Criswell Theological Review 1.1 (1986) 71-84.

          Copyright © 1986 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission. 




          SUFFERING IN JAMES 1:2-12


                               TRACY L. HOWARD

          Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, IN 46590



The Christian lives paradoxically in two different worlds. By virtue

of his identification with the risen Christ, his spiritual citizenship has

been transferred from the domain of this present age to the age to

come. The Christian thus lives in an “already/not yet” tension for

although the age to come has been inaugurated, it has not been realized

in all of its fulness. This realization will occur at the Parousia at which

time the believer's spiritual citizenship will be openly manifested. As

W. D. Davies says, “Christians are already in the Age to Come ‘in

Christ' and . . . future events can only make this fact explicit.”1 Because

the Christian is no longer a part of this age, it should not be thought

strange that affliction, trials, and even persecution are not only possible

but inevitable. Nevertheless, it is easy to lose perspective in the midst

of such circumstances and thus several questions arise: How should the

Christian respond to suffering? What is its purpose for the believer?

Will there ever be a resolution to this predicament? In Jas 1:2-12, the

writer addresses the issue of suffering and attempts to answer some of

the questions facing Christians as they live as pilgrims in this present

evil age. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to offer a brief

exegetical study of Jas 1:2-12 and extract several biblical principles for

responding to suffering which were true not only for the original

audience but which are equally valid for believers today.2


            1 W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 4th ed., 1980)


            2 The focus of this article is on trials or suffering from without rather than on

temptation from within which James takes up in 1:13. Certainly trials from without, if not

responded to properly, can lead to temptation from within. However, in Jas 1:2-12

attention is given to undeserved suffering from without, namely, suffering which is not

the result of the violation of some natural or moral law of God. In this article both "trials"

and “suffering" are considered synonymous terms.




                                                I. Background

            While several views exist on the nature of the recipients,3 the most

likely addressees were Jewish-Christians living in the dispersion. The

use of a]delfoi< in the vocative throughout the epistle suggests this

conclusion (cf. 1:1, 16, 19; 2:1, 5; 3:10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19). The

life setting, however, is more difficult to determine. Some such as M.

Dibelius virtually abandon any attempt to discover a setting or local

situation, believing the material to be a miscellaneous collection of

traditional teachings from various sources without any coherence in

theme or theology.4 However, P. Davids has responded to this con-

clusion by proposing that the epistle is primarily Leidenstheologie,

namely, a theology of suffering.5 This would be true particularly in

connection with Jas 1:2-12 in which the writer sets forth the subject of

"trials from without." It is possible that these believers had been

scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution and James writes to

encourage them in the midst of suffering in the dispersion (cf. Acts 8:1

4; 11:19-20).6


                                                II. Interpretation


Exhortations Regarding Suffering (1:2-8)

            The believer in this present world is embroiled in a war between

good and evil. The consequences of war is that one faces battles, in

which case one must be prepared. James exhorts the believer that

when he faces the battle of trials he should respond two ways: 1) with

an attitude of joy and 2) with prayer for wisdom.

            Exhortation to Respond with Joy (vv 2-4). A proper response to

trials is essential for any hope of victory. The believer is thus exhorted


            3 For example, J. Adamson (The Epistle of James [NIC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans

1976] 49-51) interprets tai?j dw<deka fulai?j tai>j e]n t^? diaspor%? as including both

Christian and non-Christian Jews. Others take the phrase figuratively as denoting

Christendom in general which is conceived as the true Israel, and thus inherits the rights

of the ancient people of God (cf.. James Moffatt, The General Epistles [MNTC; London:

Hodder and Stoughton, 1928] 469; also James Hardy Ropes, A Critical and Exegetical

Commentary on the Epistle of St. James [ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1916] 118).

            4 M. Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James (Hermeneia; Philadelphia

Fortress, 1975) 47.

            5 Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James (New International Greek Testament

Commentary; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982) 28-34; "Theological Perspectives

on the Epistle of James," JETS 23 (1980) 97-103.

            6 Donald W. Burdick, "James," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary (12 vols.;

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981) 12.167.


                Howard: SUFFERING IN JAMES 1:2-12              73


to consider" the occasion of the trial with “pure joy.” By the employ-

ment of the aorist h]gh<sasqe rather than the present, James may be

thinking of each special case when one encounters a trial.7 The word

translated “pure” (pa?san) refers to the degree by which the joy is to be

expressed.8 The NEB renders it “supremely.” When it is used with

“joy" (xara<n) the idea moves beyond the expression of simple emotion.

There is no facade here either. Rather, the believer can consider the

occasion of a trial as supreme or pure joy because there is the inner

awareness that God is at work in his life. Furthermore, this should be

the response whenever “any kind” (poiki<loij) of trial occurs.9 The

word for “trials” (peirasmoi?j) describes things that put a person to the

test. It can describe either a trial or difficulty from without, such as

physical persecution or even economic oppression, or an inner moral

test, such as the enticement to sin. From the context, it would appear

that 1:2-4, 12 refer to the former sense and 1:13-18 describe the latter

meaning.10 The reason for this is that trials are endured whereas

temptation is resisted and in both vv 3 and 12, James discusses the

importance of enduring trials when they occur.11

            The basis for the exhortation is given in v 3 through the use of the

causal participle ginw<skontej. The NASB translation obscures the

semantic connection with the preceding clause by rendering it simply

knowing." A more precise connection might be “because you are

aware.”12 Specifically, these believers are aware that the means of

testing their faith produces endurance (to> doki<mion u[mw?n th?j pi<stewj

katerga<zetai u[pomonh<n). James shifts his terminology from peirasmo<j

(v 2) to doki<moin, thus creating a shift in tone13 This shift is necessary


            7 Cf. J. H. Moulton, '.Prolegomena," in A Grammar of New Testament Greek (4

yols.; Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark, 1908) 1.173-74.

            8 BAGD 631; see also Joseph B. Mayor, The Epistle of St. James (London:

Macmillan, 1913) 32; Ropes, James 129.

            9 The adjective poiki<loj literally means "of various kinds, diversified, manifold"

and should include more than just physical persecution (cf. BAGD 683).

            10 See Burdick, "James" 168; D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle of James (Chicago:

Moody, 1979) 72; Mayor, James 33; Ropes, James 133; R. V. G. Tasker, The General

Epistle of James (Tyndale New Testament Commentary; London: Tyndale, 1956) 40;

see also NASB NEB NIV and RSV which translate peirasmo<j as "trial"; the translation

temptation” in the KJV is unfortunate and ambiguous in terms of what James is actually

describing. That peirasmo<j can mean "trial" in the sense of affliction or suffering is

indicated by its use in some of the synoptic parallels (see Luke 8:13 [peirasmo<j] par. Matt

13:21 [qli?yij and diwgmo<j]).

            11 Ropes, James 133; notice the use of u[pomonh< and u[pome<nw in vv 2-4 and v 12,


            12 Cf. Dibelius, James 72.

            13 Davids, James 68.




because whereas peirasmo<j focuses on the trial itself, doki<mion is a

reference to the "means of testing."14 Some have interpreted doki<mion,

as "the genuineness" of one's faith.15 This would mean that when one is

tested, the testings sift out the genuine portion of his faith and it is that

aspect of faith which produces endurance.16 This idea may not neces-

sarily be absent in v 3. James might be referring not only to the means

of testing but also to the approval which remains following the refining

process, an idea latent in 1 Pet 1:7 and also in Jas 1:12 in which approval

follows endurance.

            James, however, does not say that merely the testing of one's faith

is the cause for joy, but rather, the result or "accomplishment" (kat-

erga<zetai)17 that occurs through the testing, namely, u[pomonh<n.18 The

KJV translation of u[pomonh< ("patience") is weak. A better translation is

"endurance" (NASB) or "steadfastness" (RSV). Ropes suggests the

nuance of "staying power."19 The idea is unwavering constancy to faith

in spite of adversity and suffering. This is not a single act but a state of

character that results over time when there is a faithful response to

testing. Moffatt writes, "Only trial can prove what we are made of,

whether we possess this supreme quality of steadfastness or constancy

to our convictions."20  James' statement here echoes Matt 5:11-12 in

which Jesus forges a link between joy and persecution. Jesus says that

the basis for joy is the promise of great reward in the Kingdom of

Heaven. Hence the hope of the future adds an eschatological dimension

to the endurance of trials in the present (cf. Jas 1:12).21

            Thus James exhorts believers to respond to the occasion of trials

with pure joy because they are fully aware that by the testing of their

faith the character trait of spiritual endurance is achieved. Yet this is


            14 Cf. Prov. 27:21 (LXX); Sir 2:5 in which the same root suggests the "means of

testing;" I agree with both Davids (James 68) and Dibelius (James 72) that doki<mion has

two meanings: in 1 Pet 1:7 the word means "genuineness" whereas here "means of


            15 BAGD 203; see also Burdick, "James" 168; this understanding is based on the

papyrus usage in which doki<mion is used as an abstract substantive to denote "that which

is genuine, approved" by testing (cf. A. Deismann, Bible Studies [Edinburgh: T. & T.

Clark, 1923] 259-62).

            16 Cf. W. Grundmann, " do<kimoj" TDNT 2 (1964) 258-59.

            17 Note the perfective use of  kata< (See Moulton, Grammar 1.111-15).

            18 There is absolutely no external testimony to support Adamson's (James 00-92)

emendation u[pomon^?. It is pure conjecture in an effort to harmonize the uses of Jas 1:3

and 1 Pet 1:7. Hence, u[pomonh<n is preferred.

            19 Ropes, James 135.

            20 Moffatt, General Epistles 9.

            21 The importance of endurance is likewise found in Jewish tradition (cf. Sir 2:1-6;

Jdt 8:25; 1Qs 10,17; 1 QH 5:15-17; 1 QM 16:15-17:3; T. Jos. 2; for a patristic example, see

Did. 16:5).

                        Howard: SUFFERING IN JAMES 1:2-12              75


not the complete picture, for James goes on in v 4 to describe a work

that endurance performs.

            The particle de< introduces v 4 and in this instance indicates a

transition to a similar theme. Furthermore, the repetition of u[pomonh<

serves to link vv 3 and 4. The believers are commanded to let (e]xe<tw)

endurance have its complete effect (e@rgon te<leion).22 James does not

issue an option but a command.23 According to him, endurance left to

itself is not enough. The believer must allow it to have its complete

effect, the goal or purpose of which (i!na) is to ensure the ethical

character of the mature believer.24

            James states his purpose both positively and negatively. Positively,

the purpose is that the believer might be "perfect and entire" (te<leioi

kai> o[lo<klhroi). The adjective o[lo<klhroi denotes the perfect, mature,

fully developed character in a moral sense.25 Hence the perfect effect

of allowing endurance to work is the perfect character of the one

tested. The parallel adjective o[lo<klhroi also conveys the notion of

complete, blameless, whole."26 It is used here in a qualitative sense to

denote the ethical integrity which characterizes the mature Christian.

Maturity, therefore, is the ultimate goal of one's faith being tested.

            James emphasizes this point further by adding the negative phrase

“1acking in nothing" (e]n mhdeni> leipo<menoi). If the negative is intended

to counterbalance the positive description just given, Hiebert may be

correct when he writes, "It may thus picture James' concern that in no

area of their development they should fail to reach the goal, and that no

part of their personality should fail to develop, leaving them in an

unbalanced state."27

            James recognizes that suffering is a reality for the Christian living

in this present age. He also knows that through experiences of suffering,

God is at work to produce endurance and ultimately maturity. For this

reason, the child of God should respond not with fear or frustration but

rather with pure joy. Thus from the analysis of vv 2-4 a principle can

be stated regarding the believer and suffering.

            Principle #1: The believer should respond in joy to the occasion of

suffering, because it is by means of testing that the ultimate goal of

spiritual maturity is accomplished. Furthermore, only by faith in God is

such a response possible (cf. v 3 to> doki<mion u[mw?n th?j pi<stewj).


            22 te<leion here denotes that which has "attained the end, purpose" (BAGD 809).

Consequently, e@rgon is properly rendered "effect" (cf. Mayor, James 36).

            23 e]xe<tw is a present active imperative third person singular; the force is thus

stronger than simple permission or allowance.

            24 Hiebert, James 77.

            25 BAGD 809; G. Delling, "te<leioj" TDNT 8 (1972) 74.

            26 BAGD 564.

            27 Hiebert, James 78.



            Exhortation to Respond with Prayer for Wisdom (vv 5-8). The

problem which faces the believer who is going through suffering is that

there is a tendency to lose perspective and direction. It is easy for one's

attention to be diverted from God to the circumstances surrounding

him. For that reason James offers the additional exhortation to pray for

God's wisdom. This discussion must be viewed in light of vv 2-4. This

is not some unconnected exhortation. The command to seek wisdom is

quite specific in terms of the suffering James has just described.

Although some hold that no link exists between vv 2-4 and 5-8,28 there

seems to be an intentional connection through the repetition of lei<pw in

v 5 (cf. v 4b). Furthermore, the particle de<  is frequently used in a

transitional sense without any contrast intended.29

            V 5 begins with the conditional phrase "now if any of you lack

wisdom" (Ei] de< tij u[mw?n lei<petai sofi<aj). While this condition does

not necessarily imply the certainty of a given situation, the likelihood of

such a condition existing seems evident.30 The readers lacked God's

perspective. They were given the exhortation in vv 2-4 to respond to

suffering in joy. Yet the question remains, "how am I to see trial in this

light, and make this use of it? it needs a higher wisdom."31 The believer

in suffering does not simply need more knowledge. Instead, he needs

spiritual insight in applying what he knows in the particular situation.

