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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

James 5



Verse 1

1.] Go to now (see above, ch. James 4:13), ye rich, go weep (the imper. aor. gives the command a concentrated force, as that which ought to be done at once and without delay), howling (the part. is not merely a rhetorical reduplication of κλαύσατε, but describes the mode of the κλαῦσαι by a stronger and more graphic word, in the present, as thus habitual during the κλαῦσαι. ὀλολύζειν (reff.) is a word in the O. T. confined to the prophets, and used, as here, with reference to the near approach of God’s judgments. Thus in Isaiah 13:6, ὀλολύζετε, ἐγγὺς γὰρ ἡμέρα κυρίου) over your miseries which are coming on (no supply of ὑμῖν (see digest) is required after ἐπερχ. These miseries are not to be thought of as the natural and determined end of all worldly riches, but are the judgments connected with the coming of the Lord: cf. James 5:8, ἡ παρουσία τοῦ κυρίου ἤγγικεν. It may be that this prospect was as yet intimately bound up with the approaching destruction of the Jewish city and polity: for it must be remembered that they are Jews who are here addressed).

Verses 1-6

1–6.] Denunciation of woe on the rich in this world. These verses need not necessarily be addressed (as Huther) to the same persons as ch. James 4:13 ff. Indeed the ἄγε νῦν repeated seems to indicate a fresh beginning. Commentators have differed as to whether this denunciation has for its object, or not, exhortation to repentance. I believe the right answer to be, much as De Wette, that in the outward form indeed the words contain no such exhortation: but that we are bound to believe all such triumphant denunciation to have but one ultimate view, that of grace and mercy to those addressed. That such does not here appear, is owing chiefly to the close proximity of judgment, which the writer has before him. Calvin then is in the main right,—when he says, “Falluntur qui Jacobum hic exhortari ad pœnitentiam divites putant: mihi simplex magis denuntiatio judicii Dei videtur, qua eos terrere voluit absque spe veniæ,”—except in those three last rather characteristic words.

Verse 2

2.] The effect of the coming judgment is depicted as already present, and its material as already stored up against them. What is meant by the figure used, we learn in James 5:4. Your riches are corrupted (see besides reff., Job 33:21; Job 40:7. σήπω is transitive— σῆψον δὲ ἀσεβεῖς παραχρῆμα, Job 40:7 (12),—but σέσηπα the perf. middle. The expression is figurative, and πλοῦτος to be understood of all riches: ‘your possessions’) and your garments (the general term πλοῦτος is now split into its component parts. clothing and treasure) are become motheaten (ref.: see also Isaiah 51:8; Acts 12:23. The reference to Matthew 6:19-20 is obvious):

Verse 3

3.] your gold and your silver is rusted through (“Loquitur populariter, nam aurum proprie æruginem non contrahit.” Horneius, in Huther. In ref. Ep. Jer., we have of golden and silver images of idols, οὐ διασώζονται ἀπὸ ἰοῦ. Rust, happening generally to metals, is predicated of gold and silver without care for exact precision. So that there is no need to seek for some interpretation which may make the κατίωται true of gold, as that (Bretschn.) copper vessels plated with gold are intended. The stern and vivid depiction of prophetic denunciation does not take such trifles into account. In κατ- ίωται, the prep. gives the sense of entireness; ‘thoroughly rusted’), and the rust of them shall be for a testimony to you (not, as Œc., καταμαρτυρήσει ὑμῶν, ἐλέγχων τὸ ἀμετάδοτον ὑμῶν,—the rust which you have allowed to accumulate on them by want of use, shall testify against you in judgment,—but, as Wiesinger and Huther rightly, seeing that the rust is the effect of judgment begun, not of want of use,—the rust of them is a token what shall happen to yourselves: in the consuming of your wealth, you see depicted your own), and shall eat ( φάγεται is a well-known future, contracted from φαγήσεται: cf. John 2:17, and the prophecy ref. 4 (2) Kings, καταφάγονται οἱ κύνες τὰς σάρκας ἰεζαβέλ) your flesh (plur. in reff. Huther remarks that in almost all the places cited, the same verb is used with the noun) as fire (i. e. as fire devours the flesh; which will account for the use of τὰς σάρκας, without giving it any emphatic meaning (“your bloated bodies,” “your flesh of which alone you consist,” and the like: see De Wette), seeing that fire consumes the flesh first). The Syr., Œc., Grot., Knapp, Wiesinger, al. place the period at ὑμῶν, and connect ὡς πῦρ with ἐθησαυσίσατε, explaining it, ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις εὑρήσετε τὸν πλοῦτον ὑμῶν ὡς πῦρ ταμιευθέντα ὑμῖν εἰς ὄλεθρον(Œc.),—“quasi ignem in vestro malo asservastis” Grot.). But the reasons given for this are not satisfactory. There is in reality no confusion of metaphor in φάγεται τ. σάρ. ὑμ. ὡς πῦρ, and no want of an expressed object in ἐθησαυρίσατε ἐν ἐσχ. ἡμ., the verb θησαυρίζειν containing its object in itself. Ye laid up treasure in the last days (i. e. in these, the last days before the coming of the Lord, ye, instead of repenting and saving your souls, laid up treasure to no profit; employed yourselves in the vain accumulation of this world’s wealth. The aor., as so often when the course of life and action is spoken of, is used as if from the standing-point of the day of judgment, looking back over this life.

