The Bible in Its Traditions

James 5:16

Byz V S TR Nes

16 Confess, V S Nesthen, Vyour sins to one another

and pray for one another so that you may be healed.

Powerful indeed is the effective

Vpersistent prayer of a righteous person.

15c–16 Sin, illness and healing Mt 9:1–8 ‖; Ps 103:3

Suggestions for Reading

13–18 The passage focuses on prayer (Literary Devices 5:13-18). After warning the reader that he must ask God in faith, not doubting (Jas 1:5–8) and that he must not ask wrongly (Jas 4:2–3), James here gives examples of proper, effective prayer.

The passage also relates to James' concern with proper speech: after giving many admonitions against improper speech (e.g., Jas 5:9; 5:12), James here gives example of the proper use of speech in praying and singing. See also →James: Speech in James.

The passage presents a holistic view of illness and healing: here, these two elements are closely associated: physical illness and “spiritual illness” (sin) on the one hand, and physical healing and forgiveness of sin, on the other, are closely linked. There is also a strong link between understanding the anointing ritual as providing healing (both spiritual and physical) in this life, and understanding the anointing and prayer as preparation for ultimate healing in the resurrection and eternal life. This holistic emphasis reflects the theme of wholeness and integrity found throughout the letter. See further →James: Perfection / Wholeness in James.

Catholic tradition has drawn out the meaning of Jas 5:14-15 in various ways, primarily through the development of the teaching on the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. The tradition has at various times emphasized the different aspects of James’ integral vision: spiritual healing (Origen, Chrysostom, Council of Trent), physical healing (an early tradition of anointing among the laity, Vatican II’s emphasis on a broader understanding of healing), and the eschatological dimension (the traditional emphasis on “extreme unction” as preparation for eternal life). See also Christian Tradition 5:14-15 and Theology 5:14-15.

This section, and the letter, ends with James' exhortation to community members to turn back a straying fellow-believer (Jas 5:19-20). James thus reinterates his characteristic concern for harmony within the community. The history of interpretation generally interpreted the ambiguous passage to mean that a person who converted another from sin would in turn receive pardon of his own sins; this took its place in a traditional list of ways in which one could seek pardon for sins. See also Christian Tradition 5:19-20.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

15f Association of Sin and Illness Different scriptures witness to the various ways in which sin and illness are associated. 

  • Illness, suffering, and death can be seen as the result of human sin (Gn 3:14-19Rom 5:12)
  • Disease is understood as a punishment for breaking God’s covenant law in many OT books: Ex 15:26; Dt 7:15; 28:15–22. A connection between sin and disease is also evident in some NT passages: 1Cor 11:30, and Jn 9:2: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" See also Ps 38:2: "There is no wholesomeness in my flesh because of your anger; there is no health in my bones because of my sin." Cf. Peritestamental Literature 5:15-16.
  • The causal connection between sin and illness is questioned in the Book of Job (Jb 4:7-9; 7:20; 9:22-23). Jesus also questions the connection: "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him" (Jn 9:3), although Jesus assumes there is still some connection between the two (see Mk 2:1-12 and Lk 13:1-5).
  • Illness is at times associated with demonic activity, see Mk 9:17—a boy possessed by a mute spirit; Lk 13:11: a woman "crippled by a spirit."
  • Other passages also do not relate illness to sin, but instead promise salvation for the sick, e.g., Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores, who finds his eternal reward (Lk 16:19-31). See below Theology 5:15b; Theology 5:15c.

James says significantly in Jas 5:15, "If he happens to have committed any sins," those sins will be forgiven to the sick person. Thus James sees no necessary, causal connection between sin and sickness.

Text

Textual Criticism

16a sins  Nes (א BA) have tas hamartias, usually rendered in English as "sins." Some miniscules (e.g., 307, 442), Byz, and thus the TR read ta paraptômata, traditionally rendered in English as "trespasses." See comments of Erasmus below at Christian Tradition 5:16a.

Reception

Liturgies

16–20 Use in Lectionary RML (1570) : Rogation Days (Monday and Wednesday before Ascension).

10–20 Use in Lectionary BL : Special and General Feasts: Prophets; 1 of 3 reading options.

