The Bible in Its Traditions

James 5:3

Byz V TR
Nes
S

Your gold and silver have become corroded, and their poison will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days.

Your gold and your silver are rusted; and their rust shall be for a testimony against you, and shall eat your flesh as fire. Ye have laid up your treasure in the last days.

Your gold and silver are tarnished, and the rust of them will be a testimony against you, and shall eat your flesh. The treasures which you have heaped together will be as fire to you for the last days.

3c eat your flesh like fire Ps 21:10 3d stored up treasure Mt 6:19-21; Rom 2:5 

Text

Literary Genre

1–6 Judgment Oracle Announcement of God’s Justice James may base his condemnation of the rich on Old Testament judgment oracles: (e.g., Is 23: oracle against Tyre and Sidon; Am 1-2: oracles against the nations, culminating in oracles against Judah and Israel).

Jas 5:1-6 bears close comparison with the Lord's oracle against Israel in Amos 2: the list of crimes (including oppression of the poor), and the pronouncement of punishment on the day of judgment:

  • Am 2:6-16: "Thus says the Lord: For three crimes of Israel, and now four—I will not take it back—Because they hand over the just for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals...And the most stouthearted of warriors shall flee naked on that day—oracle of the Lord."

James' word for the miseries that await the rich, talaipôriai, occurs often in other judgment oracles in G:

  • Is 47:11 (against Babylon) and announcements of the Day of Judgment.
  • Jl 1:15: "Alas! Alas! Alas for the day, because the day of the Lord is near, and it will come like misery from misery."

Reception

Christian Tradition

1–6 Parallel Warning to the Rich in Hermas The Shephard of Hermas offers a close parallel to the basic themes of Jas 5:1-6. In Hermas, it is clear that the rich are part of the church community. 

  • Herm. Vis. 3.9.2-8 "do not take an overabundance of God's creations for yourselves, but share with those in need. For those who enjoy many kinds of food make their flesh (sarx) weak and harm it; but the flesh of those without enough food is harmed by lack of proper nourishment, and their body wastes away....Consider the judgment (krisis) that is coming....take heed, you who exult in your wealth (ploutos), lest those in need complain and their complaint rises up to the Lord...And so now I say to you who lead the church and sit in its chief seats...you have grown calloused and refuse to cleanse your hearts" (Ehrman 2003, 2:217-19).

Text

Literary Devices

2f clothing has become moth-eaten Contrasting Echo James may intend to contrast the fine clothing and gold rings of the visitor to the church's assembly (Jas 2:2) with the moth-eaten clothes and rusted gold mentioned here. See Ancient Cultures 5:2b.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

2–6 Rewriting of Jesus’ Teaching James' doctrine may also be seen as a recasting of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:

  • "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.  But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be" (Mt 6:19-21; cf. Lk 12:33).

The same themes in James:

  • 5:2b: “your clothing has become moth-eaten (sêtobrôta) / Mt 6:19-20: “moth and decay (sês kai brôsis) destroy” (cf. Lk 12:33; Gos. Thom. 76).
  • 5:3d: "you stored up treasure for the last days" (thêsaurizô) / Mt 6:19: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures" (mê thêsaurizete humin thêsauros).
  • 5:5a: "You have lived a life of indulgence and luxury on earth" (epi tês gês) / "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth" (mê thêsaurizete humin thêsauros epi tês gês).
  • 5:5b: "you have fattened your hearts" (kardia) / Mt 6:21: "For where your treasure is, there your heart (kardia) will be also" (cf. Lk 12:34). Albert Sup. Matt. ad 6:19 also notes the connection between James and Matthew (Schmidt 1987, 228).
  • Cf. also Jesus' parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:15-21), where Jesus warns against storing up treasures for oneself, greediness, and neglecting God.

Text

Literary Devices

3c fire Echo The eschatological imagery of fire recalls Jas 3:5-6, especially the image of the fires of Gehenna; many interpreters have thus taken it as a reference to fiery punishment in hell (cf. Christian Tradition 5:3c).

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

1–6 Criticism of the Rich in 1 Tm James' condemnation of the rich is consistent with an established biblical tradition critical of the wealthy. See also →James: Rich and Poor.

1 Tm 6:9-10 warns that the desire to be rich is a "temptation" (peirasmos; cf. Jas 1:13-14) associated with "many foolish and harmful desires (epithumiai), which plunge them into ruin and destruction." To sum up, "For the love of money (philarguria) is the root of all evils."

Reception

Comparison of Versions

3d Latin Addition The Latin tradition (e.g., Bede Ep. cath.; Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac.; theGloss. Ord.; Lapide Comm.; C) adds vobis iram to thesaurizastis ("you have stored up wrath for yourselves") in order to clarify the object of "to store up." Cf. Rom 2:5: "storing up wrath." See also Vocabulary 5:3d.

Islam

3d stored up treasure Eschatological Judgment The Qu'ran also knows of an impending fiery eschatological judgment on those who store up wealth:

  • Qur’an 104:1-6 "Woe to every (kind of) scandal-monger and back-biter, Who piles up wealth and lays it by counting (penny by penny), Thinking that his wealth woud make him last forever! By no means! He will be sure to be thrown into that which breaks into pieces...the Fire of (the Wrath) of Allah" (1789).

Liturgies

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

Text

Vocabulary

3a have rusted Semantics The verb katioô may refer to rust or other corrosion or tarnish; as with the noun ios (5:3b) it seems that James intends some reference to rust or corrosion (cf. Literary Devices 5:3). James likely realizes that gold does not in fact rust, but apparently uses it as a general image for the corruptibility of all things, even gold. See Bar 6:23 [Ep. Jer. 1.24], which speaks of wiping the rust from gold of idols.

Literary Devices

3b testimony for you Forensic Allusion The word marturion means “proof” or “evidence” (e.g., Mt 8:4). Rust (symbolizing the ephemeral nature of material wealth) witnesses to folly of trusting in riches. Likewise, rust alludes to the miserliness of those who would rather have their money sit and rot, rather than give it to the poor. James implicitly offers a reversal of the scene sketched in Jas 2:6, where the rich drag the poor into court (cf. also the legal allusion in Jas 5:6: the rich condemn the just man)—but here the rich themselves are on trial.

The scene is manifestly one of final, eschatological judgment (cf. Jas 5:3d, “the last days”). 

3d stored up treasure Irony James reverses a common image of a wealthy person storing up hordes of coins and other valuable items. The rich man thought he was building security and honor for himself, but in a bitter ironical twist, he was only storing up the means of his own condemnation.

Compare with the irony in Rom 2:5:  “By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up (thêsaurizô) wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God.” 

 James continues this irony in Jas 5:5.

Context

Ancient Cultures

3a gold and silver Uses of Coins The gold and silver of the rich may have been in the form of coins or in the form of gold and silver objects. The silver denarius, worth about a day’s wage for a laborer, was the basic unit of the Roman coinage (see Mt 20:9-10). Those with surplus money commonly stored up hoards of gold and silver, not so much for economic purposes as for prestige. Silver and bronze coins were more common (paying taxes in coin was required in the Roman Empire). Only the wealthy elite possesed gold. 

Biblical Intertextuality

3d last days The Day of Judgment in OT and NT The phrase "the last days" is a standard reference to the eschatological Day of Judgment, both in the OT (Mi 4:1; Is 2:2; Ez 38:16; Dn 10:14) and in the NT (Jn 6:39-44 ; Acts 2:17; 2Tm 3:1; 2Pt 3:3). 

Reception

Christian Tradition

3b testimony for you Wrong Use of Wealth is Condemned, not Wealth in Itself  An influential exegetical tradition takes the rust as a sign that the rich have simply stored up their wealth uselessly. In this reading, James does not condemn gathering wealth in general, rather he condemns the rich for not using their wealth to do good. 

  • Caesarius of Arles Serm. 35.4 "Truly the fault (culpa) does not lie with the silver and gold." A good person uses money to offer hospitality to strangers, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, build churches, and heal the sick. In contrast, the wicked man uses his money to oppress others, stir up quarrels, corrupt the courts, and live a life of dissipation. He cites Jas 5:1-3 as God's judgment on the misuse of wealth (Mueller, 1:174-75; Morin, 1:153-54).
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc.: Bede interprets the rust as the regret the rich will feel in hell when they realize that they could have used their riches to give alms and thus redeem their sins (Hurst 1985, 55; Hurst 1983, 216-17).
  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. "The miserliness and greed (glischros) of the rich cause their lament; he advises them to wail (that is, to lament) since they store up their wealth for annhilation and destruction and do not spend it for those in need" (cols. 501-4).
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc.: James condemns the rich for wasting money on luxuries or for their greed; God has given wealth itself as "aids and helps (subsidia) to human life" (Owen 1849, 344; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 423).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad 5:3 "That rust will testify to your ungodliness (testabitur vestram impietatem), you would rather have them [riches] perish from decay than bring them out for the benefit of the needy" (Bateman 1993, 166; Bateman 1997, 153).

3c eat your flesh like fire Differing Interpretations

Eternal Punishment in Hell

Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. (Hurst 1985, 55) and Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. (col. 80) apply this to the torments that the rich will suffer in hell.

Punishment of Israel for Killing Jesus

  • Bede Ep. cath. gives an alternative interpretation, applying the passage to the destruction of Jerualem in 70 AD, understood as a punishment of the Jewish people: "this was fulfilled in their case after the slaying of James himself, when the city of Jerusalem and likewise the whole province of Judea was taken and destroyed by the Romans in punishment, manifestly, for the blood of the Lord and for the other heinous crimes (scelera) that they had committed." Bede takes Jas 5:6 as a reference to the crucifixion of Jesus (Hurst 1985, 57-58; Hurst 1983, 218-19).
  • Bede's interpretation is reproduced in Gloss. Ord. (col. 1298).

Text

Textual Criticism

3c like fire Punctuation Grammatically, the phrase "like fire" may modify:

  • the preceding phrase: "[rust] will eat your flesh like fire";
  • the following phrase: "like fire you have stored up treasure in the last days."

The second corrector of א and A read ho ios ("the rust") before "as fire" to clarify that the first reading is correct.

S drops the "like" (hôs) and reads, "you have gathered up fire for yourselves for the last days," thus supplying an object for the verb thêsaurizô (store up; treasure; S = knš). See also Vocabulary 5:3d.

Vocabulary

3b their rust or: "their poison"? The noun ios has both meanings in James (see Vocabulary 3:8c). Particularly in this verse, both meanings are at play (Literary Devices 5:3). See also Jewish Tradition 5:3.

Grammar

2f have rotted ... have rusted: “Prophetic Perfect”? The two verbs in this verse are in the perfect tense, which normally indicates action that has been completed in the past. This can be understood as,

  • the so-called “prophetic perfect”—i.e. a future event is announced with such certainty that it uses the past tense, as if that action had occurred already (cf. Jas 1:11); 
  • a rhetorical device justifying James’ call to weep;
  • or a means of making James’ evaluation of material riches more vivid.

Compare Calvin's view of Jas 5:1-6:

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. "It is a prophetic mode (prophetica forma) of speaking: the ungodly have the punishment which awaits them set before them, and they are represented as already enduring it" (Owen 1849, 343; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 423).

See also Literary Genre 5:1-6.  

3b a testimony for you Witness For or Against? The phrase eis marturion humin could be understood as "as a witness to you" (dative of advantage), in the sense of a warning to the rich (cf. Mt 24:14 for the same construction with this sense). But the condemnatory tone of Jas 5:1-6 as a whole makes it more likely that the sense is, "as a witness or testimony against you" (dative of disadvantage). Cf. the similar construction in Mk 6:11: "shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them."

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

3c eat your flesh like fire Eschatological Imagery in Old Testament, Gospels and Revelation

Fire

Fire as a symbol of eschatological punishment is found consistently in the biblical tradition.

  • Jdt 16:17: "He will send fire and worms into their flesh, and they will weep (klaiô) and suffer forever."
  • Ps 21:10: "At the time of your coming, you will make them (the Lord's enemies) like a fiery furnace. Then the Lord in his anger will consume them, devour them with fire."
  • Rv 20:15: “And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

James' reference to eschatological fire recalls his earlier reference to the tongue "set on fire by Gehenna" (Jas 3:6) and the Synoptic references to "fiery Gehenna" (Mt 5:22; 18:9Mk 9:43: "unquenchable fire").

The image is consistent in later Christian and Islamic eschatology (Christian Tradition 5:3c and Islam 5:3d).

Eating Flesh

Some eschatological texts refer to birds of prey eating the flesh of powerful rulers as part of the divine punishment.

  • Ez 39:17-18: "You shall eat the flesh (krea) of giants (M: warriors) and drink the blood of the princes of the earth."
  • Rv 19:18: the birds shall eat “eat the flesh (sarkas) of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.”