ἐν is not for εἰς, here or any where: nor is the meaning ‘for’ or ‘against’ the last days. Estins, Calvin, al., with this idea, follow the vulg. in supplying “iram” after “thesauravistis,” as in Romans 2:5. Wolf and Morus understand by the last days, the last days of life: “Accumulavistis divitias extremæ vitæ parti provisuri:” but this is clearly wrong in N. T. diction: cf. reff.).

Verses 4-6

4–6.] Specification of the sins, the incipient judgments for which hitherto have been hinted at under the figures of rust and moth.

And 4.] the unjust frauds of the rich, in non-payment of just debts. Behold (belongs to the fervid graphic style), the hire of the workmen (the sentence would be complete without the words τῶν ἐργατῶν but probably there is tacit reference to the well-known saying (see on 1 Timothy 5:18) used by our Lord, ref. Luke (Matthew 10:10), ἄξιος ὁ ἐργάτης τοῦ μισθοῦ αὐτοῦ) who mowed ( ἀμάω, from ἅμα, properly to gather together; but commonly used as here of reaping or mowing corn for harvest. So I1. σ. 551, ἔνθα δʼ ἔριθοι ἤμων, ὀξείας δρεπάνας ἐν χερσὶν ἔχοντες. See Soph. Antig. 598, and Hermann’s note) your fields (reff.), which has been held back (for the sense cf. Leviticus 19:13; Jeremiah 22:13, and esp. ref. Mal. In Sirach 31 (34):22, we have ἐκχεῶν αἷμα ὁ ἀποστερῶν μισθὸν μισθίου), crieth out (“Vindictam quasi alto clamore exposcit,” Caly. Cf. Genesis 4:10) from you (this, which was suggested by Huther, is better than to take refuge in the idea that ἀπό = ὑπό, and to render, “which has been held back by you:” or than Wiesinger’s interpretation, which, recognizing the difference between the two prepositions, makes ἀπό designate, not the direct origin of the act, but the proceeding of the act of robbery from them: and so Winer, § 47, ἀπό, note [2, p. 464, Moulton’s Edn.]: but none of the examples which he gives at all come near this one. The most plausible, Luke 9:22; Luke 17:25, ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων κ. τ. λ., differs in this, that a Person is spoken of, whose ἀποδοκιμασία will come from the πρεσβύτεροι: whereas here, where a thing is in question, with which the ἀποστεροῦντες deal, we can hardly say that its ἀποστέρησις proceeds from them. The other construction is amply justified by reff. The μισθός, which was kept back, and rests with you, cries out from you, your coffers, where it lies): and the cries of them who reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts (not only does the abstracted hire cry out from its place, but the defrauded victims themselves join, and the cry is heard of God. For the expressions see reff. This is the only place in the N. T. where κύριος σαβαώθ is used by any writer: Romans 9:29 is a citation. The Jewish character of the whole will sufficiently account for it. Bed(14) gives another reason, which also doubtless was in the Apostle’s mind: “Dominum exercituum appellat, ad terrorem eorum, qui pauperes putant nullum habere tutorem”).

Verse 5

5.] Second class of sins: luxury and self-indulgence. Ye luxuriated on the earth (the last words of James 5:4 placed the thought in heaven, where the judgment is laid up) and wantoned ( ἐτρυφ., ἐσπαταλ., “luxuriare, lascivire: alterum deliciarum, alterum prodigentiæ,” Theile. See on ref. 1 Tim.), ye nourished (satiated, fattened) your hearts ( καρδίας as in reff., and in Acts 14:17, ἐμπιπλῶν τροφῆςτὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν. Although the body is really that which is filled, the heart is that in which the satisfaction of repletion is felt) in the (the omission of the art. as so common before ἡμέρα, ὥρα, καιρός: cf. Matthew 8:29; Winer, § 19. 1) day of slaughter (i. e. as Theile, “Similes sunt pecudibus quæ ipso adeo mactationis die se pascunt saginantque lætæ et securæ.” Cf. ref. Jer. ἐν is again not for εἰς. This seems the simplest and most obvious interpretation. It need not be dependent on the insertion of the ὡς; the sudden and direct application of the image to the persons addressed requires no particle of comparison. And it is no reason against it, which Huther somewhat petulantly alleges against De Wette, that beasts do not eat more greedily on the day of their slaughter than on any other day; for this is not implied. Even if we grant Huther’s own view, that ἡμέρα σφαγῆς is an expression for the day of judgment, this expression derives its force from the above comparison, and will not let us forget it. Many Commentators, as Calvin, Beza, Grot., Laurentius, Bengel, al., understand ἡμ. σφαγῆς to mean a day of banqueting, when oxen and fatlings are slain. Calvin says, “Solebant in sacrificiis solemnibus liberalius vesci quam pro quotidiano more. Dicit ergo divites tota vita continuare festum.” This might be allowable, were it not that the analogy of ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις above seems to demand the other. It is no objection to it (Huther), that thus all allusion to the judgment is lost; this comes in with the other interpretation, and appositely: but is not absolutely required by the sentiment of the verse, which regards the self-indulgence, &c., of the rich while on earth).

Verse 6

6.] Third class of sins: condemning the innocent. Ye condemned, ye murdered the just man (these words are probably spoken generally, the singular being collective. τὸν δίκαιον, not merely τὸν ἀθῷον; it is his justice itself which provokes the enmity and cruelty of the πλούσιοι. It has been usual to refer these words to the condemnation and execution of Christ. So Œc., ἀναντιῤῥήτως τό, ἐφονεύσατε τὸν δίκαιον, ἐπὶ τὸν χριστὸν ἀναφέρεται. τῇ μέντοι ἐπιφορᾷ, τῇ, οὐκ ἀντιτάσσεται ὑμῖν, ἐκοίνωσε τὸν λόγον καὶ πρὸς τοὺς ἄλλους τοὺς τὰ ὅμοια παρὰ τῶν ἰουδαίων παθόντας. ἴσως δὲ καὶ προφητικῶς τὸ περὶ ἑαυτὸν ὑπεμφαίνει πάθος. So Bed(15), at some length; Grot., al. But there is surely nothing in the context to indicate this, further than that such a particular case may be included in the general charge, as its most notorious example. I cannot see, with Huther, how the present ἀντιτάσσεται makes against this: for anyhow we must suppose a change of sense before the present can be introduced: and then it may as well be a description of Christ’s patient endurance, or of His present long-suffering, as of the present meekness of the (generic) δίκαιος. But I prefer the latter, and with it the other reference throughout): he (the δίκαιος; Bentley more ingeniously than happily conjectured ὁ κύριος, as an emendation for οὐκ) doth not resist you (the behaviour of the just under your persecutions is ever that of meekness and submission. “ οὐκ ἀντιτάσσεται sine copula et pronomine ponderose additur.” Schneckenb.).

This last clause serves as a note of transition to what follows. So Herder remarks, as cited by Wiesinger: “And thus we have as it were standing before us the slain and unresisting righteous man, when lo the curtain falls: Be patient, brethren, wait!” See, on the whole sense, Amos 2:6-7; Amos 5:12; and the description in Wisdom of Solomon 2:6-20.

Verse 7

7.] Be patient (reff.) therefore (the οὖν ( ἐόν, ‘matters being so’) is a general reference to the prophetic strain of the previous passage: judgment on your oppressors being so near, and your own part, as the Lord’s δίκαιοι, being that of unresistingness), brethren (contrast to οἱ πλούσιοι, last addressed), until ( ἕως as a preposition, see Winer, § 54. 6. “Non tempus tantum sed rem quoque indicat, qua ἡ θλῖψις μακροθύμως toleranda tollatur.” Schneckenb.) the coming of the Lord (i. e. here, beyond all reasonable question, of Christ. ὁ κύριος, it is true, usually in this Epistle is to be taken in the O. T. sense, as denoting the Father: but we have in ch. James 1:1 and James 2:1 examples of St. James using it of our Saviour, and it is therefore better to keep so well known a phrase to its ordinary meaning, than with Theile and De W. (but only wahrscheinlich) to understand it, “Dei, qui Messia adventante invisibili modo præsens est”). Encouragement by the example of the husbandman. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it (with reference to it: quasi sitting over it and watching it: this local superposition is the root of all derived meanings of ἐπί with a dative), till it (better than “he,” as Luth. and E. V.) shall have received the early and latter (rain) (see reff., and Winer, Realw. under Witterung. From the latter it appears that the πρώϊμος fell in Oct., Nov., and Dec., extending, with occasional snow, into Jan. (see reff. Deut., Jer.): and after fine spring weather in Feb., the ὄψιμος in March to the end of April (reff. and Jeremiah 3:3 Heb. and E. V.). Œc. gives a curious interpretation of the early and latter rain: πρώϊμος ὑετός, ἡ ἐν νεότητι μετὰ δακρύων μετάνοια· ὄψιμος, ἡ ἐν τῷ γήρᾳ. As to the reading, it is much more probable that ὑετόν has been supplied than that it has been erased):

Verses 7-11

7–11.] Exhortation to suffering Christians to endure unto the coming of the Lord. On the connexion, see above.

Verse 8

8.] be ye also patient (as well as, after the example of, the husbandman): establish (confirm, strengthen, both which are required for patience) your hearts, because the coming of the Lord is nigh (perf.: ‘hath (already) drawn near, and is therefore at hand,’ as the perfects ἕστηκα, ἔγνωκα, &c. Calvin says, “Colligendum robur ad durandum: colligi autem melius non potest, quam ex spe et quasi intuitu propinqui adventus Domini”).

Verse 9

9.] Exhortation to mutual forbearance. “Quos ad manifestas et gravissimas improborum injurias fortiter ferendas incitarat, eos nunc hortatur, ut etiam in minoribus illis offensis quæ inter pios ipsos sæpe subnascuntur, vel condonandis vel dissimulandis promti Sint. contingit enim ut qui hostium et improborum maximas sæpe contumelias et injurias æquo animo tolerant, fratrum tamen offensas multo leniores non facile ferant.” Horneius (in Huther). Murmur not, brethren, against one another (there is not any imprecation of Divine vengeance to be thought of, as Calvin, Theile, al.), that ye be not judged (seeing that murmuring against one another involves the violation of our Lord’s μὴ κρίνετε (ref. Matt.), he finishes with the following clause there, ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε: the passive verb here, as there, being to be taken in a condemnatory sense, or at all events as assuming the condemnatory issue): behold, the Judge standeth before the door (reff. The Judge, viz. the Lord. These last words are added with a view to both portions of the sentence preceding, not to the latter one only as Huther: μὴ στεν. involving in itself μὴ κρίνετε: the near approach of the Judge is a motive for suspending our own judgment, as well as for deterring us from incurring that speedy judgment on ourselves which we shall incur if we do not suspend it).

Verse 10-11

10, 11.] Encouragement to patience in affliction by O. T. examples. Take, my brethren, as an example of affliction (not, ‘of enduring’ or “suffering affliction,” E. V.: the word is strictly objective, and is found parallel with ξυμφορά and the like: so in reff.: and Thucyd. vii. 77, ἐλπίδα χρὴ ἔχειν, μηδὲ καταμέμψασθαι ὑμᾶς ἄγαν αὐτούς, μήτε ταῖς ξυμφοραῖς, μήτε ταῖς παρὰ τὴν ἀξίαν νῦν κακοπαθείαις (spoken by Nicias to the suffering Athenian army in Sicily): so Isocr. p. 127 C, μηδὲ μικρὰν οἴεσθαι δεῖν ὑπενεγκεῖν κακοπάθειαν: which examples are decisive) and of patience (beware of the hilly bendiadys, which indeed can have no place at all with the right meaning of κακοπάθεια) the prophets (so Matthew 5:12) who spoke in the name (or, by the name. We may consider τῷ ὀνόμ. as equivalent to ἐν τῷ ὀν., or we may explain it as De Wette ‘by means of the name’) of the Lord (God).

Verse 11

11.] Another example, in which a further point is gained. Behold, we count happy them that have endured (see Matthew 5:10. ὑπομείν αντας may be a correction to suit the sense, and τέλος below, but it must be adopted as the most ancient reading, and it is connected with Matt. L. c., μακάριοι οἱ δεδιωγμένοι, they who have been persecuted): ye (have) heard of the endurance of Job; see also (not ‘and have seen,’ which Wiesinger renders even with the reading ἴδετε. The imperative is not as Huther auffallend, but natural enough, see ch. James 1:6-7) the end of the Lord (‘the termination which the Lord (in O. T. sense) gave:’ do not limit your attention to Job’s sufferings, but look on to the end and see the mercy shewn him by God); for (better than “that,” as Huther, al.: the sense being, ‘Job’s patience is known to you all: do not rest there, but look on to the end which God gave him: and it is well worth your while so to do, for you will find that He is’ &c. And this has apparently occasioned the repetition by the Apostle of the word ὁ κύριος, which has been left out by those who imagined that ὅτι introduced merely the result of the inspection, and that therefore no new subject was needed) the Lord is very pitiful ( πολύσπλαγχνος, a word no where else found: coined after the Heb. רַב־חֶסֶד (Wiesinger), which the LXX render πολυέλεος, Exodus 34:6 al., always joined with μακρόθυμος: see in Trommius. We have εὔσπλαγχνος, Ephesians 4:32; 1 Peter 3:8) and merciful (reff. This remembrance of God’s pity and mercy would encourage them also to hope that whatever their sufferings, the τέλος κυρίου might prove similar in their own case).

