COMPANION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT - The New English Bible. By A E Harvey. - © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press, The Syndics of the Cambridge University Press. 1970. - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2014.


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Chapter 1.

From James (1). The name was a common one (it was the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Jacob), and there are at least five men who bear it in the New Testament alone. But this James writes with authority, and has apparently no need to explain who he is: his mere name is enough to command attention. Only one of the men called James in the New Testament held such a prominent position in the church: this was James, the brother of Jesus, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem.

But can the letter really be from his hand? It is true that originally it owed its place in the New Testament to the belief that its author was indeed this James; but this belief was only adopted slowly by the church, and was frequently called into question. To many, the letter has always seemed to speak too little of Christ to be the work of one of the first Christian leaders; and the style, which uses a number of sophisticated Greek expressions, is one with which it is hard to credit a Jew brought up (as Jesus and presumably his brothers were) in Galilee. The writer was almost certainly a Jew himself; but his religious and social presuppositions are more characteristic of Jews outside Palestine than of the Judaism of Jerusalem. It is not impossible that the writer was Jesus' brother; but it is perhaps easier to imagine him as the leader of an almost exclusively Jewish community of Christians in some other city of the Roman empire, writing some time after the death of James the brother of the Lord.

The letter is addressed to the Twelve Tribes dispersed throughout the world; similarly 1 Peter is 'to those of God's scattered people who lodge for a while in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia'. Both these phrases contain the word diaspora which, then as now, was a technical term for the Dispersion, that is, the Jewish people scattered outside Palestine. But it is clear from 1 Peter (and to a lesser extent from James) that the letters were intended, not for Jews as such, but for Christians. That is to say, the word diaspora is used metaphorically: the Christian church was the New Israel, the true successor of the historic Jewish nation. Therefore, just as it was possible to describe the church in terms of the legendary Twelve Tribes of Israel, so it was possible to think of its widely scattered members in terms of a new "dispersion", diaspora. Now the old diaspora—the Dispersion of the Jews—looked to Jerusalem as its spiritual centre, and received from it periodic exhortations to remain true to the ancestral faith and to observe the cycle of religious festivals according to a calendar that was still regulated there. These exhortations took the form of circular letters, emanating from Jerusalem and addressed to the Jewish people, either in certain areas (such as Egypt), or else throughout the world Three such letters are in the Apocrypha: the "Letter of Jeremiah" and the two letters prefixed to 2 Maccabees. Two of these (see especially 2 Macc. 1.1-5; 2.17-18) have a number of words and ideas in common with the opening of 1 Peter. It is quite possible that Jewish Christian leaders, moved by the Spirit to address their fellow-Christians at large, and aware of possessing a certain authority over the whole church, deliberately chose the form of a Jewish encyclical letter in order to convey their message to the new diaspora, the scattered Christian churches. Such a letter would have seemed to demand, as its author, someone of a status equivalent to that of the leader of the Jewish nation in Jerusalem. Either James or Peter would have been an obvious choice.

These letters, then, may be pseudonymous. But that is not to say that they were not written in good faith. The author of James may well have had means of knowing the kind of teaching which the real James would have given and, having an authoritative message for his fellow-Christians, would have found it natural to claim the authority of one of the great apostles of the past. James is among the most Jewish, and the least obviously Christian, of the writings of the New Testament. It has kept its place there because (whether or not it should be attributed to the apostle) it has been felt by most (though not all) Christians to be an authentic document of the life of some part of the Christian church during the first formative half-century or so of its existence.

Practical religion

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My brothers (2). This paragraph is typical of the style and ethos of the whole letter. There is no real progression of thought: one topic leads to another quite casually, and sometimes the connection is suggested by no more than a single word (the occurrence of falls short in two consecutive sentences (4-5) is a good example). The topics are for the most part commonplaces of Jewish moral instruction, with an occasional phrase or illustration borrowed from a more cosmopolitan society: that trials (2) are good for the character, that wisdom (5) (in the Jewish sense of conformity to the will of God rather than in any sophisticated philosophical sense) is given by God to those who sincerely desire it, and that prayer must be full-hearted and unwavering, are sentiments which can all be found in (for instance) Wisdom (11.9), Proverbs (2.6) and Ecclesiasticus (1.28; 2.1-5), while the simile of a heaving sea ruffled by the wind (6) belongs to the common stock of Greek literary metaphors. Indeed, the teaching throughout would have seemed unexceptionable to a wide section of Jewish society, and it has even been thought that the "letter" was a Jewish writing, simply adapted to Christian use by the addition of the Lord Jesus Christ (1.1; 2.1). Nevertheless, there are certain phrases which sound more Christian than Jewish; there are several almost unmistakable allusions to sayings of Jesus; and even in this paragraph, the teaching of Jesus himself on prayer is almost perceptible in the background (Mark 11.23-4; Matthew 7.7-11). The most likely explanation is that when Christianity took root among solidly Jewish communities the social and moral life of those communities continued very much unchanged: the traditional morality of the synagogue needed only slight adjustment to bring it into line with Christian principles. To such a community of Jewish Christians this writer belonged.

The brother in humble circumstances ... the wealthy brother. (9-10) Evidently the church consisted of both; and evidently there was a tendency for worldly values to reassert themselves, and for the wealthy to receive respect on the basis of their social position. To oppose this tendency, the writer could draw upon a critique of such distinctions which he inherited from the Old Testament. In certain strands of Jewish religious thought, "poor" had become almost synonymous with pious, "rich" with ungodly and oppressive (see above on Matthew 5.3). True religion, according to this tradition, was preserved by the poor; and in a new age, God would make this apparent by "lifting up" the poor and humble, and "bringing low" the wealthy and proud. This reversal of ordinary social values (which was apparently part of Jesus' message) was earnestly believed in by Christians. The influence and allurement of riches naturally threatened to blur this insight; but reflection on the transitoriness of material possessions helped to keep it clear. Isaiah (40.6-7) had used the suddenness with which (in Palestine) spring vegetation can be turned brown by summer heat as a vivid illustration of the transitoriness of human life. The same metaphor would serve for riches.

Happy the man who remains steadfast under trial. (12) This is a return to the first topic of the letter (1.2-4). But the word for trial also meant "temptation"; and this association of the two ideas led the writer to deal with an excuse which people often made when they succumbed to temptation, 'I am being tempted by God' (13). The idea was as old as Homer, and expressed a fatalistic acquiescence in human limitations. In Jewish literature, a good example of it is in Ecclesiasticus 15.11-12. But essentially, such fatalism was alien both to Judaism and to Christianity. This writer here uses an argument which is again a play upon words. The Greek for untouched sounded like "untempted": everyone agreed that God was untouched by evil; therefore God could have nothing to do with "temptation". The real cause of temptation was lust (14), a psychological concept familiar to anyone who knew something of popular Hellenistic philosophy.

Make no mistake (16). Exactly the same phrase is used by Paul in Galatians (6.7) to introduce a proverb, and in 1 Corinthians (15.33) to introduce a popular saying quoted from the Greek comic poet Menander. Here, the words, "All giving is good and every gift perfect" make up an almost perfect line of Greek Verse. It looks as if I the writer is quoting part of a familiar proverb and then, by taking the grammar in a slightly different way (All good giving instead of "All giving is good" (17)) and by adding the words comes from above, adapting it to the Jewish aphorism that God is the author of all good things. The word above was perhaps sufficient to bring to mind a common Jewish notion of God, Father of the lights of heaven; and this gave rise to the further thought that, unlike the heavenly bodies which rise and set and go into eclipse, with God there is no variation.

That God (in various ways, such as through the Law) " declared the truth ", and that his people were a kind of firstfruits, were ideas that would have been familiar to any Jew. But the particular combination of these ideas here has an un-Jewish sound, whereas it perfectly expresses the Christian convictions that (i) God has declared the truth in the gospel, (ii) he has given men new birth through baptism, (iii) that the church is a kind of first-fruits of humanity (Revelation 14.4). This is one of the verses where the
Christian tone seems unmistakable. The same goes for the message planted in your hearts, which can bring you salvation (21), which can hardly mean anything but the gospel, though it is embedded in a sequence of traditional moral injunctions. The same probably also goes for the perfect law, the law that makes us free (25). It is true that some Jewish thinkers (affected perhaps by the prevalent philosophical notion that a true philosophy makes a man free) regarded the Jewish Law as a means towards moral and spiritual freedom; but most Jews were more conscious of their Law as a "yoke", and it was with a sense of relief that Christians claimed that their own rule of life made them free of it. But of course it did so only if it was taken seriously. The case of a man who listens to the message but never acts upon it (23) is as old as morality itself, though it receives a particularly vivid illustration in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7.24-7).

A man may think he is religious (26). Most Jews would have agreed that mere attendance at religious ceremonies was inadequate: serious concern for charitable work (to go to the help of orphans and widows in their distress (27) was one of the most typical of Jewish " good works "), and an earnest effort to adhere to one's own way of life uninfluenced by the contamination of the secular world, were essential components of any true religion. Exactly the same was true of Christianity.

Chapter 2.

You must never show snobbery (1). This is too facile a translation. Snobbery is a matter of social behaviour; but the Greek word has a much more serious application. Primarily it suggests the favouritism and partiality shown by a bad judge in a law-court. If Christians showed this kind of partiality they were deliberately conforming themselves to a society where in fact the influence of the rich did subtly affect the course of justice and the settlement of disputes. They were assimilating themselves to the many who judge by false standards. This was a more serious matter than snobbery.

The basic argument against such behaviour was one that has been touched on already (1.9-10). Has not God chosen those who are poor? (5)—the faith of the "poor" in the Old Testament, that they were the chosen of God, had now been decisively endorsed by Jesus. This made it unthinkable that the church should begin to reproduce the structure of secular society and allow special prestige and power to the rich. But there was also a more practical reason for resisting this tendency. Are not the rich your oppressors? (6) However desirable such people might appear as visitors and members of the congregation, they represented a class which (society being organized as it was) could constantly be seen in the role of plaintiffs in the law-courts, claiming against debtors, evicting tenants, suing for compensation, in short using its influence to further its own interests under the cloak of the law. In all such cases, the defendants were usually "the poor". Moreover, many of the rich might even have a grudge against Christianity as such, and seek to pour contempt (7) upon the Christians' conviction that they, as much as any pious Jew, bore an honoured name by which God had claimed them. Such people had a class solidarity. Christians might welcome them into the church; but they must not welcome the social distinctions and injustices they represented.

It was against the whole Jewish tradition to select any particular commandment from Scripture and call it the sovereign law (8). It was an axiom of Jewish interpreters that all individual laws were of equal weight. True, some laws were more general than others and could be regarded as basic principles which implied a whole series of particular laws; but this was a question of logical arrangement, not of a greater or lesser degree of importance attaching to the laws themselves. From the strict Jewish point of view, it was correct to regard 'Love your neighbour as yourself' as a law which in fact summed up a great many other laws, but not to suggest that other laws were therefore less binding than this one. Jesus, we know, was prepared to discuss the academic question, 'which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' (Matthew 22.34-40) and to give an academic answer; and the church, following his example, continued to regard 'Love your neighbour as yourself' as a summary of the whole Jewish Law. But to anyone untrained in this strict Jewish tradition, it seemed natural to take such a principle, not as a technical summary of the Jewish Law, but as a general moral rule which in fact replaced the detailed commandments of the Law of Moses. There are signs of this beginning to happen in Mark's account of Jesus' teaching on the subject (see above on Mark 12.28-34); but here, the process is clearly complete. The Christians had taken this single commandment from Scripture, and made it into what philosophers called the sovereign law, a universal moral principle which allowed them to dispense will) the detailed ordinances of the Jewish legal code.

Up to a point this was excellent, and fully in line with Jesus' moral teaching. But it also had the danger of breeding a certain moral insensitivity. Certain sins, which a Jew would avoid because they were explicitly forbidden in the Law, might be committed by Christians simply because they did not realize they were sins. Such a sin was the partiality (snobbery (9)) of which the writer has been complaining. A good corrective was to take a fresh look at the detailed commandments in the Law, the same law from which in fact Christians had culled their general principle, "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19.18). A few verses earlier in Leviticus (19.15) came the sentence, "You shall not pervert justice, either by favouring the poor or by subservience to the great". The two laws came almost as close together as two of the Ten Commandments; no one would think of making any distinction of seriousness between adultery and murder (both were in theory punishable by death); and even when the punishments were less severe, from the religious point of view a man was just as much a sinner whatever transgression he had committed. To break one single point of the law was equivalent to breaking all of it. This characteristically Jewish reverence for the Law in all its details had its dangers, and was justly criticized by Jesus. But there was a useful lesson to be learnt from it. "Loving one's neighbour" was no excuse for "perverting justice". The Christian law of freedom (12) made no less extensive moral demands than the Jewish Law of Moses.

"Talking of judgement" (a modern idiom which exactly expresses the connection between this verse and the last (13)), it was as true in Christian as in Jewish thinking that the man who shows mercy will receive mercy. To put this old truth in the form of a memorable epigram: Mercy triumphs over judgement.

