The Bible in Its Traditions

James 4:1–12


From where [come] wars and disputes among you? Is it not from here, from your lusts, which war in your members?

Whence [come] wars and whence [come] fightings among you? [come they] not hence, [even] of your pleasures that war in your members?

Byz V
Nes TR

You lust and you do not have. You murder and are jealous and you cannot obtain. You fight and make war. You do not have because you do not ask.

Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and covet, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war; ye have not, because ye ask not.

You covet, and do not obtain; you kill and envy, but you cannot possess; you strive and fight, yet you have nothing, because you do not ask.

Nes TR

You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend [it] in [gratifying] your lusts.

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may spend [it] in your pleasures.

You ask and you do not receive, because you ask badly, so that you may use it toward your own desires.

Byz V TR
Nes TR

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world is constituted an enemy of God.

Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God.

O you adulterers! Do you not know that the love for worldly things is enmity with God? Whosoever, therefore, esteems worldly things is the enemy of God.

Byz V S

Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"?

Or think ye that the scripture speaketh in vain? Doth the spirit which he made to dwell in us long unto envying?

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

Byz Nes V TR

But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

But our LORD has given us abundant grace. Therefore he said, God humbles the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Byz V

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Be subject therefore unto God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist Satan, and he will flee from you.

Byz Nes V S TR

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse [your] hands, [you] sinners; and purify [your] hearts, [you] double-minded.

Byz V
Nes TR

Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter change into mourning and your joy into dejection.

Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.

Humble yourselves, and mourn; let your laughter be turned to weeping, and your joy to sorrow.

9 laughter...into mourning Jas 5:1-3; Lk 6:25
Byz V
Nes S TR

10  Be humbled before YHWH, and He will exalt you.

10  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall exalt you.

Byz S
Nes TR

11  Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. He who speaks evil against a brother and judges his brother speaks against the law and judges the law. And if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

11  Speak not one against another, brethren. He that speaketh against a brother, or judgeth his brother, speaketh against the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judgest the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

11  Brothers, do not choose to slander one another. Whoever slanders his brother, or whoever judges his brother, slanders the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge.

Byz V TR

12  There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you who judges the other?

12  One [only] is the lawgiver and judge, [even] he who is able to save and to destroy: but who art thou that judgest thy neighbor?

12  For there is one lawgiver and judge, who is able to save and to destroy: who are you to judge your neighbor?



1b members Of Your Body The Greek is melos. The primary referent is a part of the human body: see Philo Flacc. 176; 1Cor 12:12. James also uses the term at Jas 3:5 in reference to the tongue.

Suggestions for Reading

2f you ask wrongly Thematic Echo: Theme of Prayer James returns to the topic raised in Jas 1:6-8 on proper prayer. There, he criticizes the community for not asking in single-minded faith, but rather with a divided mind, mixed motivations. Here, the person, dominated by passions, asks in the wrong way.


2a You desire Implied Object or Intransitive Meaning? James' reference to desiring (epithumei; cf. the noun form in  Jas 1:14-15) is quite generic and does not specify the object of the desire. Yet with his reference to desiring but not having, and to spending on one's passions (Jas 4:2-3), James apparently has the desire for possessions or money in mind; his reference to adulterers (and thus sexual desire) in the next verse, likely has a more metaphorical sense. 

Thus envy over possessions, with its ensuing strife and divisions, characterizes James' community. The disparity in the community between rich and poor (Jas 1:9-11; 2:1-13,15-16; 4:13-16; 5:1-6) doubtless plays a role in the ongoing conflicts. See also Ancient Texts 4:2a and Christian Tradition 4:2a

Literary Devices

2f Sorites and Asyndeton James again employs a chain argument (see Jas 1:3): "You desire, and do not have....You do not have because you do not ask but do not receive" (Jas 4:2-3). His style in this verse is abrupt, lacking clear conjunctions, as if to imitate the disorder of passions.


Biblical Intertextuality

2b you kill and are jealous Allusion to the Story of Joseph? Joseph's older brothers were jealous (zêloô, the same word used here) of him (Gn 37:11), leading to plans of murder (Peritestamental Literature 4:2b).


Christian Tradition

2a you desire and do not have Unrestrained Desires are Insatiable

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena (attr. to Dionysius) comments that even when a person has sufficient possessions, but sees his neighbor with greater possessions, he too contentiously desires (philoneikeô) more (Cramer 1844, 8:25).
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. "He seems to intimate that the soul of man is insatiable, when he indulges wicked lusts (improbis cupiditatibus); and truly it is so; for he who suffers his sinful propensities (appetitus) to rule uncontrolled, will know no end to his lust. Were even the world given to him, he would wish other worlds to be created for him" (Owen 1849, 329; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 414).

2b you kill Metaphorical Interpretation

  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. "One should understand that he does not speak here of 'murder' and 'war' in a physical sense (sarkikon). For this is hard to believe even in the case of thieves; how much more so in the case of those who to some extent are believers and approach the Lord. Rather, as it seems to me, he says 'to kill' about those who by undertaking such insolent deeds, are killing their own souls; on account of those deeds war against piety (eusebeia) also occurs among them" (col. 492).

Suggestions for Reading

3a ask wrongly Revisiting the Theme of Faithful Prayer James reiterates his discussion in Jas 1:6-8, which criticizes the community for asking or praying to God with a divided mind, mixed motivations, rather than with single-minded faith.


Literary Devices

4a adulteresses Vituperation and the Metaphor of Adultery James uses the word moichalides, the term for females committing adultery, alluding to a prophetic tradition of metaphorically conceiving the divine-human relationship as a marriage (Biblical Intertextuality 4:4a).  James thinks of the community as the chosen people (cf. Jas 1:1: "the twelve tribes") who have a covenant relationship with God. Jealousy and inordinate desire for possession violate the covenant law (which commands "do not covet"). The people's choice to become "friends with the world" (Jas 4:4) instead of remaining faithful to the covenant relationship with God is tantamount to adultery; metaphorically, the community is the unfaithful wife. See also Textual Criticism 4:4a and Christian Tradition 4:4a.


Ancient Cultures

4a friendship with the world Friendship and Ethical Values In a Hellenistic context, friendship involves a sharing of common interests (at the lower level) and at the higher levels involves shared virtue Ancient Texts 2:23c.  To have friendship with the world, then, involves sharing the values of the world. In the immediate context (Jas 3:13-4:3), James condemns the worldly values of jealousy and a competitive desire for possessions that causes conflict in the community. See also Biblical Intertextuality 4:4a and Christian Tradition 4:4a.


Textual Criticism

5b lives : Byz TR | Nes : he made live

  • P and Byz reads the intransitive verb katôᵢkêsen (ind. aorist of katoikeô), making "the spirit" the subject (thus, "the spirit lives").
  • The better manuscripts (e.g., P74 א B), however, read the causative verb katôᵢkisen (ind. aorist of katoikizô "to cause to dwell", "to make to live"), implying another subject that is not explicit (the present translation provides "He", i.e. God as the implied subject). See also Grammar 4:5b

Katoikeô occurs frequently in the NT and G, while katoikizô is attested only here in the NT, and rarely in the G. Thus katoikizô is almost certainly the original reading; later scribes preferred the more familiar katoikeô

Literary Devices

5a in vain Echo The Greek here, kenôs, is the adverbial form of the word used in Jas 2:20 to refer to the senseless person (kenos). 

5a Scripture speaks Standard Introductory Formula James use a standard formula for introducing a scriptural quotation: hê graphê legei (cf. Rom 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 11:2; Gal 4:30; 1Tm 5:18).


Comparison of Versions

5b which lives in us Traditional Reading Differs from Critically Established Reading All major interpretive traditions V S Byz TR read katoikeô ("to live"), but manuscript evidence suggests that katoikizô ("to cause to live") is the original reading in Greek. See also Textual Criticism 4:5b.



6a grace As a Gift The word charis (V = gratia; S = ṭybwt’) has rich connotations in Hellenistic, Jewish, and Christian traditions. The basic meaning is any attractive quality.

This passage fits in well with James' characterization of God as a liberal giver of gifts (Jas 1:5: the God who gives to all without hesitation; Jas 1:17: every good gift is from God). This characterization is in sharp contrast to the characterization of the community as dominated by a spirit of selfish jealousy. See also Biblical Intertextuality 4:6a.

6c humble Lowliness of Heart James evokes here the humble, lowly person (tapeinos) discussed earlier in the letter (Jas 1:9-11). The term can refer either being poor in an economic sense, or to having a humble character, especially humility before God. In the contrast with the rich, the focus is on the economic sense in Jas 1:9; while here, in contrast to the arrogant, the accent is on the lowliness of heart. See also Vocabulary 1:9; Ancient Cultures 1:9-11; Biblical Intertextuality 1:9; Peritestamental Literature 1:9; Christian Tradition 1:9.


Ancient Texts

6c opposes the arrogant Greco-Roman Criticism of Arrogance In Greco-Roman literature, the gods oppose the arrogant. Diodorus Siculus Bib. hist.  6.7.1-3 records that Salmoneus was arrogant and impious (asebês), boasting that the machine he made produced thunder claps louder than those of Zeus. Zeus killed him with a lightning bolt for his impiety (Oldfather 1967, 340-43).



7a Submit The verb hupotassô is used frequently in the NT to refer to social order: Christians should submit to the ruling authorities (Rom 13:1, Titus 3:1); church authorities (1Pt 5:5), slaves to their masters (Titus 2:9), and women to their husbands (Eph 5:22 [cf. 5:21]; Col 3:18).


Biblical Intertextuality

7b Resist the devil NT Parallels Other NT passages parallel James' exhortation to resist the devil; Ephesians especially makes evident the underlying military metaphor (Literary Devices 4:1-7):

  • 1Pt 5:9:  "Resist him [the devil], steadfast in faith."
  • Eph 6:11: "Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil."


Christian Tradition

8–11 Divisio Textus The Ps.-Andreas Catena comments on Jas 4:8-11 under the heading, "On repentance for salvation (peri metanoias pros sôterian), and on not judging [one's] neighbor" (Cramer 1844, 8:30).



9d joy Two Types of Joy? In Jas 1:2 the reader is exhorted to consider it nothing but joy when he experiences various trials. Here "joy" (G= chara; V = gaudium; S = ḥdw’) is apparently "worldly" joy, a happiness associated with those live in accordance with worldly standards. 

Literary Devices

11a Do not speak against Marker of a New Section James regularly begins a new section with a negative imperative (using mê); see Jas 2:1; 3:1; 5:12

11a my brothers Tone of Address The fraternal address contrasts sharply with Jas 4:1-10, where the audience was addressed as "adulterers" (Jas 4:4) and "sinners" (Jas 4:8).


Biblical Intertextuality

11b speaking against SUBCATEGORY Inclusion in NT vice lists The noun form (katalalia) is found in NT vice lists:


Textual Criticism

12a and judge : Nes | Byz TR: Ø P74 and Byz lack the phrase "and judge." The TR also omits it.

12c another : Byz TR | Nes: neighbour Byz reads the generic "another" (heteron) instead of "neighbour" (plêsion). 


Biblical Intertextuality

12a There is one  ECHO of the Shema James here echoes his pronouncement in Jas 2:19, which itself echoes the Shema (Dt 6:4):

  • Jas 2:19a: "You believe that God is one"
  • Dt 6:4: "Hear O Israel!  The Lord is our God, thet Lord alone."

In the current context, James stresses that it is the Lord alone (not presumptous humans) who is the the only lawgiver and judge.

12b able to save and to destroy ECHO of the Jesus Tradition One may detect an echo here of Jesus' characterization of God in Mt 10:28: "And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." "For whoever wishes to save his life (psuchê) will lose it, but whoever loses (apollumi) his life for my sake will find it" (Mt 16:25).

The word "destroy" can refer to physical death (e.g., Mt 2:13; 12:9), but also to eschatological destruction: Mk 1:24 (destruction of an unclean spirit);  Rom 14:15 (destruction of a weak brother); Mt 10:28.



12a one lawgiver and judge God is the Ultimate Source of Political Authority

  • Leo XIII Diut. 11 cites this passage to support the view that the ultimate source of all political authority is God and not, as in the political theory of men such as Voltaire or Rousseau, the will of the people. Such a view will facilitate the just ordering of society and encourage the populace's proper respect for authority (citing Rom 13:1-7). This respect for authority has limits, however: one cannot obey a ruler if the ruler commands something that violates the divine or natural law. 

