 36–37).
Partiality as Discrimination
  • Smit argues that the closest modern counterpart to James' concept of partiality is discrimination, and applies it specifically to apartheid in South Africa. Partiality towards the wealthy and powerful necessarily involves a dehumanization of the poor and powerless, who are seen not as human beings created in God's image, but defined by non-essential characteristics such as race and economic status (Smit 1990, 65–67).


Literary Devices

3d sit here below my footstool Figurative Speech? It is possible that James meant this command to be taken literally (Historical and Geographical Notes 2:3). It is also possible that it refers figuratively to sitting in a humble position. Cf. G-Ps 98:5: "Exalt the Lord, our God; bow down before his footstool."


Peritestamental Literature

4b judges of unjust reasonings Justice Demands No Partiality to the Rich  Ps.-Phoc. 9–11 connects right judgment with an admonition against partiality:

  • "Always dispense justice (dikaia) and stretch not judgment (krisis) for a favour."
  • "Cast the poor not down unjustly (mê ripsêᵢs peniên adikôs), judge not partially" (mê krine prôsopon).
  • "If you judge evilly (kakôs dikasêᵢs), God will judge (dikassei) you thereafter" (van der Horst 1978, 88–89).



2f,5f poor Severity of Poverty Emphasized

Two Words to Describe the Poor

James here uses the term ptôchos for the poor person, in contrast to his earlier use of tapeinos (Jas 1:9–11Vocabulary 1:9). Ptôchos emphasizes the physical poverty of a person, rather than his humble social status or character—the connotation of tapeinos

The Relatively Poor and the Absolutely Poor

Ancient Greek makes a distinction between the relatively poor (pênes) and the absolutely poor (ptôchos).

  •  Aristophanes Plut. 551 "you're describing the beggar's (ptôchos) life, which means living without possessions (mêden echonta); by contrast, the poor man's (pênes) life means being thrifty and hard-working (pheidomenon kai tois ergois prosechonta), and though he has nothing to spare, he doesn't lack the necessities either" (mê mentoi mêd' epileipein; Henderson 2002, 506–7).

James thus emphasizes the extremely vulnerable state of the poor (cf. Jas 2:15: "poorly dressed and in need of food for the day"; Ancient Cultures 2:6a; Ancient Cultures 2:6c).

Literary Devices

1–13 Theme of Wholeness and Division James continues the contrast between godly wholeness and sinful division: just as an individual person should not be divided and double-minded (Jas 1:6–8), so too the church members should not be divided by showing partiality to the rich in the community (Jas 2:4). See also→James: Perfection / Wholeness in James .

2ff For if a man Ratio; Hypothetical Exemplum

Examples in Deliberative Rhetoric

An example in deliberative rhetoric may be either real or invented (e.g., Quintilian Inst. 5.11.6). James presents a hypothetical example in order to prove his proposition that partiality is inconsistent with faith in Jesus Christ. Two points suggest that the exemplum is an invented scenario rather than a record of an actual event.

  • The details are generic and stereotyped descriptions of the rich ("a man wearing gold rings") and poor ("dressed in filthy clothing").
  • The instruction to the poor person, "Sit here by my footstool" is likely an allusion to G's phrases (e.g., Ps 98:5; 109:1), where people are placed in a humble position at God's footstool.

Even granted that James' exemplum is hypothetical, however, one should by no means draw the conclusion that the scenario is disconnected from the social reality of James' audience. The argument would have no rhetorical effect if the readers / hearers were unable to connect the scene with their own experience. James' hypothetical example simply portrays a stylized example of typical and familiar social relationships within the community. 

Implied Contrast

Quintilian Inst. 5.11.10 holds that examples from unlikes or contraries are most useful in exhortation: here James contrasts the behavior of partiality towards the rich with the expected impartiality of one who holds the faith of Jesus Christ.  

Examples in the Diatribe Genre

The exemplum is likewise common in the diatribe genre. James uses such exempla at Jas 2:15; 2:21–25.  

4 made distinctions ...become judges: Paronomasia James plays on the similar sound and meaning of diekrithête (“make distinctions”) and kritai (“judges”), both of which are derived from the verb krinô—a fundamental semantic field for James.  See also →James: Judging .


Historical and Geographical Notes

3 Sit here below my footstool Description of First Century Synagogues James' description of the building is reminiscent of first-century Palestinian synagogues, which commonly had two or more rows of stone benches along walls and places for standing, as in the synagogues at Magdala→  and Capernaum→ in Galilee.

Ancient Cultures

2a synagogue Importance of the Building in 1st c. Jewish Communities

Existence of Jewish and Non-Jewish Synagogues

The Greek word sunagôgê literally means a "gathering together."

  • In the wider Greco-Roman culture it could also refer to any type of public gathering (e.g., a festival) or association (e.g., a trade union or club). See, e.g., the reference in the Testament of Epicteta (from Thera in Crete) to the gathering of a society to worship heroes (IG 12/3 no. 330.118ff.).
  • In the NT, it refers to a Jewish place of worship (e.g., Lk 4:16; cf. also Josephus B.J. 2.285) or to a Jewish religious congregation (Acts 6:9).

The NT mentions Jewish synagogues:

Sunagôgê can also refer to Christian assemblies (Ign. Pol. 4.2; Herm. Mand. 11.9, 13, 14). Jas 2:2 is the only use of sunagôgê for a gathering of believers in Christ in the NT (but cf. the use of the related episunagôgê in Heb 10:25), an indication of the Jewish provenance of the letter.  



The ancient Jewish synagogue was a place of prayer, teaching, and study, but could also serve other community functions, including serving as a meeting space for discussions, places of hospitality for strangers, and as the site of certain judicial and legal proceedings. The well-known dedication inscription at a 1st c. AD Greek-speaking synagogue in Jerusalem refers to the synagogue and its accompanying buildings,

  • CIJ 2.1404 "Theodotus…built the synagogue for the reading of Torah and for teaching the commandments; furthermore, the hostel, and the rooms, and the water installation for lodging needy strangers" (kataluma tois chrêzousin apo tês xenês; Hanson and Oakman, 79; Frey 1952, 2:332–35).

The NT cites several instances where judicial proceedings ocurred in synagogues. Jesus warns his disciples that "they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues" (Mt 10:17 par.; cf. Mt 23:34); "take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities" (Lk 12:11; cf. Lk 21:12; Acts 22:19; 26:11).

Early Christian assemblies also considered legal issues: Paul assumes that the Corinthian church should be settling legal disputes among themselves (1Cor 6:5); Paul also alludes to the church gathering to excommunicate one of the church members (1Cor 5:3–5); legal issues are addressed at Mt 18:16–20; 1Cor 13:1–3; 1Tm 5:19

Given its overall context within a discussion on partiality (2:1)—a term associated with legal injustice (Lv 19:15; Dt 1:7)—as well as its references to the need for arranging seating, its description of an encounter between the rich and poor, and the use of the term sunagôgê, it is probable that Jas 2:2–3 refers to a gathering of the church community to resolve some legal dispute. 

2b poor man Conditions of the Poor in the Roman Empire See →James: Rich and Poor


Christian Tradition

1–13 Divisio Textus

  •  Ps.-Andreas Catena, recognizing James' primary focus on the issue of partiality within the church, places Jas 2:1–13 under the heading, "Concerning imparital (aprosôpolêptos) love for each person according to the law" (Cramer 1844, 8:9).

See →James: Medieval Divisio Textus .



4a made distinctions Judging Means Dividing The verb diakrinô can have two related but different meanings:

  • to make distinctions (see S),
  • to pass judgment (see V); see also Vocabulary 1:6a.

For the meaning of the passive form see Grammar 2:4a. In Jas 1:6, James applies the middle form of the verb (meaning "contend" or "dispute") to the inner life of his readers, warning them not to have conflicting or hesitating thoughts, but rather to trust single-mindedly in God. Here James applies the aorist passive form of same word to the community as a whole: "Have you not made distinctions among yourselves"—in other words, have you not made judgments about the worth of others based on their external appearance and social status? In James' worldview, both internal and external divisions violate the holistic unity intended by God.

See also →James: Judging;→James: Perfection / Wholeness in James.



1–9 Use in Lectionary RML : Thursday, Week 6, Year 2.

1–10,14–17 Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 18, Year B- Longer Reading = Jas 2:1-17.

1–5 Use in Lectionary RML : 23rd Sunday in Year B.

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.


Ancient Cultures

2a gold-ringed, dressed in gleaming clothes Clothing as a Sign of Social Status The same phrase used by James—esthês lampra—is used by Polybius Hist. 10.5.1 to refer to the toga candida—a white toga worn by candidates for political office (Paton and Olson 2012, 4:124–25).

  • The wealthy and powerful in the ancient Mediterranean cultures were identifiable by their luxurious clothing. The social elite would dress in fine linen and silk (Ez 16:10; Rv 18:12) and wear soft clothes (Lk 7:25). The clothing of the rich was dyed in blue, scarlet, and purple (Jer 10:9; 1Mac 4:23; Rv 18:12). Purple was especially associated with wealth and status: Jesus speaks of a rich man "who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day" (Lk 16:19); Roman senators wore togas with a broad purple stripe.
  •  Lucian of Samosata Tim. 20 briefly describes the wealthy who "go about dressed in purple, with rings on their fingers" (porphuroi kai chrusocheires; Harmon 1915, 2:348–49).
  • In Rome, the gold ring was a military decoration and a mark of social rank, originally limited to nobiles (descendants of consuls) and equites (an aristocratic order ranked just below the senatorial order). Later, in the Empire, it was opened to any free-born person (liberti; cf. Cassius Dio Hist. 48.45.8–9).


