The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:8

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).

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

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). 



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.


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

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).


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.



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.