James 3
Pulpit Commentary
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

(1) Warning. Be not many teachers. The warning is parallel to that of our Lord in Matthew 23:8, seq., "Be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Teacher [διδάσκαλος, and not, as Textus Receptus, καθηγητής], and all ye are brethren." Comp. also 'Pirqe Aboth,' 1:11, "Shemaiah said, Love work and hate lordship (הרבנות)." The readiness of the Jews to take upon them the office of teachers and to set up as "guides of the blind, teachers of babes," etc., is alluded to by St. Paul in Romans 2:17, seq., and such a passage as 1 Corinthians 14:26, seq., denotes not merely the presence of a similar tendency among Christians, but also the opportunity given for its exercise in the Church.

(2) Reason for the warning. Knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment (ληψόμεθα). By the use of the first person, St. James includes himself, thus giving a remarkable proof of humility. (The Vulgate, missing this, has wrongly sumitis.) Comp. vers. 2, 9, where also he uses the first person, with great delicacy of feeling not separating himself from those whose conduct he denounces. Μεῖζον κρίμα. The form of expression recalls our Lord's saying of the Pharisees, "These shall receive greater condemnation (περισσότερον κρίμα) " (Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47).
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
Verse 2. - Γὰρ gives the reason for this κρίμα. We shall be judged because in many things we all stumble, and it is implied that teachers are in danger of greater condemnation, because it is almost impossible to govern the tongue completely. With the thought comp. Ecclesiastes 7:20, "There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not." Πολλά is adverbial, as in Matthew 9:14, and may be either

(1) "in many things," or

(2) "oft." Ἅπαντες. No se ipsos quidem excipiunt apostoli (Bengel). If any stumbleth not in word (R.V.). "Control of speech is named, not as in itself constituting perfection, but as a crucial test indicating whether the man has or has not attained unto it" (Plumptre). Τέλειος (see James 1:4). Ξαλιναγωγεῖν (cf. James 1:26). It is only found in these two passages; never in the LXX.
Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
Verse 3. - Illustration of the last statement of ver. 2. The bit in the horse's mouth enables us to turn about the whole body. So the man who can govern his tongue has the mastery over the whole body. A remarkable parallel is afforded by Sophocles, 'Antigone,' 1. 470, Σμικρῷ χαλινῷ δ οῖδα τοὺς θυμουμένους ἵππους καταρτυθέιτας. So also Philo, 'De Op. Mundi,' p. 19, Τὸ θυμικώτατον ζῶον ἵππος ῤᾳδίως ἄγεται χαλινωθείς. The manuscript; authority is overwhelming in favor of εἰ δὲ (A, B, K, L; א, εἰδε γάρ, etc.; and Vulgate, si autem) instead of ἰδού of the Received Text (C has ἴδε, and the Syriac ecce): thus the apodosis is contained in the words, καὶ ὅλον κ.τ.λ. Translate, with R.V., now if we put the horses bridles into their mouths that they may obey us, we turn about their whole body also. (For a similar correction of ἰδέ to εἰ δέ, see Romans 2:17.)
Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
Verse 4. - Second illustration, showing the importance of the tongue and its government. The rudder is a very small thing, but it enables the steersman to guide the ship wherever he will, in spite of the storm. Whithersoever the governor listeth (ὅπου ἡ ὀρμὴ τοῦ εὐθυνοντος βούλεται, א, B); whither the impulse of the steersman willeth (R.V.); Vulgate, impetus dirigentis.
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
Verse 5. -

(1) Application, of illustration. The tongue is only a little member, but it boasts great things. The true reading appears to be μεγάλα αὐχεῖ (A, B, C). The compound verb of the Textus Receptus, μεγαλαυχεῖν, is found in the LXX. (Ezekiel 16:50; Zephaniah 3:11; 2 Macc. 15:32; Ecclus. 48:18).

(2) Third illustration. A very small fire may kindle a very large forest. Ἡλίκον (א, A2, B, C1, Vulgate) should be read instead of ὀλίγον (A1, C2, K, L, ff). It is equivalent to quantulus as well as quantus. A somewhat similar thought to the one before us is found in Ecclus. 11:32, "Of a spark of fire a heap of coals is kindled." Υλη "Matter," A.V.; "wood," R.V. The word is only found here in the New Testament. In the LXX. it is used for a "matter" of judgment in Job 19:29; "matter" in the philosophical sense in Wisd. 11:18. (cf. 15:13); the "matter" of a book in 2 Macc. 2:24; the "matter" of a fire in Ecclus. 28:10 (the whole passage, vers. 8-12, is wroth comparing with the one before us); and for "forest" in Job 38:40; Isaiah 10:17. It is most natural to take it in this sense here (so Syriac and Vulgate, silva). "The literal meaning is certainly to be preferred to the philosophical" (Lightfoot on Revision, p. 140). Forest fires are frequently referred to by the ancients. Virgil's description of one ('Georgies,' 2:303) is well known; so also Homer's ('Iliad,' 11:155).
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
Verse 6. - Application of illustration The translation is doubtful, οὕτως of the Received Text must certainly be deleted. It is wanting in א, A, B, C, K, Latt., Syriac. Three renderings are then possible.

(1) "And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body and setteth on fire the wheel of nature."

(2) "And the tongue is a fire, that world of iniquity: the tongue is among our members that which defileth the whole body," etc.: so Vulgate.

(3) "And the tongue is a fire: that world of iniquity, the tongue, is among our members that which defileth the whole body," etc. Of these, the first, which is that of the Revisers, appears to be preferable. A fourth rendering, which is wholly untenable, deserves notice for its antiquity, viz. that of the Syriac, "The tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity (is the forest)." The world of iniquity (ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας). The tongue is thus characterized, because it leads to and embraces all kinds of wickednesses. As Bishop Wordsworth points out, it contains within itself the elements of all mischief. A somewhat similar use of κόσμος is found in the LXX. of Proverbs 17:6, Τοῦ πιστοῦ ὅλος ὁ κόσμος τῶν χρημάτων τοῦ δὲ ἀπιστου οὐδὲ ὀβελός, "The whole world of wealth is for the faithful: for the faithless not a penny." Καθίσταται: "is set" or "has its place," and so simply "is." The tongue

(1) defiles the whole body, and

(2) sets on fire τὸν τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως, "the wheel of birth" or "of nature" - a very strange expression, and one almost without parallel. (Τροχός only here in the New Testament. There is, however, no doubt about its meaning "wheel." The A.V., which took it as τρόχος, equivalent to "course," is universally given up (see Winer, 'Gram. of N. T.,' p. 62). For γένεσις, comp. James 1:23. The Vulgate has retain nativitatis nostrae.) Alford translates the phrase, "the orb of the creation," and in favor of this the use of the word τροχός in Psalm 77. (76.) 19 may be appealed to. But more natural is the interpretation of Dean Plumptre, who takes it as "a figure for the whole of life from birth, the wheel which then begins to roll on its course and continues rolling until death." So Huther and Dean Scott in the ' Speaker's Commentary.' This view has the support of the Syriac Version: "The course of our generations which run as a wheel;" and is implied in the (false) reading of א, τῆς γενέσεως ἡμῶν, (compare the Vulgate). It should also be noticed that life is compared to a wheel in Ecclesiastes 12:6 (LXX., τροχός). And is set on fire. The tongue has already been called a fire. It is now shown how that fire is kindled - kern beneath, kern Gehenna. A similar expression is found in the Targum on Psalm 120:2, "Lingua dolosa ... cum carbonibus juniperi, qui incensi sunt in Gehenna interne." Gehenna, here personified, is mentioned also in Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:9; Matthew 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5. Thus the passage before us is the only one in the New Testament where the word is used except, by our Lord himself. The word itself is simply a Graecised form of גֵּי הִנּום, "valley of Hinnom," or fully, "valley of the sons of Hinnom" (variously rendered by the LXX. φάραγξ Ανννόμ or υἱοῦ Αννόμ or Γαιέννα, Joshua 18:16). This valley, from its associations, became a type of hell; and hence its name was taken by the Jews to denote the place of torment. In this sense it occurs in the New Testament, and frequently in Jewish writings (see Buxtorf, 'Lexicon,' sub verb. גְהִנָּם), and it is said that the later rabbis actually fixed upon this valley as the mouth of hell.
For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
Verse 7. - Fourth illustration, involving a proof of the terrible power of the tongue for evil. All kinds of wild animals, etc., can be tamed and have been tamed: the tongue cannot be. What a deadly power for evil must it therefore be! The famous chorus in Sophocles, 'Antigone,' 1. 332, seq., Πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀνθώπου δεινότερον πέλει, is quoted by nearly all commentators, and affords a remarkable parallel to this passage. Every kind of beasts, etc.; literally, every nature (φύσις) of beasts... hath been tamed by man's nature (τῇ φύσει τῇ ἀνθρωπίνῃ); Vulgate, omnis enim natura bestiarum... domita sunt a natura humana. (On the dative τῇ φύσει, see Winer, 'Gram. of N. T.,' p. 275.) With this fourfold enumeration of the brute creation ("beasts ... birds.., serpents... things in the sea"), cf. Genesis 9:2, "The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts (θήρια) of the earth, upon all the fowls (πέτεινα) of the heavens, and upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea." Serpents (ἐρπετά) would be better rendered, as B.V., creeping things.
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Verse 8. - It is an unruly evil; rather restless, reading ἀκατάστατον (א, A, B) for ἀκατάσχετον of Textus Receptus (C, K, L); Vulgate, inquietum malum (cf. James 1:8). The nominatives in this verse should be noticed: "The last words are to be regarded as a kind of exclamation, and are therefore appended in an independent construction" (Winer, p. 668). A restless evil! Full of deadly poison! Compare the abrupt nominative in Philippians 3:19 with Bishop Light-feet's note. Deadly (θανατηφόρος); here only in the New Testament. In the LXX. it is found in Numbers 18:22; Job 33:23; 4 Macc. 8:17, 24; 15:23. For the figure, cf. Psalm 140:3, "They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders' poison is under their lips."
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
Verses 9, 10. - Examples of the restless character of the tongue: "With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it too we curse men who are made in his image." In the first clause we should read Κύριον (א, A, B, C, Coptic, Syriac, ff, and some manuscripts of the Vulgate) for Θεόν (Receptus, with K, L, and Vulgate). Made after the similitude of God; better, likeness (ὁμοίωσις). The words, which are taken from Genesis 1:26 (καὶ εῖπεν ὁ Θεὸς ποιήσωμεν ἄνθρωπον κατ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθ ὁμοιώσιν) are added to show the greatness of the sin. Theologically they are important, as showing that the "likeness of God" in man (in whatever it may consist) was not entirely obliterated by the Fall. St. James's words would be meaningless if only Adam had been created in the image and likeness of God. So St. Paul speaks of fallen man as still "the image (εἰκών) and glory of God" (1 Corinthians 11:7; and cf. Genesis 9:6).
Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
Verses 11, 12. - Illustrations showing the absurdity of the conduct reprobated. From one principle opposite things cannot be produced. Nothing can bring forth that which is not corresponding to its nature.

(1) The same fountain cannot give both sweet and bitter water.

(2) A fig tree cannot yield olives, nor a vine figs.

(3) Salt water cannot yield sweet.

How, then, can the tongue yield both blessing and cursing? It will be seen that the thought in (2) is different from that in Matthew 7:16, to which it bears a superficial resemblance. There the thought is that a good tree cannot yield bad fruit. Here it is that a tree must yield that which corresponds to its nature; a fig tree must yield figs and not olives, etc. So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. The Received Text, which the A.V. follows, is wrong here. Read, οὔτε ἀλυκόν γλυκὺ ποιῆσαι ὕδωρ (A, B, C, and א, except that it reads οὐδέ), and translate, neither can salt water yield sweet; Vulgate, sic neque salsa dulcem potest facere aquam; Syriac, "Thus also salt waters cannot be made sweet." The construction, it will be seen, is suddenly changed in the middle of the verse, and St. James ends as if the previous clause had been οὔτε δύναται συκῆ ἐλαίας, κ.τ.λ. (cf. Winer, p. 619, Grimm's 'Lexicon of N. T. Greek,' p. 324).
Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
Verses 13-18. - WARNING AGAINST JEALOUSY AND FACTION. Ver. 13 contains the positive exhortation to meekness; ver. 14 the negative warning against jealousy and party spirit; and then the following verses place side by side the portraits of the earthly and the heavenly wisdom. Verse 13. - Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? (τίς σοφός καὶ ἐπιστήμων ἐν ὑμῖν;); better, who is wise and understanding among you? 'Απιστήμων is found here only in the New Testament. In the LXX. it is joined with σοφὸς (as here) in Deuteronomy 1:13; Deuteronomy 4:6. "The ἐπιστήμων is one who understands and knows: the σοφὸς is one who carries out his knowledge into his life" (Dr. Farrar, who aptly quotes Tennyson's line, "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers"). Out of a good conversation (ἐκ τῆς καλῆς ἀναστροφῆς); better, as R.V., by his good life. "Conversation" is unfortunate, because of its modern meaning. Meekness (πραύτης); cf. James 1:21.
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
Verse 14. - Bitter envying, Ζῆλος in itself may be either good or bad, and therefore πικρόν is added to characterize it. Bishop Lightfoot (on Galatians 5:20) points out that "as it is the tendency of Christian teaching to exalt the gentler qualities and to depress their opposites, ζῆλος falls in the scale of Christian ethics (see Clem. Romans, §§ 4-6), while ταπεινότης, for instance, rises." It may, perhaps, be an incidental mark of early date that St. James finds it necessary to characterize ζῆλος as πικρόν. Where St. Paul joins it with ἐριθείαι and ἔρις there is no qualifying adjective (Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20). (On the distinction between ζῆλος and φθόνος, both of which are used by St. James, see Archbishop Trench on 'Synonyms,' § 26.). Strife (ἐριθείαν); better, party spirit, or faction (cf. Romans 2:8; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Philippians 1:17; Philippians 2:3). The A.V. "strife" comes from a wrong derivation, as if ἐριθεία were connected with ἔρις, whereas it really comes from ἔριθος, a hired laborer, and so signifies

(1) working for hire;

(2) the canvassing of hired partisans; and

(3) factiousness in general (see Lightfoot on Galatians 5:20). Glory not; i.e. glory not of your wisdom, a boast to which your whole conduct thus gives the lie.
This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
Verses 15-18. - Contrast between the earthly and the heavenly wisdom:

(1) the earthly (vers. 15, 16);

(2) the heavenly (vers. 17, 18). Verse 15. - " This wisdom [of which you boast] is not a wisdom which cometh down from above." Vulgate, non est enim ista sctpientia desursum descendens. But is earthly, sensual, devilish. Dr. Farrar well says that this wisdom is "earthly because it avariciously cares for the goods of earth (Philippians 3:19); animal, because it is under the sway of animal lusts (1 Corinthians 2:14); demon-like, because full of pride, egotism, malignity, and ambition, which are the works of the devil (1 Timothy 4:1)." Sensual (ψυχική), Vulgate, animalis; R.V. margin, natural or animal. The position of the word is remarkable, occurring between ἐπίγειος and δαιμονιώδης. it is never found in the LXX., nor (apparently) in the apostolic Fathers. In the New Testament it occurs six times - three times of the "natural" body, which is contrasted with the σῶμα πνευματικόν (1 Corinthians 15:44 (twice), 46); and three times with a moral emphasis resting upon it, "and in every instance a most depreciatory" (see 1 Corinthians 2:14), "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God," and Jude 1:19, Ψυχικοὶ, πνεῦμα μὴ ἔχοντες. The ψυχή in general in the New Testament is that which is common to man with the brute creation, including the passions, appetites, etc.; and therefore, by the use of this word ψυχικός to describe the wisdom which cometh not from above, but is "earthly, sensual [or, 'animal'], devilish," we are reminded of the contrast between the spirit of man which goeth upward and the spirit of a beast which goeth downward (Ecclesiastes 3:21). The "animal" man, then, is one who is ruled entirely by the ψυχή in the lower sense of the word; and by the depreciatory sense given to the adjective we are strongly reminded that "nature" is nothing without the aid of grace. See further Archbishop Trench's 'Synonyms of the N. T.,' § 71, and for the later history of the word (it was applied by the Montanists to the orthodox), Suicer's 'Thesaurus,' vol. it. p. 1589.
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
Verse 16 substantiates the assertion just made in ver. 15. Render, as in ver. 14, jealousy and faction. Ἀκαταστασία: confusion, of which God is not the author (1 Corinthians 14:33).
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
Verse 17. - The wisdom which is from above; ἡ ἄνωθεν σοφία, equivalent to חכמה עליוגה - an expression not unknown among rabbinical writers (see Schöttgen, 'Horae Hebraicae,' vol. 1. p. 1026). First pure, then peaceable. "The sequence is that of thought, not of time" (Plumptre). Purity must be secured, even at the expense of peace. Gentle, and easy to be entreated (ἐπιεκὴς εὐπειθής). The former of these two terms signifies "forbearing under provocation" (cf. 1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 3:2; 1 Peter 2:18); the latter is found only here. Vulgate, snadibilis; Syriac, "obedient;" R.V. as A.V., "easy to be entreated," i.e. ready to forgive. Thus the conjunction of the two terms ἐπιεικής and εὐπειθής reminds us of the Jewish saying in 'Pirqe Aboth,' 5:17, describing four characters in dispositions, in which the man who is "hard to provoke and easily pacified" is set down as pious. Without partiality (ἀδιάκριτος); here only in the New Testament. The word is used in the LXX. in Proverbs 25:1; and by Ignatius (Ephesians 3; Magn. 15; Trall. 1), but none of these passages throw light on its meaning. It may be either

(1) without variance, or

(2) without doubtfulness, or

(3) without partiality;

probably (1) as R.V. text. Without hypocrisy; ἀνυπόκριτος applied to πιστίς in 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:5; to ἀγαπή in Romans 12:9; 2 Corinthians 6:6; and to φιλαδελφία in 1 Peter 1:22.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
Verse 18. - The fruit of righteousness; an expression taken from the Old Testament; e.g. Proverbs 11:30; Amos 6:12; and occurring also in Philippians 1:1]. Of them that make peace. Τοῖς ποιοῦσιν εἰρηνήν may be either

(1) "for them," or

(2) "by them that make peace.

This verse gives us St. James's version of the beatitude, "Blessed are the peacemakers (μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηοποιοί)" (Matthew 5:9).

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

Bible Hub
James 2
Top of Page
Top of Page