The Bible in Its Traditions

James 3:2

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For we all stumble in many [ways]. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a mature man, able also to bridle the whole body.

For we all offend in many ways. If anyone does not offend in word, he is a perfect man. And he is then able, as if with a bridle, to lead the whole body around.

For in many things we all stumble. Anyone who does not offend in word, this one is a perfect man, and able also to subdue his whole body.

2b perfect man Jas 1:4 2 Controlling one’s speech Jas 1:19,26; Prv 10:19; Sir 5:11-12; 28:24-25

Text

Literary Devices

2b perfect man Theme of Completion and Wholeness James again picks up the theme of wholeness and perfection, first discussed at Jas 1:4, "that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing" (cf. →James: Perfection / Wholeness in James).

The Greek teleios echoes Jesus' teaching ("Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48), just as it ties in with the Stoic doctrine that the person who has all the virtues is perfect and complete. Here James refers specfically to the teacher as the "complete man" (Ancient Texts 1:4a; Ancient Texts 1:4b; Biblical Intertextuality 1:4b; Peritestamental Literature 1:4a).

Context

Ancient Texts

2b in word Internal and External Logos The Stoics distinguished between an internal logos (endiathetos logos) and a "spoken" or "uttered" logos (prophorikos logos) (→SVF 2.43). Here James seems to have in mind the latter, while Jas 1:18,21 likely refers to the former; cf. Philo Migr. 71.  See also this distinction in Jas 3:11 (Peritestamental Literature 3:11).

Suggestions for Reading

1–12 An Ethics of Language The connection of this pericope with Jas 2:14–26 is not obvious. In general, however, it sustains James' concern with proper speech (→Speech in James).  The specific concern of Jas 2:14–26 was the consistency between speech (confession of faith) and action. The major point of Jas 3:1–12 is clear enough: James exhorts his readers to control their tongues.  

Artistry: Coinage of a "Classic"

Structure
  • In contrast with other parts of James that are a collection of materials that have no clear relationship, Jas 3:1–12 is a coherent composition that features substantial rhetorical design (Literary Devices 3:1–12).
Rhetorics
Philosophy

Reception

Among the most notable individual passages:

Text

Grammar

2a in many [ways] Adverbial Use of the Adjective The plural adjective polla may thus nuance the verb "to stumble":

  • one stumbles frequently or a lot;
  • one stumbles in many ways.

Since James immediately refers to going astray in the specific aspect of speech, the latter translation makes better sense.

Literary Devices

2a stumble Metaphor for Sinning The Greek ptaiô, literally meaning "to stumble," is also used at Jas 2:10. The literal sense of stumbling was expanded to making a mistake, suffering a misfortune, or sinning. In this way, it would also resonate with the Greek hamartanô, which literally means to miss a target, but is figuratively used to denote sinning (Ancient Texts 3:2a; Biblical Intertextuality 3:2a; Peritestamental Literature 3:2a). 

2b does not stumble in word Irony? Interpreters disagree on whether this statement is to be taken at face value as an actual possibility, or whether James means it ironically or hyperbolically, in the sense, "If someone would be able to not go astray in speaking [though this is impossible]..."

Given the centrality of the theme of wholeness (perfection) in James, however, one should take James' word at face value. James clearly thinks it possible to be a "perfect man": "so that you may be complete (perfect) and whole, lacking in nothing" (Jas 1:4). But "pefect" here does not mean flawless but complete, perfected, fully matured. For the Stoics, the "complete" man is able to control his passions. Nonetheless, Jesus' teaching in Mt 5:48—"be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect"—is undoubedtly at work here. Cf. Ancient Texts 1:4a; Ancient Texts 1:4b; Peritestamental Literature 1:4aBiblical Intertextuality 1:4a.

Vocabulary

2b word Semantic Range of Logos Literally meaning “word,” logos has a rich range of meaning (→James: Philosophical background of logos).

In this context, the most natural referent is speech, since a discourse concerning the ability to control one’s tongue immediately follows this verse (Jas 3:2–5). Since James is discussing teachers, logos could also be translated as "teaching" in the sense of the content of one's teaching; cf. Lk 10:39: "[Mary] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak" (lit.: "listening to his logos"). Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. takes it in this sense: doctrina recte fidei (col. 75).

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

2a stumble Metaphor for Sinning In the scriptural tradition, the metaphorical sense of ptaiô as sinning is attested, but not common (Literary Devices 3:2a):

  • Rom 11:11: "did they [Israel] stumble so as to fall?"
  • 2Pt 1:10: "be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble."