That the Christian faith entailed an absolute duty to help one's fellows was a truth immediately grasped by the church; but precisely why the one followed from the other was not so obvious. There was no easy logical connection between the conviction that Jesus was the Christ and the duty to love and serve one's fellow-men; and different New Testament writers worked it out in different ways. For Paul, the key to the matter was the solidarity of Christians with Christ and with each other: Christians form a "body", and each member of the body shares the concerns and the burdens of all the other members. For the author of John's gospel the explanation lay in Jesus' love for his disciples which must necessarily be reflected in their love for each other. But these were somewhat sophisticated answers to the question. To anyone familiar with Jewish morality, a much simpler line of thought suggested itself. The Jews set great store by "good deeds", and Jewish thinkers had many arguments to show that good deeds were an essential part of the Jewish faith, and were what would principally save a man at the Last Judgement. Jesus himself took much of this attitude for granted. And it was not difficult to show that, if good deeds were essential to the practice of the Jewish faith, they must equally be an integral part of the Christian way of life.

This writer's first argument is an appeal to common sense. If a Christian is seen treating his fellow-Christians without even the ordinary consideration which any good man would show to his fellow-men, what use is it for a man to say he has faith? (14) (A more sophisticated version of the same argument can be seen in 1 John 3.17.) Anyone could see that his religion meant nothing, that his Christian faith was a lifeless thing. (17)

But someone may object (18). At first sight one wonders who could possibly have objected to such an obvious proposition. A " faith " which has absolutely no effect on one's actions is certainly a lifeless thing (17). But perhaps the objection did not sound quite so implausible to the original readers of the letter. There were plenty of religious philosophies about in the Greek-speaking world which concentrated entirely upon intellectual "knowledge" of God (which was, after all, a kind of "faith"), and paid no attention to morals or "good deeds". Moreover, Paul's great argument in Galatians 3 that the basis of Christian salvation is, not good deeds, but "faith" (by which, of course, Paul meant a great deal more than a mere profession of religious belief) may have made a considerable impact in the church, and have lingered on in the over-simplified form (which Paul would never have held) that good deeds were irrelevant, and that "faith" (of any kind) was all that mattered. Either of these tendencies might have thrown up an objection to the common-sense proposition that faith, if it does not lead to action ... is in itself a lifeless thing (17).

However, it is not really necessary to look so far afield for an explanation of this paragraph. In logic, it was possible to drive a wedge between faith and good deeds: the one did not seem logically to imply the other. But this writer had an ingenious argument on the other side. To introduce it, he deliberately adopted the style of a popular lesson in philosophy (technically known as a "diatribe"). In this style, someone may object (18) was a standard way of introducing a possible objection which the writer wished to demolish in order to put his own position in a clearer light. The brief dialogue which follows is wholly artificial and imaginary. It is a typical example of the way in which philosophical teachers liked to make a point.

The point which this writer wished to make is quite clear. Every day the Jews began their prayers with the statement of faith that "the Lord is our God, the Lord is one" (Deuteronomy 6.4). Theoretically, it could be argued that this "faith" was enough to save a man: there was no need of good works as well. To this it could be replied that even devils believe this much (as is taken for granted in, for instance, Mark 1.24). Hut devils, far from being "saved ", actually tremble before God. Therefore faith like that (19) could not be sufficient to save a man.

This point is led up to by a short dialogue between the writer and the imaginary objector (18). The style of this is exactly what we should expect in a fragment of popular philosophical argument, and the general drift is clear enough: the objector is allowed to sharpen his thesis that faith can exist without good deeds before having it decisively refuted by the point about devils. But the details are hopelessly obscure. Greek manuscripts at that time had no quotation marks and little punctuation, and it is impossible to tell from the language alone where the interjections of the objector begin and end, and how the sentences should be distributed between the two speakers. Either the writer's brief excursion into this style was somewhat unsuccessful, or else an early copyist so muddled the text that we can no longer follow it.

After this the argument becomes more straightforward. The Jews cherished the memory of great figures of the past who had acted, not from ordinary human and materialistic motives, but from "faith" (see above on Hebrews 11). The greatest of these figures was Abraham, and the most spectacular example of his faith was his readiness to offer his son Isaac upon the altar (21) (Genesis 22.9-12). True, the way Scripture talked about this "faith" of Abraham was perhaps open to misunderstanding. 'Abraham put his faith in God, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness' (23) (Genesis 15.6), taken in isolation, could be held to imply that it was Abraham's state of mind, not his particular actions, which was important and made him 'God's friend' (Isaiah 41.8)—and indeed in Romans 4 Paul exploited this very ambiguity in order to demonstrate the importance of "faith" (in the special sense in which he understood it). But a moment's reflection was sufficient to show that certain actions were necessary to prove that Abraham really had this attitude, to prove the integrity of his faith (22). And the same went for any of the other heroes of Jewish history, such as Rahab (25) (see above on Hebrews 11.31), who were celebrated for their faith. Ultimately, they were all justified not just by a form of belief—faith in itself—but by their actions.

Chapter 3.

We who teach (1). In the church, as in the synagogue, teachers were important and respected. Their prestige attracted many to follow the same career; but it was necessary to remind the aspirants of the frightening responsibility they would bear and which not many were fit to undertake. The writer can speak with authority as a teacher himself (the one thing we know for certain about him); and he bases his warning on a weakness which is common to all men (for a perfect character (2) in this respect hardly exists) but which is particularly serious for teachers: the uncontrollable nature of the tongue.

Plenty of similes were available to illustrate a small member (5) that has great influence: the bridle of a horse (3), the rudder of a ship (4) . These were commonplace comparisons, and perhaps the writer did not pause to consider that they did not fit his argument perfectly: bridles and rudders are used for constructive purposes, whereas what he wanted to illustrate was the tongue as a destructive influence. But his third simile—the tiniest spark (5) producing a blaze—was perfectly to the point, and led into a whole chain of images. The tongue is not just like a fire; it is in effect a fire (6). What then does it burn? Human life was called by some thinkers (especially those who believed in the reincarnation of the soul in one body after another) a "cycle" or wheel. Borrowing this phrase, and thinking rather literally of a wooden or metal wheel, our author could combine it with his fire-metaphor, and say that the tongue keeps the wheel of our existence red-hot. Normally, fire purifies. But not so the tongue, which is the quintessence of wickedness, with a touch of hell-fire about it.

Out of the same mouth come praises and curses (10). To a Jew, cursing was something occasionally demanded as a religious duty, and the phenomenon would not necessarily have worried him. But to a Christian, cursing was always evil, and this fickleness of the tongue seemed something unnatural, something which (as Stoic philosophers liked to put it) prevented a man from being true to his own nature even to the extent that water or plants are true to theirs. The tongue seemed to offend, not just against morals, but against natural law.

Who among you is wise or clever? (13) Being a follower of a new religion almost inevitably meant claiming to know the a.nswers to old questions, to have a deeper understanding of God and the world (for which clever is an inadequate translation). The dangers of this kind of intellectual "wisdom" are the subject of the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians. There, Paul seeks to meet them by a radical critique of philosophical wisdom as such. Here, the writer is content to insist that Christian wisdom must never be purely intellectual, and must be accompanied by modesty; otherwise it leads (as Paul saw so clearly) to bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (14), and shows itself to belong to the sphere of the world, of the senses, and even of demons. By contrast, there exists a true wisdom which Christians can legitimately aspire to, the wisdom that comes from above (15) (a conventional Jewish way of saying, "the wisdom that comes from God"). The characteristics of that wisdom are listed in many Jewish writings (compare especially Wisdom 7.22-5). One of them is peacemaking; and this leads to a general maxim about peacemakers (18) (which is somewhat less laboured in the original than it appears in this translation).

Chapter 4.

What causes conflicts and quarrels among you? (1) It was a commonplace of moral philosophy that it is the aggressiveness of bodily desires which is the root cause of human conflicts and quarrels. This writer agrees, and adds a brief piece of psychological analysis which was probably equally familiar to his readers: ← There are several possible ways of punctuating the Greek in verse 2. The NEB translation follows that which seems to fit the argument best. the point was valid as a general observation about human nature, and there would have been no need to object that there were hardly likely to be members of the Christian church who were bent on murder. The argument begins to bear on religion with the mention of prayer. It was firm Christian doctrine that prayers are answered; but in the face of the fact that some prayers are not answered, it was necessary to define the conditions which prayer must fulfil if it is to be successful. There are traces of this in the gospels (see above on Mark 9.29). Here, the failure of certain prayers is put down to praying from wrong motives (3). This is another of the evil effects of bodily pleasures: they pervert even a man's prayers.

But alongside this psychological analysis of the dangers of bodily desires, an important insight into the matter was offered by the religion of the Bible. In the Old Testament, the most serious sin of the people of Israel was their tendency to desert the worship of the one true God and to compromise with the polytheistic faiths of their pagan neighbours. This sin came to be called "idolatry", and in the Greco-Roman world the Jews remained as sensitive as ever to the danger of their own religion being contaminated by the many different cults which were popular in the civilized world around them. At the same time, they came to realize that the worship of the statues of pagan gods was not the only danger. Equally serious was the inclination to worship the worldly values which went with paganism. Some even went so far as to say that the real meaning of "idolatry" was nothing other than greed for money (Colossians 3.5). In a word, love of the world is enmity to God (4); or, as Jesus himself put it, 'You cannot serve God and Money' (Matthew 6.24). Just as idolatry, in the Old Testament, was often described as the unfaithfulness of a wife to her husband, so those who pursue worldly values could be called false, unfaithful creatures.

Yet another of the many psychological explanations of sin which were familiar to both Jewish and Christian thinkers was one in terms of a "spirit" in man which begins its life in all innocence and is capable of responding to promptings of the Spirit of God, but is liable to be corrupted by evil desires or malicious spirits. This psychology does not occur in the Old Testament, but was explored by later Jewish thinkers; and the quotation here given ← As they stand, the Greek words of this quotation are almost untranslatable. Two lines of approach seem possible: (i) "The spirit which dwells (or, which God has made to dwell) in us longs jealously (for us) "; (ii) "God longs jealously for the spirit which he has made to dwell in us". Some form of one of these alternatives is found in most English translations. The NEB adopts a third rendering, which makes good sense and fits well into the contexl, but does somewhat more violence to the Greek. from "Scripture" (5) probably comes in fact from some lost writing of a more recent period, which was perhaps for a short time included among the books of the Old Testament. According to this analysis of human behaviour, the effect of Christ's death and resurrection on a Christian was that a new factor was now active within him which cancelled out the evil forces to which man's spirit was exposed. This new factor was called grace, which was stronger than envious desires (6). The concept was a new one; but the word itself could be found in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, for instance in Proverbs 3.34: 'God ... gives grace to the humble.' And this led naturally to another injunction: Be submissive then to God (7).

The remaining sentences in the paragraph are all broadly relevant to the same theme, but have little connection with one another. Doubtless they were the kind of injunctions often used in Christian teaching. To our ears, an unexpected note is struck by Be sorrowful, mourn and weep (9), but this may be partly because we do not immediately catch the biblical overtones. It is the tone of an Old Testament prophet, addressing the proud, the arrogant and the wealthy, and prophesying their speedy discomfiture. The writer adopts this tone to ridicule the easy complacency and cheerfulness of the wealthy. God is about to bring about a reversal of social values. The only way to be sure of salvation is to join the ranks of the "poor" who make up the church. Humble yourselves before God and he will lift you high (10). This writer may have a certain bias against the rich as such (5.1-6); but basically he has the faith which underlies Jesus' own beatitudes.

Brothers, you must never disparage one another (11). This Christian society lived under the Jewish law, of which God was the lawgiver, and any serious offence would be dealt with according to that law. But there was always a temptation for one individual to censure another's conduct, even when there was no legal offence involved. At its mildest, this might be simply a matter of "disparagement", but equally it could take the much more serious form of slander (the Greek word translated disparage would cover both). Slander was regarded by the Jews as a very serious sin, even though it was not expressly forbidden in the law. Here, the obvious point is being made that anyone who passes unfavourable judgements on another, whether trivial or serious, is arrogating to himself the function of the law and so judges the law. Who are you to judge your neighbour? (12) was a note which had been sounded by Jesus and which was often reiterated in Christian preaching. It was an explicit challenge to the natural propensity of human beings to judge one another all the time.

'Today or tomorrow' (13). The sentence is in conversational Greek, and is evidently the kind of thing that was often heard in the street. Possibly it was sometimes heard also in the Christian congregation. At any rate it gave the writer the cue for a little sermon. Underlying it was a certain over-confidence, or boasting (16), which showed that the speaker had forgotten his human condition. What you ought to say is: 'If it be the Lord's will' (15). Greeks and Romans in fact constantly said, "II il be God's will", as do Muslims today; but (so far as we know) it was not a common expression among the Jews. For once the Christians could learn a moral lesson, not from their Jewish ancestors, but from their heathen neighbours.

Chapter 5.

Next a word to you who have great possessions (1). A critique of riches could be pitched in more than one tone of voice. There was, first, the simple point that all worldly possessions are precarious and transient: fine clothes (3) can become moth-eaten, and silver and gold, though if understood literally as metals they are imperishable, if understood metaphorically as wealth can shrivel into nothing and be subject to decay—this was a piece of ancient wisdom, though it also occurs in the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 6.19-20). But the moralist could also adopt a sharper tone. When the rich get richer, it usually means that the poor get poorer: the amassing of wealth involves injustice and extortion. Depriving a workman of his wages (4) was a social injustice very strongly condemned in the Old Testament (Jesus' use of the proverb, 'The worker earns his pay', may have originally been simply an endorsement of this traditional piece of social morality); yet cases were probably known of it happening, and it could be used as a typical example of the injustices committed by the rich, which would bring their own inevitable retribution. Moreover, the very rust of their hoarded wealth (3) (which should have been distributed as alms) was a symbol of the fiery punishment which their meanness would earn them at the Last Judgement. All this belonged to the traditional repertory of the moralist.

But here the writer is speaking in the tone, not so much of a moralist, as of a prophet. It had been the faith of the righteous "poor" in the past that God would one day vindicate their cause against the rich, that he would "lift up" the poor, and "bring low" the proud and wealthy (1.9-10). This faith was now burning with new intensity among Christians, who confidently expected some such reversal of social values to take place very soon. Their present situation was that which had been well described in the Wisdom of Solomon (2.10-20), where the rich were made to say, "Down with the poor and honest man! ... he is a living condemnation of all our ideas ... let us condemn him to a shameful death". Against them, the poor could offer no resistance. But the moment had almost arrived when they could say, The day of reckoning (or the day for slaughter ← The Greek is very compressed. It means literally, "You have fattened your hearts in the day" (or "a day") "of slaughter". The NEB translation is bold, but may be correct. Alternatively, the day of slaughter may be the eventual elimination of the poor which the rich have been working for in order to increase their own possessions. Many interpreters have seen a reference to the suffering of Christ in this passage; but the context suggests a more general meaning. to use a lurid Old Testament expression) has come (5). The tone is prophetic; the tense of the warning is no longer future but present.

The coming of the Lord is near (8). Again and again in the New Testament (and to a lesser extent in Jewish literature, as in Habakkuk 2.3) the expectation of an imminent new age, accompanied by judgement, is evoked as one of the main reasons for living a life of sobriety, watchfulness and purity. Here the particular quality in mind is patience under ill-treatment (10), and the warning is filled out with two other illustrations. The first is that of the farmer looking for the precious crop his land may yield (7). In Palestine and Syria, all farming depends on the rainfall. After the long dry summer, nothing can be done until the autumn rains have moistened the ground sufficiently for ploughing and sowing. This usually happens in about October, but sometimes is delayed until late November, and the patience of the farmer can be sorely tested as he waits. The season of rains then lasts until March or April; but a successful crop depends on some good showers after the fine weather has begun. So the autumn and spring rains were as much a proverbial preoccupation of the Palestinian farmer as the monsoon for the Indian; if this writer did not know the fact from experience, he could have read the phrase in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 11.14).

(Before the second illustration, the writer reminds his readers that the Lord is also the Judge, and—as he has said earlier (4.11)—"blaming" one's brother, like "disparaging" or accusing him, too easily leads into "judging" him, which is a sure way of falling under the judgement of the one true Judge. At this point, the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 7.1-2) seems to lie very near the surface.)

The second pattern of patience under ill-treatment (10) is provided by the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. That many of the prophets were persecuted and martyred does not appear from the Old Testament, but was a traditional belief in the time of Christ (see above on Matthew 23.30). Their names occurred in lists of Jewish heroes, as also did that of Job (11). The main part of the Book of Job, as it now appears in the Old Testament, consists of a highly wrought debate in the course of which it can hardly be said that Job always stood firm. But this debate was evidently the creation of a great thinker and literary artist, who attached it somewhat loosely to the simple folk-tale which is told in the first and last chapters. In this tale, Job was afflicted by many misfortunes, but stood firm, and was rewarded in the end. It is clearly the Job of the folk-tale, rather than of the literary work, who is in mind here. The point is clinched by two quotations from Scripture: 'We count those happy who stood firm' (Daniel 12.12), and 'the Lord is full of pity and compassion', a formula which occurs in many places (e.g. Psalm 103.8).

Above all things, my brothers (12). If this sentence occurred in a logically constructed argument, we should have to conclude that the prohibition of swearing was the most important tiling the writer felt he had to say. But in fact it is an isolated injunction, with no connection with the rest of the chapter, and we can probably take above all things with a pinch of salt. The author is simply asking his readers to pay special attention to the danger of swearing.

In Judaism, swearing was a serious matter. If one swore an oath, one must be believed; and if one was found to have sworn falsely, the punishment was severe. Yet swearing is very natural, particularly in moments of anger; and although it was a rule of the Law that all oaths must be by the name of God (Deuteronomy 6.13), it was thought that it made the consequences less serious if one said 'by heaven' or 'by earth' or used some other phrase which referred only obliquely to God. It was not difficult to demonstrate the casuistry of this (Matthew 5.33-7): all oaths expose the swearer to judgement (since no man can always be certain that his oath is true, or will be fulfilled); therefore it is better to avoid swearing altogether. The formulation here is slightly different from that of Jesus (Matthew 5.33-7), and indeed Jesus was not the only Jewish or pagan thinker who held this point of view. But it is likely that this writer took his prohibition of swearing from the teaching of Jesus rather than from any other source, since on the whole the Jews regarded oaths as a necessary feature of their legal system, and as a natural (even if undesirable) habit of ordinary speech.

Is anyone among you in trouble? (13) The vivacious style is once again that of a popular lesson in moral philosophy: this is how people of a certain persuasion ought to live. But the answer to the question, Is one of you ill? (14) breaks right out of these conventional generalities and gives us a glimpse of the organization of the early church. Visiting the sick and praying for them (or over them) was a highly esteemed act of charity among the Jews; the relatives and friends of a sick man recognized that they had a clear duty to visit him. In this case the initiative rested with the visitor. But there were also certain people whom the patient might actually send for, such as a noted man of prayer or a physician—though this last was a comparatively late development: Jewish religion regarded sickness as a consequence of sin; the only cure, therefore, lay in the forgiveness of God, and the only proper course for the sick man was to throw himself upon God's mercy; the first and only positive thing which is said about the physician in the whole Bible is in Ecclesiasticus 38.1-15 (written around 180 B.C.); and even there the diagnosis and the cure are closely associated with prayer. Healing, that is to say, was still essentially a religious act; and there was at least one Jewish sect in the time of Christ—the Essenes—which practised both the arts of medicine and what we would now call "spiritual healing".

Evidently the early church had a similar approach to sickness and had its own ministry.of healing. Jesus had actually healed sick people; and his followers continued to exercise this power of healing, in which the main constituent (as in the stories in Acts) was the invoking of the name of the Lord (14). We learn from this passage that the responsibility for responding to the sick man's call lay with the elders of the congregation; and that, just as Jesus himself used the outward gestures of magical or quasi-medicinal cures (Mark 7.33; John 9.6), so the church used oil as part of its rite of healing (there is another reference to this in Mark 6.13). It is also a presupposition of this passage (as of many of the accounts of Jesus' healing miracles) that sickness is the result of sin, and that any recovery is conditional upon one's being forgiven. Therefore, says this writer, confess your sins to one another (16)—this is essential if prayer for healing is to work. Another condition for success (for perhaps it was already necessary to have some explanation ready in case of failure) was that the prayer should be made by a good man. But this was by no means setting an impossible condition (the tone of the passage leaves little doubt that its readers would have agreed that this procedure, if taken seriously, was likely to succeed). One of the great historical examples of faith, Elijah (17) (about whom many details were supplied by popular tradition rather than by the Bible) was after all a man with human frailties like our own.

The last topic of this letter (as of 1 John) is the problem of Christians defecting from the church. The seriousness of this can be gauged from other passages in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5.1-5; Hebrews 10.26-31), where a basic Christian presupposition comes to the surface: inside the church was salvation and eternal life, outside was death and condemnation. Bringing back a straying brother was therefore rescuing his soul from death (20). It was possible to think of the apostate as an agent of the devil, and to dismiss him with hatred. But more often the "straying" was not so serious, and Christian love dictated a different course. Here, as in 1 Peter 4.8, an old proverb was relevant:

"Hatred stirs up strife,
But love cancels innumerable sins."
(Proverbs 10.12)