Monday, November 26, 2007

The Argument of James: Uncovering and Recovering the Double-Minded Man, Pt. 2

Here's the conclusion of this series. I'm not switching to extra-long posts, though I am attempting to make the case that the letter of James is fundamentally about uncovering and recovering the double-minded man. Congrats to Al, who read the previous piece all the way through. If someone else out there did as well, feel free to leave me a comment--what do you think of this thesis? Oh, and if you read nothing else, read the conclusion.

3:14-16 The Double-Minded Man Is Externally Godly But Inwardly Corrupt

In this passage, James implicitly indicts the double-minded man by claiming that he is “false to the truth.” In order to be false to the truth, one must claim to be of the truth, and thus the double-minded man claims to be of the truth. In practice, though, his life is motivated by bitter, prideful, self-interest.[1] Though he is called to be humble and gracious to others, and to put them first, he is primarily and dominantly self-interested. The result is “disorder.”[2] Martin contends that “This characterization points to persons who are “double-minded” and double-tongued. The result is “anarchy.”[3] When members of the Christian community put themselves first while remaining in it, they will create disorder, as their motives will clash with the motives of true Christians, and cause the church to be at cross-purposes. Thus we see that James highlights the destructive nature of double-mindedness. As noted above, this way of life does not merely affect the soul of the one who adopts it. It affects the entire community and poisons true ekklesia. The true Christian is the one who operates out of care for others and creates harmony and love; the divided man operates out of care for self and creates disharmony and hurt.

4:4 The Double-Minded Man Is a Friend of the World and an Enemy of God

Previous to this verse, James has sketched out a problem in the churches to which he writes: they are quarrelsome and self-interested. In living this selfish lifestyle, James says here that they have entered into “friendship with the world.” James is not teaching that these people have entered into actual friendships with lost people—though they may have done so—but is teaching that their principles are so worldly as to bring these double-minded people into close relationship with the spiritual realm of unbelief. This makes these people “adulteresses,” which implies that they do claim allegiance with God.[4] Dibelius points out the nature of this inconsistency, writing simply that “Love for God and love for the world are mutually exclusive.”[5] Rhoads concurs: “If God’s people become stained by the world and then are boastful and arrogant about it, they are confirmed an enemy of God.”[6] These commentators capture the increasingly sharp tone of James’s rhetoric. The double-minded are not merely doubters—they are God’s very enemies. God loves the true Christian, who lives for others and brings peace, not division, to the body. But He despises the double-minded man, the one whose love for the world and love for self so overwhelms his professed faith commitment that, in the end, his faith is not merely empty but is actually love masquerading as hate.[7]

5:12 The Double-Minded Man Speaks Duplicitously

In 5:12 James picks up a previous theme related to the double-minded man, namely, that this person possesses a word, meaning a way of speaking, that does not necessarily correlate with the truth. To put it simply, the divided man often says nai, “yes,” when he means ou', “no.” He is of two minds, after all, and thus his speech reflects two minds. He has some measure of devotion to things of God, and some measure of devotion to things of the world. This dichotomous mindset results in speech that is anything but clear and trustworthy. We may infer here from previous texts that the bipolar nature of the divided man’s speech is likely due to a strong impulse toward self-perpetuation. To put it plainly, the double-minded cares for himself, and thus says whatever is most helpful for him at any given moment and in any given situation. In a contemporary culture that almost prides itself on being duplicitous (see the celebration of the “little white lie,” for example), the power of this verse may initially be diminished. But this is a high-voltage passage. The one who speaks duplicitously will “fall under condemnation,” following C. Freeman Sleeper’s translation.[8] The divided person will suffer a great price—the greatest price—for his duplicity.[9] Those who say yes when they mean no, and vice versa, will be damned for all eternity because of their sin.[10] One’s speech is no small matter. Indeed, it reveals the deepest issues of the heart. The true Christian says what he means, and intends to bless those around him by clear, trustworthy communication. The divided man says whatever serves him best, and will meet a fearsome end.

4:8 and 5:19-20 The Salvation of the Double-Minded Man

In these last two passages, James offers hope for the double-minded. In 4:8 he refers explicitly to these people and calls them to salvation—“purify your hearts.” This text represents James’s direct address to the double-minded of the congregation to be saved. This is a direct appeal to the people whom James has addressed repeatedly in this book. In 5:19-20, James does not use the term dipsuchos but is, one could argue, concluding his book by calling not to the double-minded themselves but to their peers to rescue the lost in their churches. James in effect calls the Christians among his hearers to evangelize those in their community who give evidence of double-mindedness. Luke Timothy Johnson captures this reality when he writes that the Christians who encounter James’s message “are to be a community of mutual correction, turning those who err back to the right path (5:19-20), in effect doing for each other what James in his letter has tried to do for them.”[11]
It is the present author’s contention that this understanding of 5:19-20 makes much better sense of this passage than does a reading of the text that is not driven by the supposition that James’s letter is addressed to the divided person. If the letter of James is indeed driven by James’s concern for the double-minded man, then this closing passage caps off his discussion perfectly. He has excoriated the sin of the man of the two minds, he has warned him, he has told him directly that he is hell-bound, and now he calls for his congregational peers to evangelize and save them. This understanding of 5:19-20 fits perfectly with the text’s language. The divided man, we have already established, has some connection to truth. He even believes himself to be a Christian. However, he is clearly one who “wanders from the truth.” This is the very definition of the spiritual state of the double-minded man.[12] He stands near the truth, but he wanders from it.[13] As a result, he is altogether lost. The man of two minds is, in the end, a man of one mind.[14] Tragically, this mind is devoted to sin and self, and will reap the awful results of this devotion for all eternity.


The book of James is a misunderstood text. The majority of commentators miss its true focus, instead construing the thematic principle of the text in the most basic of terms. Failing to see the common threads of the argument introduced in 1:6-8, they conclude that the book is a basic call to obedience. It is the contention of this author that James is not a book without a theme, or a book merely about one of the most basic themes of the Christian faith—the need for obedience to God and love for Christians. No, the book of James puts forth a much more significant argument than this. It is a book with a powerful, textured, multi-faceted message to the double-minded person who professes faith in Christ. In his letter, James seeks to uncover the true spiritual condition of this man, and he seeks to recover him, to see him saved. This is the message of James, and this must be the message of our churches, as we call both the pagan and the nominal Christian to find salvation in the gospel of Christ, the truth the triumphs over all foes and that brings rest and unity to divided minds.

Footnotes (for the truly dedicated)

[1] Manton summarizes the passage helpfully: “James proves that such devilish wisdom as serves envy and selfish ambition cannot be good wisdom, for it brings about quite contrary effects—the one for holiness and meekness, the other for confusion and profanity.” Manton, James, 208.

[2] Timothy and Barbara Friberg offers three different types of disorder which this word can signify: political unrest, social unrest, and community disruption. Friberg, The Analytical Greek New Testament, Version Two [CD-ROM] (Cedar Rapids, IA: Parsons Technology, 1998), 862. The third seems the most appropriate definition in this context.

[3] Martin, James, 132. Also Moo, The Letter of James, 174.

[4] Barclay Newman defines the word as “unfaithful,” underscoring the relational nature of this adjective. Newman, A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament [CD-ROM] (New York: United Bible Societies, 1993), entry 4080.

[5] Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, 220.

[6] Rhoads, “The Letter of James: Friend of God,” 483.

[7] J. W. Roberts captures this point when he opines that “A pleasure-loving, covetous, worldly Christian is a contradiction. Demas was in love with this present world and left Paul (2 Tim. 4:10).” Roberts, The Letter of James (Austin, TX: Sweet Publishing Company), 128.

[8] C. Freeman Sleeper, James, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), 139.

[9] Past commentators have focused too much in their interpretation of this passage on the meaning of the oaths that are sworn. James may well have a formal oath in mind here, but this is not the most important aspect of this passage. The most important facet is the fact that this verse speaks to the behavior of the man of two minds.

[10] Hartin, James, 262.

[11] Luke Timothy Johnson, “An Introduction to the Letter of James,” Review & Expositor 97.2 (2000): 165.

[12] Davids, James, 167.

[13] Moo thoughtfully notes that “to allow “the world” to entice us away from total, single-minded allegiance to God is to become people who are divided in loyalties, “double-minded” and spiritually unstable.” Moo, The Letter of James,194.

[14] Mayor, The Epistle of St. James, 146.

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Blogger Dad said...

Wow! I got my name in print, in a blog going out to 7.37 people:))

I read this too. I had not thought of James in this light before, but, at least at first reading this makes sense.

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

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

C. Freeman Sleeper’s translation.[8] The divided person will suffer a great price—the greatest price—for his duplicity.[9] Those who say yes when they mean no, and vice versa, will be damned for all eternity because of their sin.[10] One’s speech is no small matter. Indeed, it reveals the deepest issues of the heart. The true Christian says what he means, and intends to bless those around him by clear, trustworthy communication. The divided man says whatever serves him best, and will meet a fearsome end.
Directly quoted from C.Freeman Sleeper, huh?...well then he shall be damned forever then. When i was a small child, he lived next door to me in a small town in Connecticut. And his children were rotten to the core!. He had one son, who used to throw apples from his tree at my fathers garage and they would smash. He was asked nicely to stop, and the child continued to throw them. When both of my parents approached MR Sleeper and explained to him the issue, he denied any wrongdoing, and then GRABBED my mother over the fence by the arm.My father was so angry he went to the house and grabbed a shotgun and sat on the porch until the local trooper arrived.
So where does it say ANYWHERE in the bible or any other religious scripture that it is ok to assault your neighbors wife????
He is a TOTAL hypocryte and he has everyone who has ever read his writings so badly snowballed. Oh, and by the way, this is not all that happened while he lived there, there is alot more that has been kept quiet over the years and believe me, it will all come full tilt in due time.

6:08 PM  

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