James Chapter 2 Notes – Winterim with Dr. Moo

James Chapter 2 NotesHere’s chapter 2 of James from my winterim class with Dr. Douglas Moo.
You can download them in pdf format or view them in html here on the blog.

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Notes from the 2008 Winterim at the Master’s Seminary on James with Dr. Moo
by Nathan Wells

The Letter of


Chapter 2

The Argument of 2:1-13[NRW1]

1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious[NRW2] Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism[NRW3] .

2 For if[NRW4] a man comes into your assembly[NRW5] with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes,

3[NRW6] and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,”

4 have you not made distinctions[NRW7] among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?

5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor[NRW8] of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?

6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?

7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal[NRW9] law according[NRW10] to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point[NRW11] , he has become guilty of all.

11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged[NRW12] by the law of liberty[NRW13] .

13 For judgment will be merciless[NRW14] to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

The Argument of 2:14-26[NRW15]

14[NRW16] What use is it[NRW17] , my brethren, if[NRW18] someone says he has faith[NRW19] but he has no works[NRW20] ? Can that[NRW21] faith save[NRW22] him?

15[NRW23] If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,

16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,[NRW24] ” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

17 Even so [NRW25] faith[NRW26] , if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

18[NRW27] But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

19[NRW28] You believe that God is one. You do well[NRW29] ; the demons also believe, and shudder[NRW30] .

20[NRW31] But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow[NRW32] , that faith without works is useless?

21 Was not Abraham[NRW33] our father[NRW34] justified[NRW35] by[NRW36] works[NRW37] when[NRW38] he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?

22 You see [NRW39] that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected[NRW40] ;

23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. [NRW41]

24 You[NRW42] see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

25[NRW43] In the same way, was not Rahab[NRW44] the harlot also justified by works when[NRW45] she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

26[NRW46] For just as the body without the spirit is dead[NRW47] , so also faith without works is dead.



Don’t Show favoritism!

vv. 2-4 an illustration

vv. 5-13 reasons

1. God honors the poor (vv. 5-6a)

2. Rich are persecuting (vv. 6b-7)

3. The “Royal” law (vv. 8-11 also Lev. 19:18)

4. Judgment to Com (vv. 12-13)


Also: Love summarizes our Christian duty – love is a crucial element in the commandments of God. It doesn’t mean that we just love and ignore the commands, that isn’t what James is saying. Clearly we are to be motivated by a transformed heart and a renewed mind. We should not be a church that is focused on the commandments, but focus on the transformation from within, so that we will naturally perform those things that God desires. The problem with having commandments is that you can never have enough of them to guide our behavior in all situations – what we need is transformed hearts and renewed minds, so that EVERYTHING comes under the Lordship of Christ. We must help our people become these transformed people. BUT we must always remember the “already, not yet” principal, our hearts are not fully transformed, therefore we still need commandments to guide this process.

[NRW2]We miss some of the “weight” of this word if we make it an adjective. ‘I would prefer to keep this as ‘glory’ in the text” – Dr. Moo

[NRW3]This can again refer to a “doubled soul” matter – the dividedness that James is so concerned about – for God is NOT divided.

[NRW4]As though to say, “Here is an illustration of the thing I am trying to combat: the treating of people differently based on their economic status.” It is not referring to a specific situation

[NRW5]συναγωγή – This actually is the synagogue not the “assembly” or “church” This might refer to the “judgment or legal cases” Bottom line, I don’t think we can actually know – the point is that it is some meeting of the Christian community.

[NRW6]What of dressing nicely in church – does that make the poor feel discriminated against? Or what of the seminary, people who give a ton of money are invited to come to the seminary, maybe even speak, and are given great treatment, but someone who gives little is ignored.

[NRW7]Again, this could refer to the “double soul” matters that James is so concerned about.

[NRW8]This does not mean that God has chosen “all” the poor in the world, or that God chooses “only” the poor. But God chooses the poor generally, a significant amount – and so logically as well, for the poor understand the idea of having a need – therefore they understand their need for salvation. This is why the “health and wealth” gospel is so popular among the poor.

James is saying that they are not choosing as God chooses – therefore they must align themselves back to God.

[NRW9]In the context, we see in verse five, the word kingdom used – in reference to the kingdom of Christ.

So it most likely means: The Law about, or that belongs to, pertains to the kingdom of God that Jesus has brought.

[NRW10]This is not so much about one “law” but the whole, or a broader set of commandments with a fundamental principal of love to your neighbor – the TNIV has “in” here, and that isn’t really a good translation.

[NRW11]This shows that God’s Law is a seamless whole – James is not teaching that we must only follow these commands he mentions, but we must follow the whole.

[NRW12]We are going to have to give an account for what we have done.

[NRW13]It is important to see how James keeps qualifying the law as he writes.

[NRW14]This is a pretty strong statement, and notice how he qualifies it in his statement afterwards: “mercy triumphs over judgment”

Perhaps meaning: fear the judgment, and rejoice in the mercy that has been displayed in Christ.


Faith without works v. 14

—————no profit

—————cannot save

-Illustration: words without deeds vv. 15-16

Faith without works: dead v. 17

-Objection: faith & works separable

-James: NO! v. 18

-Illustration: faith by itself is useless v. 19

Faith without works: useless v. 20

-Illustration: Abraham vv. 21-23

Faith + works: justification v. 24

-Illustrations: Rahab v. 25

Faith without works: dead v. 26

[NRW16]James begins with a question to involve his readers.

[NRW17]Use in regards to salvation, as shown in the second part of the verse “Can that faith save him?”

[NRW18]Again, this could be seen to prove that James is writing generally – but we also could see it as an indirect confrontation, putting it indirectly so that the people have to identify themselves rather than pointing the finger yourself.

