Friday, November 23, 2007

The Argument of James: Uncovering and Recovering the Double-Minded Man, Pt. 1

Since I posted on my James paper this week, I've had so many emails come in requesting the paper that I decided to post the textual part of it on this blog so that all can read it. Note that the following texts reflect the key theme of James, being the uncovering and recovering of the double-minded man, and that this is in no way an exhaustive summary of relevant texts but is merely a quick walkthrough of several key passages that relate to the suggested theme. Part 2 will be posted on Monday.

1:6-8 Portrait of the Double-Minded Man

In this section James introduces the concept of the double-minded man. In arguing that this passage forms the thematic basis for all that follows, we note that James apparently coined the Greek term dipsuchos (“double-minded man”).[1] His original thesis thus rests on an original term.[2] The fundamental characteristic of the double-minded man is that he is has his mind focused on two completely opposite realms. On one hand, he has some measure of faith in God and thus wishes to ask Him for things. On the other, he struggles with severe doubt of God and likely trusts himself more than a god who seems not to answer him. The result of this dichotomous thinking is that the double-minded man is “unstable,” in everything that he does.[3] In the passages to come, we will see that this introductory portrait does indeed describe the person James is targeting, as he is fundamentally characterized by a lifestyle that exists in tension between God-driven obedience and self-centered disobedience.

1:22-24 The Double-Minded Man Hears But Does Not Do

One of James’s central concerns is that his hearers would not only physically hear the word but that they would translate it into action. Not surprisingly, the double-minded man is the very antithesis of such desired behavior. The man of two interests is likened here to one who cannot focus long enough to even remember what he looks like. James’s tone here is clearly negative, and he views such mental flightiness with disdain. His focus here is on the immediacy of the double-minded man’s forgetfulness. He focuses on this immediacy by using the aorist tense first and then following it with a perfect tense, which according to Alexander Ross reveals both “the suddenness of the action and the permanence of the result.”[4] James’s frustration is built on past experience. The first and third aorists are both gnomic and thus convey not a one-time event but a timeless truth.[5] This condition of double-mindedness, characterized here by forgetfulness of the preached word, is no passing trend but has been a problem since faith was required of man.[6] The true Christian hears and does; the divided man hears and forgets.

1:26 The Double-Minded Man Is Religious But Not Godly

James returns again to the divided man in 1:26. Here he examines personal spiritual division through the standpoint of the tongue. James’s denunciations of the divided man grow increasingly specific as the letter progresses. The problem with such a person here is that he professes to be a godly person but takes no practical action toward that end. The end result is that he tricks himself. We should thus understand the divided man to be unconscious of his dangerous state. James teaches us that the man of two minds thinks that all is well and that he is religious. What he cannot see, though, is that his faith, his religion, is “worthless.”[7] Laws notes that this “adjective [was] often applied to pagan religion…which may give an extra pejorative thrust to James’s condemnation.”[8] Not only is the divided man’s “faith” nonexistent, it is inherently ungodly, and no better than pagan belief. If this is true, this is a strong condemnation indeed of the divided person, who fancies himself a Christian but is in reality a godless pagan.[9] It is as if God-glorifying religion had never entered his mind. Thus we see that the true Christian bridles his tongue and lives for God, while the double-minded man speaks freely and lives in deception.[10]

2:1-4 The Double-Minded Man Claims Impartiality But is Biased

This is a bone-chilling section, if one reads it carefully and from the standpoint that James’s burden is to expose the double-minded man in the midst of a congregation of true believers. We say this because the double-minded man does not merely affect himself for ill, but he spreads his poison among the church members. Here, James points out this dimension of double-mindedness in relation to partiality. James implicitly teaches that the true believer is impartial and peace-oriented in the congregation, while the divided man is partial and conflict-ridden. The divided man here is not explicitly spoken of, of course, but he is pictured through this disturbing scene. The facet of double-mindedness that James is pointing out is that it professes to hold faith in the barrier-shattering faith of Christ, but that it actually operates according to worldly standards of wealth and power. James says to the divided persons that they are “judging” and are controlled by “evil thoughts.” Hartin observes that diekrithete “refers to being divided within oneself and also “contains the concept of actively making distinctions among people and discriminating against others.”[11] The double-minded man, then, is one who, despite being a part of a community that exalts impartiality and embraces all, actively promotes discrimination in the church.[12] The true Christian acts in the same kind way towards all men; the divided man treats the rich with kindness and the poor with contempt.

2:14-17 The Double-Minded Man Claims Faith But Has No Works

The double-minded man is discussed in this section, though he is not named. Again, it is the present author’s contention that James has the divided man constantly in the front of his mind as he writes this letter, and thus there are numerous sections that illustrate spiritual division even if they do not make use of the term dipsuchos. Here double-mindedness shows itself in a faith that is alone and that has no works to buttress and prove it. The test is not impartiality, though it is related to it, but generosity. The double-minded man says that he loves those he claims as brothers and sisters, but when it comes time to demonstrate that generosity, his faith shows itself to be “by itself.”[13] Mayor concurs and notes that the “absence of fruit shows that it is not merely outwardly inoperative but inwardly dead.”[14] This is the correct meaning of this phrase—it is not that James is in fact suggesting that compartmentalization of faith and works is possible, but rather that faith without works is no faith at all.[15] This is the state of the divided man. The true Christian both believes and acts generously toward others based on his belief; the double-minded man produces no practical evidence for his faith, even while surrounded—and even approached—by the needy.

3:8-9 The Double-Minded Man Blesses God But Curses Man

James offers his strongest attack on the double-minded man in these two terse verses. The dipsuchos is not mentioned, but his fundamental mindset is described. Possessing a tongue that, like his heart, is not truly redeemed, he simultaneously blesses God and curses man. This is not the mild problem we might initially think it to be in a quick skim of chapter three. Unlike our irreverent society, in which even many Christians take the Lord’s name in vain, in the Christian community of James’s day, blessing God was a serious matter indeed. Hartin notes that “To bless and praise God is the most important prayer one can make in the Jewish and Christian traditions,” and it is also quite possible that James is referring to an actual liturgical blessing of God in the synagogue.[16] If so, this blessing would have been a public declaration, an act that would have made a private cursing of fellow men all the worse by its hypocritical nature. The double-minded man of James’s conception is not only forgetful, partial, and greedy, but he is deeply hypocritical. A major test as to whether one is double-minded, then, is whether one is publicly godly—all smiles and amens on Sunday morning—and privately wicked, such that one curses one’s fellow man and savages those whom he does not like. The true Christian blesses both God and man, not only in word but in motive; the double-minded man blessed God and curses man, and shows the true nature of his heart.


[1] Joseph Thayer rightly indicates that the word has a different meaning here—“wavering”—than in 4:8, where it means “of two minds.” Thayer, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [CD-ROM] (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997), entry 1450.

[2] Though Marie Isaacs helpfully points out that James’s concept of double-mindedness “echoes Jewish tradition in which “doubleness” was thought to be the very essence of sin.” Isaacs, “Suffering in the Lives of Christians: James 1:2-19A,” Review & Expositor 97.2 (2000): 187. See also Peter Davids, James, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 74. Virgil Porter, Jr. points out the connection to Christ’s teaching: “This concept of double-mindedness relates directly to Jesus’ words about being divided between two masters (Matt. 6:24).” Virgil Porter, Jr., “The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of James, Part 1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162.647 (2005): 360. Thus we see that there is a rich background to this initial concept and statement by James.

[3] Moo nicely summarizes the point being made in this section: “It is what we might call “spiritual schizophrenia” that James criticizes in these verses explicitly and implicitly throughout his letter: a basic division in the soul that leads to thinking, speaking, and acting that contradicts one’s claim to belong to God.” The Letter of James, 63.

[4] Ross, The Epistles of James and John, 40.

[5] Following Hartin, James, 99 and Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, 115.

[6] Thomas Manton pointed out long ago that “Many go from sermon to sermon and hear much, but do not digest it in their thoughts.” Manton, James, The Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1995), 98. This is clearly true of the divided man.

[7] Or “futile.” J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, (United Bible Societies [CD-ROM] 2003), entry 4124, 65.37.

[8] Laws, Epistle of James, 88.

[9] Davids gets to the heart of the matter when he notes that “Religion which does not have ethical results, particularly in this case control of the tongue, is totally useless before God: such faith is God, not salvific, as James will say later (2:20, 26).” Davids, James, 102. See also Virgil Porter, Jr., “The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of James, Part 2,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162.648 (2005): 480.

[10] Hartin, James,110.

[11] Hartin, James,118.

[12] Martin concludes along similar lines. “It may well be that James is tracing the sinful behavior described in vv 2-3 back to its source, namely a divided mind. The double-minded (1:8; 4:8) Christian is the one who fails to love and obey God wholeheartedly.” Martin, James, 63.

[13] Davids, 122.

[14] Mayor, James, 99, and Doerksen, who says sternly that “A compassion that consists only of words is sheer mockery.” Doerksen, James, 66.

[15] Stulac, James,109. Addison Eastman puts this problem eloquently: “in the matter of faith and works, as in the traditional marriage ceremony, we need the reminder, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Eastman, A Handful of Pearls: The Epistle of James (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978), 54-5.

[16] Hartin, James, 179.

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Blogger Dad said...

Okay Owen, I took the time to read this extra long blog. Interesting, and seems reasonable.


Al (Not Owen's dad or that other "Al".)

3:51 AM  
Blogger Leila said...

Thanks!! My husband and I recently began to study James & discuss what we are learning. We have been having a bit of trouble seeing how this letter flows-- it seems as though James flits around like a butterfly, lighting on a thought for a moment and then moving on. This really helps tie it together as well as clarifying "dipsuchos".

12:57 PM  

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