Specifically he needs sofi<a. The word basically means, "Good judg-

ment in the face of demands made by human and specifically by the

Christian life, (practical) wisdom."32 It involves the divine quality of

the soul whereby one knows and skillfully practices righteousness.33

Also wisdom is to be sought "from God" (para> tou? qeou?). This idea is

thoroughly Jewish being found particularly in wisdom literature (cf.


            28 Dibelius, James 77; he feels the connection with what precedes is superficial; see

also W. E. Oesterley, "TheGeneral Epistle of James," The Expositor's Greek Testament

(5 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprint 1979) 4.422.

            29 BAGD 171.

            30 Hiebert notes that the condition "assumes the reality of need and views it as a

standing fact," James 79. He cites as justification for such an interpretation A. T.

Robertson and W. Hersey Davis, A New Short Grammar of the Greek Testament (Grand

Rapids: Baker, reprint 1977) 350-51. However, J. L. Boyer (see "First Class Conditions:

What Do They Mean?," GTJ 2 [1981]:75-114) has done a thorough inductive study on

first class conditions and concludes that the correct explanation of the first class condition

is a simple logical connection between protasis and apodosis. Hence, while the condition

in Jas 1:2 is probably considered certain, the use of ei] with the indicative does not

necessitate it.

            31 Mayor, James 38.

            32 BAGD 759.

            33 A similar idea is found in Wis 7:7ff; 8:7; 9:10-18. The Hebrew word for wisdom

(hmkH) is frequently rooted in a right attitude toward God (Prov 9:10; 15:33; Ps 111:10;

Job 28:28).

                 Howard: SUFFERING IN JAMES 1:2-12     77


Prov 2:6; Eccl 2:26; Sir 1:1; 39: 5, 6; 51:17; Wis 7:7; 8:21; 9:6). The

command to seek wisdom is given through the use of the present

imperative ai]tei<tw, suggesting that this plea is not to be a one time

action. It is to be done continually. In some ways it is reminiscent of

Matt 7:7 in which Jesus exhorts his audience to “Keep asking. . . keep

seeking . . . keep knocking.” In a similar fashion, the prayer for wisdom

should be continually offered for it is that spiritual insight which

enables the believer to maintain perspective and a sense of order when

everything surrounding him is in chaos.

            James offers further incentive for prayer by reminding his readers

that God is one who gives to all men “without mental reservation”

(a]plw?j) and “without reproach” (mh> o]neidi<zontoj). The word a[plw?j is

a hapax legomenon and has been interpreted in two ways: “gen-

erously”34 or “without mental reservation.”35 The root certainly can

mean “generosity.”36 Yet one can supply evidence as well for the latter

definition. In fact, that nuance is preferable for the following reasons:37

1) The meaning is well testified in extra biblical material (cf. Epict.

Diss. 2.2.13; Herm. Man. 2; Did. 4:7; Barn. 19:11); 2) The idea of

“mental reservation" seems to fit better the parallel mh> o]neidi<zontej;

3) This nuance prepares one for the double-minded petitioner in v 6

whose divided loyalty renders his prayer ineffective. Davids correctly

summarizes the use of a[plw?j in v 5: “God is, then, one who gives

sincerely, without hesitation or mental reservation. He does not

grumble or criticize. His commitment to this people is total and

unreserved. They can expect to receive."38

            Furthermore, James says that God does not reproach or scold His

children for asking or berate them for previously committed sins (cf.

mh> o]neidi<zontej). Instead, God is waiting to give wisdom to any child

of God who asks. Thus He promises to give His spiritual insight to

those who are suffering (cf. kai> doqh<setai au]t&?) without mental reser-

vation nor by reproaching or insulting the one asking. Nevertheless,

there is a condition attached to this promise.

            James introduces v 6 with the adversative de< (“but”) and with it

reminds the reader that the promise outlined in v 5 is not unconditional.

He writes, “But let him ask in faith, doubting nothing." The act of

prayer alone is not effectual, but instead it is the prayer “in faith,

doubting nothing" (e]n pi<stei mhde>n diakrino<menoj) that ensures God's


            34 BAGD 86; Burdick, "James" 169; Ropes James 140.

            35 Adamson, James 56; Davids, James 72-73; Dibelius, James 79; Mayor, James 39.

            36 See T. Iss. 3:8; Jos. Ant. 7:332; 2 Cor 8:2; 9:11.

            37 For a thorough analysis of this issue, see Davids, James 72-73 and Dibelius,

James 77-79.

            38 Davids, James 73.

78                     CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW


response. The phrase e]n pi<stei is a circumlocution for "let him believe

God when he asks." Adamson interprets the phrase as, "confidence in

prayer."39 This is a clear indicator that the life of faith is important for

James.40 Faith is that which God tests in order to bring about maturity

(v 3) and it is faith that promises God's response to one's plea for

wisdom. The phrase mhde>n diakrino<menoj serves to emphasize e]n

pi<stei. It describes one who is controlled by indecision and uncertainty

and who has difficulty making choices when faced with alternatives.41

This person wrestles with himself wanting things asked for yet then

desiring something else. In fact, James likens him to "a surge of the sea

being moved and blown by the wind" (klu<dwni qala<sshj a]nemizome<nw

kai> r[ipizome<n&).42 The passive participle a]neimizome<n& is a hapax;

legomenon and means a "surf moved and tossed by the wind,"43 while

r[ipizome<n&, also passive, denotes that which “blows here and there, the

toss of the wind that sets a wave in motion on the water."44  The picture

is that of instability or inconsistency. The person who doubts fails to

believe that God can really do what is requested and thus is the opposite

of one like Abraham who did not waver in unbelief (cf. Rom 4:20).45

            James goes on to say in v 7 that such a person should “not expect

that he will receive anything from the Lord." The phrase “let not that

man expect" is emphatic. The use of mh< with the present imperative

oi]e<sqw indicates that one who doubts should stop thinking that God

will respond to his prayer.46 The reason is then addressed in v 8.47

Ineffective prayer, according to James, is due to being “double-

minded" (di<yuxoj) and “unstable” (a]kata<stataj). The word di<yuxoj


            39 Adamson, James 57; a similar idea is found in Sir 7:10 which says, "be not

fainthearted when thou makest thy prayer, and neglect not to give alms" (APOT).

            40 Mayor (James 38) goes too far when he says that "wisdom" is the principle thing

to which James gives prominence even as Paul does to "faith," John to "love," and Peter

to "hope." James also places great stress on faith; in fact, he mentions pi<stij 16 times

while only referring to sofi<a 4 times.

            41 Adamson, James 57; see also Hiebert, James 84.

            42 Ropes (James 141) renders klu<dwni qala<sshj as "the billowing sea"; the idea is a

succession of waves which are being swept along by the wind.

            43 BAGD 64.

            44 Ibid. 736.

            45 See F. Buchsel, "diakri<nw" TDNT 3 (1965) 947.

            46 Since James describes God the Father as the one who responds to prayer in v 5,

the phrase para> tou? kuri<ou (v 7) most likely is a reference to the same person.

            47 There is a question regarding the precise connection between vv 7 and 8 since no

verb is expressed in v 8 in the original. Two alternatives have been suggested: 1) to

supply an equative verb "is," and read v 8 as a separate sentence (either "he is a double-

minded man" [NIV, NEB] or "A double-minded man is unstable" [KJV] or 2) to regard

v 8 as standing in apposition to v 7, best marked with a dash at the end of v 7 ("-a

                 Howard: SUFFERING IN JAMES 1:2-12              79


literally means "double-souled" and describes one whose soul is divided

between faith in God and a preoccupation with the world.48 As Burdick

writes, "It is as though one soul declares, "I believe," and the other in

turn shouts, "I don't!'49 Regarding the character of the double-minded

person S. Kierkegaard said, "If it changes continually, then he himself

becomes changeable, double-minded, and unstable. And this continual

change is nothing else than impurity."50

            A parallel description of this person is found in the word a]kata<-

stataj. It contains the idea of "unstable, restless" and is used "of

vacillating persons."51 This kind of person lacks foundation. Such

instability, according to James, extends to every area of life ("in all his

ways"). This would not include just his life of faith but his dealings in

everyday affairs with others as well.

            In summary, James says that when the believer encounters suffer-

ing, he should pray for wisdom from God to enable him to respond

correctly. However, such prayer must be offered in faith if it is to be

effectual. Doubt only demonstrates instability and double-mindedness,

and hence, such a person should stop thinking that God will respond to

prayer offered in that manner. Based on the analysis of vv 5-8, a second

principle can be proposed regarding the believer and suffering.

            Principle #2: God promises to give the believer wisdom to respond

properly to suffering if the believer offers his prayer in faith, not in



Eschatological Perspective Regarding Suffering (1:9-12)

            James shifts his focus slightly to how eschatological reward comes

to bear on enduring present suffering. He reminds the believer that in

the midst of suffering he should rejoice in the fact that his wonderful


double-minded man, unstable" [RSV]). Neither of these views, however, offers a clear

semantic connection between the two verses. It is therefore preferable to supply the

present participle of ei]mi< (w@n) and see a causal connection between the two verses

(" . . . anything from the Lord since he is a double-minded man, unstable. . .").

            48 Ropes, James 143; although W. F. Moulton and Milligan (The Vocabulary of the

Greek New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans reprint 1976] 166 [cf. Jas 4:8]), suggest

that James may have coined the term, Dibelius (James 83) is probably correct by noting

that many of the Christian witnesses point to an earlier period than the first century

(cf. Ps 12:3 "they speak with a double heart" [vrbdy blv blb; LXX: e]n kardi<% kai> e]n

kardi<% e]la<lhsen]; 1 Enoch 91:4, "And draw not nigh to uprightness with a double heart,

and associate not with those of a double heart" [APOT]; for patristic citations, see

Dibelius, James 83, n. 65).

            49 Burdick, "James" 169.

            50 Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing (New York: Harper &

Row 1938) 60.

            51 BAGD 30; see also A. Oepke, "a]kata<statoj" TDNT 3 (1965) 447.



position in Christ will be displayed at the Parousia. Furthermore, the

one who endures suffering and trials, and thus demonstrates his

genuineness, will receive the gift of eternal life.

            Eternal Perspective is Necessary (vv 9-11). Davids summarizes

well the issue in vv 9-11:

            Now the author introduces the topic of the rich and the poor. . . . The

            poor, he argues, are highly honored when they are Christians, for God has

            given them a high position despite their low state in the world. The

            wealthy, however, may seem powerful now, but God will bring them low

            in the end unless they humble themselves now. Here is the reversal of

            status indeed.52

This subsection is again introduced by the particle de< (cf v 5). The

particle is mildly adversative in that it maintains the distinction between

sections, yet it still serves a transitional function and continues the

theme of suffering begun in vv 2-4.53 James first addresses "the poor

brother" (o[ a]delfo>j o[ tapeino<j ) in v 9. The article o[ is certainly generic

denoting anyone who falls within that class. Also o[ a]delfo<j indicates

that James is addressing the Christian and not humanity in general. The

adjective tapeino<j can refer to humiliation as an experience such as

economic breakdown or poverty, or in a figurative sense, can be a

reference to one's ethical character of humility.54 Here as in Luke 1:52

the adjective is a reference to economic poverty in contrast to wealth

(cf. plou<sioj; in v 10).55 Thus, James is addressing the Christian who is

suffering economically.

            In paradoxical fashion, James exhorts the poor Christian to "glory

in his high position" (kauxa<sqw . . . e]n t&? u!yei au]tou?). His use of the

verb, kauxa<sqw ("to glory" or "to boast")56 resembles the command

given in v 2 to rejoice in trials. In fact, in Rom 5:2b-5, which in many

ways is parallel to Jas 1:2-4, Paul uses the verb kauxw<meqa in the

context of afflictions (qli<yesin). The focus, however, is different in Jas

1:9. Though suffering is still in the background, the sphere for boasting

is not in affliction per se but in one's "high position." The word u!yoj

literally means "height" but here it is used figuratively of one's "high

position" in Christ. The poor Christian is exhorted to consider his


            52 Davids, James 75.

            53 Oesterley ("James" 424) and Dibelius (James 83) see no connection with any of

the preceding discussion. Dibelius, it would appear, has pushed his form-critical analysis

to the extreme; however, others do interpret de< as transitional (see Davids, James 75;

Hiebert, James 88; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and

the Epistle of James (Minneapolis: Augsburg 1946) 541.

            54 BAGD 805.

            55 See W. Grundmann, "tapeino<j" TDNT 8 (1972) 21.

            56 BAGD 425.

                Howard: SUFFERING IN JAMES 1:2-12              81


position in Christ as a reason for glory. He must overlook the present

distressful circumstances (his life of suffering) and see life from an

eschatological perspective. This perspective provides hope in the

midst of suffering, for it ensures that the one who really has the exalted

position and who truly is rich is the poor Christian (in contrast to the

rich man). The reality of such a hope will be manifested one day at the

Parousia. James clarifies this in the following two verses.

            In v 10 James underscores the striking irony of the situation by

showing the contrast between the outcome of the rich man and the

poor Christian. Yet, before such a neat conclusion can be drawn, the

identity of the "rich man" (o[ plou<sioj) must be addressed. Many pro-

pose that o[ a]delfo<j in v 9 not only goes with o[ tapeino<j but also with

plou<sioj and thus should be rendered "the rich brother."57 However,

there are several good reasons for taking o[ plou<sioj as a non-

Christian.58 First, Jas 1:9-11 exhibits similarities to Jewish thought

where the rich are often contrasted with the poor remnant of Israel.59

Second, James consistently uses plou<sioj to refer to a non-Christian

(cf 2:27; 5:1-6). Third, the harsh words in vv 10-11 leave no trace of any

allusion to a brotherly relationship, and the coming fate of the rich man

is treated with great elaboration. For example, in v 10 the rich man is

exhorted to glory (kauxa<sqw implied) "in his humiliation" (e]n t^?

tapeinw<sei au]tou?). There is an ironic twist for although he lives in

luxury in this age, one day he will "pass away" (pareleu<setai) "like

flowering grass" (w[j a@nqoj xo<rtou). The contrast is clear. The believer's

poverty is temporary in comparison to the eternal glory he will possess

at the Parousia. However, the rich fool's wealth is temporary in

comparison to the eternal loss he will experience at the Parousia.

            V 11 continues the description of the ultimate downfall of one

whose values are rooted in the present age. This man "in the midst of

his pursuits (e]n tai?j porei<aij au]tou?) will fade away" (maranqh<setai).

Marai<nw is a fitting description in this context for it refers both to the

withering of plants (Job 15:30; Wis 2:8) and to the death of persons

(Jos. Wars 6.274).60 In light of Jas 5:1-7 (esp v 7), it is likely that the

realization of this event will transpire at the Parousia. The imagery in

v 11 highlights the judgment to come. James writes, "for the sun rises

'with its burning heat' (su>n t&? kau<swni)61 and 'withers the plant'

(e]ch<ranen to>n xo<rton) and its 'blossom falls' (to> a@nqoj . . . e]ce<pesen)


            57 Adamson, James 61; Burdick, "James" 170; Hiebert, James 91-92; Mayor, James

45; Ropes, James 146; Tasker, James 43.

            58 For a full discussion, see Davids, James 77 and Dibelius, James 84-87.

            59 See Dibelius, James 87.

            60 See also BAGD 491

            61 It is possible that this is a reference to the sirocco which was a scorching wind

blowing in from the Arabian desert that could destroy green vegetation in a matter of



and its 'beauty is destroyed' (h[ eu]pre<pia tou? prosw<pou). The language

speaks of judgment and is not descriptive of a believer. That James is

talking about the rich man himself and not just his riches is clear from

the grammar of the next clause which says, "so also the rich man

(o[ plou<sioj) . . . will pass away" (pareleu<setai). This means more

than just death. The Christian dies. However, for the non-Christian rich

man there is an eternal loss associated with death that will be recog-

nized at the future judgment. Hiebert likewise recognizes that "if the

rich man is held to be a non-Christian, the passage is probably best

understood as eschatological: in the Judgment Day, the lowly brother

will be exalted and the rich man will be brought low."62

            Certainly James is not saying that a rich person cannot be a

Christian. However, the context of his discussion is trials, suffering, and

perhaps in vv 9-11 even oppression brought on at the hands of the rich.

In this age the rich man prospers and the poor Christian suffers. Yet in

the judgment and coming kingdom, God will bring about a great

reversal and the present suffering will be swept up into eternal glory.

This is the eschatological motivation for facing trial in the present,

namely, the glory of the believer's exalted position at the Parousia. A

third principle regarding the believer and suffering can now be pre-

sented from vv 9-11.

            Principle #3: The prospect of future glory, in contrast to the

transitory nature of earthly suffering, serves as a motivation for endur-

ing present distress.


            Eternal Life is a Motivation for Present Endurance (v 12). The first

part of v 12 is reminiscent of the beatitudes of Jesus, particularly 5:1-12,

while the latter part resembles Rev 2:10. James begins with "blessed is

the man" (Maka<rioj a]nh<r). The word a]nh<r is here generic referring to

anyone who in this case "endures under trial." Maka<rioj denotes a

distinct inner, religious joy that is not dependent on external circum-

stances.63 In fact, James goes on to say that this "happiness" is found in

one who perseveres under trials" (u[pome<nei peirasmo<n). The phrase"

echoes v 2. The word peirasmo<j, as in v 2, describes trial or suffering

from without. It is not until v 13, in which he employs the verbal form

peira<cw, that he begins to discuss temptation from within. The verb

u[pome<nei is closely related to u[pomonh< in vv 3 and 4 and refers to the

steadfast endurance of the Christian under the difficulties and tests of


hours. However, the force of the metaphor is unchanged whether one interprets kau<swni

as "burning heat" (KJV, NEB, NIV,RSV) or "scorching wind" (NASB).

