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James; The Royal Law

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posted on Sep, 17 2012 @ 05:07 PM
At the end of the first chapter of his New Testament letter, James was urging his readers to listen attentively to the Word which they would receive from God, and to follow up the hearing of the Word with the doing of the Word.
He begins his second chapter by warning his brethren against partiality (“accepting the face”).
In the context of the letter, this warning is one of the practical applications of what is meant by “doing the Word”.

In the usual English translation, the phrase “as you hold the Faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” looks like an addition, and theories have been based on that assumption.
But a more literal translation would be “Do not hold the Faith etc. with partialities”.
Since “hold the Faith” is the main verb of the sentence, it can hardly be set aside as a gloss.
It’s possible that the words describing the “Faith” could have been added when the different parts of the letter were brought together.
However, anyone talking about “the Faith” (in those times) is already using Christian language, so the references to Christ would not have been out of keeping with the rest of the material.

James gives a practical example of what he means by “partiality”. He offers the case that a rich man with gorgeous apparel walks into the assembly of the brethren, in which case he will be given a place of honour at the expense of a poor man in shabby clothing. It isn’t clear whether the rich man is supposed to be a regular member of the community, or a casual visitor coming in to check out this weird sect of Nazarenes. Either way, this deferential treatment is only too plausible. Obviously James has known examples of it, or he would not have brought up the subject.

James gives three reasons why this is wrong.
It is not the right way to treat the poor man.
It is not the right way to treat the rich man.
And it is not the right way to treat the law.

In the first place, it dishonours the poor man.
The brethren who do this are “making distinctions” among themselves, regarding some of their brethren as more valuable than others (which seems to confirm that the rich man is supposed to be a fellow-member of the community).
Not only are they acting as judges, but they are judges “with evil thoughts”- that is, with unjust principles of judgement.

This is wrong, because the poor men of this world have been chosen by God as “heirs of the Kingdom”.
The promise of “the Kingdom” is central, of course, to the teaching of Jesus, and this claim is a direct paraphrase of the first Beatitude (in Luke’s version);
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God”- Luke ch6 v20

However, it’s clear from the way James expands this promise that the promise is not given to the poor as such, just because they are poor.
He says that God has chosen them to be “rich in Faith”.
In other words, it is the Faith, not the poverty, that is the real criterion for entrance into the kingdom.
This comes to much the same thing as a promise to the poor, but only because the poor were more interested in that kind of wealth.
Putting it another way, James says that God has promised the Kingdom “to those who love him” (as was said about “the crown of life” in ch1 v12).
So this amounts to a promise to “those who are poor in the world”, simply because that’s where “those who love God” are largely to be found.
Nevertheless, the poor brethren of the congregation must be supposed to be amongst those who are “rich in Faith”, so anything that dishonours them is dishonouring “the heirs of the Kingdom”.

The next objection (though this is really an aside, not part of his main argument) is that rich men don’t deserve honour from the brethren, because they “ oppress you” and “drag you into court”.
Is this about the generic mistreatment of poor people as a class by rich people as a class?
Apparently not, because he adds the explanation that the rich men “blaspheme the honourable name which was invoked over you”.
This can only mean that adherence to the name of Jesus (the name invoked in baptism) is the offence for which the brethren are being “dragged into court”.
The social reality would be that the wealthy would be supporting the religious establishment, while the religious establishment would be wealthy, making it natural for James to identify them as a class.
If you give honour to the rich man ,he says, you are, in effect, honouring those who persecute your Faith (even if that individual is not himself one of the persecutors).

Then James returns to his main theme, the dishonouring of the poor man.
Those brethren who despise him are committing sin, and are “convicted by the law as transgressors”.
This charge could not have been derived from a legalistic interpretation of the Old Testament law, which offers no direct command against “showing partiality”.
It’s based, instead, on a liberal interpretation of the key commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.

To emphasise the importance of this, James offers three additional comments (which might have been part of his previous teaching).
The argument of vv10-11 is the equal importance of the different commands of the law- though the examples are taken from the “human relations” aspect of the law, not from the ritual side.
These verses, on their own, seem to be directed against those who treat murder more lightly than they treat adultery (and this charge could certainly be laid against the kind of Jews who would stone Christians).
In the context of this letter, the indirect implication is that “Love your neighbour as yourself” is just as important as the other two.

V12 is an exhortation to be obedient to “the law of liberty”.
This rather self-contradictory expression was also used in ch1 v25.
I’m inclined to regard it as James’ way of acknowledging what Paul teaches, that the law which demands the obedience of Christians is not the same thing as a legalistic interpretation of “the old written code”.
In the context of this letter, the implication is that this “law of liberty” embraces the commandment “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.

V13 is an exhortation on the subject of “showing mercy”.
The first part of the verse draws the same moral as the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, that God’s judgement will fall without mercy upon those who are merciless themselves
The second half counters this warning with the promise that “mercy triumphs over judgement”- that is, the mercy which you give nullifies the judgement which you would have received. This is a paraphrase of the Beatitude “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”- which only appears in Matthew’s version (ch5 v7).
In the context of this letter, the moral is that those who dishonour the poor brother are not showing mercy, and therefore come under judgement.

“You shall love your neighbour as yourself” is, of course, the command identified by Jesus as the key principle of the law, and James (therefore) calls it “the royal law”.
At least this is the usual translation, because the adjective BASILIKON is derived from BASILEUS, meaning “a king”.
However, the largest lexicon that I can find offers me no adjective associated with the word BASILEIA, meaning “a kingdom”.
So it seems plausible to me that if James had been looking for such an adjective, he would have settled on BASILIKON as the next best thing.
I’m inclined to believe, then, that the writer’s intention was to identify this commandment as the Kingdom’s law.
The kind of law appropriate for the followers of Jesus.

posted on Sep, 17 2012 @ 05:24 PM
Sounds like the whole thing was based around the idea of the poor not being materialistic...which opens the way to other kinds of wisdom, like the stuff inside being just as important, if not more important, than the stuff on the outside - like external stimuli, which have pretty much hijacked the human experience in today's world.

posted on Sep, 17 2012 @ 05:30 PM
reply to post by AfterInfinity

Yes, and the contrast between what is "outside" and what is "inside" connects up with other contrasts, like the distinction made by Jesus between "laying up treasure on earth" and "laying up treasure in heaven". I think James alludes to that distinction as well later in the letter.

posted on Sep, 17 2012 @ 07:12 PM
I said that Jesus identified "Love your neighbour as yourself" as the key commandment of the law.
Strictly speaking, this is not quite true, but there wasn't space to qualify the comment.
Of course the primary command identified by Jesus was "Love the Lord your God", with "Love your neighbour" as the secondary command.
However, James certainly hasn't forgotten this primary command.
As I've already observed, the kingdom is promised in v5, and the "crown of life" is promised in ch1 v12, to "those who love God".
So James obviously attaches supreme significance to both of the two commands which Jesus mentioned.

posted on Sep, 18 2012 @ 05:22 AM
reply to post by DISRAELI

However, the largest lexicon that I can find offers me no adjective associated with the word BASILEIA, meaning “a kingdom”.

The word in James 2:8 for "royal law", βασιλικὸν, is the Adjective, Accusative, Singular, Masculine, form.
I found some other examples of James' use of words in that form.

James 1:13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.

James 1:21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

James 1:25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 2:6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?

I created a page for that word form, on my blog that is dedicated for finding just that sort of thing.
Reading the Bible in Greek
edit on 18-9-2012 by jmdewey60 because: add Bible quote: "For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God." Romans 8:19

posted on Sep, 18 2012 @ 07:27 AM
reply to post by DISRAELI

Much of this was a commentary against the legalistic Jews who were putting up fences around the Torah law with their own law and misinterpretation. Jesus came to show them the point of it all, which is, as you say, love. Love is the law. No law can be broken and no law is needed when the true law is followed. The "Experts" in the law were butchering the intention of the law and still do today. Here is a key to this as it is moved from law to liberty.

This applies ONLY to the Children of God. Those who do not Love God cannot love others since God is also one of the others. In this case, they are still bonded to the law as thieves.

Galatians 3

23 Before the coming of this faith,[j] we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

posted on Sep, 18 2012 @ 05:13 PM

Originally posted by jmdewey60
The word in James 2:8 for "royal law", βασιλικὸν, is the Adjective, Accusative, Singular, Masculine, form.

Yes, it has to agree with the Masculine noun "law" (NOMOS), which takes the Accusative case here because it is the object of the verb "fulfilling".

posted on Sep, 18 2012 @ 06:36 PM

Originally posted by EnochWasRight
Much of this was a commentary against the legalistic Jews who were putting up fences around the Torah law with their own law and misinterpretation. Jesus came to show them the point of it all, which is, as you say, love.

Quite so.
And the fact that James is following the spirit of the teaching of Jesus so closely is a good rebuttal against the argument sometimes put forward, that this is really a "Jewish" letter to which superficial Christian references have been added.

posted on Sep, 19 2012 @ 06:11 PM
Interesting comparison;

James tells us (v10) that "whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of it all".
Paul makes a similar point in Galatians ch3 v10, when he quotes "Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of law, and to do them".

However, the two writers are taking the point in opposite directions.
James is urging his readers not to ignore any laws,
Paul's conclusion. on the other hand, is that his readers should give up trying to live by the law, His argument is that the curse mentioned in that quotation falls upon everyone trying to live on that basis, on the assumption that nobody is capable of keeping all the things written in the book.

Two points help to account for this difference.
One is that Paul is talking about the totality of "the old written code". James, on the other hand, judging by his references to "the law", seems to be using the term for the basic principles as described in the Sermon on the Mount, so the advice that he's giving would be less ambitious than the task which Paul thinks is impossible.
Secondly, Paul is talking about relying on the law as a means to salvation, and James is not. James means simply that they should be using the law, especially the "royal law" as a guide to behaviour.

edit on 19-9-2012 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Sep, 20 2012 @ 05:30 PM
I've pointed out that James seems to refer to the shorter version of the first Beatitude,"Blessed are the poor", which is the way it appears in Luke's gospel.
I've also pointed out that James seems to allude to a Beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful", which is found only in Matthew's gospel.
Does this imply that James was acquainted with both gospels?
An alternative, and possibly simpler explanation, is that James had another source of information about the Sermon on the Mount, which contained both these features.
In other words, these apparent allusions by James may be indirect evidence supporting the "Q document" hypothesis (a supposed collection of the "sayings of Jesus" which both Matthew and Luke might have used)


edit on 20-9-2012 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Sep, 21 2012 @ 05:06 PM
The next thread in this series- "Faith and Works"- will be published on the First of October,

posted on Dec, 18 2012 @ 01:50 PM
Now that the series on James is complete, an Index of the various threads can be found at this location;

James; Teacher of Faith and Wisdom

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