The Bible in Its Traditions

James 5:7–12

Byz Nes V TR

Therefore be patient, brothers, until the coming of YHWH. See how the farmer awaits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient for it, until it receives the early and late rain.

But you, my brethren, be patient, until the coming of the LORD, just as the husbandman waits for the precious crops of his field, and has long patience for it, until he receives the early and the latter rain.

Byz Nes TR S

You also be patient. Establish your hearts, because the coming of YHWH has drawn near.

Therefore, you too should be patient and should strengthen your hearts. For the advent of the Lord draws near.

Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

Byz Nes V TR

Do not murmur against one another, brothers, lest you be judged. Behold, the Judge stands before the doors!

Complain not one against another, my brethren, lest you be condemned: for behold judgment is at hand.

Byz S V
Nes TR

10  My brothers, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of YHWH, as an example of evil suffering and of longsuffering.

10  Take, brethren, for an example of suffering and of patience, the prophets who spake in the name of the Lord.

Byz TR
Nes S TR

11  Indeed we count those blessed who endure. You have heard of the patience of Job, and you saw the end of YHWH-that He is compassionate and He is merciful.

11  Behold, we call them blessed that endured: ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity, and merciful.

11  Consider that we beatify those who have endured. You have heard of the patient suffering of Job. And you have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is merciful and compassionate.

Nes S TR

12  But above all, my brothers, do not swear, neither by heaven nor the earth, nor any other oath. But let your "Yes"be "Yes,"and [your] "No,""No,"so that you may not fall into hypocrisy.

12  But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath: but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; that ye fall not under judgment.

12  But before all things, my brothers, do not choose to swear, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor in any other oath. But let your word ‘Yes’ be yes, and your word ‘No’ be no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

12d let your “yes” be yes Mt 5:37; 2Cor 1:17-18 12b do not swear Mt 5:34


Biblical Intertextuality

10a patience fruit of the Spirit Paul lists patience (makrothumia) as one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).

8b the coming of the Lord is near Immanence of the Day of Judgment James' words echo Jesus' words in the Gospel tradition, "The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1:15 par.; cf. Lk 10:9; cf. James' use of eschatological kingdom language in Jas 2:5), using the same verb eggizô. It also reflects the numerous references in the NT to the imminent parousia: e.g.,  Mk 9:1; 1Thes 4:15-17.

9b so that you are not judged Echo of Jesus’ Teaching? James' formulation echoes Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, "Stop judging, that you may not be judged (Mt 7:1).

The fuller logic of James' teaching is found in Jas 2:12-13: "So speak and so act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom.  For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment." The community should be patient and mericiful with fellow believers, instead of condemning their faults though their complaints. 

If community members use mercy in their dealings with fellow believers, they can expect mercy when they are judged by God (cf. Jesus' teaching in the Lord's Prayer: "If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions" (Mt 6:14-15).


Textual Criticism

11b see : Byz | TR Nes: you saw

  • A and the second corrector of B read the imperative "See!" (idete);
  • Nes follows the witnesses which read the indicative aorist "you saw" (eidete). 

Literary Devices

3:4f; 5:4,7,9,11 Look Call for Attention James uses the verb idou (V = ecce) several times throughout the work to call special attention to what follows.


7b precious fruit Hyperbole? James' use of the adjective timios, a word usually connected with precious stones (Rv 18:12) or metaphorically with anything highly valued (e.g., 1Pt 1:19: the precious blood of Jesus), is unusual as applied to crops. James apparently has a lively sense of the value of the crop for the small farmer. James understands that for the subsistence farmer, the success of the crop could literally be a matter of life and death. See also Literary Devices Jas 5:7b and Ancient Cultures Jas 5:7b.


7a Therefore Connection between 5:1-6 and 5:7-11 James uses the connective oun ("therefore") to connect this verse and the preceding discussion (Jas 5:1-6). The nature of this connection is unclear: perhaps James wishes to contrast the eschatological condemnnation of the rich (Jas 5:1-6) with the need for the community to remain patient and persevering in their faith as they too await the eschatological judgment.  

Literary Devices

7a brothers Fraternal Tone James again directly addresses his readers as "brothers," (a term last used in Jas 4:11) repeating the address in Jas 5:9; 10. Here James returns to the fraternal tone after his criticism of the merchants (Jas 4:13-17) and his harsh pronouncement of God's judgment on the rich (Jas 5:1-6).


Ancient Cultures

7b the farmer Types of Farmers The farmer (geôrgos, literally, "worker of the land") can refer to the man who owns the land he works (Herodotus Hist. 4.18) or to a tenant farmer (Mk 12:1). The term is used also for a gardener or a vine-dresser (Mk 12:1).

7c early and late rain Rains in Palestinian Climate Most commentators conclude that James refers to early and late rains, although it is grammatically possible that he refers to earlier and later harvests (Textual Criticism Jas 5:7c and Comparison of Versions Jas 5:7c).

In Palestine, the early rains of autumn and winter (late October to early December) are necessary for the preparation of the dry soil and the germination of the seed. The later spring rains (March-May) are necessary for the maturing of the grain. 

Some commentators argue that this reference to early and late rains supports the Palestinian authorship of James; others hold that James may simply be echoing biblical language (e.g., Dt 11:14; Hos 6:3; Jl 2:23; Zec 10:1).


Christian Tradition

7–12 Divisio Textus In Ps.-Andreas Catena the heading for this section is, "Concerning patience (makrothumia) and perseverance (hupomonê) during suffering, and concerning the truth" (Cramer 1844, 8:34).



8b For the coming of the Lord is near Explanatory Clause The conjunction hoti introduces an explanatory clause: the reader's heart should be firm and not double-minded because the Day of Judgment is coming soon and the reader must be prepared.


9a groan against one another Contextual Meaning The main sense of the Greek verb stenazô is to groan or sigh involuntarily due to difficulties. By adding "against one another," James gives the sense of community members complaining about one another. See also Christian Tradition Jas 5:9a.


Christian Tradition

10b the prophets Identity of the Prophets Bede understands the "prophets" in a broad sense, from Noah to the apostle James, son of Zebedee. These men offer several different types of examples:

  • Bede Ep. cath.: Bede understands "the result of evil" (exitus mali) to refer to the martyrdom of some prophets: Zecharaiah, Uriah, the Maccabees, and John the Baptist, Stephen, and James the son of Zebedee in the New Testament. These men even bore death patiently and did not complain (Comparison of Versions Jas 5:10a).
  • Bede Ep. cath.: Others give examples of patiently enduring labors: Noah builds his ark over a hundred year span (!), Moses leads the people for 40 years in the wilderness, David endures exile, and Joseph endures slavery (Hurst 1985, 59; Hurst 1983, 219-20).


11c compassionate is he and merciful God’s Merciful Nature A standard characterization of God in the Qur'an is "most gracious, most merciful" (Arabic: rahman and rahim); the phrase opens every chapter (sura) in the Qur'an with the exception of one. See also Vocabulary Jas 5:11c and Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:11c.



11b the end of the Lord Genitive of Agency In the immediate context, the phrase to telos Kuriou is most likely a type of genitive of origin or source: the final result caused by the Lord.

Literary Devices

12e fall under judgment Echo James again sounds the theme of judgment. Humans have no right to judge others: judgment is a divine prerogative (e.g., Jas 2:12-13; 4:11-12; 5:9).


Ancient Cultures

12c oath Importance of Oaths in Greco-Roman Society Swearing an oath was an essential practice of the ancient Mediterranean world. An oath is a solemn statement, claim or promise that invokes the gods as witnesses to its truth. The implicit or explicit expectation is that the gods will punish the speaker for perjury. The oath's intention, then, is to guarantee the speaker's words.  

Oaths were a regular part of legal and political procedures. In political contexts, one took an oath of office; members of political alliances took oaths to not harm one another. Parties in legal disputes took oaths to abide by the settlement. Representatives of a city took oaths of loyalty to a new ruler. Oaths were also common in more informal contexts involving business or friendships. 

Oaths were sworn to the relevant deities. Thus the Hippocratic oath was sworn to all the gods and goddesses, but especially to those concerned with medicine: Apollo the Physician, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea as witnesses.  In Euripides Med. 731-47, Medea asks King Aegeus for asylum, and also asks that he swear an oath as a guarantee (pistis) of his promise. After some persuasion, he asks Medea by which gods he should swear; she names the Earth, the Sun, and the other gods. The supreme oath is said to be one taken by the river Styx, e.g., Homer Il. 15.38. Finally, Socrates often swears "by the dog" or "by the dog of Egypt," possibly referring to the Egyptian dog-headed god Anubis.


Comparison of Versions

12d let your “yes” be yes Versions of Jesus’ Sayings S, C and others in the Latin tradition (e.g., Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc.) and the Bohairic Coptic, following the reading witnessed in א, add "word" to the verse, resulting in the reading, "Let your word be 'yes, yes' and 'no, no'" (Textual Criticism Jas 5:12d). The addition is presumbably influenced by the version of Jesus' saying in Mt 5:37.

Christian Tradition

12b do not swear Divine Pedagogy

  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. wonders how the old law can praise a person for swearing an oath to God (e.g., Dt 6:13), when the new law forbids oaths? Ps.-Oecumenius attributes it to the divine pedagogy: just as God allowed the Jewish people to offer sacrifices to him in order to wean them away from sacrifices to idols, so too he allowed them to swear in his name to lead them away from the habit of swearing in the name of idols (col. 505).



1:3f; 5:11 perseverance Courageous Patience James uses two word families to describe the virtue of patience: the noun hupomonê with the cognate verb hupomenô (used in Jas 1:3–4,12; 5:11) and makrothumeô / makrothumia (Vocabulary Jas 5:7f,10).

Hupomonê is closely connected with testing (peirasmos): the testing of one's faith produces perseverance (hupomonê, Jas 1:4); the blessed person perseveres (hupomenô) through trial until he reaches his eschatological reward (Jas 1:12; 5:11). Job is held out as an example of hupomonê (Jas 5:11). See also Biblical Intertextuality Jas 1:3.

The virtue of hupomonê is regularly discussed in conjunction with the virtue of courage (andreia) in the writing of Aristotle and the Stoics (Ancient Texts Jas 1:3).



10–20 Use in Lectionary BL : Special and General Feasts: Prophets; 1 of 3 reading options.


11b perseverance of Job Character of Job In the Islamic tradition, Job is considered a prophet. His perseverance figures prominently. The Qur'an parallels James in connecting Job's perseverance with God's mercy,  "And (remember) Job, when he cried to his Lord, 'Truly distress has seized me, but thou art the most merciful of those that are merciful'" (Qur’an 21.83). After recounting Job's affliction and eventual reward (cf. Jb 42), God says, "Truly We found him full of patience and constancy" (Qur’an 38:44; cf. 38:41-44). See also Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:11b; Peritestamental Literature Jas 5:11b; Christian Tradition Jas 5:11b.


4:7–5:9 Use in Lectionary BL : Thursday, 32nd Week after Pentecost.

Suggestions for Reading

12 do not swear Context? James’ prohibition on swearing oaths has no obvious connection to either the previous discussion on the need for patient endurance in the face of Christ’s imminent parousia (Jas 5:7–11), nor to the following discourse on prayer (Jas 5:13–18). Equally ambiguous is the introductory phrase, “above all” (pro pantôn): the phrase’s comparison is not clear. Thematically, this prohibition of oaths may be seen as the culmination of James’ concern for proper speech in the community (Literary Devices Jas 5:12b). 

James’ teaching is clearly based on Jesus’ (Christian Tradition Jas 5:12b, Christian Tradition Jas 5:12d, Christian Tradition Jas 5:12e). James’ admonitions against swearing should be understood in light of the importance of oaths in both Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures, as well as traditional critiques of that practice (Ancient Cultures Jas 5:12cAncient Texts Jas 5:12bPeritestamental Literature Jas 5:12b; Jewish Tradition Jas 5:12b).

In the history of interpretation, early Christians and later Anabaptist traditions understood this verse as an absolute prohibition of all oaths; many Western churches followed Augustine’s interpretation that James only means to prohibit frequent, frivolous, or false oaths; oaths on solemn occasions such as courtroom oaths are licit (Christian Tradition Jas 5:12b; Theology Jas 5:12b). 


Textual Criticism

10a suffering |א : nobility Instead of kakopathia  ("suffering"),  א reads kalokagathia ("goodness, nobility"). See also Literary Devices Jas 5:10a.

12d But let your "yes" be | But Let Your Word Be: Harmonization with Mt 5:37  א, apparently influenced by the version of Jesus' saying in Mt 5:37, adds "the word" (logos) before the word "your", thus giving the reading, "Let your word be 'yes, yes' and 'no, no.'" S follows this reading (Comparison of Versions Jas 5:12d).

12e into hypocrisy : Byz TR | Nes: under judgment 


7f,10 patient Patience vs. Perseverance The verb makrothumeô and its cognate noun makrothumia can mean:

  • Simply waiting for something. Thus Hebrews speaks of Abraham, “And so, after patient waiting, he obtained the promise” (Heb 6:15; cf. Heb 6:12). A servant who owed his master a great debt asks his master to have patience with (makrothumeo) him (Mt 18:26,29). 
  • Patient endurance in an uncomfortable condition. Thus Plutarch Vit. Par. Luc. 32.3 uses this word when describing Lucullus' exhortation of his soldiers to endure harsh winter conditions.

Comparison with the Virtue of Perseverance

James uses two word families to describe the virtue of patience: hupomonê / hupomenô (used in Vocabulary Jas 1:3f; 5:11) and makrothumeô / makrothumia. Whereas hupomonê is closely connected with a trial (peirasmos), makrothumeô / makrothumia does not necessarily involve testing or suffering, but may simply involve waiting patiently for an event or person. Similarly, the cultural background of the words is strikingly different: makrothumeô / makrothumia is not a significant term in Greek philosophical ethics tradition, while hupomonê is regularly discussed in conjunction with the virtue of courage (andreia; Ancient Texts Jas 1:3). On the other hand, makrothumia is an important quality of God (Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:7–10). 

In James

One can discern these two main elements in James’ use of makrothumeô / makrothumia in Jas 5:7–11

  • (1) Paired with the term “hardship” (kakopathia), the sense is of enduring hardships and trials, and thus is not essentially different from hupomonê / hupomenô.
  • (2) In the analogy with the farmer (v. 7) and the implied connection with the exhortation to the community to not complain against one another (v. 9), the sense is of being patient with events and with people (Christian Tradition Jas 5:8a).

11c compassionate Hapax Legomenon James' term polusplagchnos is unattested in G or Greek literature before James. It is a hapax legomenon, but its meaning is not difficult to deduce. It is composed of polus, "much, great," and the noun splagchna, "innards," understood as the seat of passions, particularly compassion. Here James is  not directly dependent on G, for there we encounter a similar word pair oiktirmôn and polueleos (Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15 (85:15); Ps 103:8 (102:8); Jl 2:13; Jon 4:2).

The Shepherd of Hermas uses the adjective and cognate noun frequently to describe the Lord (Herm. Vis. 1.3.2 "the Lord's compassion has granted you and your household mercy"; 2.2.8; Sim. 5.7.4). See also Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:11c and Islam Jas 5:11c.


9b door Image of Imminent Judgment Here, the Greek word thura is plural, but the plural often refers to a single door (as often in  Homer Il. and Homer, Od.). The word may also refer to openings in general, including gates. See also Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:9b.

Literary Devices

7b the farmer …fruit: Agricultural Analogies James returns to the imagery of rain and crops in Jas 5:18. Compare also his analogies in Jas 1:10-11 (the flowers and grass that wither) and Jas 3:12 (the proper fruits of plants and trees).

In comparing awaiting the harvest with awaiting the parousia (the Day of Judgment), James draws on common biblical imagery that connects the harvest with eschatological judgment (Jl 4:12-13; Mt 13:24-30; Rv 14:14-20).

8a Strengthen your hearts Echo The admonition "strengthen your hearts" parallels "purify your hearts" (Jas 4:8), where the reader is exhorted to rid himself of all double-mindedness. The admonition is thus one further expression of James' concern with unity of heart in contrast to a divided heart. See also →James: Perfection / Wholeness in James.

9b the judge stands at the door! Echo James echoes a previous discussion in Jas 4:11–12. Both passages begin with an admonition to not speak badly of community members. 

  • A. “Do not speak badly of one another, my brothers” (Jas 4:11a). 
  • B. “Do not complain against one another, brothers” (Jas 5:9a). 

They then continue with admonitions concerning judgment.

  • A. “The one speaking badly of a brother or judging his brother speaks badly of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (Jas 4:12). 
  • B. “So that you are not judged” (Jas 5:9a). 

They both finish by referring to the Lord as the eschatological Judge.

  • A. “There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy” (Jas 4:12ab). 
  • B. “The Judge stands at the door” (Jas 5:9b).

The common logic of the two passages seems to follow the following sequence.

  • The one who speaks badly of a community member, illicitly sets himself up as a judge, condemning the faults of the brother.
  • In setting oneself up as an unforgiving judge, one brings judgment on oneself (cf. Jas 2:13).
  • The Lord is the only legitimate Judge and lawgiver. The “Lord” may refer to God as the giver of the Torah at Sinai, or to Christ, the giver of the eschatological Torah followed in the Kingdom. See also →James: Law in the Letter of James.

11a Look, we call blessed those who persevere Echo James echoes his earlier statement, "Blessed is the man who perseveres through trials" (Jas 1:12). In that passage, James specifies that the blessedness of those who persevere consists in their receiving their eschatological reward: the crown of life.

12a above all Ambiguity of the Introductory Phrase There are several possibilities for how the Greek phrase pro pantôn relates to the rest of James' letter:

  • it serves to introduce the final part of the letter (Jas 5:12-20), drawing attention to the discussion of oaths as of special importance;
  • it indicates that the prohibition of oaths is the most important teaching of James given this far in the letter;
  • the phrase is independent of its context and simply indicates the importance of this teaching.

In any case, the phrase is awkward in its current position.

12b do not swear Theme of Improper Speech This prohibition may be seen as the culmination of James' concern for proper speech in the community: 

  • Jas 1:19: one should be slow to speak;
  • Jas 1:26: one should bridle his tongue;
  • Jas 3:1-12: dangers of not controlling one's tongue;
  • Jas 4:11: one should not speak badly of a brother;
  • Jas 5:9: community members should not grumble against one another;
  • Jas 5:12: "Above all": prohibition on swearing oaths.


Ancient Cultures

7b precious fruit Agricultural Economy Ancient Mediterranean economies were based on agriculture. In Palestine, the main grain crops were barley and wheat, both used in making bread, the staple food of the lower classes. Other important crops were grapes, olives, and figs (cf. Jas 3:12 and Jas 5:14). Deuteronomy briefly lists essential crops in a word of the Lord, "I will give the seasonal rain to your land, the early rain and the late rain, that you may have your grain, wine and [olive] oil to gather in" (Dt 11:14; cf. Jas 5:7c on the early and late rains).

Biblical Intertextuality

7a coming of the Lord Day of Judgment  In G, the phrase, "coming of the Lord" (parousia tou kuriou) is not attested. Of the four clear uses of parousia in  G (Jgs 10:18; 2Mc 8:12; 15:21; 3 Macc. 3:17) none apply to God.

In contrast, a wide variety of NT documents refer to the parousia of Jesus as an eschatological event (for general references to Christ’s parousia, see 1Cor 15:23; 2Pt 3:4; 1Jn 2:28. The Matthean tradition speaks of the parousia of the Son of Man (Mt 24:27,37,39); Mk 13:26 and Lk 21:27 refer to the Son of Man coming in the clouds). The precise phrase used in James, “the coming of the Lord,” is widely attested: 1Thes 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2Pt 1:16.

James connects the Lord's parousia closely with the eschatological judge (Jas 5:9b): James thus envisions the Lord appearing as eschatological judge at his parousia

Some commentators understand "the Lord" here to refer to God the Father in light of Jas 4:12: "there is one lawgiver and judge." Considering the decisively Christian connotation of the phrase parousia Kuriou as Christ's return as Judge, however, it is most likely that James too refers to Jesus' return as eschatological Judge. In Jas 4:12, James may well refer to Jesus as the lawgiver of a new Torah, and this new Torah is the basis for eschatological judgment. See also →James: Law in the Letter of James.

7c early and late rain Rain or Crop? G reads only the adjectives proimos ("early") and opsimos. In several biblical passages, however, these adjectives are read explicitly with "rain" (G: huetos; cf. Dt 11:14; G-Hos 6:3; Jl 2:23; Zec 10:1; Jer 5:24; also m. Ta'an. 1:2).  Given the context, it is most likely that James refers to the early and late rains (many MSS explicitly add "rain" [huetos] after "receives"). An alternate possibility is that James refers to early and late crop (karpos), as read in some mss. See also Textual Criticism Jas 5:7c and Comparison of Versions Jas 5:7c.

9b the judge stands at the door Christ's Judgment

Jesus as Eschatological Judge

Jesus' role as eschatological judge is clear in a variety of NT traditions:

Image of Christ at the Door / Gate

James' warning about the Lord standing about the door echoes a saying of Jesus recorded in his eschatological discouse found in the Synoptics. Jesus tells his disciples that when they see signs of the end times, "know that he [i.e., the Son of Man] is near, at the gates" (Mk 13:28). James and Mark share the same words for "is near" and door/gates. A related image is found in the letter to Laodicaea: the risen Christ declares, "I stand at the door (thura) and knock" (Rv 3:20). 

10b in the name of the Lord Speaking and Acting with Divine Authority

  • The Old Testament prophets often speak "in the name of the Lord" (G: en tôᵢ onomati kuriou), as in Jer 20:9; Dn 9:6 (Theodotion). The phrase carries the sense of speaking as a representative of the Lord, or by the authority or power of the Lord. It also applies to cursing (2Kgs 2:24).
  • The phrase is also applied to other actions done by the authority and power of the Lord. Thus the elders of James' church anoint the sick "in the name of the Lord" (Literary Devices Jas 5:14f).  Jesus' disciples heal (Acts 3:6) and cast out demons "in the name of the Lord" (Mk 9:38; Lk 10:17); cf. baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:48).
  • The Gloss. Ord. ad loc. (interlinear gloss) offers two further possibilities: they speak in the name of the Lord by invoking the name (invocatione nominis), or when they speak for the purpose of spreading the name (ad ampliandum nomen; cols. 1299-1300).

11b perseverance of Job Biblical Portrait of Job The figure of Job as a model of patient endurance is seen primarily in the prose introduction (ch. 1-2) and ending (ch. 42). For example:

  • Jb 1:21: "Naked I came forth from my mother's womb, and naked shall I go back there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!"
  • Jb 2:10: "We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?"

By contrast, in the verse dialogue with his friends, which comprises the main portion of the book, Job often complains that the Lord is treating him unfairly (e.g., Jb 7:11-16; 10:18; 23:2). Elsewhere Job is remembered as the paradigmatic righteous man (Ez 14:14). James apparently presumes that his readers will be familiar with other traditions (e.g., as reflected in T. Job) that emphasize Job's patience and perseverance. See also Peritestamental Literature Jas 5:11b ; Christian Tradition Jas 5:11b; Islam Jas 5:11b.

11c merciful God’s Merciful Nature James uses the term oiktirmôn to describe the Lord, evoking a rich background of references to the merciful Lord, as in the following examples. 

  • "The Lord, a God gracious (oiktirmôn) and merciful, slow to anger (makrothumos) and abounding in love and fidelity, (Ex 34:6; cf. Ps 143:8 [G-144:8]). See Jl 2:13, Jon 4:2 and many similar passages for the combination of oiktirmôn and makrothumos as descriptors of God. 
  • "Since the Lord, your God, is a merciful (oiktirmôn) God, he will not abandon or destroy you, nor forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them" (Dt 4:31).
  • "But God being compassionate (oiktirmôn) forgave their sin; he did not utterly destroy them" (Ps 78:38 [G-77:38]).

Peritestamental Literature

12b do not swear Criticism of Frequent and Frivolous Oaths

Josephus on the Essenes' Avoidance of Oaths

  • According to Josephus B.J. 2.135 the Essenes avoided oaths, "any word of theirs has more force than an oath (horkos); swearing they avoid (omnuein periistantai), regarding it as worse than perjury, for they say that one who is not believed without an appeal to God stands condemned already" (cf. A.J.15.370-71).

This passage apparently applies to more trivial oaths, however, since B.J. 2.139-42 himself also refers to the Essenes' requirement that initiates take solemn oaths (horkous omnuô) when fully entering the community. The Dead Sea Scrolls also evidence oath-taking (e.g., →CD 9.9-12; 15.1-3).

Philo's Criticism of Frequent or Frivolous Swearing of an Oath

  • Philo Decal. 92 criticises those who have "an evil habit of swearing (omnuô) incessantly and thoughtlessly about ordinary matters where there is nothing at all in dispute, filling up the gaps in their talk with oaths... for from much swearing springs false swearing (pseudorkia) and impiety" (Colson 1937, 52-53).
  • In his commentary on the commandment to not take the name of the Lord in vain, Philo Spec. 2.2 advocates avoiding the swearing of oaths (omnuô), but if they must be taken, they should not be sworn with God as a witness, but rather "the oath should be by a father and mother, their good health and welfare if they are alive, their memory (mnêmê) if they are dead" (Colson 1937, 306-307).
  • Spec. 2.5 also recommends swearing by "earth, sun, stars, heaven, and the whole universe," since they were created before humans and are in fact eternal (Colson 1937, 308-39). The holiness of God's name must be protected by avoiding frivolous or false oaths: a false oath "pollutes (miainô) the name that is by nature unpolluted, the name of God" (Spec. 4.40; Colson 1937, 332-333).


Comparison of Versions

7c early and late Rain or Crops? S, Byz, and TR agree with the reading of A in adding “rain” after “receives” to clarify the meaning of “early and late”: agreeing with א , the Bohairic Coptic adds “crop.” Cassiodorus follows this reading. See also Textual Criticism Jas 5:7c and Christian Tradition Jas 5:7c.


7–10 Use in Lectionary

  • RML: 3rd Sunday in Advent, Year A.
  • RCL : 3rd Sunday in Advent, Year A.

12 Liturgical Reading from Augustine’s Time Augustine of Hippo Serm. 180.1 preached a sermon on Jas 5:12: Prima lectio quae nobis hodie recitata est apostoli Jacobi (Boodts 2016, 657).

Christian Tradition

12e so that you do not fall under judgment

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. and Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. connect this verse with Mt 12:36, "people will render an account for every careless word they speak." This should motivate believers to avoid superfluous oaths and focus on the integrity of their everyday speech.  
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. comments that some manuscripts read fall into hypocrisy" (hupokrisin; L: simulationem) rather than "fall under judgment" (hupo krisin; Textual Criticism Jas 5:12e). Both readings are legitimate for Calvin: To "fall under judgment" means the punishment one incurs for taking the Lord's name in vain by frivolous oaths. To fall "into hypocrisy" refers to the hypocritical attitude of one who resorts to superfluous oaths to bolster his credibility (Owen 1849, 354; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 430). 



10a,13a suffering Active Attitude The noun kakopathia in v. 10 means literally “suffering of evil.” Its cognate verb kakopatheô, “to suffer,” we will find slightly further in Jas 5:13. It comes from the noun pathos, “experience, emotion, state,” and kakos, “evil,” (compare by contrast eupatheô, “to enjoy oneself”).

Literary Devices

7b Look Call for Attention James uses the imperative idou ("see!") three times in this section (Jas 5:7b; 9b; 11a) to call special attention to certain points.

10a suffering and of patience Hendiadys James here connects two nouns: suffering (kakopathia; Vocabulary Jas 5:10a) and patience (makrothumia; Vocabulary Jas 5:7f,10). One may simply translate, "an example of suffering and patience." Alternatively, one may take the second noun to modify the first by hendiadys, thus leading to a translation of "patient suffering" or "patience in suffering."  A close parallel is 4 Macc. 9:8, which links kakopathia and hupomonê.

Suggestions for Reading

7–11 Theme of Patience

Theme of Patience

Jas 5:7-11 focuses on various aspects of patience (using two words to express the idea: makrothumeô / makrothumia and hupomenô / hupomonê). James' admonitions address two main aspects of patience:

  • waiting patiently for something, in this case for the coming of the Lord (parousia Kuriou) (vv. 7-8);
  • patiently bearing hardship and suffering (vv. 10-11).

Relationship of v. 9 to the Rest of the Passage

Verse 9a, with its admonition to not speak badly of fellow believers, fits awkwardly within the thematic flow of Jas 5:7-11, leading some commentators to conclude that it originally was an independent saying. The other verses in Jas 5:7-11 focus on patience, while v. 9 echoes James' earlier admonitions that community members not speak badly about one another (see especially Jas 4:11, and earlier admonitions on the dangers of improper speech in Jas 1:19,26, and especially Jas 3:1-12). With its further connection with the theme of judgment ("so that you are not judged"), however, the verse does fit into a further theme of the Jas 5:7-11 passage: eschatological judgment. 

The implicit logic seems to be the following: complaining against one's fellow believer is equivalent to judging him. If one judges another person, then one in turn brings judgment on oneself. This judging, in any case, is illicit, since there is only one legitimate judge: Jesus Christ. 

By placing this admonition here, James may imply that community members should patiently bear suffering caused by fellow community members, rather than complain against them.


8a Strengthen your hearts Idiom of Resolve The verb stêrizô means to fix something firmly in place (cf. KJV: "stablish your hearts") or "to support." Literally, it can refer simply to reinforcing the physical strength by eating: G-Jgs 19:5,8; Ps 104:15. This could be also the meaning of Jas 5:5.

Since the heart is the center of thought, emotions, and will in biblical anthropology, metaphorically, this expression means that a person firmly sets his or her intention or focus. It can be done by God himself (Sir 6:37; 1Thes 3:13; 2Thes 2:17), or by a man himself who keeps his mind "firmly resolved" (estêrigmenê; Sir 22:16).

In James, this expression appears in contrast to the double-minded person (Jas 1:8; 4:8). From the very beginning, the "heart" is referred to as the place of the potential illusion (Jas 1:26), envy (Jas 3:14).

  • 1 Clem. 35.5 speaks of the mind "faithfully fixed on God" (estêrigmenê hê dianoia pistôs pros ton theon).

11b the end of the Lord Purpose The meaning of this lapidary phrase (telos Kuriou; V: finis Domini) is ambiguous. The title Kurios may refer either to God the Father or to Jesus. Telos can have two basic meanings in this context:

The phrase is clearly set in parallel to James' reference to Job: "you have heard of the perseverance of Job" and "you have seen the telos Kuriou." The reference, then, is most likely to the Lord's final purpose or result, referring to Job's perseverance. In other words, the reference is to Job's vindication at the end of the book when Job's wealth and family are restored. A prominent interpretive trend, current in James' time, however, understands Job's final vindication as receiving eternal life. References to the resurrection are already apparent: G-Job and T. Job frequently refer to Job's heavenly reward. 

This eschatological interpretation is supported by James' calling those who have persevered "blessed"—a clear reference to Jas 1:12 which speaks of the eschatological crown to be won by those who persevere through their trials.


11c Because compassionate is the Lord and merciful Explanatory Hoti Clause The conjunction hoti introduces an explanatory or causal phrase: the Lord brought about a blessed final result for Job, because the Lord is exceedinly compassionate and merciful.


Ancient Texts

12b do not swear Criticism of Oaths Against the common Greco-Roman use of oaths as a guarantee for the truthfulness of a statement (Ancient Cultures Jas 5:12c), Stoic and other philosophical schools urged their followers to avoid oaths and rely on the trustworthiness of their own statements:

  • Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 8.22: Pythagoras is said to have advised his disciples, "Not to call the gods to witness (mêd' omnunai theous); man's duty being rather to strive to make his own word carry conviction" (axiopiston parechein; Hicks 1925, 338-41). 
  • Epictetus Enchr. 33.5 teaches, "Refuse, if you can, to take an oath at all (horkon paraiteomai), but if that is impossible, refuse as far as circumstances allow" (Oldfather 1928, 516-17). Like James, Epictetus links the avoidance of swearing with restained speech: "And be silent for the most part, or else make only the most necessary remarks, and express these in few words" (Oldfather 1928, 516-17; cf. Jas 1:26). 
  • Marcus Aurelius Med. 3.5 admonishes his reader "Be not a man of superfluous words...having need neither of oath nor of any man's testimony" (mête horkou deomenos mête anthrôpou tinos marturos;Haines 1916, 52-53).

Peritestamental Literature

10a example …of suffering: Persecution of the Prophets A central theme in Second Temple Judaism portrays in further detail the faithful sufferings of the prophets and other biblical figures, e.g., Mart. Ascen. Isa. and Vit. Proph.  See also Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:10b.

11b perseverance of Job Portrait of Job The Testament of Job (1st c. BC – 1st c. AD) shows remarkable parallels with James' portrait of Job.

Focus on the Perseverance of Job

Its central focus is the virtue of hupomonê

  • T. Job 1.5: At the beginning of the work, Job tells his children, "I am your father Job, fully engaged in endurance" (hupomonê).
  •  T. Job 26.5: Job says, "Rather let us be patient (makrothumeô) until the Lord, in pity, shows us mercy." 
  • T. Job 27.7: Job tells his children, "you also must be patient in everything that happens to you. For patience (makrothumia) is better than anything."

Eternal Life as a Reward for Job's Endurance

The Testament also emphasizes eternal life as Job's reward for his endurance, paralleling Jas 1:12 and possibly Jas 5:11b (see also Vocabulary Jas 5:11b and Christian Tradition Jas 5:11b).

  • "You [Job] shall be raised up in the resurrection. For you will be like a sparring athlete, both enduring (kartereô) pains and winning the crown" (T. Job 4.9-10).
  • Job says, "my heart is fixed on heavenly concerns, for there is no upset in heaven" (T. Job 36.3).

One sees this interpretive tradition already in G-Jb 42:17, which adds to the account of Job's death the comment, "It is written that he will rise again with those the Lord raises up." Christians read other passages as references to the resurrection:  Jb 14:14, "For if a man dies, shall he live again?"; G-Jb 19:26, "may my skin rise up" (cited in 1 Clem. 26.3 as a proof of the resurrection). See also Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:11b; Christian Tradition Jas 5:11b and Islam Jas 5:11b.


Comparison of Versions

10a take as an example, my brothers Textual Addition

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. (Hurst 1983, 219) and the Gloss. Ord. (col. 1300) adds exitus mali et longanimitatis ("of the result of evil and longsuffering") before "of hardship and patience";
  • C also adds exitus mali.


9–12 Use in Lectionary RML : Friday, Week 7, Year 2.

Jewish Tradition

12b neither by heaven Pharisaic / Rabbinic Debate on the Binding Nature of Oaths The Mishnah distinguishes between vows (nᵉdārîm) and oaths (šᵉbû‘ôt). Several tractates are devoted to legal discussions on vows or oaths: Nedarim (Vows), Nazir (the Nazarite Vow), and Shevu'ot (Oaths), thus showing the importance of vows and oaths for the rabbis.  

One frequent topic of discussion is the circumstances under which an oath or vow is not binding, e.g.,

  • m. Ned. 3.1 "Four kinds of vow the Sages have declared not to be binding" (Danby 1933, 266).

Discussion on this topic certainly dates back to the first-century, as evidenced in passages such as Mt 5:34-37 and Mt 23:16-22.

The original practice of swearing by the name of God (Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:12b) was avoided in many quarters, perhaps to avoid pronouncing the holy name. Jews then swore by a variety of lesser authorities: by heaven, earth, the Temple, articles on the altar, a person's head (perhaps representing the person's life; cf. m. Ker. 1.7;  b. Ber. 3a).

Rabbinic literature records a dispute on the binding nature of oaths sworn by these lesser authorities:

  • m. Sanh. 3.2 "If a man must take an oath before his fellow, and his fellow said to him, 'Vow to me by the life of they head,' R. Meir says, He may retract. But the Sages say: He cannot retract (Danby 1933, 385; cf. m. Ned. 1.3).

A similar distinction between a binding and non-binding vow is evident in Jesus' reference to Pharisaic teaching, "If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated" (Mt 23:16).

Jesus' teaching rejects this distinction between binding and non-binding oaths. Since all created things have a relationship with God, an oath by a created thing implies an oath to God: "one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it" (Mt 23:16).

Jesus' teaching goes further, however, in rejecting the need for oaths at all: "Let your 'yes' mean yes, and your 'no' mean no" (Mt 5:37). There should be no need to further verify the truth of a trustworthy person's statements. This then is the implicit logic behind James' less sophisticated version: "do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath." See also Ancient Cultures Jas 5:12c and Christian Tradition Jas 5:12b.

Christian Tradition

7a be patient, brothers Addressed to the Oppressed Poor

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. explains that James addresses those who are oppressed: they should be patient until the Lord's parousia, since at that time, they will be taken away to the Lord or their oppressors will lose their power to persecute (Hurst 1985, 58; Hurst 1983, 219).
  • Similarly Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc.  Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. admonishes the poor to not envy the rich nor take veangeance on them (Bateman 1997, 154; Bateman 1993, 167).

7c early and late Rain or Crop? Bede Ep. cath. ad loc., (Hurst 1983, 219), Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. (col. 80) and the Gloss. Ord. ad loc. (col. 1299) understand the adjectives early and late to refer to the crop.

In the Syriac tradition, Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc. speaks of early and late rain, referencing the exact months in which they come (Sedlacek 1910, 101).

See also Textual Criticism Jas 5:7c and  Comparison of Versions Jas 5:7c.

7c early and late Allegorical Interpretations The tradition offers allegorical readings of the terms "early and late," understood as either rain or crops.

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc.: the early crop is life after death, or the works of righteousness (opera iustitiae) in this life; the late crop is the incorruption of the flesh (carnis incorruptionem; Hurst 1985, 58; Hurst 219). Bede's commentary is reproduced in the Gloss. Ord. ad loc. (col. 1299).
  • Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc.: the early crop is faith, hope, and love (fides, spes, caritas); the later crop is joy and peace (gaudium et pax; col. 80).
  • Hugh of St. Cher Post. ad loc.: the early is prevenient grace (gratia praeveniens); the late is subsequent grace (gratia subsequens; 321); Lapide Comm. ad loc. : the early is the beginning of faith and virtue; the later is its perfection (20:208).
  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. records a tradition in which the early rain represents the tears of repentence (metanoia) in youth, and the late rain the repentent tears of old age (col. 505; cf. Theophylact Exp. Ep. Jac. ad loc. (col. 1185).
  • The interpretive tradition regularly connects the crop with the promise of eternal reward, so Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc., "how much more is it right for you to bear patiently the disadvantages of this life in return for the harvest of immortality" (immortalitatis fructum; Bateman 1993, 167; Bateman 1997, 154).

8a be patient Patience v. Perseverance In the Greek tradition, Ps.-Andreas Catena (attributed to Chrysostom) ad loc. (Cramer 1844, 8:34-35) and Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. (col. 505) pass down an interpretation distinguishing between patience (makrothumia) and perseverance (hupomonê). Patience is directed towards one another (in the community) and perseverance towards those outside the community. One is patient with those against whom one is able to take vengeance (amenesthai); one perserveres with those against whom one is unable to take vengeance. Thus the Catena concludes, "Therefore, in the case of God, 'perseverance' is never referenced (legetai); while 'patience' is often referenced" (Cramer 1844, 8:35). See also Vocabulary Jas 5:7f,10.

9a Do not groan Nature of the Complaints? The tradition offers two interpretations for the nature of these complaints.

Complaining of Their Own Suffering

Some interpreters take those complaining as the poor who suffer persecution by the rich. Thus they complain that they are oppressed, while their unjust oppressors seemingly lead a good and comfortable life. 

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc., "Do not complain, brothers, against one another, as if you suffer greater adversities than you deserve (maiora meritis adversa patiamini), and your persecutors, when they have committed very great abominations, appear to bear no adversity" (Hurst 1985, 58; Hurst 1983, 219).
  • Bede's comment is reproduced in the Gloss. Ord. ad loc. (cols. 1299-1300).
  • So too Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc., "Why do the wicked prosper and the just are oppressed?" (Sedlacek 1910, 101).

Community Members Complain against One Another

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. James exhorts the community members not to complain about one another when they suffer a wrong (Owen 1849, 349; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 426-27).

11b end of the Lord Interpretation of Telos Kuriou ("end of the Lord") The tradition offers a variety of interpretations (several commentatators offer more than one).

The "End" God Planned for Job:

The "End of the Lord" Refers to the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus

  • Augustine of Hippo Symb. 10 (= Serm. 398.10) interprets the "end of the Lord" in this verse as a reference to Jesus' death on the cross, an event in which Augustine already implicity sees Jesus' resurrection. Thus, in Augustine's reading, James admonishes his readers to focus on the patience of Job, but not on the "end of Job" (Job receiving double as his recompense for earthly suffering), since the hope of recompense might spark avarice in the reader. Rather, the focus should be on the "end of the Lord": the hope of eternal life after death, "the reason you must have patience is so that you may rise again and not die, that is, never die, like Christ (ut resurgas et non moriaris, id est, numquam moriaris, sicut Christus; Hill 1995, 452 ; Vander Plaetse 1969, 195). See also Augustine of Hippo Ep. 140.26.
  • The Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. (interlinear) contrasts the temporal goods that were restored to Job as the "old man" (i.e., humanity before the new life in Christ) with Christ, the "new man" who bore every suffering in this world, but in his "end" was given resurrection (in fine datur resurrectio; cols. 1299-1300).
  • Martin of León Exp. Jac. ad loc.: Job is an example for bearing the sufferings of this life, and Christ is an example of bearing with the sufferings of death, with the hope of eternal life (cols. 210-11). Cf. the simlar teaching in Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. (Hurst 1985, 59-60; Hurst 1983, 220) and Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. (81).
  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. summarizes the previous interpretations. Read analogically (anagogice), the "end of Christ" refers to Christ's resurrection, his ascension, the sending of the Spirit, the exalation of his name, and his worship among all nations (20:211).

12b do not swear History of Interpretation: Strict and Modified Comment on James' teaching in later Christian tradition often combined this passage with Jesus' very similar teaching in Mt 5:33-37 (Biblical Intertextuality Jas 5:12b).

Early Tradition: Literal Understanding that all Oaths are Prohibited

Early Christian tradition understood Jesus' commandment forbidding oaths in Mt 5:33-37 and / or Jas 5:12 to be absolute; see Justin  1 Apol. 16.5; Irenaeus Haer. 2.32.1; Tertullian Idol. 11.1; Eusebius of Caesarea Praep. ev. 1.4; John Chrysostom Hom. Matt. 17.5; Ps.-Clem. Hom. 3.55.1. Even Origen Princ. 4.3.4 insisted that this commandment should be interpreted literally (kata tên lexin têrêteon) (Butterworth 1973, 295; Koetschau 1913, 330). Specific comments on Jas 5:12 include:

Later Interpretations: Limitations on Oaths


By the time of Augustine, however, the understanding of an absolute prohibition of oaths in Jas 5:12 and in Mt 5:34-37 is modified.

Augustine of Hippo Serm. 180 on Jas 5:12 (Hill 1997, 3/5: 314-22); Boodts 2016, 657-84) makes the basic arguments that will be taken up by later Christian authors; cf. a similar discussion in → Ep. 157.40; see also Augustine's similar interpretation of the version in Mt 5:34-37→ Serm. Dom. 1.17.51; cf. De Mend. 28.

  • James could not have meant that one should not swear at all, since God himself swears (e.g., Gn 22:16); the Law allows swearing (Augustine quotes the Matthean summary of OT teaching in Mt 5:33; cf. Lv 19:12; Ps 50:14), and even Paul in the NT swears oaths (e.g., Gal 1:20: "As to what I am writing to you, behold, before God, I am not lying"; cf. 2Cor 1:23).
  • The commandment was given as a precaution to keep people away from habit of swearing lightly and frivolously and above all to avoid the great sin of swearing falsely. James' introductory phrase, "Above all," means that Christians should be especially alert to avoid making frequent and frivolous oaths.
  • Swearing an oath is legitimate in situations where the truth cannot be established without the help of an oath.
  • Commenting on the version in Mt 5:34-37 , Augustine's → Serm. Dom. 1.17.51 thus interprets the final phrase of v 37, "Anything more is from evil" [or "the evil one"] thus : "anything more" refers to swearing an oath; this legitimate swearing is not evil in itself, but comes from the evil situation in which one is forced to swear because of another party requires an oath before he will believe (Campbell 2014, 51-52; Mutzenbecher 1967, 59; cf. De Mend. 28).
Later Patristic and Medieval Interpretation

 Later interpretation followed Augustine's lead in taking James to limit, rather than prohibit, taking oaths.

  •  Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. understands this as the culimination of James' teaching on controlling one's speech. The commandment is given to avoid the dangers of swearing excessively and lightly, which can lead to the sin of perjury; Bede connects it with Jesus' teaching in Mt 12:36. One should avoid swearing, "except under pressing necessity" (nisi proxima necessitate; Hurst 1985, 60; Hurst 1983, 220). See also Nicholas of Lyra Post. ad loc. (col. 1301).
  • Apos. Con. 2.36.5 "Avoid swearing falsely, and swearing often, and in vain (epiorkian kai poluorkian mataion pheuge); for you shall not be held guiltless," implying that some oaths are permissible (ANF 7:413; Funk 1906, 123).
  • Apos. Con. 7.3.4 "You shall not forswear yourself (epiorkêseis); for it is said, 'You shall not swear at all' (Mt 5:34). But if that cannot be avoided, you shall swear truly; for 'every one that swears by Him shall be commended'" (G-Ps 62:12; ANF 7:466; Funk 1906, 392).
  • But cf. Apos. Con. 5.12, which seems to assume that the Lord prohibited all oaths.
  • Aquinas ST 2-2.89.2, considering the question, "Whether it is lawful to swear" (iurare), quotes clear Scriptural commandments forbidding swearing. Yet, on the contrary, reads, "The Lord, your God, shall you fear; him shall you serve, and by his name shall you swear."  Thomas argues that an oath is in itself lawful and commendable (iuramentum secundum se est licitum et honestum), since humans swear because they think that God (called on as a witness in the oath) possesses all truth and knowledge, and because oaths are used to attain justice and put an end to disputes (Hb 6:16). Thomas appeals to Augustine's arguments that the apostle Paul's clear use of oaths in his letters means that they are licit (De Mend. 28) and his interpretation of Mt 5:37 (→ Serm. Dom. 1.17). An oath is only evil when one "employs it without necessity and due caution" (sine necessitate et cautela debita; English Dominicans 1947, 3:1573-74). 
  • The Gloss. Ord. (V) quotes Bede's arguments (Gloss. Ord. (V) adds Augustine's argument) that James prohibits rash and false oaths, but not swearing oaths in itself (col. 1301).

Interpretation in the Reformed Tradition

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. explicity rejects the interpretation of the Anabaptists (Anabapistae) that James means to prohibit the swearing of oaths in general. Rather, he teaches that the purpose of James and Jesus was to condemn the habit of swearing by lesser authorities (e.g., heaven and earth), since, as Jesus' taught, when one swears by a created thing one implicitly swears by the Creator. Calvin takes this habit as a violation of the commandment, "You shall not invoke the name of the Lord, your God, in vain" (Ex 20:7). The modifier "in vain" implies that the name of the Lord can be used properly. He intereprets the "above all" in Jas 5:12 as referring to the seriousness of violating this commandment (Owen 1849, 352-53; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 429). 
  • Creedal statements in the Reformed tradition allow swearing when required by government authorities or on other serious occasions, but see unnecessary swearing as a violation of the commandment against taking the Lord's name in vain: Heid. Cat. qq. 99-101; WCF 22; Presbyt. Conf. 31.

Licit to Swear Oaths in Court

Among interpreters who limit the scope of James' prohibition, several specificy that James does not forbid swearing an oath in a court of law when it is necessary.

  • Art. XXXIX "As we confess that vain and rash (iuramentum vanum, et temerarium) swearing is forbidden (interdictum esse) Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his apostle, so we judge that Christian religion doth not prohibit (minime prohibere censemus), but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth in a cause of faith and charity (in causa fidei, et charitatis), so it be done according to the prophet's teaching, in justice, judgment, and truth" (CCFCT 2:539; Evans and Wright 1991, 173); cf. Heid. Cat. Q. 101.

Literal Interpretations of the Radical Reformers

Groups in the radical Reformation and related traditions revived a strict interpretation of Jesus' prohibition of oaths. 

  • Swiss Brethren: The 1527 Schleitheim Confession of the Swiss Brethren includes an extended justification for the refusal to take any oath, although it only references Jesus' teaching at Mt 5:33-37 (Schl. Conf. 7; CCFCT 2:701-2; Fast 1973, 2:33).
  • Mennonite Tradition: The 1632 Dutch Mennonite Dordrecht Confession cites Jas 5:12, along with Mt 5:34, and 2Cor 1:17 in support of their practice of refusing to take any oath whatsoever, including civic or legal oaths (Dor. Conf. art. 15; CCFCT 2:782; Brüsewitz and Krebber 1983, 52). Cf. Simons Conf. 7 (519); Simons Ep. Micron (Wenger 1956, 924-25); Ris Menn. Art. 30  (CCFCT, 3:189; Ris 1766, 148).
  • Quaker Tradition: Penn Treat. Oath. is a 1675 apology for the Quakers' refusal to swear oaths references Jas 5:12, along with Mt 5:34, Jer 32:10 and a host of Greco-Roman, Jewish, patristic, and medieval witnesses. See also Friends Conf. 21 (CCFCT, 3:147; Barclay 1857, 90-91).
  • Several groups, including the Cathari, the Waldensians, and followers of John Wycliffe, took the passage literally (Allison 2013, 724).

Higher Standard for Religious

  • Leander of Seville Inst. virg. 29 (19) advises religious sisters, "Never take an oath (numquam jurare), always tell the truth; these precepts are to be observed equally. Although the carnal (carnalibus) are allowed to swear from terror of fraud, the spiritual (spiritualibus) may never use oaths, even though they have a clear conscience" (Barlow 1969, 224; PL 78:891). Leander refers to Mt 5:37.


12b do not swear Church Tradition on Swearing Oaths The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes the following points:

  • CCC 2150 "The second commandment forbids false oaths. Taking an oath or swearing is to take God as witness to what one affirms. It is to invoke the divine truthfulness as a pledge of one's own truthfulness."
  • CCC 2153: Citing the second commandment and Mt 5:37, the CCC states, "Jesus teaches that every oath involves a reference to God and that God's presence and his truth must be honored in all speech. Discretion in calling upon God is allied with a respectful awareness of his presence, which all our assertions either witness to or mock."
  • CCC 2154: Church tradition, in line with Paul's example (referencing 2Cor 1:23 and Gal 1:20), "has understood Jesus' words as not excluding oaths made for grave and right reasons" (gravi et justa fit de causa; for example, in court). The Catechism quotes the Code of Canon Law, "An oath, that is the invocation of the divine name as a witness to truth, cannot be taken unless in truth, in judgment, and in justice" (CIC can. 1199 par. 1).
  • CCC 2155: Addressing civil oaths, the Catechism teaches that oaths required by illegitimate civil authorities may be refused. Such an oath must be refused "when it is required for purposes contrary to the dignity of persons or to ecclesial communion."


7 German Requiem The second movement of Johannes Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem quotes 1Pt 1:24, Jas 5:7, 1Pt 1:25, and Is 35:10.


Biblical Intertextuality

10 an example ...of suffering and of patience: Persecution of the Prophets James assumes his readers' familiarity with the hardships of the prophets (e.g., Jer 1:17-19; Am 7:10-15). In the NT, the persecution of the prophets is a standard trope (Mt 5:12, Mt 23:34-37; Lk 13:33; Acts 7:52; 1Thes 2:14-15; Heb 11:32-38), that can take on an anti-Jewish flavor (e.g., Acts 7:52; 1Thes 2:14-15). The NT and early Christian adversus Iudaeos literature polemically link the "Jewish" persecution of the prophets and the killing of Jesus (e.g., 1Thes 2:14-15; Barn. 5.11; Justin Dial. 93.4). See also Peritestamental Literature Jas 5:10a.

12b do not swear Prohibition on Swearing: Biblical Background and Comparison with Gospel Version

Old Testament Background

Ancient Israelites followed the common ancient practice of calling on divine powers to verify or strengthen the truth of a human statement (Ancient Texts Jas 5:12b). 

  • Oaths before God are part of legal proceedings when there are no witnesses (Ex 22:9–10). 
  • Curses often accompanied oaths to ensure that they were kept (e.g., 1Sm 14:24). 

Swearing in the Lord’s Name

  • Deuteronomy prescribes that oaths should be taken in the name of the Lord (Dt 6:13; 10:20 [M = bšmw tšb‘; G= tôᵢ onomati autou omêᵢ]).

Even God is portrayed as taking oaths, especially in the context of his covenants with Israel:

  • Gn 22:16: The Lord promises to bless Abraham and make his descendants countless: “I swear (M = nšmw; G = omnuô) by my very self—oracle of the Lord.” 
  • Nm 14:28: “‘By my life’—oracle of the Lord—‘I will do to you just what I have heard you say.’” 

Critiques of Swearing Oaths

Condemnation of False Oaths
Condemnation of Lightly-made or Frequent Oaths
  • Sir 23:9–10: “Do not accustom your mouth to oaths (horkos), or habitually utter the Holy Name. Just as a servant constantly under scrutiny will not be without bruises, So one who swears (omnuô) continually by the Holy Name will never remain free from sin.”

Jesus’ and James’ Teaching on Oaths

James’ prohibition on oaths is manifestly drawn from Jesus’ teaching on the topic. Mt 5:34–37 records a more detailed version of Jesus’ teaching. Some scholars judge that James’ simpler version is closer to Jesus’ historical teaching; others see Jas 5:12 as a shortened version of the teaching in Matthew. 

The versions in Matthew and James share the following essential elements.

Absolute Prohibition of Swearing.
  • Mt 5:34: “Do not swear at all” (mê omasai holôs).
  • Jas 5:12b: “Do not swear” (mê omnuete). 

Further Elaboration of the Absolute Prohibition on Swearing Oaths

Both versions of Jesus’ teaching elaborate the prohibition, apparently in reaction to Jewish traditions that avoided swearing in the name of the Lord in favor of swearing by less powers (Jewish Tradition Jas 5:12b). 

  • Mt 5:34: “not by heaven...nor by the earth” (mête tôᵢ ouranôᵢ...mête têᵢ gêᵢ).
  • Jas 5:12: “either by heaven or by earth” (mête ton ouranon mête tên gên).

Matthew adds rationales for not swearing by heaven (“for it is God’s throne”) and earth (“for it is his footstool”); James lacks rationales. Matthew gives two further examples: do not swear by Jerusalem; do not swear by one’s head. These are lacking in James, who gives a blanket prohibition on swearing “with any other oath” (mête allon tina horkon).

Exhortation to Honest Speech that Requires no Oath for Validation
  • Mt 5:37: “Let your word be ‘yes, yes,’ and ‘no, no’” (estô de ho logos humôn nai nai, ou ou). 
  • Jas 5:12c: “Let your ‘yes’ [be] yes and ‘no’ [be] no” (êtô de humôn to nai, nai, kai to ou, ou).

In other words, the validity of one’s words should stand on its own merits, not requiring ouside validation.

Final Warning against Adding Oaths
  • Mt 5:37: “Anything more is from the evil one” (ek tou ponêrou). 

  • Jas 5:12d: “lest you fall under judgment” (hupo krisin).

  • In Matthew, Jesus contrasts his own teaching with what was said “to the ancestors,” “Do not take a false oath (epiorkeô), but make good to the Lord all that you vow” (orkos; Mt 5:33). This is not a direct quotation, but is comparable to teachings in Dt 23:21–23, Lv 19:12, and Nm 30:3–15

Later Allusions

Paul apparently alludes to a version of Jesus’ saying in a discussion in 2Cor 1:17–18: “do I make my plans according to human considerations, so that with me it is ‘yes, yes’ (to nai nai) and ‘no, no’ (to ou ou)? As God is faithful, our word to you is not ‘yes’ and ‘no’” (2Cor 1:17–18). 


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. 

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

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

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

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).

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

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.

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

Not Found

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.