Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

A Brother’s Wisdom 67

JesusJames*.jpgJames 4:7-10 contains a list of commands and prohibitions, with an occasional promise. Here is the text, and you can read it and see if you think here is a discernible structure:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.


First, there are ten imperatives in this section, and my own view is that each of them is simply another way of saying “Change, leaders, and drop this craving for power. Devote your friendship to God!”

1.    7 Submit yourselves therefore to God.
2.    Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 
3.    8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
4.    Cleanse your hands, you sinners,
5.    and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 
6.    9 Lament
7.    and mourn
8.    and weep.
9.    Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 
10.    10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.


Second, 4:7a, “submit yourselves,” could be the topic but it is far from clear that it is. We can use words to make it the topic but proof is hard to come by. “Resist” in 4:7b is a separable command with a promise, and “Draw near” in 4:8a has the same form. Clearly, the “cleanse” and “purify” in 4:8b is a tidy, balanced double command that belongs together. And the first three commands of 4:9a are not only a unit but separable from the 3d person imperative of 4:9b. Finally, 4:10 is indeed similar to 4:7a, but both a different word is used and “Humble yourselves,” like 4:7b and 4:8a, comes with a promise. These units are clearly discernible.  The relationship of the separable units, though having some structure, are more random than they are logically connected.  Some connect the commands: thus, one must first submit and then resist and then approach God and then be pure and then repent and then … . Such connections are not made by James and reveal more the ingenuity of a scholar or preacher than the realities of this text. Martin describes the section well when he describes it “a staccato burst of rapid commands.”  The sections come more like a battering ram from a variety of angles than a logical argument.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted June 11, 2009 at 4:05 am

I’m really enjoying this series, Scot, and look forward to the book. Can you tell us just when it is coming out? (of course I could call Eerdmans myself, and their bookstore is the best for Christian scholarly books- with coffee)

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