a. In testing, in training, and in fruition (1:2–4)
2 Deem it nothing but an occasion for joy, my brothers, whenever (on each occasion when) you encounter trying assaults of evil in their various forms.
3 You must realize that your approbation is accomplished by constancy in endurance.
4 But let that constancy perfect its work, so that you may be perfect, and complete in every part, lacking in nothing (but able to withstand any kind of assault of evil by which you may be tried).
2 James impressively begins his message with peirasmos, the great common experience of the Redeemer and the redeemed. This present world is a battlefield where the powers of good and evil are embroiled in a war hastening hard to its predestined climax, the triumph of God. The Christian convert must be God’s soldier to the end: “there is no discharge in that war.” The two dominant ideas of the Epistle are the duty and the reward of endurance under peirasmos—certain and not distant victory. The inspiration of the words and the example of Jesus here is clear (see Luke 6:22f.).
Pleasure is not synonymous with joy, and Christian joy is a kind of activity, as in Aristotle’s notion of happiness—a word that falls short of his thought in Greek as “joy” falls short of the Christian’s in English. Christian joy is a man’s pleasure in his (and his brothers’) progress toward Christian salvation; and it is not undiluted pleasure. Judaism also “baptized moral joy into religion.” 10 The rabbis taught that the “chastisements of love” are precious, 11 bestowing on Israel the finest gifts from heaven, 12 like a father’s chastisement of his son; 13 and R. Joshua B. Levi declared: “He who gladly accepts the sufferings of this world brings salvation to the world.” 14 Pagan philosophy knew much of the same truth: “True joy is an exacting business,” says the Stoic Seneca. 15 See Excursus A (pp. 88f.).
James is not, as is often held, here thinking of an alleged distinction between “internal” and “external” temptations. In the Christian life there is really no effective difference between the two: only the defects inherent in human nature make it possible for external or internal stimuli to goad a man into sin; thus to sexual lust straying thought is a temptation no less real, and not less potent, than a provocative temptress. In the Greek of this verse the picturesque adjective various, or “varied,” 16 is in an emphatic position; and it would not have been wasted here by a master of the language on a tepid armchair dichotomy to signify or emphasize such difference as may exist between “external” and “internal” temptations. There are no otiose adjectives in James’s style; in 1:2 (against Ropes) “varied,” as the order shows to the discerning, is as emphatic as the noun “endurance” in the next verse and the adjectives and participial phrase in v. 4, and the noun “wisdom” and the adverb “simply” in v. 5. If James had wanted to use peirasmos in a selective sense he would scarcely have given it the expansive and emphatic “varied” in hyperbaton without any indication that the sense of the noun was restricted. It is only in a clear context that peirasmoi has the narrower meaning. 17 The Greek verb, encounter, 18 is apt for both kinds of temptation (Hort; against Mayor). Like the Latin incido it can have a deliberate meaning, as in a memorable passage in Xenophon, but it often indicates an unplanned and frequently, as here, an undesired incident. Much of the strength of temptation lies in our never knowing what it is going to do next.
3, 4 As in a scholastic Examination Course persevering study leads toward success, so we must realize that in Christianity approbation can follow only the effort of steadfast endurance under trial and temptation (subject, of course, to conditions of age and mental and physical health). Experience itself shows the probationary function of peirasmos: the wind of tribulation blows away the chaff of error, hypocrisy, and doubt, leaving that which survives the test, viz., the genuine element of true character. 19 Here we find striking similarities to the teaching of Judaism: both regard peirasmos as training and testing the seeker after righteousness in his battles with adversity (Prüfungsleiden) and with his own evil inclinations; of the latter Judaism has much to say. “As a goldsmith, who allows the silver in the fire and the gold in the crucible to be purified not longer than necessary, so God purifies the righteous each one according to his rank and his deeds.” 20 The Jewish concept of the yetser hā-rāʿ or evil inclination is important in James’s doctrine of peirasmos, not only in Jas. 1:13ff., where he specifically describes its activity, but also, we believe, in the preceding section (Jas. 1:2ff.); and it is never far below the surface of his thought. Judaism speaks much of internal testing, especially by the yetser hā-rāʿ, the willful animal impulses indispensable to the survival of the human species. On the other hand, Abrahams, pointing to the admittedly neutral meaning of both the Greek 21 and the Hebrew, 22 is inclined to doubt whether “temptation” bore this meaning in the first century. It is interesting, however, to note that it is James’s use of peirasmos that seems to dispel his doubt, for he concedes that “the use of ‘temptation’ in the first chapter of the Epistle of James may illustrate the double use of the term.” 23
In the usual text “endurance” is the result achieved; in our emended text, in endurance, it is the means and method by which we strive for (and, we hope, win) approbation. 24 In his note Ropes (pp. 135f.) well describes Christian constancy as “that permanent and underlying active trait of the soul from which endurance springs,” and translates “steadfastness,” “staying power,” “not ‘patience’ ” (KJV), citing Rom. 5:3f. and 2 Pet. 1:6. In Rom. 5:4 the present tense “works” signifies progress, not completion: cf. the teacher’s motto, “Time teaches patience.” So here it is not a question of more of our fruits which will give completeness of Christian character but of continued striving by God’s grace to see that our endurance be unremittingly carried on till our death. In 1:4, therefore, “perfect” and “complete” and “lacking in nothing” are not perfunctory doublets, as Ropes suggests; they are of the essence of the doctrine.
Perfection, at first conceived in terms of OT cultic requirements (e.g., Exod. 12:5), later came to mean completeness in wholehearted dedication to Israel (Deut. 18:13), as in Noah and others (e.g., Gen. 6:9); here James continues the OT idea of perfection as a right relationship to God expressed in undivided obedience and unblemished life. 25 Balance pervades the Epistle of James: here—characteristically—James has sounded the prelude (1:3f.) to the theme to be developed in 1:16–21.
10 C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, in their Rabbinic Anthology (1938), devote a chapter to “Suffering.” On the mistaken notion that “rejoicing in suffering is specifically Christian,” see W. Nauck, “Freude im Leiden: Zum Problem einer urchristlichen Verfolgungstradition,” ZNW 46 (1955), pp. 68–80.
11 b. San. 101a.
12 Exod. R. i. 1.
17 E.g., Luke 8:13 has πειρασμοί where Mark 4:17 and Matt. 13:21 have θλῖψις and διωγμός (διὰ τὸν λόγον); but Luke does not give πειρασμός simpliciter: after πρὸς καιρὸν πιστεύουσι we have ἐν καιρῷ πειρασμοῦ and the verb ἀφίστανται, “desert”: “who for a season believe, and in the season of attack of evil, desert,” which readily suggests the translation “persecution”: so, though not in form, does NEB, “in the time of testing they desert.” The parable does not imply any real difference between the two classes of unfaithful men; in Jas. 1:2 as in 1 Cor. 10:13 there is nothing to narrow the scope of the term, and there is a whole background of thought to extend its meaning to the full.
20 b. Pes. 118a.