Verse 12

12.] This dehortation from swearing is connected with what went before by the obvious peril that they, whose temptations were to impatience under suffering, might be betrayed by that impatience into hasty swearing and imprecations. That this suffering state of theirs is still in view, is evident from the κακοπαθεῖ τις which follows: that it alone is not in view is equally evident, from the εὐθυμεῖ τίς which also follows. So that we may safely say that the Apostle passes from their particular temptations under suffering to their general temptations in life. But (contrast of the spirit which would prompt that which he is about to forbid, with that recommended in the last verses) above all things (ref.: qu. d. ‘So far is the practice alien from Christian meekness, that whatever you feel or say, let it not for a moment be given way to’), my brethren, swear not, neither by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath ( ὅρκος for ‘formula jurandi,’ The construction of ὄμνυμι with an accus. of the thing sworn by is classical: that with εἰς or ἐν, as in ref. Matt:, according to Hebraistic usage. Huther’s note here is valuable and just: “It is to be noticed, that swearing by the name of God is not mentioned; for we must not imagine that this is included in the last member of the clause, the Apostle intending evidently by μήτε ἄλλον τινὰ ὅρκον to point only at similar formulæ, of which several are mentioned in ref. Matt. Had he intended to forbid swearing by the name of God, he would most certainly have mentioned it expressly: for not only is it in the law, in contradistinction to other oaths, commanded,—see Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20; Psalms 63:11,—but in the Prophets is announced as a token of the future turning of men to God: ref. Isa.: Jeremiah 12:16; Jeremiah 23:7-8. The omission of notice of this oath shews that James in this warning has in view only the abuse, common among the Jews generally and among his readers, of introducing in the common every-day affairs of life, instead of the common yea and nay, such asseverations as those here mentioned: so that we are not justified in deducing from his words any prohibition of swearing in general, as has been attempted by many expositors of our Epistle, and especially by Œc., Bed(16), Erasm., Theile, De Wette, Neander, al. (on the other hand the following Commentators refer St. James’s prohibition to light and trifling oaths: Calv., Est., Laurentius, Grot., Pott, Michaelis, Storr, Morus, Schneckenburger, Kern, Wiesinger, al.). The use of oaths by heaven, &c., arises on the one hand from forgetting that every oath, in its deeper significance, is a swearing by God, and on the other from a depreciation of simple truth in words: either way therefore from a lightness and frivolity which is in direct contrast to the earnest seriousness of a Christian spirit.” See my note on Matt. l. c.): but (contrast to the habit of swearing) let (on the form ἤτω, see Winer, Gramm. § 14. 2. It is found only, in all Greek classical literature, in Plato, Rep. ii. p. 361 C) your yea be yea, and (your) nay, nay (it is hardly possible here to render ‘But let yours be (your habit of conversation be) yea yea and nay nay,’ on account of the position of the emphatic ὑμῶν: which in that case must have stood before the verb, ὑμῶν δὲ ἤτω, and even then might have been rendered the other way. As it is, the ὑμῶν τὸ ναί lies too close together to be disjoined as subject, leaving the other ναί for predicate. So that, in form at least, our precept here differs slightly from that in St. Matt. The fact represented by both would be the same: confidence in men’s simple assertions and consequently absence of all need for asseveration): that ye fall not under judgment (i. e. condemnation: not as the meaning of κρίσις, but as the necessary contextual result. The words in fact nearly = ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε above. Notice, that there is here no exhortation to truthful speaking, as so many Commentators have assumed, e. g. Thl., Œc., Zwingle, Calv., Grot., Bengel, Schneckenb., Stier, al.: that is not in question at all).

Verses 12-20

12–20.] Various exhortations and dehortations, connected with the foregoing chiefly by the situation, sufferings, and duties of the readers.

Verse 13

13.] The connexion seems to be, Let not this light and frivolous spirit at any time appear among you; if suffering, or if rejoicing, express your feelings not by random and unjustifiable exclamations, but in a Christian and sober manner, as here prescribed. Is any among you in trouble (the classical usages are κακοπαθοῦντες τοῦ χωρίου τῇ ἀπορίᾳ, Thuc. iv. 29, of the Athenian soldiers besieging the Lacedæmonians in Sphacteria,—ib. i. 122, πόλεις τοσάσδε ὑπὸ μιᾶς κακοπαθεῖν, &c. The suffering inflicted, not the state of him who suffers, is called κακοπάθεια; see on James 5:10)? let him pray. Is any in joy (light of heart)? let him sing praise (lit. play on an instrument: but used in reff. Rom. and 1 Cor. and elsewhere of singing praise generally. The word ‘Psalm’ is an evidence of this latter sense).

Verse 14

14.] Is any sick among you (here one case of κακοπάθεια is specified, and for it specific directions are given)? let him summon to him (send for) the elders of the congregation (to which he belongs: but not, some one among those elders, as Estius, Corn. a-Lap., and other Rom.-Cath. interpreters: cf. the Council of Trent, Sess. xiv. De Extr. Unct. Song of Solomon 4 (“Si quis dixerit, presbyteros Ecclesiæ, quos beatus Jacobus adducendos esse ad infirmum inungendum hortatur, non esse sacerdotes ab Episcopo ordinatos, sed ætate seniores in quavis communitate, ob idque proprium Extremæ Unctionis ministrum non esse solum sacerdotem: anathema sit”), and Justiniani’s vindication of the application of this passage to their sacrament of extreme unction: on which see below. The πρεσβύτεροι are not simply “ætate seniores in quavis communitate,” but those who were officially πρεσβύτεροι, or ἐπίσκοποι, which in the apostolic times were identical: see notes on Acts 20:17; Acts 20:28; so that “sacerdotes ab Episcopo ordinatos” above, would, as applied to the text, be an anachronism), and let them pray over him ( ἐπʼ αὐτόν, either, 1. literally, as coming and standing over his bed: or, 2. figuratively, with reference to him, as if their intent, in praying, went out towards him. Either way, the signification of motion in ἐπί with an accus. must be taken into account, and we must not render ‘for him.’ On the Presbyters praying, Bengel says, “qui dum orant, non multo minus est quam si tota oraret Ecclesia”), anointing (or, when they have anointed) him with oil in the name of the Lord (the ἐν τῷ ὀν. κυρ. belongs to ἀλείψαντες, not, as Gebser, to προσευξ., nor as Schneckenburger, to both. And thus joined, they shew that the anointing was not a mere human medium of cure, but had a sacramental character: cf. the same words, or ἐπὶ τῷ ὀν., εἰς τὸ ὄν., used of baptism, Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5; 1 Corinthians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 1:15. κυρίου here is probably Christ, from analogy: His name being universally used as the vehicle of all miraculous power exercised by his followers).

