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5 Listen, my beloved brothers. Did God not choose the poor of the world [to be] rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those that love Him?
6 But you have dishonored the poor. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into court?
6 But ye have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you, and themselves drag you before the judgment-seats?
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:
1–26 Deliberative Rhetoric The whole of chapter 2 is a fine example of deliberative (sumbouleutikon) rhetoric (see → 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 ( Rhet.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.
5c heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him Echo The verse echoes Jas 1:12: "the man who perseveres through trials...he will receive the crown of life that the Lord promised to those who love him." James thus equates the "crown of life" with inheriting the kingdom. James also identifies the poor of the world with those who persevere through trials and are found worthy.
5b has not God chosen the poor God’s Choosing of the Poor and Weak God's special concern for the poor is a marked theme in both the Old Testament and in Jesus' teaching. See also →James: Rich and Poor.
Paul's language in 1 Corinthians is quite close to that of James: "God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something" (1Cor 1:27).
5b Has not God chosen the poor Preferential Option for the Poor In line with James' view, Catholic social teaching calls all people to show a special concern for the poor.
See also →James: Catholic Social Teaching.
1–13 Exhortation to Impartiality towards the Rich
Two specific passages have attracted the greatest attention in the history of interpretation:
5b of the world “Of the world” or “in the world”? "Of the world" (tou kosmou) is read by correctors of A, C, P, and Ψ and followed by S, Byz, and TR. The dative reading "in the world" is read by all the major uncial witnesses and followed by V (Grammar 2:5b).
5b in the world Dative of Location or of Reference? The dative case tôᵢ kosmôᵢ, without any preposition, may simply refer to location, but more likely should be taken as a dative of respect or reference, hence the translation, "poor in the eyes (with respect to) the world." Such a translation fits James' conception that "the world" (kosmos) is a realm opposed to the values of God (cf. Jas 1:27c and Jas 4:4b; Textual Criticism 2:5b).
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:
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:
Only at Jas 2:6a does one find direct accusation: “But you have dishonored the poor person.”
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. → 1.12; cf. Diatr.→ 9.2.6–11 on using rhetorical questions in proofs): Inst.
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.
5f Has not God chosen ...but you have dishonored: Contrast James sets up a sharp contrast between God's actions and the actions of the community:
6c dragging you off into court Possible Scenarios The following are two possible scenarios in which the wealthy or powerful may have taken a poor person to court.
The wealthy could take debtors to court to force them to repay loans. In the Roman Empire of James' time, farmers and other workers often went into debt, in part due to a relatively high rate of taxation. Small farmers would often lose their ancestral land if they were unable to pay their debts.
The Gospel tradition often refers to debtors who are unable to repay loans (see Mt 18:21–35; Lk 7:41–43; 12:57–59; 16:1–8) and are thus threatened with legal action and perhaps prison (see Mt 18:30–35; Lk 12:58). Note Jesus' advice to settle matters with adversary before going to court (Lk 12:58), implying that justice would be hard to attain in a court system that legally gave preferential treatment to the rich.
Legal disputes may well have also involved disputes over rents, wages, and taxes.
In a first-century Jewish context, the court was likely the local synagogue with the priest acting as judge.
In accusing a man of using armed force to seize the rightful property of others, Cicero also alludes to less overtly violent means of defrauding others of property:
6b oppressing Oppression of the Poor by the Rich One particular and common example of the oppression of the poor by the more powerful and wealthy was the illegal seizure of property (cf. →James: Rich and Poor).
One 2nd c. AD letter describes what must have been a typical scenario:
Eusebius quotes from Melito's apology to Marcus Aurelius regarding anti-Christian legislation:
Even the upper classes were not free from the danger of having their land illegally seized:
5c heirs of the kingdom Inheritors of God’s Promises With his discussion of "heirs" chosen by God, James taps into a rich biblical tradition involving God's promises and inheritance.
1–13 Liberation Theology Perspectives
Commenting on Jas 2:5b from the perspective of the Latin American poor, Elsa Tamez concludes,
Tamez criticizes contemporary biblical exegetes of Jas 2:1–13 on two points:
2f,5f poor Severity of Poverty Emphasized
James here uses the term ptôchos for the poor person, in contrast to his earlier use of tapeinos (Jas 1:9–11; Vocabulary 1:9). Ptôchos emphasizes the physical poverty of a person, rather than his humble social status or character—the connotation of tapeinos.
Ancient Greek makes a distinction between the relatively poor (pênes) and the absolutely poor (ptôchos).
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 .
6c–7 they themselves …is it not they: Emphasis Placed on “the Rich” Using the grammatically unnecessary pronoun "they" (autoi), James emphasizes the absurdity of his audience's actions: the readers show partiality to the rich, in spite of the fact that they themselves (i.e., the rich) oppress them and drag them to court.
5b the poor of the world + heirs of the kingdom: Reformulation of Jesus’ Teaching This can be read as a reformulation of the teaching of Jesus, "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours" (Lk 6:20; cf. Mt 5:3). See also →James: Jesus' Traditions in James
6a dishonored the poor one The Sin of Shaming the Poor
6b oppressing you Prophetic Denunciation of the Rich Oppressing the Poor The same verb is often used in the prophetic tradition to refer to the rich and powerful taking advantage of the poor and weak:
1–13 Divisio Textus
5b the poor in the world Implications of God's Choosing the Poor
The tradition is careful to avoid the conclusion that God's choosing of the poor implies the rejection of the powerful and wealthy.
Several commentators are eager to show that James does not condemn the rich by choosing the poor.
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.
6a dishonored Public Shaming To dishonor a person is a serious offense in the Jewish and Greco-Roman societies of James' time, which relied heavily on honor and shame as mechanisms for enforcing cultural values.
5b Has not God chosen the poor Free Will, God's Election, and Predestination The reference to God choosing the poor sparked commentary on the relationship between a person's free will and God's choice (election):
The Syriac tradition, by contrast, emphasizes free will: