The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:5–8

Byz S TR

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it shall be given to him.

But if any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

But if anyone among you is in need of wisdom, let him petition God, who gives abundantly to all without reproach, and it shall be given to him.

5b the God who gives to all without hesitation: Jas 1:17 let him ask 1Kgs 3:5-14 and it will be given to him Mk 11:24, cf. Mt 7:7; 21:22; Lk 11:9
Byz Nes S TR

But let him ask in faith, doubting nothing, for he that doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.

But he should ask with faith, doubting nothing. For he who doubts is like a wave on the ocean, which is moved about by the wind and carried away;

6a ask in faith Mk 11:23; Rom 4:20 not hesitating Rom 14:23
Byz Nes TR

For let not that man suppose that he shall receive anything from YHWH;

then a man should not consider that he would receive anything from the Lord.

Thus let not that man expect that he will receive anything of the LORD.

Byz S TR

he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways.

For a man who is of two minds is inconstant in all his ways.

8 double-minded Jas 4:8; Ps 119:13; 1Tm 3:8 


Ancient Texts

8 unstable Instability of Those Who are not Wise For the Stoics, the impulses of the inferior person (the opposite of the wise person) are "unstable (akatastatos) and fluttering" due to his ignorance (Stobæus Anth. 2.7; Inwood and Gerson 2008, 208).



5a wisdom PNEUMATOLOGY Wisdom as One of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit Many authors refer to wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit (e.g., Aquinas ST 2-2.45.1; Christian Tradition Jas 1:5a). The tradition defines it specifically as one the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1831; referencing Is 11:1–2). These gifts "complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them." Cf. the close connection in James between the "complete and whole person, lacking in nothing" (Jas 1:4) and the gift of wisdom (Jas 1:5).


Biblical Intertextuality

6b rough waters of the sea Parallel in Sirach Sir 33:2 connects the stormy sea with one who lacks wisdom and does not follow the law, "He who hates the law is without wisdom, and is tossed about like a boat in a storm".

Suggestions for Reading

5–8 Exhortation to Pray for the Grace of Wisdom

Two Introductory Points


The interpretive tradition developed various aspects of James'  teaching, including the relationship of divine wisdom to God's grace, the endurance of trials, and to prayer.

  • In particular, commentators attempted to specify the exact meaning of diakrimomenos; the Reformation debate on the relationships between faith, doubt, and salvation was of particular theological importance (Christian Tradition Jas 1:6a).
  • Dipsuchos — the divided mind or heart, also draws on a rich biblical and intertestamental tradition and has parallels in rabbinic thought (Biblical Intertextuality Jas 1:8; Peritestamental Literature Jas 1:8; Jewish Tradition Jas 1:8). It is also a prominent concept in the infuential early Christian works 1 Clem. and 2 Clem. and the Shepherd of Hermas; it also drew comments from later interpreters such as John Cassian and Søren Kierkegaard.

Interpretation of James' teaching on prayer occasioned reflection on the nature of answered and unanswered prayer (Christian Tradition Jas 1:5c).

Biblical Intertextuality

5b let him ask Asking God for Wisdom Solomon's prayer for wisdom is a model of James' exhoration to ask God for wisdom (1Kgs 3:5–14; Ws 7:7).

5c it will be given to him Confidence in Prayer James‘ teaching reflects Jesus teaching on prayer, "Therefore I tell you, all that you ask in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours" (Mk 11:24, cf. Mt 7:7; 21:22; Lk 11:9). The believer's confidence is premised on the understanding of God as the one "who gives to all without hesitation" (Jas 1:5b). Cf. Christian Tradition Jas 1:5a; Christian Tradition Jas 1:5b.

Peritestamental Literature

6b rough waters of the sea Simile of Instability

  •  Philo Migr. 148 uses this image for a person torn between good and bad: "for some men are irresolute, facers both ways, (endoiastai kai epamphoteristai) inclining to either side like a boat tossed by winds from opposite quarters" (Colson and Whitaker 1932, 4:216).


Literary Devices

3ff produces perseverance. But Let Perseverance: Sorites This is a "chain-argument," composed of a chain of paired terms, in which the second term is used as the first term of the next pair: testing → perseverance (hupomonê); perseverance → being complete and whole. A similar figure (polyptoton) follows further between v. 4 and 5: leipomenoi "lacking" → tis leipetai "anyone lacks."

Compare Rom 5:3–4: affliction→ perseverance (hupomonê); perseverance →proven character (dokimê); proven character→ hope. And see 2Pt 1:5–7: "supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with perseverance (hupomonê); perseverance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love." Cf. also Herm. Vis. 3.8.7. and Biblical Intertextuality Jas 1:3.

5b the God who gives to all without hesitation Characterization of God the Father This passage, together with Jas 1:17, "Every good giving, every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights," reveals James' conception of the Father as a lavish and gracious giver of gifts. Cf. Biblical Intertextuality Jas 1:5a; Christian Tradition Jas 1:5a; Christian Tradition Jas 1:5b.


Comparison of Versions

6a not hesitating : Byz TR Nes  | V: not hesitating | S: without being divided 

  • S renders the Greek diakrinomenos with mtplg, the etpe‘el (middle / passive) participle of plg (to divide) = "to be divided." The same form is used in S's translation of Lk 11:17: "a house divided against itself." S uses the pe‘al (passive) of the same verb plg to translate "double-minded" (G: dipsuchos) in Jas 1:8: "who is divided in mind" (dplyg br‘ynh).
  • V renders diakrinomenos with hesitans (Jas 1:6) and dipsuchos with duplex animo (lit. "double in soul").


Biblical Intertextuality

8 double-minded Double-Mindedness Associated with Deception In Psalms, the one who has a "double heart" (lit.: "with a heart and a heart") is one who is deceitful:

  • "Those who tell lies to one another speak with deceiving lips and a double heart" (Ps 12:3 [G-Ps 11:3]).

In biblical thought, the heart is understood as the seat not only of the emotions, but of the mind and will. This is maintained in the Patristic tradition, especially in the literature concerning the Prayer of the Heart.


Jewish Tradition

8 double-minded Rabbinic Tradition of the Good and Evil Inclination With roots in pre-rabbinic times (Peritestamental Literature Jas 1:8; Biblical Intertextuality Jas 1:8), the rabbinic tradition speaks of an evil inclination (yṣr hrʽ) and a good inclination (yṣr ṭwb) within the human heart  (cf., e.g., m. Ber. 9.5; Sipre Deut. 32). God created the evil inclination (e.g., b. Sûk. 52b). Good can come from the evil inclination, as when rivalry with one's neighbor motivates a person to great efforts (Gen. Rab. 9.7). A person can use the good impulse to fight against the evil impulse, strengthening the good impulse through study of the Torah and prayer (b. Ber. 5a).

  •  b. Qidd. 30a "Even so did the Holy One, blessed be He, speak unto Israel: 'My children! I created the Evil Desire, but I [also] created the Torah, as its antidote; if you occupy yourselves with the Torah, you will not be delivered into his hand, for it is said: If thou doest well, shalt thou not be exalted? But if ye do not occupy yourselves with the Torah, ye shall be delivered into his hand, for it is written, 'sin coucheth at the door' " (cf. Sipre Deut. 45).

While some interpreters see this yṣr tradition in the background of James' concept of dipsuchos, this is unlikely. James is clear that each person's sinful desire is not from God (Jas 1:14). 



5; 3:13,15,17 wisdom Ambiguity of “Wisdom”

"Wisdom from above"

When James uses the word "wisdom" (sophia) in an unqualified sense (Jas 1:5; 3:13), he understands it as the "wisdom from above" (Jas 3:15a; 3:17a), that is, a good gift from God (cf. Jas 1:17). Cf. Jewish Tradition Jas 1:5a; Christian Tradition Jas 1:5b.

Clever but Evil

By contrast, Jas 3:15b speaks of a "wisdom" that is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. One may interpret this passage in two ways.

  • James speaks ironically: the earthly wisdom is not a true wisdom, but only a so-called "wisdom."
  • In keeping with other attested uses of the word, James may understand the earthly wisdom as a lesser kind of wisdom, one that is knowledgeable and crafty in its own realm, but morally bad (cf. 1Cor 3:19:  "wisdom of the world";  Plato Resp. 7 [519a] refers to "bad (ponêros) men who are nevertheless clever." See further Ancient Texts Jas 1:5a.  

8 double-minded Jamesian Creation? The word dipsuchos, used by James here and in Jas 4:8, is not used elsewhere in the NT and in fact is not attested in Greek literature before James. It may well have been coined by him.

The term and its cognate appear in some writings of the Apostolic Fathers, suggesting that they had access to the text of James:

See also Christian Tradition Jas 1:8.


Biblical Intertextuality

5a wisdom Aspects of Wisdom in Scripture

God is the Source of all Wisdom

The biblical wisdom literature identifies God as the source of all wisdom (Prv 1:7; 2:6; Sir 1:1: "all wisdom comes from the Lord"; Ws 8:21). James shares this view: wisdom comes down from above (Jas 1:17,3:17).

Wisdom as a Practical Guide for Daily Living

The wisdom literature (Proverbs, Sirach) presents wise sayings as a guide for daily ethical living; see Prv 2:6–9: "For the Lord gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.…Then you will understand rectitude and justice, honesty, every good path." For James, wisdom is meaningless if it does not result in practical action (Jas 1:22–27; 2:14–26; 3:13). Cf. Jewish Tradition Jas 1:5a.

Wisdom as a Basic Worldview

"Wisdom" can refer to a basic worldview and value system. In 1Cor 1:19–31 and 1Cor 2:5–7,13, Paul contrasts the "wisdom of the world" with "the wisdom of God." Jas 3:13–18 similarly contrasts the wisdom from God with a wisdom that is "worldly, unspiritual, and demonic" (Jas 3:15)

God's Pre-existent Wisdom

Writings within the wisdom literature refer to God's wisdom as a power that was alongside God before the creation  (Prv 8:22–31; Sir 24; Ws 8). Sirach identifies this pre-existent wisdom with the Law of Moses (Sir 24:22). The Gospel of John identifies this wisdom as God's Word who took on flesh in Jesus (Jn 1:1–17).

In his few references to Jesus, James does not identify him as God's eternal Wisdom. Nevertheless, James certainly understood Jesus as the authoritative teacher of the Torah for the messianic age, as well as the eschatological judge. He thus certainly understands Jesus as the spokesman for God's wisdom.

6a ask in faith, not hesitating Faith as the Opposite of a Divided Mind

Echo of Jesus' Teaching

James reflects Jesus‘ teaching, "Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt (mê diakrithêᵢ; pass. of diakrinô) in his heart but believes (pisteuô) that which he says will happen, it shall be done for him" (Mk 11:23).

Parallel with Paul's Teaching

James' contrast of internal dispute or doubt (Vocabulary Jas 1:6a) with single-minded faith also parallels closely the thought of Paul. Referring to Abraham‘s faith, "He did not doubt (ou diekrithê) God's promise in unbelief; rather, he was empowered by faith (pistis)" (Rom 4:20). Discussing conflicts in the Roman church regarding dietary practices, Paul argues, "But whoever has doubts (diakrinomenos) is condemned if he eats, because this is not from faith (pistis); for whatever is not from faith is sin" (Rom 14:23).

Peritestamental Literature

8 double-minded “Two Spirits” Anthropology James' thought has connections with the "two spirit" anthropology found in ancient Jewish tradition.

Two Spirit Tradition at Qumran

  • Qumran‘s Community Rule (→1QS  3:17–19): "He created man to rule the world and placed within him two spirits (rwḥwt) so that he would walk with them until the moment of his visitation: they are the spirits of truth and of deceit" (DSSSE 1:74–75).
  • →1QS 4:23 "the spirits of truth and injustice (rwḥy ’mt w‘wl) feud in the heart of man" (DSSSE 1:78–79).

Other Second Temple Witnesses

This same "two spirits" tradition is found in the Testaments Twelve of the Patriarchs:

  •  T. Jud. 20.1–2 "two spirits await an opportunity with humanity: the spirit of truth (alêtheia) and the spirit of error (planê). In between is the conscience of the mind which inclines as it will" (OTP 1:800; de Jonge 1978, 73).
  •  T. Ash. 1.5 speaks of two dispositions within the human breast that choose good or evil; it warns readers, "do not be two-faced (diprosôpoi) like them, one good and the other evil…Flee from the evil tendency…For those who are two-faced are not of God but they are enslaved to their evil desires (epithumiai)" (OTP 1:817; de Jonge 1978, 138; cf. also T. Ash. 3.1–2 and Jas 1:14).

 See also 4 Esd. 3:21–26; 4:30–32, esp. 4:30: "for a grain of evil seed (granum seminis mali) was sown in Adam's heart from the beginning" (OTP 1:530–31). The tradition continues in rabbinic literature (Jewish Tradition Jas 1:8).

James certainly has a sense of two inclinations in humans: one's own epithumia entices one towards sin and death (Jas 1:14-15); yet the "implanted word" is still able to save one's soul (Jas 1:21). Yet James explicitly denies that God is in any way responsible for the sinful desire, and so is unlikely to accept the belief that God placed an evil inclination in humans.


Christian Tradition

5c and it will be given to him Qualifications for Receiving Answers to Prayer The interpretive tradition qualifies this apparently open-ended promise of answered prayer:

Ask Only for Good Things

Thomas: Conditions of Answered Prayer

 Aquinas ST 2-2.83.15 a. 2 teaches that the merit of prayer is ordered to beatitude, yet at times the object of a petition is not so ordered, and so prayers are not answered. Thomas delineates four conditions necessary for a prayer to be answered:

  • one asks for oneself (pro se petat)—one cannot merit eternal life for another; thus at times one cannot merit things that pertain to the eternal life of another);
  • one asks for things necessary for salvation (necessaria ad salutem)—Paul’s request to have the “thorn in his flesh” removed was denied by God, since it was not expedient (non expediebat) for his salvation (2Cor 12:7–9);
  • one asks piously (pie)—one should not ask for something sinful;
  • one asks perseveringly (perseveranter)—sometimes answers are delayed until a more suitable time, as  Augustine of Hippo Tract Ev. Jo. 102 teaches.

Elsewhere, Aquinas notes that God heeds prayer only if the one praying draws near to him:

  •  Aquinas SCG 3.96.4 "But one becomes near to Him by contemplation, devout affection and humble but firm intention" (per contemplationem, et devotam affectionem, et humilem et firmam intentionem). The prayer of one who fails to draw near to God is not heard."

Thomas quotes Jas 1:6a in support: "But he should ask in faith, not doubting" (Christian Tradition Jas 4:3a).


Ancient Texts

5a wisdom Wisdom in Greek Philosophy

The Divine Source of Wisdom

Like James, the classical Greek tradition also recognizes that wisdom has a divine source: "God is the sole or chief possessor of this sort of knowledge"(Aristotle Metaph 1.2.14 [983a]; cf. Plato Phaedr. 278d, "the epithet 'wise' is too great and befits God alone" [575]). The Stoics defined wisdom as the "scientific knowledge (epistêmê) of the divine and the human" (Aetius 1. Pref. 2 in →SVF 2.35; Long and Sedley 1987, 158), a definition influential in the Christian tradition (cf. Augustine of Hippo Trin. 14.3).

Aristotle's Definitions of Wisdom

For Aristotle Metaph. 1.17 [981b] wisdom is the knowledge of the most universal principles, "what is called wisdom is concerned with the primary causes (prôta aitia) and principles (archai)." Aristotle further defines wisdom as the highest form of knowledge:

  • Aristotle Eth. Nic.  6.7.3 [1141a]  "it is clear that Wisdom must be the most perfect of the modes of knowledge (epistêmai). The wise man, therefore, must not only know the conclusions that follow from his first principles (archai), but also have a true conception of those principles themselves. Hence Wisdom must be a combination of Intelligence (nous) and Scientific Knowledge (epistêmê): it must be a consummated knowledge of the most exalted objects" (Rackham 1934, 342–43).

Wisdom and Humility

According to Plato Apol. 23b, Socrates concludes that he is the wisest human because he alone recognizes that he is not wise, "This one of you, O human beings, is wisest, who, like Socrates, recognizes that he is in truth of no account in respect to wisdom" (Fowler 1914, 87). James too connects divine wisdom with proper human humility: "Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom" (Jas 3:13).

Practical Wisdom

For Aristotle Eth. Nic. 6.6.3 [1141ab] wisdom is concerned with primary causes and principles, while prudence (phronêsis) is concerned with practical action. Differing from Aristotle, the Stoics understand wisdom as combining theory and practice, as does James, who connects God‘s wisdom closely with developing the courageous perseverance needed to face life‘s trials (Jas 1:2–8).

The Wise Person and The Perfect Person

The Stoics identified the wise (sophos) person (see Jas 3:13) with the perfect (teleios) person. The wise, complete person is sharply distinguished from all other people.

  • Stobaeus Anth. 2.7 "Zeno and the Stoic philosophers of his persuasion hold that there are two kinds of men, the excellent (spoudaioi) and the inferior (phauloi). The excellent kind employs the virtues throughout all its life, but the inferior kind employs the vices" (Long and Sedley 1987, 364).

The Stoics thus closely linked wisdom, completeness, reason, and the virtues:

  • Stobaeus Anth. 2.7 "the doctrine that the wise man does everything well is a consequence of his accomplishing everything in accordance with right reason (kata logon orthon) and in accordance with virtue, which is expertise concerned with the whole of life" (Long and Sedley 1987, 380). 

James, too, implicitly links the perfect person (one who excels in the virtues; specifically, perseverance) and the wise person (Jas 1:4–5; Ancient Texts Jas 3:13a). Compare with the biblical perspective below (Biblical Intertextuality Jas 1:5a).

Biblical Intertextuality

5b the God Who Gives to All Without Hesitation God’s Gracious Giving  James' characterization of God as the great giver of gifts (cf. Jas 1:17) echoes the Sermon on the Mount, "how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him" (Mt 7:11). Cf. Christian Tradition Jas 1:5a.


Christian Tradition

6a ask in faith, not hesitating Reformation Debates on Faith and Efficacy of Sacraments

Nature of Faith

This passage was central in a Reformation debate on the nature of faith.

Luther's Theology of Prayer

  •  Luther Gut. Werk. cites Jas 1:6–7 to support his theology of prayer: "We should pray not as we do now, by turning over many pages and counting many beads, but by fixing our mind on some pressing need, desiring it with all earnestness, and thereby exercising faith and confidence (Glauben und Zuvorsicht) toward God and not doubting that we shall be heard…Prayer, therefore, is a special exercise of faith (eine sonderlich Übung des Glaubens), and faith makes the prayer so acceptable that either it will surely be granted, or something better than what we ask will be given in its stead" (LW 44:58; WA 6:232).
  •  Luther Cat. Maior 119 "But all depends on this, that we learn also to say Amen, that is, that we do not doubt that our prayer is surely heard, and [what we pray] shall be done (nicht zweifeln, dass es gewisslich erhoert sei und geschehen werde). For this is nothing else but the word of undoubting faith (ungezweifelten Glaubens Wort), which does not pray at a venture, but knows that God does not lie to him, since He has promised to grant it. Therefore, where there is no such faith, there cannot be true prayer (kein recht Gebet) either. It is therefore a pernicious delusion of those who pray in such a manner that they dare not from the heart say yea and positively conclude that God hears them, but remain in doubt (bleiben in der Zweifel) and say, How should I be so bold as to boast that God hears my prayer? For I am but a poor sinner etc.  The reason for this is, they regard not the promise of God, but their own work and worthiness, whereby they despise God and reproach him with lying, and therefore they receive nothing. As St. James says, [Jas 1:6–8]. Behold, such importance God attaches to the fact that we are sure we do not pray in vain, and that we do not in any way despise our prayer."
Protestant View: James Teaches that Faith is Incompatible with Doubt

Lutheran and Reformed leaders argued that James supported their view that a person must have confident faith in order to receive God's grace and forgiveness of sins. Luther often expressed the general principle.

  •  Luther Res. disp. indul. 7 "The remission of sin and the gift of grace are not enough; one must also believe that one's sin has been remitted" (sed etiam oportet credere esse remissum; LW 31:104; WA 1:543).
  •  Luther Act. Aug. "For if he doubts and is uncertain, he is not justified but rejects grace" (Si enim dubitat et incertus est, iam non justificatur, sed evomit gratiam; LW 31:270; WA 2:13).
  •  Luther Act. Aug. used Jas 1:5–8 to support his thesis that "a person going to the sacrament must believe that he will receive grace, and not doubt it, but have absolute confidence, otherwise he will do so to his condemnation" (necessarium sit credere, sese gratiam consequi, et in hoc non dubitare, sed certissima fiducia confidere, alioquin in iudicium accedit; LW 31:271; WA 2:13). James' teaching "leads me to the conclusion that no one can receive grace or wisdom who doubts that he will receive it" (cogens me ad hanc sententiam, quod gratium aut sapitentiam nullus accipere potest, qui dubitat sese accepturum; LW 31:273; WA 2:15).
  •  Luther Def. art. 1 also uses Jas 1:5–8 to reject what he describes as his opponent's teaching that a person receives grace from the sacraments as long as "he does not put an obstacle in the way," i.e., even if he does not repent and has no intention of doing good, but rather is simply without a deliberate intention to sin. Luther insists that the efficacy of a sacrament depends on the person's genuine repentance and firm faith. James' teaching proves that a person must have faith in order to receive anything from God, including the grace of the sacraments (LW 32:13; WA 7:318-19); see also Luther Capt. Bab. (LW 36:51).  For Luther Aus. Vat., this teaching of James and other passages show that prayers must be said in faith, or they will not be heard by God (LW 42:76–77; WA 2:126–27).
  • Commenting on this passage, Calvin Comm. Iac. defines faith as, "that which relies on God's promises, and makes us sure of obtaining what we ask" (quae Dei promissionibus freta, nos impetrandi quod petimus, certos reddit). He continues, "It hence follows, that it is connected with confidence and certainty as to God's love for us" (unde sequitur, cum fiducia et certamine divini in nos amoris esse coniunctam). "He would have us then to be so convinced of what God has once promised, as not to admit a doubt whether we shall be heard or not (Vult ergo sic nobis persuasem esse  quod Deus promisit, ut in dubitationem non vocemus, exaudiendi simus necne)."
  •  Heid. Cat. Q. 117 "we rest assured (wir diesen festen Grund haben) that, in spite of our unworthiness, he will certainly hear our prayer for the sake of Christ our Lord, as he has promised us in his word" (referencing Jas 1:6 for "rest assured"; CCFCT 2:454; Niesel 1938, 178).

Trent's Response

The Catholic response to this Lutheran and Reformed conception of faith is expressed in its decree on Justification ( Conc. Trid. Just. 9; DzH 1533–34). In Catholic theology, justification is primarily an ontological change; hence, from that point of view, the Protestants' notion that one must have epistemological certainty in order to be justified seems to be based on a category mistake, viz. equating subjective experience with essence.

  • "[I]t is necessary to believe (necessarium sit credere) that sins are not forgiven and have never been forgiven except gratuitously by the divine mercy on account of Christ" (nisi gratis divina misericordia propter Christum).
  • One may not say "that sins are forgiven to anyone who boasts of the confidence and certainty that his sins are forgiven" (fiduciam et certitudinem remissionis peccatorum suorum iactanti) and who rests on that alone".
  • One may not assert "that those who are truly justified should unhesitatingly determine within themselves (absque ulla omnino dubitatione apud semitipsos statuere) that they are justified and that that no one is absolved from his sins and justified unless he believes with certainty (certo credat) that he is absolved and justified and that absolution and justification are brought about by this faith alone."
  • "[N]o devout person should doubt God's mercy, Christ's merit, and the power and efficacy of the sacraments (nemo pius de Dei misericordia, de Christi merito deque sacramentorum virtute et efficacia dubitet.) Cf. Conc. Trid. Sacr. can. 6  (DzH 1606; cf. DzH 1451).
  • "[W]hoever considers himself, his personal weakness, and his lack of disposition (seipsum suamque propriam infirmitatem et indispositionem respicit), may fear and tremble about his own grace" (cf. can. 13; DzH 1563).
  • "[N]o one can know with a certitude of faith that cannot be subject to error that he has obtained God's grace" (nullus scire valeat certitudine fidei, cui non potest subesse falsum, se gratiam Dei esse consecutum).

Protestant Reponse to Trent

In his commentary on Jas 1:5-8, Calvin Comm. Iac. insists that James' teaching disproves the "impious dogma" of the Catholics that "we ought to pray doubtingly, and with uncertainty as to our success (dubitanter et incerta successus opinione esse orandum)." He contrasts the Reformed principle "that our prayers are not heard by the Lord, except when we have a confidence that we shall obtain" (nisi quum adest impetrandi fiducia). Calvin admits that a Christian may suffer temptations, and vacillate and tremble due to the weakness of the flesh, "but temptations of this kind are at length to be overcome by faith."

In his commentary on Trent, the Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz similarly condemns the Catholic understanding of faith as compatible with doubt. This acceptance and even encouragment of doubt concerning the forgiveness of sin, Chemnitz Ex. Conc. Trid. I.9.3.2 asserts, is designed to support the Catholic system of encouraging "works" (pilgrimages, indulgences etc.) as necessary for salvation. To support the doctrine that Christians should not be in a state of agonizing doubt, but rather can have sure and firm comfort (certa et firma consolatio) on which they can rely with sure confidence in remission of their sins (in qua certa fiducia de remissione peccatorum acquiescere possint (9.3.10). Chemnitz Ex. Conc. Trid. I.9.3.16 cites Jas 1:5–8 as proof that doubt is incompatible with faith. See also Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 13.E.3, citing Jas 1:6–7 in support of his view that doubt is a sin.

Counter Reformation Views

In his commenatry on this passage, Lapide Comm. distinguishes between different meanings of "faith," each corrresding to a different form of doubt. See also the Glossa's reading of this passage in which these distinctions are implicit (Christian Tradition Jas 1:6a).

  • fides: faith properly called—questioning this faith is infidelity; an obstinate (pertinax) doubt is heretical;
  • fiducia: certain hope (spes certa)—questioning this faith is diffidence (diffidentia) or desperation;
  • credulitas: the firm conviction of obtaining that for which one asks—questioning this involves doubt about obtaining one's object in prayer. Cf. CCC 2088–89.
  • James calls for this first type of faith, which includes both a general faith in God's omnipotence, providence, and paternal care for us and a particular faith that God will grant what we ask, if it is beneficial for us. This is the type of faith to which Jesus refers in Mk 11:22. It is a faith that God cannot deny his own promises. This however, is not the "heretics'" (i.e., Protestant) view of faith by which a person would believe that he is justified, predestined and infallibly saved. God's promises are not absolute but conditional on how one prays: one must pray humbly, reverently, and with perseverance We are unsure whether we have met these conditions in our prayer.
  • Faith also involves confidence and hope that one attain what one asks, but hope may fluctuate between fear and confidence.

 Estius Comm. ep. cath. ad loc. also makes these distinctions in his commentary. The "faith" to which James refers is not confidence (fiducia) that one's prayer will be answered, but rather James refers to the Christian faith, which Estius defines as faith in the truth and in the divine promise. But the divine promise is conditional: one must ask in a way that is fitting (modo petas sicut opertet). Thus one is uncertain whether one will actually obtain what one asks for. This is thus not the "special faith" as defined by the Protestants, by which one's prayer is always heard: they fail to consider Jas 4:3 which clearly states that one may ask wrongly, and thus not receive what is asked for. Thus Calvin falsely accuses Catholics of teaching that one should pray doubtingly. For he confuses confidence in what one asks for with with faith in the divine promise when he teaches that the one who prays with faith cannot doubt.

 For an overview of the topic of Justification—especially the Reformation-era debates—as well as for further developments of the question into the 19th century, consult Newman Lect. Just. and Möhler 1838.

8 double-minded man, unstable in all of his ways. Kierkegaard on Double-mindedness  In his lengthy reflection on James, Kierkegaard Purity, Soren Kierkegaard contrasts "double-mindedness" with purity of heart (cf. Jas 4:8c: "purify [your] hearts, you double-minded"). Kierkegaard defines purity as the desire to will one thing—the Good. Kierkegaard's describes a myriad of ways in which a person can be double-minded and miss the Good. Following are a few examples:

  • The "double-minded" person is constantly changing his focus, desiring pleasure, or honor, or riches.
  • He desires the Good not for its own sake, but for the sake of the reward.
  • He chooses the Good not for its own sake, but from fear of punishment.
  • He is constantly distracted by the busyness of life, who never has the time or peace of mind to look truly at his own spiritual state.
  • He believes theoretically in God‘s goodness, mercy, and justice, but does not live out these noble principles in his daily actions (cf. Jas 2:14–17).



5b without hesitation An Aspect of Divine Wholeness The Greek haplôs has a range of meanings, including "simply," "plainly," "generously," or "openly." Given James' contrast between God's wholehearted giving and the conflicted petition of the one in doubt (Jas 1:6), here, it most likely connotes giving without any mental reservation. Following are two examples of this use: 

  • Marcus Aurelius Med. 5.7.1 “One ought to pray thus simply (haplôs) and freely, or not to pray at all" (Haines 1916, 104–5).
  • Hermas Mand. 2.4 [27:4] "give generously (haplôs) to those in need, not debating (mê distazôn) to whom you will give and to whom you will not"; cf. also Hermas Mand. 2.6 [27:6] (Ehrman 2003, 2: 238–39).

One sees here again another aspect of James' contrast between wholeness (acting in harmony with internal dispositions) and division (acting with internal doubts or reservations). See further →Perfection in James.

Literary Devices

6a ask in faith A Central Theme: Faithful and Unfaithful Prayer Three passages focus on this theme: 

  • Jas 1:5–8: prayer should be single-minded and trusting in God's generosity, not double-minded and wavering, characterized by conflicting thoughts and motivations;
  • Jas 4:2–3 : prayer motivated by the wrong intentions (e.g., desire for pleasure) is ineffective;
  • Jas 5:14–18: the prayer of faith is powerfully effective, resulting in the healing of the sick. Elijah is presented as a paradigmatic example of the faithful man of prayer. 


Biblical Intertextuality

8 unstable Instability: Internal and External Other NT texts apply this word (akatastatos) to social instability:

  • cf. Lk 21:9; 2Cor 12:20;
  • the noun form is applied to social instability in Jas 3:16, illustrating the connection that James draws between divisions within the human heart and divisions within the community.


Christian Tradition

5b gives to all without hesitation God’s Liberal Giving

The Liberal Nature of God

  •  Aquinas SCG 1.93.7 cites this verse as an example of God's liberality (liberal giving), and comments, "[God] does not will to give someone His goodness so that thereby something may accrue to Himself, but because for Him to make such a gift befits Him as the fount of goodness (sibi conveniens sicut fonti bonitatis). But to give something not for the sake of some benefit expected from the giving, but because of the goodness and befittingness of the giving (propter ipsam bonitatem et convenientiam dationis), is an act of liberality (liberalitatis), as appears from the Philosopher in Ethics IV. God, therefore, is supremely liberal (maxime liberalis); and, as Avicenna says, He alone can truly be called liberal, for every agent other than God acquires some good from his action, which is the intended end” (Vocabulary Jas 1:5b).
  •  Eckhart Serm. (L) 25.1 provides a metaphysical interpretation: the verse signifies that God always freely gives form to all matter (McGinn 1988, 217–18; Benz et al. 1938, 4:233–34).

Humans Convicted of Ingratitude

  • Bernard of Clairvaux Serm. Cant. 16.5: the liberal gifts of God (daily nourishment of the body, the gift of time, God's gift of the blood of his beloved Son) should cause a person to be ashamed due to his ingratitude (Walsh and Edmonds 1980, 1:118; Leclercq et al. 1977, 1:92). Cf. Bernard's allusion to this verse at Bernard of Clairvaux Serm. Cant. 22:8.

6a not hesitating Disobedience and Pride

Hesitation and Disobedience

Bede sees the source of hesitation the tension between one's words and one's way of life:

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. "that is, let him, by living well (bene vivendo), show himself to be worthy (dignus sit) of being heard when he begs (dum postulat). For anyone who remembers that he has not obeyed the Lord's commands rightly loses hope that the Lord pays attention to his prayers. For it has been written, 'The prayer of one who closes his ear that he may not hear the law will be detestable'" (Prv 28:9) (Hurst 1983, 185; Hurst 1985, 10).

Conflicting Thoughts and Pride

Other commentators see hesitation and doubts as a sign of pride:

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena (attr. to Cyril of Alexandria): "The one who hesitates, all would agree, is arrogant (hubristês). For if you have not believed that he will fulfill your request, you have not approached [God] at all, lest you be found to be an accuser (katêgoros) of the one who is able to do all things. Without intending it, you have become double-minded (dipsuchêsas). It is therefore necessary to avoid this shameful illness" (Cramer 1844, 3).
  •  Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. Jac. ad loc. "The one who hesistates is wavering about his own requests, waits a short time, and draws back immediately. This happens to him due to pride. Giving up swiftly, because he does not pursue closely the things he requested, since he thinks great things about himself, and thinks that he did not deserve to fail in what he requested. The humble person (tapeinophrôn) is opposite to him" (col. 457).


6a ask in faith Praying in Faith

  • CCC 2732 "The most common yet most hidden temptation is our lack of faith. It expresses itself less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences. When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love? Sometimes we turn to the Lord as a last resort, but do we really believe he is? Sometimes we enlist the Lord as an ally, but our heart remains presumptious. In each case, our lack of faith reveals that we do not yet share in the disposition of a humble heart: 'Apart from me, you can do nothing' "(Jn 15:5).

Cf. CCC 2737. CCC 2633  references Jas 1:5–8 in its exhortation to pray with confidence (securitate; Christian Tradition Jas 1:6a).



6a hesitating Judgment without Decision  The Greek verb here translated as "hesitate" or hesitat in Latin is diakrinomai. Most literally diakrinô means to "separate from one another." Hence it can mean "judge" in the sense of deciding the winner of a contest or of diagnosing a disease. In the middle-passive voice, as used here, this verb generally means to "distinguish," to "parse out," to "analyse into elements." It has a philosophical resonance, used by Aristotle (cf. Aristotle Metaph. 985a28) and Plato (cf. Plato Parm. 157a) to mean "to be differentiated, analysed" as opposed to being "synthesized." More generally, it can simply mean "decide for oneself."

Here, then, James does not counsel us against making a decision, but of forever remaining in the moment of crisis—perpetually judging, analysing, distinguishing, and measuring without ever making a decision. One steps back from the moment of decision and continually reflects upon possibilities—in a word, he hesitates and wavers. Thus he who is diakrinomenos regarding faith is constantly asking himself questions and refraining from decisions and actions (cf. Mk 11:23; Mt 21:21; Acts 10:20; Rom 4:20; 14:23; Christian Tradition Jas 1:5a; Christian Tradition Jas 1:6a; and →James: Judging). See also the note on Søren Kierkegaard's interpretation of James below (Christian Tradition Jas 1:8).



1–12 Use in Lectionaries — Calendar The beginning of the letter of James is often read on the feast day of James, brother of the Lord:

  • BL: October 23.
  • Georgian church: December 28.

1–11 Use in Lectionary RML : Monday, Week 6, Year 2.

Christian Tradition

1–12 Divisio Textus

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.

8 double-minded Aspects of Double-Mindedness The adjective dipsuchos, along with its cognate verbal form dipsucheô and the noun dipsuchia, are key terms in 1 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas.Whether they are dependent on James or not, their use of these terms show how influential the concept of "double-mindedness" was in early Christianity.

Unstable, Wavering Thoughts

 1 Clem. 11.2:  Lot‘s wife (Gn 19:26) symbolizes double-minded persons (dipsuchoi): she changed her mind (heterognômenos) and doubted (distazô) the power of God for judgment (Ehrman 2003, 1:54-55).

Lack of Trust in Prayer

Double-mindedness is associated with a lack of trust in prayer: the double-minded person complains that God is slow in answering requests (1 Clem. 23; cf. 2 Clem. 11 and  Herm. Mand. 9.7–9).

More specifically, double-mindedness is manifested in doubts about God‘s mercy due to a consciousness of one‘s own sin. Oppressive shame—rather than humility in charity and trust in God's mercy—precludes love and engenders alienation from God and others (cf. Christian Tradition Jas 1:5a).

  • Herm. Mand. 9.1 exhorts, "Get rid of your double-mindedness and do not be at all of two minds (dipsucheô) about whether to ask for something from God, saying to yourself, 'How can I ask anything from the Lord and receive it, after committing so many sins against him?'" (Ehrman 2003, 2:275; cf. Herm. Sim. 8.9.4). 
  •  Ps.-Andreas Catena ad loc. (4) and Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. (col. 460) repeat this same passage. Bede Ep. cath. ad 1:6b comments similarly, "Anyone who hesitates (haesitat) about attaining heavenly rewards because his consciousness of sin pricks him (mordente se conscientia peccati)" easily loses his faith when attacked by temptations (Hurst 1985, 10; Hurst 1983, 185).
  •  Gloss. Ord. (V) ad 1:6 cites Bede's comment: "He who is oppressed by consciousness of sin is doubtful of heavenly rewards: when a gale of temptations comes upon him, he easily abandons his foothold in faith, is dragged away to error according to the will of the temptor, and becomes estranged from God" (col. 1266).
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad 1:8 then specifies, "The man, however, is double-minded (duplex est animo), who both bends his knee to entreat the Lord (ad precandum dominum)…yet because his consciousness accuses him within (accusante se intus conscientia), he lacks confidence in being able to obtain what he requests" (impetrare posse diffidit; Hurst 1985, 10; Hurst 1983, 185).

The Opposite of Faith

  •  Herm. Vis. 4.1: Hermas is afraid when he sees a vision of a fearful monster, but remembering a warning to not be doubleminded, he puts on "the faith of the Lord" (tên pistin tou kuriou) and faces the beast courageously (Ehrman 2003, 2:229).

Dipsuchia: Hesitating between the "Two Ways"

The term dipsuchia is often associated with the "two ways" ethical tradition that presents ethical decisions as a stark choice between life and death, light and darkness (see Barn. 18–19; Did. 1–5). The double-minded man does not explicitly reject the path of life, but hesitates in deciding whether to follow it or not ( Barn. 19.5; Did. 4.4).

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. comments similarly, "The man is double minded who wishes both to rejoice here with the world and to reign there with God…who in the good he does looks not for reward inwardly but for appropriation outwardly" (non retributionem interius sed exterius favorem quaerit; Hurst, 1985, 10; Hurst, 1983, 1985).
  • Gloss. Ord. follows Bede: "A double-minded man is one who bends his knees for prayer and, stung by his conscience, despairs of his petition. A double-minded man wants to rejoice both with the world (sæculo) and with God, and as concerns the good deeds that he performs, he seeks not God, but favor. Whence it is said 'Woe to those journeying on the earth by two ways'" (cf. Sir 2:14).
  • Double-mindednesss is the result of a mind clouded by passions: 2 Clem. 19.2: "For sometimes, because we are of two minds (dipsuchia) and disbelieving in our hearts, we do not realize that we are doing evil; and we are darkened in our understanding through vain desires" (epithumia mataia; Ehrman 2003, 1:196–97; cf. Jas 1:14–15). 
  •  Cassian Inst. 7.15.2 applies this passage to one who renounces the world as a monk, but later is attracted to worldly goods.
  •  Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc. comments on the discrepancy between inner motivations and outward speech: "he who hesitates in his mind and is disturbed in his ways, and has one thing in his heart and another in his mouth" (Sedlacek 1910, 89; Syriac–ibid., 117).

Double-mindedness is thus contrasted with faith ( Herm. Vis. 4.1.7–8; 4.2.4; 6.1.2; Herm. Mand.  9; 2 Clem. 19.2), a single-minded devotion to God ( Herm. Vis. 3.10.9).

Dipsuchia: On the Side of Evil

For Hermas, however, double-mindedness is not only a hesitation between good and evil, but clearly associated with following the path of evil.

  •  Herm. Vis. 2.2.7 "You who do what is righteous (ergazomenoi tên dikaiosunên) should stand firm and not be of two minds" (dipsucheô).
  •   Herm. Sim. 9.18.3: The church of God will be cleansed when "the evildoers, hypocrites, and blasphemers are removed, along with the double minded and those who do different kinds of evil" (Ehrman 2003, 2:434–37). Jas 4:8 similarly parallels the double-minded with sinners.
  •  Herm. Mand. 9.9–11 finds the source of double-mindedness in the devil: "For this doublemindedness is the daughter of the devil (diabolou).…doublemindedness is an earthly spirit (epigeion pneuma) from the devil" (Ehrman 2003, 2:277); cf. Jas 3:15 with its link between earthly (epigeios) and demonic (daimoniôdês).

Double-mindedness, Duplicity, Inconstancy and Lust

Thomas Aquinas quotes Jas 1:8  (vir duplex animo inconstans est) in associating double-mindedness with duplicity (duplicitas).

  • Aquinas ST 2-2.53.6 defines duplicity as the "fluctuation of the mind from one thing to another" (vertibilitatem animi ad diversa). Both duplicity and the closely related inconstancy (inconstancy) derive from lust (Thomas cites Gregory the Great Moral. 31.45 in support). Although duplicity and inconstancy are connected with defects of reason, Thomas connects them with lust because lust destroys "the judgment of reason entirely" (English Dominicans 1947, 3:1412–13; Christian Tradition Jas 3:16).

