James 2:1-13 (Modern American Version)

James 2 came to mind recently, and I was struck by how much I brushed it off, or thought it did not apply to me (or to our small church). I got to thinking about it, and decided that it wasn’t because it shouldn’t apply, only that the specific context in James’ mind is not in our typical experience, and we thereby miss the message behind it. I decided to re-write a passage from the chapter using language and examples that would perhaps speak more clearly to us (or at least, to heterosexual men–others can see where to change things for themselves. You’ll see what I mean in a moment). I find that re-writing passages in this way can be a useful “shock” mechanism to get ourselves thinking further away from the words of the text, and maybe closer to the meaning of the text. You can see an earlier example of this at my old weblog (though the point there is message through irony rather than message through revision).

First, I’ll show you James 2:1-13 in the ESV:

2:1My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Now, here is my version (the “Modern American Version”):

2:1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. 2Suppose a girl comes into your meeting with an attractive face and body, wearing flattering clothes, and an unattractive girl also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the girl with the sexy physique and say, “Here, sit next to me,” but say nothing at all to the unattractive girl, or fail to pay her as much attention, 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5Listen, my dear brothers: has not God chosen those who are unattractive in the eyes of western men to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted women. Is it not this cultural system of constant physical appraisal and criticism which is exploiting you? Is it not what is keeping you from loving your neighbors? 7 Is it not exactly what is separating you from truly bearing the noble name of him to whom you belong?

8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet treats an attractive woman with favoritism is guilty of breaking all of it. 11For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “What is it to you if you love those who love you?” If you do not commit adultery but still only love the lovely, you have become a lawbreaker.

12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Phrased that way, it is much easier (for me, anyway) to feel the sharpness of what James was telling the church. But maybe it is only because I definitely struggle with falling into that game. What do you think?

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

4 replies on “James 2:1-13 (Modern American Version)”

Great job bringing the text to life. Your revision speaks powerfully to the leadership men can show by treating women equally. They certainly notice, and it enables fellowship without suspicion. Often our sisters that are walking modestly and humbly with the Lord are neglected in favor of the less modest. How great to offer them encouragement and useful attention.

Nicely written, Jonathan. This provides a clear example of how we can so readily corrupt the love Jesus taught by only “loving” in circumstances in which we perceive we will benefit. Tragically, when we act this way we miss the essence of that love altogether. This is a very challenging instruction because our hearts are so corrupted that it almost feels normal to discriminate who we show love to based on subtle self-interests.

I imagine each church culture has people that it “prefers” to love. We should write each other letters reminding us of the people we are respectively quick to avoid because of the culture we live in.

Another problem when struggling with favoritism lies not only is making sure you don’t promote the rich/pretty, but in recognizing the possibility for favoritism and then demoting the rich/pretty because one is so worried about favoring them too much. I find this is an equally difficult struggle.

The question deals with how we value people, and maybe we aren’t meant to place value on people at all. Maybe we’re suppossed to focus so much on loving our neighbors that we don’t worry about who is higher or lower in the hierarchy and therefore worthy of the high value we give them.

Unfortunately, but honestly, growing up and particularly, going to high school, ingrained in me some seriously destructive opinions of people- I’m guilty at times. Now these habits are in sharper focus because I recognize the destructiveness when I see it. The hard part is in reshaping my mind in regards to this, and for me knowing when I am giving an honest effort in the reshaping process. I tend to over correct when I do.

Well said, guys. And Peter is right: In attempting to reshape our minds and habits to love the “unlovely”, we must not think that we can achieve this merely by hating the “lovely”, or indeed, that any of this has to do with the “lovely” at all. There is not some balance or scale with which we must somehow equalize attention given to “lovely” vs “unlovely” people. Rather, there are people, and we must love them. Some are easier to love (the “lovely”) than others (the “unlovely”), and which are who depend on culture, ourselves, and many other factors, but the bottom line is love. I think this discussion on favoritism (and my revision of the James passage in particular) is meant just to highlight one of those factors which makes it easier to love certain people than others (and to love them for selfish reasons) in our particular case. Different people will feel the revision with different force, but I thought many of us could relate to this version of favoritism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *