James: A Beginner’s Translation

BDAG is not my middle name. Yes, this still looks Greek to me, too. So why do I suppose that my ‘translation’ should be put on a website and read by others? The answers are few and not-so-substantial. This is more of an exercise, an experiment, if you like.

In an attempt to revive my own study of Greek before taking classes again (I last took a class in 2012), I’ve attempted to slowly work on translating the New Testament, partly to serve my devotional study of Scripture and, as just stated, to bolster my grasp of the Greek language.

How did I go about this? First, I prayerfully wrote out each verse (usually just one a day); second, I parsed every word making use of Crossway’s FREE online Greek interlinear available here; and third, after coming up with a rough translation, I then consulted and was in constant conversation with six reputable translations: the English Standard Version, the Christian Standard Bible, the New English Translation, N.T. Wright’s New Testament for Everyone, and the New American Standard Bible. This alerted me to leanings here and there, as well as aided my own translating effort.

A word on the type of translation; what did I aim for? As you’ll see, the translation is rather wooden and stiff, no doubt due to my conviction on landing closer to being an essentially literal rendering of the Greek. At the same time, I tried (where possible) to select simpler terms as well as utilizing contractions to communicate the written/oral tradition of the New Testament. Certainly, revisions could be made in terms of creating greater cohesion at a macro-syntactical level (paragraphs, sections, etc.), since I was largely focused on single verses, or the very immediate context—but that can be for another time.

With all that being said, here is the letter from James. Enjoy this sharp and dynamic letter, so concerned with the Christian life as being lived in light of God’s wisdom and supernatural rebirth, a life that ought to be distinct and subversive. One without partiality and in eager expectation of the eschaton. All comments, questions, and thoughts are more than welcomed—just keep in mind that this is still Greek to me, too.

The Letter from James

1:1 James, a slave of God and of Lord Jesus the Messiah; to the twelve tribes in the dispersion: greetings.

2 My brothers and sisters, consider it all a joy should you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 Now let endurance have its complete effect, that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, they must ask of God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to them. 6 But they must ask in faith, without doubting; for whoever doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 Indeed, that person shouldn’t suppose that they will get anything from the Lord; 8 such a man is double-minded, unstable in all his ways.  

9 Now, the lowly brother or sister should boast in their importance, 10 but the rich in their lowliness; because like a flower of the grass they will pass away. 11 Indeed, the sun rises with the scorching heat and withers the grass; the flower falls, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will wither away in their pursuits.

12 Blessed is a man who endures temptation; for having been tested he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 No one being tempted should say, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each one is tempted when they are drawn away and enticed by their own desire, 15 then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin has fully grown, it gives birth to death.

16 My beloved brothers and sisters, don’t be deceived. 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or changing shadow. 18 By his will he gave birth to us by the word of truth, that we might be one of the firstfruits of his creatures.

19 My beloved brothers and sisters, know this: now let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 20 For human anger doesn’t produce God’s justice. 21 Therefore, putting away all filthiness and excessive evil, receive in humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 And be doers of the word and not only hearers, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, they’re like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror, 24 for he looks at himself and goes away and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 25 But the person who looks into the complete law of freedom and abides, not being a forgetful hearer but a doer of works, this person will be blessed in their doing. 26 If anyone supposes to be religious while not controlling their tongue—rather their heart is deceived—this person’s religion is futile. 27 Pure and undefiled worship before our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, to keep oneself unstained from the world.

2:1 My brothers and sisters, as you hold the faith of the glorious Lord Jesus Messiah, do so without partiality. 2 For, if a man wearing a gold ring in fine clothing comes into your synagogue and a worthless man comes in filthy clothing 3 and you look to the one wearing the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in this good place,” but to the worthless one you say, “You stand here or sit under my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, having become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters, hasn’t God chosen those worthless in the world as rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?  6 But you have dishonoured the worthless one. Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and pull you into the courts? 7 Don’t they speak evil of the good name of your calling? 8 Indeed, you’re doing well if you fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality you are committing sin, being convicted as transgressors by the law. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one part has become guilty of it all. 11 Since the one who says, “Do not commit adultery,” also says, “Do not murder”. But if you don’t commit adultery but murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 All of you, speak and act as those who are to be judged by a law of freedom. 13 For judgment without mercy is for the one who has given no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if someone says they have faith but they don’t have works? Is that faith able to save them? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food 16 but one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm, be filled,” but you don’t give them the things necessary for the body, what good is that? 17 So also, if this faith doesn’t have works, by itself it is dead. 18 Yet someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” You show me your faith without works, and I will show you the faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one? You do well; even the demons believe and they shudder. 20 Oh foolish person, are you willing to understand that the faith without works is useless? 21 Wasn’t Abraham our father vindicated by his works in offering up his son Isaac on the altar?  22 You see that faith was working with his works; and by his works the faith reached its purpose 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “But Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” And he was called God’s friend. 24 Consider that a person is vindicated by his works and not by faith alone. 25 Now, similarly, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also vindicated by her works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another way?  26 For as the body without a spirit is dead, so also the faith without works is dead.

3:1 Not many of you must become teachers, my brothers and sisters—you realize that we will receive a greater judgment. 2 For all of us fail in many ways; if someone doesn’t fail in speech, he is a complete man also able to control the whole body. 3 Now if we place the bits into horses’ mouths so that they obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4 Look at even the great ships! They are propelled forward by strong winds, also being guided by a very small rudder wherever the desire of the pilot intends. 5 So also the tongue is a small member and boasts greatly. Behold how small a fire sets a great forest ablaze! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is a world of injustice, set among our members corrupting the whole body; setting on fire the direction of life, set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and sea creatures, is tamed and has been humanly tamed, 8 but no human being has been able to tame the tongue; it is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison. 9 By it we bless the Lord and Father, by it we curse people made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This ought not to be, my brothers and sisters. 11 Does a spring pour out from the same opening sweet and bitter water? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree produce olives, or a vine figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh.

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good behaviour he must show his works in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not come from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 Indeed where there is jealously and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. 17 But, on the other hand, the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, without hypocrisy. 18 So a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those making peace.

4:1 Where do conflicts and where do fights come from among you? Are they not from here: from your passions waging war within your members? 2 You desire and don’t have, so you murder; you covet and you cannot obtain, so you fight and wage war. You don’t have because you don’t ask, 3 you ask and you don’t receive because you ask wrongly, so that you might spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterers! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever desires to be a friend of the world is set at enmity with God. 5 Or do you suppose that it’s for no reason the Scripture says, “He yearns over the spirit that he has placed to live in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore he says, “God is opposed to the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.” 7 Be subject, then, to God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded people. 9 Make yourselves afflicted; mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.

11 Brothers and sisters, don’t speak against one another. Those speaking against a brother or sister or judging them, speak against and judge the law. So if you judge the law you are not a doer of the law, but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to deliver and to destroy. So who are you to judge your neighbour?

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a city, stay there for a year and trade and make a profit.” 14 You don’t know of tomorrow, what your life is! For you are a mist that appears briefly and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you’re to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and we will do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your pride—all boasting like this is evil. 17 So, whoever knows to do good and does not do it, to them it is sin.       

5:1 Come now, you rich, mourn and wail for the miseries coming to you: 2 your riches are corrupted and your clothes have become moth-eaten, 3 your gold and silver have corroded; their corrosion will be a witness to you, and will eat your flesh like fire. You have stored up for the last days! 4 See: the wage you’ve deprived your workers of—those who mowed your fields—it screams out; and the cries of the harvesters have come to the ears of the Lord of the Armies! 5 You’ve lived in indulgence on the earth and been reckless; you’ve fattened your hearts for a day of slaughter, 6 you’ve condemned, you’ve murdered the just; he doesn’t oppose you.

7 Now, brothers and sisters, be patient until the appearing of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, patiently at it until he receives early and late rain. 8 You also must be patient; strengthen your hearts, since the appearing of the Lord is near. 9 Brothers and sisters, don’t complain against one another, in order that you won’t be judged. See, the judge is standing at the gate! 10 Brothers and sisters, you must lay hold of the prophets, who spoke in the Lord’s name, as an example of long-suffering in the face of evil. 11 See, those who have endured, we call ‘blessed’. You have heard of Job’s endurance, and the Lord’s purpose you have seen—that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy. 12 But, my brothers and sisters, above all, don’t swear, either by heaven or earth, or any other oath; instead let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”, so that you won’t fall under judgment.

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let them pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let them sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Have them call for the elders of the assembly and have them pray for them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of the faithful will restore the sickly, and the Lord will raise them up; if they have committed sins, they will be forgiven. 16 So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed. The supplication of the just is able to affect much. 17 Elijah was human like we are, and he prayed and prayed that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heavens gave rain and the earth produced its fruit.

19 My brothers and sisters, if any among you should stray from the truth, and someone turns them back, 20 know that whoever has turned a sinner from the error of their way will rescue their life from death and cover a multitude of sins.

[Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash]


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