The Bible in Its Traditions

James 4:2–3

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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.

2b you kill Jas 2:11,5:6 2 desire...quarrel and war Jas 3:14-16; Gal 5:19-21; 2Cor 12:20
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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.

3a ask wrongly Jas 1:5-8

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.

Text

Grammar

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...you 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.

Context

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).

Reception

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.

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".

Context

Peritestamental Literature

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 mind...it 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).

Reception

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.

Theology

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.”

Liturgies

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.

Text

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.

Context

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

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).

Reception

Liturgies

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

Christian Tradition

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.

Visual Arts

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

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

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

The following images are noteworthy:

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

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

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

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

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

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

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

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

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

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

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James holds a book and club.

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

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

Eastern Orthodox traditions

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

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

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

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

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

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

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. 

Reception 

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: