James 2:6
But you have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?
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(6) But ye have despised the poor.—Better, ye dishonoured the poor mani.e., when, as already mentioned (James 2:2-3), you exalted the rich unto the “good place” of your synagogue. Thus whom God had called and chosen, you refused. “It is unworthy,” observes Calvin on this passage, “to cast down those whom God lifts up, and to treat them shamefully whom He vouchsafes to honour. But God honoureth the poor; therefore whoever he is that rejects them perverts the ordinance of God.”

Do not rich men oppress you?—Or, lord it over you as a class; not assuredly that this can be said of each wealthy individual. It is the rich man, of the earth earthy, trusting in his riches (comp. Matthew 10:24), who makes them a power for evil and not for good. Here is presented the other side of the argument, used on behalf of the poor, viz., observe first how God regards them (James 2:5), and next, judge their adversaries by their own behaviour.

Draw you before the judgment seats?—Better, Do they not drag you into courts of justice? “Hale” you, as the old English word has it. Summum jus summa injuria—extreme of right is extreme of wrong—a legal maxim oft exemplified. The purse-proud litigious man is the hardest to deal with, and the one who specially will grind the faces of the poor. No body of laws could on the whole be more equitable than the Roman, but their administration in the provinces was frequently in venal hands; and besides, the large fees demanded by the juris-consulti—“the learned in the law”—quite barred the way of the poorer suitors, such as, for the most part, were the Christians to whom this Letter was written.

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.But ye have despised the poor - Koppe reads this as an interrogation: "Do ye despise the poor?" Perhaps it might be understood somewhat ironically: "You despise the poor, do you, and are disposed to honor the rich! Look then, and see how the rich treat you, and see whether you have so much occasion to regard them with any peculiar respect." The object of the apostle is to fix the attention on the impropriety of that partiality which many were disposed to show to the rich, by reminding them that the rich had never evinced towards them any such treatment as to lay the foundation of a claim to the honor which they were disposed to render them.

Do not rich men oppress you? - Referring probably to something in their conduct which existed particularly then. The meaning is not that they oppressed the poor as such, but that they oppressed those whom James addressed. It is probable that then, as since, a considerable portion of those who were Christians were in fact poor, and that this would have all the force of a personal appeal; but still the particular thought is, that it was a characteristic of the rich and the great, whom they were disposed peculiarly to honor, to oppress and crush the poor. The Greek here is very expressive: "Do they not imperiously lord it over you?" The statement here will apply with too much force to the rich in every age.

And draw you before the judgment-seats - That is, they are your persecutors rather than your friends. It was undoubtedly the case that many of the rich were engaged in persecuting Christians, and that on various pretences they dragged them before the judicial tribunals.

6. The world's judgment of the poor contrasted with God's.

ye—Christians, from whom better things might have been expected; there is no marvel that men of the world do so.

despised—literally, "dishonored." To dishonor the poor is to dishonor those whom God honors, and so to invert the order of God [Calvin].

rich—as a class.

oppress—literally, "abuse their power against" you.

draw you—Translate, "is it not they (those very persons whom ye partially prefer, Jas 2:1-4) that drag you (namely, with violence)" [Alford].

before … judgment seats—instituting persecutions for religion, as well as oppressive lawsuits, against you.

But ye have despised the poor; God’s poor, viz. by your respecting persons.

Do not rich men? Either those that were unbelieving Jews or heathen; or such as made a profession of Christianity, but were not cordial friends to it; or, both may be included.

Oppress you; insolently abuse you, and unrighteously, either usurping a power over you which belongs not to them, or abusing the power they have.

