The Bible in Its Traditions

James 2:5–6a

Byz Nes V S TR

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?

5b inheritors of the kingdom Jas 1:12; Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20; Gal 3:29 chosen the poor 1Cor 1:26-29
Byz V
Nes S TR

But you have dishonored the poor. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into court?

But ye have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you, and themselves drag you before the judgment-seats?

6a dishonored the poor 1Cor 11:20-22 6b oppressing you Ex 1:13; Hos 12:7[8]; Am 8:4; Jer 7:6; Ez 18:7; Ws 2:10

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

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.


Biblical Intertextuality

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).

5c to those who love him Connection between Loving God and Keeping His Commandments The phrase is often used in deuteronomistic texts in association with those who keep God's commandments (see Dt 5:10,7:9); a theme echoed in 1Jn 5:3: "For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments."



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.

  • Leo XIII Rer. Nov. 28–30 "Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect their temporal and earthly interests.…Such was the ardor of brotherly love among the earliest Christians that numbers of those who were in better circumstances despoiled themselves of their possessions in order to relieve their brethren; whence 'neither was there any one needy among them' (Acts 4:34)…Thus, by degrees, came into existence the patrimony which the Church has guarded with religious care as the inheritance of the poor. Nay, in order to spare them the shame of begging, the Church has provided aid for the needy."
  • The phrase "preferential option for the poor" has been used in Latin American "theologies of liberation" and at the 1979 Conference of Latin American Bishops at Puebla, Mexico.
  • CDF Liberation, an instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, notes that this term may used in an "authentic evangelical spirit" to respond to the needs of the poor, but that certain liberation theologians employ it within a Marxist analysis that is incompatible with Christian faith.
  • Comp. Soc. Doc. 182 "The principle of the universal destination of goods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern. To this end, the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force" (cf. §449).

See also →James: Catholic Social Teaching.

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:


Textual Criticism

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).

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. 

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:

  • Has God not chosen the poor?
  • But you have dishonored the poor.


Ancient Cultures

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.

Compelling a Debt Payment

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.

Fraudulent Legal Claims

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:

  • Cicero Mil. 74 "the chicanery of litigation (calumnia litium)…illegal titles and securities" (iniustis vindiciis ac sacramentis; Watts 1931, 88–89).

Ancient Texts

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).

  • Egyptian papyri of the first centuries AD describe wealthy or influential people using threats, intimidation, and physical attacks to deprive the poor of their land (MacMullen 1974, 6–11).

One 2nd c. AD letter describes what must have been a typical scenario:

  • P. Fouad 26.14–16: a villager complains of unjust treatment by an official "who possesses a great deal of influence in the villages through his arrogance and violence (authadiaᵢ kai biaᵢ); and I shall be unable to oppose him before a [local] jury (dikastai) of this kind, for he is very influential" (polu dunastês esti; MacMullen 1974, 11).

Eusebius quotes from Melito's apology to Marcus Aurelius regarding anti-Christian legislation:

  • Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 4.26.5 "shameless informers and lovers of other people's property have taken advantage of the decrees, and pillage us openly, (phanerôs lêᵢsteuousi) harrying day and night those who have done nothing wrong" (Lake et al. 1971, 1:388–89). 
  • Seneca Ep. 90.39, personifies greed (avaritia): "she adds one estate to another, evicting a neighbor either by buying him out or by wronging him" (iniuria; Gummere 1917, 2:424–25); cf. Cicero Mil. 74.

Even the upper classes were not free from the danger of having their land illegally seized:

  • Josephus A.J. 17.308 reports that Herod killed nobles under unjust pretenses and took their estates;
  • Pliny Nat. 18.35: the Emperor Nero put to death six great landowners who owned "half of Africa."

Biblical Intertextuality

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.

  • OT: God promised Abraham the inheritance of the land (e.g., Gn 28:4). Deuteronomy recalls that promise, "God has delivered the land before you; go in and inherit the land, which I swore to your fathers, Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, to give it to them and to their descendents" (G-Dt 1:8).
  • NT: Paul understands Christians as spiritual descendents of Abraham and thus as inheritors of God's promises to him (Gal 3:29), they are children of God, and thus heirs (Gal 4:7, Rom 8:17; cf. Eph 1:14,18; Heb 4:1–11; Tt 3:7). 


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).



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 .

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.


Biblical Intertextuality

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

  • G-Prv 14:21 : "He who dishonors the needy sins (atimazôn penêtas hamartanei): but the one that pities the poor is deemed most happy" (eleôn de ptôchous makaristos).
  • 1Cor 11:20–22: Paul makes a similar point when he criticizes the inequalities evident in the gatherings of the Corinthian community, where some go hungry while others get drunk: "do you show contempt for the church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed (kataischunete)?"

