The Bible in Its Traditions

James 4:8–11

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

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

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

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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.


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:

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.



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).

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

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

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

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

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).


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

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


Biblical Intertextuality

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

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

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:



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).