The Bible in Its Traditions

James 5:19

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Nes S TR
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19  Brothers, if anyone among you wanders away from the truth, and anyone turns him back,

19  My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him;

19  My brothers, if anyone of you strays from the truth, and if someone converts him,

19b someone turns him back Mt 18:15-18; Lk 17:3; Gal 6:1; 1Jn 5:16

Reception

Liturgies

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

Text

Textual Criticism

19a from the truth : passim | S the way of truth

  • א reads "from the way of truth" (S follows this reading);
  • P74 reads "from the way";
  • Ψ omits the entire phrase.

Grammar

19a If anyone among you A Generalized Situation James uses the indefinite pronoun tis and the aorist subjunctive in order to present a very generalized situation in the community (Literary Devices 5:19-20).

Reception

Liturgies

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

Suggestions for Reading

19f Overview

Place of Jas 5:19-20 within the Letter's Overall Structure

This generalized example of one community member helping to turn back a fellow community member who had strayed from the faith follows naturally upon James' discussion in Jas 5:13-18 on the importance of intercessory prayer for mutual needs in the community. 

After spending so much of the letter excoriating the community for its divisions (e.g., Jas 2:1-13; 4:1-2; 11-12), James ends with a vision of how members of the community should cooperate with one another. 

Interpretive Options

In this passage, one member (the converter) helps another return to the faith (the converted). Verse 20 has two basic ambiguities. 

  • (1) 20b: "save his soul from death." Is the soul that of the conveter or the converted? 
  • (2) 20c: "cover a multitude of sin." Whose sins: the converter or the converted? 

Regarding (1), the reference is almost surely to the soul of the converted. The danger of eternal death applies much more naturally to the one who has wandered from the faith than from the one who has remained in the faith.

Regarding (2), it seems anti-climactic to assert that the converted's soul is saved from death and then add that a multitude of his sins are covered. The consensus of the Christian tradition takes this phrase to apply to the sins of the converter (Christian Tradition 5:20c): his sins are covered as a reward for bringing a wandering sheep back into the fold. 

Text

Vocabulary

19f truth Truth as the Christian Way of Life James has used the word "truth" (alêtheia) twice previously: 

  • The "word of truth" by which the Lord "gave birth" to the community members (Jas 1:18a), identified with the "implanted word" (Jas 1:21), in turn identified with the "perfect law of freedom" (Jas 1:25).
  • With their arrogant lifestyle, community members are "lying against the truth" (Jas 3:14b; Literary Devices 3:14b).

By truth, then, James clearly understands the entire Christian way of life, centered on following the "perfect law of freedom," the Torah as interpreted by Jesus, with its emphasis on God's mercy (Jas 2:12-13).

In this sense, James is close to the "two ways" theology, where the Christian "way" (hodos), the way of life, is contrasted with the way of death (e.g., Did. 1:1; Barn. 18.1). Some textual traditions in fact have expanded "truth" to "way of truth" (hodos alêtheias). Cf. Textual Criticism 5:19a.

19a wander from the way Imagery of Wandering and Error The Greek planaô has the sense of wandering about aimlessly: Matthew uses it to describe the one sheep who wanders away from the rest (Mt 18:12); 1 Peter applies it to the community: "For you had gone astray like sheep" (1Pt 2:25; cf. G-Is 53:6); cf. the application to false prophets (2Pt 2:15).

At Jas 1:16, James uses the passive of the same word to warn the community, "Do not be misled!" The Greek planê (error, used in v. 20a: "the error of his way") is the noun form of the verb planaô. See also Christian Tradition 1:16.

Literary Devices

19f brothers Establishing a Fraternal Tone James returns to the direct address of his audience as "brothers," last used at Jas 5:12 to introduce the prohibition of oaths. James again employs his typical phrase "among you" (en humin; e.g., Jas 4:1; Jas 5:13-14) in order to emphasize the communal setting of his audience. 

Reception

Christian Tradition

19f divisio texta Ps.-Andreas Catena places Jas 5:19-20 under the heading, "That one must assist (diakonêteon) the salvation of one's neighbor" (Cramer 1844, 8:39).

Text

Literary Devices

19f turns back a sinner Contrasting Models of Community Relationships James' model of a community member gently correcting another community members contrasts with James' earlier descriptions of quarreling and condemnation within the community (e.g., Jas 4:11; 5:9).

Context

Ancient Texts

19f turns back a sinner Fraternal Correction and Conversion in Greco-Roman Moral Tradition

  • The Greek epistrephô can denote the act of persuading another to change his beliefs or actions. Thus Plutarch Adol. poet. Aud. [Mor. 21c] relates how Menander's poetry is able to "turn us about and draw us toward the good" (to kalon; Babbit 1927, 110-11).

For the Greeks, the mark of a true friend is his willingness to correct one’s faults. There ought to be “frankness of speech” (parrêsia) among friends.

  • Plutarch Adul. amic. 26-37 [Mor. 66e-74e] distinguishes between the true friend, who rebukes one’s wrongdoings, and the mere flatterer, who never criticizes.
  • Philo Her. 21 "Frankness of speech (parrêsia) is akin to friendship (philia). For to whom should a man speak with frankness but to his friend?" (Colson 1932, 294-95).
  • Philodemus Lib., an Epicurean treatise on parrêsia, includes a discussion on how teachers should practice this virtue with their students, and the danger that those being corrected will misunderstand or take offense.

Biblical Intertextuality

19b turns back a sinner Conversion and Repentance The word epistrephô is commonly used in prophetic admonitions to return to the Lord: 

  • "Afterward the sons of Israel will turn back and seek the Lord, their God" (Hos 3:5).
  • "'Now therefore,' says the Lord your God, 'turn to me with all your heart'" (Jl 2:12).
  • "Thus says the Lord Almighty: 'Turn to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will turn to you'" (Zec 1:3).
  • "'Return to me, O house of Israel,' says the Lord; 'and I will not set my face against you: for I am merciful'" (Jer 3:12).

The NT also employs the word in its calls to repentance.

  • Peter's admonition to the crowd, "Repent, therefore, and be converted (epistrephô), that your sins may be wiped away" (Acts 3:19; cf. Acts 9:35; 11:21).
  • Paul reminds the Thessalonians, "you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1Thes 1:9).

The above examples are all intransitive: the people turn themselves to the Lord. For the transitive sense, used in James, of one person turning around another, see the prophecy about John the Baptist: "and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God" (Lk 1:16). See also Josephus A.J. 10.53, where King Josiah "turned the people away from their belief in gods to the service of God" (Thackeray 1965, 4:186-87).

Reception

Liturgies

13–20 Use in Lectionary

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

Text

Literary Devices

19f if anyone among you Positive Exemplum James gives a generalized, hypothetical example of one community member turning another back to the faith. The exemplum is given as part of James' paraenesis: it is an example of proper behavior that the community should imitate. Elsewhere, James uses biblical exempla of behaviors to be imitated (e.g., Jas 2:21-23; 2:25; Jas 5:10). He also gives generalized examples of behavior to be avoided (Jas 2:2-4; 2:15-16).

Reception

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.