A project of the Bible in Its Traditions Research Program AISBL
Directed by the École Biblique et Archéologique in Jerusalem
To support us, click here
1 From where [come] wars and disputes among you? Is it not from here, from your lusts, which war in your members?
1 Whence [come] wars and whence [come] fightings among you? [come they] not hence, [even] of your pleasures that war in your members?
2 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.
2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and covet, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war; ye have not, because ye ask not.
2 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.
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.
2a you desire and do not have Unrestrained Desires are Insatiable
2b you kill Metaphorical Interpretation
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.
1a wars and battles Literal and Figurative Meanings
The terms polemoi and machai are regularly combined in ancient Greek literature (e.g., → 1.177). Il.
The terms can also be applied to private conflicts within communities: e.g.,
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."
1 Whence wars and quarrels among you Comparison with Plato's View of Desires in The Phaedo
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.
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).
For the author of 4 Maccabees, reason allows one to control the passions, including desire for pleasure.
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.
James may also have been influenced by a "two spirits" anthropology evident at Qumran and elsewhere.
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.
In general, Hellenistic Judaism considered phthonos a vice.
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:
1a Whence wars and whence battles The Search for True Peace
2b you kill | you envy: Textual Emendation? James' blunt accusation, "You kill" strikes many commentators as too harsh. Two reasons are generally given:
Thus already → ad loc. ( Annot. Ep. Iac. 2014, 412) and → ad loc. suggested emending the text from Comm. Iac.phoneuete ("you kill") to phthoneuete ("you envy"); see also → (368). There is, however, almost no support for such a reading in the manuscript tradition. Ep. Pauli et al. Ap.
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:
1b pleasures Worldly Value in the New Testament
2ff Allusion to the Decalogue? The Decalogue may be in the background of James' thought in these verses:
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. → 7.111). He identifies Vit. Phil.epithumia as the source of all sin (cf. → 4.84; cf. Spec.Peritestamental Literature 1:15a), but also shows a close connection between epithumia and hêdonê in his thought.
1–10 Use in Lectionary →RML : Tuesday, Week 7, Year 2.
1a wars and battles What Kind of Wars and Battles? The commentary tradition interprets the fights and disputes in different ways:
1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in → 23 and Hist. eccl.→ 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also Vir. ill.→James: Introduction.
Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:
The following images are noteworthy:
James holds a club.
James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior. It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium.
The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.
Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.
Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following → are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together. Leg. aur.
Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.
James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols
The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in → 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews). Vir. ill.
James holds a book and club.
James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.
The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.
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 :
James' exhortation to the community may be analyzed in the following way:
While the pericope presents one famous crux interpretativa—Jas 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:
1b desires James Within the Philosophical Disputes on the Morality of Pleasure The Greco-Roman philosophical schools offered a variety of understandings of pleasure.
The Stoic tradition regards pleasure as completely negative.
James understanding of the desire for pleasure, then, appears to be closest to that of the Stoic school.