In James 1:27 it says

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. - James 1:27 (NASB)

I looked up the word translated as visit in the Greek. It is ἐπισκέπτομαι (episkeptomai) and I find the following definitions.

  1. to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes

    A. in order to see how he is

    B. to look upon in order to help or to benefit

    C. to look (about) for, look out (one to choose, employ, etc.)

I'm guessing the translation is highlighting definition 1A.

I see cross references also to Matthew 25:36, and Job 31:16 in the ESV I am reading. Matthew says

naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ - Matthew 25:36 (NASB)

It seems to me that the Matthew passage is suggesting a reoccurring action, that is repeatedly visiting someone. Is that correct?

2 Answers 2


The Greek word "ἐπισκέπτομαι" (episkeptomai), according to BDAG, has three basic meanings:

  1. to make a careful inspection, look at, examine, inspect, eg, Acts 6:3.
  2. to go to see a person with helpful interest, visit, eg, Acts 7:23, Matt 25:36, 43, James 1:27.
  3. to exercise oversight in behalf of, look after, make an appearance to help, eg, Luke 1:68, 78, 7:16, Heb 2:6.

Obviously, we are dealing with meaning #2 here in James 1:27. This is consistent with other references such as Matt 25:26, 43. This was one of the themes of Jesus ministry as he said in numerous other places - here is a sample: Ex 23:11, Prov 3:27, 28, 11:24, 25, 14:31, 17:5, 19:17, 21:13, 22:2, 9, 16, 22, 23, 28:3, 8, 27, 29:7, 13, 31:9, 20, Isa 10:1, 2, 58:1-21, Jer 7:3-6, Amos 4:10, Micah 6:8, Matt 23:23, Acts 4:32-35, Gal 2:10.

It is useful to observe that most of these passages are tripartite - the three requirements are always the same as listed in Matt 23:23: Justice, mercy and faithfulness. Jesus was alluding to Micah 6:8 which also has, "act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God". This, in turn is taken from Isa 58, the whole chapter is tripartite, v1-4 discusses injustice, v5-12 discusses being kind to the needy, and v13, 14 discuss being faithful to God.

I note that Isa 58:10 says (NIV) "if you spend yourselves on behalf of the needy … ". Thus, Jesus' teaching does not mention anything about frequency (how often we should help the needy and sick) because it was clearly to be a way of life.

For completeness - the Greek verb here is ἐπισκέπτεσθαι (episkeptesthai) Verb - Present Infinitive Middle or Passive = to care for or visit & take an interest in the sick. It is not present continuous but middle or passive infinitive - difficult to render perfectly into English. The best I might manage is "to care for the needy". This implies an on-going responsibility.

  • I think it's interesting that you said "Jesus said" and pointed to OT passages. I also agree that him saying "if you..." implies a regularity. But in James 1:27, does the specific Greek word imply an ongoing action due to it's tense?
    – WnGatRC456
    Commented Mar 3, 2019 at 21:26

How often? As often as necessary to achieve these goals...and btw it is not just for those that are physically ill..it is for anyone who is suffering for any reason or is heavy of heart.

Mat 7:12 whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matt. 7:12)

Matt 25:37-45 37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? 38 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 'And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'40 "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me....' 45 "Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46 "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Gal 6:2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

1Ti 5:8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

If you are an elder or leader 1Pe 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

Oh, and let us remember this has virtually NOTHING to do with physical sickness and is inclusive of suffering of any kind so you don't get to go just when they are physically ill.

Afflicted is κακοπαθέω to suffer (endure) evils (hardships, troubles)

and btw, you should bring them some wine when you go to visit.

Pro 31:6

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.

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