James 2:10
For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(10) For whosoever shall keep . . .—Better, have kept the whole Law, but shall have offended in one, has become guilty of all. As a chain is snapped by failure of the weakest link, so the whole Law, in its harmony and completeness as beheld by God, is broken by one offence of one man; and the penalty falls, of its own natural weight and incidence, on the culprit.

2:1-13 Those who profess faith in Christ as the Lord of glory, must not respect persons on account of mere outward circumstances and appearances, in a manner not agreeing with their profession of being disciples of the lowly Jesus. St. James does not here encourage rudeness or disorder: civil respect must be paid; but never such as to influence the proceedings of Christians in disposing of the offices of the church of Christ, or in passing the censures of the church, or in any matter of religion. Questioning ourselves is of great use in every part of the holy life. Let us be more frequent in this, and in every thing take occasion to discourse with our souls. As places of worship cannot be built or maintained without expense, it may be proper that those who contribute thereto should be accommodated accordingly; but were all persons more spiritually-minded, the poor would be treated with more attention that usually is the case in worshipping congregations. A lowly state is most favourable for inward peace and for growth in holiness. God would give to all believers riches and honours of this world, if these would do them good, seeing that he has chosen them to be rich in faith, and made them heirs of his kingdom, which he promised to bestow on all who love him. Consider how often riches lead to vice and mischief, and what great reproaches are thrown upon God and religion, by men of wealth, power, and worldly greatness; and it will make this sin appear very sinful and foolish. The Scripture gives as a law, to love our neighbour as ourselves. This law is a royal law, it comes from the King of kings; and if Christians act unjustly, they are convicted by the law as transgressors. To think that our good deeds will atone for our bad deeds, plainly puts us upon looking for another atonement. According to the covenant of works, one breach of any one command brings a man under condemnation, from which no obedience, past, present, or future, can deliver him. This shows us the happiness of those that are in Christ. We may serve him without slavish fear. God's restraints are not a bondage, but our own corruptions are so. The doom passed upon impenitent sinners at last, will be judgment without mercy. But God deems it his glory and joy, to pardon and bless those who might justly be condemned at his tribunal; and his grace teaches those who partake of his mercy, to copy it in their conduct.For whosoever shall keep the whole law - All except the single point referred to. The apostle does not say that this in fact ever did occur, but he says that if it should, and yet a man should have failed in only one particular, he must be judged to be guilty. The case supposed seems to be that of one who claimed that he had kept the whole law. The apostle says that even if this should be admitted for the time to be true in all other respects, yet, if he had failed in any one particular - in showing respect to persons, or in anything else - he could not but be held to be a transgressor, The design of this is to show the importance of yielding universal obedience, and to impress upon the mind a sense of the enormity of sin from the fact that the violation of any one precept is in fact an offence against the whole law of God. The whole law here means all the law of God; all that he has required; all that he has given to regulate us in our lives.

And yet offend in one point - In one respect; or shall violate any one of the commands included in the general word law. The word offend here means, properly, to stumble, to fall; then to err, or fail in duty. See the notes at Matthew 5:29; Matthew 26:31.

He is guilty of all - He is guilty of violating the law as a whole, or of violating the law of God as such; he has rendered it impossible that he should be justified and saved by the law. This does not affirm that he is as guilty as if he had violated every law of God; or that all sinners are of equal grade because all have violated some one or more of the laws of God; but the meaning is, that he is guilty of violating the law of God as such; he shows that be has not the true spirit of obedience; he has exposed himself to the penalty of the law, and made it impossible now to be saved by it. His acts of obedience in other respects, no matter how many, will not screen him from the charge of being a violator of the law, or from its penalty. He must be held and treated as a transgressor for that offence, however upright he may be in other respects, and must meet the penalty of the law as certainly as though he had violated every commandment.

