4. Worldliness and wealth, 4:13-5:6

ii] The danger of wealth


"James returns to a pet theme of his: the danger of riches. On two occasions already, he has spoken in a condemnatory way of the rich and of riches, at 1:10-12 and 2:2-20 (especially v6, 7). But his words in this new section are absolutely devastating", Hamann. With an eschatological flare, James condemns the rich, warning that their end is near. In fact, judgment is so imminent that the rich will not have the time to enjoy their ill-gotten gains.


i] Context: See 4:13-17. The independent saying contained in the passage before us stands in parallel with the saying in 4:13-16, separated by the short independent saying / instruction #2 in v17, such that both are tied together by the common theme, "the accusation of the rich", Dibelius.


ii] Background: 1:1.


iii] Structure: Worldliness and wealth:


The danger of wealth.


#3: those who live for wealth are doomed, v1-5:

Warning, v1:

woe to the unrighteous rich.

Declaration, v2-3:

your wealth will be as dust.

Illustration - the basis for judgment, v4-6:

the oppression of the poor - ill-gotten gain.


iv] Interpretation:

It is possible that James is directing his words toward wealthy Jews in general, particularly the Jews of Jerusalem. Even though James is a member of the Jewish sect of the "Way" (Christianity), he is none the less a Jew and as a member of God's historic people he has every right to speak to his fellow Jews. In a sense, his words would then take on the nature of prophecy. The rich and powerful in Jerusalem, those who persecute the church and exploit the poor, have little time left. The hand of judgment hangs over them and soon their wealth will be as dust.

Of course, James may be using the terms "rich" and "poor" in a metaphorical sense. The "poor", for instance, may be the poor in spirit, the humble, those broken before God. When it comes to mammon they may actually be poor, but what matters is their piety, their poverty before God, and thus their possession of the kingdom of heaven - their possession of true riches. So with the "rich", they may well be wealthy, but what matters is their piety. The implication is that "the rich" are anything but pious, and such is often the case. They are the selfish, self-serving, self-asserting, self-possessed; they will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Yet, a more natural reading of the passage reveals that the rich James has in mind is that class of people who have gained their wealth by unjust means, both believers and non-believers. These wealthy landowners have failed to pay their workers and live in self-indulgent luxury, presumably while others around them suffer. They happily use the courts to oppress the poor to enhance their own wealth. James, at times, has used fairly strong language in confronting evil, and at this point he is scathing in his attack on the rich who use their wealth and power to oppress the poor. Land ownership, wealth, is not evil in itself; evil lies in the multiplying and hoarding of wealth by oppressive means. In the day of judgment, their ill-gotten gains will turn to dust before them.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 5:1

Instruction #3: The arrogant self-indulgent rich stand condemned because they put their "trust in things that are doomed to decay and destruction" and because of their "unconcern for the needs and rights of others poorer than themselves", Mitton, v1-6. i] James first declares "woe" on the unrighteous rich, v1. He tells the unrighteous who, through their exploitation of the poor, have grown fat on the suffering of others, that they might as well start lamenting now because what goes around, comes around.

age nun "now listen" - come now. This exclamation, "see here!", Ropes, sets up a "proclamation", Dibelius - the rich face disaster; See 4:13. "You who are rich must stop and think", Barclay.

oiJ plousioi adj. "you rich people" - the rich. Vocative. The adjective here functions as a substantive. Is wealth itself being criticized, or is it just "the arrogance and selfishness of the rich, the transitoriness of their prosperity and their treatment of the righteous"? Ropes. It is possible that "the rich" are synonymous with "the unrighteous", just as the "poor" are sometimes synonymous with the "righteous / pious", but as Moo notes, it is more likely that "the rich" are the "wealthy, powerful officeholders and landholders" who "oppress the poor."

klausate (klaiw) aor. imp. "weep" - cry, weep. "Lament", Ropes, a proper "response to the disasters visited on the people by Yahweh for their apostasy", Johnson.

ololuzonteV (ololuzw) pres. part. "and wail" - wailing, moaning, howling. Attendant circumstance participle, expressing action accompanying the main verb "weep", therefore imperatival.

epi + dat. "because of" - at, on, upon. Here causal; "on the basis of." "Weep and shriek over your impending miseries", Moffatt, referencing the occasion, ie., "your impending miseries". Possibly causal, as NIV, since this preposition, when following a verb of feeling, can be translated "because".

taiV talaipwriaiV (a) "the misery" - the misery. "The sufferings of the damned", cf. Rev.18:7. Ropes.

taiV epercomenaiV (ercomai) pres. part. "that is coming upon" - coming upon you. The articular participle, introducing a relative clause, is adjectival, attributive, limiting misery; "which is coming upon you". Why a present tense? Is the misery progressively coming upon the rich? James certainly likes to emphasize the uncertainty of riches. "Weep and wail over the miserable fate overtaking you", REB.


ii] The wealth of the rich is transitory and is already fretting before their eyes and they will inevitably face the horror of judgment, v2-3. James has a word of judgment for the unrighteous rich, a judgment that is even now beginning to bite. For a first century person, the symbols of wealth were fine clothing and a bulging purse. Yet, wealth is transitory, it dissipates before our very eyes. Even worse, wealth stolen from the poor will condemn the rich in the coming day of judgment. Why hoard wealth for the a coming day when it will only serve as evidence for the prosecution?

seshpen (shpw) perf. "has rotted" - [the wealth of you] has rotted, decayed. In v2-3a James uses three perfect tenses to describe "the misery that is coming upon" the rich, v1. How should we understand the action implied by the perfect tense here, particularly noting the use of the future tense in v3b, "their corrosion will testify against you"? Commentators divide between either i] an aoristic perfect where the idea of result is not present, best translated as a present tense, eg., Ropes, "a picturesque, figurative statement of the real worthlessness of this wealth to the view of one who knows how to estimate permanent, eternal values", a "historical record" as it were, Tasker; "your wealth is rotting", NJB, or ii] a prophetic perfect where a future anticipation is expressed as a present reality, eg., Mayor, Adamson, "your treasures have already rotted", CEV. Option [i] seems best; "your wealth is spoiling".

gegona (ginomai) perf. "have [eaten]" - [and the cloths of you] have become [moth eaten]. "Your designer gowns are getting chewed up by moths."


oJ crusoV uJmwn kai oJ arguroV "your gold and silver" - the gold of you and the silver. Nominative subject of the verb "to rust." Again, impermanence is in mind. The image is problematic since gold and silver doesn't really rust, although silver does tarnish. See below.

katiwtai (katiow) perf. pas. "has rotted" - has been rusted, corroded, tarnished. Hapax legomenon, once only use in the NT. The word is often used in the LXX to mean "transitory", eg., Ezk.17:9, and that is surely the sense here - wealth is transitory, it passes through our finger at the blink of an eye. "And your money is frittering away." None-the-less, the literal sense is to the fore - "moth and rust doth corrupt".

kai "-" - and. Probably here with a consecutive sense, expressing result; "and as a result ....."

oJ ioV (oV) "corrosion" - the poison, rust [of them]. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. "Poison" is a common sense, cf., Rom.3:13, but with a leaning toward an acidic reaction, so "rust", Mayor, NIV "corrosion". The reference is to all three perfect verbs in v2-3a describing "dissipation" and thus the transitory nature of mammon. "A pile of dust proves the real value of this worlds things."

estai (eimi) fut. "will" - will be. Verb to-be. Note the change in tense. "Your luxuries will eat into your gut like a cancer", cf., Peterson.

eiV "-" - to, into / for [a witness, testimony]. This preposition would literally mean "to / into a testimony/witness to you", but the phrase eiV marturion uJmin (autoiV ....) is a fixed expression used in both the NT and LXX, with eiV used to express "as evidence of", Adam. So, "for a testimony against you".

uJmin dat. "against you" - to you. Not "on your behalf", but given the drift of the argument the sense is surely "against you", ie., a dative of interest, disadvantage.

fagetai (esqiw) fut. "eat" - [and] will eat [the flesh of you].

wJV "like" - like, as [fire]. Comparative. Ropes reads this particle as causal, serving to introduce the last clause of the sentence; "since you have stored up fire which shall be in the last days." As Adamson notes, it is more likely that the "hoarded wealth" is the avenger "in the last days".

eqhsaurisate (qhsaurizw) aor. "you have hoarded wealth" - you stored up treasure. A nice image; "You thought you were piling up wealth. What you've piled up is judgment", Peterson.

en + dat. "in [the last day]" - in [last days]. Temporal. Obviously referring to the great assize.


iii] James now illustrates the ground of the judgment of the rich, namely, injustice - the oppression of the poor, v4-6. Not only have the unrighteous rich failed to show compassion toward the poor, they have actually exploited them. They have used the sweat of the poor to gain wealth for themselves, and have not paid just wages. The law of God demands a just recompense for a worker's expended effort. To do otherwise is to cause a hurt which, in the end, reaches the ear of God. The Scriptures are clear on this issue and thus the wealthy have no excuse. "He murders his neighbor who deprives him of his living, and he who defrauds a hireling of his wages is a shedder of blood", cf., Lev.12:13, Deut.24:15, Jer.22:13, Mal.3:5.

idou imp. "look" - behold. "Mark my words", Cassirer.

oJ apesterhmenoV (aposterew) perf. part. "[the wages you] failed to pay" - [the pay of the workmen having mowed the fields of you, which pay] having defrauded [by you]. Variant afusterhmenoV, "holding back", a NT hapax legomenon. The articular participle is adjectival, introducing a relative clause limiting "wages"; "wages which you defrauded / withheld / failed to pay." "The laborer deserves his pay" identifies a matter of justice, not grace.