Reception

Christian Tradition

1–4 bridle his entire body also Reason Controls the Passions Some commentators understood James to refer to the Greek philosophical principle that reason (logos) must control the passions of the body:

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena ad Jas 3:3–4 "If we drive back the high spirit (thrasos) of a horse with a bridle, and change the rushing course (hormê) of a ship with a small rudder, how much more should we guide the tongue by right reason (orthos logos) to what is good" (Cramer 1844, 8:19–20). Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. repeats this interpretation (col. 484).
  • Ps.-Andrew of Crete Bios 7: James placed a restraint on the tongue and taught that one should both remain silent and speak according to reason (kata logon; Noret 1978, 52). See also Literary Devices 1:26.

2:14–3:2a Divisio Textus

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena groups Jas 3:1–2 with Jas 2:14–26 under the heading: "That a person is justified (dikaioutai anthrôpos) not from faith alone (ouk ek pisteôs monon), but also from actions (alla kai ex ergôn);  and not from each one individually, but from both together" (ex amphoion hama; Cramer 1844, 8:14).

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.

Text

Vocabulary

2c body Connotations of "Body"

  • Physical body: for James, the term "body" (sôma) can mean simply one's physical body  (cf. Jas 2:16: needs of the body; and Jas 2:26: the body without the spirit is dead).
  • Metonymy for the whole person: sôma can also refer to the person as a whole (e.g., Mt 5:29:  "It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna"). This is the sense in Jas 3:6.
  • Weak human nature: in this passage, the body is seen as the locus of the passions and therefore temptation to sin (Ancient Texts 3:2a).  Here we have a sense of human nature as weak and susceptible to temptation; cf. the Pauline sôma tês sarkos (Col 2:11) or sôma tês hamartias (Rom 6:6); cf. Rom 7:24). See also Ancient Texts 4:1b

Lapide Comm. ad loc. lists other options: James uses "body" to mean an aggregate group, hence "body of sins" or "body of passions" (20:79).

Literary Devices

2f bridle his entire body also Long-drawn Metaphor of Bridling a Horse Jame again uses the Greek chalinagôgeô, meaning literally "to bridle a horse," first used at Jas 1:26; the word here sets up the image of bridling a horse in 3:3. James here draws on an extensive classical literary and philosophical background (Literary Devices 1:26; Ancient Texts 1:26b).

References to riders controlling horses and pilots controlling ships are common in Greco-Roman philosophical and moral texts as illustrations of the principle that right reason should control unruly forces, such as the passions. 

God's Rule of the Universe

  • Ps.-Aristotle Mund. 6 [400B] "as the helmsman (kubernêtês) in the ship, as the charioteer in his chariot, as the leader in a chorus, as the lawgiver in a city, as the commander in a military camp, so is God in the Universe" (theos en kosmôᵢ; Forster 1955, 402–3). Dio Chrysostom Borsyth. 50 = Or. 36.50) also compares the governor of the world with a charioteer ; see also Lucian of Samosata Iupp. Trag. 50. 

Application to Speech

Context

Ancient Texts

2a we all stumble Universal Fallibility

Meaning of "Stumble"

The most common classical meaning of this word is literally to stumble against something (Polybius Hist. 31.11.5, citing a proverb warning against stumbling twice against the same stone) or, metaphorically, to err (Plato Theaet. 160d: to stumble in one's mind).

Universal Sinfulness

This idea of univeral sinfulness is commonplace in Hellenistic moral discourse:

  • Seneca Clem. 1.6.3f "We have all sinned—some in serious, some in trivial things (Peccavimus omnes, alii gravia, alii leviora)…Even if there is any one who has so thoroughly cleansed his mind that nothing can any more confound him and betray him, yet it is by sinning that he has reached the sinless state" (innocentia; Basore 1928 375). cf. Sophocles Ant. 1023–24.

Peritestamental Literature

2a we all stumble Universal Sinfulness

  • Philo Deus 75 "there is no man who self-sustained has run the course of life from birth to death without stumbling" (aptaiston; Colson and Whitaker 1930, 47).

2b perfect man Completion and Wholeness (Perfection) In ancient Greek and Hellenistic Jewish philosophy, the "complete man" possesses all the virtues; the "complete man" and the "wise man" are closely connected (cf. Ancient Texts 1:4a; Ancient Texts 1:4b; Peritestamental Literature 1:4a; Ancient Texts 3:2b).

  • Philo Post. 88  says that the perfect man is one in whom intention, speech, and action are all in harmony: "bringing speech (logos) into harmony with intent (dianoia), and intent with deed (ergon); such an one would be considered perfect (teleios) and of a truly harmonius character" (Colson and Whitaker 1929, 377);  cf. also Philo Migr. 70–73.

Reception

Liturgies

1–12 Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 19, Year B.

1–10 Use in Lectionary

  • RML: Saturday, Week 6, Year 2.
  • BL : Tuesday, 32nd Week after Pentecost.

Christian Tradition

2a we all stumble Universal Sinfulness

Universal Sinfulness

This passage was a common proof-text to demonstrate that all humans sin, including baptized Christians.

  • Augustine of Hippo Serm.   23.2  "Who then would ever dare to call himself perfect?" (perfectum; Hill 1997, 3/1:57; Lambot 1961, 309). Augustine of Hippo Enarrat. Ps. 55.10 applies it specifically to sins of speech: "Inevitably, then, each of us will slip up through our tongue" (labatur in lingua; Boulding 2003, 3/17: 92; Dekkers 1956, 2:685).
  • Augustine used it especially in his anti-Pelagian writings (e.g., Augustine of Hippo Pecc. merit. 3.13).
  • Bede Hom. Ev. 2.23 refers to the passage as a basic principle (principalis sententia) of universal sinfulness (Martin and Hurst 1991, 2:237; Hurst 1955, 356)
  • Jerome Adv. Jov. 2.2 employs the passage against Jovinian's argument that Christians cannot be tempted to sin after baptism. He employs it often against the Pelagian position that it is possible to avoid all sin (e.g., Jerome Pelag. 2.13; 2.15).
  • Bernard of Clairvaux Praec. et disp. 10.24 quotes the passage in admitting that not even monks can avoid slipping up in seeking to obey the numerous regulations of their superiors (Greenia 1970, 123).
  • Ps.-Augustine Poen. 1.(5).14; 1.(8).20 teaches that since sins are committed daily, it is necessary that penance be readily available as well.
  • Oecumenius Comm. Apoc. 8.21 quotes this passage in his interpretation of Rv 15:2: the sea of glass mingled with fire represents the righteous dead who stilll require the purging of sins, since no one is without sin (Suggit 2006, 134–35; de Groote 1999, 205).
  • See further Origen Adnot. Deut. ad 23:12–14; Augustine of Hippo Spir. et litt. 64; Augustine of Hippo Ep. 167.10; Augustine of Hippo Perf. 21; Leo the Great Serm. 49.5; 88.3.
  • Abelard Eth. quotes the passage in a discussion on whether it is possible to live without sin. If sin is properly defined as "contempt of God" (Dei contemptum), then it is possible, although very difficult (Luscombe 1971, 68–69).
  • The Reformed tradition continued use of this proof-text. WLC Q. 149: "No man is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but doth break them in thought, word, and deed," citing Jas 3:2-13. See below Theology 3:2a.

Types of Sins

Several authors conclude that James refers to venial or light sins.

  • Jerome Ep. 57.7 applies the passage to the shortcomings and human frailities of the translators of scripture.
  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. refers to Conc. Trid. Just. can. 23 (DzH 1573), which condemns the propisition "that a man once justified can avoid all sins, even venial ones, throughout his entire life, unless it be by a special privilege of God, as the Church holds of the Blessed Virgin" (20:136).

Many commentators connect these lighter sins specifically with the sins of speech that James turns to in Jas 3:3–12.

Moral Application of Universal Sinfulness

An awareness of universal sinfulness serves a moral purpose, writes Lapide Comm.: it can be the basis for a profound humility, and sharpen one's resove to commit few sins (20: 137).

2b–12 Divisio Textus

  •  Ps.-Andreas Catena groups verses Jas 3:2b–12 under the heading, "That the rash and undisciplined (propetês kai ataktos) tongue brings death to its possessor. It is necessary to master it for the honor (euphêmia) and glory of God" (Cramer 1844, 8:19).

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus .

2b does not stumble in word How Can One Avoid Sinning in One's Speaking?

Examples 

The interpretive tradition often specifies ways in which one might possibly stumble in one's speech:

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc.  "deceit, slander, cursing, pride, boasting, making exuses in sins, jealousy, argument, heresy, lying, perjury, but even of worthless (otiosum) and also of unnecessary speaking" (superflua locutio;Hurst 1985, 36; Hurst 1983, 203). Gloss. Ord. ad loc. incorporates Bede's comment (col. 1284). The tradition often connects this passage with Mt 12:36.
  • Ps.-Andreas Catena (attributed to Basil) ad loc. catalogues some of the sins of the tongue: "In many ways sin is active by means of the tongue; in anger, in desires (epithumiais), in hypocrisy, in lawsuits (dikais), in deceit. And why is it necessary to go through in every detail the sinful things committed by the tongue? For from it come abusive language, frivolous talk, foolish talk (môrologia), speaking badly of one another (katalalia cf.  Jas 4:11) in ways that are not proper, idle conversation, false swearing (epiorkiai), falsely witnessing, all these evil things and still more are products of the tongue (Cramer 1844, 8:21–22). 