Verse 15

15.] And the prayer of faith (gen. subj.: the prayer which faith offers) shall save (clearly here, considering that the forgiveness of sins is separately stated afterwards, σώσει can only be used of corporeal healing, not of the salvation of the soul. This has not always been recognized. The R.-Cath. interpreters, who pervert the whole passage to the defence of the practice of extreme unction, take σώσει of the salvation of the soul. Thus Corn. a-Lapide: “Oratio fidei, id est, sacramentum et forma sacramentalis extremæ unctionis, salvabit infirmum, hoc est, conferet ei gratiam qua salvetur anima.” Some Commentators, as Lyra and Schneckenb., take both meanings. The Council of Trent prevaricates: “Ægroti animam alleviat et confirmat (unctio extrema), magnam in eo divinæ misericordiæ fiduciam excitando: qua infirmus sublevatus, et morbi incommoda ac labores levius fert, et tentationibus dæmonis calcaneo insidiantis facilius resistit: et sanitatem corporis interdum, ubi saluti animæ expedierit, consequitur”) the sick man ( κάμνω, ægroto, is classical, even in its absolute use: cf. Soph. Phil. 262: Xen. Cyr. i. 6. 16), and the Lord (most probably Christ, again: He who is Lord in the Christian Church) shall raise him up (from his bed of sickness: see reff. Here again our R.-Cath. friends are in sad perplexity. The vulg. led the way with its “alleviabit.” The interpretations may be seen in Corn. a-Lap., Justiniani, Estius, al. Cf. the Council of Trent above. A curious contrast is furnished by the short comm. of Œc.: τοῦτο καὶ τοῦ κυρίου ἔτι τοῖς ἀνθρώποις συναναστρεφομένου οἱ ἀπόστολοι ἐποίουν, ἀλείφοντες τοὺς ἀσθενοῦντας ἐλαίῳ καὶ ἰώμενοι): even if ( κἄν precedes a climax: see the sense below. So that the καί is not copulative, but the sentence is abruptly introduced) he have committed (he be in a state of having committed, i. e. abiding under the consequence of, some commission of sin; for so the perf. implies; and hereby the sin in question is presumed to have been the working cause of his present sickness. So Bed(17): “Multi propter peccata in anima facta, infirmitate vel etiam morte plectuntur corporis:” citing 1 Corinthians 11:30. On this necessary force of the perfect, see Winer, § 40. 4: and on the sense, cf. Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:5 f.: John 5:14) sins, it shall be forgiven him (supply as a subject, τὸ πεποιηκέναι, from the foregoing).

Among all the daring perversions of Scripture by which the Church of Rome has defended her superstitions, there is none more patent than that of the present passage. Not without reason has the Council of Trent defended its misinterpretation with the anathema above cited: for indeed it needed that, and every other recommendation, to support it, and give it any kind of acceptance. The Apostle is treating of a matter totally distinct from the occasion, and the object, of extreme unction. He is enforcing the efficacy of the prayer of faith in afflictions, James 5:13. Of such efficacy, he adduces one special instance. In sickness, let the sick man inform the elders of the Church. Let them, representing the congregation of the faithful, pray over the sick man, accompanying that prayer with the symbolic and sacramental act of anointing with oil in the name of the Lord. Then, the prayer of faith (see Corn. a-Lap. above for the audacious interpretation) shall save (heal) the sick man, and the Lord shall bring him up out of his sickness; and even if it were occasioned by some sin, that sin shall be forgiven him. Such is the simple and undeniable sense of the Apostle, arguing for the efficacy of prayer: and such, as above seen, the perversion of that sense by the Church of Rome. Here, as in the rest of these cases, it is our comfort to know that there is a God of truth, whose judgment shall begin at His Church. Observe, the promises here made of recovery and forgiveness are unconditional, as in Mark 16:18 al.

