Sin of Partiality.* 1My brothers, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. 2For if a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, 3and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please,” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?*
5Listen, my beloved brothers. Did not God choose those who are poor* in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?a 6But you dishonored the poor person. Are not the rich oppressing you? And do they themselves not haul you off to court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you?b 8However, if you fulfill the royal* law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.c 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.d 10For whoever keeps the whole law, but falls short in one particular, has become guilty in respect to all of it.e 11For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not kill.”f Even if you do not commit adultery but kill, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12g So speak and so act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom.* 13For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.h
Faith and Works.* 14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?i 15If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?j 17So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18Indeed someone may say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. 19You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. 20Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?k 22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. 23Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called “the friend of God.”l 24See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route?m 26For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
* [2:1–13] In the Christian community there must be no discrimination or favoritism based on status or wealth (Jas 2:2–4; cf. Mt 5:3; 11:5; 23:6; 1 Cor 1:27–29). Divine favor rather consists in God’s election and promises (Jas 2:5). The rich who oppress the poor blaspheme the name of Christ (Jas 2:6–7). By violating one law of love of neighbor, they offend against the whole law (Jas 2:8–11). On the other hand, conscious awareness of the final judgment helps the faithful to fulfill the whole law (Jas 2:12).
* [2:4] When Christians show favoritism to the rich they are guilty of the worst kind of prejudice and discrimination. The author says that such Christians set themselves up as judges who judge not by divine law but by the basest, self-serving motives.
* [2:5] The poor, “God’s poor” of the Old Testament, were seen by Jesus as particularly open to God for belief in and reliance on him alone (Lk 6:20). God’s law cannot tolerate their oppression in any way (Jas 2:9).
* [2:8] Royal: literally, “kingly”; because the Mosaic law came from God, the universal king. There may be an allusion to Jesus’ uses of this commandment in his preaching of the kingdom of God (Mt 22:39; Mk 12:31; Lk 10:27).
* [2:12–13] The law upon which the last judgment will be based is the law of freedom. As Jesus taught, mercy (which participates in God’s own loving mercy) includes forgiveness of those who wrong us (see Mt 6:12, 14–15).
* [2:14–26] The theme of these verses is the relationship of faith and works (deeds). It has been argued that the teaching here contradicts that of Paul (see especially Rom 4:5–6). The problem can only be understood if the different viewpoints of the two authors are seen. Paul argues against those who claim to participate in God’s salvation because of their good deeds as well as because they have committed themselves to trust in God through Jesus Christ (Paul’s concept of faith). Paul certainly understands, however, the implications of true faith for a life of love and generosity (see Gal 5:6, 13–15). The author of James is well aware that proper conduct can only come about with an authentic commitment to God in faith (Jas 2:18, 26). Many think he was seeking to correct a misunderstanding of Paul’s view.
a. [2:5] 1 Cor 1:26–28; Rev 2:9.
c. [2:8] Lv 19:18; Mt 22:39; Rom 13:9.
f. [2:11] Ex 20:13–14; Dt 5:17–18.
h. [2:13] Mt 5:7; 6:14–15; 18:32–33.
i. [2:14] Mt 25:31–46; Gal 5:6.
k. [2:21] Gn 22:9–12; Heb 11:17.
l. [2:23] Gn 15:6; Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6 / 2 Chr 20:7; Is 41:8.