The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on James 2:1-5

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 6, 2012

This post includes Fr. MacEvilly’s analysis of chapter 2 of James, followed by his commentary on verses 1-5. Also, I’ve included in purple text his paraphrasing of the passages he is commenting on.

Analysis~St. James commences this chapter, by exhorting the Christian converts to avoid the crime of ”’respect of persons,” of which he adduces an example (Jam 2:1-2). The example in question, although, apparently at first sight, not quite in point, however, as explained in the Commentary, will be seen to be perfectly so (Jam 2:3-4). As it had reference to the undue preference shown the rich before the poor, St. James points out how unbecoming such conduct is, being opposed to the economy of God, in reference to the poor (Jam 2:5), and unmerited on the part of the rich, whose vices he enumerates (Jam 5:6-7). This, however, should not interfere with the respect, which the order of charity inculcates in regard to the rich, and those to whom respect and honour are due, (James 2:8). But this honour should not be carried to the extent of ” respect of persons,” which the law of God condemns (Jam 2:9), and which, like every grievious violation of any other single precept, involves us to a certain extent, in the guilt of violating the entire Law (Jam 2:10-11).

(Jam 2:12). He inculcates the necessity of showing mercy to all those, who may be involved in miseries of any kind (Jam 2:13).

In the next place, he treats of the principal subject of the Epistle, viz., the necessity of good works, for justification atid salvation (Jam 2:14), and the futility of faith alone, which he shows—firstly, by the example of the inutility of a mere speculative knowledge of our neighbour’s want, without actually relieving it (Jam 2:15-17); secondly, by showing the necessity of good works, for the discharge of the duty of externally professing and manifesting our faith (Jam 2:18); thirdly, by comparing dead faith, in a certain sense, with the faith of demons (Jam 2:19); fourthly, by the example of Abraham, justified through works (Jam 2:20-24); fifthly, by the example of Rahab (Jam 2:25); finally, he compares dead faith to a dead body (Jam 2:26).

Jas 2:1  My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory, with respect of persons.

My brethren, do not, while professing the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of glory, guilty of the crime of exception of persons; that is to say, do not attempt to unite two things which are incompatible, and which mutually exclude each other, viz., the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and the crime of exception of persons.

“Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory.” The word”glory” is, by some Commentators, connected with ”faith,” i.e., the glorious faith of our Lord, &c. the connexion in the Paraphrase, joining it with “our Lord,” is the more probable. Our Lord Jesus Christ is called “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). “With respect of persons,” i.e., do not attempt to unite two things so incompatible. “Respect,” or exception, “of persons” takes place, whenever an unjust preference is shown to one party beyond another; (v.g.) a judge would incur the guilt of “respect of persons,” by pronouncing sentence, on account of the appearance and external circumstances of a person, without any regard to the merits of the case. Others, among whom is Lapide, interpret the words thus: do not believe that the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ consists in an exception of persons, so that he is honoured when to your Agapes and meetings you admit the rich only and the noble, to the exclusion and contempt of the poor and squalid, as if the glory of Christianity consisted in external pomp and show.

Jas 2:2  For if there shall come into your assembly a man having a golden ring, in fine apparel; and there shall come in also a poor man in mean attire:

In illustration of the crime to which I refer; suppose two men come into your place of public worship, one of them a rich man, in showy apparel, and wearing on his finger a gold ring; the other, a poor man, in mean and squalid dress,

He illustrates by an example, what this “respect of persons” is, against which he has been cautioning them. Suppose “there shall come into your assembly,” in Greek, συναγωγην, synagogue, which, most probably, refers to their place of public assemblage for religious worship, like the Jewish synagogue; or, perhaps, to one of the old synagogues, converted into a place of worship for the converted Jews; “a man having a gold ring,” which, as appears from the Greek, χρυσοδακτυλιος, was worn on his finger, a thing generally done by the rich; “in fine apparel;” in Greek,  εσθητι λαμπρα, shining apparel. “Your assembly” is understood by some to refer to judicial assemblies, such having been, as they say, according to Jewish custom, held in places of worship.

Jas 2:3  And you have respect to him that is clothed with the fine apparel and shall say to him: Sit thou here well: but say to the poor man: Stand thou there, or: Sit under my footstool:

And that you assign to the rich man some commodious honourable seat, while the poor man is contemptuously made either to stand up, or sit down in some lowly place.

