The Agora
Bible Commentary

1 2 3 4 5

James 2

Jam 2:5

Ct Mar 10:17-27: the rich young man.

The real measure of a person's wealth is how much he would be worth if he lost all his money.

One day a very wealthy man took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing him what poverty is like. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?" "It was great, Dad," the little boy replied. "Did you see how poor people live?" the father asked. "Oh, yes!" said the son. Curious to see what he had observed, the father asked his son, "So what did you learn from the trip?"

The son answered, "I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end. We have fancy lanterns in our garden, and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that stretch beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them."

With this, the boy's father was speechless. Then his son added, "Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are."

Jam 2:7

HIM TO WHOM YOU BELONG: That is, the one by whose name you are called: cp Jacob in Gen 48:16.

Jam 2:9

FAVORITISM: "That we should show 'no respect of persons' draws on the Law of Moses and is seen extensively in Scripture... Lev 19:15; Deu 1:17; 16:19; 2Sa 14:14; 2Ch 19:7; Pro 24:23; 28:21; Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; 1Pe 1:17. No matter how one dresses up the prejudice against the poor and favour toward the well-dressed, it is a violation of the Divine law. Actually it manifests pride. We like to identify with the rich in this world rather than the poor" (PF).

Jam 2:13

MERCY TRIUMPHS OVER JUDGMENT: Confidence on the day of judgment: 1Jo 4:17.

Jam 2:18

"Do the best you can, where you are, with what you have."

"It doesn't matter how strong your opinions are. If you don't use your power for positive change, you are, indeed, part of the problem" (Coretta King)

"Use your gifts faithfully, and they shall be enlarged; practice what you know, and you shall attain to higher knowledge" (Edwin Arnold).

Jam 2:19

YOU BELIEVE THAT THERE IS ONE GOD. GOOD! EVEN THE DEMONS BELIEVE THAT -- AND SHUDDER: This alludes to the sick often trembling at the time of their cures. It may refer to the many incidents of curing of "demoniacs" (those possessed by "demons") in the Gospels (cp Mat 8:29, where "demons" express fear). More significantly, James is referring to the fact that many people during Christ's ministry had had the faith to be cured (ie, they believed and trembled), but only a handful had responded with the works which a word-based faith should have produced -- as opposed to the intense hope and belief in personal betterment which the people had (DH).

Or, alternatively, a reference to the idols -- sometimes called "demons" (1Co 10:20; Rev 9:20; cp Deu 32:17; Psa 96:5; 106:37) -- who, figuratively, "tremble" when in the presence of the One True God. Examples: (1) the God of Israel showing His plain superiority to all the "gods" of Egypt with the outpouring of various plagues through Moses -- until even Pharaoh (himself a "god", or "demon") had to acknowledge Yahweh's power; (2) Samson bringing down the great temple at Gaza (Jdg 16:23-31); and (3) Dagon, the Philistine idol, falling down broken before the ark of the Yahweh (1Sa 5:1-4). These idols, or "demons", tremble and fall before the face of the One True God, but they -- and their devoted followers -- cannot go on to truly believe in Him.

SHUDDER: "Trembling", or "toppling", or "tottering", is a real problem for idols! see Isa 40:20; 41:7; Jer 10:4.

"Shudder" is Gr "phrisso", only once in NT. Occurs 3 times in LXX: Job 4:15; Dan 7:15; and esp Jer 2:11,12: " 'Has a nation ever changed its gods? But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, O heavens, and SHUDDER with great horror,' declares the LORD."

The two ideas are very naturally connected -- along these lines: Those who believe in "demons" (that is, all the little "devils" who do all sorts of mean and hurtful things, under the direction of the BIG "Devil") are -- in effect -- believing in false "gods". And the belief in such "little gods" is basically incompatible with a meaningful belief in the One True God: hence Jer 2:11,12.

So, when Jesus and the apostles set out to cure folks of the diseases which they (the sufferers) attribute to "demons", they are actually mounting a two-pronged attack: (1) they are, first of all, simply curing diseases and disorders, called "demons", and (2) in a more complex or subtle vein, they are demonstrating that such "demons" (ie, false gods) are not real or powerful -- this is similar to what Moses and Aaron did in Egypt with the whole Egyptian pantheon.

So the "demons" (meaning, here, the "demoniacs", or the ones suffering from what they imagine to be "demons") tremble when they encounter a greater power... because they imagine, at first, these little "demons" (meaning, to their minds, the "gods" or "devils" afflicting them) are now trembling in fear at a greater power!

And then, finally, as (or when) they understand what has actually happened, they realize that these "demons" (meaning the "false gods") do not exist at all -- they are what Paul calls "no-gods"... nothing at all (1Co 8:4; Acts 19:26)!

So, in Jam 2:19, the question is: Does the initial "trembling" of the "demons", when confronted with a greater Power, lead (a) to the sufferer's recognition that the God of Israel, or of Jesus, is simply greater than the little "demons"? OR does it lead (b) to a greater and more lasting realization, by the one cured or by witnesses, that such "demons" do not exist at all, and therefore that Yahweh is -- truly and absolutely -- the one and only LORD and God?

The above comments blend together two related ideas: (a) that "demons" may mean those who suffer otherwise unexplained illnesses, as well as (b) those demonic "gods" whom they acknowledge or worship. The close connection between these two concepts is verified by certain Bible passages, which draw close parallels between idols and those who worship them: "But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them" (Psa 115:4-8; cp Psa 135:15-18; Jer 10:8).

Jam 2:22

"An old Scotsman operated a little rowboat for transporting passengers. One day a passenger noticed that the good old man had carved on one oar the word 'Faith', and on the other oar the word 'Works'. Curiosity led him to ask the meaning of this. The old man, being a well-balanced believer in Christ, and glad of the opportunity for testimony, said, 'I will show you.' So saying, he dropped one oar and plied the other called Works, and they just went around in circles. Then he dropped that oar and began to use the oar called Faith, and the little boat just went around in circles again -- this time the other way around, but still in a circle. After this demonstration the old man picked up Faith and Works and wielding both oars together, sped swiftly over the water, explaining to his inquiring passenger, 'You see, that is the way it is in the believer's life. Works without faith are useless, and faith without works is dead also, getting you nowhere. But faith and works pulling together make for safety, progress, and blessing' " (MT).

Jam 2:24

What saves us? Grace (Eph 2:8,9). Hope (Rom 8:24). Belief (Mar 16:15). Baptism (1Pe 3:21). Gospel, and its memory (1Co 15:1,2). Blood of Christ (1Jo 1:7). Faith (Rom 5:1). Works (Jam 2:24). Ourselves (Act 2:40). Endurance (Mat 10:22). What saved the "drowning man"? The rock, the rope, another man, himself...or all of them?

Jam 2:25

SPIES: "Aggelos", translated "messengers" in KJV, RSV, ASV, etc. Mortal "angels"!

Jam 2:26

Adam, when first created, is an example: Gen 2:7. And when we acknowledge Christ in confession and baptism, we are made "alive" by his "spirit": Rom 6:1-4.

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