The mere mention of the Epistle of James continues to spark a controversial conversation within the ranks of Christianity today.  James’ appeal to works in ch. 2 is an apparent contradiction to Paul’s teaching on justification by faith.  Many have considered the discussion of faith versus works to be a war between Paul and James left behind to be battled out by the early church’s descendants.  As Leahy points out, “It was largely because of this apparent contradiction that Luther wished to exclude Jas from the Canon.”[1]  Luther was one who struggled to find reconciliation between the two biblical authors, and his Pauline favor is what ultimately led his reformation against the Roman Catholic Church.  Still, many commentators have offered up reasons why the passages are, in fact, reconcilable.  Scheef suggests that James is arguing against a distorted form of Pauline teaching, rather than directly clashing with the instructions of Paul’s writings.  He states, “The fact that Abraham, one of Paul’s favorite OT characters, is used to illustrate the point gives added weight to this supposition.”[2]

            The method to approaching James’ message should not be a combative one which blindly slings Pauline arrows toward a Jamesian mark in hopes of removing any responsibility of adherence to his words.  Paul is clear that salvation comes by grace through faith (Eph 2:8).[3]  Further, he clearly distinguishes between the concepts of grace and works, declaring, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.”[4]  Since James’ words challenge the definition of “salvation by faith” rather than its concept or even validity,[5] a more appropriate approach to finding resolution within James and Paul is in seeking out why James felt the need to define an already conventional concept in such an unconventional manner.  More importantly for this discussion, we should seek out what James principally intended to address and what, specifically, those works are with which he so boldly challenged his audience.

            The focus of this paper will argue that James’ epistle was written for the purpose of rebuking a Christian people who had neglected to show love or relevance to the impoverished, lowly, and less fortunate of its world.  The words of James 2 are harmonious with the teachings of Jesus in Matt 25; both of which require the church to implement a social form of the gospel.  The works James declares are those that reflect the love of Christ for the poor, hungry, and unnoticed in a demonstrative mode which fulfills the second commandment, as elevated by Matt 22:39–40.[6]  Furthermore, James’ teachings are not in contradiction of a Pauline doctrine of grace, rather the two are reconcilable when James’ intentions are made clear.  A Jamesian praxis is one that not only fulfills a graceful salvation, but likewise carries that grace to a world in need.

 When addressing any biblical text, context remains pertinent in revealing the true meaning of the scripture.  Understanding the audience of a text is a key component in understanding the text’s relevance and significance.  While it is important to uncover the audience and surrounding events of any biblical book, this importance is especially true in regards to the epistles.  One must remember that more than any other books of the Bible, the epistles are specifically written for a particular audience.  Undoubtedly, the authors of the now canonical and popular epistle texts did not think that their letters would one day be read by billions of people thousands of years removed from them.  Otherwise, they would have made sure to clarify many of the things that we now argue over in a modern setting.

            Having this knowledge leads us to seek out the original audience of James, which should in turn lead us to the reason he felt the need to write the words that he did.  Many commentaries specify this audience as a group of early “Jewish Christians residing in Gentile communities outside of Palestine.”[7]  This description is useful; however, it leaves out other pertinent information.  James makes it a point to discuss social economics throughout his letter, so understanding the social statuses of his audience would be useful.  Furthermore, he opens his letter with mentioning trials of many kinds (1:2), trying faith (1:3), and enduring temptations (1:12), so we should search for the problems that surrounded this early church audience as well.

            Tamez points out that the original Greek uses a rather intriguing term in the opening verse, diaspora, for what is typically translated as “scattered abroad” in the English texts.

The word diaspora does not refer exclusively to Jews or gentiles.  The meaning of the term is figurative and implies transitoriness; it is a sociological expression and characterizes the position of Christians in Greco-Roman society.  These were displaced persons who were currently aliens or were permanently or temporarily residing in Asia Minor.  They suffered political, legal, social, and religious restrictions.[8]

 She cites John Elliot, professor of theology at University of San Francisco, as part of her argument: “this term indicates religious identity as well as a displaced and alien social condition.”[9]  Her point is that James’ motivation in writing is because his audiences have suffered marginalization and have been persecuted not only because of their beliefs, but also because of their lack of economic success.