Visual Arts

14ff anointing him with oil Depictions of Anointing  The sacrament of the anointing of the sick ("extreme unction"), which the Catholic Church considers to be defined in Jas 5:14-15, has been depicted artistically in many ways:

Paintings

  • Rogier van der Weyden, "Extreme Unction", part of The Seven Sacraments altarpiece (1445-50). Koninklijk Museum, Antwerp. Accessed here→
  • Hieronymus Bosch (?), "Four Last Things," part of "The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things," c. 1500. Museo del Prado, Madrid. Accessed here→
  • Dutch School, "Last rites," c. 1600. Accessed here→
  • Nicolas Poussin, "L'extrême-onction," c. 1636-40, part of a Seven Sacraments series. Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Accessed here→. Set in ancient times, a priest anoints the dying man's eyes.
  • Nicolas Poussin, "L'extrême-onction," 1644, part of a Seven Sacrament series. Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Accessed here→. Set in ancient times, Poussin portrays a dying Christian soldier; a priest anoints his hands.
  • Giuseppe Crespi, "Extreme Unction," part of a Seven Sacraments series (c. 1712). Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany.  Accessed here→.

Etching

  • Pietro Longhi, "Extremae Unctionis Sacramentum," part of a Seven Sacraments series (c. 1755). Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Accessed here→.

Tapestries

  • "Seven Sacraments." South Netherlandish, c. 1435-50. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed here→.

Text

Textual Criticism

16a Confess Nes (א BAC) retains oun ("then") after “confess”.

Literary Devices

13–18 pray prayer...plea: Isotopy of Prayer Every verse in this passage refers to prayer; however, the words used are not simple synonyms. The noun euchê (prayer, v. 15) and the corresponding verb euchomai (to pray, v. 16) are generic terms. The verb expressing the prayer of petition is proseuchomai (v. 13, 14, 17,18) or proseuchê (v. 17). More concretely, the noun deêsis (v. 16) stands for a supplication or a particular request. As for psallô ("to sing a hymn," v. 13), it applies to prayer in the form of a hymn, in particular in the liturgical context.

Context

Peritestamental Literature

15f Association of Sin and Illness

  • T. Reu. 1.7: "[God] struck me with a severe wound (plêgê megalê) in my loins for seven months [as punishment for Reuben's sexual sins]" (OTP 2:782; de Jonge 1978, 2).
  • T. Sim. 2.12-13 "for seven days my right hand became partly withered [the Lord's punishment of Simeon for his desire to kill Joseph out of jealousy]" (OTP 2:785).
  • T. Zeb. 5.3 "For the sons of my brothers were sickly (astheneô) and died on account of Joseph (dia Iôsêph), because they did not act in mercy out of their inner compassion" (OTP 2:806; de Jonge 1978, 96).
  • T. Gad. 5.9-11 "For God brought on me a disease (nosos) of the liver...For by whatever human capacity anyone transgresses, by that he is also chastised. Since my anger was merciless in opposition to Joseph, through this anger of mine I suffered mercilessly, and was brought under judgment for eleven months" (OTP 2:815; de Jonge 1978, 130-31).

16a Confess the failings to one another Confession of Sins at Qumran

  • →1QS 1.22–25 “And the levites shall recite the iniquities of the children of Israel…[And al]l those who enter the covenant shall confess after them and they shall say: 'We have acted sinfully, we have transgressed….'” (DSSSE 1:70-71).

Reception

Jewish Tradition

15f Association between Physical Healing and Forgiveness of Sin

  •  b. Ned. 41a “R. Alexander said in the name of R. Hiyya b. Abba: ‘A sick man does not recover from his sickness until all his sins are forgiven him, as it is written, ‘Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases’” (Ps 103:3). Cf. Biblical Intertextuality 5:15-16.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

16a Confess the failings to one another ...so that you may be healed: Confession of Sin in Scripture Confession of sin took place in a variety of contexts.

Old Testament

  • Confessing sin when offering a sacrifice (Lv 5:1-6).
  • Confessing a sin committed against another, Nm 5:7: "If a man or a woman commits any offense against another person...that person shall confess (G= exagoreuô; M: hitpa‘al of ydh) the wrong that has been done..."
  • The high priest confesses the sins of the people, Lv 16:21: Aaron confesses the iniquities of the Israelites on the Day of Atonment.
  • Confession to the Lord is necessary for healing, Ps 32:3-5 [G-Ps 31:3-5]: “Because I kept silent, my bones wasted away…Then I declared (G= gnôrizô; M = hip‘il of yd‘) my sin to you…and you took away the guilt of my sin."