Verse 16

16.] A general injunction arising out of a circumstance necessarily to be inferred in the preceding example. There, the sin would of necessity have been confessed to the πρεσβύτεροι, before the prayer of faith could deal with it. And seeing the blessed consequences in that case,—‘generally,’ says the Apostle, in all similar cases, ‘and one to another universally, pursue the same salutary practice of confessing your sins.’ Confess therefore to one another (emphatically placed before τὰ παραπτώματα—‘not only to the presbyters in the case supposed, but to one another generally’) your transgressions (i. e. not merely, as Wolf, al., offences against your brethren; but also sins against God: cf. ref. Matthew 6), and pray for one another, that ye may be healed (in case of sickness, as above. The context here forbids any wider meaning: and so rightly De Wette, Wiesinger, and Huther. So even Corn. a-Lap., “id est, ut sanemini, scilicet, ab infirmitate quæ vos detinet.” On the other hand Justiniani, “recte Latinus interpres animæ sanitatem intellexit, hoc est, salutem sempiternam.” And similarly Estius, Carpzov, Grot., al. Baumgarten, Schneckenburger, Kern, al., would join both). It might appear astonishing, were it not notorious, that on this passage among others is built the Romish doctrine of the necessity of confessing sins to a priest. As a specimen of the way in which it is deduced, I subjoin Corn. a-Lapide’s exegesis: “ ‘Alterutrum,’ id est, homo homini, similis simili, frater fratri confitemini, puta sacerdoti, qui licet officio sit superior, natura tamen est par, infirmitate similis, obligatione confitendi æqualis.” Cajetan, on the contrary, denies that “sacramental confession” is here spoken of: “nec hic est sermo de confessione sacramentali” [here, as in so many other cases, the much-vaunted unity of Roman interpreters embracing the most opposite opinions]. The supplication of a righteous man (i. e. of one who shews his faith by his works, see ch. James 2:24) availeth much in its working (i. e. worketh very effectually. Much doubt has arisen about the meaning and reference of ἐνεργουμένη. It is usually taken as in E. V., “the effectual fervent prayer,”—as an epithet to δέησις, setting forth its fervency. Œc. seems to take it passively, “helped forward by the sympathy of the person prayed for:” for he says, ἐνεργεῖται ἡ τοῦ δικαίου εὐχή, ὅταν καὶ ὁ ὑπὲρ οὗ εὔχεται συμπράττῃ διὰ κακώσεως πνευματικῆς τῷ εὐχομένῳ. ἂν γάρ, ἑτέρων ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν εὐχομένων, σπαταλαῖς ἡμεῖς σχολάζωμεν κ. ἀνέσεσι κ. ἐκδεδιῃτημένῳ βίῳ, ἐκλύομεν διὰ τούτου τὸ σύντονον τῆς εὐχῆς τοῦ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἀγωνιζομένου.

The following is from Huther’s note: “Michaelis explains it ‘preces agitante Spiritu sancto effusæ:’ Carpzov, δέησις διὰ πίστεως ἐνεργουμένη: Gebser understands prayer in which the suppliant himself works for the accomplishment of his wish: similarly Calvin,—‘Tunc vere in actu est oratio, quum succurrere contendimus iis, qui laborant.’ Commonly, ἐνεργουμένη is assumed to be synonymous with ἐνεργής or ἐνεργός ( ἐκτενής, Luke 22:44; Acts 12:5), ‘strenuus,’ ‘intentus,’ ‘earnest,’ &c.: and this qualification of the prayer of the righteous man is attached to πολὺ ἰσχύει as its condition (so Wiesinger, and similarly Erasm., Beza, Gataker, Horneius, Grot., Wolf, Baumg., Hottinger, Schneckenb., Kern, Theile, al.). This interpretation however has not only, as Wiesinger confesses, N. T. usage against it, but can hardly be justified from the context, it being necessarily implied that the prayer of the righteous man is not a dead and formal one. Besides which, the force of the general sentence, πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου, suffers much from the appending of a condition under which alone the sentence could be true. Rightly therefore does Pott adhere to the verbal meaning of the participle ἐνεργουμένη, in periphrasing, πολὺ ἱοχύει ἐνεργεῖν, or πολὺ ἰσχύει καὶ ἐνεργεῖ δέησις: but both these periphrases are arbitrary: the first weakens the force of ἰσχύει, and the second makes the two ideas co-ordinate, which the Apostle never intended. At all events we must connect ἐνεργουμένη closely with ἰσχύει: not as above, but so that by it may be expressed that which is the field or element of the πολὺ ἰσχύειν: the prayer of the righteous can do much in its working (not, as De Wette, if it developes itself in act). That it does work, this is assumed: that, besides working, it πολὺ ἰσχύει, this is it which St. James puts forward, and confirms by the following example of Elias”).

