The Bible in Its Traditions

James 2:10

Byz Nes S TR

10  For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one [point], he has become guilty of all.

10  Now whoever has observed the whole law, yet who offends in one matter, has become guilty of all.

10 Integrity of the law Mt 5:18-19; Gal 3:10; 5:3

Suggestions for Reading

1–26 Appraisal of Faith-inspired Action This chapter presents James' demonstration of the integral relationship between genuine faith and actions. It falls into two basic sections:

  • Jas 2:1–13: The faith of Jesus Christ is incompatible with actions showing favoritism towards the rich. This section is a chiselled rhetorical argument (Literary Devices Jas 2:1–13).
  • Jas 2:14–26: Verbal acceptance of the faith of Jesus Christ is not a true faith unless it is expressed through concrete actions, especially actions that assist the poor.


Literary Genre

1–26 Deliberative Rhetoric The whole of chapter 2 is a fine example of deliberative (sumbouleutikon) rhetoric (see Aristotle Rhet. 1.3.3), where the speaker seeks to dissuade his audience from a certain action or exhort them to it. Here James attempts to dissuade his readers from showing favoritism to the rich (Jas 2:1–13) and to exhort them to live out their faith through actions (Jas 2:14–26). The diatribe style is used frequently in deliberative rhetoric.

Literary Devices

10b stumbles Metaphor for Sinning

  • The Greek ptaiô literally means "to stumble"; James uses the same word at Jas 3:2. Cf. the similar metaphor for sin used in Jas 5:19: "if any one among you strays away from the truth." Sinning is pictured as an error or misdirection in one's walk of life.
  • James' metaphor is echoed elsewhere in the NT—cf. 1Jn 1:6; 1Jn 2:11,  "walk in darkness." These NT passages likely draw on the common OT metaphor of one's course of life as a "walk"—e.g., Ps 86:11: "walk (hlk) in your truth."

Suggestions for Reading

1–13 Exhortation to Impartiality towards the Rich


Jas 2:1–13: The faith of Jesus Christ is incompatible with actions showing favoritism towards the rich. This section is a chiselled rhetorical argument (Literary Devices Jas 2:1–13).

Contextual Contrast and Continuities


Two specific passages have attracted the greatest attention in the history of interpretation:


Peritestamental Literature

10b guilty of all Integrity of the Law The author of 4 Maccabees agrees with James about the implication of breaking one commandment, giving the following reasoning: 

  • 4 Macc. 5:19–21 "Accordingly, you must not regard it as a minor sin for us to eat unclean food; minor sins are just as weighty (isodunamon) as great sins, for in each case the Law is despised" (OTP 2:550).


Literary Devices

1–13 Rhetorical Structure Watson 1993a analyzes the rhetorical structure of this section as follows (cf. Ps.-Cicero Rhet. Her. 2.18.28 for the categories). 

Propositio (the proposition to be proved; Jas 2:1): The faith of Jesus Christ is incompatible with displays of partiality towards the rich and powerful within the Christian community. 

Ratio (the causal basis for the propositio; Jas 2:2–4): The specific example of partiality in seating the rich and influential shows that community members are making judgments incompatible with the non-judgmental faith of Jesus Christ. 

Confirmatio (further confirmation of the propositio; Jas 2:5–7): In aligning themselves with the rich, church members align themselves with enemies of the faith: it is the rich who oppress poor community members and who blaspheme the name of the Lord Jesus: 

  • Jas 2:5–6a: partiality directly contradicts God’s preference for the poor; 
  • Jas 2:6bc: partiality supports the very people who oppress the community; 
  • Jas 2:7: partiality supports the blasphemy of the rich against God. 

Exornatio (embellishment and enrichment of the argument once the propositio is established; Jas 2:8–11): the one who shows favoritism violates the royal law (i.e., the faith of Jesus Christ: the Torah of the Kingdom taught by Jesus). 

Conplexio (a brief conclusion summarizing the argument; Jas 2:12–13): James exhorts the community to abandon favoritism and to speak and act in a way consistent with the royal law. If they continue with their unwarranted judgmental and partial behavior, they themselves can expect a harsh judgment.

1–13 beloved brothers Softening of the Criticism While strongly criticizing the community for the sin of partiality towards the rich, James uses rhetorical techniques to soften his criticism’s harshness:

He also employs hypothetical scenarios and rhetorical questions instead of directly accusing members of sin:

  • Jas 2:2: “if a man wearing gold rings”; 
  • Jas 2:4: “have you not made distinctions”; 
  • Jas 2:9: “if you show partiality”. 

Only at Jas 2:6a does one find direct accusation: “But you have dishonored the poor person.” 



10 Liturgical reading from Augustine Augustine of Hippo Serm. 179A delivered a sermon on this "terrifying reading" (terribilis lectio; Jas 2:10) from the liturgy (Hill 1997 3.5: 306; Boodts 2016, 634).

Christian Tradition

1–13 Liberation Theology Perspectives

Taking the Perspective of the Poor

Commenting on Jas 2:5b from the perspective of the Latin American poor, Elsa Tamez concludes,

  • James clearly states that God indeed has a partiality for the poor. "If favoritism is prohibited in the community it is because favoritism always favors the rich, never the poor."

Tamez criticizes contemporary biblical exegetes of Jas 2:1–13 on two points:

  • Many exegetes comment that one should not conclude from this passage that all wealthy people are bad or should be condemned (Christian Tradition Jas 2:5b). Nothing in the text itself would occassion such a comment, and thus reveals that these exegetes write from the perspective of the wealthy and powerful.
  • Some exegetes argue that James' reference to "the poor" signifies those who are pious, and thus does not indicate their economic status.  In the view of these scholars, "The rich become the piously poor and the poor rich in piety, and the economic order and the unjust power stay as they are." In Tamez's view, James, on the contrary, clearly refers to the economically poor, and criticizes the wealthy for their oppression of them (Tamez 2002, 36–37).
Partiality as Discrimination
  • Smit argues that the closest modern counterpart to James' concept of partiality is discrimination, and applies it specifically to apartheid in South Africa. Partiality towards the wealthy and powerful necessarily involves a dehumanization of the poor and powerless, who are seen not as human beings created in God's image, but defined by non-essential characteristics such as race and economic status (Smit 1990, 65–67).


Literary Devices

9f convicted by the law as transgressors Enthymemes James argument in Jas 2:9–10 may be characterized as an enthymeme. Aristotle Rhet. 1.2.13 [1357A] describes the enthymeme as a kind of deductive argument with an implicit premise which the hearer supplies based on assumed common knowledge. Quintilian Inst. 5.10.1–3 lists five types of enthymemes, one of which is an "imperfect syllogism":

James' enthymemes may be analyzed thus (Watson 1993a, 106–7): 

  • Major premise: Whoever keeps the whole law but fails to obey one commandment fails to keep the whole law
  • Minor premise (implicit): Showing partiality breaks one of the commandments of the law
  • Conclusion (Jas 2:9): The one who shows partiality is a transgressor of the whole law.

The enthymeme in Jas 2:11 is a variation of this argument:

  • Major premise:  The commandments of the Torah form an integral whole, since God is the author of the whole law and thus of each commandment
  • Minor premise (implicit): If one breaks any individual commandment, he breaks the whole law, since God is the author of all
  • Conclusion: One who upholds the commandment against adultery, but breaks the commandment against killing, still breaks the whole law.


10b guilty Judicial Language The Greek enochos can mean that a person is legally responsible, and thus subject to punishment for a particular transgression.

Literary Devices

1–13 Theme of Wholeness and Division James continues the contrast between godly wholeness and sinful division: just as an individual person should not be divided and double-minded (Jas 1:6–8), so too the church members should not be divided by showing partiality to the rich in the community (Jas 2:4). See also→James: Perfection / Wholeness in James .

8–11 If you actually fulfill the royal law Exornatio: Appeal to the Law In attempting to demonstrate that their partiality to the rich violates the law, James uses a typical topos in Greco-Roman protreptic (persusasive speech): the attempt to persuade the audience to act in accordance with the law.

  • E.g., Rhet. Alex. 1.4 [1421b] "the proposing (protreponta) speaker must demonstrate that those things for which he is appealing are just (dikaia), legal" (nomima; Mayhew and Mirhady 2011, 470–71).

More specifically, James' quotation of Lv 19:18 (in Jas 2:8) may be seen as a iudicatio, a judgment made previously.

  • Rhet. Alex. 1.13 [1422a] "what has been judged (kekrimenôn) already, either by the gods or by reputable people, by judges, or by our adversaries" (Mayhew and Mirhady 2011, 472–73). Cf. Quintilian Inst. 5.11.42 on the authority of supernatural oracles in rhetorical arguments (Watson 1993a, 105).


Ancient Texts

10b guilty of all Stoic Doctrine: Integral Nature of All Virtues and Vices The Stoics believed that all virtues were interconnected, as were all vices:

  • Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.125 "They hold that the virtues (aretai) involve one another (antakolouthein allêlous), and that the possessor of one is the possessor of all, inasmuch as they have common principles" (theôrêmata koina) (Hicks 1925, 2:228–31).
  • Stobaeus Anth. 2.7.5b "The wise man does everything which he does well...the opinion that the wise man does everything well follows from his accomplishing everything in accordance with right reason (kata logon orthon) and, as it were, in accordance with virtue (hoion kat' aretên).…Analogously, the base man (ho phaulos) does everything which he does badly and in accordance with all the vices" (kata pasas tas kakias; Inwood and Gerson 2008, 207; Wachsmuth and Hense 1923, 2.66-67). 


Christian Tradition

1–13 Divisio Textus

  •  Ps.-Andreas Catena, recognizing James' primary focus on the issue of partiality within the church, places Jas 2:1–13 under the heading, "Concerning imparital (aprosôpolêptos) love for each person according to the law" (Cramer 1844, 8:9).

See →James: Medieval Divisio Textus .


10b guilty of all False Penance and the Integrity of the Law

Warning against False Penance

The Second Lateran Council (1139) quotes Jas 2:10 in its condemnation of false penances. The Council teaches that "a penance is false when many sins are disregarded and a penance is performed for one only or when it is done for one sin in such a way that the penitent does not renounce another."  Quoting Jas 2:10, the Council comments, "this evidently pertains to eternal life. Therefore, just as a person who is entangled in all sins will not enter the gate of eternal life, so also if a person remains in one sin" (in uno tantum maneatDzH 717; Christian Tradition Jas 2:10b).

Integrity of the Law

Commenting on the Jewish understanding of the Torah, CCC 578 cites Jas 2:10 with the comment,  "The law indeed makes up one inseparable whole."

Integrity of the Decalogue

CCC 2069 references Jas 2:10–11 in teaching that the two "tables" of the Decalogue (i.e., commandments concerning the worship of God and commandments concerning behavior towards one's neighbor) form an integral whole:

  • "The Decalogue forms a coherent whole. Each 'word' refers to each of the others and to all of them; they reciprocally condition one another. The two tables shed light on one another; they form an organic unity. To transgress one commandment is to infringe all the others (referencing Jas 2:10–11). One cannot honor another person without blessing God his Creator. One cannot adore God without loving all men, his creatures. The Decalogue brings man's religious and social life into unity" (cf. the summary in CCC 2079).


1–10,14–17 Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 18, Year B- Longer Reading = Jas 2:1-17.

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.


Biblical Intertextuality

10b guilty of all Integrity of The Whole Law

Connection with Jesus' Teaching

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:18–19), similarly taught that the violation of a single commandment is a serious matter that implies an attack on the Law as a whole:

  • Mt 5:18–19: "Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Albert Sup. Matt. ad 5:18 notes the connection between these passages (Schmidt 1987, 128).

Connection with Paul's Teaching

  • Paul similarly assumes that obedience or disobedience to one commandment has implications for the following of the Torah as a whole: "Once again I declare to every man who has himself circumcised that he is bound to observe the entire law" (Gal 5:3).
  • Cf. Paul's quotation of Dt 27:26 in Gal 3:10: "Cursed be everyone who does not persevere in doing all the things written in the book of the law."


Jewish Tradition

10b guilty of all Integrity of the Whole Law The significance of following or not following a single commandment in relation to the Torah as a whole is a theme that surfaces frequently in rabbinic literature:

  • m. Qidd. 1.10 "if he neglects a single commandment it shall be ill with him and he shall not have length of days and shall not inherit the Land" (323; cf. b. Qidd. 39b).
  •  b. ‘Erub. 69a "a person who is suspected of disregarding one matter [of law] is held suspect in regard to all the Torah"  (cf. b. Bek. 30b).
  •  b. Menah. 43b "that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord: as soon as a person is bound to observe this precept he must observe all the precepts."
  • Exod. Rab. 25.12 "God said, 'If you virtuously observe the Sabbath, I will regard you as observing all the commands of the Law, but if you profane it, I will regard it as if you had profaned all the commandments" (Lehrman 1983, 315–16).
  • Sipre Deut. 54 "anyone who acknowledges idolatry denies the entire Torah, and anyone who denies idolatry acknowledges the entire Torah" (Hammer 1986, 112; Finkelstein 1939, 122).

Christian Tradition

10b has become guilty of all Various Interpretations

Proof of Universal Sin 

Many interpreters see here a proof that all people sin (e.g., Augustine of Hippo Pecc. merit. 2.3; Jerome Adv. Jov. 2.2). 

Augustine's Interpretation: Love is the Basis of the Law

Augustine devotes a lengthy letter to Jerome, as well as a sermon, to the interpretation of this passage. He questions: Is James really implying that a person who shows favoritism should also "be judged an idolater, a blasphemer, an adulterer, a murderer?" ( Augustine of Hippo Ep. 167.3; Teske 2005, 2/3: 96; Goldbacher 1923, 591). Is James really implying (as the Stoics teach) that all sins or vices are equal? Augustine rejects this idea, since some sins are indeed worse than others (Augustine of Hippo Serm. 179A.2).

Augustine's solution is to recall Jesus' teaching that the central commandments of the Law involve love: "Love the Lord your God" and "Love your neighbor as yourself": 

  • Augustine of Hippo Ep. 167.16 "The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Mt 22:40); cf. Rom 13:10). Since love is the essence of the Law, whenever one acts contrary to love, he in a sense disobeys the whole Law:  “a person who has observed the whole law becomes guilty of all the commandments if he offends on one of them, because  because he acts against the love on which the whole law depends" (quia contra caritatem facit, unde tota lex pendet; Teske 2005, 2/3: 102; Goldbacher 1923, 604).
  •  Augustine of Hippo Ep. 167.17 notes that this conclusion does not imply that all sins are equal.  Jas 3:2, "for we all go astray in many respects,"  shows that all people sin, yet some sins are more serious than others. Since sin is a violation of love, "He is therefore more full of sinfulness to the extent that he is more empty of love" (tanto itaque plenior iniquitatis quanto inanior caritatis; Teske 2005 2/3:103; Goldbacher 1923, 605). 

Other Interpretations Based on Love

 Many commentators agree with Augustine's interpretation:

  •  Ps.-Andreas Catena ad loc. "[the one who stumbles in one point] does not have perfect love (agapên teleian), for this is the source (kephalaion) of all good [deeds]. For if something is wrong with the head (kephalê), then the whole rest of the body is superfluous" (peritton; Cramer 1844, 8:11).
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. quotes extensively (without attribution) Augustine of Hippo Ep. 167.3, 16-17 in discussing this passage (Hurst 1983, 195; Hurst 1985, 24–25).
  •   Caesarius of Arles Serm. 100A.12 "What does it mean to offend in one point and lose all, except to have fallen from the precept of love (de caritatis praecepto cecidisse) and thereby to have offended in all the other commandments?" (Mueller 1973, 2:96; Morin 1953, 1:415); similarly   Augustine of Hippo Serm. 23.4; 37.5.
  •   Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac.  ad loc., "'Offends in one [point]': i.e., in the one commandment of love (in uno mandato caritatis), in which all commandments consist, as Paul says, 'the whole law is fulfilled in one statement for you" ['You shall love your neighbor as youself']" (cf. Gal 5:14; PL Supp. 3:71).
  • Gloss. Ord. "He who [offends] in one [point] offends against love, which is the root of every precept (radix omnium preceptorum); he is accused by all precepts, which are, so to speak (quasi) the children of love" (Gloss. Ord  [V] attributes the passage to Augustine; cols. 1277–78).
  • Peter Lombard Sent. (136) quotes Augustine in his discussion of whether all the virtues are present equally in any person who possesses them.
  •  Aquinas Serm. Acad. 10.2 "someone who offends against one thing, namely the precept of love (praeceptum charitatis), is made the transgressor against all other virtues, because love is the mother of all virtues" (mater omnium virtutum; Hoogland 2010, 131).
  •  Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. "Since the sum of the whole Law is contained in the love of God and of neighbour, whoever is oblivious to love, which is the root of the whole Law (radix est totius legis), has surely violated the whole Law and offended its author" (legis autorem offendit;Bateman 1993, 149; Bateman 1997, 135).

An Influential Interpretation of Ps.-Augustine

Ps.-Augustine Poen. 1.29 (14) offers two influential interpretations:

  • The sin of a good person is more culpable: "Let him also lament, since 'having offended in one point, he has become guilty of all' (Jas 2:10).  For he was ungrateful (ingratus) who, filled with virtues (plenus virtutibus), did not completely fear God. For each sinner becomes more culpable (culpabilior), to the extent he is more acceptable to God (quo est Deo acceptior). Thus Adam sinned the more, since he abounded with every good" (omni bono abundavit; Costanzo 2011, 274).
  • Commiting one sin involves commiting other sins. "There is also another way of offending in one point, and becoming guilty of all: because every virtue suffers loss from one vice" (omnis virtus detrimentum patitur ab uno vitio). For if someone falls into greed (avaritiam), he destroys generosity (largitatem), and has diminished purity (castitatem). For by love of money, he either dishonored purity, or at least loved less" (minus amaret; Costanzo 2011, 275).
  • Later authorities quote these interpretations: Gloss. Ord. (V) (col. 1278); Peter Lombard Sent. 4.16.2 (87).2; Gratian Decr. Pt 2. Causa 33. Ques. 3.  Dist. 5.1.4.

Sin against the Author of the Law

  • Gloss. Ord. "Truly the one who offends in one point is transgressor of the whole law, because the one who sins acts against the author of the Law, by whatever he neglects in his Law" (col. 1277).
  •  Aquinas ST 1-2.73.1: Although distinctions can be made among sins based on the goal to which they are oriented, all sins are connected in the sense that all sins involve turning away from God, the author of the commandments: "by committing one sin, he incurs the debt of punishment through his contempt (contemptus) of God, which is the origin of all sins." Cf. Aquinas ST 3.88.1: citing Jas 2:10 to show that turning away from God is common to all mortal sins (English Dominicans 1947, 2:910).
  •  Aquinas ST 2-2.5.3 teaches that the primary motive (unum primum motivum) of the various precepts of the Law is perfect obedience to God (perfecte obedire Deo). Since breaking one precept of the Law involves breaking perfect obedience to God, the one who offends in one point becomes guilty of all. For Thomas the case is analogous to an obstinate heretic rejecting one teaching of the Church, but accepting others. The heretic does not truly hold the other teachings of the Church in faith, since he holds them based on his own will and judgment (propria voluntate et iudicio) and not by adhering simply to the Divine Truth (prima veritas; English Dominicans 1947, 3:193–94).