New Testament

  • The Gospel traditions records the tradition of public confession of sins as part of John's baptism (Mt 3:6).
  • 1Jn 1:9 links confession and forgiveness of sin without specifying a context: "If we confess (homolegeô) our sins (hamartias) he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins..."

Reception

Liturgies

13–20 Use in Lectionary

  • RML : Saturday, Week 7, Year 2.
  • RCL : Proper 21, Year B.

Christian Tradition

16a Confess [your] failings to one another Interpretations and Applications

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. links the two admonitions of this verse: when one Christian confesses his faults to a fellow Christian, this knowledge helps the fellow Christian to pray a more specific and effective prayer of intercession for the one confessing (Owen 1849, 358; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 432).
  • A.A. 1984: Alcoholics' Anonymous practice of group members honestly sharing their failings with one another was inspired by Jas 5:16, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (128).

16a Confessing to Priests or Laity? The tradition is divided on whether James refers to confessing sins to priests or to laypeople.

Confession to a Priest

  • Peter Lombard Sent. 4.17.3 (94) "But that it is necessary to confess to priests (sacerdotibus confiteri oporteat) is proven (comprobatur) not only by the authority of James, 'Confess your sins to each other,' etc., but also by many testimonies of others" (Silano 2010, 4:99; Collegii Bonaventurae 1981, 2:348). Similarly, Hugh of St. Victor De sacr. 2.14.1.
  • Aquinas ST Supp. 8.1 also understands James' admonition to refer to priests; arguing that James presupposes Jesus' divine institution of penance when he gave priests, in the person of the apostles, the power to forgive sins (referencing Jn 20:23). ST Supp 6.6 adds that the sacrament was promulgated by James (a Iacobo promulgatum), but instituted by God (sed a Deo institutionem habuit). But see ST Supp. 8.3 (below).
  • Other authors cite Jas 5:16a as a proof-text for the sacrament of Penance: Nicholas of Lyra Post. ad loc. (col. 1303); Albert Par. an. 40  (508).

Confession to One Another

  • Augustine of Hippo Tract Ev. Jo. 58.5 takes this as a general admonition that Christians should pray for one another, and forgive one another's sins, following the example of Christ who humbly washed the feet of the disciples (NPNF1 7:307; Willems 1954, 475); cf. Augustine of Hippo Ep. 153.10; Bede Hom. Ev. 2.5.150.
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad. loc. "However, in this statement there ought to be made this distinction, that we confess our daily and minor sins (cotidiana leuiaque peccata) to another as peers (alterutrum coaequalibus) and believe that we are saved by their daily prayer; in turn, according to the law, let us make known the uncleanness of more serious leprosy to the priest (sacerdoti) and take care to be purified in the manner and for the length of time his judgment has decreed. (Hurst 1985, 62; Hurst 1983, 222); cf. Bede Hom. Ev. 2.14.57-61. Martin of León Exp. Jac. ad loc., uses Bede's wording, but concludes that daily and minor sins should be confessed to a priest, and graver sins to an abbot or bishop (abbati, vel episcopo; col. 212). 
  • Gloss. Ord.: Bede's teaching is quoted in an interlinear gloss (cols. 1303-4).
  • Peter Lombard Sent. 4.17.4.7 (95), also quotes Bede's teaching, specifying that Bede refers to a distinction between venial and mortal sins (venialium et mortalium). "Venial sins may be confessed to an equal, but the graver ones to a priest."  Venial sins may be confessed to an equal, "even if there is an abundance of priests." He ends by qualifying, "Yet it is safer and more perfect to reveal both kinds of sins to priests and to seek medicinal counsel from those to whom the power of loosing and binding was granted." (Silano 2010, 4:103; Collegii Bontaventurae 1981, 2:353); cf. Sent. 4.16.1 (86).
  • Aquinas ST Supp. 8.3 : Referring to the authority of Bede and Peter Lombard, Thomas concludes "a man does not need to confess his venial sins to a priest," (non oportet quod venialia aliquis sacerdoti confiteatur) since a person is not separated from God or from the sacraments by venial sins. Confession to a layperson (confessio laico), nevertheless, "is a sacramental (sacramentale), although it is not a perfect sacrament, and since it proceeds from charity, it has a natural aptitude to remit sins (natum est veniale remitti; English Dominicans 1947, 5:2584).
  • Duns Scotus Quaest. Lib. Sent. ad 4.17.1  denies that Jas 5:16a refers to the sacrament of penance: it rather encourages lay Christians to confess their sins to one another (Wadding 1894, 518-19).
  • Erasmus Annot. Ep. Iac. ad loc. reads paraptômata,  which, he argues, should be translated as errors (errata) instead of sins (peccata, as in V); so also Estius Comm. ep. cath. ad loc. (4381). "For he refers to daily offenses  (quotidianis offensis) of Christians among themselves, which he wishes to reconcile without delay. Otherwise, if he were referring to confession, which we say is part of the sacrament of penance, he would not have added allêlois, that is, 'to one another,' but rather 'to the priests'" (sacerdotibus; van Poll-van de Lisdonk 2014, 426).
  • Bonhoeffer Leben ch. 5 sees this passage as giving authority to all Christians to hear and forgive one anothers' sins. Humble confession to to a fellow Christian overcomes the central sin of pride and leads to true fellowship and community. True community is impossible as long Christians hide their sins from one another. Confession to another helps the Christian to avoid the self-deception that might come from confessing only to God and makes God's forgiveness more concrete (Bloesch and Burtness 1996, 108-18; Müller and Schönherr 1987, 93-102).