Sinlessness and Silence

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena attr. Cyril of Alexandria ad loc. and Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. (col. 75) note that the one wishing to not go astray in speech must sometimes keep silent. Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. notes that nature "reminds us to use the tongue cautiously and with conscious control (circunspectem esse ac moderatum) by the wall and barricade made by the teeth and the lips" (Bateman 1993, 155; Bateman 1997, 142).
  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. writes, "The method and mode (ratio et modum), then, of directing the tongue to not offend is silence (silentium). Do you wish to learn to speak? Be silent and in silence consider what should be said and in what it should be said. For this reason, in all religions the discipline and cultivation (disciplina et cura) of silence is so great, since it is most useful, and indeed necessary, for guarding against offences and for the purity and and innocence of the heart" (20:138).

Other Applications

  • Augustine of Hippo Ep. 73.9 admits that in his own relationship with Jerome, he cannot claim to have lived up the perfection noted by James, and he asks Jerome's forgiveness if he has ever offended Jerome with his words.
  • Jerome Comm. Eph. ad 5:5 teaches that committing sins of speech (babbling or jesting) does not exclude one from the Kingdom of God, but it will cause one to be at a lower level (alluding to Jn 14:2 and 1Cor 15:41).
  • Francis de Sales Intr. 3. 27 quotes Jas 3:2b to introduce a section entitled, "Modesty (honessteté) in Speech and the Respect Due to Others," warning of the dangers of speaking an indecent (deshonneste) word. Even when the speaker has no bad intention, such words can have devastating effects on the hearer, filling him with unclean thoughts and temptations (Ryan 1950, 194–95; Mackey 1894, 230).
  • Bonhoeffer Leben applies the passage and Jas 4:11–12 to his rule that members of a community must never speak about one another in secret. This discipline will help to avoid forming judgmental attitudes about others (Bloesch and Burtness 1996, 94–95; Müller and Schönherr 1987, 78).

Theology

2a we all stumble Universality of Sin This text was cited as a proof-text against the Pelagian position that Christians no longer needed to pray for the forgiveness of their own sins:

  • 418 AD: Syn. Cart. can. 7 (DzH 229) : Whereas some have said that Lord's prayer's petition for forgiveness does not refer to all Christians but only to those who are sinful, the canon replies, "but the Apostle James was holy and just when he said [Jas 3:2]. For why would 'all' have been added, unless this sentence pertained to the psalm where it is read [Ps 143:2].

Later teaching continues to see it as a proof-text for universal sin, including post-baptismal sin:

See above Christian Tradition 3:2a.

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. Vat.gr. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.

Christian Tradition

2b perfect man The Meaning of "Perfect" Commentators try to clarify what James means by "perfect," especially since James has just insisted that all people stumble in many ways.

  • Perfection in forgiveness of sin: Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. asks, "How can he say that the man is perfect who does not offend in word, when he has just said, 'We all offend in many things'?" Bede explains that although the elect (electus) righteous may sin lightly (e.g., by frailty of flesh or ignorance), they remain righteous because "there is the daily remedy of prayers and good works that quickly raises up the righteous offender" (Hurst 1985, 36; Hurst 1983, 202).
  • Perfection in this life. Aquinas ST 2-2.184.2 ad. 2 considers the question of whether perfection (perfectio) is possible in this life. He answers that a certain type of perfection is possible (as demanded in Mt 5:48), and this perfection consists in love (caritas). Thus, "Those who are perfect (perfecti) in this life are said to 'offend in many things' with regard to venial sins (peccata venialia), which result from the weakness (infirmitate) of the present life: and in this respect they have an 'imperfect being' (aliquid imperfectum) in comparison with the perfection of heaven" (English Dominicans 1947, 4:1945).
  • Perfection in virtue. Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. "For perfection consists in justice; justice is cultivated by silence. Thus he holds that perfection is temperance in speech" (continentia in verbo; col. 75). See also Pelagius Ep. Dem. 19.3.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

2a we all stumble Universal Sinfulness The sinfulness of all humans is a common topos in Scripture:

  • Ps 14:3: "They have all gone astray; together they have become useless. There is no one who does good; there is not even one."
  • Eccl 7:20: "yet there is no one on earth so just as to do good and never sin."
  • Sir 8:6 (G-8:5):  "You should not despise a man who turns himself away from sin, nor reproach him with it. Remember that we are all subject to correction."
  • Rom 3:23: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
  • 1Jn 1:8: "If we say, "We are without sin," we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (this passage is commonly quoted in the commentary tradition on Jas 3:2 such as in Lapide Comm. ad loc.).

See Ancient Texts 3:2a.

2b stumble in word Controlling One’s Tongue The biblical wisdom tradition warns of the need to control one's tongue (Biblical Intertextuality 1:19c; Biblical Intertextuality 1:19bc; Biblical Intertextuality 1:26).

  • Sir 22:34 (G-22:27): "Who will set a guard over my mouth, an effective seal on my lips, That I may not fail through them, and my tongue may not destroy me?"