Breaking One Commandment Attacks the Integrity of the Faith

  •  Hilegard of Bingen Ep. 378 "Whoever keeps all the other mandates of the Law, but fails to observe in one point only, does not perfectly fulfill the other commandments, because he hates that one.…Similarly, when a person is disabled in one limb—either from birth or from some misfortune—his other limbs will feel its pain, but will be unable to offer the wounded part either consolation or aid" (Baird and Ehrman 2004, 167; Van Acker and Klaes-Hachmöller 2001, 136).
  •   Calvin Comm. Iac. ad. loc. comments that a person is not free to pick and choose which part of God's law he will follow. If one refuses to obey some laws, but does obey others, then he is guilty of breaking the law as a whole, since God gives the law as a integral whole: "God has prescribed to us a rule of life, which it is not lawful for us to mutilate…nor does the law promise a reward except to universal obedience" (universali obedientiae). Calvin then criticizes a scholastic position: "Foolish, then, are the schoolmen, who deem partial righteousness (partialem iustitiam), as they call it, to be meritorious (pro meritoria reputant); for this passage and many others, clearly show that there is no righteouness except in a perfect obedience to the law" (Owen 1849, 306–7; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 401).
  •  Leo XIII Sat. Cog. 9 applies James' principle to the integrity of the faith: the one who denies one article of the faith has denied the whole of the faith;  cf. Aquinas ST 2-2.5.3.

Meister Eckhart on Unity and Multiplicty

Eckhart Exp. Exod. 58 interprets "one" as a reference to God as the ultimate One, and the "all" as a reference to the plurality of the created world. "Creatures, by the fact that they are from the One but below the One, necessarily fall into number, plurality, distinction, guilt, and fault…" (McGinn 1986, 63; Weiss 1954, 63-64). The context is Eckhart's defense of the thesis that there are no distinctions of attributes in the utter oneness of God (cf. Eckhart Exp. Sap. 110).

"Law" Refers to Natural Law

The Calvinist tradition understands James to refer to the moral law given to all humans, and exemplified in the Ten Commandments (→WLC Q. 99).

Other Interpretations

  • Jerome Pelag. 1.20 (19) insists that Jas 2:10 cannot mean that all sins are equal (this is a "delusion" of the Stoics); rather James is simply comparing serious sins like murder with serious sins like adultery (Jas 2:11; Hritzu 1965, 259; Moreschini 1990, 25); cf. Jerome Pelag. 2.18 where the passage is used as a proof-text for the universality of sin.
  • Gregory the Great Moral. 19.32 "he that is just in some deeds and unjust in others, it is as if he covered over this side [with clothing], and exposed that one naked; nor are those henceforth good deeds, which are defiled by other evil deeds springing up" (Marriot 1847, 2:422)
  • →Vit. Pach.(Boh.) 19: Pachomius understood the passage to mean that even one small sin, such as anger with a brother, would be enough for the devil to gain a foothold and eventually overcome that person (Veilleux 1980, 42)
  • John Climacus Scal. 26 paraphrases, "let us remember what is said about the person who keeps the whole spiritual law and yet, having slipped into one passion , pride, (en heni pathei, tout' estin, en hupsêlophrosunêᵢ) is guilty of all" (Luibheid and Russell 1982, 250; PG 88:165C).
  •  Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 8.A.5 takes the law as a reference to strictness of the Mosaic Law, contrasting it with the freedom of the Christian (Preus 2008, 2:628).
  •  Jeremias II Rep. Aug. Conf., the Patriarch of Constantinople, in his reply to the Augsburg Confession, art. 5 (cf. also reply to art. 24), quotes this passage against the Lutheran position that salvation is by faith and grace alone. Rather, he argues, the Christian is also called upon to obey every commandment of the gospel (CCFCT 1:403; Karmirês 1986, 1:450).
  •  Nicodemus the Hagiorite Ench. 11 refers to the teaching of Basil of Caesaria reg. fus. pref. 2 (PG 31:893A): "The commandments all have the same purpose according to their true and interrelated reason, so that by breaking one, you by necessity break the others" (Chamberas 1989, 176).