Jewish Tradition

3f Rabbinic Teaching on Partiality

God Shows No Partiality

  • m. ’Abot 4.22 "he is the Creator, he is the Discerner, he is the Judge…in whose presence is neither guile nor forgetfulness nor respect of persons" (l’ mšw’ pnym; Danby 1933, 455).
  • Sipre Deut. 304 "Blessed be the Truthful Judge, Master of all that happens, before whom there is no corruption or favoritism" (Hammer 1986, 293; Finkelstein 1939, 323).

Rabbinic Warnings against Partiality for the Rich in Legal Contexts

  • Deut. Rab. 5.6 "If before a judge two men appear for judgment, one rich and another poor, the judge should say [to the rich man], 'Either dress in the same manner as he is dressed, or clothe him as you are clothed'" (Rabbinowitz 1983, 107; cf. b.Šebu. 31a).  

Similarly, the rabbis warned against partiality in seating:

  • b. Šebu. 30a "In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor (Lv 19:15), that one should not sit, and the other stand, one speak all that he wishes, and the other bidden to be brief" (modernized trans.).
  • Deut. Rab. 5.6 "if the judge wishes the litigants to be seated, he may have them seated; but what is not permissible? For the one to be seated and the other to remain standing" (Rabbinowitz 1983, 107).

See also, however, the tradition about the Alexandrian synagogue in b. Sûk. 51b, where members of various trades (e.g., goldsmiths, weavers) sit in certain areas; the poor man entering the synagogue can sit with his fellow craftsmen.

Christian Tradition

1–4 show partiality Teaching on the Sin of Partiality

Christian Leaders Must Avoid Partiality

  • Polycarp Phil. 6.1: Presbyters must abstain from "all anger, prejudice (prosôpolêpsia), and unfair judgment" (krisis adikos; Ehrman 2003, 1:340–41).

Augustine: Two Possible Scenarios for Partiality

Augustine of Hippo Ep. 167.18 discusses two possible scenarios:

  • (1) Favoritism in choosing honored Church positions: If James refers to positions of honor in the Church (honores ecclesiasticos), "who would tolerate it that a rich man is chosen for position of honor in the church (ad sedem honoris ecclesiae) when a better instructed and holier poor man is rejected?"
  • (2) Favoritism in the daily assemblies of the church. If James refers to daily assemblies (cotidiani consessus), "who does not sin in this case…when he so discriminates in his mind that he thinks that one person is better than another because he is richer?" (Teske 2005, 2/3: 103; Goldbacher 1923, 44:605). Augustine's comment is quoted by Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. (Hurst 1985, 22), the Gloss. Ord. ad loc. (1275–76), and Aquinas ST 2-2.63.2.

Partiality Wounds the Body of Christ

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena ad 2:1 (from John Chrysostom Hom. Rom 12:4), "For what reason do you think highly of yourself? Or again, why does another utterly despise himself? Are we not all one body, both great and small? When, then, taken all together, we are one and members of one another, why do you, in your madness, exalt yourself? Why do you shame your brother? For just as he is a part of you, so too are you of him. And it is based on this that your equality of honor (homotimia) is so great" (Cramer 1844, 8:9).

Basis of Equality

Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad 2:2 comments that partiality to the rich contradicts the essential equality of all Christians. All Christians are equal since:

  • all are worthy of the gift of the sacraments;
  • all are created as equal and are equal in the faith  (Sedlacek 1910, 93; Syriac-ibid., 121).

See also Theology 2:1b; Theology 2:5b.

Church Orders: Congregations Must Welcome the Poor

Church orders urge that concern be shown for the poor who visit a congregation:

  • Apos. Con. 2.58.6 "if a poor man (ptôchos), or one of a mean family, or a stranger, comes upon you, whether he be old or young, and there be no place, the deacon shall find a place for even these, and that with all his heart; that, instead of accepting persons [prosôpolêpsia = showing favoritism] before men, his ministration towards God may be well-pleasing. The very same thing let the deaconess do to those women, whether poor or rich, that come unto them" (ANF 7:422; Funk 1906, 169–71).
  • Didasc. 12 "But if, as you are sitting, another person should come, whether a man or a woman, who has honor in the world, either of the same locus or of another congregation, you, O bishop, if you are speaking the word of God, or hearing, or reading, shall not respect persons and leave off the service of your word and set them a place...But if a poor man or woman should come, whether from the members of your congregation or from another congregation, and especially if they are advanced in years, and there be no place for those as such, do you, O bishop, with all your heart appoint a place for them—and even if you have to sit upon the ground, that you be not as one who respects the persons of men, but that your ministry be acceptable with God" (Vööbus 1979, 2:133–34; Syriac: 2:147–48).

Ambrosiaster on Seating Arrangements

  • Ambrosiaster Comm. Ep. Pauli on 1Cor 14:31 "It is a tradition of the synagogue which he wishes us to follow…they dispute while sitting: the eldest in rank (seniores dignitate) on chairs, those next on benches (in subselliis), the youngest (novissimi) on the floor on mats" (PL 17:258).

The Sin of Partiality

Gloss. Ord. ad 2:1 "Whoever chooses the wealthy because of his wealth, and rejects the poor because of his poverty, in both cases sins" (utrobique peccat; 1275–76).

Pelagius' Challege to the Worldly Value of Favoritism

The Pelagian tract "On Riches" (Ps.-Pelagius Div. 14.2), a severe critique of Christians who rationalize their own accumulation and valuing of wealth, in contradiction to the pattern offered by Jesus and his disciples, alludes to Jas 2:1-4:

  • "But if anyone, however unbelieving (infidelis) and encompassed by a variety of sins and wrongdoing, comes to us distinguished in appearance and clothed in splendid apparel befitting his rank (vestiam dignitate praeclarus), he is given pride of place over all the poor, however holy their lives, contrary to the apostle's command, and this world's style is preferred to the pattern of Christ" (Rees 1998, 197; PL Sup. 1:1403).

Specific Applications of James' Teachings

James Begg's 1838 pamplet condemning the Church of Scotland's practice of charging rents for church seats, quotes Jas 1:1-4

  • James "desired the poorest man to meet with the richest on a level in the Church of God— and that as a matter of right, not of favour" (Begg 1838, 23).

Qualifying James' Teaching to Protect Hierarchical Order

  • Hilegard of Bingen Ep. 378 "A poor man, however, must be received for the love of Christ and because he is a fellow human being (frater hominis). But rich and poor must not be regarded as equals (nec isti pares habendi sunt) because such a judgment would be lacking in discretion (sine discretione). For if someone would have the rich man and poor man to sit down together, the rich man would refuse, and the poor man would be terrified" (Baird and Ehrman 2004, 166; Van Acker and Klaes-Hachmöller 2001, 135).
  • Aquinas ST 2-2.63.1–4: see discussion below.
  • Calvin Comm. Iac.: James' teaching does not imply that there should be no social distinctions between rich and poor; otherwise there would be no social distinctions between master and servant or between judges and those whom they judge. Rather, James condemns honoring the rich in a way that denigrates the poor; honoring the rich in itself is not wrong (Owen 1849, 300–301; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 397).

Aquinas: A Nuanced Discussion of Partiality

Aquinas ST 2-2.63.1–4 makes the following points in his teaching on partiality (acceptio personarum, translated as "respect of persons").

  • 2-2.63.1: It is a vice opposed to the virtue of distributive justice (iustitia distributiva).
  • 2-2.63.1: Rewarding a person for what he deserves is not partiality; it is partiality to reward someone for something he does not deserve, e.g., because he is rich or is a relative.
  • 2-2.63.2: Referring specifically to Jas 2:2–3, Thomas notes that dispensations to marry within forbidden degrees are more readily granted to the rich and powerful than to others. This practice should not be considered partiality, since allowing such marriages among the powerful often strengthens treaties of peace, and thus promotes the common good (bonum commune).
  • 2-2.63.3: Thomas notes that sometimes people are honored not for their personal virtue, but for what they represent: "thus princes and prelates, even if they are wicked, are honored (honorantur) for standing in God's place and as representing the community over which they are placed." Referring specifically to Jas 2:2–3, Thomas notes, "the rich ought to be honored by reason of their occupying a higher position in the community (propter hoc quod maiorem locum in communitatibus obtinent); but if they be honored merely for their wealth, it will be the sin of respect of persons" (English Dominicans 1947, 3:1459).

Christians to be a Model for the Rest of Society

  • Baptist Statement 8 "We believe that Christians, individually and collectively, are salt and light in society (Mt 5:13–16). In a Christlike spirit, they oppose greed, selfishness, and vice; they promote truth, justice, and peace; they aid the needy and preserve the dignity of people of all races and conditions" (Jas 2:1–4 cited with other texts; CCFCT 3:812).