            The fact that most early Christians were in poverty can hardly be considered news.  Jesus’ own teachings were obviously more appealing to a poorer audience (Matt 9:24, 25: 34–46; Luke 16:19–31).  Jesus’ radical conversation with the rich man in Luke 18 is a perfect example of why most wealthy people would be turned off by this new religious movement.  Celsus, a second century philosopher and renowned critic of Christianity, alleged that the Christian church “deliberately excluded educated people since the religion was attractive only to the foolish, dishonorable, and stupid, and only slaves, women, and little children.”[10]  While Tamez’s point of diaspora referring to a poor biblical audience is not intriguing on its own, it is interesting when we consider that James is chastising his audience for showing favor to the rich, saying things like “ye have despised the poor” (2:6).

            Tamez attempts to clarify this apparent irony when she points out that James uses two different terms when describing the poor.  The term ptōchoi is a Greek term “designating those who totally lacked the means of subsistence and lived from alms”[11] (in other words, beggars).  This term could be used to describe the people in the community that James references in 2:15.  The counter term for poor that James uses is penēs, which refers to “those who at least had a job but owned no property.”[12]  As she goes on to say, this term could be used to describe the peasant of ch. 5.  It is obvious that the majority, or at least most dominant, of James’ audience are poor in the penēs sense.  However, in spite of their relative poorness, they continued to show preference to the wealthy over the alms-begging ptōchoi people of their community.  It is this factor that seems to be the provoker of James’ words in 2:2–4.

            Broadman Commentary asserts that James’ illustration in 2:15–16 “reveals the poor situation of some early Christians—cold and hungry—and the inadequate response of some of their brothers.”[13]  The scenes of “chronic poverty”[14] that engulfed the church every day had become normality to the early Christian church; one which it openly embraced (Ps 41:1; Matt 5:3; 1 Tim 3:3).  James builds on this obvious embrace by asking a rhetorical question in 2:5, “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world?”  James’ attack, however, is not on the fact that there is poverty in the church; neither does he begin with the lack of effort by the Church to curb said impoverished surroundings.  Yet, he begins with an assault against those who have given their attentions instead to the rich.

            Rice describes the exterior culture of the Jerusalem church as a “rigid patron-client system of reciprocity.”  She uses Malina and Rohrbaugh’s research to describe this caste-like system as being “socially fixed relations of generalized reciprocity between social unequals in which the lower-status person in need (called a client) has his/her needs met by having recourse for favors to a higher-status, well situated person (called a patron).”[15]  Patron-client system or not, pandering to the rich, or at least brief awe of the wealthy one’s presence, seems to be a natural human tendency that has most likely always existed in churches.  Tamez’s assertion that the rich have largely controlled Christian congregations and church institutions since before the time of Constantine[16] is a historical trait not easily missed.

            Barclay’s summarization of this issue may well be the most fitting for this conversation as he describes the reason this problem existed in the early church of Jerusalem: “in its early days the Church was predominantly poor and humble; and therefore if a rich man was converted, and did come to the Christian fellowship, there must have been a very real temptation to make a fuss of him, and to treat him as a special trophy for Christ.”[17]  It was precisely this temptation that provoked James to his opening words of ch. 2.  While many of James’ words may have fit well within a rabbinic setting, they remained counter-cultural to the Hellenized world in which he wrote.  James, similar to Paul’s own petition in 2 Cor 6:17, calls for the church to come out from among its cultural influences and separate itself.  His plea is that “the Church must be the one place where all distinctions are wiped out.”[18]

 As Foy Valentine phrased it, “James in particular and the Bible in general burn with social passion.”[19]  Old Testament scripture and Jewish tradition were deeply ingrained with teachings of a ministry for the poor and disadvantaged (Exod 22:22; Lev 19:10; Deut 14:28–29; 1 Sam 2:8).  Jesus builds his ministry upon this tradition to an extent that almost appears to favor the less fortunate; saying things such as, “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).  He openly condemns those who have provisions and do not share with their poorer neighbors in Luke 12 and then radically requests that the rich young ruler of Mark 10 sell all of his possessions and donate the money to the poor.  In Luke 12, he instructs the Pharisees saying, “When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsman, nor thy rich neighbours… but when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12–14).

            Jesus’ renowned “Beatitudes” which were preach in his Sermon on the Mount began with the words “Blessed are the poor” (Matt 5:3); and after returning from his forty day fast in the wilderness the first and only passage he reads to the synagogue is from Isaiah, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18).  Without a doubt, the teachings of Jesus in regards to social ministry laid a profound impact on his disciples and became fundamentals for the early church.  Even Paul, who never knew Christ personally, quotes him saying, “ye ought to support the weak [or poor], and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

            James, more so than any other apostle, seems to take Jesus’ social doctrine as a fundamental core of Christian salvation.  This is made evident by the fact that the words of Jesus appear in the Epistle of James “more than in any other document outside the Synoptics.”[20]  He also interchanges lack of care for the poor with sin (2:9) and caring for the needy with belief in God (2:14–20), while ultimately defining obedience to the Word as the action of being “involved in social activity.”[21]  In this sense, James becomes the champion of a social gospel and the ultimate protégé of Jesus’ teachings.  In Barclay’s commentary on James, he heralds the Jerusalem leader as the epitomic example of the Bible’s social message and questions how any Christian church could ever arrive in a state of neglect for the poor, saying:

There is no book in any literature with such a burning social passion as the Bible.  There is no book which speaks so explosively and dynamically of social wrongs and social injustice.  There is no book so burningly conscious that the great gap between riches and poverty is an active and terrible transgression of the law of God and the will of God.  There is no book which has, in fact, proved so powerful a social dynamic as the Bible has.[22]

 James' methodology is systematic when beginning his epistle: 1) he identifies the external issues, 2) he instructs on dealing with them, 3) he identifies the internal issues, 4) he instructs on dealing with them.  From the very first verse, he points out the external obstacles that are confronting the Church.  Its parishioners are scattered and displaced (1:1) (both sociologically and geographically) and faced with temptations (1:2) that try their faith (1:3).  He then proceeds to give instructions on how to deal with these opposing forces, exhorting them to have patience during their trials (1:4) and to seek the Lord for wisdom with unwavering faith (1:5) (presumably for wisdom on how they should handle these problems).  The evils of vv. 1–3 are ones imposed upon Christ's church by governmental oppressions, cultural surroundings, and sociological injustices, and the solutions James offers fall more along the lines of instructions for coping with such issues rather than commands to overcome them. 

            Then, in similar fashion, James draws attention to the errors that members of the Church are committing internally.  The first issue is that Christian members' are dividing their loyalty between God and the world, and then questioning why God does not answer their prayers (1:6–8).[23]  James, then, quickly turns his attention to a second issue, which he later discusses more in-depth.  There apparently is a problem in the Church with the rich being favored over the poor because he makes it a point to declare the "low brother" an exalted one before insultingly calling the rich "withering grass" (vv. 9–11).

            The first issue is a problem of sanctification, the setting apart and reserving of oneself for God alone.  The second issue is in regards to how the sanctified Christian then treats others.  Without actually saying it, James undoubtedly brings his readers' attention back to Jesus' two-fold Great Commandment recorded in both Matthew and Mark's Gospels: 1) love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (in other words, do not divide your loyalty between God and the world) and 2) love your neighbor as yourself.  It is upon these two problems which James builds his epistle and, unlike the exterior confrontations which he quickly addresses in two verses, devotes the rest of his attention to resolving.

James devotes a good portion of the remainder of ch. 1 to the importance of Christians becoming "doers" and not only "hearers" of the word.  For the sake of the remainder of this paper, we will focus on the conclusion of ch. 1 and the unfolding of ch. 2 in the aftermath of this "doing" context.  What, per say, does "doing the word" mean?  To many, this plays hand in hand with a presumed works-based doctrine; however, before it is quickly cast aside as "a right strawy epistle"[24] unworthy of canonical honor, as Luther declared,[25] we should take careful consideration as to what this "doing" absolutely entails and if it clashes with a Pauline version of justification at all. 

 It is interesting to note that in the context of discussing the importance of being a "doer" and just prior to beginning his works-based salvation discussion, James concludes ch.1 with defining what it means to be religious.  Pure and undefiled religion bears two characteristics according to James: "To visit the [orphans] and widows in their affliction, and to keep [oneself] unspotted from the world" (1:27).  Again, we see the two-fold Great Commandment in this verse (love your neighbor and sanctify yourself for God).  The word "religion" is only used in the NT five times with "religious" being only used twice, so the fact that he chose this word is intriguing by itself.  In a modern context, the term "religion" is an unpopular one and usually comes with negative conations.  Karl Barth attacked the "religious" saying, "Religion is the affair of [the] godless man."[26]  However, contrary to popular modern theology, James uses the term in a positive sense.

Luck states, "Here, when James refers to a man being religious, he refers to outward, external ceremonials or rituals, which a man performs in order to be pleasing to God—what we might call today public worship."[27]  Adamson would agree with Luck as he expands on a similar argument, "Devout godliness does not consist merely of regular and punctilious praise of God and scrupulous obedience to his rules relation to specifically religious observance: the spirit of the religion and service to God must live also in our lives."[28]  He continues on to say that to James worship is "only acceptable to God when it is accompanied by love to our neighbour"[29] and it "is what [we] do to please God: and if [we] do not do it outside the church and similar observances, [we are] not doing it at all."[30]  Barclay adds to this supposition:

The word translated… is thrēskia, and its meaning is not so much religion as the outward expression of religion in ritual and liturgy and ceremony.  It is worship in the sense of which we speak of the worship part of service… [or] kinds of worship that are found in different churches.  What James is saying is, "The finest ritual and the finest liturgy you can offer to God is service of the poor and personal purity."  To James real worship did not lie in elaborate vestments, or in a noble liturgy, or in magnificent music, or in a carefully wrought service; it lay in the practical service of mankind and in the purity of one's own personal life.  James was insisting that the most beautiful forms of worship in the world could never take the place of Christian charity.[31]

             As Martin points out, James' reference to orphans and widows is not intended to specifically single them out as the targets of all social liturgies.  Rather, James uses them "because they represent two social classes open to exploitation and… [affliction] in Israel."[32]  Broadman also affirms that their "grouping represents all the needy and oppressed… in contemporary society."}[33]  The word "to visit" (episkeptesthai) "suggests more than a type of social visit, but rather a visit with authority, concern, and relief"[34] and implies having personal contact "with the aim of caring for and supplying the needs of those visited."[35]  In other words, James is declaring that a pure religion will offer relief, provisions, and care for any needy and oppressed group.  It also seems like James is implying by "to visit" that the Church will not only offer such things to the needy, but it will also seek out those in need by going to them and offering such provisions without having ever received a request.  The command is not for the widows and orphans to visit the Church to receive relief; rather it is for the Church to go to them "in their affliction".

            While many commentators and critics have often looked at v. 27 as introducing two steps to accomplishing a Jamesian version of pure religion, we would argue that James is giving one whole command.  As Hiebert draws out, there is no connecting "and" in the original Greek, and the latter call for personal purity ties in with the prior call for social obligation.  Without the conjunction, the word order literally reads "visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction to keep [oneself] unspotted from the world."  It seems that by ministering to the needy physically, one is simultaneously setting him or herself apart from the world.  This verse is an appeal for holiness, and James does not appear to separate the mandates in regards to achieving such "unspottedness".  "The maintenance of personal holiness does not call for bodily separation from humanity, but a constant alertness against accepting the purposes and practices of a Christ-rejecting world."[36]

            Being holy, as defined throughout the Bible, is a state of detachment from the world's activities, conducts, indulgences, and possibly customs (Lev 11:44; 2 Cor 6:17; 2 Cor 7:1; 1 John 3:3).  It does not, however, imply detachment from those in need within the world.  In the context of v. 27, "world" is not in reference to "people", but is in reference to moral blemishes and "is almost synonymous with evil as it refers to the way of life of unredeemed humanity."[37] As Scaer asserts, "Attachment to the world means the failure of Christians to carry out their obligations to Christ as He is found in the poor."  A certain amount of implication must come from Matt 25:40 when in this context, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these… ye have done it unto me."