And you assign an honourable commodious seat to the rich man, on account of his riches, while the poor man, because he is poor, is treated contemptuously, and made either to stand up or sit down in some humble, lowly place.

Jas 2:4  Do you not judge within yourselves, and are become judges of unjust thoughts?

Do you not, by treatment so different in both cases, come to a very unfair and partial decision, and do you not found your judgment, on false estimates and erroneous reasonings.

“Do not judge within yourselves.” In Greek, διεκριθητε εν εαυτοις, are you not judged within yourselves, your conscience reproaching you, and stinging you with remorse for your unjust conduct. The Vulgate reading is the more probable, as appears from the following words, “and are become judges,” &c., which are explanatory of the former. In some Greek copies, και is prefixed to the beginning of this verse, ”and, do you not judge,” &c., but it is omitted in the chief MSS. “And are become judges of unjust thoughts.” In the Greek, διαλογισμων, reasonings, i.e., unjustly reasoning, and concluding from false estimates, that the rich man, as such, is to be preferred before the poor. It is not easy to see what St. James means by this example. Hence it is, that Commentators are perplexed about the meaning of the passage. They cannot discover anything like great guilt, in the preference shown to the rich man in the case alluded to, nor do they see any reason for ranking it with the crime of “respect to persons,” which (verse 6) is called, “dishonouring the poor;” since, there is no great dishoiour shown a poor man in having a rich man accommodated with a seat in any assembly, whether sacred or profane, before him: or of classing it (Jam 2:11) with adultery or murder. It is on account of this difficulty, that St. Augustine and others assign to the example in question an enigmatical meaning; and say, that, it is not so much the giving of a place of honour to the rich man and refusing it to the poor, St. James here condemns, as the crime signified by this preference, viz., the preference given to the rich on account of their worldly connexions in ecclesiastical dignities and ofifices, before the poor, who may be better qualified for such dignities. “Quis enim ferat eligi, divitem ad sedem honoris Ecclesiæ, contempto paupere instructiore ac sanctiore?”—St. Augustine (Ep. 29), referring to this passage. (See my attempted translation below). The same interpretation is adopted by Mauduit. Hence, according to them, St. James is treating of the odious crime of simony. This interpretation derives probability from verse, 5, where the Apostle would appear to allude to the selection, which God made of poor fishermen, preferably to the great ones of the earth, for exercising the exalted and sublime fanctions of the Apostleship. Others understand the example of the preference shown to the rich before the poor in courts of justice, which unjust sentence is signified by the preference in seats alluded to. Others understand it to refer to the crime denounced by St. Paul in the 1 Cor 11, viz., the contempt shown to the poor in the Agapes or love feasts, which in the infancy of the Church were celebrated immediately before receiving the Holy Eucharist (vide 1 Cor 11) The neglect shown the poor, on such occasions, was highly scandalous and injurious to religion, on which account, St. Paul denounces it in the strongest language. This opinion has this advantage, that it solves the difficulty without departing from the literal meaning of the text. If we understand the passage to refer to the ordinary meetings in the church, we must suppose the neglect, referred to by St. James, to be greatly aggravated by the contempt, with which the poor must have been treated. This, in the infancy of the Church, must have proved very detrimental to religion.

Translation of Augustine’s words: “For who can bear for a rich man to be chosen to a seat of honor in the Church, while the poor man is despised even the most sacred part of instruction”.

Jas 2:5  Hearken, my dearest brethren: Hath not God chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love him?

See, my dearest brethren, how different from your conduct is the example set us by Almighty God in his treatment of the poor. Has he not given them a preference and selected them before the rich and powerful according to the world, to enrich them with the gift of faith and other spiritual blessings, and make them heirs of his heavenly kingdom, which he has promised to such as love him, and evince this love by their actions.

He shows how opposed their conduct is to the example set us by God himself in the work of man’s redemption; “the poor in this world,” whether we regard the preachers of the Gospel, or those to whom it was first preached (vide 1 Cor 1:26) ; “rich in faith,” i.e., to be rich in faith, this being the end for which he had chosen them; for, before their call, they were not rich in faith; “and heirs,” to inherit his heavenly kingdom. “That love him,” shows, that an idle, merely speculative faith, is of no avail.

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