Further Views

  • Conc. Cab. 33 recognizes that some say that sins ought to be confessed only to God, but others believe they are to be confessed to a priest. It apparently teaches that confession to priests was instituted by James: "according to the institution of the apostle"[quotation of Jas 5:15]. And so confession which is made to God cleanses sins: but that which is made to the priest, teaches us how these same sins are cleansed" (Palmer 1959, 157; Werminghoff 1906, 280). Reproduced in Burchard of Worms Decr. 20.145, with the added gloss that private confession is practiced by the Greeks, but confession to the priest is particed by the "whole holy Church" (tota sancta Ecclesia; 1011).
  • Suarez Disp. 35.1 recognizes that not all theologians are convinced that James refers to priests, but on the authority of the Conc. Cab. and theologians such as Bonavanture, he judges that the passages "is not to be despised" (contemnendum; Berton 1861, 734).
  • Caesarius of Arles Serm. 67.1-2 applies the passage to the duty of his congregation to pray for those who practice public penance (paenitentia publica), including the wearing of a hairshirt (Mueller 1973, 1:318-20; Morin 1953 1:286-87); cf. also the more general discussion of the passage in Serm. 59.1 [adapted from Augustine]).
  • Estius Comm. ep. cath. ad loc. notes three different interpretations, all of them in some manner probable (aliquo modo probabiles): (1) Christians confessing their sins to those whom they have offended (he compares Mt 5:23-24); (2) Christians confessing venial sins to one another, asking for advice, and praying for one another; (3) reference to sacramental confession to priest (4382-83).

Reformed Interpretation and Catholic Response

  • Luther Beicht. 2 argues that the passsage cannot refer to confession to the clergy, since it clearly says, "confess your sins to one another"—meaning that any Christian my hear the confession of another. In particular, it means that a Christian should confess his sin to one whom he has offended (WA 8:155-56). Reformed confessions apply the verse to confessing to the person whom one has offended (WCF 15.6; Helv. Conf. II 14.7).
  • Calvin Inst. Rel. 3.4.6 insists that this passage contradicts the Roman Catholic sacrament of confession to a priest only. Rather James advises Christians to confess shortcomings to one another, receive mutual advice, and pray for one another.
  • Eck Ench. 8 holds that James "announces (annuciavit) here the command of God (praeceptum Dei) concerning the confessing of sin" (119). Responding to the Protestant argument that the passage refers to confessing sins to one another in general, he admits that James is not precise in naming the one to whom confession is due, but only because Christ had already indicated who should absolve sinners (123-24).
  • Conc. Trid. Paen. ch. 5 (DzH 1679) references Jas 5:16 in holding that the Lord instituted "complete confession of sins (integram peccatorum confessionem), but for Jesus' institution of the sacrament of penance, it references John 20:23 ( Conc. Trid. Paen. 1 [DzH 1670]; see also Conc. Trid. Paen. 6, referencing Mt 18:18 and Jn 20:23 on priests and bishops as ministers of penance).

