WHO ARE “THE FATHERLESS AND WIDOWS” OF JAMES 1:27?
by Shawn Brasseaux
James 1:27 says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” “Christian” ministries and philanthropic organizations often use this verse as their motto, but do they know what it is really talking about? Hardly! Make no mistake, dear friends, we commend people who do their very best to help the needy (particularly orphans and widows). We are not here to criticize or diminish their work. Our thoughts and hearts go out to the world’s orphans and widows. Nevertheless, we should use God’s Word very carefully. Why are those in James 1:27 “fatherless” and “widows?” What is their specific “affliction?” Are there unique circumstances in place, situations starkly different from the plight of today’s orphans and widows? What verses can help us interpret James 1:27? Let us search the Scriptures!
RIGHTLY DIVIDING PAUL FROM JAMES
For many centuries, theologians, pastors, and church members have stumbled and fallen over the Book of James because they do not understand where it fits on the Bible timeline. In a desperate attempt to reconcile its legalistic (Law-keeping) passages with Paul’s anti-legalistic passages, they change its doctrine and force it into our Dispensation of Grace, God’s current program. This will not work, as Paul and James are writing to two separate peoples living under totally different circumstances. Rather than destroying one or the other—“this verse does not mean what it says,” “throw away the Book of James!,” et cetera—we need to understand those passages are to be “rightly divided” (2 Timothy 2:15). James and Paul are not meant to teach the same thing!
In this the Dispensation of Grace, the nation Israel is “fallen” and “blinded.” Notice what the Holy Spirit through Paul wrote in Romans chapter 11: “ I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.  Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?  For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: ….  For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.”
James 1:1 says: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” In contrast to Paul writing about Israel as a non-issue, James writes to Israel indicating Israel is an issue. James and Paul can no way be harmonized here. Paul is writing to “you Gentiles” as “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). Contrariwise, James is writing “to the twelve tribes.” These 12 tribes would obviously be the 12 tribes of the nation Israel. If these audiences are different (they are), and if their circumstances are different (they are), we have no reason to force James and Paul together… unless we have a denomination to defend or a church tradition to maintain (and that describes most people who appeal to Scripture)!
Let us get back to James 1:1. In light of James writing to “the twelve tribes”—the nation Israel—we can see that the “fatherless” and “widows” describes people within Israel’s program. They are not those today in our Dispensation of Grace but rather people living in the prophetic program. Who will be without parents and spouses in the future?
THE VERSES THAT INTERPRET JAMES 1:27
In the Four Gospels, we remember that the Lord Jesus talked at great length about Israel’s believing remnant suffering persecution during the end times. (Please remember He was not telling them new material. Centuries prior to His earthly ministry, many psalms and other “Old Testament” passages were written to, about, and from the perspective of, those precious Jewish kingdom saints suffering under Satan’s cruel reign still future from us. For starters, see Psalm 7, Psalm 9, Psalm 10, the whole Book of Job, and Daniel chapters 3 and 6.)
Read what the Lord Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10: “ But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;  And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.  But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.  For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.  And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.  And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.  But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come….”
Reading from Matthew chapter 10 once more: “ Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.  He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.  He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
Mark 13:9-13: “ But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.  And the gospel must first be published among all nations.  But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.  Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.  And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”
Luke 21:12-17: “ But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.  And it shall turn to you for a testimony.  Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer:  For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.  And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death.  And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.”
1 Peter 1:6-7: “ Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:  That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:”
1 Peter 2:19-23: “ For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.  For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.  For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:  Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:  Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:”
1 Peter 3:14-17: “ But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:  Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.  For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.”
1 Peter 4:12-19: “ Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:  But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.  If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.  Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.  For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?  And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?  Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”
1 Peter 5:8-11: “ Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:  Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.  But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.  To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
Revelation 13:15: “And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” How were they killed? They are going to be beheaded, as Revelation 20:4 reports: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
One final note before we summarize and conclude. In the persecution that followed Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts chapter 7, we read of the Jewish believers in Christ being “scattered abroad.” This passage links to the “scattered abroad” twelve tribes mentioned in James 1:1. What believing Israel experienced in early Acts, believing Israel will experience in the future during the time of the Antichrist. Saul of Tarsus, before he was saved and became the Apostle Paul, had a ministry that was against Christ. That was a picture of what the Antichrist will do after our dispensation ends.
Notice whom Saul of Tarsus arrested in Acts chapter 8: “ And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.  And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.  As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.  Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” (These men and women had families, did they not? These would have also been the “fatherless” and “widows” of James 1:27.)
What the Lord Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10 succinctly summarizes the reasons for the “fatherless” and “widows” in James 1:27: “ And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.  And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.  Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.  He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.  He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
Luke 21:16-17 provides additional information on this subject: “ And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death.  And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.”
It is overwhelmingly clear that the “fatherless” and “widows” of James 1:27 are people who have been bereaved of their loved ones because of the Antichrist and his brutal regime during the seven-year Tribulation. Innumerable Jewish believers in Christ, who will refuse to worship the Antichrist and take his mark, will be betrayed by their relatives who follow the Antichrist. They will be imprisoned and/or lose their lives—men, women, boys, and girls. There will be deep, deep divisions between believers and unbelievers: Satan will cause unbelievers to mercilessly persecute and abuse those Messianic Jews (Christ’s followers). Women will lose their husbands and men will lose their wives. Children will lose their parents. Brothers and sisters will turn in their siblings to the Antichrist’s government. Children will betray their parents. Spouses will turn in their husbands.
James 1:27 sits in the midst of false religion—the Antichrist’s pagan, idolatrous system. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this….” What God wants the audience of James to do is take care of those who have lost their loved ones because of Jesus Christ. They died rejecting the Antichrist, refusing to take his mark and worship his image.