Huub van de Sandt, «James 4,1-4 in the Light of the Jewish Two Ways
Tradition 3,1-6», Vol. 88 (2007) 38-63
The author of the Letter of James accuses his readers (Jas 4,1-4) of being responsible for war, murder and adultery. How are we to explain this charge? This paper shows that the material in Jas 1,13-21; 2,8-11 and 4,1-4 is closely akin to
the teknon section in Did 3,1-6. The teknon section belonged to the Jewish Two Ways tradition which, for the most part, is covered by the first six chapters of the
Didache. Interestingly, Did 3,1-6 exhibits close affinity with the ethical principles of a particular stream of Rabbinic tradition found in early Derekh Erets treatises. James 4,1-4 should be considered a further development of the warnings in Did 3,1-6.
44 Huub van de Sandt
membersâ€? He locates the origin of strife in the pursuit of pleasure (21).
The Greek text of the subsequent verse (Jas 4,2) is punctuated in the
twenty-seventh revised edition of Nestle-Aland with commas dividing
the sentence into three statements: â€œYou desire (ejpiqumei'te) and do not
have, you murder and are jealous (zhlou'te) and are unable to obtain,
you battle and wage warâ€. The word ejpiqumei'n (and ejpiqumiva) does
not always have a bad meaning (Luke 22,15; Phil 1,23), but here, as
most often in the New Testament, it refers to egocentric, illicit desire.
It might therefore be preferable to translate ejpiqumei'te as â€œyou desire
evillyâ€ (22). The meanings of zhlou'n and zh'lo" are equally important
here. Although zhlou'n is itself neutral, it surely has a negative
connotation here, expressing â€œjealousyâ€, â€œenvyâ€. The expression â€œyou
are jealousâ€ (zhlou'te) deliberately picks up the theme established by
Rather than pursuing oneâ€™s own desires, it is by asking God that
one can receive gifts. Nevertheless, if one does not already live with
the wisdom that comes down from God (1,17; 3,17), one will probably
not turn to God to fulfil oneâ€™s needs. On the contrary, desire, a
characteristic feature of the world, might easily infect the religious
piety of community members so as to use their prayers to God for their
own gain: â€œYou ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly in
order to spend it on your desiresâ€ (4,3). In 4,4 James charges those
who pursue their own desires with his harshest invective: being
In support of his argument stressing the need for a whole-hearted,
unreserved commitment to God, James next turns to Scripture. He
offers two quotations whose citation in 4,5 forms a thorny problem.
God is probably the implied subject of katw/vkisen (23) since he caused
the human spirit to reside within man (Gen 2,7; 6,17; 7,15; Ps 104,29-
30; etc). The phrase â€œthe spirit which he made to dwell in usâ€ then
(21) The term hJdonhv usually means simply â€œpleasureâ€, but it is also found in
the sense of â€œdesire for pleasureâ€. The verb ejpiqumei'n in the next verse clearly
indicates the latter sense of hJdonhv here. It was the selfish, indulgent desire that
was responsible for strife and wars; cf. Titus 3,3 which shows hJdonhv and ejpiqumiva
to be almost synonymous. Further, see JOHNSON, The Letter of James, 276;
HARTIN, James, 196; R.W. WALL, Community of the Wise. The Letter of James
(The New Testament in Context; Valley Forge, PA 1997) 195; JACKSON-MCCABE,
Logos and Law, 202.
(22) See, with respect to Jas 1,14-15, JOHNSON, The Letter of James, 193-194.
Cf. also HARTIN, James, 196.
(23) See DAVIDS, The Epistle of James, 163.