            When looking at Jas 1:27 as a whole, rather than subdividing it, one can see that the apostle views pure religion not as doctrinal correctness or legalistic obedience, but rather as "a life-transforming relationship with God which results in a life-expending relationship of loving service for others."[38]  A pure and true religion will love God by loving others.  It is serving God by serving people, who are made in His image.  It is giving to God by giving to those in need.  As Valentine asserts, "Because He is God He needs no services men can render to Him.  It is our fellowmen who are always hurting somewhere who need our Christian ministries."[39]  Inner morality and set-apart holiness will result in one showing the love of God to a world in need.  When we love people we are showing worship to God in the purest and most perfect manner.  Praise within the confines of the church edifice during the beats of the music and the climax of the preaching remain adequate measures of worship.  However, as Barclay profoundly expounds, "all such worship is an empty and an idle thing unless it sends a man out to love God by loving his fellow-men."[40]

 The criticism that James often receives is that he is teaching Christians to fulfill the law while Paul clearly teaches Christians are no longer under the jurisdiction of the law.  The confusion is caused when critics are unable to distinguish between the different "laws" that are mentioned.  It is important to first note that Paul and James use the terms "faith" and "law" differently.  James' exhortations to help the needy make it clear that the law he is referring to is different from Paul's usage of the same term.  When Paul speaks of "works of the law" (Rom 3:28), he is referring to "the fulfillment of legal requirements in order to earn favor with God and to procure ultimate salvation."[41]  The faith that James refers to in his passages is "mere mental assent to the facts of Christian doctrine without a behavior-transforming abandonment of one's life to the person described by those doctrines;" whereas, when Paul uses the term he suggests a vibrant faith and an "active belief in God that dramatically alters one's behavior."[42]  As Martin clarifies, Paul's law refers to "the keeping of the commandments of the Torah" while James is discussing "acts of mercy and kindness."[43]

            James calls the law he is referring to "royal" (2:8) (supreme, kingly, or perhaps priestly), and clearly defines it as the mandate from Lev 19:18: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself".  Until now, James has only alluded to Jesus' words in Matt 22; however, here he directly quotes from the same passage that Jesus did when issuing the Great Commandment.  Bowman renders that James accepts, as Jesus did, the high teaching of Lev 19:18 "to the effect that love is the fundamental attitude to be cultivated toward other persons [by all Christians]."[44]

James 2 begins immediately after his definition of pure religion and continues to build upon the same argument that the Church must be a place that honors the lowly.  James begins ch. 2 by rebuking his audience for showing favor to the rich over the poor.  It is here that we see James addressing the issue he already identified in 1:9.  The principle he gives in 2:5 is often referred to as "God's preferential option for the poor"[45] because in the midst of preaching against partiality, James declares God to prefer the poor over the rich.  More than likely, James is addressing an "actual happening" in the context of this passage rather than simply making an analogy.[46]  James adopts Jesus' position at the Sermon on the Mount to address this situation.  It seems, as Bowman illustrates, that if God discriminates at all, He "does so in favor of the 'poor in the world' rather than against them."[47]

            James declares such strong words because he identifies the great tragedy of the Church to be in the fact that they are not ministering to the ones to whom God has called them.  Proverbs 14:21 illustrates how the terms "neighbor" and "poor" are interchangeable in scripture: "He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he."  James, likewise, appears to see no difference in the terms in the context of his epistle.  For James, love of one's neighbor (or the poor) "goes hand in hand with love for God".[48]  As vs. 9 describes, failure to fulfill such acts of love to the lowly is equated with sin.  If the Church of Jesus Christ did not minister to the people for whom Christ came to preach (Luke 4:18), then, to James, it was not the Church of Christ at all.

            Scaer points out that James shifts from the plural to the singular when stating in 2:6, "ye have despised the poor [man]."  He posits that the "poor man" statements in James, as well as in the first beatitude, "are chiefly Christological references."[49]  It could be that because of the similarity the poor have to Christ in His poverty, the Church dishonors Christ by dishonoring the poor.  Yet, in acts of mercy and compassion to the poor, Christians resemble Christ, and therefore they honor Him.  It is the mercy that is given by the Christian to the needy that in turn entitles the Christian to then receive mercy from God (2:13).  To James, without such love and without such mercy for the poor man next door, one cannot be called a Christian at all.  Barclay summarizes this passage best:

In point of fact the message of Christianity was that those who mattered to no one else mattered intensely to God… [I]t was the simple fact that the gospel offered so much to the poor, and demanded so much from the rich, that it was the poor who were swept into the Church. It was, in fact, the common people who heard Jesus gladly, and the rich young ruler who went sorrowfully away because he had great possessions.  James is not shutting the door on the rich—far from that.  He is only saying that the gospel of Christ is [e]specially dear to the poor, and that in it there is a welcome for the man who has none to welcome him, and through it there is a value set on the man whom the world regards as valueless.[50]

             James clearly distinguishes the law he has in mind from the Mosaic law of the OT.  James' message teaches that the Christian is judged by a liberating law (1:25); one which sets the Christian free to love others as Christ loves the Church.  James and Jesus (Matt 5:21–48) agree that this "new law of love sets a higher standard than Torah obedience can demand and produce."[51]  Mercy cannot be something that Christians only hear about, but they must literally become "doers" (1:22) of mercy; and by showing mercy, they are fulfilling the "law of love".  True faith "is shown to be not only a dynamic power in Christian life but also a power that must be applied to our lives in a practical Christian way, especially in the care of our brothers and sisters.  This is the true fulfillment of the royal law."[52]

 "Famed for the assertion that faith and works are inseparable in the economy of salvation… we sometimes forget that when James describes the 'works' apart from which faith is 'dead' (Jas 2:17), he refers to feeding and clothing the poor and the naked" (2:15–16).[53]  Without a doubt, the most debated, and consequently most misunderstood, scriptures of James are found in the passage on "faith without works" (2:14–26).  The heat of the conversation often comes as a result of apparent conflictions with Paul's doctrine of "justification by faith."  However, it must be noted that this passage begins as a continuation from the previous thirteen verses in which James is condemning a church which shows no care to the underprivileged.  It seems clear in this context that James' discussion bears no resemblances at all with Paul's.

            James writes in v. 14, "What doth it profit… though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?  Can faith save him?"  As already stated, James makes it clear here that when referring to "faith" he is speaking of mere intellectual belief in God's existence rather than true life identifying faith as Paul discusses.  James follows this statement in vv. 15–16 with identifying the works to which he refers, "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you… give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?"  This declaration demands that faith will produce acts of social benevolence.  While citing Burton Easton, Hiebert states that "James does not charge these proponents of an inoperative faith 'with antinomianism but with lack of moral effort; they praise virtue (v. 16) but do not practice it.'"[54]  Their lack of morality is shown by the fact that they do not minister to the needy as Christ has called them to do.

            Adamson asserts that the word "save" in v. 14 bears "the full soteriological sense," and the "works" to which James refers, feeding and clothing the poor, "are 'works of love'… similar to rabbinic gemiluth hasadim, but essentially different from the ceremonial mitswȏt attacked by Paul."  James, in a tone of mockery, asks what good it is for them to say to the needy, "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled" if they do not offer aid to the one in need.  The shalom prayer[55] ("depart in peace") that is referenced here was a common greeting for its day, but to James it was a highly inappropriate thing to say when in the context of those in need.  This is essentially like a Christian saying, "I will pray for God to send you provisions" and yet the Christian offers nothing to the one in need.  "The prayer-speech is thus shown to be hypocritical" because it is the Christian's job to carry out the acts of Christ.  "The needs of the body have been ignored.  Instead of food and clothing the needy receive 'cold deeds with warm words,' which ring as hollow sentiments."[56]  The job of the Christian is not merely to have faith that God will provide for those in need, but the job of the Christian is to actually carry out and fulfill God's will by offering a measure of refuge to the needy.  Thus, faith that God will provide for the needy without works of provision to the needy is useless and "dead".

            When we recognize the high stature that James gives to Jesus' core message and the purpose of his harsh words against a church that had been neglecting its duties to the poor and underprivileged, it is not difficult to then recognize that the goals of Paul and the goals of James in distributing their individual epistles were very different and thus cannot be clashed together as two proponents of contrary doctrines.  Paul was teaching salvation to those outside of the Church while James is dealing with internal issues committed by already converted Christians.  Paul's focus is purely evangelical while James' is more pastoral in nature.

            Until Longenecker's research, Paul had been largely discounted in the discussion of a social gospel.[57]  However, his book Remember the Poor makes valid strides to disproving this argument.  He argues that while Paul's message was mainly focused on evangelism in an eschatological era, Paul does not discount the message of Jesus in regards to a social mission for the Church.  According to Hans Dieter Betz, Paul makes a final appeal for Christian ethics in Gal 6:10 framed in the phrase "let us do good unto all men."  "This includes the notion of supporting those in need with material aid—the needy within communities of Jesus-followers especially, but not exclusively so."[58]  Longenecker cites Tom Wright as further support of Betz's argument, declaring, "the phrase 'to do the good' was 'in regular use in Paul's world, referring to financial contributions in civic and community life.'"[59]

            Longenecker further points to 1 Thess 5:14, in which Paul exhorts the Thessalonian church to "comfort the feebleminded [and] support the weak," as more evidence of a Pauline social gospel.  "The term the 'weak' should probably be seen to include those who were economically vulnerable."[60]  He points to Paul's usage of the same word in 1 Cor 1:26–29 ("the weak things of the world") to justify this supposition:

[W]here "the weak things of the world"… stand in contrast with "the strong things"… in a context where the "strong" are defined as those who are wise, powerful and well-bred… Moreover, according to one popular reconstruction of the Corinthian situation, 'the weak' of 1 Cor 8 may well have had concerns about food because of their low socio-economic location.  Despite one's view of that matter, Paul uses the same term in the next chapter to speak of his own ministry: "To the weak I became weak, in order that I might win the weak" [1 Cor 9:22]… Here Paul is using the term "weak to describe his self-imposed economic vulnerability, through which he hopes to enhance his apostolic ministry… despite his rights to economic assistance… In a parenetic passage like 1 Thess 5:14, the term "the weak" is likely to have similar economic resonances.[61]

 Regardless of whether or not one agrees that Paul preached a message of social ministry as James did, it seems difficult to argue that Paul would disagree with James' message on ministering socially to a hurting world.  Almost no one debates that caring for the poor was a central message in Jesus' ministry, so Longenecker's summarization of this assertion may well be the most useful statement for the purpose of our argument: "If concern for the poor was central to Jesus' mission, and if Paul did not share that central concern [of caring for the poor], claims about Paul having extended the mission of Jesus look optimistically thin."[62]

James' message is a simple one of grace, mercy, and love.  However, it is not about the grace, mercy, and love the Church receives from God; rather he speaks of the grace, mercy, and love that the Church in turn gives to a hurting world.  The graceful message of James is that Christians, through grace, have received a spirit of liberty (1:25) to freely bestow love upon the world as Christ already did for them.  Becoming a "doer" of the word means allowing the one who is the Word to manifest himself into the life and deeds of the believer.  Pure religion is an issue of purity and morality; and morality consists of more than simply removing oneself from the spotted lifestyles of the world, but it also encompasses going back into that world to show grace and mercy to those who have not yet found them.

            As one preacher once said, "Get out of the dump, clean yourself off, and go back into the dump."  That is essentially the message of James.  To this apostle, it is not enough to simply get out of the dump and get clean, but a pure and true church will return to the dump to search for and rescue those that remain there.  Christians must remove themselves from the world (evil, wickedness, and sinful actions); however, they should not remove themselves from the people of the world.  The message of Christ has always been one for the downtrodden, underprivileged, impoverished, and lowly.  It was Paul who said Christ "lowed himself… taking the form of a servant, and was made into the likeness of men" (Phil 2:7, WYC).  Christ, himself, came as a low one, born into poverty, and dwelt with publicans and sinners.  If the Church is to be the hands and feet of Christ, as James posits that is should, the only way to accomplish this is to carry out the same message of Jesus ("Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God," Luke 6:20).

            James' epistle is a call for the Christian Church to come back to its original purpose, while Paul is preaching to those who have never been converted.  Had Paul not already been fulfilling this calling, as Longenecker argues that he had, then he too may have been one included in James' audience.  James does not argue against a God of graceful salvation any more than Paul preaches against a God of mercy for the hurting.  For this reason, James is as much an apostle of grace as Paul.  James preaches a message of enduring grace that should be replicated, manifested, and put on display to the world.  The Church should be able to demonstrate the grace, mercy, and love of Christ to the world through its actions of caring and refuge to those in need.  This is the message of grace that was preached by Jesus and later again by James.  Love and mercy are not meant to be hidden away in the confines of a church building, reserved only for the select; but it should be exhibited and shared with the community and hurting world by those who have already been shown love and mercy by their Lord.  That, to James, is what grace is all about.


[1] Thomas W. Leahy, “The Epistle of James,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary (ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy; Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968), 369–77, esp. p. 373.

[2] Richard L. Scheef Jr., “The Letter of James,” in The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible (ed. Charles M. Laymon; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971), 916–23, esp. p. 919.

[3] Eph 2:8.

[4] Rom 11:6, KJV. Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures referenced in this paper are from the King James Version.

[5] James 2:18 defines faith as a producer of good works.  The author does not deny that faith brings salvation.  The fact that he clarifies that man is justified “not by faith only” in v. 24 is evidence that he believes faith does play a key role in man’s salvation.  Thus, his intentions are in defining a saving faith rather than destroying its concept.

[6] Also see Mark 12:28–31.

[7] Life Application Study Bible, NLT (2d ed., Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004), 2113.

[8] Elsa Tamez, The Scandalous Message of James (rev. ed.; trans. John Eagleson; New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1990), 19.

[9] Ibid., 18.

[10] Ibid., 25.

[11] Ibid., 19.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Clifton J. Allen, ed., General Articles: Hebrews–Revelation (vol. 12 of The Broadman Bible Commentary; Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), 118.

[14] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 178.

[15] Emily Rice, “Breaking Free from Favoritism: Understanding James 2 Through Its Cultural Context,” Mutuality 18 (2011): 13–5, esp. p. 13 n. 4.

[16] Tamez, Scandalous, 64.

[17] William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 76.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Foy Valentine, Where the Action Is (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1969), 136.

[20] James B. Adamson, James: The Man and His Message (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), 169.

[21] Harold T. Bryson, How Faith Works: Studies in the Letter of James (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1985), 48.

[22] Barclay, Letter of James, 138–9.

[23] NLT says in v. 8, "Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do."

[24] John Wick. Hebrews–2 Peter (vol. 24 of The Layman’s Bible Commentary; ed. Balmer H. Kelley; Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1962), 106.

[25] Valentine, Action, 113–4.

[26] Ralph P. Martin, James (vol. 48 of Word Biblical Commentary; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988), 54.

[27] G. Coleman Luck, James: Faith In Action (Chicago: Moody Press, 1954), 37.

[28] James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 85.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid., 86.

[31] Barclay, Letter of James, 71–2.

[32] Martin, James, 53.

[33] Allen, Hebrews–Revelation, 113.

[34] David P. Scaer, James: The Apostle of Faith (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1983), 70.

[35] Hiebert, James, 142.

[36] Ibid., 143.

[37] Allen, Hebrews–Revelation, 113.

[38] Valentine, Action, 89.

[39] Ibid., 91.

[40] Barclay, Letter of James, 72.

[41] Allen, Hebrews–Revelation, 117.

[42] Daniel L. Segraves, James: Faith at Work (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1995), 100.

[43] Martin, James, 81.

[44] Bowman, James, 105.

[45] Daniel J. Harrington, “God’s Love for the Poor,” America 195 (2006): 39, n. 5.

[46] Bryson, Faith Works, 53.

[47] Bowman, James, 104–5.

[48] Martin, James, 69.

[49] Scaer, Apostle of Faith, 74–5.

[50] Barclay, Letter of James, 78.

[51] Martin, James, 71.

[52] Adamson, The Man and His Message, 273.

[53] C.M. Hays, “Provision for the Poor and the Mission of the Church: Ancient Appeals and Contemporary Viability,” HTS 68 (2012): 1–7, esp. p. 2 n. 1.

[54] Hiebert, James, 181.

[55] Martin, James, 84–5.

[56] Ibid. 85.

[57] Hays, "Provision For the Poor," 2.

[58] Bruce W. Longenecker, Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), 141–2.

[59] Ibid., 142.

[60] Ibid., 143.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid., 137.