Thus, for Thomas, the double-minded person is one whose mind constantly fluctuates, and who is governed by his passions rather than by his reason.

Application to "Heretics"

 Athanasius Decr.   2.4 applies this passage to the Eusebian party, who gave doubtful support to the Nicene Council's definition of the consubstantiality of the Father and Son. The Gloss. Ord. (V) ad. loc. summarizes Athanasius' comment (col. 1267).

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.


Peritestamental Literature

5a wisdom Connection between Wisdom, Reason (Logos), Law, and Virtue 4 Maccabees, like James, sees an essential connection between wisdom, reason, law, and virtue.

  • 4 Macc. 1:16–18 "Reason (logismos), I suggest, is the mind, by right reason (orthos logos), preferring the life of wisdom (sophia). Wisdom, I submit, is knowledge of all things divine and human, and of their causes. And this wisdom, I assume, is the culture (paideia) we acquire from the Law, through which we learn the things of God reverently and the things of men to our worldly advantage. The forms of wisdom consist of prudence, justice, courage, and temperance" (OTP 2:545).

Note the Stoic definition of wisdom employed by 4 Macc. (Ancient Texts Jas 1:5a).


Christian Tradition

5b let him ask Various Interpretations

  • Knowledge. Aquinas ST 2-2.45.1 obj. 1, citing Augustine of Hippo Trin. 14.3, defines wisdom as "the knowledge of divine things" (sapitentia est divinarum rerum cognitio; English Dominicans 1947, 3:1372).
  • Knowledge of final causes. Aquinas ST 2-2.45.1: "it belongs to wisdom to consider the highest cause (causam altissimum), citing Aristotle Metaph. 1.2. By means of that cause we are able to form a most certain judgment about other causes (de aliis certissime iudicatur), and according thereto all things should be set in order" (secunda quam omnia ordinari oportet; English Dominicans 1947, 3:1374; cf. Ancient Texts Jas 1:5a).
  • Right judgment. Aquinas ST 2-2.45.5: wisdom, "denotes a certain rectitude of judgment (rectitudinem iudicii) in the contemplation and consultation of divine things" (English Dominicans 1947, 3:1376)
  •  Aquinas ST 2-2.45.1 ad. 2, referring to Jas 3:15 ("the wisdom coming down from above"), distinguishes between the wisdom that is an acquired intellectual virtue (virtus intellectuatalis) and the wisdom that is a gift of grace from God" (English Dominicans 1947, 3:1374; cf. Christian Tradition Jas 3:15b).

Wisdom is a Gift of God's Grace

  • Writing against Pelagius, Augustine of Hippo Grat. 17 [16] argues that James would not advise the Christian to pray to God for wisdom, if wisdom were merely a matter or exercising one's natural free will to control vices such as an uncontrollable tongue (Urba and Zycha 1902, 244; Teske 1999, 232–33). Rather, James' admonition to pray shows that God's grace is necessary in order to obtain wisdom (cf. Augustine of Hippo Ep.117.5; Augustine of Hippo Grat. 46 [24],  Augustine of Hippo Persev. 43;  Augustine of Hippo Serm.   348A.4;  Christian Tradition Jas 3:8a).
  •  Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. "no one is able to understand and be wise of his own free will (per liberum arbitrium) without the help of divine grace (sine adiutorio gratiae divinae), although the Pelagians argue a lot [about this]" (Hurst 1985, 9, 184; Hurst 1983, 184).
  • Citing this passage, Leo the Great Serm. 49.4 assures his hearers that they are able to follow God's commandments, since "he who incites the 'will' also gives the power" (qui praestitit velle, donet et posse; Freeland and Conway 1996, 212; Chavasse 1973, 2:288).
  • Cf. Aquinas ST 2-2.45.1 ad. 2.

Wisdom is Needed to Understand Life's Trials

Interpreters often draw connections between the themes of Jas 1:2–4 and the admonition of  Jas 1:5–8:

  •  Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. comments that our reason and emotions reject the idea that we can be joyful during a time of trial, therefore it is necessary to ask for God‘s wisdom to accept the teaching that trials and temptations are part of God‘s plan to lead us to salvation (Owen 1849 281–82; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 385–86); similarly see Bede Ep. cath. ad loc.

Three Aspects of Wisdom

  •  Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. loc. commments that there are three wisdoms: first, to avoid evil (devitare mala), second, to do good (facere bona), and to hope in the [divine] promises (sperare praemia; col. 64).

Wisdom Received in Prayer is Better than Human Wisdom

  •  John of Avila Aud. Fil. 70 comments on this passage, "Knowledge attained in prayer exceeds that obtained through our own reasoning and conjectures as one who goes to something certain surpasses the one who , as they say, feels his way along. Good resolutions and the effort they cost in prayer are usually incomparably more lively and turn out more true than those made outside prayer" (Gormley 2006, 208; Balust and Hernandez 1970, 1:735).

Wisdom Connected with Virtue

  •  Bernard of Clairvaux Serm. Cant. 85.(3).7 comments on this passage: "I think the same applies to virtue, for virtue is the sister (cognata) of wisdom.…virtue is characterized by strength of mind, and wisdom by peace of mind and spiritual sweetness" (placiditas animi cum spirituali quadam suavitate; Walsh and Edmonds 1980, 4:202–3; Leclercq et al. 1977, 2:312).

Prayer Gives Direct Access to God's Wisdom

  • Zwingli Klarheit used this passage to support his view that people should go directly to the Scriptures, and not rely on human teaching as found, for example, in scholastic theology. "Note that James points us to God and not to men" (Bromiley 1953, 90; Emil and Finsler 1905, 379)
  • Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church) reports that this text inspired him to ask God directly for his wisdom at a time when he was seeking to discover which of the Christian denominations taught the truth about God. Praying in a wooded area in 1820, Smith reports a vision in which the Father and the Son (only the Son in one version) appeared to him and informed him that all of the denominations had fallen away from the truth. Three years later, an angel appeared to Smith in response to another prayer, revealing to him the location of the golden tablets on which were written the Book of Mormon (Vogel 1996, 59–67).