Amplified: If anyone thinks himself to be religious (piously observant of the external duties of his faith) and does not bridle his tongue but deludes his own heart, this person’s religious service is worthless (futile, barren). (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
ASV: If any man thinketh himself to be religious, while he bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his heart, this man's religion is vain.
Barclay: If anyone thinks that he is a worshipper of God and yet does not bridle his tongue, his worship is an empty thing. (Westminster Press)
Hiebert: If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
KJV: If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.
NLT: If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Phillips: If anyone appears to be "religious" but cannot control his tongue, he deceives himself and we may be sure that his religion is useless. (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: If, as is the case, anyone imagines himself to be religious, not holding in check his tongue, but is deceiving his own heart, this person's religion is worthless. (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: If any one doth think to be religious among you, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his heart, of this one vain is the religion;
IF ANYONE THINKS HIMSELF TO BE RELIGIOUS: Ei tis dokei (3SPAI) threskos einai, (PAN): (Pr 14:12; 16:25; Lk 8:18; 1Co 3:18; Ga 2:6,9; 6:3)
As Ropes warns "Careful attention to worship is no substitute for self-restraint (Ed: Spirit enabled "self" restraint!), purity of life and good works (Ed: Emanating from a pure heart, empowered by the Spirit of Holiness, cp Ep 2:10-note). (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary)
In context recall that James has just rebuked hearing of the Word that does not lead to doing of the Word. Now, in a similar way, he rebukes religion that is external and for show, with religion that is internal and real in God's assessment, for it reflects a genuine change in one's heart or inner life. In this verse James describes an individual whose religious thinking and real speaking are discordant, self deceptive and futile, reflecting this individual's lack of internal heart control, for out the mouth comes that which fills the heart! (cp Mt 15:18, 19, 20). Then in next verse James goes on to contrast the worthless religion in Jas 1:26, giving two practical examples of personal application of God's Word which are a clear demonstration of pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father.
Hiebert sums up this section of James as…
Cole - In James 1:21, he talked about receiving “the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” In James 1:22-27, he goes on to emphasize doing the word. In Jas 1:22-24, he shows that hearing the word without doing it leads to deception. He illustrates this in Jas 1:26 with the man who claims to be religious, but who does not bridle his tongue. He deceives himself and his religion is worthless. In Jas 1:25, he shows that hearing the word accompanied by doing it leads to blessing. He illustrates this with two examples in Jas 1:27: caring for orphans and widows; and, keeping oneself unstained by the world. James gives an example of someone who hears the word, but does not do it and so deceives himself. This man thinks that he is religious. “Religious” (and “religion”) are infrequently used words in the New Testament. James uses them here because he is describing a man who prides himself in the outward trappings of the faith, but who is not applying it to his heart. He is a religious Jew who now professes faith in Christ, but like many of the Jews, his religion is a matter of pride and outward performance. He prays, he fasts, he tithes, he goes through all of the rituals, but in James’ example, he doesn’t bridle his tongue. James says that this man deceives his own heart and his religion is worthless. James will deal more with the tongue in chapter 3, but it can encompass a multitude of sins: lying, half-truths, slander, gossip, angry words, hateful words, cursing, telling filthy jokes or stories, and much more. The Bible has very specific and practical commands on each of these areas. If you profess to follow Christ, but don’t apply the Bible to your speech, you’re fooling yourself if you think that you’re religious. Your religion is worthless and your profession is empty. (James 1:22-27 Doers of the Word)
If (1487) (ei) is a first class conditional conjunction which assumes that there is actually such an individual who considers himself religious. That couldn't be me or you could it, beloved? Hiebert draws an slight distinction in James' description of this person, noting that…
Solomon wrote of similar self deception
Paul adds that the warning …
In a parallel warning in the context of bearing one another's burdens ("real religion" in the sight of God and men!) Paul said…
In Romans in the context of expressing one's spiritual gifts ("real religion") in the body of Christ, Paul sounded the alarm that…
Anyone (5100) (tis) is a reference to someone, anyone, a certain one.
Thinks (1380) (dokeo) means to suppose or presume. To be of the opinion. Dokeo reflects the subjective mental estimate or opinion about some matter, in this case one's state of personal "religiosity". The present tense pictures this self deceived individual continually forming the opinion that he or she is religious. And it is important to remember that when a person is deceived, by definition they don't even know it! It's like walking around with food on your face until you spouse reaches up and wipes the crumbs off your lips. Another solution to reveal the "food on face" stigma is to look in the mirror, and by analogy, that is also the solution for "religion on one's face" (so to speak), the mirror of course being God's Word of Truth which reveals our true condition for it looks not only at the external actions but the internal attitudes, at the motives of our heart. Paul recalls this searching/cleansing/edifying action of the Word of God writing that…
Vincent - A man can scarcely seem to be religious, when, as Trench observes, “his religious pretensions are belied and refuted by the allowance of an unbridled tongue.” (James 1: Greek Word Studies)
Religious (2357) (threskos which some say derives from threomai = to tremble, whereas more modern scholars link it with therap- = to serve) is used only in this verse and describes the individual who is preoccupied with religious observances.
Rogers has this note on threskos, used only here in Scripture…
Vincent observes that threskos is used…
Spurgeon - You know what that means; and there are some who do seem to be wonderfully religious. Butter would not melt in their mouths, as we say; they are so solemn
Three Types of Dogs - Dr. A. T. Schofield used to point out that there were three sorts of dogs in his city of London: the wild, masterless dog that roamed the streets at will, stole his meals from garbage pails, and often came to an inglorious end in the lethal chamber of the humane society; the chained dog, which could not be trusted for more than a few feet; and the dog that knew and loved his master and responded obediently to his voice. The first of these had liberty but no law; the second had law but no liberty; whereas the last enjoyed the perfect law of liberty.
All men seem to be like one of these three dogs. The masses are utterly lawless when it comes to the authority of God. They are dominated by sin, and “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). And then, there are many who are like the dog on the leash—they have law, but no liberty. These are legalists in the religious realm. The cheerless Pharisee is the representative of thousands who, “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). But the Christian who knows the truth of New Testament deliverance is like the third dog. He needs no chain but is guided by his Master’s eye and his Master’s voice. (C. Ernest Tatham, from the book, “How May I.”, in Confident Living, January, 1988, p. 14)
AND YET DOES NOT BRIDLE HIS TONGUE BUT DECEIVES HIS OWN HEART: me chalinagogon (PAPMSN) glossan autou alla apaton (PAPMSN) kardian autou: (Bridle - James 1:19; 3:2, 3, 4, 5, 6; Ps 32:9; 34:13; 39:1,2; 141:3; Pr 10:19,31; 13:2,3; 15:2; Pr 16:10; 19:1; 21:26; Ep 4:29; 5:4; Col 4:6; 1Pe 3:10) (Deceives - James 1:22; Deuteronomy 11:16; Isaiah 44:20; Galatians 6:3)
Bridle (5468) (chalinagogeo from chalinos = a bridle + ago = to lead) literally means to guide with a bridle. It signifies the picture of one leading or alternately restraining by use of a bridle, in the present context the latter nuance being emphasized. The present tense indicates continuous action. In other words, James describes the one whose tongue is habitually unbridled! For anyone who has every been around horses and put a bridle in the horse's mouth in order to lead and guide this massive and powerful animal, the picture James draws is indeed striking! It says a great deal about the power of this little member of our body.
Here is James' "handbook on tongue control"…
James ties what we say to what/who we are in our innermost being, our control center if you will, our heart. When the doctor examines us, one of the first things he does to determine our physical condition is to say “Stick out your tongue!” James is saying in a sense "Stick out your tongue so I can assess the condition of your heart". This principle applies to the life of the person whose religion is pure and undefiled, for the tongue reveals what is in our heart. Inconsistent speech bears witness to a divided heart (cp passages on whole versus divided heart - 1Ki 8:61, 11:4, 15:3,14, 2Ki 20:3, 1Ch 12:38, 28:9, 29:19, 2Ch 15:17, 16:9, 19:9, 25:2), for it is “out of the abundance of the heart” that the mouth speaks (Mt 12:34). “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing,” James writes later in this same letter and adds “My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (Jas 3:10).
It follows from what James says and from each of our own experiences, that the tongue is indeed a restless evil and full of deadly poison and cannot be bridled. The question then arises is how can one practice pure religion or religion "worth" anything in the eyes of God? James gives part of the answer in the next verse. But in regard to the tongue the answer of course is that tongue control is not possible in our natural power but requires supernatural Holy Spirit power and amazing, life transforming grace. As you have undoubtedly heard some pastor articulate "The Christian life is not difficult… it's impossible!" And so is tongue control, short of Spirit control. God's Holy Spirit alone can enable a saint to bridle his tongue from unholy speech (cp Eph 4:29-note, where unwholesome speech = "rotten speech"!)
Tongue (1100) (glossa) is literally an organ of the body used for taste and also the pronunciation of words and thus is a metaphor for the act of speaking.
The idea of one "bridling" one's tongue is not uncommon in the Scriptures - James 1:26; 3:8; 1Pe 3:10; Jdg. 7:5; Job 29:10; 33:2. See Pastor Cole's message dealing with our tongue -- Transformed Talk (or Listen to)
Richard Wolfe makes a good point observing that "To guide the tongue, hold it in check, restrain it, is a task so difficult that he who has the grace to accomplish it has grace to accomplish anything. Such self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23-note)." (Wolfe, R: General Epistles of James and Jude)
Spurgeon - If religion does not salt your tongue, and keep it sweet, it has done nothing for you. If the doctor wants to know the state of your health, he says, “Let me see your tongue;” and there is no better test of the health of the mind than to see what is on the tongue. When it gets furred up with unkind words, when it turns black with blasphemy, when it is spotted with lasciviousness, there is something very bad inside the heart, you may be quite sure of that.
Albert Barnes has an interesting comment on this verse writing that bridle…
The great Puritan author John Bunyan's description of Talkative in The Pilgrim’s Progress in an interesting commentary on Jas 1:26, 27…
R C Sproul - a true Christian keeps a tight rein on the tongue. James will have much more to say about the tongue later on, but here he seems to refer to people who continually prattle. They say whatever pops into their head, without listening to or caring about what others are telling them. They are too full of their own self-important ideas. Such people are not open to the Word of God. They are not open to those God has appointed as teachers in his church. We must read the Scriptures ourselves, but we must also listen to teachers, or the Bible will come to simply mirror our preconceived ideas. The test of submission to the Word is openness to what is taught by those appointed to teach the Bible in the church. A person who is full of his own words will not be open to the words of others. ( Before the Face of God : Book Four)
R K Hughes writes that the words of James 1:26…
But (alla) introduces a contrast (whenever you encounter a "but" pause to ponder what the author is contrasting? why? why now? what is the "change of direction of thought?, etc [see 5W/H'S] In so doing you are beginning to "chew the cud" so to speak - you are in a real sense practicing the lost art of Biblical Meditation, a discipline God promises to greatly bless - Ps 1:1-note, Ps 1:2-note, Ps 1:3-note, Joshua 1:8-note) between not reining in his tongue (what he does not do) and deceiving his own heart (what he does do)! Notice the nature of deception - he thinks he is religious and yet has a problem with tongue control which shows that he has managed to deceived himself (into thinking he is "okay" with God, that he is religious). Deception is a frightening thing especially when you don't recognize it! (Which you won't if you are truly deceived). This person fails to see the illogic of his supposed "holiness" before God and his unholy words before men! The root of his deception lies in the fact that this person thinks that God is only interested in external worship, when in fact He is far more interested in the heart from which the worship flows.
Deceives (538) (apatao from apate = deceit, that which gives a false impression, whether by appearance, statement or influence) (Click in depth study of the root word apate) means to lead astray, mislead, cheat, delude, beguile, seduce into error. Apatao means to cause someone to have misleading or erroneous views concerning the truth. The chief sense in the NT is that of ethical enticement (or probably more accurately enticement to unethical thought, words, and deeds), specifically of enticing to sin.
The present tense indicates that this individual who persists in his or her failure to control their speech, is an individual who continually deceives their own heart. (cp Jer 17:9, 10; Eccl 9:3)
People's NT Commentary - He who professes religion and yet does not control his tongue is deceived. Unless he has grace enough to rule the unruly member, he has not enough for salvation.
The only other NT uses of apatao are found in…
It is helpful to see the English definitions of the words by which one could translate apatao…
Wayne Barber explains deceived writing that "First of all for me to be deceived, I am going to have to trust you. I am not going to be deceived by someone who I already have a question about. It is going to be someone who has my ear. It is going to be someone who has my time. When I am listening to them, then I am going to be deceived. The word "deceive" means to be led astray. You are walking on a path and all of a sudden something gets your ear. You trust what you are hearing and all of a sudden you start turning that way. That is what it means to be deceived." (Ephesians 5:6-7: Don't Be Deceived)
Heart (2588) (kardia) does not refer to the literal physical organ in Scripture but is always used figuratively to refer to the seat and center of human life. The heart is the center of the personality, and it controls the intellect, emotions, and will. No outward obedience is of the slightest value unless the heart turns to God.
His own heart - It and the tongue act and react on one another (Jamieson)
Hughes explains that…
While kardia does represent the inner person, the seat of motives and attitudes, the center of personality, in Scripture it represents much more than emotion, feelings. It also includes the thinking process and particularly the will. Jesus asked a group of scribes, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?” (Matthew 9:4). The heart is the control center of mind and will as well as emotion.
Vine writes that kardia…
MacArthur commenting on kardia writes that…
MacArthur adds that
Spurgeon - That which is in the well will come up in the bucket, and that which is in the heart will come up on the tongue. An unbridled tongue denotes an unrenewed heart. Oh, that God would ever give us grace in our heart to move our tongue aright! Then, as the water guides the whole ship, our tongue will guide our whole body, and the whole of our manhood will be under holy government and control.
THIS MAN'S RELIGION IS WORTHLESS: outou mataios e threskeia: (Jas 2:20; Is 1:13; Mal 3:14; Mt 15:9; Mk 7:7; 1Co 15:2,15; Gal 3:4)
Religion (2356) (threskeia) means worship or religious service (as in Col 2:18-note) and can refer to a system of external observances as in (Acts 26:5). BDAG says threskeia is the "expression of devotion to transcendent beings." In simple terms, religion in this context refers to external actions and patterns of behavior. Christianity as you undoubtedly have heard is best defined not as a religion but as a relationship with a Person, Jesus Christ the Lord.
Spurgeon - You know what that means; and there are some who do seem to be wonderfully religious. Butter would not melt in their mouths, as we say; they are so solemn: “If any man among you seem to be religious,” And bridleth not his tongue, —That little noisy troublesome member: “and bridleth not his tongue,” —But deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. If religion does not salt your tongue, and keep it sweet, it has done nothing for you. If the doctor wants to know the state of your health, he says, “Let me see your tongue;” and there is no better test of the health of the mind than to see what is on the tongue. When it gets furred up with unkind words, when it turns black with blasphemy, when it is spotted with lasciviousness, there is something very bad inside the heart, you may be quite sure of that.
MacDonald explains religion as referring…
Worthless (3152) (mataios) from maten = groundless, invalid) means vain, empty, devoid of force, nonproductive, useless, dead, fruitless, aimless, of no real or lasting value. This adjective describes an ineffectual attempt to do something or an unsuccessful effort to attain something. Mataios emphasizes aimlessness or the leading to no object or end and thus is used to describe false gods or idols in contrast to the true God.
This man's religion is vain, empty, devoid of power (cp 2Ti 3:5-note), lacking in content (not pure milk 1Pe 2:2-note; not solid food, He 5:14-note), nonproductive (in terms of producing true fruit that remains, Jn 15:5, 16), dead (orthodoxy without orthopraxy!) and of no eternal value (wood, hay, stubble, 1Co 3:12).
There are 6 uses of mataios in the NT - Acts 14:15; 1Co 3:20; 15:17; Titus 3:9-note; Jas 1:26; 1Pe 1:18-note and they are translated (NAS) futile(1), useless(1), vain things(1), worthless(3). . In the Septuagint (LXX), mataios is used of pagan idols and idol worship (2Chr 11:15; Is 44:19; Je 2:5; 10:3; Ezek 8:10).
NIDNTT - The word mataios and its derivatives have an essentially more personal application. It is used in the sense of empty, useless, worthless, and futile. It denotes a person who falls short of God’s standard and human norms. His life is illusory, motiveless, aimless, scandalous and foolish (Brown, Colin, Editor. New International Dictionary of NT Theology. 1986. Zondervan)
Barclay - The word translated religion is threskeia, and its meaning is not so much religion as worship in the sense of the outward expression of religion in ritual and liturgy and ceremony. What James is saying is, "The finest ritual and the finest liturgy you can offer to God is service of the poor and personal purity." To him real worship did not lie in elaborate vestments or in magnificent music or in a carefully wrought service (Ed: One could apply it this way, but remember the cultural context - James is addresses Jews and would be alluding primarily to their mode of worship); it lay in the practical service of mankind and in the purity of one's own personal life. It is perfectly possible for a Church to be so taken up with the beauty of its buildings and the splendour of its liturgy that it has neither the time nor the money for practical Christian service; and that is what James is condemning. In fact James is condemning only what the prophets had condemned long ago. "God," said the Psalmist, "is a father of the fatherless, and protector of widows" (Psalms 68:5). It was Zechariah's complaint that the people pulled away their shoulders and made their hearts as adamant as stone at the demand to execute true justice, to show mercy and compassion every man to his brother, to oppress not the widow, the fatherless, the stranger and the poor, and not to entertain evil thoughts against another within the heart (Zechariah 7:6-10). It was Micah's complaint that all ritual sacrifices were useless, if a man did not do justice and love kindness and walk humbly before God (Micah 6:6-8). (James 1 - William Barclay's Daily Study Bible)
The prophet Micah spoke of OT religiosity sans internal/heart relationship…
Hiebert strikes the right cord stating that…
Epp has the following devotional on James 1:26-27…
Amplified: External religious worship [religion as it is expressed in outward acts] that is pure and unblemished in the sight of God the Father is this: to visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need, and to keep oneself unspotted and uncontaminated from the world. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
ASV: Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
Barclay: This is pure and undefiled worship, as God the Father sees it, to visit the orphans and the widows, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (Westminster Press)
Hiebert: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
KJV: Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
NLT: Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Phillips: Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world. (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: Religion which is pure and undefiled in the sight of God, even the Father, is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction with a view to ascertaining their needs and supplying them, and to be keeping one's self unspotted from the world. (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: religion pure and undefiled with the God and Father is this, to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation--unspotted to keep himself from the world.
PURE AND UNDEFILED RELIGION IN THE SIGHT OF OUR GOD AND FATHER IS THIS: threskeia kathara kai amiantos para to theo kai patri aute estin, (3SPAI): (Jas 3:17; Ps 119:1; Mt 5:8; Lk 1:6; 1Ti 1:5; 5:4 )
from Martin Luther
Hiebert - James accepts the need for "religion," but insists that "religious observance pure and undefiled with our God and Father" (Rotherham) must unite the inner and outward effects of the gospel. A living religion must know the reality of the divine life within as well as experience its energizing activity in the production of deeds "pure and faultless" in daily conduct.
Barclay - All through history men have tried to make ritual and liturgy a substitute for sacrifice and service. They have made religion splendid within the Church at the expense of neglecting it outside the Church. This is by no means to say that it is wrong to seek to offer the noblest and the most splendid worship within God's house; but it is to say that all such worship is empty and idle unless it sends a man out to love God by loving his fellow-men and to walk more purely in the tempting ways of the world. (James 1 - William Barclay's Daily Study Bible)
Pure… religion - Religion which is free from wrong and unmixed with (unadulterated by) motives other than the desire be pleasing to God and to walk worthy of the Lord. Pure… religion is blameless, innocent, unstained by guilt. It denotes that which is intrinsically free from moral pollution or corruption.
Spurgeon - Pure religion — might be rendered, “Pure ritualism “ — And undefiled before God and the Father is this, — What is pure ritualism according to the inspired apostle? To wear a white surplice, and to change it for a black gown? I do not see that in the Scriptures. To have little boys in white to sing for you? I do not see that; but what I do see is this, —To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. — I should like to have such a choir as this, a company of Christian men and women robed in unspotted holiness. We shall have such a choir as that around the eternal throne, so they who wish to be there had better begin to practice the music here. The Lord help you to do so, for Christ’s sake! Amen.
Jamieson - Pure is that love which has in it no foreign admixture, as self-deceit and hypocrisy. "Pure" expresses the positive, "undefiled" the negative side of religious service; just as visiting the fatherless and widow is the active, keeping himself unspotted from the world, the passive side of religious duty. This is the nobler shape that our religious exercises take, instead of the ceremonial offices of the law.
Pure (2513) (katharos; English = catharsis = purifying, cleansing, a term used in psychology and counseling for a cleansing of the mind or emotions - a "soul cleansing" if you will; cathartic = any substance used to induce purging or to cleanse a wound or infected are in order to make it pure; Cathar = member of a medieval sect which sought the purging of all evil from its members) literally describes that which is free of dirt and thus clean. It describes that which is free from admixture or adulteration and thus is pure. From a biblical standpoint the concept of cleansing is deeply rooted in both the Old and the New Testaments. As discussed more below under the Levitical laws heavy emphasis was placed on ceremonial cleansing and thus contact with any unclean animal, substance, person, or place was strictly forbidden. By the time Christ came this preoccupation with ceremonial cleanness had unfortunately displaced true worship with many of the Jews, most notably the Pharisees. It is not surprising then that the New Testament focuses mainly on an inward cleanness (heart, conscience), rather than on an external or ceremonial cleanness.
It is also worth noting that katharos is related to the Latin castus, from which we get chaste. The related word chasten refers to discipline given in order to cleanse from wrong behavior.
Katharos is blameless, innocent, unstained with the guilt and is used to describe that which is ceremonially or ritually pure or clean (in a "Levitical sense"). For example Moses records…
Katharos is an adjective that figuratively is used in both the OT and the NT to describe the state of one's heart. When a person is pure in heart and mind, his or her perspective on all things is pure, and that inner purity produces outer purity. As discussed above, true purity lies not in adherence to external commandments of men but in the inner purity of the redeemed, regenerated heart.
MacArthur - katharos has two shades of meaning. Some suggest that it also means unmixed or unalloyed or unadulterated or sifted or cleansed of chaff. In other words, to be pure means you have no added mixture of any foreign element. Thus, what our Lord was really saying here is, “I desire a heart that is unmixed in its devotion and motivation. Pure motives from a pure heart.”Either way, it has to do with attitudes, integrity, and singleness of heart as opposed to duplicity and double mindedness (MacArthur, J. The Only Way to Happiness: The Beatitudes. Chicago: Moody Press)
Undefiled (283) (amiantos from a = negates what follows + miaino = to defile by staining, as with color) means without contamination, unpolluted, untainted, unstained (stainless), unsoiled, without uncleanness or impurity. The idea is free from that by which the nature of a thing is deformed or debased, or its force or vigor is impaired. In secular Greek writings amiantos was used to describe things such as unstained hands, heart, flesh or body. Aeschylus calls the sea simply "the undefiled".
James says undefiled religion is that which has not been soiled or stained by contact with moral evil, and thus is "of worth" to God and is acceptable to Him.
The following illustration serves to emphasize the great need all believers have to keep their garments pure and undefiled…
Religion (2356) (threskeia from threskos = religious, devout used in Jas 1:26) means worship or religious service (as in Col 2:18) and can refer to a system of external observances as in (Acts 26:5). Threskeia expresses the worship of God, especially in religious service.
Here are some terms that might be considered as synonymous with religion in the sense that James uses that term in this the preceding passage - Pharisaism, Phariseeism, false piety, hypocrisy, insincerity, lip service, pietism, religiosity, sanctimoniousness, self-righteousness.
Epp remarks that "James was contrasting a religion that can fool others with a religion that God knows is genuine."
Religiosity describes excessive or affected religious zeal, especially an outward display of religious piety.
Guzik quips that "There is a great deal of pure and undefiled religion in the sight of man that is not pure and undefiled religion before God."
BDAG says threskeia is the "expression of devotion to transcendent beings."
A T Robertson notes that there are…
Threskeia is used 4 times in the NT…
Martin Luther had it right when he said that "The world does not need a definition of religion as much as it needs a demonstration."
John Calvin wrote that…
In the sight (3844) (para) is literally beside and so in the presence of God. Robertson says "By the side of (para) and so from God's standpoint (Mark 10:27)."
Father (3962) (pater) in this context refers to the supreme deity, Who is responsible for the origin and care of all that exists. Only believers can truly claim God as their Father (cp Jn 1:11, 12, 13, 1Jn 3:1, 3:23, 24, 2Co 6:18, Gal 3:26, 4:5, 6, Ro 8:14, 15, 16).
TO VISIT ORPHANS AND WIDOWS IN THEIR DISTRESS: episkeptesthai (PMN) orphanous kai cheras en te thlipsei auton: (Job 29:12,13; 31:15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20; Ps 68:5; Is 1:16,17; 58:6,7; Mt 25:34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46; Gal 5:6; 6:9,10; 1Jn 3:17, 18, 19)
This is real religion that really preaches!
People's NT Commentary - Combining pure hearts and pure outward lives. This genuine religion has two elements: (1) Kind and loving deeds, exemplified especially in helping the helpless, such as widows and orphans, and (2) living pure, unsullied lives, unstained by the sins prevalent in this sinful world.
To visit orphans - As you study the Greek verb episkeptomai, you will see that it conveys far more than just stopping by and saying hello (although that is certainly a good beginning!) As discussed this verb conveys the idea of caring for or showing concern. True religion cares for those who are weak and helpless and in the ancient world, widows and orphans were in a dire straits, since they had no protector or advocate.
Visit (1980) (episkeptomai - see study of episkopeo from epí = upon or intensifying already existing idea in verb + skopeo = regard, give attention to, look at, contemplate) literally means to look upon, to go to see, to examine closely, to inspect, to examine the state of affairs of something, to look after or to oversee. The idea of visiting is more than just making a social call. As Hiebert writes…
This verb expresses careful regard of those in position of responsibility. It depicts one going to see another with the intent to render help. In some context it means to have regard for, care for or be concerned about (Acts 15:14, He 2:6-note). It is often used of visiting the sick. In the Septuagint it speaks of a visitation from God, most often a visitation for good.
The present tense calls for this practice to be our habitual practice or our fundamental attitude and not just an isolated act of "do-goodism"! Have you ever visited an orphan/widow in their distress?
Vincent writes that…
TDNT writes that…
There are 11 uses of episkeptomai in the NT -
Matthew 25:36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'
Matthew 25:43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.'
Luke 1:68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,
Luke 1:78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us,
Luke 7:16 And fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and, "God has visited His people!"
Acts 6:3 "But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
Acts 7:23 "But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel.
Acts 15:14 "Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. (ESV - Acts 15:14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.)
Acts 15:36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are."
Hebrews 2:6 (note) But one has testified somewhere, saying, "What is man, that Thou rememberest him? Or the son of man, that Thou art concerned about (ESV = care for) him?
James 1:27 This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Episkeptomai is found 127 times in the non-apocryphal Septuagint (LXX) - Ge 21:1; 50:24, 25; Ex 3:16; 4:31; 13:19; 32:34; 38:25; Lv 13:36; Nu 1:3, 19, 44, 47; 2:4, 6, 8f, 11, 13, 15f, 19, 21, 23f, 26, 28, 30f; 3:15f, 39f, 42; 4:23, 27, 29f, 32, 34, 37f, 41f, 45f, 48f; 16:5; 26:54, 63f; 27:16; Jos. 8:10; Jdg. 15:1; 20:15, 17; 21:3, 9; Ru 1:6; 1Sa 2:21; 11:8; 13:15; 14:17; 15:4; 20:6, 18f, 25, 27; 2Sa 2:30; 18:1; 24:2, 4; 1Ki. 20:15, 26f; 2Ki. 3:6; 9:34; 10:19; 1 Chr. 26:31; 2Chr 24:6; Ezra 1:2; 4:15, 19; 5:17; 6:1; 7:14; Neh 7:1; 12:42; Job 2:11; 35:15; Ps. 8:4; 17:3; 27:4; 59:5; 65:9; 80:14; 89:32; 106:4; Jer. 3:16; 5:9, 29; 9:9, 25; 11:22; 13:21; 15:15; 23:2; 27:8; 29:10, 32; 30:20; 32:41; 36:31; 44:13, 29; 49:8; La 4:22; Ezek 20:40; 23:21; 34:11; Ho 4:14; Zeph 2:7; Zech 10:3; 11:16; Mal 3:10.
Orphans and widows - It is interesting to note that in the Greek there is no connecting conjunction (no "and"). These two groups were some of the most needy classes of people in ancient (and modern) times. Orphans/widows are found together only here in the NT, but this combination is more frequently mentioned in the OT (Ex 22:21; Dt. 10:18; Is 1:17; Je 5:28; Ezek 22:7; Zech 8:10) to identify those who needed help and compassion.
Jamieson feels that this absence of and points out that
There are 26 uses in the NT - Mk. 12:40, 42, 43; Lk. 2:37; 4:25, 26; 7:12; 18:3, 5; 20:47; 21:2, 3; Acts 6:1; 9:39, 41; 1 Co. 7:8; 1 Tim. 5:3, 4, 5, 9, 11, 16; James 1:27; Rev 18:7 and is always translated widow or widows.
Who Will Visit? - I read in “a Taste of Joy” by Calvin Miller about a wealthy woman who was found dead in her home. She had lived alone. The coroner found no organic reason for her death. Miller commented, “I think the cause was neglect. She was weary of setting a single plate at the table and fixing her coffee one cup at a time. The old woman had written on her calendar only one phrase, ‘No one came today.’” (Source Unknown)
Charity and purity
Spurgeon writes that…
Steven Cole writes that God…
To minister to orphans and widows is to be the hands, the feet, the heart of the Father, for as the psalmist records…
John Piper has a meditation on James 1:27 entitled
Doug Nichols offers…
Related Resources: See 14 similar articles on orphans at Eternal Perspective Ministries
In their distress - In their difficult, pressing circumstances. Hiebert says these circumstances include…
Distress (2347) (thlipsis from thlibo = to crush, press together, squash, hem in, compress, squeeze in turn derived from thláo = to break) originally expressed sheer, physical pressure on a man. Thlipsis is a strong term which does not refer to minor inconveniences, but to real hardships.
Thlipsis is used 45 times in the NT - Matt. 13:21; 24:9, 21, 29; Mk. 4:17; 13:19, 24; Jn. 16:21, 33; Acts 7:10, 11; 11:19; 14:22; 20:23; Ro 2:9; 5:3; 8:35; 12:12; 1Co. 7:28; 2Co. 1:4, 8; 2:4; 4:17; 6:4; 7:4; 8:2, 13; Ep 3:13; Phil. 1:17; 4:14; Col. 1:24; 1Th 1:6; 3:3, 7; 2Th 1:4, 6; Heb 10:33; James. 1:27; Rev. 1:9; 2:9, 10, 22; 7:14 and is translated (NAS) as affliction(14), afflictions(6), anguish(1), distress(2), persecution(1), tribulation(16),tribulations(4), trouble(1).
Medically thlipsis was used of the pulse (pressure). It is a pressing together as of grapes. It conveys the idea of being squeezed or placed under pressure or crushed beneath a weight. When, according to the ancient law of England, those who willfully refused to plead guilty, had heavy weights placed on their breasts, and were pressed and crushed to death, this was literally thlipsis. The iron cage was stenochoria. Thlipsis thus refers not to mild discomfort but to great difficulty.
Morris rightly notes that…
Martin Luther wrote that…
It was C S Lewis who said that…
The story is told of Bishop Tucker of Uganda who left the artist’s studio for the work of the Lord. He had been painting the picture of a poor woman, thinly clad, pressing a babe to her bosom, wandering homeless through a dark street on a stormy night. As the picture grew, he suddenly threw down his brush, exclaiming, “Instead of painting the lost, I will go out and save them.” (Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations by Paul Lee Tan Rockville, Md., 1979)
The Value Of 'Vermin' - Homeless children who wander the streets of the world’s great cities are often called “vermin.” They are branded as such because they beg, steal, sell their bodies; and if they survive, they grow up to be hardened criminals. To eliminate this social cancer, unscrupulous business leaders in some cities have even hired people to kill them. Imagine! Killing homeless children because they are a social problem!
How can children made in God’s image be considered vermin? Every child has great value in the sight of God. Christ suffered and died for them on Calvary, and they need to hear the good news of God’s grace!
We must do more than react with pity. We must support and pray for the agencies struggling to alleviate this overwhelming problem. We must ask the Lord to fill our hearts with love so that we will meet the needs of hurting children in our own cities. In that way, we will be practicing the “pure and undefiled religion” that cares for children in need (Jas. 1:27).
Jesus never viewed children as vermin. He saw them as immortal souls of incalculable value. He said, “Whoever receives one little child … in My name receives Me” (Mt. 18:5).-Vernon C. Grounds
SOME THINGS YOU CAN DO
AND TO KEEP ONESELF UNSTAINED BY THE WORLD: aspilon heauton terein (PAN) apo tou kosmou: (James 4:4; John 17:14,15; Romans 12:2; Galatians 1:4; 6:14; Colossians 3:1, 2, 3; 1 John 2:15, 16, 17; 1 John 5:4,5,18)
James balances social concern with the need for personal purity, a fact too often forgotten in those who place heavy emphasis on the "social gospel".
Related Resource - See multiple Holiness Quotes
James has a parallel pithy proclamation later declaring…
T o keep (5083) (tereo from teros - a guard or warden) means to keep an eye on, keep something in view, to attend carefully, or to watch over it. Tereo speaks of guarding something which is in one’s possession. It means to watch as one would some precious thing. The idea is to observe attentively, to keep watch over and to retain in custody. James' use of the present tense calls for believers to exert constant vigilance to remain undefiled (Impossible when we walk according to the flesh but imminently possible when we walk by the Spirit!). And beloved, the world's (kosmos) influence can be quite subtle and pervasive!
Illustration - I remember in medical school the picture of a person's white medical jacket examined under UV light to detect a substance visible only in that radiation. The substance (benign, non-toxic) was placed in subject's nasal cavity in the morning (when the white jacket was still pristine, unspotted under UV light). But by that afternoon, the same jacket was literally covered from top to bottom with varying sized spots (stains if you will) of the UV visible substance that had been placed in the nasal cavity. The world affects us in much the same way as we touch it and unknowing are "stained" by it's spots, not visible to UV but visible to the all seeing eye of God (cf Pr 15:3)!
Robertson comments that tereo is in the "Present active infinitive, "to keep on keeping oneself un-specked from the world" (a world, kosmos, full of dirt and slime that bespatters the best of men)."
Oneself (1438) (heautou) is a reflexive pronoun indicating the action exerting in the keeping or guarding is on ourselves not on others. Too many of us have a tendency to focus on the faults of others and forget what we look like in the mirror of God's Word!
The implication of this verse is that the world is morally/ethically "polluted".
Jamieson adds that to keep oneself calls for…
Martyn Lloyd-Jones comments that …
Unstained (784) (aspilos from a = without + spílos = spot) means without blemish or defect (outward condition) and figuratively in a moral sense, pure (inward character). James is calling for those who practice Spirit empowered, Christ-like (1Pe 1:19 [note], aspilos used to describe Jesus, "unblemished and spotless" Lamb of God), God glorifying religion to manifest a practice of flawless integrity and uncompromising holiness.
Peter in the context of teaching about the destruction of the earth and all its works (will be burned up - 2Pe 3:10, 11, 12, 13) writes, based on this sobering, solemn truth…
Thayer writes that metaphorically aspilos meant…
Steven Olford writes that…
Believers are to be like the ermine…
By the world - Not the material creation but the fallen world system headed by Satan (Jn 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, Ep 2:2-note; 1Jn 5:19, Re 12:9) and run primarily by unredeemed men and women who are alienated from God and hostile to His will and Word.
Think of the world like an ocean filled with water. Believers are to be like boats -- the boat's purpose is fulfilled when it is in the water (cp "in the world"), but it's function and usefulness deteriorates when water gets in the boat. When too much of the world gets into believers they are defiled. Saints must keep their "vessels" firmly anchored in the water of God's holy word but not let the water of the world get into their "vessel"! Paul has a parallel thought writing to young Timothy to take of the truth that
World (2889) (kosmos) first refers to an orderly arrangement but as used most often in the NT refers to this present evil man-centered (humanistic) world-system ruled directed by Satan (1Jn 5:19, Jn 12:31, the father of unbelievers Jn 8:44). The kosmos is this present world which is for the most part separated from God and opposed to Him.
Obviously James is not giving the only two earmarks of genuine religion, but instead is giving a summary of a truly religious life as one characterized by charity and chastity. The transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is such that it manifests itself in the saint's social and personal ethics. As Moffat observed a Gospel which wrought such transforming powers in regard to charity and chastity were "the two features of early Christian ethics which impressed the contemporary world." Beloved, should it not still be the case? Or could it be that much of our Christian religious activity lacks the supernatural power of the Gospel? Let us return to the ancient paths, for the sake of His name and out of Christ-like compassion for the multitudes of lost souls poised on the edge of a Christless eternity!
Guzik reminds us…
Vance Havner - The measure of our discord with the world is the measure of our accord with Christ… The measure in which the world agrees with us and says we are really a fine type of Christian, we are so entirely broad, is the measure in which we are unlike Christ.
Spurgeon - This is not the secret part of religion. Of that we read elsewhere. But this is the very dress that true religion puts on; charitably caring for the most destitute of our fellow-creatures, and holy walking, that we be not as the men of the world are: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Matthew Henry rightly observes that…
Steven Cole - The applied word results in separated character in the sight of God. James says that pure and undefiled religion is “to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The world refers to the evil system under Satan’s domain that is opposed to God. It is dirty and defiling. As God’s people, we are to be in the world, but not of the world (John 17:15, 16, 17, 18, 19). We are not to join monasteries to keep ourselves from being tainted by this evil world. James later says (Jas 4:4), if we make friends with the world, we have made ourselves enemies of God. He means that we are not to embrace the world’s goals, priorities, and temporal values. We should not find pleasure in the world’s entertainment if it mocks God and His word. To be more specific, most TV shows and movies will defile you. Avoid them! But, we are to go into the world and befriend sinners, as the Savior did, and yet not be stained by their evil thinking and evil deeds. Conclusion - A gray-haired old lady, long a member of her church, shook hands with the pastor after the service one Sunday morning. “That was a wonderful sermon,” she exclaimed, “just wonderful! Every-thing you said applies to someone I know.” James doesn’t want us applying the word to others. He doesn’t want us underlining all the commands in the Bible in blue. He wants us to apply it to ourselves. I ask you what I ask young couples, “Do you want God’s blessing in your life?” If you say yes, then James’ answer is clear: Don’t be a forgetful hearer of the word. Become an effectual doer and you will be blessed by God. (James 1:22-27 Doers of the Word)
How does one keep himself or unstained (separated from) by the world?
One answer is suggested in Jesus' prayer for His disciples…
Paul gives us a command…
Paul writes to the saints at Corinth…
Hiebert sums up this section drawing an important distinction that…
Two theological students were walking along a street in the Whitechapel district of London, a section where old and used clothing is sold.
A sign on it read:
GREATLY REDUCED IN PRICE.
Yes, continual slight deviations from the path of right may greatly reduce our usefulness to God and to our fellowman (see notes on "vessel of honor… useful to the Master" - 2 Timothy 2:21; 22). In fact, these little secret sins can weaken our character so that when we face a moral crisis, we cannot stand the test. As a result, we go down in spiritual defeat because we have been careless about little sins. (Source unknown) (Ed: Secret sins reminds one of the verse in the Song of Solomon in which the beloved says to her lover "Catch the foxes for us, The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, While our vineyards are in blossom." - Song of Songs 2:15)
In Our Daily Homily F B Meyer has a devotional on this verse entitled Unspotted from the world…