Peritestamental Literature

1–6 Judgment Oracle

  • 1 En. 94:8-9 also employs the genre of the judgment oracle against the rich, "Woe unto you, O rich! For you have put your trust in your wealth…In the days of your affluence, you committed oppression, you have become ready for death, and for the day of darkness and the day of great judgment" (cf. 94:6-8; 96:4-8; OTP 1:75).

See also Literary Genre 5:1-6.

Reception

Liturgies

1–6 Use in Lectionary

  • RML : 26th Sunday of Year B.
  • RML : Thursday, Week 7, Year 2.

Theology

1ff testimony for you Catholic Social Teaching

Condemnation of a Selfish Focus on Accumulating Wealth

  • Pius XI Div. Redemp. 44: The wealthy should not seek happiness in acquiring material goods, but should consider themselves as stewards of those goods, valuing them as "precious means that God has put into their hands for doing good." Keeping in mind their need to give an account to God, they should "distribute of their abundance to the poor" (citing Lk 11:41). If they fail to do this, the judgment announced in Jas 5:1-3 will come upon them. 
  • CCC 2445 "Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use" (followed by a quotation of Jas 5:1-6).

The Church’s Role in Denouncing Oppression

According to the Compendium, “The Church’s social doctrine has the duty to denounce the sin of violence and injustice. By denunciation, the Church’s social doctrine becomes judge and defender of unrecognized and violated rights, especially those of the poor, the least, and the weak” (Comp. Soc. Doc. 81).

James denounces the sin of partiality for the wealthy (Jas 2:1-13), condemns Christians who pay only lip service to the duty to help the poor (Jas 2:14-16), and announces God’s eschatological judgment on the wealthy landowners who exploit their workers (Jas 5:1-6).

Visual Arts

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

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

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

The following images are noteworthy:

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

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

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

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

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

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

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

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

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

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

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James holds a book and club.

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

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

Eastern Orthodox traditions

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

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

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

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

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

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

Suggestions for Reading

1–6 Warning the Rich 2: Anticipation of Judgment Day This passage is closely tied with the previous section (Jas 4:13-17). Both are direct addresses to the wealthy; while Jas 4:13-17 is a warning to avoid self-reliance and trust in God; Jas 5:1-6 is a harsh condemnation and judgment against ther rich.

Structure

The passage may be analyzed in the following way:

  • Jas 5:1-3a: Pronouncement of the eschatological judgment against the rich. Their wealth is now useless to them.
  • Jas 5:3b-6: Accusations against the rich.
  • Jas 5:3: The rust of their coins testifies against them (symbolizing their hoarding of wealth).
  • Jas 5:4: They have defrauded their workers of their rightful wages.
  • Jas 5:5: They have lived a life of self-indulgence.
  • Jas 5:6: They have condemned and murdered innocent people (either literally or by taking away their means of making a living).

Sources

The intertext of our passage taps in the rich pool of the early community's language, made up of scriptural memory and Jesus' authoritative teaching.

Scripture
Jesus' Teaching

Reception

In the interpretive tradition, the following issues are of special interest:

Audience 

Interpreters debate as to whether Jas 5:1-6 is directed towards wealthy members of James' community, or to wealthy people outside of the community. This specific question, of course, is tied to the larger question of the identify of "the rich" in James. See also →James: Rich and Poor

Outside the Community (non-Christian)

Due to the harsh and condemnatory tone of this prophetic judgment oracle, some interpreters understand "the rich" as a group outside of James' church. They note that "the rich" are not called to repentance (James often calls community members to repentence; e.g., in the preceding passages: Jas 4:7-10; 4:15), but are simply condemned. From a historical and sociological point of view, these interpreters also argue that it is unlikely that members of James' community would be wealthy landowners with stockpiles of gold and silver.

Inside the Community (Christian)

The previous sections have called on the community to repent (Jas 4:7-10; 4:15), but James gives no structural clue that the audienced addressed in Jas 5:1-6 is different from the audience addressed in chapter 4. On the contrary, he begins with the identical phrase (age nun) with which he begins the discourse in Jas 4:13-18. The difference in tone is to be attributed to his address to a separate audience within the church, i.e., the rich who oppress the poor. Elsewhere in the letter, James implies that some members of the community are rich (esp. Jas 1:9-11 and Jas 2:1-7).