James 2:10 (NIV) reads:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

Is it in the torah?

So all sin are capital sin? No misdemeanor, no felony, no capital offense? All are capital offense punishable by eternal torture? Because that seems to be what James is implying. You break one, you're out.

I wonder if it's in the torah.

  • 4
    If I break a speed limit I have broken the law of the land, if I murder I have broken the law of the land in the same way it doesn't matter which of God's laws you break you have broken his law and are guilty in his sight. Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 15:16
  • Not an answer but I read this verse as more implying that no one is capable of keeping the whole law--hence all need God's grace and forgiveness. Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 16:47
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    So nothing like this is ever in torah? I think I have read that somewhere in old testament. Yahweh says something around doing the whole commandment and not doing it means breaking all. I just forget the verse.
    – user4951
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 3:36
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    OP asked a nearly identical question on Judaism. SE.
    – Susan
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 12:01
  • In 1 John 5:16,17 it says that some sins are not unto death. John seems to distinguish between sin and sins here. Maybe he refers to death penalty for gross law-break, while James seems to have the eternal spiritual life in mind; that neither murderers nor thieves will enter New Jerusalem. Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 9:45

7 Answers 7


The Epistle of James consists of moral exhortation, with the source and authority for this wisdom taken for granted by the author. In spite of the attribution to James (either James brother of Jesus or James son of Zebedee), the author never quotes Jesus and never relies on Jesus as the authority for what he writes. So the first thing we can say is that the author, whoever he was, was expressing a personal view or the view of a community.

In this passage, he relies on the Jewish scriptures as an authority for the injunction to love your neighbour (James 2:8 "If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture ..."), although he could equally have referred to Jesus had he known that Jesus had spoken the same words (eg Matthew 19:19).

Verse 17 summarises the theme of chapter 2:

James 2:17: Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Burton L. Mack says in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 214, this sounds like a treatise written against the Pauline notion that the Christian faith opposed the “works of the law”. However, as Mack points out, this is a misreading of Paul's true position. When Paul uses the term ‘faith’, he means means trusting that Christ's death and resurrection can restore a person to a right standing before God. Paul taught that one does not have to do the works prescribed by the Jewish law in order to trust Christ - one does not need to observe the Sabbath, keep kosher food laws, be circumcised and so on. At no point in his undisputed epistles does he say that one need not do good works.

Later authors, such as the author of the Epistle to Ephesians, transformed Paul’s teaching that the works of the Jewish law could not bring salvation into a teaching that said good works could not save, an important difference that we see clearly in Ephesians 2:8-9:

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Bart D. Ehrman says in Forged, page 197, James is reacting to what later Christians, such as the author of Ephesians, misunderstood Paul as having said. The author of James is engaging in hyperbole to counter those who seemed to believe that it was alright to sin, just as long as you have faith.

  • So somebody, that's not Jesus, not a prophet, a no body, writes a personal opinion and we have to accept that as scripture?
    – user4951
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 3:14
  • @JimThio No, we didn't have to accept it as scripture, although the Church Fathers made that decision for us. Eusebius says, "Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name." Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 3:37
  • @JimThio Regardless of its authenticity, we might conclude that James deserves a place in the NT canon as scripture because of the moral stances it takes. Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 3:41
  • You said he relies on jewish scripture. "If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture ..." Which one? What verse?
    – user4951
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 4:34
  • @JimThio In respect to "love thy neighbour" it is Leviticus 19:18. (This ciatation is not in my answer because your request was for references used in James 2:10, and citations used in 2:8 seemed too remote.) Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 4:57

The short answer to OP's question regarding the teaching in James 2:10:

Is it in the torah?

is: "No".

A much longer answer discusses James's teaching as derived from Jesus (depending on Douglas Moo), and the essentials are given there.

It is important to note, however, that this understanding of the law (i.e., breaking one bit is like breaking the whole) was already current in Jesus' day. The key text here is in a speech by Eleazar in 4 Maccabees 5:19-21:

19 μὴ μικρὰν οὖν εἶναι νομίσῃς ταύτην, εἰ μιαροφαγήσαιμεν, ἁμαρτίαν·
  Therefore do not suppose that it would be a petty sin if we were to eat defiling food;

20 τὸ γὰρ ἐπὶ μικροῖς καὶ μεγάλοις παρανομεῖν ἰσοδύναμόν ἐστιν,
  to transgress the law in matters either small or great is of equal seriousness,

21 δι' ἑκατέρου γὰρ ὡς ὁμοίως ὁ νόμος ὑπερηφανεῖται.
  for in either case the law is equally despised.

The parallels in rabbinic texts were noted and briefly discussed by W.E. Oesterly in the Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 4, p. 441.

It's possible that the "logic" for this interpretative tradition -- present in nascent Judaism, and inherited by the early Christians -- is found in Deuteronomy 27:26:

Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out. [NIV]

If someone breaks one law, they have failed to "uphold ... this law".


James explains the reasoning employed in verse 10 in the immediately following verses:

For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a violator of the law. (Jas 2:11-12 ESV)

James is expressing the Jewish view (shared by Romans) that the law was considered an interdependent whole, and any infraction constituted a breaking of the law as a whole. It is a recognition that those who are obliged to keep the law are obliged to keep all of it and any failure to do so makes one a lawbreaker. While James employs Jewish reasoning and cites commandments from the Decalogue, however, he isn't thinking of the OT law per se, but the law as reinterpreted by Jesus. Douglas Moo explains thus:

In vv. 10–11 James justifies (for) the last clause of v. 9 by showing that the breaking of even one commandment incurs guilt for the law as a whole. We are presented with a chain of reasoning that leads at the end of v. 11 to the same accusation James has already leveled in v. 9—Christians who show favoritism are “transgressors of the law.” James’s assertion of the law’s unity is nothing new, for Jews and even pagans had frequently made the same point. … See, for instance, the response of the pious Eleazar when commanded to eat forbidden food: “Do not suppose that it would be a petty sin if we were to eat defiling food; to transgress the law in matters either small or great is of equal seriousness, for in either case the law is equally despised” (4 Macc. 5:20–21; see also b. Horayot 8b; b. Shabbat 70b; 1QS 8:16; T. Asher 2:5–10; Philo, Allegorical Interpretation 3.241). Paul reflects the same tradition in Gal. 5:3: “I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.” But especially significant, as is usually the case for James, is Jesus’ teaching: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:18–19).

James signals that he is citing proverbial truth in vv. 10–11 by interrupting the second person plural direct address of vv. 8–10 and 12–13 with the third person singular style of “customary” or “gnomic” truth (whoever …). The hypothetical nature of the situation makes it unnecessary to follow Johnson in giving a conative sense to the verb “keep” (e.g., “undertakes keeping the whole law”). James is not suggesting that anyone is in reality fulfilling every demand of the law; he simply puts forth a “suppose it were so” assumption. That person, were he to “stumble” (i.e., fail to obey; cf. 3:2; Rom. 11:11; 2 Pet. 1:10) at even one “point” (or commandment), is guilty of breaking all of it. The NIV rendering here is very appropriate. Some versions simply translate “have become a transgressor of the law” (NRSV), but leave out the notion of judicial guilt that the word James uses here seems to have (enochos; cf. six of the seven other NT occurrences: Matt. 5:21, 22; 26:66; Mark 3:29; 14:64; 1 Cor. 11:27; Heb. 2:15 is less clear).

…James now explains why the law is an indivisible unity. As Johnson puts it, “Critical to the argument is that the commandment is not just a text but ‘someone speaking’” [Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James (Anchor Yale Bible Commentary) 232]. If we view the law as a series of individual commandments, we could assume that disobedience of a particular commandment incurred guilt for that commandment only. But, in fact, the individual commandments are part and parcel of one indivisible whole, because they reflect the will of the one Lawgiver. To violate a commandment is to disobey God himself and render a person guilty before him.

…Pressed to its logical conclusion, James’s argument would require obedience to every single commandment of the law, including the requirements concerning ceremonial observances. Is this what James intends? Nothing in his letter would suggest that he holds so strict a view. And he does give us a hint within vv. 10–11 that this is not the case. Generally when Jewish theologians made the point that James makes in v. 11, they cited a “light” commandment to set beside a “heavy” one. Thus Eleazar, in the 4 Maccabees text quoted above, asserts that eating defiling food (a “small” matter) is equally as serious as disobedience of a “great” commandment. But James cites two Decalogue commandments, of supposedly equal “weight.” He therefore suggests that he is thinking only of some parts of the OT law in vv. 10–11. Corroboration of this suggestion comes from early Christianity, where the love command was closely associated with the “fellowman” commandments of the second table of the Decalogue (see Matt. 19:18–19; Rom. 13:8–10). Therefore, while employing logic drawn from the OT and Jewish orthodoxy, James applies it to a new situation. It is not the OT law per se that he urges perfect compliance with, but “the royal law” (v. 8), “the law of liberty” (v. 12; cf. 1:25). This “law” takes up within it the OT law, but as understood through Jesus’ fulfillment of it. And so just as Jesus’ apparent unqualified endorsement of the law (Matt. 5:18–19, quoted above) is tempered in the context by his claim to be the fulfiller of the law (v. 17), so James applies this standard point about the law’s unity to the law as reinterpreted by Jesus….

[Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James (The Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2000), 113–117.]

As to whether or not all sins are capital sins deserving of eternal judgment, Paul says in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. He doesn't qualify his assertion, as if to say that the wages of only some sins is death. Sin, all sin, by its nature merits death. Happily, Paul goes on to say that the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. The salient question for us, then, is not whether we have ever sinned (for we all have) but whether we are in Christ Jesus. Are we abiding in him? (John 15:1-16)


James got the idea that "if you break one commandment, you break them all", right from Scripture of course.

Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.
-- Deuteronomy 27:26 KJV

And say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant, ...
-- Jeremiah 11:3 KJV

  • SLM - +1 This is a little inaccurate, Deuteronomy 27:26, in Hebrew, doesn't explicitly state obedience to "All", (except in the Greek Septuagint translation). However, the very next verse in Hebrew does state "All", as well as other places in Deuteronomy. Also: in context, Jeremiah does not seem to be speaking of the Mosaic covenant - but about a covenant that God was explaining - in that chapter, and throughout the rest of the book. However, it seems you agree with me that Moses is the originator of this - which is helpful. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 16:43
  • Your first quotation is simply nonsensical and made up out of whole cloth: "אָר֗וּר אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹא־יָקִ֛ים אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הַתּוֹרָֽה־הַזֹּ֖את לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת אוֹתָ֑ם וְאָמַ֥ר כׇּל־הָעָ֖ם אָמֵֽן׃" Commented May 13 at 15:32

In this book, on page 159:


F.F.Bruce appeals to this book, Pages 594-597 and 664:


Bruce says that the school of Shammai says that 99 percent of achievement in keeping Torah is a failure while Hillel says that 51 percent is a success. James apparently was in keeping with Shammai.

  • +1 Hah! Very fun observation. However, this does not at all suggest that "James" was of the school of Shammai. After all, the doctrine has a basis in Hebrew Scripture - so "Shammai" isn't required as an explanation. But - maybe, just maybe, James was, (for that and some other reasons). Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 0:34

1. Question Restatment:

Where did James get the idea that breaking one commandment means breaking all?

James 2:10 (NIV) reads: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

2. Correction: James wasn't comparing the severity of specific commandments:

James was NOT saying, "breaking any less-important commandment is just as evil as breaking what you think are more important commandments.".

James was reminding them, that: there is an extra punishment for breaking ANY law - which is the exact same punishment as breaking ALL of the law.

3. Answer - It was Moses that stated breaking any law, ultimately, has the same effect as breaking the entire law:

Both Paul and James Were Directly Referring to Moses:

NASB, Galatians 3:10 - For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law | πᾶσιν τοῖς λόγοις τοῦ νόμου, to perform them, (a quote based on the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 27:26).”

Note: Even though the Septuagint includes "All, (πᾶσιν : Each/Every)" where the Hebrew does not - the very next verse, in Hebrew, does.

Violating ANY commandment has the same consequence as breaking every commandment:

Though - this does NOT mean one is liable to every punishment related to EVERY law.

NASB, Deuteronomy 30:2-3,16 - and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you | כְּכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ today, you and your sons, 3 then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. ... 16 The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.

NASB, Deuteronomy 27:26-28:1 - ‘Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 28 “Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments | שמר לעשות את־כל־מצותיו which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.

NASB, Deuteronomy 11:22 - For if you are careful to keep all this commandment | שמר תשמרון את־כל־המצוה which I am commanding you to do, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him, 23 then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. 24 Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours; your border will be from the wilderness to Lebanon, and from the river, the river Euphrates, as far as the western sea. 25 No man will be able to stand before you; the Lord your God will lay the dread of you and the fear of you on all the land on which you set foot, as He has spoken to you.

26 “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; 28 and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known.

Arguably - it is the "ALL" part of the "covenant" that is a fundamental part of the "curse" - especially since God explicitly said that they would not do it - almost in the same breath, (Deuteronomy 30:16).


I believe when we break (or break with) any law of truth, then, we are in error; being in error, opens the door to more of the same ...ERROR. Therefore, if I covet or steal, do I not also, open myself to all other error; envy, sloth, lust, lying, rage, and murder (which is the taking or stealing life, that does not belong to me, but God) of any of God’s creatures? We see two sinners (people in error) hanging on the cross, with One, committing to no sin, between. The one thief, repented, in remorse of his error; thus, He was welcomed in to partake of The Overcomer’s paradise. The other, refused and cemented his destiny to error, cementing his destiny, and thus adding ARROGANCE to his final condemnation. Both opened the door to ERROR; two opened the door to TRUTH cancelling out the weaker of the two (error is not equal to Truth; error is the absence of truth...as evil is the absence of God, Light & Good).

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