The Hypocrisy of Prejudice; The Man with the Gold Ring: James 2:2-4

The Epistle of James

The Bridge Commentary consists of four sections: Definitions, Background, Questions, and Comments.  The Definitions section explains all significant Greek words found in all the verses of this passage. The Background section contains material which will help to frame the passage in its 1st-century setting. The Questions section includes queries you may want to ask of the text. Finally, the Comments section contains observations of the verses sorted in word or phrase order.

The entire second chapter of James addresses two areas: the hypocrisy of partiality or prejudice (James 2:1-13) and the life-altering alliance between faith and works  (James 2:14-26). In the first area, using a real-life incident between a rich and poor man, James disassembles the sin of prejudice, as it existed among the congregation.

 Epistle of James: Chapter Two

Chapter Summary

The chapter addresses two areas: the hypocrisy of partiality or prejudice and the life-altering alliance between faith and works.

Paragraph Summary: James 2:1-13

Using the rich and poor as an illustration, James disassembles the sin of prejudice, as it existed among the congregation.

James 2:2–4 (KJV)
2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: 4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

DEFINITIONS:

  • assembly/συναγωγή/synagogue
    • A place of assembly (James 2:2); a synagogue or building for Jewish assembly (Acts 13:43); a building of assembly (Luke 7:5). The word occurs 34x in the gospels, twice in Revelation and only one time in the epistles here in James. Even though James is addressing ‘the twelve tribes’, the gathering is a Christian assembly. The familiar term synagogue is used rather than the Christian ‘ecclesia’.
  • with a gold ring/χρυσοδακτύλιος/chrysodaktylios
    • Literally ‘gold-fingered’ that is not just a single gold ring on his finger but many gold rings; an obvious sign of exceptional wealth.
  • goodly/λαμπρός/lampros
    • Bright; shining; magnificent.
  • apparel/ἐσθής/esthēs
    • Clothing, garment, raiment, apparel.
  • poor/dπτωχός/ptōchos
    • Dependent on others for support, beggarly poor, pitifully destitute. The word does not show an individual who happens to be a bit short of cash.
  • vile/ῥυπαρός/rhyparos
    • Filthy, soiled, dirty, unclean.
  • ye have respect/ἐπιβλέπω/epiblepō
    • To pay close attention to, with the implication of fawning or seeking favor by flattery or exaggerated attention, show special respect for, gaze upon.
  • gay/λαμπρός/lampros
    • Same word ‘goodly’ in verse 2.
  • good place/καλῶς/kalōs
    • Pertaining to meeting relatively high standards of excellence or expectation, fitly, appropriately, in the right way, splendidly 1.
  • partial/διακρίνω/diakrinō
    • To judge or make a difference or distinction.
  • judges/κριτής/kritēs
    • A judge, ruler or umpire. One who has the right to render a ruling in legal matters.

BACKGROUND:

  • Synagogue Origins
    • Synagogue origins date back to the time of the Babylonian exile when Jews gathered without the demolished Temple. The ruling to rebuild the Temple in 538 BC did nothing to dwindle the synagogue. The word in the New Testament means both an assembly of people (Acts 13:43) and a building (Luke 7:5). Here in James 2:2 the reference is the latter. James uses the word ‘synagogue’. Matthew, also written for Jewish readers, uses the word ‘church’ in Matthew 16:18. Both were referring to Christianity in context.

QUESTIONS:

  • Was the Rich Man a Real Person or was James Using an Illustration?
    • A reading of verses six and seven show the rich man was as real as the prejudice flourishing in the congregation (James 2:6-7). Pastor James aims to bring the congregation back into balance. He does so with the corrective fervor of a parent.
  • Why Did James Use the Word Synagogue Instead of the Word Church?
    • James was writing to new Messianic Christians. Messianic worship follows regular Jewish forms. The difference? Jesus was the center of worship instead of the law. New Testament churches met in synagogues or private homes for the first three centuries. Stand-alone church buildings didn’t exist until the time of Constantine. James use of the word synagogue is right. In James 5:14, James uses the word church or ‘eklesia’. His use of the word church in chapter five magnifies his use of the word synagogue in chapter two. It shows the Jewishness of the assembly.
  • Who Is This ‘Gold-fingered’ Man?
    • The words ‘with a gold ring’ mean gold-fingered. It points to a man with many rings not just a single ring. The rings reveal a 1st-century man of wealth and status. This guy had tons of money. He had rings on all his fingers. He wanted you to know it, also. The prodigal son’s father was a man who believed in rings. He puts a ring on his returning son’s hand (Luke 15:22-23). There are commentators who believe the rings show a wealth level like Forbes Billionaires List.
  • What about the Rich Man’s Clothes? 
    • The King James says the rich man wore ‘goodly apparel’. What clothes are goodly clothes? You get a clue by looking at the word goodly throughout the New Testament. During Jesus trial, Herod put a goodly or bright and shining robe on Him. He did this to mock him (Luke 23:11). An angel appeared before Cornelius wearing the same garment (Acts 10:30). The saints of God (Revelation 19:8) and His angels (Revelation 15:6) have this adjective linked to their garments. Finally, the river flowing out from God’s Throne has this brilliance. The garments the rich man wore are bright, shining and magnificent. Head of the class stuff. Knock out Wall Street Fashion duds.
  • What does ‘you have respect’ mean in the phrase ‘you have respect unto him that weareth the gay clothing’?’
    • 1 Samuel 16:7 mirrors the happenings within the walls of this church. The men of the church were looking at the outward appearance, the wealthy man’s clothes. They were not looking at his heart but staring at his wallet. What does ‘respect for him that wears the gay clothing’ mean? It means seats for suits. It means maneuvering for money. It means giving the rich man ‘the big seat’ so he will give ‘the big offering’. What a natural way to think.  After all, isn’t it cost-effective to have a rich man in your hip pocket? No need to trust God for anything, then. Why you can pull him out when you need him. It’s like having a Jack-in-the-Box. Just wind him up. Can you hear the song? “Oh we need some money – Oh we need some money – up pops the rich man – up pops the rich man.” Not having to trust God is what makes filthy lucre filthy (1 Timothy 3:3). It gets worse. There’s a steep cost for self-dependence. The jockeying seen in this example is nothing more than do-it-yourself, self-help religion. A version as old as Cain.
  • The rich man is asked to sit in a good place. What place is that?
    • The word ‘good place’ is an adjective meaning an excellent place. Matthew 23:6 says, it is the best seat in the synagogue. Luke 11:43 calls these seats, the uppermost seats. These were special chairs set in front of the Holy Torah Ark and facing the congregation. The teachers of the law sat in these seats. 2 The Holy Ark contained the holy Torah scrolls making it the holiest place in the building. It sat on the east wall so the congregation faced Jerusalem. According to the saints, the rich man deserved to sit there. What image does that conjure, money mixing with the Word of the Most High God? Maybe Ichabod? The glory has left (1 Sam. 4:19-22). This has an icky feel to it, doesn’t it?
  • What does ‘sit here under my footstool’ mean?
    • It means ‘sit on the floor’. The New American Standard Bible translates it ‘sit down by my footstool.’ The New International Version shows ‘sit on the floor by my feet.’ Look at the great gulf between the classes. It’s as wide as the abyss between the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:26). The multi-ringed man sits next to the teachers of the law. The poor man doesn’t even have a bleacher seat in the congregation. His seat is on the floor with the peanut shells. Would you attend a service in this church?
  • Have you thought about ‘angels unawares’ in regards to these two men?
    • Hebrews 13:2 warns us to treat strangers with hospitality. Why? Some strangers are more than strange. Angels walk among us. They strolled into Abraham’s presence (Gen. 18:2-15) one day. They did Lot the same way (Gen. 19:1-2). What about the poor man who visited this assembly? What if he was of the angelic persuasion? Can you imagine asking a companion to the Throne of God to sit on the floor? Talk about sticking your face in the mud. Most likely, both men were ordinary everyday visitors to this assembly. How does your church handle visitors? It’s a good question. After all, you never know who may come to call on you on Sunday morning. 
  • What was the verdict of the judges?
    • The assembly had risen to sit in the seat of judgment. Jesus warned us about making such an ascent (Matt 7:1).  This congregation placed a monetary value on the man as Judas had valued Jesus. Thirty silver pieces sound familiar? What’s the problem here? They cast aside the poor man’s God-given talents with his financial status. They guttered his divine call in the plan of God. How much is a poor man worth? The same as a rich one. This is what prejudice does. It turns men into peddlers of opinion instead of dispensers of mercy. Jesus wasn’t a vendor of verdicts. He was not a connoisseur of condemnation. To the woman caught in adultery, He said, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” That’s what Jesus people should flow in. Compassion instead of pre-judgment. Jesus said You judge according to the flesh. I judge no one (John 8:15). If Jesus won’t pre-judge, why would we?  The verdict these saints handed down? The rich are favored over the poor. The rich man is a ‘better man’ even if he is unsaved.
  • Who are you trying to impress?
    • Are there people you are currying favor with while excluding a brother in Christ? Are you esteeming an unsaved person over a saved one for gain sake? Have we discarded our family in Christ because they don’t have deep pockets?

COMMENTS:

  • Gold Fever!
    • So much of success in God depends on where one casts his vision. Scripture urges us to look at unseen realities (2Corinthians 4:18), to gaze upon the Lord of glory rather than the glory of the “gold ring.” Gold fever is a crippling disease. It is the not the stuff of life (Lk. 12:15). The riches of the earth, the treasury of men’s storehouses, are as nothing when compared with the riches of the glory realm.
  • ‘For’
    • Introducing An Illustration
      • The word ‘for’ is a connector word to verse one giving us an illustrative example of favoritism, prejudice or respect of persons.
  • ‘if there come unto your assembly’ 
    • The Abundance of Ministry Centers Around the Synagogue
      • Did the Lord direct anyone during the Babylonian captivity to found this establishment known as ‘the synagogue’? The spiritual origins of the synagogue are unknown. Though they are unknown look at how much New Testament ministry centers on this institution. This establishment appears of human origin yet God invaded that realm anyway. Jesus taught in the synagogues (John 18:20). He healed people in them (Matthew 12:9–13). He cast out devils there. The New Testament church followed suit (Acts 19:8-10).
  • ‘a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;’
    • The Great Gulf between Rich and Poor
      • Understand the ‘Grand Canyon’ contrast presented here. The rich man comes in dressed like he belonged on the front cover of ‘Jerusalem Fashion Magazine’. The poor man came with soiled, shabby, clothing, and all the baggage’s of poverty. The events, as they unfold, the discourtesy shown the poor man, should make one angry. The rich man has everything. He has all the fineries of life, food, clothing, and housing while the poor man has nothing. The one thing the poor man could look forward to was the kindness and gentleness of the ‘Christ followers’ which he did not experience upon entering this assembly. The assessment of a man’s importance by his outward appearance can lead to great deceptions. Consider other modern examples along this same trail. David Cheriton is worth 1.3 billion dollars having made his money investing in Google stock. Yet if you see David at a nice restaurant, you will notice him saving half of his meal for the next day and driving an almost 20-year-old car, a 1986 Volkswagon Vanagon. www.kiplinger.com/slideshow/spending/T037-S001-frugal-habits-of-the-super-rich/index.html.
  • ‘And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him,’
    • Giving People Hope for What You Have
      • A question for contemplation is ‘why did the rich man and the poor man come to this church in the first place?’ Surely they did not come just to show off or improve their economic state. Was there an attraction to the gospel message for them? Had they heard of Jesus? Was it the call of spiritual emptiness that summoned them to ‘church’ that day? Maybe they had encountered a Christ follower who had spoken to them of the Way that leads to life? If any of this was so, this assembly botched this encounter to show these inquirers the ‘way of salvation’. Instead of experiencing the newness of life, these lost ones relived the sameness of society. They came hungering for light but instead were fed the same old grub of darkness. These believers failed to give these two men a courteous and respectful reason for the hope that was in them (1Pet. 3:15).
    • ‘Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:’
      • The Drooling Church
        • The type of fuss made over this rich man by this assembly would be likened in our day unto the attention shown by zealous fans over a famous television personality or music recording artist. This church literally fell over this man when he walked in the door. They fawned over this man based on his wealthy outward appearance. They judged the poor man on the same criteria. God, though, is a judge of the inward appearance, the heart (1Samuel 16:7) rather than the outward condition. The ‘heart’ of these two men was never considered.
      • Assigned Seats in the Ancient World
        • Matt. 23:2, leaves the impression that assigned seating was part of synagogue life. ‘Moses seat’ was not only a figurative expression alluding to the authoritative words of the prophet of God but it was a physical stone seat reserved for the certified teaching Pharisee of the synagogue. Also, Matt. 22:6 references there were ‘best seats’ in the assembly. These ‘assigned seats’ were placed in front of the ark and faced the congregation. Only the top teachers of the law sat there. 3. The following is excerpted from Eerdmans Companion to the Bible: “Seating at public events similarly mirrored the social hierarchy. In Rome, Augustus confirmed the existing practice of reserving the front row of stalls at every performance for senators. Soldiers were separated from civilians, and special seats were assigned to married commoners, boys not yet come of age, and, close by, their tutors. Seating according to social status was also observed throughout the various municipalities of the empire, and enormous fines were imposed for the violation. Jews in Palestine engaged in similar practices. At Qumran, for example, sitting according to rank was strictly enforced at the community’s daily meal.” 4.
      • When People Are Not the Preferred Type
        • Obviously, the place the poor was directed to occupy was not a ‘good place’. His attributes were not the preferred type. This church caters to the rich man and pushes the poor man into a lesser space according to the mindset of special seating already alluded to above. The rich man is given a choice seat while the poor man is told to ‘stand over there’. You are almost tempted to think that this man is being relegated to ‘go stand in the corner’ per modern vernacular because of his economic condition. The other choice allowed for the poor is to ‘sit under a footstool’, as the King James has it.
    • ‘Are ye not then partial in yourselves,’
      • ‘Translation Issue in yourselves
        • The word ‘in’ is not a word of location and should be translated as ‘among yourselves’ instead.
    • Are You Partial?
      • The logical conclusion based on their actions. The assembly was partial and prejudicial making distinctions based on status. Humans may display this trait but this is something that God does not do. Acts 15:9 states that God “… put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” The Lords showed no partiality, He put ‘no difference’, between Jews and Gentiles giving the Holy Spirit freely to each group. The Lord makes no distinction between just and unjust atmospherically sending rain and sunshine on both (Matt. 5:45). As for one’s financial status, Job 34:19 states that rich and poor are equal in His sight. If God displays no prejudice, and we are encouraged to imitate God, neither should believers then make these distinctions. A plethora of scriptures bear this admonition of which see Deut. 16:19, Job 13:10, 34:19, Ps. 82:2, Prov. 18:5, 24:23, 28:21, Mal 2:9, 1Tim. 5:21, Jude 16. When an individual or group behaves in a prejudicial manner and at the same time confesses that they love both God and man, this dilemma evidences the double-minded lifestyle referred to in James 1:8.
  • ‘and are become judges of evil thoughts?’
    • What Does ‘Judges of Evil Thoughts’ Mean?
      • ‘Evil thoughts’ is in the genitive case (showing possession) and so the preposition ‘of’ should be translated ‘with’ instead which makes the phrase ‘judges with evil thoughts’. Note that the skewed verdict is a result of an erroneous thought process and such is the case, at times, with saved people. These are not unsaved people depicted here with evil opinions but born-again blood washed people whose minds have yet to be renewed with ‘love of God thinking’. The scripture states a child left to himself brings his mother to shame. And a believer left to themselves, left to old unrenewed thoughts from their former life in the world, brings Christianity to shame.
    • The Law of Reciprocality

      • God’s Word gives many reasons ‘judging’ is not proper. Among them is the Law of Reciprocality found in Luke 6:37-42. Jesus specifically commanded us against engaging in an attitude that would look for things in other people when those same things or worse are in us. Doing so activates this reciprocal law bringing judgment on one’s self. The writings of Paul also come to bear on this issue. The Corinthians were admonished, by the Spirit of God, not to engage in judging other believers ministries. The reasoning is one of ill timing. It is wrong to judge because it is simply not the time for such activities (1 Corinthians 4:3–5).
  1. William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 505
  2. J. M. Wilson, “Best Seat,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 463.
  3. Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988.pp 463
  4. Joseph H. Hellerman, “Society in New Testament Times,” in The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible, ed. Gordon D. Fee and Robert L. Hubbard Jr. (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 701

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