Please Help Us Keep These Thousands of Blog Posts Growing and Free for All
For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in filthy clothes, (James 2:2)
This verse begins with a condition, introduced by the conjunction “if” (ἐάν ean), where James gives his reader an example to make his point. The other commentators discuss whether James uses a real or a fictional example here, but we have no reason to assume that it is not. The apostle Paul speaks of church services where “outsiders or unbelievers enter.” (1 Cor. 14:23-25) Moreover, a real experience would be more impactful to his readers. Notably, this is the only place in the New Testament where the word synagogue (συναγωγή sunagōgē) is used to describe the Christian church.
The usual word applied to the Christian church was (ἐκκλησία ekklēsia), which also had the meaning to assemble, but more specifically, it referred to the congregation, that is, the people. The Greek for synagogue could have been used here because most of the apostle’s assembly was Jewish converts to Christianity. James was written sometime in Jerusalem before 62 C.E. Only Jewish people came into Christianity the first seven years, 3.5 years during Christ’s ministry (29-33 C.E.), and 3.5 years after Pentecost (33-36 C.E.). The Gentile Cornelius was the first Gentile who became a Christian in 36 C.E. So, either the Christians were using an actual synagogue, or one designed after the style and general arrangements, or James was employing the word to a vast majority Jewish assembly. Or, the term was used until the Gentiles were more fully represent and ekklēsia became the more common term. Considering that the Jewish people were very prideful in this time and looked down on Gentiles, primarily uncircumcised Gentiles, one can see how the example becomes more real.
A “gold-ringed” (χρυσοδακτύλιος chrusodaktulios) man is a Greek word coined for this one occasion, which has led some to believe that James created it. It colorfully depicts a person having a finger adorned with gold, “a gold finger,” if you will. This one expression conveyed the image of both status and money, as rings were typical embellishments worn only by the rich. James goes on to close out the image of the rich man and has not even used the word (πλούσιος plousios) rich man. Instead, a man with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes (ἐν ἐσθῆτι λαμπρᾷ en esthēti lampra), which had the sense of shining or sparkling, splendid or magnificent clothing. Thus, the moment this person walks in, all attention would have been on him. Then, James draws our attention to another, who would also receive attention for the opposite reason. A poor man in filthy clothes (πτωχὸς ἐν ῥυπαρᾷ ἐσθῆτι ptōchos en rhupara ἐσθῆτι). The word for poor (ptōchos) is the Greek term for a person living in poverty, with few or no possessions, but has not been reduced to begging. This man’s clothes are described as filthy (ῥυπαρᾷ rhupara), which likely smelled terrible as well, and so he would receive as much attention as the rich man. James’ reference here to the poor man is likely to a man who happened into the service, not a regular member who commonly attended. – 1 Corinthians 14:24.
The potential of any given Christian meeting is that an unbelieving rich man with gold rings and fine clothes could decide to attend, as well as a poor man in filthy clothes. This rich, well-dressed man would likely have been one of power and status within the community as well.
If the poor unbeliever started regularly attending the Christian meeting in his filthy clothes, the congregation should come together to aid this one with something clean and proper to wear. (Compare 1 Tim. 2:9-10; Rom. 12:13) Regardless of his little means, he should be welcomed no differently than the rich man, as there is no place for impartiality within God’s house. Concerning the poor one, Richardson writes, “Throughout Scripture these poor are often said to fall into desperate conditions because of the injustices committed against them by wealthy and powerful oppressors. Painfully, the congregation becomes a party to the oppression of the poor. The poor man is demeaned and devalued. His treatment readies him for dissociation through disgrace. “The poor you have always with you” (Matt 26:11), which was the Lord’s way of telling his disciples that they would always be ministering to the poor, has been twisted around to mean that they are a hopeless case and that they should be helped only when it’s convenient. Of course, helping the poor is never convenient.”
 Cf. Pss 9:18; 10:1–18; 35:10; 37:14; 40:16–17; 109:16; Isa 3:14–15; 10:1–2; Amos 4:1; 8:4; also Matt 26:11.
 Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 111–112.