James 2:19
You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
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(19) Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well.—Better thus, Thou believest that God is One; thou doest well. He is the formal object of faith derived from knowledge, whether by sense, intuition, or demonstration; you are theologically correct, and may even declare your internal faith by external confession—well, indeed.

The devils also believe, and tremble.—They shudder in the belief which only assures them of their utter misery; literally, their hair stands on end with terror of the God they own. Assent, opinion, knowledge—all are thus shared by demons of the pit; call not your joint possession by the holier name of Faith. “I believe in God,” “I believe in one God”—such is the voice of the Christian; and this is said in the full sense “only by those who love God, and who are not only Christians in name, but in deed and in life.”

2:14-26 Those are wrong who put a mere notional belief of the gospel for the whole of evangelical religion, as many now do. No doubt, true faith alone, whereby men have part in Christ's righteousness, atonement, and grace, saves their souls; but it produces holy fruits, and is shown to be real by its effect on their works; while mere assent to any form of doctrine, or mere historical belief of any facts, wholly differs from this saving faith. A bare profession may gain the good opinion of pious people; and it may procure, in some cases, worldly good things; but what profit will it be, for any to gain the whole world, and to lose their souls? Can this faith save him? All things should be accounted profitable or unprofitable to us, as they tend to forward or hinder the salvation of our souls. This place of Scripture plainly shows that an opinion, or assent to the gospel, without works, is not faith. There is no way to show we really believe in Christ, but by being diligent in good works, from gospel motives, and for gospel purposes. Men may boast to others, and be conceited of that which they really have not. There is not only to be assent in faith, but consent; not only an assent to the truth of the word, but a consent to take Christ. True believing is not an act of the understanding only, but a work of the whole heart. That a justifying faith cannot be without works, is shown from two examples, Abraham and Rahab. Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Faith, producing such works, advanced him to peculiar favours. We see then, ver. 24, how that by works a man is justified, not by a bare opinion or profession, or believing without obeying; but by having such faith as produces good works. And to have to deny his own reason, affections, and interests, is an action fit to try a believer. Observe here, the wonderful power of faith in changing sinners. Rahab's conduct proved her faith to be living, or having power; it showed that she believed with her heart, not merely by an assent of the understanding. Let us then take heed, for the best works, without faith, are dead; they want root and principle. By faith any thing we do is really good; as done in obedience to God, and aiming at his acceptance: the root is as though it were dead, when there is no fruit. Faith is the root, good works are the fruits; and we must see to it that we have both. This is the grace of God wherein we stand, and we should stand to it. There is no middle state. Every one must either live God's friend, or God's enemy. Living to God, as it is the consequence of faith, which justifies and will save, obliges us to do nothing against him, but every thing for him and to him.Thou believest that there is one God - One of the great and cardinal doctrines of religion is here selected as an illustration of all. The design of the apostle seems to have been to select one of the doctrines of religion, the belief of which would - if mere belief in any doctrine could - save the soul; and to show that even this might be held as an article of faith by those who could be supposed by no one to have any claim to the name of Christian. He selects, therefore, the great fundamental doctrine of all religion, - the doctrine of the existence of one Supreme Being, - and shows that if even this were held in such a way as it might be, and as it was held by devils, it could not save men. The apostle here is not to be supposed to be addressing such an one as Paul, who held to the doctrine that we are justified by faith; nor is he to be supposed to be combating the doctrine of Paul, as some have maintained, (see the Introduction); but he is to be regarded as addressing one who held, in the broadest and most unqualified sense, that provided there was faith, a man would be saved. To this he replies, that even the devils might have faith of a certain sort, and faith that would produce sensible effects on them of a certain kind, and still it could not be supposed that they had true religion, or that they would be saved. Why might not the same thing occur in regard to man?

Thou doest well - So far as this is concerned, or so far as it goes. It is a doctrine which ought to be held, for it is one of the great fundamental truths of religion.