16c Greatly prevails the prayer of a righteous [man] at work What Makes Prayer Prevail? The passage has drawn many comments on what makes prayer effective.

Encouragement to Pray for the Intercession of the Saints

  • The Orthodox Dositheos Conf. Dos. 8 teaches that one should pray for the intercession of the saints since God listens to the righteous rather than sinners (CCFCT 1:619; Karmirês 1986, 2:751); so too Eck Ench. 15 (180). See also the application of Jas 5:14-15 to the doctrine of the intercession of the saints: Cassian Coll. 20.8.4.
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. "God does not hear the ungodly (impios); nor is access to God open, except through a good conscience: not that our prayers are founded on our own worthiness, but because the heart must be cleansed by faith (fide purgatum cor habere oportet) before we can present ourselves before God" (Owen 1849, 359; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 433).

Js 5:16 and Luther's Theology of Prayer

  • Luther Tischr. no. 5565 judges Jas 5:16 as "one of the best verses in that epistle" (LW 54:454; WA TR 5:245). Here he cites Monica's prayers for her son Augustine as an example of effective prayer.
  • The prayer of the righteous can change God's mindLuther Lect. Gen. ad Gn 19:21-22 held that God commanded Christians to pray, and he promised to hear their prayers. He thus believes that an earnest prayer can change God's mind. Commenting on Lot's intercession for the town of Zoar, Luther writes, "It was God's will that the city of Zoar should be destroyed together with the others; but because Lot intercedes for it, God changes his will and does what Lot wants" (mutat voluntatem Deus, et facit, quod Loth vult). The text teaches, "Lot's prayer does this; it compels God (ea cogit Deum) not to carry out His wrathful will. God permits it to be broken and does the will of those who fear Him." If one doubts one's own worthiness in prayer, it is ineffective. Thus "you should not look at your unworthiness; you should look at God's command (mandatum Dei) and not debate whether you are worthy or not. But you should hold fast the promise that the Lord wants to do the will of those who fear Him" (Dominus velit facere voluntatem timentium se). Such examples teach that Christians should "pray boldly and with confidence (animose et confidenter oremus). If He does not give what we are asking for, He will nevertheless give something that is better; for prayer cannot be in vain (non enim oratio potest frustra esse), as James too, states, 'The prayer of a righeous man avails much if it is persistent,' that is, earnest and ardent (seria et intenta). For God cannot despise a righteous man and all his works" (contemnere iustum et universa opera eius; LW 3:290-92; WA 43:83-84).
  • Prayer must be persistent. In his comments on Mt 7:7, Luther Comm. Serm. Mt. ad Mt 7:7-11 cites Jas 5:16 as a motivation to remain persistent in prayer, even when it seems that God's answer is delayed. "For you have his Word, and He will have to say, 'All right, then, you may have what you want'" (LW 21:234; WA 32:493).
  • A prayer of faith is not always bold and confident. Luther Lect. Gen. ad Gn 43:11-14 refers to Jacob's prayer in Gn 43:14 as an example of the "prayer of faith" (Jas 5:15a) that is not always outwardly bold and confident. "His reliance on the promise is very weak (infirmiter), for he laments and mourns pitifully. But since a spark and the unutterable sobbing (Rom 8:26) of faith still remain, he does not despair (non desperat) but prays."  Luther admonishes, "we should accustom ourselves to pray, even though we are weak in faith." He supports this advice with a quotation of Jas 5:13, 'Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray....."  (LW 7:324-26; WA 44:540-41).

Fervent Prayer is Effective

  • WCF 21.3 cites this passage in support of its teaching on fervency in prayer (632).

The Moral Efforts of the One Praying Make Prayer Effective

  • The Gazan hermits Barsanuphius and John teach that the moral efforts of the one praying (e.g., wrestling with temptation, living a more ascetic life, enduring trials; e.g., Barsanuphius and John Ep. 94, 191, 198).