Verse 17

17.] Elias was a man of like passions with us (this precedes, to obviate the objection that the greatness of Elias, so far out of our reach, neutralizes the example for us weak and ordinary men. There is no contrast to δίκαιος intended, as Gebser, but rather Elias is an example of a δίκαιος: nor again can ὁμοιοπαθής be taken to signify “involved in like sufferings,” as Laurentius and Schneckenb.: see reff.), and he prayed with prayer (made it a special matter of prayer: not, “prayed earnestly,” as E. V., Schneckenb., Wiesinger, al. This adoption of the Heb. idiom merely brings out more forcibly the idea of the verb) that it might not rain (the gen. of the intent: the purport and purpose of the prayer being mingled, as so commonly: cf. on the similar προσεύχεσθαι ἵνα, note, 1 Corinthians 14:13. This fact is not even hinted at in the O. T. history in 1 Kings 17 ff.; nor the following one, that he prayed for rain at the end of the drought: though this latter may perhaps be implied in 1 Kings 18:42 ff.), and it rained not (the use of βρέχειν for to rain is found first in prose, according to Lobeck, Phryn. p. 291, in Polyb. xvi. 12. 3: then in Arrian, Epict. i. 6. 30, and in LXX, N. T. and subsequent writers. Classically, it is poetical only. The impersonal use appears to be confined to later writers) on the earth for three years and six months (so also Luke 4:25; and in the Jalkut Simeoni, on 1 Kings 16, where we have, “Anno xiii. Achabi fames regnabat in Samaria per tres annos et dimidium anni.” There is no real discrepancy here, as has been often assumed, with the account in 1 Kings: for as Benson has rightly observed, the words “in the third year” of 1 Kings 18:1 by no necessity refer to the duration of the famine, but most naturally date back to the removal of Elijah to Zarephath, 1 Kings 17:8 ff.: cf. the same “many days” in 1 Kings 18:15, where indeed a variation is “for a full year.” I cannot see how Huther can hold this to be an insufficient explanation, because we are bound to regard the drought as beginning immediately after Elijah’s announcement 1 Kings 17:1; nor how it appears that that announcement must necessarily have been made at the end of the summer season during which it had not rained):

Verse 17-18

17, 18.] Example of this effectual prayer, in the case of Elias.

Verse 18

18.] and again he prayed (see above), and the heavens gave rain (reff.) and the earth brought forth ( βλαστέω or - άνω is properly an intr. verb, but used transitively in the 1 aor., as some other verbs. So in Hippocrates (Palm and Rost’s Lex.), Apoll. Rhod. i. 1131 ( οὕς ποτε νύμφη ἀγχιάλη, δικταῖον ἀνὰ σπέος, ἀμφοτέρῃσιν δραξαμένη γαίης οἰαξίδος ἐβλάστησε), and later writers) her fruit (“quas ferre solet,” Schneckenb.).

Verse 19

19.] Brethren, if any among you be seduced (lit. passive; and there is no reason why the passive signification should not be kept, especially when we remember our Lord’s warning, βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς πλανήσῃ) from the truth (not merely truth practical, of moral conduct, but that ἀλήθεια which is the subject of the λόγος whereby our regeneration took place, ch. James 1:18—the doctrine of Christ, spiritual and practical), and one convert him (turn him back to the truth, reff.),

Verse 19-20

19, 20.] The importance and blessing of reclaiming an erring brother. This is very nearly connected with the foregoing; the duty of mutual advice and correction, with that of mutual confession and prayer.

Verse 20

20.] know (or, with the rec. γινωσκέτω, let him know, viz. the last τις, ὁ ἐπιστρέψας—for his comfort, and for the encouragement of others to do the like by this proclamation of the fact), that he who converteth (not, ‘has converted:’ our English present, when connected with a future, exactly gives the aor. participle. The first action is necessarily antecedent to the second, which is all that the Greek requires) a sinner from the error of his way (thus is the person converted more generally expressed than before; not only, τὸν πλανηθέντα, but any ἁμαρτωλόν) shall save a soul from death (in eternity: the future shews that the σωτηρία spoken of is not contemporary with the ἐπιστρέψαι, but its ultimate result), and shall cover a multitude of sins (viz. by introducing the convert into that state of Christian faith, wherein all sins, past, present, and future, are forgiven and done away. See reff. and for the expression, Psalms 31:1; Nehemiah 4:5 LXX. The ἁμαρτιῶν, following ἁμαρτωλόν, necessarily binds the reference to the converted, not the converters. It is not τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτοῦ (as Syr., “hideth the multitude of his sins”), because the Apostle wishes to put in its most striking abstract light the good deed thus done. The objection (Whitby) that thus we should have a tautology,—the saving of his soul including the covering of his sins, is entirely obviated by this latter consideration: even without Wiesinger’s reply, that “the words carry on further the σώσει ψυχήν, and state the ground of that salvation.” The idea that they are the sins of the converter (Zacharias Ephesians 1 ad Bed., Erasmus, Whitby, Hammond, al.) is thus as abhorrent from the context, as it is generally repugnant to apostolic teaching: cf. on the whole, 1 Peter 4:8. “Commendat,” says Calvin, “fratrum correctionem ab effectu, ut majore studio in eam intenti simus”).




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Bibliography Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on James 5:4". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.

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