The devils - The "demons," - (τα δαιμόνια ta daimonia). There is, properly, but one being spoken of in the New Testament as "the devil" - ὁ διάβολος ho diabolos, and ὁ Σατᾶν ho Satan - though "demons" are frequently spoken of in the plural number. They are represented as evil spirits, subject to Satan, or under his control, and engaged with him in carrying out his plans of wickedness. These spirits or demons were supposed to wander in desert and desolate places, Matthew 12:43, or to dwell in the atmosphere, (Notes, Ephesians 2:2); they were thought to have the power of working miracles, but not for good, (Revelation 16:14; compare John 10:21); to be hostile to mankind, John 8:44; to utter the pagan oracles, Acts 16:17; to lurk in the idols of the heathen, 1 Corinthians 10:20; and to take up their abodes in the bodies of men, afflicting them with various kinds of diseases, Matthew 7:22; Matthew 9:34; Matthew 10:8; Matthew 17:18; Mark 7:29-30; Luke 4:33; Luke 8:27, Luke 8:30, et soepe. It is of these evil spirits that the apostle speaks when he says that they believe.

Also believe - That is, particularly, they believe in the existence of the one God. How far their knowledge may extend respecting God, we cannot know; but they are never represented in the Scriptures as denying his existence, or as doubting the great truths of religion. They are never described as atheists. That is a sin of this world only. They are not represented as sceptics. That, too, is a peculiar sin of the earth; and probably, in all the universe besides, there are no beings but those who dwell on this globe, who doubt or deny the existence of God, or the other great truths of religion.

And tremble - The word here used (φρίσσουσιν phrissousin) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means, properly, to be rough, uneven, jaggy, sc., with bristling hair; to bristle, to stand on end, as the hair does in a fright; and then to shudder or quake with fear, etc. Here the meaning is, that there was much more in the case referred to than mere speculative faith. There was a faith that produced some effect, and an effect of a very decided character. It did not, indeed, produce good works, or a holy life, but it made it manifest that there was faith; and, consequently, it followed that the existence of mere faith was not all that was necessary to save men, or to make it certain that they would be secure, unless it were held that the devils would be justified and saved by it. If they might hold such faith, and still remain in perdition, men might hold it, and go to perdition. A man should not infer, therefore, because he has faith, even that faith in God which will fill him with alarm, that therefore he is safe. He must have a faith which will produce another effect altogether - that which will lead to a holy life.

19. Thou—emphatic. Thou self-deceiving claimant to faith without works.

that there is one God—rather, "that God is one": God's existence, however, is also asserted. The fundamental article of the creed of Jews and Christians alike, and the point of faith on which especially the former boasted themselves, as distinguishing them from the Gentiles, and hence adduced by James here.

thou doest well—so far good. But unless thy faith goes farther than an assent to this truth, "the evil spirits (literally, 'demons': 'devil' is the term restricted to Satan, their head) believe" so far in common with thee, "and (so far from being saved by such a faith) shudder (so the Greek)," Mt 8:29; Lu 4:34; 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6; Re 20:10. Their faith only adds to their torment at the thought of having to meet Him who is to consign them to their just doom: so thine (Heb 10:26, 27, it is not the faith of love, but of fear, that hath torment, 1Jo 4:18).

Thou believest that there is one God; thou givest thy assent to this truth, that there is one God. This may likewise imply other articles of the creed, to which the like assent may be given.

Thou doest well; either this kind of faith hath its goodness, though it be not saving; or ironically, q.d. A great matter thou dost, when thou goest almost as high as the devils.

The devils also believe; yield the like assent to the same truth.

And tremble: the word signifies extreme fear and horror, viz. such as the thoughts of their Judge strike into them. This shows the faith the apostle speaks of in this place, not to be the faith of God’s elect, which begets in believers a holy confidence in God, and frees them from slavish fears; whereas the faith here spoken of, if it have any effect upon men, it is but to fill them with horror. Thou believest that there is one God,.... These words are a continuation of the address of the man that has works, to him that boasts of his faith without them, observing to him, that one, and a main article of his faith, is, that there is one God; which is to be understood in the Christian sense, since both the person speaking, and the person spoken to, were such as professed themselves Christians; so that to believe there is one God, is not merely to give into this article, in opposition to the polytheism of the Gentiles, or barely to confess the God of Israel, as believed on by the Jews, but to believe that there are three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, and that these three are the one God; wherefore this article of faith includes everything relating to God; as to God the Father, his being and perfections, so to Christ, as God, and the Son of God, and the Messiah, &c. and to the Holy Spirit; and to believe all this is right:

thou doest well; for that there is but one God, is to be proved by the light of nature, and from the works of creation and providence, and has been owned by the wisest of the Heathens themselves; and is established, by divine revelation, in the books both of the Old and of the New Testament; what has been received by the Jews, and is well known by Christians, to whom it is set in the clearest light, and who are assured of the truth of it: but then

the devils also believe; the Arabic version reads, "the devils likewise so believe"; they believe the same truth; they know and believe there is but one God, and not many; and they know that the God of Israel is he; and that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are the one God; they know and believe him to be the most high God, whose servants the ministers of the Gospel are; and they know and believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God, the Son of God, and the Messiah, Acts 16:17.

And tremble; at the wrath of God, which they now feel, and at the thought of future torments, which they expect, Mark 5:7 and which is more than some men do; and yet these shall not be saved, their damnation is certain and inevitable, 2 Peter 2:4 wherefore it follows, that a bare historical faith will not profit, and cannot save any; a man may have all faith of this kind, and be damned; and therefore it is not to be boasted of, nor trusted to.

{10} Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

(10) Another reason taken from an absurdity: if such a faith were the true faith by means of which we are justified, the demons would be justified, for they have that, but nonetheless they tremble and are not justified, therefore neither is that faith a true faith.

Jam 2:19. James shows, in the faith of demons, with whom it produces trembling, how little faith without works effects salvation. With σὺ πιστεύεις, which is not, with Lachmann and Tischendorf, to be taken as a question, it is granted to the opponent that he possesses faith. From the fact that what is specifically Christian is not named as the object of faith, it is not to be inferred, with Calvin, that in this entire section not the Christian faith (de fide) is spoken of, but only de vulgari Dei notitia. Expositors correctly assume that this one article of faith is only adduced as an example. The selection of precisely this article on the unity of God is not to be explained because “the Jewish Christians were particularly proud of it, so that it kept them back from fully surrendering themselves to the Christian faith” (Lange), but because it distinguished revealed religion from all heathenism. However much the position of the individual words vary (see critical notes), yet the unity of God appears in all as the chief idea; comp. particularly, Deuteronomy 6:4; Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 45:6; Matthew 23:9; Mark 12:29; Mark 12:32; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6; and, in this Epistle, chap. Jam 4:12. In Hermas, I. 2, mand. 1, it is said: πρῶτον πάντων πίστευσον, ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ Θεός.

De Wette, with whom Philippi coincides, thinks that by the construction with ὅτι the faith which the opponent has is characterized as merely theoretical; but it is, on the other hand, to be observed, that a construction with εἰς or ἐν here, where the unity of God is to be adduced, could hardly have been used (so also Brückner).

James grants, by the words καλῶς ποιεῖς, that this faith is something in itself entirely good (see Jam 2:8). Several expositors, as Calvin, Semler, Hottinger, Schneckenburger, Theile, Wiesinger, Bouman, find in the expression a trace of irony, which others, as Laurentius, Baumgarten, Grotius, Pott, Gebser, de Wette, deny. Though not in the statement by itself, yet in the whole expression there is something ironical (Lange, Brückner), which, in the combination of πιστεύουσιν καὶ φρίσσουσιν (as Wieseler remarks), rises to sarcasm. This sarcasm is, moreover, to be recognised in demons being placed in opposition to the opponent.

καί before τὰ δαιμόνια is not to be explained by ἀλλὰ καί (Pott), or atqui (Theile); by the insertion of a contrary reference the peculiar severity of the expression is only weakened. That James, in his reference to the unity of God, mentions the demons, is in accordance with the view that the heathen divinities are demons; comp. LXX. Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 95:5; Psalm 105:37; 1 Corinthians 10:20; and Meyer in loco: As these are the occasion of polytheism, so they are hostilely opposed to the one God; but, in their usurped lordship over the heathen world, they tremble before the one God, who will again rescue the world and judge them. It is wholly arbitrary to take τὰ δαιμόνια = daemoniaci (Wetstein), or to think on the demons in the possessed (Semler, Gebser, Schneckenburger). Pott incorrectly paraphrases the καί between πιστεύουσιν and φρίσσουσι by καὶ ὅμως; the simple copulative meaning of the word need not here be altered. φρίσσειν, an ἅπ. λεγ., is used particularly of the hair standing on end (Job 4:15), and is therefore a stronger expression than δεδοικέναι and τρέμειν.Jam 2:19. σὺ πιστεύεις ὅτι εἶς ἐστιν ὁ θεός: Cf. Mark 12:29, 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:6. The reading varies, see critical note above; the interrogative is unsuitable, see note on ἔχεις in the preceding verse. Somewhat striking is the fact that the regular and universally accepted formula (whether Hebrew or Greek) among the Jews is not adhered to; the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 6:4, which corresponds strictly to the original, runs: Κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν Κύριος εἶς ἐστιν, and this is also the exact wording in Mark 12:29, The stress laid on Κύριος (= יהוה) in the original is very pointed, the reason being the desire to emphasise the name of Jahwe as the God of Israel (note the omission of the article before Κύριος); it sounded a particularistic note. The elimination of Κύριος in the verse before us, and the emphatic position of ὁ Θεός, is most likely intentional, and points to a universalistic tendency, such as is known to have been a distinctive characteristic of Hellenistic Judaism. To Jews of all kinds belief in the unity of God formed the basis of faith; this unity is expressed in what is called the Shema‘ (Deuteronomy 6:4 ff.), i.e., “Hear,” from the opening word of the passage referred to; strictly speaking, it includes Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41, though originally it consisted of the one verse, Deuteronomy 6:4. From the time of the Exile, according to Berachoth, i. 1, the recitation of the Shema‘ every morning and evening became the solemn duty of all true Jews. To the present day it is the confession of faith which every Jew breathes upon his death-bed. It is said of Rabbi Akiba, who suffered the martyr’s death, that he breathed out at the last the word “One” in reference to the belief in the Unity of God as contained in the Shema‘ (Ber., 61b). A few instances may be given from Jewish literature in order to show the great importance of and honour attaching to the Shema‘: “They cool the flames of Gehinnom for him who reads the Shema‘” (Ber., 15b); “Whoever reads the Shema‘ upon his couch is as one that defends himself with a two-edged sword” (Meg., 3a); it is said in Ber., i. § 2, that to him who goes on reading the Shema‘ after the prescribed time no harm will come; in Suk., 42a, it is commanded that a father must teach his son to read the Shema‘ as soon as he begins to speak. The very parchment on which the Shema‘ is written is efficacious in keeping demons at a distance.—The single personality of God is frequently insisted upon in the O.T., Targums, and later Jewish literature; in the latter this fundamental article was sometimes believed to be impugned by Christian teaching concerning God, and we therefore find passages in which this latter is combated (see, on this, Oesterley and Box, op. cit., p. 155); in the Targums all anthropomorphisms are avoided, since they were considered derogatory to the Divine Personality. We must suppose that it was owing to this intense jealousy wherewith the doctrine of the Unity of God was guarded that in the passage before us there are no qualifying words regarding the Godhead of Christ; when St. Paul (1 Corinthians 8:6) enunciates the same doctrine, ἀλλʼ ἡμῖν εἶς θεὸς ὁ πατήρ, he is careful to add, καὶ εἶς Κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστός. Such an addition might well have been expected in the verse before us; its omission must perhaps be accounted for owing to the very pronounced Judaistic character of the writer.—καλῶς ποιεῖς: it is impossible to believe that there is anything ironical about these words; as far as it went this belief was absolutely right; the context, which is sometimes interpreted as showing the irony of these words, only emphasises the inadequacy of the belief by itself.—τὰ δαιμόνια πιστεύουσιν καὶ φρίσσουσιν: one is, of course, reminded of the passage, Luke 8:26 ff. (= Matthew 8:28 ff.), already alluded to above: δέομαί σου, μή με βασανίσῃς, or, more graphically, in the parallel passage, ἔκραξαν λέγοντες, τί ἡμῖν καὶ σοί, υἱὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ; ἦλθες ὧδε πρὸ καιροῦ βασανίσαι ἡμᾶς; cf. Acts 19:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:18. On demons see the writer’s article in Hastings’ D.C.G., i. 438 ff.—Mayor gives some interesting reminiscences of these words in other early Christian writings, e.g., Justin, Trypho, 49, etc.—φρίσσουσιν: ἅπ. λέγ. in the N.T.; literally “to bristle,” cf. Job 4:15; the very materialistic ideas concerning evil spirits which is so characteristic of Jewish Demonology would account for an expression which is not, strictly speaking, applicable to immaterial beings. One of the classes of demons comprised the שׂעירים (“hairy ones”), in reference to these the word φρίσσουσιν would be extremely appropriate (see further, on Jewish beliefs concerning demons, the writer’s articles in the Expositor, April, June, August, 1907).19. Thou believest that there is one God …] The instance of the faith in which men were trusting is important as shewing the class of Solifidians (to use a term which controversy has made memorable) which St James had in view. They were not those who were believing in the Son of God, trusting in the love, the blood, in the language of a later age, the merits, of Christ, but men who, whether nominally Christians or Jews, were still clinging to their profession of the Creed of Israel as the ground of all their hopes. It is scarcely probable that a writer intending to correct consequences drawn from St Paul’s teaching as to faith would have been content with such a far-off illustration.

thou doest well] The words have the character of a half-ironical concession. Comp. note on James 2:8. It is well as far as it goes, but the demons can claim the same praise.

the devils also believe and tremble] Better “shudder.” The general bearing of the words is plain enough, but there is a special meaning which is commonly passed over. The “devils” are the “demons” or “unclean spirits” of the Gospels, thought of, not as in their prison-house of darkness (Jude James 2:6), but as “possessing” and tormenting men. As such, they too acknowledged the Unity and Sovereignty of God, but that belief, being without love, led only to the “shudder” of terror, when the Divine Name was uttered in the formulæ of exorcism. (Comp. Matthew 8:29; Mark 9:20; Mark 9:26.) Here then was an instance in which belief in a dogma, as distinct from trust in a person, brought with it no consciousness of peace or pardon, and what was true of the “demons” might be true also of men.Jam 2:19. Σὺ πιστεύεις thou believest) There is a forcible repetition in the word thou by the figure Anaphora;[26] for this verse also is contained under the words, a man will say (Jam 2:18).—ὁ Θεὸς εἷς, One God) That fundamental article, which has always distinguished the faithful from unbelievers, is put prominently forward.—τιστεύουσι, believe) The word believe is here used in a very wide sense; for the devils perceive, and understand, and remember, that there is a God, and one only.—καὶ φρίσσουσι, and tremble) in fearful expectation of eternal torments. So far is such a faith as that from justifying or saving its possessor; and yet it has some efficacy, but in an opposite direction. This, added as it is, contrary to the expectation of the reader, has great force.

[26] See Append. under the title ANAPHORA.Verse 19. -

(1) "Thou believest that God is one," R.V., reading Ὅτι εῖς ὁ Θεός ἐστιν: or

(2) "Thou believest that there is one God," A.V. and R.V. margin, reading Ὅτι εῖς Θεὸς ἐστὶν. The reading, and by consequence the translation, must be considered somewhat doubtful, as scarcely any two uncials read the words in precisely the same order. The illustration is taken from the central command of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4), indicating that the case of Jews is under consideration. The following quotations from the Talmud will show the importance attached by the Jews to this command (Farrar, 'Early Days,' etc., p. 83). It is said ('Berachoth,' fol. 13, 6) that whoever in repeating it "prolongs the utterance of the word 'One,' shall have his days and years prolonged to him." Again we are told that when Rabbi Akibah was martyred he died uttering this word "One;" and then came a Bath Kol, which said, "Blessed art thou, Rabbi Akibah, for thy soul and the word 'One' left thy body together." Tremble (φρίσσουσιν)

Only here in New Testament. It means, originally, to be rough on the surface; to bristle. Hence, used of the fields with ears of corn; of a line of battle bristling with shields and spears; of a silver or golden vessel rough with embossed gold. Aeschylus, describing a crowd holding up their hands to vote, says, the air bristled with right hands. Hence, of a horror which makes the hair stand on end and contracts the surface of the skin, making "gooseflesh." Rev., much better, shudder.

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