twn ergatwn (hV ou) gen. "the workers" - of the workers. The genitive is possibly verbal, objective, "the pay for the workers", or ablative, source, "the earnings from the workers" .... "who mowed your fields, the pay which has been withheld (apo + gen., agency) by you."

twn amhsantwn (amaw) aor. part. "who mowed [your fields]" - having reaped, mowed, cut down. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the workman", as NIV. The aorist indicates that the harvest is complete and thus the laborer should be paid. Note the allusion to Lev.19:13, so Dibelius, Ropes, Mitton, Johnson, ....

krazei (krazw) pres. "are crying out against you" - cries out. Of the crying out of Israel to the Lord, eg. Ex.5:8.

twn qerisantwn (qerizw) gen. aor. part. "of the harvesters" - [and the cries] of the ones having reaped. The participle serves as a substantive, with the genitive usually taken as verbal, subjective.

eiselhluqasin (eiVercomai) perf. "have reached" - have entered [into the ears of the lord of sabaoth, hosts / almighty]. The perfect tense expressing past action with ongoing consequences. So, the Lord has heard, and continues to hear.


The unrighteous (self-indulgent) rich have set themselves up in extravagant luxury while others have nothing. And worse still, it is a luxury gained by the exploitation and suffering of others. Again, such behavior is stupid, because all they are doing is reinforcing their condemnation on the day of judgment.

etrufhsate (trufaw) aor. "you have lived [on the earth] in luxury" - you lived in luxury, delicately, indulgence [upon the earth, land]. The aorist is probably constative where the action is viewed in its entirety. "Luxury" denotes soft living, "not necessarily wanton vice", Ropes. "You have lived here in indulgence", Davids.

espatalhsate (spatalaw) aor. "self-indulgence" - [and] lived in luxury, pleasure. "In dedication to wanton pleasure", Barclay.

efreyate (trefw) aor. "you have fattened [yourselves]" - you have fed, nourished [the hearts of you]. Variant "flesh" for "heart", but not well attested. The image is of an animal being fattened for slaughter. The heart being the seat of a person's being, the rich have fed their heart in the sense of "indulging one's passions or inclinations", Davids.

en + dat. "in" - in. The prepositional construction formed by en is adverbial, temporal. Another expression from the LXX, although not in this exact form, eg., the prepositions often vary: eiV, Jer12:3, apo, Enoch 15:1. Ropes argues that en, "in /on", takes the sense "for" here. "You have become ready for the day of judgment", Ropes. Martin notes that although there is little doubt that "the day of slaughter" refers to "the eschatological day of judgment" (as opposed to a more immediate circumstance, eg., "fattening themselves for plunder"), he takes the view that for James the day of judgment has already begun. So, "fattened in the day of slaughter" expresses James' intention, as NIV, although a future edge is more reader-friendly. "You have gorged yourselves full to your heart's content at the very time when the great slaughter is to come", Cassirer.

sfaghV (h) gen. "of slaughter" - [a day] of slaughter, butchery. The genitive is adjectival, descriptive, idiomatic / poss. of time; "on the day when slaughter will be the order of things."


katedikasate (katadikazw) aor. "you have condemned" - you condemned. Probably referring to the propensity of the unrighteous rich to use the courts to oppress the poor; "you condemned the innocent man", Barclay.

efoneusate (foneuw) aor. "murdered [innocent men]" - you murdered [the righteous]. As Ropes notes, the "murder" is probably "every kind of cruel conduct leading to the death of the poor and righteous (righteous poor)."

ton dikaion adj. "innocent men" - the righteous man. The adjective serves as a substantive, accusative direct object of the verb "to condemn." Singular person is best read as a collective singular, representative. It has been argued that "the righteous man" is Christ, but this is unlikely. Rather, "a generic term describing the kind of person killed by the rich", Martin, so "innocent men", as NIV.

ouk antitassetai (antitassw) pres. mid. "who were not opposing" - he does not resist. The sense of this clause is unclear.

• Possibly treated as a question; "does not he (the innocent man) resist you?" Ropes. ie., "will he not bear witness against you (the unrighteous rich) at the day of judgment?"

• As a statement with the subject "he" being "the righteous one / the innocent man". Note the variant kai, "and", placed before the clause producing "you have murdered the righteous one and he does not oppose you" (ie., "the poor do not resist because they cannot; they are helpless", Martin), so Martin, Laws, Adamson, Mayor, Dibelius, Reicke. Most translations follow this interpretation; "you have condemned and murdered innocent people, who couldn't even fight back", CEV.

• Since the subject of this verb is unstated, Johnson and others suggest that the subject is not "the innocent man" but the implied subject oJ qeoV, "God"; "does [God] not oppose you?", ie., "does not God hold you to account for what you have done?"

uJmin dat. pro. "you" - Dative of direct object after the anti prefix verb "to resist."


James Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]