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:  


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 .

5b the poor in the world Implications of God's Choosing the Poor

Choosing the Poor Does not Imply Condemning the Rich

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.

  •  Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. "to whom did he [God] make this promise of wonderful felicity—to kings and to the wealthy? No, to those who truly love him regardless of their condition in life, whether slave or free, rich or poor…not everyone who is wealthy is impious, of course; nevertheless, the rich of this world scarcely ever meet the demands of evangelical piety" (convenit cum evangelica pietate; Bateman 1993, 148; Bateman 1997, 134).
  •  Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc. "God did not say that he chooses one and condemns the other." Both the poor person and the rich person (if his riches were acquired in piety and faith) can use their free will to act so as to be chosen by God" (Sedlacek 1910, 93; Syriac-ibid., 121).
  • Isho'dad of Merv Comm. Cath. Ep. ad loc.: both the rich and the poor are chosen by God, based on the richness of their faith (Gibson 1913, 36; Syriac-ibid., 50).
  • Nicholas of Lyra Post. ad loc.,  "As is clear in the apostles, nevertheless, from the beginning he chose some rich people, as Zachaeus and Lazarus" (1276).
  • Bengel 1759  ad loc. "This description does not include all the poor, nor is it confined to the poor only; for poverty and riches of themselves do not render any man good or evil" (neminem per se faciunt bonum aut malum;Fletcher 1858, 5:14; Bengel 1759, 1101).

Identity of the Poor

Those Who Are Literally Poor
  • Gloss. Ord. ad loc. glosses the poor with "lacking the resources of temporal things" (inopes rerum temporalium; cols. 1277–78).
Those Who Are Humble
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc., "By the poor he means the humble (humiles) and those who because of their disregard for visible things but because of their faith in invisible riches appear contemptible to this world" (Hurst 1985, 23; Hurst 1983, 194).
A Justification for Evangelical Poverty
  • Aquinas Impug. 2.5 [1.6] quotes the passage to justify the poverty of the religious orders (Procter 1902, 177–78).

The Poor Can Be More Focused on God

  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. "The freedom from the distractions (aperispaston) of the world makes the poor, when they come to faith, more energetic and effective than rich people" (473C). 
  • Lapide Comm. "Riches are the kindling and enticement to ambition, avarice (avaritia), gluttony (gula), the excess of all vices, through which is the road to hell; poverty indeed supplies (suggerit) the material of humility, continence, modesty, sobriety, the purity of all virtues, through which one is directed towards glory" (quibus tenditur ad gloriam; 20:107).

Liberation Theology Perspective

  • Tamez 2002 "To be rich in faith cannot be relegated solely to a spiritual plane, completely disconnected from their situation of poverty and suffering. To be rich in faith includes more than being open to the Spirit with more naturalness than the rich. It does indeed include being more sensitive to the presence of God, but it includes something more: it means to hope in the promise of God's reign. This is the reign inaugurated by Jesus as he cured the sick, restored dignity to the outcast, raised the dead" (37).


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

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.

  • P. Petr. II. 4 (6) 15–16: Referring to an incident when a crowd jostled and almost attacked him while he was distrubing bread, a 3rd c. BC Egyptian official writes, "for it is a terrible thing to be shamed before a crowd" (en ochlôi atimazesthai; 2:10).

In James' scenario (Jas 2:2–3), the poor person is publically shamed when he is directed to a less honorable seating or standing position (cf. Lk 14:9).


Christian Tradition

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):

  • Augustine of Hippo Praed. (17) 34 "God, therefore, chose believers, but in order that they might be believers, not because they already were" (Elegit ergo Deus fideles, sed ut sint, non quia jam erant). After quoting Jas 2:5, he concludes, "By choosing them, then, he made them rich in faith, as well as heirs of the kingdom. He is, of course, correctly said to choose in them this faith since he chose them in order to bring it about in them" (Recte quippe in eis hoc eligere dicitur, quod ut in eis faciat, eos eligit; Teske 1999, 178; PL 44:986).

The Syriac tradition, by contrast, emphasizes free will:

  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath.: both the poor person and the rich person can use their free will to act so as to be chosen by God (Sedlacek 1910, 93; Syriac-ibid., 121).
  • Isho'dad of Merv Comm. Cath. Ep.: both the rich and the poor are chosen by God, based on their faith (Sedlacek 1910, 36; Syriac-ibid., 50).