One portion of the law is as much binding as another, and if a man violates any one plain commandment, he sets at nought the authority of God. This is a simple principle which is everywhere recognised, and the apostle means no more by it than occurs every day. A man who has stolen a horse is held to be a violator of the law, no matter in how many other respects he has kept it, and the law condemns him for it. He cannot plead his obedience to the law in other things as a reason why he should not be punished for this sin; but however upright he may have been in general, even though it may have been through a long life, the law holds him to be a transgressor, and condemns him. He is as really condemned, and as much thrown from the protection of law, as though he had violated every command. So of murder, arson, treason, or any other crime. The law judges a man for what he has done in this specific case, and he cannot plead in justification of it that he has been obedient in other things.

It follows, therefore, that if a man has been guilty of violating the law of God in any one instance, or is not perfectly holy, he cannot be justified and saved by it, though he should have obeyed it in every other respect, any more than a man who has been guilty of murder can be saved from the gallows because he has, in other respects, been a good citizen, a kind father, an honest neighbor, or has been compassionate to the poor and the needy. He cannot plead his act of truth in one case as an offset to the sin of falsehood in another; he cannot defend himself from the charge of dishonesty in one instance by the plea that he has been honest in another; he cannot urge the fact that he has done a good thing as a reason why he should not be punished for a bad one. He must answer for the specific charge against him, and none of these other things can be an offset against this one act of wrong. Let it be remarked, also, in respect to our being justified by obedience to the law, that no man can plead before God that he has kept all his law except in one point. Who is there that has not, in spirit at least, broken each one of the ten commandments? The sentiment here expressed by James was not new with him. It was often expressed by the Jewish writers, and seems to have been an admitted principle among the Jews. See Wetstein, in loc., for examples.

10. The best manuscripts read, "Whosoever shall have kept the whole law, and yet shall have offended (literally, 'stumbled'; not so strong as 'fall,' Ro 11:11) in one (point; here, the respecting of persons), is (hereby) become guilty of all." The law is one seamless garment which is rent if you but rend a part; or a musical harmony which is spoiled if there be one discordant note [Tirinus]; or a golden chain whose completeness is broken if you break one link [Gataker]. You thus break the whole law, though not the whole of the law, because you offend against love, which is the fulfilling of the law. If any part of a man be leprous, the whole man is judged to be a leper. God requires perfect, not partial, obedience. We are not to choose out parts of the law to keep, which suit our whim, while we neglect others. For whosoever shall keep: this is not an assertion, that any man doth keep the whole law so as to offend but in one point, but a supposition that if, or admitting, such a one were.

The whole law; all the rest of the law, that one point only of the whole being excepted.

And yet offend in one point; slip, or trip, or stumble at; it seems to signify the least failing in any point of the law.

He is guilty of all; guilty of the breach, and obnoxious to the punishment, of all; not distributively, or separately, as if he transgressed every precept distinctly; but:

1. Conjunctively or copulatively; he is guilty of not keeping the whole law, though not of breaking each particular command; he breaks the whole law, though not the whole of the law: as he that wounds a man’s arm wounds the whole man, though not the whole of the man; he that breaks one link breaks the whole chain, and he that fails in one musical note spoils the whole harmony.

2. He sins against charity, which is the sum of the law, and upon which all the commands depend; and so though he keep most of them, as to the substance, yet he keeps none of them in a right manner, because none out of love, which should be the principle out of which he observes all of them.

3. He sins against the authority of the whole law, which is the same in every command.

4. He is liable to the same punishment, though not the same degree of it, as if he had broken all the commandments, Galatians 3:1; and his keeping most, cannot exempt him from the punishment due for the breach of that one. This he speaks either in opposition to the Pharisees among the Jews, who thought themselves righteous if they kept most of the law, though in some things they came short; or rather, against hypocrites among Christians, who would pick and choose duties, obey some commands and neglect others; whereas no obedience to God is right, but that which is impartial, and respects all the commands, Psalm 119:6 Matthew 5:19. For whosoever shall keep the whole law,.... Or the greatest part of it, excepting only in one point, as follows: Adam, in a state of innocence, was able to keep the whole law, but by sin he lost that power, nor can any of his posterity now keep it perfectly: they are all transgressors of it, and liable to its penalty; unregenerate men are not obedient to it, and have an aversion to it, and despise it, and cast it behind their backs; regenerate persons, who love it, and delight in it, after the inner man, do not keep it perfectly; the several parts of the law may be indeed kept by a believer, and that sincerely, but not to a perfect degree, for in many things they all offend; Christ only has perfectly kept it, and is the fulfilling end of it for righteousness; men of a pharisaical disposition may fancy they have kept it wholly, as the young man in the Gospel, and Saul, before his conversion; but this is but a fancy, and a sad mistake: the case in the text is only a supposed one, and, as it is here put, implies perfection; for it follows,

and yet offend in one point; sin, which is a transgression of the law, is an offense to God the Father, who is of purer eyes than to behold it; to Jesus Christ, who loves righteousness, and hates iniquity; and to the blessed Spirit who is grieved and vexed by it; and to the justice of God, which being injured by it, demands satisfaction; and to the law of God, which accuses, convinces, reproves, and condemns for it. The word used signifies to "fall", and designs more than stumbling, even an open breach and violation of the law; and which being made, by any, in a single instance,

he is guilty of all: this seems to agree with some common sayings of the Jews, that he that is suspected in one thing, is suspected in the whole law (y); and he that keeps this or the other command, keeps the whole law; and he that breaks this, or the other command, breaks the whole law; as whether it respects the sabbath, or adultery, or that command. Thou shall not covet, or any other (z): and this must be understood, not of every particular command in the law, as if he that is guilty of murder is in that instance also guilty of adultery; or he that is guilty of adultery is in that instance guilty of murder; but the sense is, that he is guilty of the breach of the whole law, though not of the whole of the law; as he that breaks anyone condition of a covenant, which may consist of many, though he does not violate every condition, yet breaks the whole covenant; so he that transgresses in anyone point of the law, breaks the whole, commits sin, and is deserving of death, and is treated by the law as a transgressor of it, let it be in what instance it will. But it does not follow from hence, that all sins are equal, as the Stoics say (a), for there are greater and lesser sins, John 19:11 though not some venial, and others mortal, for the wages of every sin is death; nor that the punishment of sin will be alike, as all sins were punishable alike by Draco's laws, but not by the law of God, Matthew 11:22 but this may be fairly concluded from hence, that there can be no justification in the sight of God, by an imperfect obedience to, the law, or by a partial righteousness: the law requires perfect obedience, and in failure of that, though but in one point, curses and condemns; and likewise it may be inferred from hence, that a man is not at liberty to obey and neglect what commandments of the law he pleases, but should have respect to them all; which seems greatly the design of the apostle, as appears by what follows.

(y) T. Bab. Erubin, fol. 69. 1.((z) Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 9. fol. 192. 3. Zohar in Exod. fol. 20. 2. & 37. 1. & in Lev. fol. 32. 3. Shemot Rabba, sect. 25. fol. 109. 3. T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 39. 2. & Menachot, fol. 43. 2. & Abkath Rochel, par. 1. p. 3.((a) Zeno & Chrysippus apud Laert. Vit. Zeno, p. 510.

{5} For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of {g} all.

(5) A new argument to prove the same conclusion: Those who neglect some and ambitiously honour others do not love their neighbours. For they do not obey God if they remove from the commandments of God those things that are not convenient for them. Rather they are guilty of breaking the whole law, even though they observe part of it.

(g) Not that all sins are equal, but because he who breaks one small part of the law, offends the majority of the given law.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Jam 2:10. Confirmation of the last expressed thought: For whosoever kept the whole law, and yet sinned in one (commandment), he is guilty of all (commandments). The conjunctives τηρήσῃ, πταίσῃ, certified by authorities, are not to be considered as an error of the scribe (as Winer, 5th ed. p. 356, was inclined to assume); but the particle ἄν is here, as frequently in the N. T. contrary to classical usage in hypothetical sentences, omitted when ὅστις stands, because “the universality was already sufficiently indicated by the pronoun (Buttmann, p. 197 [E. T. 229]).[123] ἀνθρώπῳ is not, with Schulthess, to be supplied to ἘΝ ἙΝΊ, but ΝΌΜῼ, with Theile, de Wette, Wiesinger, Lange, and others, “from the preceding collective idea ΝΌΜΟς.” The following ΠΆΝΤΩΝ forbids us, with Schneckenburger and Kern, to understand ἙΝΊ as neuter. It is in entire conformity with the character of the thought as a general sentence to take ἙΝΊ quite generally, and not, with Theophylact, Oecumenius (ΤΟῦΤΟ ΠΕΡῚ ἈΓΆΠΗς ΕἼΡΗΚΕ), Schol. Matthaei, p. 188 (ἐν ἑνὶ πταίσειν ἐστὶ, τὸ μὴ τελείαν ἔχειν ἀγάπην), and some recent critics (Semler: in hanc unam et primam), to refer it to a definite commandment, particularly to that of love.[124] By this general sentence James seeks to confirm the thought that respect of persons includes in itself the transgression of the whole law, although it appears to be directed only against a single commandment.

The word ΠΤΑΊΕΙΝ is found in the N. T. only in a figurative sense; the construction with ἘΝ is only in this place; in chap. Jam 3:2 the reference of ἘΝ is different. By ΓΈΓΟΝΕΝ ΠΆΝΤΩΝ (sc. νόμων) ἜΝΟΧΟς, James declares the transgressor of one commandment to be guilty of the transgression of all.

ἔνοχος] is here, as in 1 Corinthians 11:27, used with the genitive of the thing against which one sins, in the guilt of which one is thus involved.[125] The same thought is also found in the Rabbinical writings, e.g. Cod. Talm. Schabbath, fol. lxx. 2; R. Johanan: Quodsi faciat omnia, unum vero omittat, omnium est singulorum reus; see Wolf.[126]

[123] Winer, p. 275 [E. T. 386], explains the omission of ἄν, because in the writer’s conception the case is altogether definite; but then the future indicative would be put; also the case here stated, namely, that one may transgress one commandment and yet keep the whole law, is a case which cannot be imagined.

[124] Still more arbitrarily, Grotius, Morus, Stolz, and Jaspar limit the general expressions ἑνί and πάντων to such commandment, to the transgression of which the punishment of death is assigned.

[125] The punishment with ἔνοχος is usually in the genitive, with Matthew 26:66, Mark 3:29; Mark 14:46; yet also in the dative, Matthew 5:21. In classical language, the thing against which one sins is with ἔνοχος only in the dative, whilst the crime itself of which the man is guilty, as well as the punishment which he has to suffer, is added in the genitive.

[126] Köster (Stud. u. Krit. 1862, 1) to this passage cites the corresponding expression of Livy (Hist. xxxiv. 3) referring to the lawgiver: unam tollendo legem ceterae infirmantur.Jam 2:10. τηρήσῃ: τηρεῖν is used here with a force precisely corresponding to the Hebrew שׁמר when used in reference to the Law, or a statute, the Sabbath, etc.; the idea is that of guarding something against violation.—πταίσῃ δὲ ἐν ἑνί: πταίειν = the Hebrew כשׁל, “to stumble over” something; the picture is that of a παραβάτης stumbling over the border which marks the way; cf. the oft-used expression in Jewish writings of making a “hedge” or “fence” around the Torah, e.g., Pirqe Aboth., i. 1. With the verse before us cf. Sir 37:12, … ὃν ἂν ἐπιγνῷς συντηροῦντα ἐντολάςκαὶ ἐὰν πταίσῃς συναλγήσει σοι, and Jam 2:15 καὶ ἐπὶ πᾶσι τούτοις δεήθητι Ὑψίστου ἵνα εὐθύνῃ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ τὴν ὁδόν σου.—ἐν ἑνί: used in a pregnant sense, “in one matter” or “in any single point”.—γέγονεν πάντων ἔνοχος: While there are a certain number of passages in Rabbinical writings which are in agreement with this teaching (e.g., Bemidbar Rabb., ix. on Numbers 5:14; Shabbath, 70b; Pesikta, 50a; Horaioth, 8b; quoted by Mayor), there can be no doubt that the predominant teaching was in accordance with the passage quoted by Taylor (in Mayor, op. cit., p. 89) from Shemoth Rabb. xxv. end: “The Sabbath weighs against all the precepts”; as Taylor goes on to say: “If they kept it, they were to be reckoned as having done all; if they profaned it, as having broken all”. Rashi teaches the same principle. This is quite in accordance with the Jewish teaching regarding the accumulation of מצוות (“commandments,” i.e., observances of the Law); a man was regarded as “righteous” or “evil” according to the relative number of מצוות or evil deeds laid to his account; the good were balanced against the bad; according as to which of the two preponderated, so was the man reckoned as among the righteous or the wicked (see the writer’s article in the Expositor, April, 1908, “The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard”).—πάντων is equivalent to all the precepts of the Torah. For ἔνοχος cf. Matthew 26:66; 1 Corinthians 11:27; Galatians 3:10; see also Deuteronomy 27:26, and Resch, op. cit., p. 47.10. in one point] The noun, as the italics shew, is not in the Greek, but the English is a satisfactory rendering. Guided by what follows we might perhaps say “in one commandment.”

he is guilty of all] Better, he has become guilty, i. e. liable to condemnation under an indictment which includes all the particular commandments included in the great Law. This seems at first of the nature of an ethical paradox, but practically it states a deep moral truth. If we wilfully transgress one commandment we shew that in principle we sit loose to all. It is but accident, or fear, or the absence of temptation, that prevents our transgressing them also. Actual transgression in one case involves potential transgression in all. A saying of Rabbi Jochanan is recorded in the Talmud (Sabbath, fol. 70) identical with this in its terms, and including in its range what were classed as the 39 precepts of Moses. St James was urging upon devout Jews, whether they believed in Christ or no, the highest ethical teaching of their own schools. It is probable enough, that the Pharisees who misrepresented the teaching of St James in the Church of Antioch, laid stress on these words as including circumcision and the ceremonial Law, as well as the precepts which were moral and eternal (Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5; Acts 15:24). See Introduction, ch. 3Jam 2:10. Πταίσει, shall offend) especially in some important matter. Πταίειν is used of an offence of daily occurrence, ch. Jam 3:2.Verse 10. - In this verse the subjunctives τηρήσῃ πταίσῃ, are rightly read by the Revisors, with א, B, C. The Law was express on the need of keeping all the commandments; see Leviticus 19:37 (the same chapter to which St. James has already referred), Καὶ φυλάξωσθε πάντα τὸν νόμον μου καὶ πάντα τὰ προστάγματά μου καὶ ποιήσετε αὐτά). He is guilty of all. The very same thought is found in rabbinical writers (Talmud, 'Schabbath,' fol. 70); a saying of R. Johanan: "Quodsi racist omnia unum vero omitter omnium est singulorum reus." Other passages to the same effect may be seen in Schottgen, 'Horae Hebraicae,' vol. 1. p. 1017, etc.; and cf., 'Pirqe Aboth,' 4:15. Was it a false inference from St. James's teaching in this verso that led the Judaizers of Acts 15. to lay down the law "Except ye be circumcised after the customs of Moses ye cannot be saved"? "Whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all," might seem to suggest such an inference: "To whom," says St. James himself, "we gave no commandment" (Acts 15:24). (On the teaching of this tenth verse there is an interesting letter of Augustine's to Jerome, which well repays study: 'Ep.' 167.) Keep (τηρήσῃ)

See on James 2:8.

Offend (πταίσῃ)

Lit., as Rev., stumble.

He is guilty (γέγονεν ἔνοχος)

Lit., he is become guilty. Ἔνοχος, guilty, is, strictly, holden; within the condemning power of. Compare Matthew 26:66; Mark 3:29; 1 Corinthians 11:27. Huther cites a Talmudic parallel: "But if he perform all, but omit one, he is guilty of every single one."

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