Dr. Moo believes that James knew people WERE saying this and so James brings it up.

Possibly a Christian so excited about God’s grace that they would boast about not having any works – sometimes even Luther sounds like this.

[NRW19]This could be taken as a person says “I have faith” and then James says, or makes a comment about the person that says that, “but he has not works” – not so much that the person is saying he has no works, but that James says he has none.

[NRW20]TRANSLATION NOTE: NIV TNIV use “deeds” rather than “works” in this passage, seemingly trying to soften the difference between James and Paul.

[NRW21] πίστις – An anaphoric reference – THIS IS IMPORTANT! Because James is not saying that faith does not save, but rather, “the faith that I just mentioned cannot save, can it?”

[NRW22]The same sense as 1:21 “the ultimate spiritual deliverance” – but in the physical sense in 5:15

[NRW23]Again we see James continually preoccupied with helping the helpless and what true faith would look like in this context (there also is illustration in regard to speaking as well)

[NRW24]The problem is not so much that they said this, but rather than the speech was empty – for it is was truly from the heart, the person would have done something, taken action to back up the integrity of the speech.

[NRW25]Here’s the concluding statement of the illustration – “Thus”

[NRW26]Again, this is not true faith, as shown by context. This kind of faith does not save, for it is a faith that has no works which is not true faith.

[NRW27]Diatribe – This is a technique that was used in the classroom, and it is pretty clear that James uses it here.


Also note is that the “you” is singular

There is some difficulty in translating the pronouns.

1. It seems it would be:

“you [James] have faith and I have works”

But in fact, that is against James’ argument, for he HAS works. And is “show me your faith” part of the quote?

2. Is James quoting an ally (NASB thinks this)? Perhaps it is someone James is using as an illustration, restating his own argument, so then, the “you” is no longer James, but the people who are against James.

But there is a problem with that, because of the opening “But someone may well say” because it is normally used to quote someone who is opposed to the teacher.

3. Taking the pronouns as generic (TNIV and NET) “one person has faith and another person has works – who cares?” end quote – then James goes on to address that person saying that faith cannot exist or be seen without works. But that is problematic because it takes the pronouns in a weird way.

[NRW28]An illustration of the fact that just assent to doctrine or belief of truth is worthless, for demons believe as well, but it profits them nothing, for their actions do not follow that belief.

[NRW29]Great – good doctrine is good

[NRW30]Some think that James is commentating that the demons at least react to their doctrine, while it doesn’t affect his readers at all.

[NRW31]Again, diatribe is used.

[NRW32]Some think this is Paul, but there really is no reason to think that, for it continues this hypothetical opponent as seen throughout the book – it is diatribe.

[NRW33]A very obvious and natural illustration to use. Strong Jewish tradition here. The “Great Test”

Jewish tradition interprets Abraham’s faith as a work. James isn’t doing exactly the same thing – he makes a distinction (as Paul does), but James says you cannot separate them [faith and works].

[NRW34]Don’t read too much into this, it isn’t as Paul used it, but just in the normal Jewish way.

[NRW35]This is a difficult word to translate from Greek to English ἐδικαιώθη – so we need to look at it in order to see what James intends by it.

[NRW36]An important word: ἐξ ἔργων

Theological significance of “by” [ek] works

· “Synergism”
faith + works = justification

· “Monergism”
faith ( –> works) = justification

It is not “because” of works, but “by” works

[NRW37]“in association with,” “in accordance with” works.

Notice the plural here…some use this to show that it wasn’t just this one work, but works. But that being said, you wouldn’t read Genesis and think one of the most important things about Abraham was his hospitality as some argue (see also note on v. 25 on “Rahab”).

[NRW38]ESV NET NASB “When” but when you look at the Greek text, there is simply an Aorist participle – so how do these words interact with each other – ἐδικαιώθη ἀνενέγκας (“justified offering”)

“Justified having offered”

“Justified because he offered”

The Greek doesn’t require the temporal “when”

NLT “shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son up…”

[NRW39]Here’s the conclusion based on the illustration – again the diatribe style continues for the “you” is singular.

[NRW40]ἐτελειώθη (τελειόω) – A real tricky language and theological issue here. Is James saying that Abraham did not have real faith until works? Or is he saying that faith, which fully and truly existed, was shown to be true faith by the work? (see also Gal. 5:6 love or faith first?)

Abraham had true faith that was brought to its intended goal by works. Abraham had true faith because he worked.

Looking to John 15 and abiding in Christ, we can see some parallels with James and true faith – true faith is faith that abides in Christ, therefore it produces works.

There is a fine line here – we don’t want to say that if Abraham had died before this major test that he would have been “incomplete” but rather that the goal of faith is that works would come of it, so if Abraham had died before working, then faith would not have its intended result, though he would have been saved.

[NRW41]The end of the quote before this phrase is right, because this is James adding his own “comment” about Abraham, though based in Scripture, it is not a direct quote (2 Chr. 20:7; Is. 41:8).

[NRW42]James switches two a plural “you” no longer a diatribe, and now getting to the main point, addressing his readers all together.

[NRW43]Verse 21 and 25 are very parallel, in structure – another aorist participle as well.

[NRW44]This is not such an obvious choice for an illustration. There is a lot of discussion about why James chose Rahab. There are some Jewish discussions about Abraham and Rahab as models of showing hospitality – but that tradition is not all that strong or widespread.

Something to note is that Abraham and Rahab were both non-Israelites.

A more likely reason James chooses Rahab is because she is an outsider, so possibly to address any notion that Jews are primary, and gentiles are not.

[NRW45]Same issue as 21, when is not totally dictated by the Greek, could be “was she not justified having received the messengers”

[NRW46]Again, James makes his point.

[NRW47]This is a simple illustration – no need to look for deeper meaning in it.


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