The Bible in Its Traditions

James 3:9–10

Nes TR

With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who are created according to [the] likeness of God.

Therewith bless we the Lord and Father; and therewith curse we men, who are made after the likeness of God

By it we bless God the Father, and by it we speak evil of men, who have been made in the likeness of God.

9b likeness of God Gn 1:26
Byz Nes V S TR

10  Out of the same mouth come blessings and curses. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

10 Warning against Cursing Lk 6:28 Duplicity of Speech Sir 28:12-13


Literary Devices

10a mouth Metonymy  Here James switches from the tongue to the mouth as a figure for the power of speech. 



9f with it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse humans Proper Use of Technology in Proper Speech Pius XII Mir. Pr. 122 welcomes the development of motion pictures, radio, and television, as these technologies can be used for good in the fields of education, art, recreation, and the spread of the Gospel. Yet, citing Jas 3:9-10, he notes that these technologies can also be used for morally bad purposes.

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"

  • 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).


Among the most notable individual passages:


9a bless the Lord Liturgical Blessing A prayer blessing the Lord begins the Liturgy of the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Mass:

  • MR:  "Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you" (529).


Textual Criticism

9a God : Byz TR | V S Nes: the Lord

  • The best mss. (e.g.,  P20  א  A B C) read kurios ("Lord"); 
  • Some minuscules and Byz read theon ("God"); cf. Jas 1:27:  "God and Father". See also Comparison of Versions 3:9a.


Biblical Intertextuality

9b come into existence according to the likeness of God Moral Application of Gn 1:26-28

Allusion to Genesis 1?

James uses the phrase kath' homoiôsin theou gegonotas, alluding to G-Gn 1:26: "Let us make humans in our image (kat' eikona) and in our likeness (kath' homoiôsin)." G uses the verb poieiô for creating, while James uses the perfect of gignomai. James is unusual in the biblical tradition in his reference to the "likeness" (homoiôsis); most references back to the creation accounts (e.g., Gn 5:1; 9:6) recall the phrase "in our image" (kat' eikona).

Humans Made in God's Image

James alludes to Gn 1:26-28 (humans, make in God's image and likeness, so as to rule over all other living creatures); cf. Gn 5:1. James' reference reinforces the similar allusion in Jas 3:7: humans are able to tame every other creature, alluding to God's commandment "to have dominion over" the rest of creation (Biblical Intertextuality 3:7b).

Moral Implications of the Creation in God's Image

Gn 9:6 reads, "Anyone who sheds the blood of a human being, by a human being shall that one's blood be shed; For in the image of God have human beings been made."  The implication is that it is a horrendous crime to kill someone who is created in God's image. Two justifications for this view are possible:

  • Attacking the divine image may in some way be considered an attack on the creator of the image.
  • The divine image makes human life itself sacred in some way and thus it is a serious offense to attack it (Peritestamental Literature 3:9b; Theology 3:9b).

James thus reads the creation account in Gn 1:26-28 through the lens of Gn 9:6.

Peritestamental Literature

9b curse humans who have come into existence according to the likeness of God Moral Implications of Human Creation in the Divine Image In Second Temple Jewish texts one finds further expansions of the two moral implications of the divine image: (1) the one who disrespects humans made in the divine image disrespects the creator of that image; (2) humans should be treated well because they are made in the divine image (Biblical Intertextuality 3:9b; Theology 3:9b).

  • 2 En. 44:1-2 [longer recension]: "The Lord with his own two hands created mankind; and in a facsimile of his own face, both small and great, the Lord created [them]. And whoever insults a person's face, insults the face of a king, and treats the face of the Lord with repugnance. He who treates with contempt the face of any person treats the face of the Lord with contempt. He who expresses anger to any person without provocation will reap anger in the great judgment"  (OTP 1:170; Macaskill 2013, 164).
  • T. Isaac 6:33 "Jacob, my beloved son, keep my injunction which I lay down today that you preserve my body. Do not profane the image of God by how you treat it; for the image of man was made like the image of God; and God will treat you accordingly at the time when you meet him and see him face to face" (OTP 1:910).


Comparison of Versions

9a God Variations of the Divine Name  The Sahidic Coptic and some Syriac, Vulgate, and Boharic Coptic manuscripts, read theos ("God") instead of kurios (Textual Criticism 3:9a).

9b according the likeness of God Interpretive Expansion The biblical lemma in the Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. (col. 1287-88), as well as in the commentary of Dionysius the Carthusian En. jac. ad loc. (586) expand James' text to read "in the image and likeness of God," emphasizing the link to Gn 1:26.



10b ought not to be A Expression from the Classical Greek The classical Greek impersonal expression ou chrê is rare in Koine Greek, where it was largely replaced by dei. It does not appear elsewhere in the NT or in G.

Literary Devices

9 bless the Lord ...curse humans: Reiterating Central Themes of James: Contrastive Comparisons James' reference to blessing the Lord and cursing humans builds on several themes prominent in James:

Importance of Right Speech

See →James: Speech in James.

Link between Worship and Good Deeds

James closely connects worship of God and practical ethics, for example:

  • Jas 1:22-25: be a doer of the word, not a hearer only;
  • Jas 1:27-27: "true religion" bridles the tongue and cares for widows and orphans;
  • Jas 2:1-13: genuine community worship excludes partiality towards the rich;
  • Jas 2:14-26: true faith is empty unless completed through practical works.

Evils of Division

Blessing the Lord while cursing the humans is an example of what James calls double-mindedness (Jas 1:8). The person displays an inner conflict; he is divided, attempting to follow both values associated with God and values associated with "the world" (cf. Jas 4:4). This internal division is a variation of James' overriding theme that all division is sinful: his goal is unity and integrity both within each person and within the community. See also →James: Perfection / Wholeness in James .


Ancient Cultures

9f curse Cursing in Ancient Cultures

Formal and Informal Curses

The curse (Greek verb: kataraomai; noun: katara): is a wish that harm or disaster befall another person. Motives for cursing vary and include envy or desire to avenge a past wrong. Other curses involve future actions, cursing those who would transgress some sacred law. This category may also involve a self-curse. Often a divine power is invoked to carry out the curse. Many formal curses were inscribed on thin lead sheets (Greek: katadesmos; Latin: defixio).

  • Mid-3rd c. AD epitaph from Phrygia: "If any one shall open the tomb, there shall be upon him the curses (katarai) as many as are written in [the book], on his sight and his whole body (eis holon to sôᵢma autôᵢ) and his children and his life" (Moulton and Milligan 1929, s.v. katara). Epitaphs such as this from central Phrygia often exhibit a similarity and possible influence from the curses in Dt 27-29.

In addition to these more formal, written, or ritualized curses, there were doubtless many informal curses.

Literary Examples of Curses

Following are some examples of curses found in literature:

  • Xenophon Anab. 7.7.48 "Seuthes cursed (katêrasato) the man who was to blame for the fact that the soldiers' wages had not been paid long ago" (Brownson 1922, 1:639).
  • Diodorus Siculus Bib. hist.  1.45.2: The Egyptian king Tnephachthus "pronounced a curse (katarasthai) on the king who had first taught the people their extravagant way of living" (Oldfather 1967, 1:161).

Biblical Intertextuality

9f bless the Lord + curse humans / Application of Jesus’ Teaching?

  • James' teaching here may be an application of Jesus' teaching: "bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Lk 6:28); James and the Luke passage use the same words for blessing and cursing. Paul echoes this same teaching: "Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them" (Rom 12:14). See also 1Cor 4:12; 1Pt 3:9. Rather than quoting the teaching of Jesus, James describes the actual hypocritical behavior of his community and admonishes them: this should not be (Jas 3:10b).
  • Compare also James' further teaching on avoiding swearing oaths (Jas 5:12), a practice closely connected with cursing, as oaths were often accompanied with curses.

9a bless the Lord and Father Reference to the Liturgical Worship of God With the phrase "bless the Lord," James likely refers to prayers said during liturgical worship.

Blessing Formula

James likely refers to the blessing formula used in prayers:

  • "Blessed be the Lord" (eulogêtos ho kurios; e.g., G-Ex 18:10, G-Ru 4:14).
  • Both "Lord" and "God" are used in blessing formulas (e.g., G-Ps 41:13, "Blessed be the Lord , the God of Israel; G-Tb 3:11: "Blessed are you, Lord my God").

Other combinations of "Lord" and "Father"

For the combination of Lord and Father, see

9b curse Prevalence of Cursing in the OT In G kataraomai means to invoke a curse on someone:

Blessings Paired with Cursing

Passages often pair the promise of God's blessings with the threat of his curses:

  • Gn 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you."
  • Dt 27-28: Moses sets before the people the curses that will fall on those who break the commandments of the covenant law as well as the blessings for those that obey; cf. Dt 11:26: "I set before you here, this day, a blessing (eulogia) and a curse" (katara).

Peritestamental Literature

10a Out of the same mouth come forth blessing and cursing Relationship of Blessing and Cursing

Integrity of Speech

  • Philo Decal.   93 in his warning about taking oaths too rashly, echoes James' point, "For it would be sacrilege (ou hosion) to employ the mouth by which one pronounces the holiest of names, to utter any words of shame" (Colson 1937, 53-55).
  • T. Ben. 6:5-7 closely parallels James' horror of divided motivation and speech, and his insistence on integrity: "The good set of mind does not talk from both sides of its mouth (lit.: "does not have two tongues"): praises (eulogia) and curses (katara), abuse and honor, calm and strife, hypocrisy and truth, poverty and wealth, but it has one disposition, uncontaminated and pure (kathara), towards all men...The works of Beliar are twofold, and have in them no integrity" (haplotês; OTP 1:827; de Jonge 1978, 172-73).

Benefit of Both Blessing and Cursing

In contrast to James' wholly negative view of cursing, Philo sees its benefits:

  • Philo Her. 177-78: Commenting on Moses (Dt 27) assigning Jacob's sons to two mountains for both blessing (eulogeô) and cursing (kataraomai), Philo observes that "curses are equal in number to blessings and (if we may say so without offence) of equal value. For praises given to the good and censure given to the bad are equally beneficial, since, in the judgment of men of sense, avoiding evil and choosing good are one and the same" (Colson 1932, 371-73).



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.

Jewish Tradition

9a bless the Lord Blessing Formulas in Rabbinic Prayers Phrases blessing the Lord are common in rabbinic prayers:

  • m. Ber. 7.3 "Blessed be the Lord our God" (Danby 1933, 8);
  • "Blessed are you O Lord"  is used frequently in the Eighteen Benedictions (Amidah).

9b made according to the likeness of God Moral Implications of the Divine Image Rabbi Akiva thus comments on the central biblical principle of Lv 19:18, "Love your neighbor as yourself":

  • Gen. Rab. 24.7 "R. Akiva teaches, 'you must not say, 'Since I have been put to shame, let my neighbour be put to shame.' R. Tanhuma said, 'If you do so, know whom you put to shame, [for] 'In the likeness of God made he him'" (Freedman 1939, 204).

Christian Tradition

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 .

9b likeness of God Reflection on God's Image in Humans

Distinguishing Image and Likeness

  • Patristic and medieval tradition made a distinction between the two terms used in Gn 1:26: the image (G: eikôn; L: imago) of God (understood as a natural resemblance to God) and the likeness (G: homoiôsis; L: similitudo) God (understood as a more spiritual resemblance); see Irenaeus Haer. 5.6.1; 5.16.1-2. Some theologians taught that fallen humanity retained the image, but lost the similitude.
  • The Catholic post-Reformation theologians Estius Comm. ep. cath. (4299) and Lapide Comm., (155) however, see no distinction between the two terms.

Cursing Humans Means Cursing God

  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. "the insult borne by the image ascends to its prototype" (Sedlacek 1910, 97; Syriac-ibid., 127).
  • Lapide Comm.  "By cursing humans, we curse God, since humans are the work, creature, and image of God" (20:155).

Respecting God's Image

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. comments, "For since God ought to be blessed in all his works, he ought to be so especially as to men, in whom his image and glory (imago et gloria) peculiarly shine forth. It is then a hypocrisy not to be borne, when man employs the same tongue in blessing God and in cursing men" (Owen 1849, 322-23; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 411).

Is God's Likeness Still Visible?

Later commentators reflect on whether the likeness of God in humans is still discernable:

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. "Were anyone to object and say, that the image of God in human nature has been blotted out by the sin of Adam; we must, indeed, confess that it has been miserably deformed (misere deformata), but in such a way that some of its lineaments still appear (lineamenta adhuc quaedam appareant). Righteousness and rectitude, and the freedom of choosing what is good (bonique appetendi libertas), have been lost; but many excellent endowments, by which we excel the brutes, still remain" (Owen 1849, 323; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 411).
  • Wesley Notes ad loc. "Indeed we have now lost this likeness. Yet there remains from thence an indelible nobleness, which we ought to reverence both in ourselves and others" (602).
  • Estius Comm. ep. cath. ad loc. explains that the image and likeness of God (the two terms are interchangeable for him) "consists in the faculties of the soul, in the intellect, in the will, (consistit in facultatibus animae, intellectu et volutate), and what follows from this, the dominion over things (dominio rerum). This image has not been lost in humans, as this passage from James confirms" (4299).


9b made according to the likeness of God The Catechism's Teaching on the Divine Image in Humans The Catechism teaches:

  • The image of God is the fundamental basis of human dignity, which distinguishes humanity the rest of creation (CCC 356-57).

  • The image is reflected especially in the ability of humans to have interpersonal relationships (CCC 357; 1702), and in their immortal soul, free will, intellect, their conscience with its orientation towards the true and good (CCC 1703-6).
  • The image of God in humans is connected with Christ ( CCC  359; 1701).
  • The image of God underlies the unity of all humans (CCC  360-61, 1934-35).
  • The image of God is damaged by sin, but can be restored through Christ (CCC 1707-9). 

See also Biblical Intertextuality 3:9b and Peritestamental Literature 3:9b.

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.

Christian Tradition

9f we bless ...we curse: Condemnation of Hypocrisy and Double-mindedness

Hypocritical Speech as an Example of Doublemindedness

Early Christian traditions parallel James in connecting inconsistent, hypocritical speech with "doublemindedness" (cf. Jas 1:8; 4:8)

  • Did. 2.4 "Do not be of two minds (dignômôn) or speak from both sides of your mouth" (diglôssos; see also Barn. 19:7).  See also Peritestamental Literature 3:10a.
  • Herm. Sim. 9.18.3 associates those who are doubleminded (dipsuchoi) with hypocrites and blasphemers (i.e., those who misuse their speech; Ehrman 2003, 2:437).

Erasmus on Religious Hypocrisy

  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. focuses on religious hypocrisy: "The tongue does the most harm under the pretext of godliness when it mixes things which cannot cohere. For the person who is cruel and slanderous (maledicus) towards a neighbor cannot be pious (pius) towards God. And yet with this organ we praise God, calling him Father, and with the same organ we revile and slander a neighbour created in the likeness of God (ad Dei similitudinem conditum). We use the tongue to sing to God from whom all blessings flow and we use it also to inflict the worst evils on another person as if the insult done to him is of no concern to God the creator. God's station is neither increased by our praises nor his person harmed by our insults. But a man can be either harmful or helpful to another man, and what we do to him, God reckons to be done to himself as well (hoc Deus putat ad se pertinere). Let no one believe, therefore, that the hymns which one produces with the tongue, not from the heart, are pleasing to God when that same tongue spews the poison of slander upon his neighbour" (Bateman 1993, 156; Bateman 1997, 142).

Erasmus' Application to Clerics

  • Erasmus Iac. Par. applies this passage to the clerics of his day in a long and unsparing passage: "They have on their lips, 'Our Father,' even as they pierce again and again with the lance of their tongue the neighbor for whose salvation Christ was pierced. They preach the goodness of God who saved mankind by his mercy while they themselves are quick to destroy it with the poison of their tongue....even from the same pulpit they begin with the praises of God and then launch into the denigration of a neighbor (infamiam proximi). The ruin with which they infect the minds of the audience is all the greater because under the fictitious appearance of religion they cover and disguise the deadly poison which they draw forth from their infected heart through the organ of the tongue. I ask you, brothers, does this not remind you of some kind of monster?" (prodigii simile videtur; Bateman 1993, 157; Bateman 1997, 143-44).

The Wages of Cursing

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena "Let nothing bitter be cast out of a mouth deemed worthy of such divine worship (mustagôgia); the tongue should not associate anything so distasteful with a holy (theion) mouth. Let us keep it pure (kathara). Let us bring forth no curses (aras) from it. For if even those who speak abusively will not inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor 6:10), how much more so those who curse (kateuchomenoi)?…Can you approach God to make an offering, and curse others?  Unless you forgive, it will not be forgiven you…" (allusion to Mt 6:15; Cramer 1844, 8:23).


Biblical Intertextuality

10a Out of the same mouth Integrity in Speech Many biblical passages support James' point that human speech must be integral and not divided:

  • Sir 28:12-13 too notes the duplicitous nature of the tongue: "If you blow on a spark, it turns into flame, if you spit on it, it dies out; yet both you do with your mouth! Cursed be gossips and the double-tongued, for they destroy the peace of many."
  • Ps 62:4 (G-62:4): "with their mouth they would bless, and curse with their heart" ; quoted in 1 Clem. 15:3. See also Biblical Intertextuality 3:9a.



9a Lord V S Nes: The Title "Lord" in James On James' application of the title "Lord" to both God the Father and to Jesus, see →James: The Title Kurios in James.