And draw you before the judgment-seats; especially before unbelieving judges, 1 Corinthians 6:1,6: they would colour their oppression with a pretence of law, and therefore drew the poor saints before the judgment-seat. But ye have despised the poor,.... Or dishonoured, and reproached them, by showing respect of persons, in preferring the rich to them, and in distinguishing them in such a manner as was to their contempt and injury; which is a reproaching not only of them, but their Maker; and is in effect saying, that God has done either a weak or a wrong thing, in choosing them to be rich in faith, and heirs of a kingdom, it being directly contrary to his conduct:

do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? which may be understood either of rich men that were unbelievers; and these either the Heathen magistrates, who ruled over them in a tyrannical way, and with rigour, and often summoned them before them, and persecuted them with violence; or their own countrymen, the Jews, who stirred up the chief men of the Gentiles against them, and drew them to their judgment seats, as they drew Paul to the judgment seat of Gallio, Acts 13:50 or else of rich professors of religion, who assumed a despotic power over the poor brethren of the church, and loved to have the pre-eminence over them, as Diotrephes did, and set up tribunals in the churches, and tried and condemned them in an arbitrary way; or else upon civil accounts had them before heathen magistrates, and went to law with them in their courts, before unbelievers, which is a practice condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:1, and seeing now rich men used them so ill, the apostle mentions this as an argument to dissuade them from respect of persons; seeing they had but little reason to show so much regard unto them, who had treated them in so evil a manner: this is not to be understood of all rich men; nor is the apostle's design to destroy that natural and civil order there is among men, by reason of their different stations, offices, and circumstances; it being highly proper that honour should he given to whom honour is due, but not to the dishonour of another.

But ye have despised the poor. {3} Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?

(3) Secondly, he proves them to be fools: since the rich men are rather to be held detestable and cursed, considering that they persecute the church, and blaspheme Christ: for he speaks of wicked and profane rich men, as most of them have always been, beside whom he contrasts the poor and degraded.

Jam 2:6. ὑμεῖς δέ] contrast to Θεός.

ἠτιμάσατε] contrast to ἐξελέξατο. The aorist is used with reference to the case stated in Jam 2:2-3, which is certainly of a general character (Wiesinger).[117]

ΤῸΝ ΠΤΩΧΌΝ, not = pauperem illum, but, to be understood generally, the poor man as such. That we are here specially to think on the Christian poor, is an incorrect supposition.

With οὐχ οἱ πλούσιοι] James turns to the rich as the class opposed to the poor, in order to point out from another side than he had already done the reprehensibleness of the conduct denounced. Already from this opposition it is intimated that not the Christian rich, but the rich generally—not exactly only “the rich Gentiles or the Romans” (Hengstenberg)—are meant. This is also evident from what is said of them, and by which their conduct is designated as hostile to Christians (ὙΜῶΝ) who belong to the poor.[118] ΚΑΤΑΔΥΝΑΣΤΕΎΕΙΝ] only here and in Acts 10:38, frequently in the LXX. and Apocrypha (see particularly Wis 2:20), means “to use power against any to his hurt.” Related ideas are κατακυριεύειν and ΚΑΤΕΞΟΥΣΙΆΖΕΙΝ, Matthew 20:25. This exercise of power against the Christians might take place in various ways; what follows: ΚΑῚ ΑὐΤΟῚ ἝΛΚΟΥΣΙΝ ὙΜᾶς ΕἸς ΚΡΙΤΉΡΙΑ, mentions one chief mode.

ΚΑῚ ΑὐΤΟΊ] emphatically put first—even they (Theile).

ἕλκειν] indicates the violence of the conduct (so in the classics). The courts of judgment (ΚΡΙΤΉΡΙΑ, as in 1 Corinthians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 6:4) may be both Gentile and Jewish; certainly not Christian. It is arbitrary, and not corresponding to the expression ἝΛΚΕΙΝ, to think here on a process quibus pauperes propter debita in judiciis vexabant (Hornejus; also de Wette and others).

Since James so strongly contrasts αὐτοί and ὙΜᾶς, the former cannot possibly be regarded as a part of the latter.

[117] According to Lange, the aorist is used to point to “the historical fact in which Judaizing Jewish Christians have already taken part with the Jews, namely, the dishonouring of the Gentile Christians.”

[118] If James had the Christian rich in view, he certainly would not have omitted to point to the contrast between their conduct to the poor and their Christian calling.Jam 2:6. ἠτιμάσατε: Cf., though in an entirely different connection, Sir 10:23, οὐ δίκαιον ἀτιμάσαι πτωχὸν συνετόν (δίκαιον is absent in the Hebrew); the R.V. “dishonoured” accurately represents the Greek, but the equivalent Hebrew word would be better rendered “despised” which is what the A.V. has. “Dishonouring” would imply the withholding of a right, “despising” would be rather the contempt accorded to the man because he was poor. There can be little doubt that it is the former which is intended here, but the idea of the latter must also have been present.—οὐχ οἱ πλούσιοι καταδυναστεύουσιν ὑμῶν: the rich here probably refer to wealthy Jews, though it does not follow that “there could have been no question of rich Jews if the city and the temple had fallen” (Knowling), for the Epistle was addressed to Jews of the Dispersion, the bulk of whom were not affected, as far as their worldly belongings were concerned, by the Fall of Jerusalem. On the other hand, the possibility of the reference being to rich Jewish-Christians, or Gentile-Christians, cannot be dismissed off-hand, for on the assumption of a late date for the Epistle it is more likely that these would be meant. The writer is taxing his hearers both with bad treatment accorded to the poor, as well as pusillanimity with regard to the rich. The word καταδυν. only occurs once elsewhere in the N.T., Acts 10:38, … πάντας τοὺς καταδυναστευομένους ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου; but fairly frequently in the Septuagint, e.g., Amos 8:4; Wis 2:10; Wis 15:14. The accusative ὑμᾶς, which is the reading of א1A, etc., is in accordance with the frequent usage of the Septuagint, where καταδυν. often takes an accusative instead of the genitive.—αὐτοὶ: “The pronoun αὐτὸς is used in the nominative, not only with the meaning ‘self’ when attached to a subject, as in classical Greek, but also when itself standing for the subject, with a less amount of emphasis, which we might render ‘he for his part,’ or ‘it was he who,’ as in the next clause; it is disputed whether it does not in some cases lose its emphatic force altogether, as in Luke 19:2; Luke 24:31” (Mayor). ἕλκουσιν: See Matthew 10:7; Matthew 10:18. Cf. Acts 16:19, … ἐπιλαβόμενοι τὸν Παῦλον καὶ τὸν Σίλαν εἵλκυσαν εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν ἐπὶ τοὺς ἄρχοντας.—κριτήρια: Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 6:4, either Jewish (cf. the Peshiṭtâ rendering בית דינא) tribunals or Gentile ones.6. But ye have despised the poor] Better, ye have dishonoured, or done dishonour to, the word implying the outward act that expressed contempt. The Greek tense may point to the special instance just given as a supposed fact, “Ye dishonoured.…” The pronoun is emphatic, “God chose the poor, ye put them to shame.”

Do not rich men oppress you] Better, lord it over you. The word is like, though not identical with, those used in Matthew 20:25; 1 Peter 5:3, and means literally, to act the potentate over others. As a rule the wealthier class in Judæa tended to Sadduceeism (Joseph. Ant. xiii. 10. § 6), and St James’s reference to their treatment of the disciples agrees with the part that sect took, including, as it did, the aristocracy of the priesthood, in the persecutions of the earlier chapters of the Acts (James 4:1; James 4:6, James 5:17).

and draw you before the judgment seats?] Better, drag you to courts of Justice. The same noun appears in 1 Corinthians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 6:4. The Greek verb implies violence, as in Acts 21:30. The words may point either to direct persecutions, such as that of Acts 9:1-2, or to the indirect vexation of oppressive lawsuits. In the Greek the verb is preceded by an emphatic pronoun, “Is it not they that drag you.” There seems, at first, a want of logical coherence. The rich man first appears as gaining undue prominence in the assembly of Christians, and then as one of a class of persecutors and blasphemers. This, however, is just the point on which St James lays stress. Men honoured the rich Christian, not because he was a Christian, but because he was rich, i. e. because he was connected with a class, which, as such, had shewn itself bitterly hostile to them.Jam 2:6. Ἠτιμάσατε, ye have despised) while ye held the poor in too little esteem. A most expressive word.—οὐχ οἱ πλούσιοι, do not the rich) Not all the rich, but many of them, and none but they; for the poor have not the power, even if they wished. The apostle mentions this, not to excite the godly to envy, but to show the unworthiness of the rich.—αὐτοὶ, these) The demonstrative pronoun, as in Jam 2:7. In Hebrew, הם. These are they who act both with open violence, and yet with the appearance of justice.—ἕλκουσιν ὑμᾶς, drag you) with unreasonable violence.Verse 6. - You have dishonored by your treatment the poor man, whom God chose; while those rich men to whom ye pay such honor are just the very persons who

(1) oppress you and

(2) blaspheme God and Christ. Poor... rich. In the Old Testament we occasionally find the term "poor" parallel to "righteous" (Amos 2:6; Amos 5:12); and "rich" to "wicked" (Isaiah 53:9). St. James's use here is somewhat similar (see on James 1:9, etc.). "Christiani multi ex pauperibus erant: pauci ex divitibus" (Bengel). The "rich men" here alluded to are evidently such as was the Apostle Paul before his conversion.

(1) They dragged the poor Christians before the judgment-seat (ἕλκουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς κριτήρια). So Saul, "haling (σύρων) men and women, committed them to prison" (Acts 8:3).

(2) They blasphemed the honorable Name by which Christians were called. So Saul thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, and strove to make them blaspheme (Acts 26:9-11).

(3) All this they did in person (αὐτοί); "themselves," just as Saul did. No difficulty need be felt about the presence of these rich men in the synagogues of the Christians (see Introduction, p. 8.). It will be noticed that St. James never calls them "brethren." Further, it must be remembered that, at this early date, the Church had not yet learnt by bitter experience the need for that secrecy with which in later days she shrouded her worship. At this time the Christian assemblies were open to any who chose to find their way in. All were welcome, as we see from 1 Corinthians 14:23, etc., where the chance entry of "men unlearned or unbelieving" is contemplated as likely to happen. Hence there is no sort of difficulty in the presence of the "rich man" here, who might be eagerly welcomed, and repay his welcome by dragging them to the judgment-seat. Draw you before the judgment-seats. The account given by Josephus of the death of St, James himself affords a good illustration of the manner in which Christians were liable to this (see Introduction, p. 6.). But the tribunals need not be confined to Jewish ones. Other instances of similar treatment, illustrating the thoughts and language of the passage before us, may be found in Acts 16:19; Acts 17:6; Acts 18:12. Litigation of an entirely different character between Christians themselves is alluded to and condemned by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6. Despised (ἠτιμάσατε)

Not strong enough. They had manifested their contempt; had done despite to them. Rev., correctly, dishonored. From the use of the aorist tense, ye dishonored, which the A. V. and Rev. render as a perfect, ye have dishonored, the reference would appear to be to a specific act like that described in James 2:2, James 2:3.

Oppress (καταδυναστεύουσιν)

Only here and Acts 10:38. The preposition κατά, against, implies a power exercised for harm. Compare being lords over, 1 Peter 5:3, and exercise dominion, Matthew 20:25, both compounded with this preposition.

Draw (ἕλκουσιν)

Not strong enough. The word implies violence. Hence, better, as Rev., drag. Compare Livy's phrase, "a lictoribus trahi, to be dragged by the lictors to judgment;" Acts 8:3, of Saul haling or hauling men and women to prison; and Luke 12:58.

Judgment-seats (κριτήρια)

Only here and 1 Corinthians 6:2, 1 Corinthians 6:4.

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