Both the One Praying and the One Receiving Prayer Influence its Effectiveness

  • Origen Fr. 1 Reg. fr. 5 "The Word (logos) shows that even if a prophet and a righteous person pray for one another, [the one praying] is not heard, unless that one [the person prayed for] shows repentance by his works (ergôᵢ deixêᵢ tên metanoian). For in this way "the powerful prayer of a righteous person is made effective" (Jas 5:16) through the [repentance of] the one sinning. In order for the matter to be brought to a conclusion, it is necessary for both to work together, both the prayer of the righteous one, and the work (ergon) of the one repenting (Klostermann 1901, 297).
  • Maximus the Confessor Quae. Thal. 57.2: Maximus responds to the question, "What is the meaning of 'prevail'" in Jas 5:16c ? "I know of two ways in which the "suppliction of a righteous man" is "rendered effective." The first is whenever the one praying combines his supplication to God with the keeping of the commandments (meta tôn kat' entolên ergôn), not allowing his supplication to fall from his tongue as mere words and the empty echo of speech, lest it remain inactive (argên) and insubstantial (anupostaton), but rather as active (energon) and living, being animated by the observance of the commandments. For the substance (hupostasis) of prayer and supplication is quite clearly its fulfillment through the virtues....The second way is when the one who needs the prayer of the righteous man undertakes and performs the works of prayer (ta erga tês euchês), that is, when he corrects his former way of life and thereby gives strength to the supplication of the righteous man (tên deêsin ischuran tou dikaiou poioumenos), fortifying it through  his own upright manner of life" (Constas 2018, 399-400; Laga and Steel 1990, 2:23-25). The Ps.-Andreas Catena ad loc. quotes Maximus' entire lengthy answer (Cramer 1844, 8:37-38).
  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. "The prayer of the righteous prevails, when the one for whom he prays cooperates (sumprattei), through his spiritual suffering (kakôseôs pneumatikês), with the one who prays. For when others pray for us, and we devote ourselves to luxuries (spatalais), to indulgences (anesesi), and to an undisciplined life, we unloosen (ekluomen) by this the intensity (suntonon) of the prayer of the one who is exerting himself for us" (col. 508).
  • Palamas Hom. 31.17 comments similarly on Jas 5:15c, "But you must co-operate (dei de kai humas sunergein) with the prayers made on your behalf by changing your way of life, making confession, giving alms, and other works of repentance" (dia tôn allôn ergôn tês metanoias; Veniamin 2009, 250).

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.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

15f Association of Healing and Forgiveness of Sin

Old Testament View

In its holistic view of the human being, several OT passages presuppose a close connection between healing and forgiveness of sin, just as some connection between sin and illness was assumed.

  • Ps 103:2-3 (G-Ps 102:2-3):  “Bless the Lord, my soul; and do not forget all his gifts. Who pardons all your sins, and heals (G= ioamai; M = rp’) all your ills." 
  • Ps 107:17-20 (G-Ps 106:17-20): "Some fell sick from their wicked ways, afflicted because of their sins. They loathed all manner of food; they were at the gates of death. In their distress they cried to the Lord, who saved (G= sôᵢzô; M = yš‘) them in their peril, sent forth his word to heal them, and snatched them from the grave."
  • In the eschatological age, both illness and sin will be removed: "No one who dwells there will say, 'I am sick'; the people who live there will be forgiven their guilt" (Is 33:24). See further Theology 5:14-15.

Jesus' Holistic View of Healing

Jesus presumes the connection between disability and sin in his healing of the paralytic (Mt 9:1–8). In two further passages, however, Jesus denies a causal relation: those who suffer oppression or accident are no worse sinners than those who do not (Lk 13:1–5) and disability can be an opportunity to reveal God's works (Jn 9:3).

Jesus’ own healing is holistic. His healing of the paralytic is associated with forgiveness of sin in Mt 9:1–8 (cf. Mk 2:17: “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I came to call not the upright, but sinners).” His healings are regularly associated with a call for faith (cf. Mk 2:5; 5:34,36; 9:23), and are understood as signs that the Kingdom of God has come near (cf. Mt 11:5–6). See also Theology 5:15b.