Original Research

The impact of the economic system on social and labour relations in the early church as revealed in the letter of James

Dirk G. van der Merwe
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 33, No 1 | a691 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v33i1.691 | © 2012 Dirk G. van der Merwe | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 October 2011 | Published: 17 September 2012

About the author(s)

Dirk G. van der Merwe, University of South Africa, South Africa


The Letter of James addresses the dichotomy between the socioeconomic classes of the rich (πλούσιος) and the poor (πτωχὸς). This research reveals the social and labour relations resulting from this dichotomy and the wealth of socioeconomic data contained in this letter. The rich are alerted to the consequences of their unrighteousness towards the poor, and the poor receive exhortations of encouragement. The metaphoric use of ’richness’ is also examined. This research focuses on the socioeconomic activities and attitudes that this dichotomy prompted during the second part of the first century, and it indicates how the economic system impacted on and influenced the lives of the early Christians in the 1st century Mediterranean world. James bounces these questions around to cast the rich, as well as the Christian assembly, in a bad light for condoning the mistreatment of the poor. His three rhetorical questions are quite to the point and are meant to be answered affirmatively.


economic system; social; labour relations; letter of James early church;


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