Christianity 201

September 15, 2010

What’s in a Name?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:51 pm
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James 2:5-7 (New International Version)

5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Verse seven of this passage says it is the rich who drag you into court and slander… well, who do they slander?  Is it the name of (a) God, (b) Jesus, (c) your family name, i.e. surname (d) your name?

I got curious after reading the new CEB, Common English Bible:

Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?

I guess I read this in the context of certain cultures where the baptism of an infant is also a “naming ceremony.”   With John the Baptist, this took place when he was circumcised at eight days old. (Luke 1:57ff)

The NASB has James 2:7 as:

Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

The Message has:

Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—”Christian”—used in your baptisms?

The NLT reads:

Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

The ESV renders this:

Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

The NKJV has:

Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

The NCV puts it:

And they are the ones who speak against Jesus, who owns you.

The TNIV says:

Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

The Louis Segond reads:

Ne sont-ce pas eux qui outragent le beau nom que vous portez? [name you are called]

The Amplified Bible blends the two aspects of this:

Is it not they who slander and blaspheme that precious name by which you are distinguished and called [the name of Christ invoked in baptism]?

So what’s in a name?

The context of the passage is the rich exploiting the poor.  That this is an insult to the character of the poor man so exploited.

Our name embodies who we are; our character is embedded in that name.   And in addition to blending the two dymanics of this, The Amplified Bible (which I don’t use a whole lot) introduces the phrase, “name by which you are distinguished.”   Your name marks you as different from everybody else.  (Unless, I suppose, your name is John Smith…)

But we also bear another name, the name of Christ.

Any insult to us; any exploitation of you or me is an insult to Christ.    I think the answer to the question I asked here is truly (e) all of the above.

But James isn’t just saying that we poor people are exploited.   The earlier context (verses 1-4) say that in the larger equation we are the ‘rich’ person in the story when we show favoritism, or when we marginalize those poorer than ourselves.

It’s easy to miss verse 6, sandwiched between verses 5 and 7.  We’re actually the rich person in the story; it is us who are slandering the character of the poor; and thereby slandering the name of Christ by which they are called.


  1. I think we need to recognize that the poor in this context might be the poor Jesus talked about in Matthew 5 — not just the economically impoverished, but also those whose lives did not run in the religiously privileged track. And when we align ourselves with the religious Old Guard, we align ourselves with those whose ego and power trips scorn the self-denial and serving attitude Christ taught. These poor are the ones who actually know that they need Christ, not the “righteous” Jesus teased and tweaked in his conversations with the Pharisees. It is the self-righteous who truly undercut our faith and send us on wild good chases. The wicked and the persecutors we recognize, but the relisious elite easily fool us into believing we are actually inferior, and they are the ones who make us think other people are inferior. It’s worth thinking about.

    Comment by Katherine Harms — September 15, 2010 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

    • I agree, it’s a great parallel text. Especially if you’re in an upper middle class situation where you don’t have the impoverished at your doorstep.

      I do think however, that the physical description James provides means the immediate context is more narrow.

      But I like the road you’re thoughts are taking you with this. Another great parallel passage would be the first part of Romans 14 which also deals with the manner in which we welcome outsiders into our assemblies.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 15, 2010 @ 8:02 pm | Reply

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