James 1:27: Essentials of True Religion, Part 2

Verse 27:[1] Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, (Is. 1:16, 17; 58:6, 7; Matt. 25:36) To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, (Rom. 12:2; Jam. 4:4; 1 John 5:18) and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

[Religion clean, etc., καθαρὰ καὶ ἀμίαντος παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ, etc.] He does not here define religion, but describes it from certain effects (Gomar). In the preceding verse is the revelation of hypocrisy; here is the proof of sincerity (Gataker). [Thus they translate it:] Pure, or, clean (that is, sincere, as in Matthew 5:8;[2] 23:26;[3] John 13:10;[4] 15:3;[5] etc. [Gataker]) and undefiled (that is, which is not obscured by sins; or, which proceeds from a pure and undefiled heart [Estius]: or, holy [Syriac in Grotius], pure [Arabic in Grotius]; ἀμίαντος, as in Hebrews 7:26;[6] 13:4,[7] unpolluted, choice, 1 Peter 1:4[8] [Gataker]: Religion true and unadulterated: A similitude taken from Jewels, in which it is required that they be pure and not blemished: In a manuscript,[9] this is not incorrectly connected with what precedes in this manner, θρησκεία γὰρ, for religion, etc., and thus it is read in the Syriac [Grotius]) before God and the Father[10] (that is, before God who is the same as our Father [Estius out of Beza, thus Calvin, Grotius]; that is, which is exhibited to God, or, before God [Estius], according to the estimation of God: Καὶ/and here is set down as in Ephesians 1:3;[11] 4:6;[12] 5:20;[13] etc. [Grotius]; or, before Him, who is God and Father, who is here described by two titles, one of Power, God, and one of Piety, father [Gataker]) is this (Piscator, etc.). Not that in this the power of religion essentially consists, but that through these it reveals itself (Estius).

[To visit, etc., ἐπισκέπτεσθαι, etc.] He does not define in general what religion is, but he takes up one part as suited to the present occasion, and shows that religion does not at all consist without this (Calvin). He does not here enumerate all the offices of charity, but only two (Beza). From the species he desires the genus to be understood, that is, the comfort and relief of the afflicted (Estius, Grotius), as in Matthew 25:35; Isaiah 1:17. True Religion does indeed require Faith, but is perfected especially in two things, Beneficence and purity of Life (Grotius). Here are two marks of religion, Piety and mercy toward others, and Purity in oneself. Which he here sets forth, as especially opposed, [either, 1.] to the hypocrites and their foolish pomp and profession (Gataker); [or, 2.] to the Gnostics of those times, who on account of impurity, and love of the present world, were infamous; and also on account of the neglect of widows, orphans, etc., which Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Smyrnæans, charges against them under the name of ἑτεροδοξούντων, the heterodox (Hammond). Ἐπισκέπτεσθαι is here taken as in Matthew 25:36,[14] 43[15] (Grotius), and as פָּקַד, for to take care of, and to support to the best of one’s ability[16] (Beza). [Thus they render the words:] To visit (or, to take care of [the Syriac in Tirinus]; to provide for necessities [Gataker], to comfort, to feed [Tirinus]) ophans and widows (of which there were many at that time, with their husbands, for Christ’s sake, either killed, or carried off into exile [Tirinus]: and the care of which God particularly requires, as in Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:29; etc. [Gataker]: He mentions those here, from whom no recompense is expected [Beza]) in the affliction (or, straits [Grotius out of the Arabic]) of them, and unspotted (we have ἄσπιλον both in 1 Timothy 6:14[17] and 2 Peter 3:14[18] [Grotius]) to preserve (or, to keep [Grotius out of the Syriac]) oneself from the world (Beza, Piscator). As in Galatians 1:4 (Gataker); that is, either, 1. from worldly men, as world is often taken (Vorstius); from impious men, of whom the world is full; from the evil examples of the world. See John 17:14; 1 John 2:15; 5:19 (Grotius). Or, 2. from worldly pleasures, or lusts (Piscator, Gataker), impurities and sins (Estius, Menochius, Tirinus, Vorstius, Gataker). Compare Titus 2:12; 2 Peter 1:4; 2:20 (Gataker).

Pure religion; true, sincere, genuine, Matthew 5:8; John 15:3. And undefiled; this seems to reflect upon the hypocritical Jews, whose religion consisted so much in external observances, and keeping themselves from ceremonial defilements, when yet they were sullied with so many moral ones, James 1:14; Matthew 23:23; John 18:28; devoured widows’ houses. They thought their religion pure and undefiled; the apostle shows here which is really so before God; in the sight of God, and according to his judgment. God and the Father; i.e. God who is the Father, and being only explicative, as Ephesians 1:3; 5:20: yet this title may be given here to God with respect to what follows, and to show that such acts of charity are acceptable to him that is called the Judge of widows, and the Father of the fatherless, Psalm 68:5. To visit; this includes all other acts of charity to them, comforting, counselling, relieving them, etc. The fatherless and widows; he doth not exclude others from being the objects of our charity and compassion, but instanceth in fatherless and widows, as being usually most miserable, because destitute of those relations which might be most helpful to them; and possibly in those times persecution might increase the number of widows and orphans. In their affliction; when they had most need; lest any should think it sufficient to visit them that were rich, or in a prosperous condition. And to keep himself unspotted from the world; untainted by the evil example of men in the world, and free from the lusts of the world, moral pollutions. The apostle doth not here define religion but only instanceth in these two things, good works and holiness of conversation, as testimonies and arguments of the truth of it.

[1] Greek:  θρησκεία καθαρὰ καὶ ἀμίαντος παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ αὕτη ἐστίν, ἐπισκέπτεσθαι ὀρφανοὺς καὶ χήρας ἐν τῇ θλίψει αὐτῶν, ἄσπιλον ἑαυτὸν τηρεῖν ἀπὸ τοῦ κόσμου.

[2] Matthew 5:8:  “Blessed are the pure (οἱ καθαροὶ) in heart:  for they shall see God.”

[3] Matthew 23:26:  “Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse (καθάρισον) first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean (καθαρόν) also.”

[4] John 13:10:  “Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean (καθαρὸς) every whit:  and ye are clean (καθαροί), but not all.”

[5] John 15:3:  “Now ye are clean (καθαροί) through the word which I have spoken unto you.”

[6] Hebrews 7:26:  “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled (ἀμίαντος), separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens…”

[7] Hebrews 13:4:  “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled (ἀμίαντος):  but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”

[8] 1 Peter 1:4:  “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled (ἀμίαντον), and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you…”

[9] Thus Codex Alexandrinus.

[10] Greek:  παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ.

[11] Ephesians 1:3:  “Blessed be the God and Father (ὁ Θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ) of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ…”

[12] Ephesians 4:6:  “One God and Father (εἷς Θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ) of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

[13] Ephesians 5:20:  “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father (τῷ Θεῷ καὶ πατρί) in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

[14] Matthew 25:36:  “Naked, and ye clothed me:  I was sick, and ye visited (ἐπεσκέψασθέ) me:  I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”

[15] Matthew 25:43:  “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in:  naked, and ye clothed me not:  sick, and in prison, and ye visited (ἐπεσκέψασθέ) me not.”

[16] For example, Genesis 21:1:  “And the Lord visited (פָּקַד; ἐπεσκέψατο, in the Septuagint) Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken.”

[17] 1 Timothy 6:14:  “That thou keep this commandment without spot (ἄσπιλον), unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

[18] 2 Peter 3:14:  “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot (ἄσπιλοι), and blameless.”

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