The Bible in Its Traditions

James 5:9

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Do not murmur against one another, brothers, lest you be judged. Behold, the Judge stands before the doors!

Complain not one against another, my brethren, lest you be condemned: for behold judgment is at hand.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

9b so that you are not judged Echo of Jesus’ Teaching? James' formulation echoes Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, "Stop judging, that you may not be judged (Mt 7:1).

The fuller logic of James' teaching is found in Jas 2:12-13: "So speak and so act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom.  For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment." The community should be patient and mericiful with fellow believers, instead of condemning their faults though their complaints. 

If community members use mercy in their dealings with fellow believers, they can expect mercy when they are judged by God (cf. Jesus' teaching in the Lord's Prayer: "If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions" (Mt 6:14-15).

Text

Literary Devices

3:4f,5:4,7,9,11 Look Call for Attention James uses the verb idou (V = ecce) several times throughout the work to call special attention to what follows.

Reception

Christian Tradition

7–12 Divisio Textus In Ps.-Andreas Catena the heading for this section is, "Concerning patience (makrothumia) and perseverance (hupomonê) during suffering, and concerning the truth" (Cramer 1844, 8:34).

Text

Vocabulary

9a groan against one another Contextual Meaning The main sense of the Greek verb stenazô is to groan or sigh involuntarily due to difficulties. By adding "against one another," James gives the sense of community members complaining about one another. See also Christian Tradition 5:9a.

Reception

Liturgies

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

Text

Grammar

9b door Image of Imminent Judgment Here, the Greek word thura is plural, but the plural often refers to a single door (as often in  Homer Il. and Homer, Od.). The word may also refer to openings in general, including gates. See also Biblical Intertextuality 5:9b.

Literary Devices

9b the judge stands at the door! Echo James echoes a previous discussion in Jas 4:11–12. Both passages begin with an admonition to not speak badly of community members. 

  • A. “Do not speak badly of one another, my brothers” (Jas 4:11a). 
  • B. “Do not complain against one another, brothers” (Jas 5:9a). 

They then continue with admonitions concerning judgment.

  • A. “The one speaking badly of a brother or judging his brother speaks badly of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (Jas 4:12). 
  • B. “So that you are not judged” (Jas 5:9a). 

They both finish by referring to the Lord as the eschatological Judge.

  • A. “There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy” (Jas 4:12ab). 
  • B. “The Judge stands at the door” (Jas 5:9b).

The common logic of the two passages seems to follow the following sequence.

  • The one who speaks badly of a community member, illicitly sets himself up as a judge, condemning the faults of the brother.
  • In setting oneself up as an unforgiving judge, one brings judgment on oneself (cf. Jas 2:13).
  • The Lord is the only legitimate Judge and lawgiver. The “Lord” may refer to God as the giver of the Torah at Sinai, or to Christ, the giver of the eschatological Torah followed in the Kingdom. See also →James: Law in the Letter of James.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

9b the judge stands at the door Christ's Judgment

Jesus as Eschatological Judge

Jesus' role as eschatological judge is clear in a variety of NT traditions:

Image of Christ at the Door / Gate

James' warning about the Lord standing about the door echoes a saying of Jesus recorded in his eschatological discouse found in the Synoptics. Jesus tells his disciples that when they see signs of the end times, "know that he [i.e., the Son of Man] is near, at the gates" (Mk 13:28). James and Mark share the same words for "is near" and door/gates. A related image is found in the letter to Laodicaea: the risen Christ declares, "I stand at the door (thura) and knock" (Rv 3:20). 

Reception

Liturgies

7–10 Use in Lectionary

  • RML: 3rd Sunday in Advent, Year A.
  • RCL : 3rd Sunday in Advent, Year A.

Suggestions for Reading

7–11 Theme of Patience

Theme of Patience

Jas 5:7-11 focuses on various aspects of patience (using two words to express the idea: makrothumeô / makrothumia and hupomenô / hupomonê). James' admonitions address two main aspects of patience:

  • waiting patiently for something, in this case for the coming of the Lord (parousia Kuriou) (vv. 7-8);
  • patiently bearing hardship and suffering (vv. 10-11).

Relationship of v. 9 to the Rest of the Passage

Verse 9a, with its admonition to not speak badly of fellow believers, fits awkwardly within the thematic flow of Jas 5:7-11, leading some commentators to conclude that it originally was an independent saying. The other verses in Jas 5:7-11 focus on patience, while v. 9 echoes James' earlier admonitions that community members not speak badly about one another (see especially Jas 4:11, and earlier admonitions on the dangers of improper speech in Jas 1:19,26, and especially Jas 3:1-12). With its further connection with the theme of judgment ("so that you are not judged"), however, the verse does fit into a further theme of the Jas 5:7-11 passage: eschatological judgment. 

The implicit logic seems to be the following: complaining against one's fellow believer is equivalent to judging him. If one judges another person, then one in turn brings judgment on oneself. This judging, in any case, is illicit, since there is only one legitimate judge: Jesus Christ. 

By placing this admonition here, James may imply that community members should patiently bear suffering caused by fellow community members, rather than complain against them.

Liturgies

9–12 Use in Lectionary RML : Friday, Week 7, Year 2.

Christian Tradition

9a Do not groan Nature of the Complaints? The tradition offers two interpretations for the nature of these complaints.

Complaining of Their Own Suffering

Some interpreters take those complaining as the poor who suffer persecution by the rich. Thus they complain that they are oppressed, while their unjust oppressors seemingly lead a good and comfortable life. 

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc., "Do not complain, brothers, against one another, as if you suffer greater adversities than you deserve (maiora meritis adversa patiamini), and your persecutors, when they have committed very great abominations, appear to bear no adversity" (Hurst 1985, 58; Hurst 1983, 219).
  • Bede's comment is reproduced in the Gloss. Ord. ad loc. (cols. 1299-1300).
  • So too Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc., "Why do the wicked prosper and the just are oppressed?" (Sedlacek 1910, 101).

Community Members Complain against One Another

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. James exhorts the community members not to complain about one another when they suffer a wrong (Owen 1849, 349; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 426-27).

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.