History of Translations

2 and do not have, you kill Alternative Punctuation The Greek text lacks conjunctions, cf. also NAB: "You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain".

The RSV assumes that James employs asyndeton here (Literary Devices 4:2-3), and supplies the conjunctions to avoid the awkward phrase "you kill and envy," where the extreme action of killing precedes the less extreme action of envying.

  • RSV: "You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war".


Literary Devices

4a Do you not know Paranetic Discourse: Assumption of Shared Knowledge James again alludes to knowledge that he assumes the audience has, but is not necessarily using (Jas 1:3; 2:5,7). See also Literary Devices 1:3.



6c to the humble gives grace Application to Marriage

  • Pius XI's Cast. Con. (98) applies James' teaching to modern challenges to traditional marriage, including advocacy of contraception, abortion, full equality of wife and husband, eugenics, and divorce. Pius teaches that only couples who first humble themselves before God will then be given the grace to control the various passions that are encouraged by these modern challenges.


Biblical Intertextuality

8c hearts Anthropological Importance of the Heart In biblical anthropology, the heart is the source of one's inner life, thinking, feeling, and will. See Biblical Intertextuality 1:26,3:14.

12a lawgiver and judge Characterization of the Lord in G The Lord is frequently designated as the lawgiver (using the verb form nomotheteô) in G: e.g., Ex 24:12; Ps 25:8 [24:8]; Ps 119:33 [118:33]). The Lord's role as judge is also frequently stated: Ps 7:11; 49:6; Sir 35:14 [35:12]; Heb 12:23.

A strong case can be made, however, that James has in mind the Lord Jesus as lawgiver and judge. The passage here is parallel with Jas 5:9, and there the eschatological judge who stands at the door is almost certainly the Lord Jesus (cf. →James: The title kurios in James).



1:27c,3:6,4:4 world Negative Connotations The word kosmos is negative in James's worldview, expressing a realm or state opposed to God (Biblical Intertextuality 1:27; Christian Tradition 1:27; Christian Tradition 4:4b).

  • Jas 1:27: "keep oneself unstained from the world";
  • Jas 4:4: "Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God?"

Textual Criticism

4a Adulterers Plus in Byz TR It is probable that originally there was only one vocative: "adulteresses" (moichalides); cf. Nes and V. Several manuscripts (e.g., the second corrector of א, P, and Ψ ), followed by Byz and part of the Syriac tradition, add moichoi (the term for male adulterers) in order to balance out James' exclusive reference to female adulterers (moichalides). See also Literary Devices 4:4a.


1a wars and battles Literal and Figurative Meanings

In Classical Greek

  • Polemos ("war") typically refers to conflict between nations. E.g., Thucydides Hist. 1.1.1: "the war (polemos) waged by the Peloponnesians and the Athenians" (Smith 1923, 2-3);  cf. Mt 24:6: "wars (polemoi) and rumors of wars."
  • Machê refers to battles. E.g., Thucydides Hist. 2.23.1: "the Athenians did not come out to do battle" (Smith 1923, 302-39).

The terms polemoi and machai are regularly combined in ancient Greek literature (e.g., Homer Il. 1.177). 


The terms can also be applied to private conflicts within communities: e.g.,

V  translates machai with lites, which can mean a lawsuit -- this may allude to the legal actions in Jas 2:6; cf. Lapide Comm. ad loc.

1b pleasures Metonymy for "Desire" In ancient Greek usage, hêdonê refers to sensual pleasure (Ancient Texts 4:1b), but, by metonymy, it may also refer to the desire for sensual pleasure. It is in this latter sense that James uses it.

For James, hêdonê  is virtually equivalent to epithumia, "desire" (see Jas 1:14-15 for his understanding of this word) as he uses the verbal cognate of this noun in explicating this passage in Jas 4:2: "You desire (epithumeô), but do not have."

The Vulgate, in fact, translates both epithumia (Jas 1:14-15) and hêdonê (Jas 4:1) with concupiscentia (also using the verbal form in Jas 4:2). 

4b would wish A Stress on Free Will The verb boulomai carries the connotation of deliberate planning. James' word choices strongly emphasize that a person freely chooses to accept worldly standards. James uses this same verb in Jas 3:4 to illustrate the free will of the pilot to direct his ship as he wishes, as well as the will of God which gave us birth (Jas 1:18). James reiterates the point of Jas 1:13-15: one is led into sin by one's own desire, not by God.

9a Bear hardship A State of Suffering and Sadness The verb talaipôreô means, “to experience hardship or sorrow” (from tlênai, “to endure,” and pôreô, “to lament,” or pêma, “misery”). The verb is usually intransitive ,“to be afflicted”; but it can also be transitive, “to afflict” someone. Commentators suggest two basic ways to translate this verb. It connotes either,

  • (1) a state of sorrow or distress,
  • or (2) an expression of sorrow or distress, a lament.

The present context suggests the second meaning: “afflict [yourselves].”

Josephus A.J. 2.334 uses it to describe the Israelites as they flee the Egyptian pursuit (2:310); Herm. Vis. 3.7.1 applies it to the miserable state of one who once believed but has since left the true path because of being double-minded (2:210); cf. V's translation: miseri estote.

In Jas 5:1, the noun form is used for the impending miseries to come upon the rich. In the prophets, it is often used to refer to the hardships that the people will suffer as punishment for their unfaithfulness to God (Mi 2:4; Jl 1:10; Jer 4:13). 

9b mourn and weep Collocation The verb pentheô "to mourn over" is often combined with weeping (klaiô): Jesus' disciples mourn and weep over his death (Mk 16:10); the merchants mourn over the destruction of Babylon (Rv 18:15). The word is also often used to describe the mourning over the disasters that will come upon Israel as a result of their failure to follow the Lord (Am 1:2; 8:8; Jl 1:9-10; Is 24:4; Jer 4:28); as is the word weeping (klaiô; Jl 1:5; Is 22:4; Lam 1:1). The noun form (penthos) is used later in the verse.  

James' meaning here, however, is that the community members should sorrow over their sins (for this sense: 1Cor 5:2; T. Reu. 1:10) as part of their repentance (Jas 4:7-10). See also Biblical Intertextuality 4:9c and Christian Tradition 4:9c.

11f lawgiver and judge Vocabulary on Law and Judging The criterion that enables one to judge (G = krinô; V = judico; S = d’n) between good and evil is the law (G = nomos; V = lex; S = nmws’). Therefore, the ultimate judge (G= kritês; V = judex; S =dynh) is the divine lawgiver (G = nomothetos; V = legislator; S = s’m nmws’, lit.: the one who sets down the laws, who is the source of the law).

12b able to save and to destroy Connotations of "to save" James several times uses the verb “to save” (sôzô; V= liberare; S = ap‘el of ḥy’):

  • Jas 1:21: the implanted word that is able to save your souls; 
  • Jas 2:14: James asks rhetorically if faith without action can save a person; 
  • Jas 5:15: the prayer of faith will save the suffering person; 
  • Jas 5:20: the one who turns around a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death. 

James’ use of sôzô focuses on a final, eschatological salvation. This sense is evident in the current context, which refers to the divine power of salvation or destruction possessed by the one lawgiver and judge.

Literary Devices

8c double-minded Echo James alludes to the discussion in Jas 1:5-8 on the double-minded person who lacks faith and is divided by his conflicting thoughts (see Biblical Intertextuality 1:8; Peritestamental Literature 1:8; Jewish Tradition 1:8; Christian Tradition 1:8). In this current context, James specifies double-mindedness as allowing desires and jealousy in one's mind. 

Hermas makes explicit in various passages the connections James assumes here: a call to "cleanse themselves from all worldly desires" (epithumiai tou aiônos; Herm. Sim. 7.2) is equivalent to the call to "cleanse your heart from doublemindedness" (Herm. Mand. 9.6-7). See below Christian Tradition 4:8c.

8bc cleanse [your] hands …purify your hearts: Cultic Purity Language James applies the language of cultic worship (cf. Jas 1:18b; 1:27; 3:6c; 3:17b) to moral purity; cf. his similar appropriation of the cultic sense of teleios (cf. Biblical Intertextuality 1:4a). This passage has specific verbal echoes with:

11f Do not speak against one another …The one speaking against: Sorites James again employs the chain argument (cf. Jas 1:3-4; 1:14-15). See also Literary Devices 1:3.


Ancient Texts

1 Whence wars and quarrels among you Comparison with Plato's View of Desires in The Phaedo

  • Plato Phaed. 66 has close verbal parallels with James: "For nothing causes us wars (polemoi), revolts and battles (machai) other than the body (to sôma) and its appetites (epithumiai). The context of this passage is Socrates' teaching that the body, with its attachment to the senses, is a hindrance to the soul and its quest for true knowledge. Thus, "all wars are caused (parechei) by the acquisition of money (ktêsis tôn chrêmatôn) and we're compelled to acquire money because of the body, being slaves to its service" (Emlyn-Jones 1914, 326-27).  

While Plato and James agree that desires (epithumiai) are negative and a great  source of evil, it is far from clear whether James would agree with the Platonic view that the body itself is a negative hindrance to the soul. Plato's own views towards epithumiai are in fact more nuanced; in the Republic, he distinguishes between "necessary" and unnecessary desires (Ancient Texts Jas 1:14).

1b within your members Bodily Locations of Psycho-Spiritual Faculties The Platonic philosophical tradition locates the passions and the reasoning faculty, corresponding to the tripartite division of the soul, in different parts of the body.

  • Plato Tim. 69D-71D, 90: The reasoning faculty resides in the head; the part of the soul partaking of courage (andreia) and spirit (thumos) is in the chest, the passions, including pleasure (hêdonê) and fear (phobos) are below the chest.
  • Philo Leg. 1. 70 (cf. 3.116): the reasoning part of the soul (logikon) is located in the head, the spirited part (thumikon) of the soul is located in the chest, and seat of desire (epithumêtikon) is the stomach (cf. Jas 3:2b: the complete man is able to control his entire body; 192-93). See also Peritestamental Literature 4:1a; Peritestamental Literature 4:1b.

5b Enviously A Vice in Hellenistic Culture

Envy is not Characteristic of the Gods

  • According to Plato Phaedr. 247A, envy (phthonos) is not a characteristic of the gods, it is excluded from the heavenly procession of chariots driven by the gods, as each has his assigned place (Fowler 1913, 474-75). Cf. Ps.-Phoc. 71, "The heavenly ones are also without envy toward each other" (aphthonoi Ouranidai kai en allêlois telethousin; referring to heavenly bodies such the sun and moon;van der Horst 1978, 92-93). Cf. also Clement of Alexandria Str. 7.2.7, "But neither does envy (phthonos) touch the Lord, who without beginning was impassible" (apathous anarchôs;  ANF 2:525; Früchtel et al. 1970, 7).

A Human Vice

7a Submit yourselves + to God: Stoic Sense of Submitting to God

  •  Epictetus Diatr. 3.24.65 describes Diogenes, "As became a servant of Zeus, caring for men indeed, but at the same time subject unto God" (tôᵢ theôᵢ hupotetagmenos; Oldfather 1928, 204-5).
  • To be subject to God is to obey his commandments: Epictetus Diatr. 4.12.12 "I have one whom I must please, to whom I must submit (hupotassô), whom I must obey, that is, God, and, after Him, myself"   (Oldfather 1928, 424-25).
  • Seneca Ep. 107.11: (Translating a poem of Cleanthes): "Lead me, O Master of the lofty heavens, My Father, wherever you shall wish, I shall not falter, but obey with speed." For Seneca, obeying God is equivalent to "the man who has given himself over to Fate (qui se ei [fati] tradidit; Gummere 1917, 3:228-29).

9d dejection Looking Downward

  • Plutarch Vit. pud. 1 [Mor. 528e] defines dejection (katêpheia) as "pain that makes us look down" (kato). 

The word thus connotes the image of a person with downcast eyes; apporopriate for James' picture of one who is repenting. The word is not used elsewhere in the NT or in G. See also  Christian Tradition 4:9c.

9d dejection Looking Downward

  • Plutarch Vit. pud. 1 [Mor. 528e] defines dejection (katêpheia) as "pain that makes us look down" (kato). 

The word thus connotes the image of a person with downcast eyes; apporopriate for James' picture of one who is repenting. The word is not used elsewhere in the NT or in G. See also  Christian Tradition 4:9c.

Biblical Intertextuality

4a Adulterers! Drawing on a Prophetic Metaphor

6c God opposes the arrogant Exhortation to a Godly Humility James quotes Prv 3:34, G replacing kurios with theos. 1Pt 5:5 also quotes this passage (also writing theos instead of kurios), in a similar context of exhorting community members to act humbly towards one another; similarly 1 Clem. 30:2. The quotation draws from G, as the Hebrew of Prv 3:34 differs significantly: "Those who scoff, he scoffs at, but the lowly he favors."

8 Cleanse [your] hands +and purify [your] hearts: Cultic Purity Language

Ritual Purity

In G, "cleanse" (katharizô) refers to making people or objects ritually pure, it also refers to cleansing of sin. 

  • Lv 16:19: The priest cleanses (katharizô; Hebrew: pi‘el of ṭhr) the altar with the blood of a bull and a goat.
  • Lv 16:30: On the Day of Atonement, the priest makes atonement on behalf of the people "to cleanse (katharizô; Hebrew: pi‘el of ṭhr) you from all your sins before the Lord, and you will be cleansed."

In G, "purify" (hagnizô) refers to making oneself or an object ritually pure for worship:

  • Nm 8:21: "So the Levites purified themselves (Hebrew: Hithpael of ḥṭ’) themselves and washed their garments" cf. Jn 11:55: many went up to Jerusalem "before Passover to purify themselves." 
  • Nm 31:23 speaks of objects made clean (katharizô) by passing them through fire, and purified (hagnizô) by water (Nm 31:23). 

Application to Moral Purity

Other biblical texts parallel James in regularly applying cultic purification to moral purification:

  • 1Pt 1:22: "you have purified (hagnizô) yourselves [lit.: "purified your souls"] by obedience to the truth for sincere mutual love." 
  • 1Jn 3:3: "Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure (hagnizô), as he is pure (hagnos)."

Image of Clean Hands

Clean hands are used as a symbol of moral purity:

  • 2Sm 22:21: "The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness (dikaiosunê); according to the cleanness (kathariotês) of my hands he rewarded me."
  • Jb 17:9: "and the faithful (pistos) hold to his own way, and may one with pure (katharos) hands take courage."
  • Ps 18:20 (G-17:21): "And the Lord will reward me according to my rightousness (dikaiosunê), and according to the cleanness (kathariotês) of my hands...."

Image of Clean / Purified Hearts

A clean heart is also a common biblical symbol, although the words katharos / katharizô are commonly used, instead of James' hagnizô. This symbol can be combined with purity / cleanness of hands:

  • Gn 20:5: "I did this with a pure heart (kathara kardia) and righteousness of hands."
  • Ps 51:10 (G-50:12): "A clean heart (katharan kardian) create in me, O God."
  • Sir 38:10: "Flee wickedness and purify (euthunô) your hands; cleanse (katharizô) your heart of every sin."

James' connection here with the Jesus' tradition is also important: "Blessed are the pure of heart (katharoi têᵢ kardiaᵢ), for the will see God" (Mt 5:8).

11f judging his brother James, Lv 19:15-18, and NT Teaching Several indications suggest that Jas 4:11-12 makes an intertextual use of Lv 19:15-18.

  • This section of Leviticus focuses on rendering a just judgment to the people in one's community; one of James' central concerns in this pericope.
  • James makes use of this Leviticus section elsewhere in the letter: Jas 2:1-13 interacts especially with Lv 19:15's command to avoid showing partiality. Jas 2:8 directly quotes Lv 19:18b.
  • James refers to judging one's neighbor (plêsion); the word is used 4X in the Leviticus passage.
  • Besides the two passages just mentioned, Lv 19:17-18a also resonates in James:  "You shall not hate in your mind your kin; in reproof you shall reprove your neighbor." James criticizes those who "speak badly" of the neighbor (likely behind the neighbor's back), instead of openly rebuking the neighbor (Lv 19:17); "your own hand shall not take vengeance" (Lv 19:18a). James similiarly criticizes community members who speak against one another on the basis of their own worldly values, not on the basis of the divine law. In so doing, they "judge the law" (Jas 4:11b).

Reading Leviticus through Jesus' Teaching

James, however, is not reading Leviticus directly, but reading Leviticus through the filter of Jesus' own interpretation. One may discern clear echoes of Jesus' teaching: "Stop judging, that you may not be judged" (Mt 7:1; cf. Lk 6:37-42). James is also guided by Jesus' selection of Lv 19:18 as a central commandment of the Torah (e.g., Mk 12:28-34), and on Jesus' characterisitic emphasis in mercy (e.g., Mt 5:7; Mt 6:14-15).

Other NT Commandments to Avoid Judging

The commandment not to judge is also noted by Paul:  Rom 2:1; Rom 14:4; 1Cor 4:4-5.

Peritestamental Literature

1b your pleasures soldiering Conflict Between Reason and the Passions


Building on Plato's image of the tripartite soul (Ancient Texts 4:1b), Philo describes a conflict beween the reasoning facutly of the soul (logistikon) on the one hand, and both the spirited (thumikon) and desiring (epithumêtikon) faculties. These latter two parts Philo calls irrational (alogos). 

  • Philo Leg. 3.116 "reason (logos) is at war (machetai) with passion (pathos), and cannot remain in the same place with it" (378-79).  For when reason (logos) prevails, pleasure (hêdonê) is gone, and when pleasure conquers (nikaô), reason is an exile."

4 Maccabees

For the author of 4 Maccabees, reason allows one to control the passions, including desire for pleasure. 

  • 4 Macc. 1:30: "Reason (logismos) is the guide of the virtues and the supreme master of the passions" (tôn pathôn autokratôr).
  • In 4 Macc. 5:23, the law and wisdom are closely related to reason. Following the law helps a person to control the desire for pleasure: "it teaches temperance (sôphrosunê), so that we are in control of all our pleasures (hêdonai) and desires" (epithumiai). See also 4 Macc. 6:35. 

The image in James may be one of the desires for pleasure fighting one another, or it may, in line with these Hellenistic Jewish examples, be an internal struggle between the desires for pleasure and the implanted word (Jas 1:21), itself identified with the "perfect law of freedom," the Torah as the natural law written on the heart.

Two Spirits Anthropology

James may also have been influenced by a "two spirits" anthropology evident at Qumran and elsewhere.

  • →1QS 3:17-19: "He created man to rule the world and placed within him two spirits so that he would walk with them until the moment of his visitation: they are the spirits of truth and of deceit"  (DSSSE 1:75); cf. T. Jud. 20.1-2; T. Ash. 1:5. See also Peritestamental Literature 1:8.

2 You desire and do not have, [so] you kill Epithumia the Source of All Evils

2b you kill and are jealous Connections Between Jealousy and Killing The Testament of Simeon subtitled, "On Jealousy," (peri phthonou), treats the vices of phthonos and zêlos as equivalents; both lead Simeon to plan the murder of his brother.  

  • T. Sim. 2:6-7 "I was jealous (zêloô) of Joseph…I fixed my heart against him, to destroy (anelein) him, because the Prince of Error, having sent out the spirit of jealousy (zêlos), blinded my mind " (OTP 1:785-86).
  • T. Sim. 3:2 "For envy dominates the whole of a man's keeps prodding him to destroy the one whom he envies" (OTP 1:786).
  • T. Sim. 4:5 "Guard yourselves therefore, my children, from all jealousy (zêlos) and envy" (phthonos; OTP 1:786).

In general, Hellenistic Judaism considered phthonos a vice.

  • Ps.-Phoc. 70  "Do not envy others their goods" (mê phthoneois agathôn hetarois; van der Horst 1978, 92-93).

6c the arrogant Arrogance Associated with Envy and Strife Arrogance is often associated with envy (phthonos) and jealousy or rivalry (zêlos) in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs:

1. T. Reu. 3.2-6 identifies arrogance (huperêphania) as one of the seven "spirits of error" (planê). Among the other spirits are

  • strife (machê; cf. Jas 4:1a); 
  • lying, associated with destructiveness and rivalry (zêlo; cf. Jas 4:2a); 
  • injustice (adikia), associated with theft and crooked dealing motivated by desire for pleasure (philêdonia; cf. Jas 4:1b); 
  • arrogance is specifically associated with being boastful (kauchatai) and haughty (megalophronêᵢ; OTP 1:783; de Jonge 1978, 5). 

2. T. Jud. 13.2 "Do not pursue evil impelled by your lusts (epithumia), by the arrogance (huperêphania) of your heart, and do not boast the exploits and strength of your youth" (OTP 1:798; de Jonge 1978, 65).  

3. T. Gad. 3.3: The person who hates "envies (phthonei) the successful person, relishes slander, loves arrogance" (huperêphania; OTP 1:815; de Jonge 1978, 128).

7b the devil Devil and Covetousness as the Source of Sin

  • Apoc. Mos. 19.3 portrays the devil sprinkling his poison on the fruit in the Garden of Eden. The poisoned fruit is identified as "covetousness (epithumia), the origin of every sin."
  • See also Herm. Mand. 12.2.3: "this evil desire is the daughter of the devil." 

Apoc. Mos. thus agrees with James on the origin of sin, as in Jas 1:15, "desire gives birth to sin"; in light of this passage and Jas 3:5, it is likely that James also agrees that the devil is the ultimate source of sin. See also Vocabulary 4:7b; Biblical Intertextuality 4:7b; Peritestamental Literature 4:7b; Christian Tradition 4:7b.

10 Humble yourselves Humility Contrasting with Envy, Hatred and Jealousy Some manuscripts of T. Gad. 5.3 contrast humility (tapeinôsis) with envy (zêlos; "humility kills envy); others contrast it with jealousy (phthonos); others with hatred (OTP 1:815; de Jonge 1978, 130). See also Peritestamental Literature 1:9.


Christian Tradition

1–7 Divisio textus

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena identifies Jas 4:1-7 as a section under the heading: "That strife (eris) and instability (akatastasia) and enmity towards God arise from desire and love of pleasure" (philêdonia; Cramer 1844, 8:24).

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.

5b spirit Discussion on the Spirit’s Identity

The Holy Spirit

  • Bede Ep. cath. takes the spirit as the Holy Spirit; thus 5b is a rhetorical questions expecting a negative reponse, "Does the spirit of grace with which you were signed on the day of your redemption desire this, that you envy one another?" (Hurst 1985, 49; Hurst 1983, 212); also Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc.
  • Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc.  also explicitly names the spirit "the grace of the Holy Spirit which you received in baptism"; this spirit has a desire against envy (adversus invidiam; col 78).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. offers a variation on this interpretation, paraphrasing, "the evangelical Spirit which now dwells in you is jealous (zelotypus) and, so to speak, envious. He demands more, he wants his love returned passionately even if this means disregarding your wife, your children, your very life. He does not tolerate a dwelling-place stained with worldly passions" (Bateman 1993, 161; Bateman 1997, 148).
  • Ps.-Andreas Catena (attributed to Severian): "The spirit that is in us yearns and incites us towards our natural affinity (tês pros theon oikeiotês) with God; turning us away (apostrphô) from the friendship of the world" (Cramer 1844, 8:29).

Zealous God

  • Cajetan Ep. Pauli et al. Ap. ad loc. takes it as referring to God as the divine Spirit who is jealous of "the world" that is drawing souls away from faith in him to love of the world, connecting this passage with James' references to adultery. He finds this same sense in Ex 20:5: "I am a jealous (zelotes) God" (369).
A Person's Soul Affected by Envy

The Syriac tradition takes it as the human soul affected by envy:

  • Isho'dad of Merv Comm. Cath. Ep. comments that when a person's soul (npš’) seeks good things, but cannot obtain them, "then it is moved to envy, which is an anger against our fellows; and how often also against God" (Gibson 1913, 37; Syriac-ibid., 50).
  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc. "Whenver the soul, which he calls 'the spirit' is captured in envy and pride" (Sedlacek 1910, 98; Syriac, 128).

8a he will draw near to you In his discussion of God's immutability, Aquinas quotes this passage as an apparent proof that God is mutable (mutabilis). In his reply, Aquinas clarifies the metqphorical nature of the biblical language:

  • Aquinas ST 1.9.1 "These things are said of God in Scripture metaphorically (metaphorice). For as the sun is said to enter a house, or to go out, according as its rays reach the house, so God is said to approach to us, or to recede from us, when we receive the influx of His goodness, or decline from Him" (English Dominicans 1947, 1:38).

