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3 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.
3 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.
3 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.
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:
James' word for the miseries that await the rich, talaipôriai, occurs often in other judgment oracles in G:
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.
2–6 Rewriting of Jesus’ Teaching James' doctrine may also be seen as a recasting of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:
The same themes in James:
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."
3d stored up treasure Eschatological Judgment The Qu'ran also knows of an impending fiery eschatological judgment on those who store up wealth:
4:7–5:9 Use in Lectionary →BL : Thursday, 32nd Week after Pentecost.
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.
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.
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.
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.
3c eat your flesh like fire Differing Interpretations
3c like fire Punctuation Grammatically, the phrase "like fire" may modify:
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.
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,
Compare Calvin's view of Jas 5:1-6:
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."
3c eat your flesh like fire Eschatological Imagery in Old Testament, Gospels and Revelation
Fire as a symbol of eschatological punishment is found consistently in the biblical tradition.
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; 18:9; Mk 9:43: "unquenchable fire").
Some eschatological texts refer to birds of prey eating the flesh of powerful rulers as part of the divine punishment.
1–6 Judgment Oracle
See also Literary Genre 5:1-6.
1ff testimony for you Catholic Social Teaching
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).
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 → 23 and Hist. eccl.→ 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also Vir. ill.→James: Introduction.
Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:
The following images are noteworthy:
James holds a club.
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.
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 → 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. Leg. aur.
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.
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
The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in → 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews). Vir. ill.
James holds a book and club.
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.
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.
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.
The passage may be analyzed in the following way:
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.
In the interpretive tradition, the following issues are of special interest:
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
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.
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).