            62 Hiebert, James 92.

            63 F. Hauck, "maka<rioj" TDNT 4 (1967) 367.

                 Howard: SUFFERING IN JAMES 1:2-12              83


the present evil age.64 The reference does not refer to one who never

fails. The present tense here is customary or habitual and thus refers to

one who by the quality of their character endures tests and refuses to

give up.65 This person is called maka<rioj. The reason (o!ti) is that such an

individual by virtue of his endurance "stands approved" (do<kimoj

geno<menoj). In fact, Ropes comments that, "'having shown himself

approved' is another way of saying u[pome<nei."66 The phrase do<kimoj

geno<menoj is not to be construed as a condition ("if he stands the test"),

but rather must be translated temporarily "after" or "since he is

approved." As Dibelius notes, "no doubt can surface with regard

to his confirmation, for here the subject is strictly 'he who endures'


            Following the endurance of trials, by which one is confirmed or

approved, comes the reception of "the crown of life" (to>n ste<fanon

th?j zwh?j). The metaphor to>n ste<fanon most likely is not a reference to

the Greek athletic games but instead grows out of Judaism.68 In this

passage it symbolizes special honor which goes to the one who has

endured trials; specifically, the honor consists of "eternal life" (th?j

zwh?j).69 This phrase is quite similar to Rev 2:10 in which the Lord

promises the crown of life to the one who is faithful even to death. In

that passage the promise likewise occurs in the context of trials (cf.

qli?yij). The life promised is certainly a reference to eternal life to be

experienced in the age to come.70 The future tense in lh<myetai likewise

indicates that James has his focus on the consummation of the age.71

            James concludes v 12 by reminding his readers that this reward of

life is promised "to those who love Him," i.e., the Lord (toi?j a]gapw?sin

au]to<n). Some have regarded this phrase as an agraphon of Jesus.72


            64 Ibid., "u[pome<nw" TDNT 4 (1967) 586.

            65 Cf. H. E. Dana and J. R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New

Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1953) 183.

            66 Ropes, James 150.

            67 Dibelius, James 88.

            68 For various occurrences of the metaphor ste<fanoj in the LXX, see Ps 20:4; Prov

12:4; 16:31; Lam 5:16; Ezek 16:12; Zech 6:11; see also T. Levi 8.2, 9 ("crown of

righteousness"); T. Beni. 4.1 ("crowns of glory"); As. [sa. 9.7ff., 9:24ff., and 11:40

("crowns of glory"); in the NT the reception of the crown is sometimes associated with

the Parousia (cf. 2 Tim 4:8 in which Paul says that he expects "on that Day" to receive the

"crown of righteousness;" in I Pet 5:4, the believer is promised the "crown of glory"

when the Chief Shepherd appears).

            69 The genitive th?j zwh?j here is a genitive of apposition. The entire phrase should

be translated "the crown which is life."

            70 BAGD 341

            71 Davids, James 80.

            72 Cf. Adamson, James 68; Mayor, James 50.



However, the phrase perhaps finds its background in OT promises,73

for "those who love Him" frequently refers to the pious.74 One could

argue that the phrase is James' own theological extrapolation based on

sayings of Jesus like John 14:21, 23. In any case, the genuine believer is

the one who stands the test and thereby demonstrates through such

action his love for God. To that person is promised the glory of eternal

life. It is clear that James points the believer to future hope in order to

encourage endurance in the present. Hence, for the genuine child of

God, future life in a very real sense, comes back and envelops present

distress. A final. principle can be proposed regarding the believer and


            Principle #4: The hope of eschatological life serves as a motivation

to endure and remain faithful in present suffering. Principles 3 and 4 are

similar in their eschatological concern. However, the former focuses on

the temporary nature of both life and suffering, while the latter focuses

on the glory of eternal life with God in the age to come.


                                                III. Conclusion


            The purpose of this article has been to set forth several important

principles from Jas 1:2-12 which serve to encourage and instruct

believers who deal with suffering in this present evil age. While

suffering remains a constant reality, the Christian does not have to

buckle under its pressures. In the present, the believer should respond

to suffering with joy because he knows that God is using that experience

to produce endurance and ultimately maturity. However, God has not

left the believer helpless but will provide wisdom if the believer asks

for it in faith. Furthermore, James reminds the believer that suffering is

transitory and that at the Parousia there will be a reversal of his present

situation. Until that time, the believer is exhorted to endure suffering as

he anticipates eternal life in the age to come.


            73 Cf. Exod 20:5-6; Deut 7:9; see also Pss. of Sol. 4:25; 1 Enoch 108:8.

            74 Davids, James 80.




This material is cited with gracious permission from:

The Criswell College

4010 Gaston Ave. 

Dallas, TX   75246


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: