James 1
ICC New Testament Commentary
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.



Epistolary Salutation (1:1)

1. θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, “of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Cf. the similar language of 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4. In 2 Peter 1:1, Titus 2:13 θεοῦ seems to refer to Christ, and this is possible in James, but is made unlikely by the absence of the article. Titus 1:1 δοῦλος θεοῦ ἀπόστολος δὲ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ seems to be inspired by the same motive as Jam 1:1; both phrases call attention to the fact that the loyalty to Christ does not diminish the service due to God.

δοῦλος. In the O. T. “servant” (עֶבֶד, δοῦλος, θεράπων, παῖς) is regularly used for “worshipper” (e.g. Psalm 34:22); and the corresponding verb is used also of the worship of heathen gods (e. g. 1 Kings 9:6). Names compounded with ‘abd (“servant”) and the name of God, or of a god, are found in Hebrew, and were common among the Phœnicians, Aramæans, and Arabs (EB, art. “Names,” § 37). In particular the prophets are called Jahveh’s servants (e.g. Amos 3:7), and the term is applied as a title of distinction to such worthies as Moses (e.g. 1 Kings 8:53), David (e.g. 2 Samuel 3:18), and many others. The “servant of Jahveh” of Is. 42-53 presents, however, a different problem, and is translated παῖς κυρίου.

In the N.T. δοῦλοι is used in the sense of “attached worshippers” in Luke 2:29, Acts 4:29, Acts 16:17, Revelation 1:1. Paul describes himself as δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ in the address of Romans (Romans 1:1) and (with the inclusion of Timothy) in Philippians (Php 1:1 δοῦλοι Χ.Ἰ.), and a similar expression is found in Jude vs. 1 and 2 Peter 1:1; cf. Titus 1:1 δοῦλος θεοῦ. It is not a term of special humility, nor is it to be understood as involving a claim to the rank of a prophet or distinguished leader. The writer simply declares himself to belong to Christ as his worshipper, and so commends himself to readers who are also Christians. Note that Paul uses this form of description in the address of Romans and Philippians only, two epistles in which he is consciously striving to avoid the assumption of personal authority and to emphasise the give and take of an equal comradeship in faith.

The immediate origin of this use of δοῦλος is Semitic. A few Greek analogies are collected in Elsner, Observationes sacrae, 1720, on Acts 16:17; cf. Reitzenstein, Hellenist. Mysterienreligionen, 1910, pp. 66, 78. The use of δοῦλος has no bearing on the question of the identity of the author.

ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς, the Christian church conceived as the true Israel, inheriting the rights of the ancient people of God.

The conception of the tribes of the Hebrew people as twelve in number, both at first in the nomadic and later in the settled condition, arose very early, but seems at all times to have been a theory rather than a fact of observation. It may have had an astronomical origin, like some other sacred uses of the number twelve. In Canaan the tribes came to indicate mainly a territorial division, although the theory of an original hereditary classification was maintained. In and after the exile much stress was laid on the idea of the twelve tribes, as is to be observed in the pictures of the past presented by the priest code and the writings of the chronicler, as well as in Ezekiel’s ideal state (e.g. Genesis 35:22-26, Num_2, Ezra 6:17, Ezekiel 48:1-7, Ezekiel 48:23-35).

In later Jewish literature they are frequently referred to. Faithful Israelites within and without Palestine claimed and valued their membership in a tribe (Tobit, Tob. 1:1; Judith, Judges 1:8:2; Anna, Luke 2:36; Paul, Romans 11:1, Php 3:5; cf. Letter of Aristeas, §§ 32, 39, 46, 47-59, six scholars ἀφʼ ἑκάστης φυλῆς). The “twelve tribes” denoted the whole commonwealth of Israel, and a strong sentiment was associated with the phrase. Cf. Ecclus. 44:23; Ass. Mos. 2:4 f.; Apoc. Baruch 1:2, 62:5, 63:3, 64:3, 77:2, 78:4, 84:3; Acts 26:7 τὸ δωδεκάφυλον ἡμῶν; on Test. XII Patr. Benj. 9:2, cf. Charles, in HDB, “Testaments of the XII Patriarchs”; the conception is implied in the plan of the Testaments. In Clem. Rom. 31:4, 55:6 the emphasis on the salvation of the whole Jewish nation resident in various parts of the dominions of Ahasuerus is unmistakable.

The reunion of the twelve tribes in Palestine was a part of the Jewish Messianic hope. See references in Schürer, GJV3, ii, pp. 537 f. This aspect of the hope is suggested in Orac. Sibyll. ii, 171 ἡνίκα δὴ δεκάφυλος ἀπʼ ἀνατολίης λαὸς ἥξει (of uncertain date and origin), cf. iii, 249, λαὸς ὁ δωδεκάφυλος. The expectation lies at the basis of Matthew 19:28, and appears again in the eschatological sealing of twelve thousand from each tribe in Revelation 7:4 ff., and in the twelve gates of the twelve tribes in Revelation 21:12 ff., where, however, the conception and phraseology are derived from Ezekiel 48:30-35.

The term “twelve tribes” thus stands for the integrity of the nation Israel, as it once actually existed, and as it still abides in idea and spiritual fellowship and common hope.

The precise designation “the twelve tribes,” αἱ δώδεκα φυλαί, is found only a few times in the O.T., Exodus 24:4, 28:21, 39:14; Joshua 4:5; cf. Ecclus. 44:23. More common, and with essentially the same meaning, are “the tribes,” αἱ φυλαί, and “all the tribes,” πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαί. To all these expressions, which give the sense of “all Israel,” πᾶς Ἰσραήλ (cf. Ezra 6:17), a limiting genitive is always added unless it is clearly implied in the immediate context. This is usually “of Israel” (Exodus 24:4), but other genitives occur: “of the children of Israel” (Ezekiel 47:13), “of Jacob” (Ecclus. 48:10), “thy” (Deuteronomy 18:5), “your” (Joshua 23:4), “their” (Ezekiel 45:8), “the Lord’s” (Psalm 122:4), “of thine inheritance” (Isaiah 63:17).

The same rule, that a genitive of nearer definition is necessary, holds good in later usage. Thus Acts 26:7 τὸ δωδεκάφυλον ὑμῶν, Revelation 7:4 ἐκ πάσης φυλῆς υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ, 21:12, Clem. Rom. 55:6, Protevangelium Jacobi, 1:1, 3. Cf. the similar expressions resulting from the familiar barbarism of the LXX by which σκῆπτρον (שֶׁבֶט) is used for φυλή, Test. XII Patr. Nephth. 5 τὰ δώδεκα σκῆπτρα τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, Clem. Rom. 31:4 τὸ δωδεκάσχηπτρον τοῦ Ἰσραήλ.

The only known cases where an expression like αἱ δώδεκα φυλαί is used by itself of the nation Israel are the passages Orac. Sibyll. ii, 171 δεκάφυλος ἀπʼ ἀνατολίης λαός, and iii, 249 λαὸς ὁ δωδεκάφυλος. These are highly poetical allusions, and do not point to any common prose usage at variance with the rule. See Zahn, Einleitung, i, § 3, note 4.

The Christian church, according to the fundamental and universal N. T. view, stands as the successor of the Jewish ἐκκλησία.

Cf. Matthew 16:18, where μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν seems to be used in contrast with the ἐκκλησία (קָהָל) τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, Matthew 21:43, 1 Peter 2:9 ἒθνος ἅγιον, λαὸς εἱς περιποίησιν, Galatians 3:7-9, Galatians 3:29, Galatians 3:6:16 τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ (in contrast to which cf. 1 Corinthians 10:18 τὸν Ἰσραὴλ κατὰ σάρκα), Php 3:3 ἡμεῖς γάρ ἐσμεν ἡ περιτομή (cf. Colossians 2:11 ἐν τῇ περιτομῇ τοῦ Χριστοῦ).

Hence the attributes of the nation Israel may be applied directly to the church. Cf. Galatians 3:7-9, where descent from Abraham is so ascribed to all believers, Colossians 2:11, etc. This is one of the fundamental thoughts of Luke and Acts; as well as of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where everything pertaining to the old national religion is shown to belong also (only in the reality, not the shadow) to the new religion. So Barn. 4:6, 13 f., where the covenant is shown to belong to the new people. See Zahn, Einleitung, 1, § 3, note 9. The conception of the new Israel as made up of a symbolical twelve tribes is in accord with this underlying principle of the apostolic age and presents in itself no difficulty. Revelation 21:12, where no thought of any Jewish-Christian particularism is present, approaches closely to such a use. The positive reasons for assuming this meaning are discussed below.

A symbolical use of δώδεκα φυλαί somewhat different from that of Jam 1:1 is found in Hermas, Sim. 9, 17, where of twelve mountains, from which come the stones used to build a tower (i. e. the church), it is said: δώδεκα φυλαί εἰσιν αἱ κατοικοῦσαι ὅλον τὸν κόσμον. To them the Son of God has been preached through the apostles, while these twelve tribes are themselves further explained as δώδεκα ἔθνη with highly diverse characteristics. Here the twelve tribes, or nations, plainly signify all the nations of the world. The unusual designation is doubtless chosen in order to indicate that as these have now become the field of God’s redemptive activity, they have come into the place of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. The whole world is the new δωδεκάφυλον of the Christian dispensation.

ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ. διασπορά means “scattering,” “dispersion” (either act or state); cf. Jeremiah 15:7, Daniel 12:2 (LXX), Test. XII Patr. Asher, 7, 1 Peter 1:1. Hence, with the article, ἡ διασπορά is used concretely of the Jews so dispersed, or even of the districts in which they were dispersed. Thus Deuteronomy 30:4, Nehemiah 1:9, Judith 5:19, John 7:35, of either the dispersed or the land of dispersion; Psalm 147:2, Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 49:2 Macc. 1:27, Ps. Sol. 8:34, of the dispersed. Here it is more naturally taken of the state of dispersion, although the other view is possible. With the article the expression means “in the well-known state of dispersion,” not merely “in dispersion” in the abstract sense. Cf. Psa_139, tit. (Cod. A) and in contrast Jeremiah 15:7 διασπερῶ αὐτοὺς ἐν διασπορᾷ, Test. XII Patr. Asher, 7 ἔσεσθε ἐν διασπορᾷ, 1 Peter 1:1 ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς.

The noun διασπορά (Deuteronomy 28:25) is used but a few times in the O. T. It is not a regular representative of any one Hebrew word, and is never used to translate any of the derivatives of גָּלָה. The verb διασπείρω is more common (cf. also the simple σπείρω, Zechariah 10:9), especially in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel; it represents a number of Hebrew verbs, most frequently some form of פּוּץ (30 times out of 58).

διασκορπίζω (in literary use chiefly late, see Lex.) is often used in much the same sense as διασπείρω to refer to the dispersion of Israel, but tends to denote more violent action, as the scattering of a discomfited foe (e. g. Psalm 59:11, Jeremiah 51:20-23). διασκορπισμός, found but five times, remained a descriptive word, and did not attain to the technical significance of διασπορά. σκορπίζω is less common and weaker; σκορπισμός is found but once (in Aq. Sym. Theod. Jeremiah 25:34 [32:20]).

The more common noun to denote the Jewish exile is ἀποικία, in eight cases ἀποικεσία, a word peculiar to LXX (L. and S.), to which corresponds the factitive verb ἀποικίζειν. The noun means “emigration,” “colony,” “body of colonists,” with a range of meaning parallel to that of διασπορά; it is used as a technical term to denote the captivity or the captives, usually representing גּוֹלָה, “exile,” e. g. Ezra 4:1 υἱοὶ τῆς ἀποικίας, Jeremiah 29:1, Jeremiah 29:4, Jeremiah 29:22, Jeremiah 29:31. ἀποικία seems to be synonymous with μετοικία (μετοικεσία Matthew 1:11), which is less common, but represents about the same group of Hebrew words.

παροικία, “sojourn,” “residence as a stranger,” is used a few times to represent גּוֹלָהֽ, Ezra 8:35 υἱοὶ τῆς παροικίας, 1 Ezra 5:7 ἐκ τῆς αἰχαλωσίας τῆς παροικίας, where the parallel translation of Ezra 2:1 has αποικίας. In Ecclesiasticus prol. τοῖς ἐν τῇ παροικίᾳ, it is used in the same sense. It refers to the “sojourn” from the point of view of the land of temporary residence, while ἀποικία refers to the same fact from the point of view of the home land from which those sojourning abroad are absent.

αἰχμαλωσία, “captivity,” represents in the main the group of words derived from שָׁבָה.

Of the words here considered, αἰχμαλωσία is obviously the most limited in application, referring to the captivity proper; ἀποικία and μετοικία are applicable to any portion, as well as to the whole, of the body of Jews residing in foreign parts; διασπορά can only be used with reference to the general scattering of Jews. Thus the αἰχμαλωσία was (e. g.) in Babylon; the Jews in any one place could be called ἀποικία (Jeremiah 29:1, etc.); while ἡ διασπορά means the scattered state, or the scattered section, of the Jewish nation.

Thus διασπορά, always standing in contrast with the idea of visible unity of the nation, calls attention, usually with a certain pathos, to the absence of that unity, whereas ἀποικία might refer to a colonisation wholly free from such associations. This is especially marked in 2 Macc. 1:27 ἐπισυνάγαγε τὴν διασπορὰν ἡμῶν, ἐλευθέρωσον τοὺς δουλεύοντας ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν. Here ἀποικία would have been weak. Accordingly διασπορά is the appropriate word in Jam 1:1.

The statement sometimes made (e. g. Carr, Camb. Gk. Test. pp. xxx, 10; less unguardedly Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, i, pp. 6 f. 9; Mayor3, p. 137) that ἡ διασπορά, “when used without any qualifying words,” means the Eastern Hebrew-speaking part of the dispersion, seems to be wholly without foundation.

The dispersion of the Jews over the world began through capture in war and emigration for trade as early as the ninth century b.c. (cf. 1 Kings 20:34). The forced emigration of many thousands from both the northern and southern kingdom to Assyria and Babylonia, the voluntary settlement in the Greek period of large numbers of Jews in Alexandria and other Egyptian cities, and in Cyrenaica, the planting of Jewish communities of traders and peaceful residents in Antioch and other places of Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece, and the colony of Jews in Rome (partly owing its origin to the captives brought thither by Pompey in 63 b.c. and afterward liberated), as well as those in other cities of Italy, had created by the first century after Christ a vast Jewish population dispersed in all parts of the civilised world, and perhaps amounting to 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 souls.

For a representative list of diaspora Jews, cf. Acts 2:9-11; see also Philo, In Flaccum, 7, and Legat. ad Caium, 36.

EB, art. “Dispersion” (H. Guthe); Schürer, GJV, § 31; Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire, ch. II.

Although perhaps the majority of Jews in the diaspora had thus come to reside abroad through voluntary emigration undertaken out of motives of private interest, and although, apart from occasional disturbances with their neighbours and oppression from the governments, the situation of the Jews seems to have been one of privilege and prosperity, yet the dispersion is uniformly represented by Jewish writers as a grave misfortune destined to be ended by the divine intervention.

The cause of this was partly the fact that the first large emigration was the forced removal in the captivities, so that the tradition became established that exile was an evil, to be followed, when the punishment was over, by return (cf. Isaiah 40:1f.). This traditional feeling seems to be reflected in Ps. Sol. 9:2 ἐν παντὶ ἔθνει ἡ διασπορὰ τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμα τοῦ θεοῦ· ἵνα δικαιωθῇς, ὁ θεός, ἐν τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ σου ἐν ταῖς ἀνομίαις ἡμῶν. But the view was confirmed by the attitude of Palestinian Judaism, as it came to lay increasing emphasis on a national ritual purity, which could not be preserved in unclean lands, and on a restoration of national glory in Palestine under the Messiah, in which all faithful Jews would share. The dispersion was an evil because it interfered with the consummation of τὰ ἀγαθὰ Ἰσραὴλ ἐν συναγωγῇ φυλῶν (Ps. Sol. 17:44). These ideal interests must have been powerfully reinforced by practical motives springing from the actual danger, observed ever since the beginning of the exile, that Jews exposed to the corrupting influences of foreign life would relax their strictness of morals, indulge in heathen abominations, and lose their religion—and their souls. (Ezekiel 14:1-11, Daniel 1:8; note the disappearance of the ten tribes in the Assyrian captivity, attested, e. g., by Jos. Ant. 11, 5:2).

In times of foreign oppression and distress the desire for restoration of the dispersed must have been strengthened by the sense of weakness felt by the pious community in Palestine (the “poor”), suffering the lack of the help, both moral and material, which might be afforded by the return of the Jews of the diaspora. It then seemed evident that the glory of Israel could be finally manifested only through the concentration in the Holy Land of the power and wealth of the sons of Israel, now scattered among the nations. So, e. g., Tob. 13:4 f.

ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ταῖς ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ. For the whole phrase there are two possible interpretations:

(1) “To the dispersed People of God,” i. e. the Christian church at larg

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.
For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
Do not err, my beloved brethren.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
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