8a draw near to God Ways of "Drawing Near" to God

Meaning of Drawing Near

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. "Draw near (appropinquate) to the Lord by following his footsteps through humility, and he will draw near to you by freeing you from your difficulties through his mercy" (Hurst 1985, 51; Hurst 1983, 214).
  • Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. "[Draw near] by good works, through humility" (per bona opera, per humilitatem) (cols. 1293-94).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. paphrases the verse, "Attach yourself (applicate vos) to God through godly pursuits (piis studiis), through chaste and holy prayers, and he in turn will attach himself to you" (Bateman 1993, 162; Bateman 1997, 150).

Lapide Comm. ad loc. suggest the following ways in which one can approach God:

  • withdrawing from, and resisting, the devil;
  • by humbling ourselves;
  • by purifying ourselves from sin by penance;
  • by loving God and practicing works of love (opera charitatis);
  • through prayer and through striving after perfection (studium perfectionis; 20:182).

8c double-minded Explaining "Double-mindedness"

  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc. elaborates, "you who have one thing in your hearts and another in your mouth" (Sedlacek 1910, 99. Syriac-ibid., 129).

9f Various Interpretations The tradition emphasizes various points it its interpetation:

A Call to Repentance

  • Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. paraphrases "let [turn into] dejection" as "the joy of the heart be turned into sighs of remorse" (suspiratione conpunctionis; col. 79).
  •  Ris Menn. Art. 27.4 applies Jas 4:7-10 to the second stage of the church community admonishing a known sinner to repent (CCFCT 3:184; Ris 1766, 126).

Warning against Attachment to the World

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. sees here a call of "the rich" (Jas 1:10-11; 2:6) to repentance, "Do not love to be made rich, he says, and to rejoice in this world (in hoc saeculo), but mindful of the heinous deeds you have done see instead to this, that through the short-lived miseries and poverty (per breves vitae huius miserias paupertatemque) and passing lamentations of this life you may reach the eternal joys of the heavenly kindgom" (Hurst 1985, 52; Hurst 1983, 214). 

Causes of Misery

  • Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. glosses "Be miserable" with "remembering the wicked deeds (memores scelerum) that make you miserable. Other things that make you miserable: the miseries of this world, and enduring poverty" (cols. 1293-94).

A Saving Sorrow

  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. paraphrases, "Let your foolish and ruinous laughter be turned into saving sorrow (luctum salutarem), let your destructive joy be changed into the sadness that brings salvation (salutiferum moerorem; Bateman 1993, 163; Bateman 1997, 150).

9c Let your laughter be turned into mourning A Warning against Frivolity The tradition uses the verse to warn against immoderate laughter, or even laughter in itself. This advice is often directed towards members of religious communities.

What Type of Laughter?

  • Gloss. Ord. ad loc. glosses "laughter" with "from worldly levity" (de levitate seculi; cols. 1293-94).
  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. describes the laughter in which "they are "indulging in "jokes, foolish talk, scurrility, and every foul pleasure" (voluptati turpi; 20:185).

The Monastic Tradition

  • Leander of Seville Inst. virg. 21 (11) quotes this phrase while admonishing nuns to avoid immoderate laughter, remembering that they are only sojourners in the world and that their true country is heaven. The relevant chapter is entitled, "That it is a sin for a virgin to laugh" (Quod peccatum sit virgini ridere; Barlow 1969, 214-15; PL 72.886).
  •  Ammon. Ep. 23 quotes this verse in admonishing four brothers who were laughing frivolously and telling jokes.The brothers "began to tell jokes to one another, to make sport (geloiazein), and to laugh aloud, so that the Holy Spirit whom they grieved revealed to me their names and their offences, that they might be ashamed and correct themselves with tears and groanings" (Veileux 1981, 92).
  • Nicodemus the Hagiorite Ench. 6 calls for restraint in laughter, but also adds, "Moreover, when we take into account that our responsible and sinful life is carried on in a valley of sorrows, then even our laughter must be turned to mourning and our smile and joy to grief," quoting Jas 4:9c (Chamberas 1989, 115). He notes Basil's comment that Jesus is never reported as laughing (reg. fus. 17).
  • The tradition often connects James' teaching with Jesus' teaching in Lk 6:25 and Mt 5:5 (e.g.,  Ammon. Ep. 23).

10 exalt you Connotations of Exaltation

Raised up to Eternal Life

  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc. glosses, "he will be raised up to the Kingdom" (mt‘l’ lmlkwt’; Sedlacek 1910, 99; Syriac-ibid., 129).
  • Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. glosses "in eternal life" (in vita aeterna; cols. 1293-94).

11f speak against Disparaging Fellow Community Members

Defining the Sin

  • V translates "speaking badly" as detraho. (It is translated as "backbiting" in older English translations.) Aquinas ST 2-2.73.1, drawing on Albert the Great, defines the noun form detractio as “the blackening (denigratio) of another’s good name (fama) by words uttered in secret” (English Dominicans 1947, 3:1497). The intent is to detract from him, lessen his good name. If done intentionally (“to speak ill of an absent person in order to blacken his good name" [ut eius famam denigret]) it is a mortal sin (ST 2-2.73.2). Cf. Thomas' reference to Jas 4:11 at ST 2-2. 74.2 ad 3.

A Hypocritical Attitude towards Fellow Church Members

In general, the tradition interprets this passage to refer to church members who, out of arrogance or envy, are judgmentally condemning the faults of fellow church members, thus causing dissension in the church. 

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena (attributed to Cyril): "For indeed it is right that people examine themselves and govern themselves according to God's standards (kata theon). Yet this they do not do; rather they busy themselves with the affairs of others. And if they see someone who is weak (asthenountas), just as they are forgetting their own failings, they take the occasion to criticize and disdain (katalalia) the affairs [of the others]. They pronounce them guilty, not knowing that since they are equally as ill as those whom they slander, they condemn themselves. Thus somewhere the most wise Paul writes, "For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things" (Rom 2:1; Cramer 1844, 8:31).
  • Herm. Sim. 9.23.2-5 closely parallels James. Some church members have become "withered in their faith" because they hold grudges and slander (katalaleô) one another. But many of these have repented, and the Lord has forgiven them. Some, however, still perist in speaking badly, and the "angel of repentance" censures them, "If our God and Lord...shows no malice towards (mnêsikakei) those who confess their sins but becomes merciful, will a mere mortal full of sins bear malice against another, as if he had the power to destroy or save (apolesai ê sôsai) him?" (cf. Jas 4:12bEhrman 2003, 2:444-45). Cf. Herm. Mand. 12.6.3 on God's power to save or destroy.
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. "He exposes the rashness (temeritatem) of the one who takes delight in judging his neighbor and does not take care to examine the uncertain condition of own frailty (status fragilitatis) and temporal life" (Hurst 1985, 53; Hurst 1983, 215). 
  • Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. glosses "speaking badly" (detrahit) with "concerning some light (leve) sin" (cols. 1293-94).
  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc. similarly connects this with Jesus teaching in Mt 7:5: a church member should not hypocritically accuse a fellow church member of wrongdoing, when he himself surely does wrong also (Sedlacek 1910, 99; Syriac-ibid., 129).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. connects speaking badly with the arrogance and envy mentioned earlier in the chapter, "Arrogance (arrogantia) has envy (livor) for a companion; envy gives birth to detraction (detractio). To detract from a brother's reputation in order to make your own more respectable is the wickedest kind of pride (superbia). It is like splashing someone else's face with mud to make yourself look more beautiful or putting dirty stains on someone else's clothing to make yourself look more elegant." When criticizing the sins of a fellow Christian, the person "pretends that he is being aroused by his zeal for goodness, not by envy or dislike." The person is not trying to gently rebuke or admonish the faults of a brother, but arrogantly judging him. "It is brotherly to admonish (monere fraternum est)...but it is pernicious to slander and arrogant to judge" (iudicare superbum; Bateman 1993, 163-64; Bateman 1997, 150-51).
  • WLC Q 145: In the Calvinist tradition, the sin mentioned here is taken as a violation of the commandment, "Do not bear false witness against your neighbor," specifically, the sin of backbiting.

11 speaks against the law and judges the law How Does the Slanderer Speak Againt the Law and Judge the Law?

Bede's Options

Bede Ep. cath. understands James to refer to a failure to follow an Old Testament law. He offers two options: 

  • 1) "He who slanders his brother slanders the law as if it did not decree properly when it forbade slander (detractionem), saying through the prophet, 'I pursued the one who slanders his neighbor in secret' (Ps 101:5 [G-100:5]) and in Leviticus, 'You shall not be an accuser and whisperer among the people (Lv 19:16).
  • 2) "He who slanders his brother who carries out the commands of the law slanders the law and judges the law for giving such commands. For example, the law commanded, 'You shall not be unmindful of the injury of your fellow-citizens" (Lv 19:18). Therefore he who slanders his brother and judges his brother whom he sees gladly sustaining injuries for the love of God, certainly slanders the law and judges the law which commanded us to forget injuries" (Hurst 1985, 52; Hurst 1983, 215). Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. gives an abbreviated version of Bede's teaching (cols. 1294-95).

The Slanderer Despises the Commandment to Love the Neighbor

  • Other interpreters understand James to refer to Lv 19:18: "love your neighbor as yourself" (cf. Mk 12:28-34 and Jas 2:8). Thus Aquinas ST 2-2.74.2 ad 3 comments, "He that backbites [speaks badly against] his brother, seems to detract the law (detrahere legi), in so far as he despises the precept of love for one's neighbor" (English Dominicans 1947, 1:502); so too Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. (col. 79).

Despising the Merciful Law of Christ

  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. understands James as referring to the Law of Christ. "The law of the gospel (lex evangelica) forbids us to judge one another or to condemn one another, and yet we indulge our personal feelings under the pretext of the Law. The sinner will have his own judge. Why do you pre-empt and usurp this role?…Therefore whenever someone traduces a neighbor he is either condemning the Law on the ground that it does not correct disgraceful actions (non corrigat turpia) or he is disparaging (detrahit) it for being too weak and slow to fulfil the office which he, by disparaging it, tries to usurp for himself" (Bateman 1993, 163; Bateman 1997, 151).


1–5 you ask wrongly Right Disposition in Prayer Under the heading, "Why do we complain of not being heard [in prayer]," the Catechism answers by drawing on Jas 4:1-5:

  • CCC 2737 “‘You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions’ (Jas 4:3; cf. the whole context: Jas 1:5–8; 4:1–10; 5:16). If we ask with a divided heart, we are ‘adulterers’ (Jas 4:4); God cannot answer us, for he desires our well-being, our life. ‘Or do you suppose that it is in vain that the scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us?’’ (Jas 4:5). That our God is ‘jealous’ for us is the sign of how true his love is. If we enter into the desire of his Spirit, we shall be heard.”

1a Whence wars and whence battles The Search for True Peace

  • In a reflection on the peace-making mission of Third Order Franciscans, Pope Benedict XV's 1921 encyclical notes humanity's cry for peace after the ravages of World War I and continuing class conflicts (Benedict XV Sac. Prop. 15). Peace treaties between states and between classes will not be lasting unless they are based on a peace of the heart. Benedict notes that this peace is only possible when inner passions are controlled, citing Jas 4:1
  • In an encyclical published the following year (1922), Pius XI Ubi Arc. 23 cites the same passage in his reflection on the root causes of continuing bitterness between the victorious and defeated nations of World War I, class warfare, and the general lowering of moral standards at both the individual and international levels. 


4:7–5:9 Use in Lectionary BL : Thursday, 32nd Week after Pentecost.


Literary Devices

6a Yet greater grace does he give Transition This is a transitional verse, linking the criticism in Jas 4:1-5 (God opposes the proud) with the call to repentence and humility (God gives a "greater gift" to those who humble themselves).


The adjective meizona which modifies charin is placed as the first element of the sentence to emphasize the contrast with the preceding phrase

Literary Genre

4a Adulterers! Diatribe The diatribe style often addresses the audience harshly (cf. Jas 2:20: "senseless person" Literary Devices 2:20).



3:11–4:6 Use in Lectionary BL : Wednesday, 32nd Week after Pentecost. 

3:13–4:3,4:7–8a Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 20, Year B.

3:16–4:3 Use in Lectionary RML : 25th Sunday in Year B.

Suggestions for Reading

10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. Echo: the Humble in James James' verb (tapeinoô) recalls his earlier exhortation that the lowly (tapeinoi) should take pride in their high position (Jas 1:9), and that the Lord gives grace (charis) to the humble (tapeinoi; Jas 4:6). The lowly are associated with both those who are economically poor and those who are humble in their dependence on God.

Here James' thought reflects Jas 1:10, where the rich one should be humbled. The rich, then, are associated with those who are dominated by their jealous passions (Jas 4:1-2), those who are "friends of the world" (Jas 4:4), the arrogant opposed by God (Jas 4:6).

With the reference to the Lord raising up (hupsoô) the one who humbles himself; James picks up the thought of Jas 1:9. The theme of God's raising up of the lowly can be found in Job 5:11 and above all in Hannah's song (1Sm 2:7-8) and the Magnificat (Lk 1:48-53). See also Vocabulary 1:9; Ancient Cultures 1:9-11; Biblical Intertextuality 1:9; Peritestamental Literature 1:9; and Christian Tradition 1:9.

11f judging his brother Echoing the Theme of Judging James returns to his central theme of judging (cf. →James: Judging). His concern is emphasized in his diction: he uses the verb "to judge" (krinô) four times, and the noun "judge" (kritês) twice.

The Meaning of "Judging"

  • Jas 4:11 parallels judging a brother with speaking badly about, or speaking against (katalaleô) a brother. "Judging" here then, implies a critical, perhaps disparaging attitude that finds fault with a fellow community member, and that lacks mercy (cf. Jas 2:12-13).

Judging and the Law

  • As in Jas 2:12-13, James here closely correlates judging with the law. "Law" for James refers to the "law of freedom" (Jas 2:12), the Torah as interpreted by Jesus (cf. →James: Law in the Letter of James). When James accuses community members of judging the law and speaking against the law, he implies that they are ignoring the law and its standards of mercy, love, and non-judgmentalism (as explicated in Jas 2:1-13). Rather, they are setting themselves up as judges, basing their judgments on worldly standards, rather than the the divine standards given in the law. Thus, they are clearly not "doers of the law," but rather self-proclaimed judges.


Textual Criticism

2b you kill | you envy: Textual Emendation? James' blunt accusation, "You kill" strikes many commentators as too harsh. Two reasons are generally given:

  • it is jarring in the midst of James' softer accusations ("You desire and do not have, you murder, and are jealous");
  • it seems unlikely that James would accuse fellow Christians of killing.

Thus already Erasmus Annot. Ep. Iac. ad loc. (van Poll-van de Lisdonk 2014, 412) and Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. suggested emending the text from phoneuete ("you kill") to phthoneuete ("you envy"); see also Cajetan Ep. Pauli et al. Ap. (368). There is, however, almost no support for such a reading in the manuscript tradition.


7b devil Malignant Spirit The noun diabolos in the Classical Greek means a "calumniator," "false accuser," "slanderer." In G, it renders Hebrew śāṭān, the noun with the same connotations of the enemy in the legal context. In the NT, the term refers first of all to the malignant spiritual beings, synonymous to demon (cf. Mt 4:1,5 or Jn 13:2).

James' reference to the devil should be connected with his references to demons (Jas 2:19),  hell (Gehenna; Jas 3:6), and the demonic wisdom of the world (Jas 3:15). See also Biblical Intertextuality 2:19c; Christian Tradition 2:19c; Vocabulary 3:6; Vocabulary 3:15; Biblical Intertextuality 3:15b. Here the devil is taken as the personification of the demonic wisdom of the world, a "wisdom" governed by selfish passions and desires.


Ancient Texts

2a desire Desire in the Greco-Roman Philosophical Tradition The Greek verb epithumeô (noun form: epithumia) is closely related with pleasure (hêdonê) in Greek philosophy:

  • Plato Phaedr. 14 [238A] "desire irrationally drags us towards pleasures (epithumia alogôs helkousê epi hêdonas; Fowler 1913, 444-45). Cf. Jas 1:14. Plato also speaks of the "innate desire for pleasures" (emphutos ousa epithumia tôn hêdonôn; 237D).
  • The Stoics considered both to be among the main four negative passions (pathê; e.g., Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.111).
  • Plutarch Amat. 4 [Mor. 750E] "The object (telos) of desire (epithumia) is, in fact, pleasure (hêdonê) and enjoyment (apolausis; Minar 1961, 316-17).
  • See also Aristotle Eth. Nic. 3.11.1-4 [1118b].

Biblical Intertextuality

1b pleasures Worldly Value in the New Testament

  • Hêdonê occurs rarely in G, with the exception of the philosophically oriented 4 Maccabees.
  • In the NT, the desire for pleasure (hêdonê) is understood as a "worldly" value, thus one directly opposed to God. In a long list of vices, Paul contrasts those who are "lovers of pleasure" (philêdonoi) with those who are lovers of God (2Tm 3:4); cf. version of Jesus' parable of the sower warns against the "anxieties and riches and pleasues (hêdonai) that choke the seed of the word.
  • In a similar fashion, the NT also understands desire (epithumia; used by James as virtual synonym for hêdonê) as a passion opposed to God; correlates the two: "slaves to various desires (epithumiai) and pleasures (hêdonai).

2ff Allusion to the Decalogue? The Decalogue may be in the background of James' thought in these verses:

  • After accusing his readers of dissension and even murder, James labels them an adulterous people. James earlier referred to the commandments in the Decalogue against murder and adultery in his discussion on the Law (Jas 2:11).
  • The key verb word epithumeô (Jas 4:2a) is used in the G of the Decalogue, e.g.,  "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife" (Ex 20:17 / Dt 5:21).

4a friendship with the world NT: Contrast Between Loving the World and Loving God The principle that friendship with the world (i.e., accepting the "wisdom" or values of the world) means enmity with God (and godly values) is common in the NT.

  • In the Pauline tradition, it corresponds to Paul's "spirit / flesh" dichotomy, especially Rom 8:7, "the way of thinking of the flesh is enmity towards God." See also the contrast beween "lovers of pleasure" (philêdonoi; cf. James' reference to "desires for pleasure" in Jas 4:1b) with "lovers of God" (philotheoi; 2Tm 3:4). Paul can also speak of humanity before being reconciled with God through Christ as "enemies (echthroi) of God" (Rom 5:10).
  • The Johannine tradition has a close parallel: "Do not love (agapaô) the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1Jn 2:15). In explicating the "things of the world," 1 John refers to desire (epithumia) of the flesh and desire (epithumia) of the eyes (1Jn 2:16). 

The general thought pattern parallels Jesus' teaching:

  • "No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Mt 6:24 = Lk 16:13; māmônā’ is an Aramaic word for wealth or property).

The lack of verbal correspondence between Jesus' teaching and James' teaching, however, makes it doubtful that James consciously intended an allusion. See also Ancient Cultures 4:4a and Christian Tradition 4:4a.

7b devil Character: Tempter, Ruler of the World


In the biblical tradition, the devil is the paradigmatic tempter to evil (e.g., the tempter of Job [Jb 1:6-12]; the tempter of Jesus [Mt 4:1-11]).   

Related with Desires?

James earlier identifies a person's epithumia as the source of temptation to sin (Jas 1:15); possibly James agrees with Apoc. Mos. 19:3 in identifying the devil as the ultimate source of epithumia (Peritestamental Literature 1:15a). With James' close connection of sin and death (Jas 1:15-16; Jas 5:20), he apparently agrees with those seeing a close connection between the devil and death (Ws 2:24; Heb 2:14). 

In Ws 2:24, the devil is associated with jealousy (phthonos): "But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it." 

Related with the World?

In his close connection of the devil with the "wisdom of the world" (Jas 3:15). James no doubt follows the biblical tradition that identifies the devil as the ruler of the world (see Mt 4:8-9; Jn 12:31; 2Cor 4:4), with "world" understood not necessarily as the created world itself, but rather as the realm that resists God, see Jas 1:27 and Jas 3:6. See also Vocabulary 3:6.

8a draw near Close Relationship with the Holiness of God

A Close Relationship with God

In addition to the generic sense of approaching near an object or destination, this verb eggizô also describes a close relationship with God: "For what great nation is there that has gods so close (eggizô) to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?" (Dt 4:7). "I am a God near at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off" (Jer 23:23).

Drawing near the Holiness of God

More significantly for James, the word also is regularly applied to approaching the holiness of the Lord, especially in the holy places (e.g., Mt. Sinai, the Temple). Before coming near (eggizô) to the Lord's presence in the burning bush, Moses must first remove his sandals (Ex 3:5); the priests who "come near" (eggizô) to the Lord at Mt. Sinai must first sanctify themselves, lest they be destroyed (Ex 19:22); after Aaron's sons are killed when they approach the Lord with "strange fire," the Lord says, "Among those who are near me (tois eggizousin), I will be shown holy" (Lv 10:3). 

The term is then used in a metaphorical sense for Christians approaching the holiness of God. Contrasting the imperfect Levitical priesthood with the perfected priesthood of Jesus, Hebrews argues that people are truly able to come near to God through the high priest Jesus, "for the law brought nothing to perfection; on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God" (Heb 7:19).

James correlates the drawing near image with the ritual purity language (cleanse your hands, purify your hearts): one must prepare oneself (by being cleansed of sin) in order to draw near to God, just as the priest must become ritually pure before entering God's holy presence (Christian Tradition 4:8a).

Peritestamental Literature

1a Whence wars and battles The Desire for Pleasure is at the Origin of Conflicts The Hellenistic Jewish tradition also finds the desire for pleasure as one of the roots of conflicts and various evils in the world.


In his discussion on the Decalogue, Philo describes the four main passions (pathê) listed by the Stoics: desire (epithumia), pleasure (hêdonê), fear (phobos), and distress (lupê) (cf. Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.111). He identifies epithumia as the source of all sin (cf. Philo Spec. 4.84; cf. Peritestamental Literature 1:15a), but also shows a close connection between epithumia and hêdonê in his thought.

  • Philo Decal. 153 "For all the wars of Greeks and barbarians between themselves or against each other, so familiar to the tragic stage, are sprung from one source (apo mias pêgês), desire (epithumia), the desire for money or glory or pleasure" (chrêmatôn ê doxês ê hêdonês; Colson 1937, 82-83).
  • Philo Decal. 151: Consider the passion whether for money or a woman or glory or anything else that produces pleasure (hêdonai): are the evils which it causes small or casual?" (Colson 1937, 80-83).

4 Maccabees

  • 4 Macc. 1:20 "Of the passions, the two all-embracing kinds are pleasure (hêdonê) and pain (ponos), and each of these inheres in the body as well as the soul."
  • 4 Macc. 1:25 lists several subcategories of vices under hêdonê: "vices of the soul: pretentiousness (alazoneia) and avarice and seeking the limelight (philodoxia) and contentiousness and backbiting, vices of the body being a voracious appetite for all kinds of food and gluttony and gormandizing in private" (OTP 2:545).
  • 4 Macc. 5:23 assumes that desire can be controlled by the discipleine of following the Law: "it teaches us temperance (sôphrosunê) so that we are in control of all our pleasures and desires" (hêdonai and epithumiai; OTP 2:550).


The Testament literature also takes hêdonê as a vice: T. Jud. 13.6, 14.2; T. Dan. 5.2; T. Ben. 6.3. It is associated with sexual sin and drunkeness.

7b he will flee from you Moral Behavior Causes the Devil to Flee In the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs the partriarch Jacob exhorts his sons to follow the law and live a morally upright life, so that the devil (diabolos; also called Belial, from Heb. bᵉlîya‘al) will flee from them. 

  • T. Naph. 8.4 "If you achieve the good, my children, men and angels will bless you...the devil will flee (pheuxetai) from you" (OTP 1:813; de Jonge 1978, 122).
  • T. Iss. 7.7 "I acted in piety and truth all my days, the Lord I loved with all my strength; likewise, I loved every human being as I love my children. You do these as well, my children, and every spirit of Beliar will flee (pheuxetai) from you" (OTP 1:805; de Jonge 1978, 88).
  • T. Dan. 5.1 "Observe the Lord's commandments...and keep his Law. Avoid wrath (thumos), and hate lying, in order that the Lord may dwell among you (katoikêsêᵢ en humin), and Beliar may flee (phugêᵢ) from you" (OTP 1:809; de Jonge 1978, 107).

11f speak against  Katalaleô with Other Vices in the Testament of Gad The Testament of Gad connects speaking badly with other vices mentioned by James:

  • T. Gad. 3.3 "The hater disparages truth, envies (phthonei) the successful person (cf. Jas 4:2, Jas 4:5), relishes slander (katalalia), loves arrogance" (huperêphania; cf. James 4:6; OTP 1:815; de Jonge 1978, 128).
  • T. Gad. 5.4 connects speaking badly (katalaleô) of another with hatred: "He will not denounce a fellow man, since fear of the Most High overcomes hatred" (OTP 1:815; de Jonge 1978, 130).



1–10 Use in Lectionary RML : Tuesday, Week 7, Year 2.

Christian Tradition

1a wars and battles What Kind of Wars and Battles? The commentary tradition interprets the fights and disputes in different ways: 

Disputes within the Community

  •   Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. takes those terms not as warfare between nations, but as the slander and fraud taking place within the community. 
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. identifies envy as one of the passions causing conflict. "If these passions were not on active duty and at the head of an army in your limbs, your tongue would not be savaging a neighbour nor your hand be robbing a brother…One person longs for fame (concupiscit gloriam); another pants for lucre. This one is eager for a kingdom; that one hotly pursues pleasure. When you do not obtain what each of you passionately desires (vehementer appetit), you thrust your competitor aside. You envy (invidetis) him when he reaches his goal; you fight with him when he seems on the point of reaching it. When you are unable to obtain what you are vehemently seeking, your mind is in torment and torn to pieces in a riot of conflicting cares. In these circumstances nobody is at peace with himself or another. Passions run riot within your breast (Cupiditates tumultuantur in pectore). Tongue, hands, and the other members fight and war with the neighbour outside" (Bateman 1993, 160; Batemen 1997, 147-48).
  • Lapide Comm. notes that the first Christians did not fight wars, and James refers originally to lesser disputes, though he foresaw actual wars after the time of Constantine. He notes that Aquinas took disputes (lites) to refer to litigants who seek to win their cases through deceit (20:170). He notes further that, contrary to the teaching of Erasmus and the Anabaptits, a just war (bellum justum) is licit for Christians (20:171).

Conflicts between Nations

  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. quotes several classical authors supporting James' point that wars are caused by desire, including Tacitus Hist. 4.74: "you possess gold and wealth, which are the chief causes of war" (20:171).
  • Newman Serm. Notes ad Mt 18:21-35, thus explicates the passage, "For what is a greater or wider scourge of man than war, dissensions and litigation and though these miseries arise in a great measure from covetousness, they arise still more from passion, from a sense of injuries, from a fierce determination to retaliate, from a thirst for revenge" (180).
  • Pius XI Ubi Arc. 24, published in 1922, quotes this passage in analyzing the root causes of international strife: "The inordinate desire for pleasure (voluptatum cupiditatibus), concupiscence of the flesh, sows the fatal seeds of division not only among families but likewise among states; the inordinate desire for possessions, concupiscence of the eyes, inevitably turns into class warfare and into social egotism; the inordinate desire to rule or to domineer over others, pride of life, soon becomes mere party or factional rivalries, manifesting itself in constant displays of conflicting ambitions and ending in open rebellion, in the crime of lese majeste, and even in national parricide" (similarly, Benedict XV Sac. Prop. 15).

Other Interpretations

  • Jerome Pelag. 2.19 cites this as a proof-text that all humans sin.
  • Friends Conf. 21: A confession of the Society of Friends ("Quakers") takes this passage as a rationale for the Friends' pacifism: "wars and fighting come of the lusts, that war in the members. Therefore Christ commands us not to resist evil..." (CCFCT 3:147; Barclay 1857, 91).

3a You ask, but do not receive Variety of Interpretations

Origen: Is James Contradicting the Lord's Teaching?

Several authors address the question of whether James is contradicting Jesus' teaching on prayer in the Gospels, e.g., "Ask and it will be given to you....For everyone who asks, receives" (Mt 7:7-8); "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it" (Jn 14:14). In an influential commentary, Origen makes three points:

  • Origen Fr. Luc. 183  "The Savior's statement, which says, 'Ask and it will be given to you,'  (Lk 11:9) is true. It is confirmed by his words, 'Every one who asks receives' (Lk 11:10). Someone might ask why some people pray and are not heard. To this one should answer that the one who who comes to ask in a suitable way and neglects none of the things that contribute to obtaining what he is concerned about, he will surely receive (pantôs lêpsetai) what he asked to be given to him. But, if one who moves outside the the aim (skopos) of the prayer that has been handed down (paradotheisa aitêsis) to us, appears to ask, but does not ask as he should, he does not ask perfectly" [OR "does not ask at all":  oud' holôs aitei].
  • This asking and not receiving does not contradict Jesus' teaching. The case can be compared to a teacher [Lienhard's translation assumes that Origen refers to Christ the Teacher] who says that everyone who comes to him for instruction will learn. The teacher's statement assumes that the student will study with care and discipline; if a student neglects these necessary things, the teacher cannot be blamed. Here Origen applies James' teaching concerning asking wrongly.
  • Even if one asks for good things, e.g., to gain divine knowledge (gnôsis theia), or acquire virtues, one must ask the for things for their own sake, not for the sake of being praised by others  Here applies James' warning against asking so that one might squander what one receives on pleasures. (Lienhard, 197-98; Rauer, 303).

Origen's teaching is reproduced in the commentary tradition:

Other Uses of James to Interpret Jesus' Teaching on Prayer

The tradition often uses James to qualify Jesus' seemingly unqualified promise in Mt 7:7-8 and Lk 11:10: "everyone who asks, recieves..."

  • Bonaventure Exp. Ev. Lc. ad Lk 11:10 qualifies the statment "For everyone who asks, receives, if he asks devotedly (si pie petat). So the Lord intimates this, "If you ask the Father for anything in my name, he will give it to you," that is, for your salvation. Otherwise, he will not give it to you. Wherefore James says [quotation of Jas 4:3]" (Karris 2003, 1042; Peltier 1867, 523). See the similar use of James in Albert Sup. Matt. ad 7:8 (Schmidt 1987, 252).
  • Gloss. Ord. (V) ad Mt 7:8: The teaching, "Everyone who asks, receives" is glossed with an apparent allusion to James: " It is certain that the one who did not recieve did not not ask well" (Qui non accipit, constat eum non bene petere; col. 147).
Why Does God Refuse?

Augustine takes two approaches in answering the question of why Jesus promised, "if you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it," (Jn 14:14) and yet it is clear that the faithful often do not receive that for which they ask.

  • Augustine of Hippo Tract Ev. Jo. 73.1-3: Quoting James, Augustine teaches that if one asks for something with a bad intention, God in his mercy may refuse to grant the request and thus prevent harm to the one asking.
  • Augustine of Hippo Tract Ev. Jo. 73.1-3: Augustine then focuses on the phrase "in his name" (Jn 14:14). Since the name of Jesus can be understood as "savior," asking in Jesus' name implies that one should only ask for those things which help lead one to salvation. Any request, then, that leads away from salvation, Jesus, as Savior (Salvator), will refuse (NPNF1  7:331-32; Willems 1954, 509-11).
What Asking Wrongly Means
  • Cyril of Alexandria Comm. Jo. ad Jn 14:15 teaches similarly that those who receive from the Lord are those who love the Lord and follow his commandments (Jn 14:15), not those who ask God for things in order to use them to satisfy their lusts (citing Jas 4:3 and Jas 1:7-8). How could God give evil things to those who ask for them? (Randell 1885, 2:298; Pusey 1872, 2:463).
  • Augustine of Hippo Serm.   346A.7 applies the wrong asking to his congregation's desire for self-indulgence and pleasure, naming specifically "the theatres, the organs, the flutes and the dancers!" (Hill 1997, 3/10:76; PL Sup 2:439).
  • Gregory the Great Moral. 21.25: To ask wrongly is to ask, with a spirit of pride, for those things that are not necessary. The humble person (humilis) asks only for what he truly needs (ex necessitate postulatur); such a person is "poor in spirit" (referencing Mt 5:5; Marriot et al. 1847, 2:536; Adriaen 1985, 3:1084).
  • Bede Hom. Ev. 2.14 "Now they ask wrongly (male petunt) who persevere in sins, and ill-advisedly (inprudenter) ask the Lord to forgive them the sins they do not at all forgive [others]....They ask wrongly who refuse to hear the voice of the Lord when he orders [something] by not obeying him; and nevertheless they earnestly ask their Lord to hearken to the voice of the supplication by having mercy [upon them]....They ask wrongly who apply themselves to long prayers, not with a reward from on high in mind, but, after the example of the Pharisees, for the sake of human praise (humanae gratia laudis)....They also ask wrongly who in their prayers demand earthly rather than heavenly goods" (citing James' reference to squandering what they receive on their desires for pleasure; Martin and Hurst 1991, 2:127-28; Hurst 1955, 274-75).
  • Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc.: the intelinear gloss reads "they are ungrateful to the God who gives" (Deo datori ingrati; col. 1291).
  • Aquinas Serm. Acad. 10.3 identifies one hindrance (impedimentum) to God's hearing of prayer as "the indiscretion of the asking" (petentis indiscretionem). He gives as an example the request of the mother of James and John that they sit at his right and left hand in the Kingdom (Mt 20:20-23). Those who ask more freely for temporal goods rather than eternal goods ask in an indiscrete manner (indiscrete petunt).  Thomas adds, "Or God prefers not to listen to such people, because what they ask for is not saultary for them (non est eis commodum suum), just as he did not listen to Paul [asking to be delivered from] the stimulus of the flesh [cf. 2Cor 12:7], and just as he does not listen to boys in schools asking that they not be flogged, because it is of no avail to them." Thomas adds that the next hindrance is because of one's doubt (propter haesitationem suam), referencing Jas 1:6-7 (Hoogland 2010, 134-35).
  • Aquinas ST 2-2.83.5 interprets "asking wrongly" as praying for what is "inexpedient" (quod non expedit). 
  • Maximus the Confessor Carit. 2.34: The one who seeks the rewards of virtue "out of human glory and not for their own good" (Berthold 1985, 52). Elsewhere, Maximus the Confessor Quae. Thal. 59.3 teaches that the one who asks "bearing even a trace of the passions" (meta tinos pathous) will not receive, since he asks badly (citing James); the one who seeks without passion (apathôs) will receive (Laga and Steel 1980, 2:47; Constas 2018, 414).
  •  Luther Gut. Werk. uses the passage to criticize contemporary forms of prayer, "Now, indeed, all the churches and monasteries are full of praying and singing, but why is it that so little improvement and benefit result from it, and that things daily grow worse? The reason is none other than that which St. James indicates [quotation of Jas 4:3]. For where this kind of faith and confidence (glaub und zuvorsicht) is not in the prayer, the prayer is dead and is nothing more than a grievous labor and work" (LW 44:59; WA 6:233).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. paraphrases, "Either you do not ask from him [God] or if you do, you do not ask for what you ought nor in the way you ought to. For you either ask for something harmful (noxia) instead of wholesome or you ask without faith (diffidentes) or you ask it for an ungodly use" (in usum impium petitis; Bateman 1993, 160; Bateman 1997, 148). See also Christian Tradition 1:5c.

4a Adulterers! Adultery Metaphor  Why does James use the term "adulterers" here?

  • Augustine of Hippo Serm.   92 (142).2-3: Scripture uses harsh language (the accusation of adultery) not to insult, but rather to shame a sinful person so that he might turn away from pride and sin and be healed; cf. Serm.  385.6.
  • Caesarius of Arles Serm. 21.6 "He explained why he had said 'adulterers.' The soul (anima) that deserts its Creator to love a creature is an adulterer (adultera). Nothing is more chaste or delightful than love of him; if He is abandoned and another embraced, you become unclean" (inmunda;Mueller 1973, 1:110; Morin 1953, 1:97).
  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. "he says 'adulterers' and 'adultresses' not at all because they actually were, but because they corrupted the divine and noble commands into other, spurious ones" (col 492); cf. Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc.

Erasmus Iac. Par. draws out the connections in James' thought between:

  • the adultery image and friendship with the world: "Do you not know that God is a jealous lover (zelotypum esse amatorem)? He wants to be loved totally. He wants only himself to be loved. He does not tolerate the world, from whose love he reclaimed you at so high a price, as a rival....Do you not understand that just as a wife immediately loses her husband's love if she sleeps with an adulterer, so a Christian immediately incurs the hostility (inimicitia) of God, who has nothing in common with the world (nihil convenit cum mundo), if he tries to renew his friendship with the world?"
  • the adultery image and the image of the Church as the bride of Christ (Eph 5:23-32; Rv 19:7-8): "Will Christ allow his wife to have another adulterous affair with the devil"? (Bateman 1993, 161; Bateman 1997, 148).

5a Scripture speaks Debate over the Scriptural Reference Commentators have offered a wide range of interpretations of James' reference to Scripture here:

Scripture Reference is in 5a Only

Some commentators translate 5a as "Do you think that Scripture speaks without sense?"  5b, then, is taken as a rhetorical question, not a scriptural citation. Two options follow from this reading: (1) 5a refers implicitly to specific scriptures, or (2) it refers to the general teaching of Scripture:

  • (1) Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. thinks it refers to passages forbidding the Israelites from intermingling with pagan tribes (e.g, Ex 23:32-33; Ex 23:24), in illustration of the point that the faithful should have no interaction with the wicked. Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. suggests a reference to Is 1:15: "Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood!" Ps.-Hilary thus apparently takes James to be referring back to Jas 4:3: "You ask, but do not receive, because you ask wrongly." Ps.-Hilary further sees a reference to some in the community as murderers (see Jas 4:2) who will thus need to cleanse their bloodstained hands (Jas 4:8b) (col. 78-79).
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. takes it to refer to Scripture's support of the principle (in Jas 4:4) that friendship with the world is enmity wtih God.
5b Refers to an Unknown Scripture

Some commentators take 5a as introducing a Scriptural quotation in 5b. Since the exact phrase is not extant in any Scriptural manuscript, various interpretations arise:

6c God opposes the arrogant, but to the humble gives grace A Favorite Verse of the Tradition This verse, whether in reference directly to Prv 3:34 or its citation in 1Pt 5:5 or Jas 4:6, is cited often by early Christian preachers exhorting their congregations to practice humility. Already it appears in 1 Clem. 30.2.

A Favorite Text of Preachers

A Text for Self-criticism

Pride is the Worst of Sins

Several authors take "God resists the proud" to indicate that pride is the greatest sin.

  • Cassian Inst. 12.7 "How great the evil of pride is (quantum est malum superbiae), that it deserves to have as its adversary not an angel or other virtues contrary to it but rather God himself! is never said of those who are caught up in the other vices that the Lord resists them...." (Ramsey 2000, 258; Petschenig 1888, 210). Cf. the similar interpretation in Martin of Braga Sup. 7: "only the swelling of pride struggles directly against God (nititur contra Deum), that is why he takes it as an enemy" (Barlow  1969, 47; Barlow 1950, 72).
  • Aquinas ST 2-2.162.6 teaches that pride (superbia) is the greatest sin, "because in other sins man turns away from God, either through ignorance or through weakness, or through desire for any other good whatever; whereas pride denotes aversion (aversio) from God simply through being unwilling to be subject to God and His rule (non vult Deo et eius regulae subiici). Hence Boethius [cf. Cassian Inst. 12.7] says that "while all vices flee (omnia vitia fugiant) from God, pride alone withstands God" (sola superbia se Deo opponit) ; for which reason it is specially stated (Jas 4:6) that "God resists the proud." Wherefore aversion from God and His commandments, which is a consequence as it were in other sins, belongs to pride by its very nature (per se ad superbiam pertinet), for its act is the contempt of God (actus est Dei contemptus; English Dominicans 1947, 4:1853-54). Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. also notes that those who are proud "refuse to seek the help of grace from above (superna gratia), as if they are sufficient by themselves to achieve salvation" (Hurst 1985, 50; Hurst 1987, 213).

Augustine's Interpretations

  • Augustine of Hippo Doctr. Chr. 3.(23).33 sees the passage as a constant scriptural theme: "There is, in fact, almost no page of the holy books in which the lesson is not echoed (Nulla enim fere pagina est sanctorum librorum, in qua non sonet), that 'God withstands the proud, but gives grace to the humble'" (Hill 1996, 184; Martin 1962, 97)
  • Augustine reflects on the passage in the beginnings of his great works The City of God (Civ. 1 Pref.) and Confessions (Conf.1.1).
  • Augustine of Hippo Civ. 17.4 applies the passage to the Song of Hannah (1Sm 2:1-10). Hannah's (whose name represents grace) description of the humbling of the rich and powerful and the exaltation of the humble are nothing less than a prophecy of the Church (the City of God) in its struggle with arrogant opponents.
  • Augustine of Hippo Enn. Ps. 2 ad Ps 29:18 identifies the proud with all of humanity in their pride against God and subsequent banishment from Eden. 
  • Augustine of Hippo Enn. Ps. 86(85).13 applies it against the pride of the Donatists and others who question the teachings of the Church; see  also Enn. Ps. 131(130).6; likewise he applies it to the pride of the Jews: Enn. Ps. 107(106).8.
  • Augustine of Hippo Civ. 19.27: God resists the proud man who thinks he has no need to ask forgiveness for his sins.
  • Augustine of Hippo Serm.  81.3 warns those who do good to not be pleased with themselves about it, but to be pleased only with God about it (non tibi placeas nisi Deus; PL 38:500-1).
  • See also Augustine of Hippo Serm.  144.1.

Examples in Scripture

  • John of Avila Aud. Fil. 97 identifies the proud in this verse with those how built the tower of Babel (Gn 11:1-9). 
  • Augustine of Hippo Civ. 11.33: God opposed the pride of the evil angels, casting them from heaven.
  • Aquinas ST 3.37.4 citation of this verse to show that it was fitting that Mary should be purified in the Temple (Lk 2:22). Just as Christ, to give an example of humility and obedience, submitted to the Law even though he was not subject to the Law, so too he desired Mary to show her humility in submitting to the Law.

Interpretations of Thomas

  • Role of humility in receiving God's grace. Aquinas ST 1-2.113.4 takes James' reference to grace (gratia) in a theological sense as sanctifying grace, and thus suggests that this passage implies that a person can be justified through his humility: "he gives grace to the humble." Thomas, however, clarifies that humility is involved in the free act of faith by which a person is justified: "Now free-will is moved to God by being subject to Him; hence an act of filial fear and an act of humililty also concur (concurrit; English Dominicans 1947, 2:1147). 
  • Humility and baptism. Aquinas ST 3.39.4 ad 2 uses the verse to connect the virtue of humility with baptism.
  • Humility as a foundational virtue. Aquinas ST 2-2.161.5 ad 2 teaches that although love is the greatest virtue, humility (humilitas) is in a certain sense the foundation of the virtues. "Now the virtues are in truth infused (infunduntur) by God. Wherefore the first step in the acquisition of virtue may be understood in two ways. First by way of removing obstacles: and thus humility holds the first place, inasmuch as it expels pride, which "God resists," and makes man submissive and ever open to receive the influx of Divine grace (semper patulum ad suscipiendum influxum divinae gratiae). Hence it is written, "God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble" (English Dominicans 1947, 4:1845-46). The first step in acquiring a virtue is to remove obstacles, and humility drives out pride, thus making a person submissive and open to the influx of God's grace.

Application to Prayer during Worship

  • Caesarius of Arles Serm. 77.1-4: Drawing on a sermon from Ephrem, Caesarius admonishes the congregation to bow and kneel during worship. "I have carefully noted that when the deacon says the usual flectamus genua ("let us kneel"), most of the people frequently remain standing like straight columns" (Mueller 1973, 1:355; Morin 1953, 1:319). The refusal to bow their heads or kneel during prayer at church is a sign of pride, but no one is able to draw from "the living water" of Christ unless he first bows or kneels in humility (Mueller 1973, 1:357; Morin 1953, 1:321).

Application to the Sacrament of Confession

  • Bernard of Clairvaux Serm. Cant. 16.(6).10: Bernard alludes to this passage in exhorting the reader to make a humble confessions, warning against a subtle form of pride that is more concerned with appearing humble during confession than with actually being humble. God will accept only a truly humble confession: "For when did the Master of humility (humilitatis magister), who by his very nature is inclined to give grace to the humble, ever scorn a humble confession?" (Edmonds 1980, 1:122; Leclercq et al. 1977, 1:95); cf. also Bernard's quotation in his discussion of true humility at Serm. Cant. 34.3.

Other Interpretations

  • Gregory the Great Ep. 5:37 and 44 (Ep. 18 and 20 in NPNF2;Norberg 1982, 1:311 and 333) quotes the passage in his condemnation of the pride of priests.
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. paraphrases this passage: [God] abandons those who arrogantly trust in their own wealth (suis opibus arroganter fidunt). He helps those who attribute nothing to themselves, but trust instead in God's goodness" (fidunt bonitati divinae; Bateman 1993, 162; Bateman 1997, 150).

7a Submit yourselves, therefore, to God Meaning of Submission

  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc. connects this passage with Jesus' saying in Mt 11:29: "Take my yoke upon you" (Sedlacek 1910, 98; Syriac-ibid., 128).
  • WLC Q 104: The Calvinist tradition uses this verse as a proof-text to support its teaching that one of the duties required in the first commandment ("You shall have no other gods before me") is "yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man."  
  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. "for he posits the right order of nature (recto naturae ordo): that the creature is subordinated to, and serves, his creator" (20:180).

7b Resist the devil

Parallel in The Shepherd of Hermas

  • Herm. Mand. 12.4.7 "The devil can cause only fear, but this fear has no force (tonos). And so do not fear him, and he will flee from you." The person will be helped by "the angel of repentance" (aggelos tês metanoias). This passage is located in a section strongly insisting on the ability of humans to follow God's commandments. See also Herm. Mand. 12.5.1: "If then you resist him (anthistêmi), once he is conquered he will flee from you in humiliation" (Ehrman 2003, 2:300-1).
  • Herm. Mand. 12.5.1 also refers to submitting (hupotassô) to the Lord's commandments (entolas). This is likely the equivalent of James' more concise: "submit yourself to God" (Ehrman 2003, 2:300-1).

War with the Devil is Peace with God

  • Origen Comm. Rom. 4.8.8 comments on Rom 5:1 ("since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God"): "How can a righteous man have peace when he is being attacked by the devil and is enduring wars of temptations?" Origen notes that "war against the devil establishes peace with God (bellum contra diabolum pacem praestat ad Deum). We enter more into peace with God at that time when we are persevering in warlike hostilities against the devil and when we struggle furiously against vices of the flesh" (Scheck 2002, 281: Hammond 1998, 2:330). Quotation of Jas 4:7-8 follows.

Activity of the Devil

  • Caesarius of Arles Serm. 77.7: Drawing on Ephrem, Caesarius quotes Jas 4:7 in admonishing his congregation to resist the devil's temption to engage in idle talk during the worship service, when they should be praying and chanting psalms (Mueller 1973, 1:359; Morin 1953, 1:122).
  • Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. glosses "devil" with "the one who suggests evil things" (suggerenti mala; cols. 1291-92).
  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc. describes the devil" (sṭn’ in S) as: "the slanderer, who wishes to throw you down into pride" (Sedlacek 1910, 98; Syriac-ibid., 129).
  • Wesley Notes ad loc. "the father of pride and envy" (604).

Use in the Pelagian Controversy

  • Pelagius Ep. Dem. 25.3, refers to James as "that veteran solider of Christ (Christi miles emeritus), citing Jas 4:7. "He shows how we ought to resist the devil, if we are indeed in submission to God, and by doing his will, to merit divine grace also (ut divinam etiam mereamur gratiam) and to resist the evil spirit more easily with the aid of the Holy Spirit" (Rees 1991, 64; PL 30.41).
  • Augustine of Hippo Grat. Chr. 22 [23] quotes this passage to demonstrate that Pelagius indeed either believes or did believe that God's grace is bestowed according to human merits, a belief that Pelagius denied holding at the earlier Synod of Diospolis (Teske 1997 415; Urba and Zycha 1902, 142-43).

Resisting the Devil through Faith

  • Ancr. Wis. 4.827-30 connects James with 1Pt 5:9: "Resist him [i.e., the devil], steadfast in faith." "Whatever he does, scorn him. Laugh the old ape loudly to scorn through true faith, an he will think himself put to shame and run off quickly" (Savage and Watson 1991, 138; Hasenfratz 2000, 263).

The Devil the Adulterer

  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad. loc. draws in Jas 4:4 in his paraphrase, "But if the devil tries to separate you from God's love, reject the adulterer with his deceits and he will stop annoying you. He will be afraid of you if he sees you firm and steadfast in your love for your spouse" (Bateman 1993, 162; Bateman 1997, 150).

Demonic Powers Can Incite, but not Force, Human Action

  • Cassian Coll. 7.8.3 "no one can be deceived by the devil except the person who has chosen to offer him the assent of his will" (qui praebere ei maluerit suae voluntatis adsensum). A person sins when wicked thoughts attack him and "he does not at once resist and oppose them" (confestim repulsam contradictionis obiciat). For it says,  [quotation of Jas 5:7]" (Ramsey 1997, 254-55; Petschenig 1886, 190).
  • Ancr. Wis. 4.831 "Be sure of God's help, and remember how weak is the one who has no power over us except from ourselves" (Savage and Watson 1991, 138; Hasenfratz 2000, 263)
  • Aquinas ST 1-2.80.3 cites this passage and 1Pt 5:8-9 to show that the devil can in no way compel a person to sin (nullo modo potest necessitatem inducere homini ad peccandum). If the devil were able to compel people, then it would not be possible to resist him, nor would the devil flee. As long as a person has the free use of reason (ratio), that person can resist sin (English Dominicans 1947, 2:950).
  • Bernard of Clairvaux Serm. Cant. 85.(2).4 "The devil attacks, but he cannot overthrow you if you refuse to help him or to give your consent" (tuum illi negaveris auxilium vel assensum; Edmonds and Walsh 1980, 4:199; Leclercq et al. 1977, 2:309). Bernard cites James in the context of his discussion of the traditional list of three enemies who attack the soul: the devil, the world, and the flesh (here Bernard substitutes "a human," [homo] especially a person's own wrong choices, for "the flesh"); cf. Ancr. Wis. 4.185 (Hasenfratz 2000, 217). Bernard then goes on to cite Jas 4:4b to describe the world as an enemy of the soul.

12a lawgiver Jesus or God the Father as Lawgiver

Jesus as the Lawgiver

A theme in early Christian tradition is Jesus as the author of the "new law" (in contrast to the "old law" of Israel).

  • For Justin Jesus is the “lawgiver” (nomothetês; Dial. 12.2) or the “new lawgiver” (Dial. 14.4; 18.3), the author of a new law (Dial. 12.3; Marcovich 1997, 89, 93, 100, 90).  Christ is the everlasting  and final (teleutaios) law (Dial. 11.2;΄43.1; Marcovich 1997, 88, 140).
  • Ker. Pet. frag 1a "In the Preaching of Peter we find the Lord called Law and Word" (nomon kail logon;NTApoc, 2:37; von Dobschütz 1893, 18; cited in Clement of Alexandria Strom. 1.29.182.
  • The Lord Jesus as the new lawgiver is closely associated with Jesus' interpretation of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount. E.g., Justin Dial. 18.3: "amid cruelties unutterable, death and torments, we pray for mercy to those who inflict such things upon us, who do not wish to give the least retort to any one, even as the new Lawgiver (kainos nomothetês) commanded us" (ANF 2:203; Marcovich 1997, 100). After reviewing Jesus’ interpretation of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, Irenaeus Haer. 4.13.3 declares, “Now all these [precepts], as I have already observed, were not [the injunctions] of one doing away with the law, but of one fulfilling, extending, and widening it among us" (adimplentis et extendentis et dilatantis in nobis; Harvey 1857, 1:478; Rousseau 2008, 4/2:532). Irenaeus indeed conceives of Christ as the pre-existent Lord as the original author of the Decalogue (Haer. 4.16.4).

James, as frequently noted, makes extensive use of Jesus' sayings from the Sermon on the Mount traditions and understands the "law of freedom" as the law as interpreted by Jesus (especially as found in the Sermon on the Mount materials). See also Biblical Intertextuality 4:12a.

Calvin's Interpretation

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. finds support here for labeling the Pope as the Antichrist, since he "exercises tyrrany over the souls of men, making himself a lawgiver equal to God. He finds that anyone who willingly submits to the Pope's authority are "members of Antichrist" (Owen 1849 339; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 420).

God is the Lord of the Conscience

  • WCF 20.2 "God alone is Lord of conscience" (citing Jas 4:12 and Rom 14:4), and therefore the Christian should not be compelled to believe or obey any human teachings or commandments that contradict God's word (CCFCT  2:631; Carruthers 1937, 127). 



5b enviously Vice Phthonos is understood generally as a vice in ancient Greek ethics, Hellenistic Judaism, and early Christianity. See also Ancient Texts 4:5b; Peritestamental Literature 4:2b; Christian Tradition 4:5b.


Christian Tradition

8b Cleanse [your] hands Metaphor of Ritual Purity in 1 Clement and Hermas

Metaphor of Ritual Purity

James' image of approaching God in a ritually pure state is reflected in other early Christian writers who may have used James:

  • 1 Clem. 29.1 “And we should approach him with devout souls, raising pure (hagnos) and undefiled (amiantos; cf. Jas 1:27) hands to him" (Ehrman 2003, 1:86-87).
  • Herm. Sim. 8.7.5 applies katharizô, like James, to repentance: "they purified themselves and repented quickly when they heard my commandments" (Ehrman 2003, 2:376-77).

See also:

  • Herm. Sim. 7.2 "repent and cleanse themselves from all worldly desires" (epithumiai tou aiônos;Ehrman 2003, 2:352-53).
  • Herm. Sim. 9.23.5 "repent…cleanse yourselves from this demon" (Ehrman 2003, 2:444-45).
  • Herm. Mand. 9.6-7 "any man who is of two minds and does not repent will be saved only with difficulty. And so cleanse your heart from doublemindedness" (Ehrman 2003, 2:274-75). See also Literary Devices 4:8bc.

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.

Suggestions for Reading

1–12 Internal and External Conflicts Overall, James again emphasizes the connection between the microcosm of the individual person and the macrocosm of the community: disorder and strife (caused by passions and conflicting desires) within the person manifest themselves in disorder and conflict in the community. This section expands earlier topics :

  • it expands the topic of contrasting wisdoms (Jas 3:13-18), focusing on the negative results of following worldly wisdom: strife, jealousy dissension and even murder within the community;
  • it also develops the related topic of the selfish desire that leads to sin and death (Jas 1:14-15) and applies the theme of proper asking (prayer; Jas 1:5-8).

Thematic Structure

James' exhortation to the community may be analyzed in the following way: 

  • Jas 4:1-5: A sharp criticism of the community's vices: they are dominated by their passions, they desire covetously, they kill, they envy, they fight. James, ever the teacher, however, does not merely condemn the vices, but simultaneously teaches the community their cause: their social strife is caused by their unrestrained passions, they cannot fulfill their desires because they ask with the wrong motivation. The accusation culminates in Jas 4:4, where James accuses them of adultery and enmity with God. Jas 4:5 is a scriptural witness to James' accusations.
  • Jas 4:6: A transitional verse, affirming God's opposition to the proud, but his readiness to help the humble.
  • Jas 4:7-10: A call to conversion. The community is called to submit themselves to following God's will, purifying their hearts to an exclusive obedience to God, not the ways of the world (vv. 7-8). They should lament their sins and humble themselves, and the Lord will raise them up again.
  • Jas 4:11-12: Returning to the topic of divisions in the community, James admonishes members to avoid speaking badly of one another. 


While the pericope presents one famous crux interpretativaJas 4:5, a challenging verse that defies clear interpretation, raising a host of textual, grammatical, and interpretative issues, cf. Textual Criticism 4:5b; Grammar 4:5b; Christian Tradition 4:5a; Christian Tradition 4:5b—several texts have drawn special attention in the interpretive tradition:


Ancient Texts

1b desires James Within the Philosophical Disputes on the Morality of Pleasure The Greco-Roman philosophical schools offered a variety of understandings of pleasure.

Plato: Different Types of Pleasure

  • Plato Resp. 3 [389E] teaches that pleasures of drink, sex, and food are to be controlled through the virtue of temperance (self-control; sôphrosunê; Emlyn-Jones and Preddy 2013, 1:236-37). 
  • Plato Resp. 9 [580D-588A] speaks of three types of pleasure, corresponding with the three parts of the soul: the "appetitive" (epithumêtikon) part finds pleasure in making money, the "spirited" (thumoeides) part finds pleasure in receiving honors and the rational (logistikon) part finds pleasure in learning and finding the truth. The pleasures of the rational part are the true pleasures.

Aristotle: Pleasure is Good in Itself

  • For Aristotle Nic. Eth. 7 [1153B], pleasure itself must be a good, but one must distinguish between different kinds of pleasures. Bodily pleasure is not bad in itself, but becomes bad when pursued excessively [1154a]. For a noble (kalos) person, "actions in conformity with virtue must be essentially pleasant (hêdeiai)" (Aristotle Nic. Eth. 1.8.13 [1099a];Rackham 1934, 40-41).

Epicurus: Pleasure the Goal of Life

  • Epicurus apud Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 10.129-31 took pleasure as "the alpha (archê) and omega (telos) of the blessed life (makariôs zên). Pleasure is our first and kindred (suggenikon) good. It is the starting point of every choice (hairesis) and aversion (phugê)....When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim (telos), we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality....By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul" (Hicks 1925, 2:654-57).

Stoicism: Pleasure is an Irrational Passion to be Avoided

The Stoic tradition regards pleasure as completely negative.

  • Hêdonê is a passion (pathê); passion being defined as "an "impulse (hormê) which is excessive and disobedient to the dictates of reason (apeithê tôᵢ hairounti logôᵢ), or a movement of soul which is irrational (alogon) and contrary to nature (para phusin)." For the Stoics, the four primary passions are desire (epithumia), fear (phobos), distress (lupê), and pleasure (hêdonê; Long and Sedley 1987, 1:410-11; →SVF 3.378 [92]).
  • Desire and fear are primary: one desires what appears to be good, and one fears what appears to be bad. Hêdonê results whenever we attain the object of our desire or avoid the object of our fears  (Long and Sedley 1987, 1:411; →SVF 3.378 [92]).
  • Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.116: The opposite of the desire for pleasure is joy (chara); cf. Jas 1:2.

James understanding of the desire for pleasure, then, appears to be closest to that of the Stoic school.


Christian Tradition

5 the spirit which lives in us Identity of the Spirit in Hermas Herm. Mand. 3.1 closely parallels James, exhorting the reader to speak the truth, "so that the spirit that God made to live in this flesh (to pneuma ho ho theos katôᵢkisen en tê sarki tautê) may be recognized as true by everyone (see also Herm. Sim. 5.6.5). Elsewhere, Hermas speaks of "the holy spirit that dwells in you" ( Mand. 10.2.5). Some characteristics of this spirit:

  • Mand. 3.4: it is closely associated with the "spirit of truth" (pneuma tês alêtheias);
  • Mand. 10.2.4: doublemindedness (dipsuchia) and irascibility (oxucholia) in a person grieves the holy spirit;
  • Mand. 11.6, 11-13: the holy spirit is contrasted with an earthly (epigeion) spirit that is associated with desires (epthumiai);
  • Mand. 11.8: the spirit that comes from above (to pneuma to anôthen) is meek, gentle, and humble (praus, hêsuchios, tapeinophrôn. Cf. Jas 3:17;
  • Mand. 11.7-10: a true prophet has the holy spirit.



11a speak against Connotations The Greek katalaleô literally means, “to speak against.” It thus has a range of connotations:

  • to accuse or incriminate someone, e.g., Mi 3:7, “those who see dreams shall be disgraced, and the diviners shall be mocked; they shall all speak against them” (katalaleô);
  • to slander, or speak falsely about someone, e.g., 1Pt 2:12, “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so so that if they speak (katalaleô) of you as evildoers”;
  • to gossip, disparage, or speak negatively about someone.

Herm. Sim. 8.7.2 describes the "doubleminded" (dipsuchoi) as katalaloi. "They have no peace within themselves, but are always causing dissension" (Ehrman 2003, 2:374-75).