1 My brothers, do not hold the faith of our lord of glory, Jesus Christ, in partialities.1 2 For if a gold-fingered man2 enters your synagogue in radiant clothing, and a beggar enters in filthy clothing, 3 and you attend the one wearing radiant clothing and say: “Kindly rest yourself down here,” and to the beggar say, “Stand there, or rest under my footstool,” 4 do you not equivocate among yourselves and become judges of base consideration?
5 Listen, my beloved brothers: does god not choose beggars with respect to the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to those who love him? 6 But you dishonour the beggar. Do wealthy men not oppress you and drag you to court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the good name invoked over you?
8 If, indeed, you fulfil the royal law, as it is written: “You will love your neighbour as yourself,” then you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you labour at sin, shamed by the law as a transgressor. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but blunders in one, has become guilty of everything. 11 For he who says: “Do not commit adultery,” says also, “Do not murder,” and if you do not commit adultery but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
12 Thusly speak and thusly do like men about to be judged according to the law of liberty. 13 For judgement is merciless for the man who does not enact mercy; and mercy exults over judgement.
14 What is the profit, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but has not works? Might faith not save him? 15 If a brother or a sister find themselves naked and lacking their daily bread 16 and one from among you says to them: “Go forth in peace, be warmed and fed,” but do not give them the necessities of the body, what is the profit? 17 Likewise faith, if it has not works, is dead by itself.
18 But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you faith from my works. You have faith that god is one, you do well; but even the demons have faith and they tremble.
20 Are you willing to understand, you empty-handed man, that faith without works is idle? 21 Was not our father Abraham justified by works when he carried his son Isaac up to the sacrificial altar? 22 You see that faith works together with his deeds and by works, faith is consummated, 23 and scripture is fulfilled, saying: “Abraham had faith in god, and it is reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he is called beloved of god. 24 You see that by works a person is justified and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not even Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she harboured the messengers and sent them off by another way? 26 For just as the body without spirit is dead, so too faith without works is dead.
1. There is a real problem with the Greek in 2:1. A more literal translation of the Greek might be, My brothers, do not in partialities hold the faith of our lord, of Jesus Christ, of glory. No one really knows what to do with that of glory at the end. I’ve made a decision about how to handle it, but there’s no guarantee that it’s the right one, and many other proposals have been made over the years. Some scholars have proposed that the words of Jesus Christ are an interpolation. This actually does solve the problem, and you end up with a phrase, the lord of glory that occurs plenty of times in the Old Testament. Another, less difficult concern is the prepositional phrase I’ve translated as in partialities. The Greek word here is pretty rare. I think it occurs only in one of the Pauline epistles, in a different form in Acts of the Apostles, and in Clement. The meaning I’ve chosen seems fine; it matches well with the following discussion, but other translators have handled it differently. Do take a look a different translations of the Bible and see how they’ve dealt with James 2:1 (I recommend http://www.biblegateway.com if you don’t have a few different translations on the shelf). Young’s Literal Translation, the King James Version, and New International Version all handle the verse in distinctly different ways.
2. I’ve translated the Greek here, ἀνὴρ χρυσοδακτύλιος, very literally. It refers, obviously, to a wealthy man with many gold rings on his finger. This word χρυσοδακτύλιος was sometimes used to refer to Romans of the equestrian class, who wore an insignia ring denoting their station. Some scholars have used this as evidence that the author of this epistle was writing from Rome, but it’s not an especially strong argument.