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Partiality in the Assembly: James 2:2–4

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 June 2011

Roy Bowen Ward
Miami UniversityOxford, Ohio 45056


After exhorting the brethren not to hold the faith with acts of partiality (2:1), the author of the Epistle of James presents an example of partiality in the assembly (2:2, 3), followed by a reproach in the form of a rhetorical question (2:4). Dibelius has rightly warned against historicizing this example, as though it presented an actual incident for which the author gives advice. But even when James 2:2, 3 is understood as an example employed for paraenetic purposes, still we must ask how this example was understood —i.e., what type of situation is depicted and what is the point of the example?

Research Article
Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 1969

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l Dibelius, M., Der Brief des Jakobus, ed. and suppl. by Greeven, H. (Meyers Krit.-ex. Komtn., Göttingen, 1964 11), 161–63Google Scholar.

2 Thus Mayor, J. B., The Epistle of St. James (London, 1910 3), ad locGoogle Scholar; Ropes, J. H., Epistle of St. James (ICC, New York, 1916),Google Scholarad loc; Windisch, H., Die Katholischen Briefe, ed. by Preisker, (HNT, Tübingen, 1951 3),Google Scholarad loc; and Dibelius, op. cit., ad loc.

3 Easton, B. S., The Epistle of James, The Interpreter's Bible, vol. 12 (New York, 1957),Google Scholarad loc. Easton believed that the example would be more at home in the context of the Jewish synagogue service, and he sees this as contributing evidence for the Jewish origin of James—following Meyer, A., Das Rätsel des Jacobusbriefes (Beihefte zur ZNW. 10, Giessen, 1930)Google Scholar.

4 Reicke, B., Diakonie, Festfreude und Zelos (Uppsala, 1951), 342f.Google Scholar; also idem, The Epistles of James, Peter and Jude (The Anchor Bible 37, Garden City, N.Y., 1964), ad loc. Reicke offers support for this view by noting that members of the Equestrian Order at Rome had the right to wear a gold ring (cf. Epictetus, Disc. IV, 1, 37-40). But many others wore rings (cf. Epictetus, Disc. I, 22, 18) —including Jews (Luke 15:22).

5 , Dibelius, op. cit., 5866, 168Google Scholar.

6 Ibid., 168f.

7 Mussner, F., Der Jakobusbrief (Herders Komm., Freiburg, 1964), ad locGoogle Scholar.

8 Ibid., ad loc. Dibelius did not note this problem.

9 The singular irruxis must refer back to πτωχóѕ in 2:2, 3 —as Mussner agrees.

The internalizing interpretation is also at odds with the whole treatment of the subject in 2:1-13, which goes beyond “attitudes.” The plural, προσωπολημψίαι (2:1), must refer to acts of partiality, and the final exhortation is οῠτωѕ λαλεῖτε καì οῠτωѕ ποιεῖτε… (2:12).

10 Massebieau, L., L'Épître de Jacques. Est-elle l'oeuvre d'un Chrétien? Revue de I'Histoire des Religions 32 (1895), 249–83Google Scholar.

11 Spitta, F., Zur Geschichte und Literatur des Urchristentums, vol. 2 (Gottingen, 1896)Google Scholar.

12 Midrash Raboth (Warsaw, 1876)Google Scholar; Eng. tr. by Cohen, A. in Midrash Rabbah, vol. 7 (London, 1938), ad locGoogle Scholar.

13 Der Babylonische Talmud (ed. by Goldschmidt, L., Berlin and Leipzig, 1879-1909)Google Scholar; Eng. tr. by Silverstone, A. E. in The Babylonian Talmud (London, 1935), ad locGoogle Scholar.

14 Sifra (ed. by Weiss, I. H., Vienna, 1862)Google Scholar; Eng. tr. by Montefiore, C. G. and Loewe, H., A Rabbinic Anthology (New York, 1938), no. 1028Google Scholar.

15 Aboth de Rabbi Nathan (ed. Schechter, S., London, 1887); Eng. tr. byGoogle ScholarGoldin, J., The Fathers according to Rabbi Nathan (New Haven, 1955), ad locGoogle Scholar.

16 The saying of R. Judah is given as a tradition which he had received: (Sifra and Deut. R.); (Tosefta, Sanh.). Cf. also Moore, G. F., Judaism, vol. 2 (Cambridge, Mass., 1927), 182Google Scholar.

17 STR.-B. III, ad loc, quotes the saying of Raba b. Huna (2nd generation Amoraite) in Sheb. 30b and cites Sheb. 31a. Marty, J., L'Épître de Jacques (Paris, 1935),Google Scholarad loc, also cites Sheb. 31a, but it does not inform his exegesis of James 2:2, 3. The rabbinic passages which speak of sitting and standing have gone altogether unnoticed.

18 Clothes worth one hundred manehs would represent fine raiment indeed—i.e., worth 10,000 denarii or 2,500 shekels.

19 Cf. Sheb. 30a; also Moore, loc. cit. This was common judicial practice also for other peoples; cf. Schneider, C., Twnt, vol. 3 (Stuttgart, 1938), 445.Google Scholar But I have found no examples in Greek sources which speak of partiality in judging in terms of sitting and standing.

20 Thus some mss. read έπί instead of ύπό (P 33 614 al).

21 Understood as the “Messiah” later in Judaism and Christianity.

22 The word συναγωγ was a general term and was used in a variety of settings.

Thus it occurs in Greek inscriptions, e.g., the assembly of auditors (Ditten-Berger, W., Sig 391.5Google Scholar [5th cent.]), the assembly of commissioners (SIC 736.49 [1st cent. B.C.E.]). It occurs in the LXX to designate, inter al., legal assemblies (Ex. 35:1, rendering הדע). Both at Qumran and in early Christian literature there are references to legal assemblies (IQSa i.25; Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:4 — συναχθέντωνύμν). In rabbinic literature the court is most often called the ןיד היב, butהדע is also used with the meaning of “court”(e.g., Sanh. I, 6 — הדע; Tosefta Sanh. XII, 3 — ).

23 Ropes, op. cit., ad loc.

24 Ibid. Cf. also Mayor, op. cit., ad loc; Büchsel, F., Twnt, vol. 3, 949Google Scholar.

25 It occurs with this meaning first in the NT; cf. Bauer, W., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, 1957),Google Scholars. v. 2b —but Bauer lists James 2:4 under the meaning, “to doubt, waver.”

26 This meaning is attested from , Homer (Od. 8, 195)Google Scholar on. Cf. 4 Mace. 1:14; , Josephus, Bell. I. 27Google Scholar; 1 Cor. 4:7; Ep. Diog. 5:1; etc.. It continues to be used with this meaning in Christian writings, e.g., “to distinguish”the persons of the trinity; cf. Lampe, G. W. H., A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford, 1961—), s. vGoogle Scholar.

27 This is its normal meaning in the LXX, where it renders, inter al., (EX. 18:16; ψ81:1; etc.) and (ψ49:4; Zech. 3:8; etc.). Thus also 1 Cor. 11:29, 31; cf. Moule, C. F. D., The Judgment Theme in the Sacraments, in Davies, W. D. and Daube, D. (eds.), The New Testament Background and its Eschatology (Cambridge, 1954), 464–81Google Scholar.

28 The fact that διακαΡίνειν in James 1:6 means “to doubt” does not demand that it have the same meaning in 2:4. This same word occurs in Jude 9 with the meaning “to contend,” and in Jude 22 with the meaning “to doubt”; cf. , Dibeuus, op. cit., 169.Google Scholar Cf. also Rom. 13:13, 14, where διώκειν is used twice, once with the meaning “to pursue,” and once, “to persecute.”

29 In this case έπιβλέπειν means a favorable attitude—as was recognized by Ropes. Cf. also Mark 12:14; Matt. 22:16 — βλέπειν ειѕ πρόσωπον άνθρώπων, for which Luke 20:21 has λαμβάνειν πρóσωπον.

30 Diodorus Comicus (apud , Athenaeus, Deipnosophists VI, 239b)Google Scholar —oύχί διακρίναѕ τ πενιχρàν πλονσἰαν; Herodotus III, 39; Acts 15:9 —ούθν διέκρινεν μεταξừημ τε καì αύτ (cf. 10:34).

31 Cf. my The Communal Concern of the Epistle of James (Harvard Th.D. Thesis, 1966), 41ft.

32 Διαλογισμóѕ is use d as a legal technical term meaning decision”; Bgu 19 I, 13Google Scholar; 226, 22; P Tebt. 27:35; cf. Ep. Arist. 232.

33 , Dibelius, op. cit., 168:Google Scholar “in unserem Beispiel Reicher wie Armer nicht in der Gemeinde heimisch zu sein scheinen, da man ihnen Platze zuweist.”

34 In Didascalia 30:6-13 and Apostolic Constitutions II. 58.6 —passages which bear some resemblance to James 2:2, 3 —it is stated that the poor person who visits the assembly (for worship) finds no place (locus non fuerit; τóποѕ оύχύπáρχει). But in James 2:2, 3 there is no hint that the two men are at a loss as to where to sit; rather, they are simply given the instructions, “You sit here…”

35 Dibelius has been criticized on this point, inter al., by Aland, K., Der Herrenbruder Jakobus und der Jacobusbrief, Tlz 69 (1944), 102,Google Scholar and more recently by Soucek, J. B., Zu den Problemen des Jakobusbrief, Evan. Theol. 18 (1958), 464Google Scholar.

36 Conzelmann, H., The Theology of St. Luke (New York, 1960), 233, argues that the poverty motif belongs to Luke's sources, not to his own theologyGoogle Scholar.

37 Cf. Cross, F. M. Jr, The Ancient Library of Qumran (New York, 1961 2), 84fGoogle Scholar; Schubert, K., The Dead Sea Community (London, 1959), 8588Google Scholar.

38 It is possible that the author, informed by a judicial tradition, composed the example with relative freedom — in which case both the choice of πτωχóѕ and the absence of πλούσιοѕ would be due directly to the author. Nevertheless, the formal similarity between the example in James and the rabbinic instructions do not allow us to speak simply of “free composition.”

39 , Dibeijus, op. cit., 71,Google Scholar pointed to the conventicle ethic of James. , Soucek, art. cit., 466,Google Scholar spoke of the author's concern for the “Lebenssolidarität”of the church. Cf. my The Communal Concern of the Epistle of James.

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