From: Over 50 Interpreters Explain the Book of James Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2017
List of All Sources Quoted At End of File
WEB: Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment.
Young’s: Many teachers become not, my brethren, having known that greater judgment we shall receive.
Conte (RC): My brothers, not many of you should choose to become teachers, knowing that you shall receive a stricter judgment.
3:1 My brethren. “I’m not writing something abstract. I’m writing what is personally applicable and important for you. Just because I’m not physically standing in front of you doesn’t change this one bit!” [rw]
be not many masters [teachers, NKJV]. In the first chapter the exhortation was given “slow to speak”; here it is applied to teaching. The exhortation is interesting in its bearing. First, is the warning not to assume leadership in teaching for self-display; even teaching as given to the members of the body of Christ must be carefully exercised, for it carries with it great responsibility, for one may preach to others and be himself disapproved (1 Corinthians 9:27). If one is a teacher he must also practice what he teaches, otherwise he shall receive a greater judgment as to disapproval before the award seat of Christ. 
The evil referred to is that where many desired to be teachers, though but few could be qualified for the office, and though, in fact, comparatively few were required. A small number, well qualified, would better discharge the duties of the office, and do more good, than many would; and there would be great evil in having many crowding themselves unqualified into the office. 
3:1-4:12 expand and expound -20. The necessity for the advice given here is shown by 1 Corinthians 14:20-33, from which we gather that the eagerness of the Christians to speak in public reduced their meetings to a perfect bable. The great Stoic philosopher Epictetus said similarly in answer to those who professed a desire to “live as sages and do good to men,” “What good? What wilt thou do? Hast thou done good to thyself? But thou wouldst exhort them? And hast thou exhorted thyself? Thou wouldst do them good—then do not chatter to them, but show them in thyself what manner of men philosophy can make.” Cf. Portia’s words in the Merchant of Venice: “I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than be one of the twenty to follow my own teaching.” 
masters. The English word “master,” though perhaps conveying the idea of a “schoolmaster” in the sixteenth century, and therefore used in all the versions from Wycliffe and Tyndale onward, is now far too general in its meaning. What St James warns his “brethren” against is each man’s setting himself up to be a teacher. 
The word here rendered “masters” (διδάσκαλοι didaskaloi) should have been rendered “teachers.” It is so rendered in John 3:2; Acts 13:1; Romans 2:20; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 2:11; 1 Timothy 4:3; Hebrews ; though it is elsewhere frequently rendered master. It has, however, in it primarily the notion of “teaching” (διδάσκω), even when rendered “master;” and the word “master” is often used in the New Testament, as it is with us, to denote an instructor--as the “school-master." Compare Matthew 10:24-25; Matthew 22:16; Mark 10:17; Mark , et al. The word is not properly used in the sense of master, as distinguished from a servant, but as distinguished from a disciple or learner. Such a position, indeed, implies authority, but it is authority based not on power, but on superior qualifications. 
knowing that we. Who exercise the office of teachers. 
St. James here, as in several of the following verses--by a common figure of speech, includes himself. 
shall receive the greater condemnation [judgment, NKJV]. The Greek word for “condemnation”, though literally meaning “judgment” only, is yet almost always used in the New Testament for an adverse judgment. 
We shall be subjected to a severer trial; and if found wanting; to a greater punishment. 
Judged/condemned due to not being qualified for the office? On account of our taking upon us an office for which we are not qualified, and in the exercise of which more is required of us, in many respects, than of others in a more private station of life. St. James here, as in several of the following verses, by a common figure of speech, joins himself with the persons to whom he wrote, to mitigate the harshness of his reproof: we shall receive — we offend — we put bits — we curse, none of which particulars, as common sense shows, are to be interpreted either of him or of the other apostles. 
Judged/condemned due to our abuse or ignoring of the right attitude to be behind our “judging” of others. By how much the more severe and rigid we are in judging others, the greater will be our judgment, not only from men, who will be apt to retaliate, but from God himself, Matthew 7:1-3, Luke 6:38, Revelation 2:2-3. 
In depth: Traditional Jewish openness to hearing
visiting teachers in their synagogues . It is the greatest mistake to suppose that διδάσκαλοι
here is equivalent to Rabbis in the technical sense. In the Jewish “Houses of Learning” (i.e.,
the Synagogues, for these were not exclusively places of worship) whether in
We have an example of this in the case of our Lord Himself, who found no difficulty in entering into Synagogues and teaching (Matthews 12:9ff; Matthew 13:54; Mark 1:39; Luke 6:14ff., etc., etc.), although His presence there must have been very distasteful to the Jewish authorities, and although on some occasions the ordinary hearers altogether dissented from what He taught (e.g., John 6:59-66); the same is true of St. Peter, St. John, and above all of St. Paul. Like the Athenians (Acts ), many inquiring Jews were always ready to hear some new thing, and welcomed into their houses of learning teachers of all kinds (cf. Acts ; 1 Timothy 1:6-7).
The following would not have been said unless there had been great danger of Jews being influenced by the doctrines condemned: “All Israelites have their part in the world to come . . . but the following (Israelites) have no part therein,—he who denies that the Resurrection is a doctrine the foundation of which is in the Bible, he who denies the divine origin of the Torah, and (he who is) an Epicurean” (Sanh., xi. 1; quoted by Bergmann, op. cit., p. 9). The custom of Jews, and especially of Hellenistic Jews, of permitting teachers of various kinds to enter their Synagogues and expound their views, was not likely to have been abrogated when they became Christians, which was in itself a sign of greater liberal-mindedness.
In depth: Prestige of
religious teachers in Jewish society . The temptation to become a [teacher] was
great; for to no other class of the community were higher honors paid. “To speak with the teacher, to invite him to
be the guest, to marry his daughter,
WEB: For in many things we all stumble. If anyone doesn't stumble in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.
Young’s: For in many things we all stumble. If anyone doesn't stumble in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.
Conte (RC): For we all offend in many ways. If anyone does not offend in word, he is a perfect man. And he is then able, as if with a bridle, to lead the whole body around.
3:2 For. The reason assigned for the second clause of the last verse [i.e., “knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment”]. 
in many things. To be taken generally—‘in many particulars:’ not to be restricted to the offences of the tongue; the restriction follows in the latter part of the verse. 
This is not just an occasional problem; it is a regular one. It does not happen just once; it will happen many times. [rw]
we offend all [we all stumble, NKJV]. Through natural infirmity and strong temptation, we are all liable to fall. The original expression, πταιομεν απαντες, is literally, we all stumble. “It is a metaphor taken from persons who, walking on slippery or rough ground, slide or stumble without falling; as appears from Romans 11:11, μη επταισαν ινα πεσωσι, have they stumbled so as to fall? Therefore, as in Scripture, walking denotes the course of a man’s conduct, stumbling, in this passage, signifies those lesser failings in duty, to which common Christians are liable.” 
The mere English reader is very apt to understand our translation to mean, we offend every body; making “all” the object. The true meaning is, that “in many things we all” stumble; that is, make intellectual and moral mistakes and blunders; which is true enough of the wisest and holiest of us. 
Notice how the Apostle includes himself among those to whom he is called upon to give warning. 
If any man offend [stumble, NKJV] not in word. A theoretical question for who in the world ever accomplishes it? Yet everyone can still establish a good track record on the subject even if not spotless. He or she can make it the norm in their life and when they do, then the same person has demonstrated the capacity to exercise control over everything else the body does and keep that in line as well. Indeed, such a person does, indeed, seem “perfect” to those who falter and fail on such matters. [rw]
the same is a perfect man. He who controls his tongue gives proof of his ability to maintain entire self control. 
By ‘a perfect man,’ here and elsewhere in Scripture,
is not meant a man who is absolutely free from sin, but one who is
comparatively perfect. Thus Noah,
Abraham, and Job were called perfect in their generations; and of Zacharias and
and able also to bridle the whole body. The “whole body” is used to sum up the aggregate of all the temptations which come to us through the avenues of sense. 
That is, has
obtained the mastery over himself, inasmuch as it is more difficult to bridle the
tongue than to control the actions of the life.
A man’s character is known by his words:
‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh’
(Matthew ): even as the nature of a fountain is known by
the quality of the stream which issues from it.
Hence the wise saying of Socrates, ‘Speak, that I may
know thee.’ Offences of the
tongue are the most common of all offences.
‘There is one that slippeth in his speech, but
not from his heart; and who is he that hath not offended with his tongue?’ (Sirach 19:16). Even
the meekness of Moses was violated by a rash word: ‘he spake
unadvisedly with his lips’ (Psalms 106:33).
WEB: Indeed, we put bits into the horses' mouths so that they may obey us, and we guide their whole body.
Young’s: lo, the bits we put into the mouths of the horses for their obeying us, and their whole body we turn about.
Conte (RC): For so we put bridles into the mouths of horses, in order to submit them to our will, and so we turn their whole body around.
3:3 Behold. St. James introduces two illustrations to prove the truth of his remark, that if a man is able to command his tongue, he is able also to command his whole conduct. The first illustration, that of the bit in the horses’ mouths, was naturally suggested by what he had just said about bridling the whole body. 
we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us. If we put the bridle into the horse’s mouth to make him obey us, by so doing we obtain the obedience not of his head only, but of his whole body; in the same manner, he who can rule his tongue can rule his own self. 
By the help of a bridle, a skilful rider can turn and guide horses ever so headstrong and unruly. An experienced pilot sitting at the helm, steers the course of the vessel in a storm, turns and guides the ship what way he thinks most proper; so must a man learn, and use his utmost endeavors to bridle and govern his tongue. 
and we turn about their whole body. Perhaps the view of Bishop Wordsworth is the best: “We can rule irrational animals with a bit; how much more ought we to govern ourselves! And if we rule our tongues, we do in fact govern the whole man, for the tongue is to man what a bit is to horses, and a rudder is to ships; it rules the whole, let it therefore be governed aright.” Perhaps, however, the Apostle only desires to direct attention to the smallness of the member, and yet the influence it has on the whole man. Some have thought that the force lies in the bit being put into the mouth to curb it, but it is probable that we must not press the similitude, for the occasion of using it seems almost accidental. James had used the word bridle (bridle the whole body) in the last verse, and the word bridle introduces the idle of bridling that which, if it be not restrained, makes the man like a horse with a rider who has no control over him, being without a bridle, or a ship without a rudder. 
WEB: Behold, the ships also, though they are so big and are driven by fierce winds, are yet guided by a very small rudder, wherever the pilot desires.
Young’s: lo, also the ships, being so great, and by fierce winds being driven, are led about by a very small helm, whithersoever the impulse of the helmsman doth counsel.
Conte (RC): Consider also the ships, which, though they are great and may be driven by strong winds, yet they are turned around with a small rudder, to be directed to wherever the strength of the pilot might will.
3:4 Behold also the ships. The Venerable Bede, our earliest English translator, refers the ships here to an image of ourselves, and the winds to the impulses of our own minds, by which we are driven hither and thither. 
which though they be so great. As the
ship which conveyed Paul to
So great in themselves, and in comparison with the rudder. Even such bulky and unwieldy objects are controlled by a very small thing. 
and are driven of fierce winds. James, remembering the storms of the Galilean lake, could well rejoice in a simile like this, although he himself may only have known the craft of an inland sea, and never have beheld “broad rivers and streams” wherein went “galley with oars and gallant ship” (Isaiah 33:21). And none knew better than the brother of the Lord who was the “Helm of the ships that keep / Pathway along the deep.” 
These fierce winds may denote human passions, which the government of the tongue controls.  It does so by egging them on, inflaming them or calming them down. Our tongue acts like either an accelerant or a fire extinguisher when faced with the emotional compulsion to do something unwise or outright wrong. [rw]
yet are they turned about with a very small helm [rudder, NKJV]. The rudder on an ancient ship was an oar or a paddle, working in a rowlock or port-hole. A ship had two of these, one on each side of the sterm. 
whithersoever the governor [pilot, NKJV] listeth [desires, NKJV]. Our tongue “directs” our emotions as to where they will go, permitting or discouraging the behaviors that the two are faced with. [rw]
WEB: So the tongue is also a little member, and boasts great things. See how a small fire can spread to a large forest!
Young’s: so also the tongue is a little member, and doth boast greatly; lo, a little fire how much wood it doth kindle!
Conte (RC): So also the tongue certainly is a small part, but it moves great things. Consider that a small fire can set ablaze a great forest.
3:5 Even so. Now follows the application of the two illustrations. If we rule our tongues, we govern the whole man; for the tongue is to the man what the bit is to the horse, or the helm to the ship. 
the tongue is a little member. The reference being to the smallness of the helm. The tongue is small in proportion to the whole body, and to many of its members. 
and boasteth great things. The Greek word signifies, according to its derivation, the lifting up of the neck (as horses, mentioned [in] James 3:3, are wont to do in their pride) in a way of bravery and triumph; and hence it is used to express boasting and glorying, but here seems to imply something more, viz. not only the uttering big words, but doing great things, whether good and useful, as in the former similitudes, or evil, as in what follows; or its boasting how great things it can do: q.d. The tongue, though little, is of great force and efficacy, and it will tell you so itself; it not only boasts what its fellow members can do, but especially what itself can. 
The verb translated boasteth is peculiar to this place, but occurs so often in the works of Philo that we may be almost certain St. James had read them. And many other verses of our Epistle suggests his knowledge of this famous Alexandrian Jew. 
Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! It would be more in the spirit and temper of this imaginative passage to render it, “Behold, how great a forest a little spark kindleth!” Thus it is expressed in the Latin Vulgate; and note our own margin, “wood.” The image constantly recurs in poetry, ancient and modern; and in the writer’s mind there seems to have been the picture “of the wrapping of some vast forest in a flame, by the falling of a single spark,” and this in illustration of the far-reaching mischief resulting from a single cause. (Compare Sirach 28:10.) 
A single spark may set a whole forest on fire, as is
often the case with the forests of
Is James, in part at least, describing the congregational divisiveness that can be stirred up by an unwise tongue? At the risk of being charged with fancifulness, the surmise may be permitted as to whether this picture was not suggested by the sight of an excited audience in some place of meeting; when an Eastern audience [in the late 1800s] has been aroused to a high pitch, the noise of tongues, and gesticulation of the arms occasioned by the discussion following upon the oration which has been delivered, might most aptly be compared to a forest fire; the tongue of one speaker has set ablaze all the inflammable material which controversy brings into being. The possibility that the writer had something of this kind in his mind should not be altogether excluded. 
WEB: And the tongue is a fire. The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by Gehenna.
Young’s: and the tongue is a fire, the world of the unrighteousness, so the tongue is set in our members, which is spotting our whole body, and is setting on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by the gehenna.
Conte (RC): And so the tongue is like a fire, comprising all iniquity. The tongue, stationed in the midst of our body, can defile the entire body and inflame the wheel of our nativity, setting a fire from Hell.
3:6 And the tongue is a fire. Possesses the destructive power of fire. 
Fire, in its original formation, was intended for the good of man; and, when subordinated to his wishes, is highly beneficial: but its tendency is to consume and to destroy. Thus the tongue was at first made for the Creator’s praise; but through the introduction of sin, that member, which was, and, if well used, yet is, the glory of man (Ps. lvii. 8), is become “an instrument of unrighteousness” and all iniquity. 
Three temptations “to smite with the tongue” are specially powerful of evil: viz., as a relief from passion, as a gratification of spite, as revenge for wrong. The first is experienced by hot tempered folk; the second yielded to by the malicious; the third welcomed by the otherwise weak and defenseless; and all of us at times are in each of these divisions. 
a world of iniquity. The idea conveyed in this difficult passage seems to be that, while other members can sin only to a limited extent, the tongue can inspire and cause a whole cycle of wickedness—a whole world of evil. 
The tongue is described as emphatically that world—we should perhaps say, that microcosm—of unrighteousness. As uttering all evil thoughts and desires, no element of unrighteousness was absent from it, and that which includes all the elements of anything well deserves the name of being its Cosmos. 
A world of iniquity — This is a metaphor of the same kind with a sea of troubles, a deluge of wickedness. The meaning is, that a great collection of iniquity proceeds from the tongue. Indeed “there is no iniquity which an unbridled tongue is not capable of producing; either by itself, when it curses, rails, teaches false doctrine, and speaks evil of God and man; or by means of others, whom it entices, commands, terrifies, and persuades, to commit murders, adulteries, and every evil work.” 
so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body. Compare the words of Jesus (Matt. 15.18-20): “But the things which proceed out of the mouth come forth out of the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings: these are the things which defile the man.” 
and setteth on fire the course of nature. Setting society in a blaze, like fire in dry matter. 
Fire, even the smallest spark, is capable of producing incalculable mischief; such mischief as it may not be in the power of man to repair. Thus also will one single motion of the tongue (verses 3, 4). 
The last words have no parallel in any Greek author, and are therefore naturally somewhat difficult. Literally, we might render, the wheel of nature or of birth, just as in James 1:23 we found “the face of nature,” for the “natural face,” that with which we are born. The best interpretation seems to be that which sees in the phrase a figure for “the whole of life from birth;” the wheel which then begins to roll on its course, and continues rolling until death. As an alternative explanation it is possible that there may be a reference to the potter’s wheel, as in Jeremiah 18:3, and Sirach 38:29, in the latter of which the same word for “wheel” is used. On this view the tongue would be represented as the flame that by its untempered heat mars the vessel in the hands of the potter. 
Or that this is the “natural” state of human behavior: Some writers, by the natural wheel, or course of nature, understand the successive generations of men, one generation going, and another coming, without intermission; according to which interpretation the apostle’s meaning is, that the tongue hath set on fire our forefathers, it inflameth us, and will have the same influence on those who come after us.  Or that each generation sets the pattern of defiance of good that the following one imitates, over and over again throughout history. [rw]
Or: Possibly it is an awkward attempt to James to represent in Greek some Aramaic phrase for “natural impulses” or “passions.” 
and it is set on fire of hell. James does not shrink from tracing sins of speech to their source. The fire of man’s wrath is kindled from beneath, as the fire that cleanses is kindled from above. Bearing in our minds the wonder of the day of Pentecost, it is hardly too bold to say that we have to choose whether our tongue shall be purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit or defiled by that of Gehenna. 
And it is set on fire of hell — Put here for the devil; as, by a like metonymy, heaven is put for God. Satan influences the heart, and its wickedness overflows by the tongue, and tends, by its fatal consequences, to produce a very hell upon earth. “The use we ought to make of the doctrine taught in this highly figurative passage is obvious. Being surrounded with such a mass of combustible matter, we should take great care not to send from our tongues the least spark by which it may be kindled, lest we ourselves, with those whom we set on fire, be consumed in the flames which we raise.” — Macknight. 
hell. The latter word is that employed in the
Gospels, as here, for “Hell”, not simply the place of the dead, which is
expressed in the Greek by Hades, the unseen world, but the place of
torment. Primarily, the word is a Hebrew
one, signifying the
The word Gehenna—in contradistinction to Hades, which is the place of departed spirits separated from the body—is always used in the N.T. to designate the place of punishment for body and soul united (Matthew 10:28). It is “the lake of fire” into which finally, after the general resurrection and judgment, the wicked shall be cast (Revelation -15), as well as Satan himself (Revelation ). The thought of our passage is, the tongue is set on fire by hell, that is, by him who has the center of his kingdom there, by the devil himself. 
In depth: Jewish
thought on the harm that can be multiplied by an unwise tongue spouting error .
Cf. Pirqe Aboth, i. 18. “Whoso
multiplies words occasions sin. . . . Abtalion said, Ye wise, be guarded in your words; perchance
ye may incur the debt of exile, and be exiled to the place of evil waters; and
the disciples that come after you may drink and die, and the Name of Heaven be
WEB: For every kind of animal, bird, creeping thing, and thing in the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind.
Young’s: For every nature, both of beasts and of fowls, both of creeping things and things of the sea, is subdued, and hath been subdued, by the human nature.
Conte (RC): For the nature of all beasts and birds and serpents and others is ruled over, and has been ruled over, by human nature.
3:7 For every kind of beasts. Every kind humans have encountered—or, at least, so normal is it that it is a practical “rule of thumb” . . . though if one tries hard enough one theoretically might find an exception here and there. But not enough to revoke the generalization that it is a normally fully valid “rule” of life. [rw]
The inferior creation arranged under its usual fourfold classification—beasts of the earth, fowls of heaven, creeping things, and fish of the sea. 
and of birds. The creatures that fly in the sky above us. [rw]
and of serpents. Serpents is too specific for the third word, and it would be better to give the rendering which it commonly has elsewhere, of “creeping things.” 
and of things in the sea. Covering any and all kinds of aquatic creatures that come into regular contact with humans. [rw]
is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind. In other words, this is nothing new. This is the way it is both now and has been in the past. [rw]
The assertion may seem at first somewhat hyperbolical, but the well-known cases of tame rats and tame wasps, the lion of Androcles and the white fawn of Sertorius, furnish what may well be termed “crucial instances” in support of it. The story related by Cassian (Coll. xxiv. 2), that St John in his old age kept a tame partridge, makes it probable that St James may have seen, among his fellow-teachers, such an instance of the power of man to tame the varied forms of animal life around him. 
Or: Better, ‘is subdued,’ as we can hardly say that all the inferior animals are tamed, many of them being incapable of being so; but they may all be subdued. 
WEB: But nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
Young’s: and the tongue no one of men is able to subdue, it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Conte (RC): But no man is able to rule over the tongue, a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
3:8 But the tongue can no man tame. Of another; no, nor his own, without peculiar [= special] help from God. 
There is a special force in the Greek tense for “tame”, which expresses not habitual, but momentary action. James had learnt, by what he saw around him, and yet more, it may be, by personal experience, that no powers of the “nature of man” were adequate for this purpose. He had learnt also, we must believe, that the things which are impossible with man are possible with God. 
it is an unruly evil. There be but five virtues of the tongue reckoned by philosophers. But there are 24 different sins of the tongue, as Peraldus recounteth them. The Arabians have a proverb, Cave ne feriat lingua tua collum tuum: Take heed thy tongue cut not thy throat. 
full of deadly poison. Literally, death-bringing. For the idea compare “the poison of asps is under their lips,” Psalms 140:3. The adjective is found in the LXX version of Job 33:23, for “angels or messengers of death.” 
“The poison of asps is under their lips” [Romans ]. It is the means of diffusing moral and spiritual death all around. It is capable of destroying peace, purity, innocence, even faith in God. 
It keeps stirring up the power of sin still remaining in us. We can only tame the tongue in so far as we allow the Spirit of God to rule our hearts. If we wish to rule the tongue, we must rule our thoughts, and if we would rule our thoughts, we must begin with the heart, “for out of the heart come forth evil thoughts” (Matthew ). 
WEB: With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the image of God.
Young’s: with it we do bless the God and Father, and with it we do curse the men made according to the similitude of God.
Conte (RC): By it we bless God the Father, and by it we speak evil of men, who have been made in the likeness of God.
3:9 Therewith. Literally, ‘in it,’ ‘acting in the sphere of the tongue;’ hence, instrumentally, ‘by it.’ 
bless we God. To praise God is the proper use of the tongue. 
God, even the Father [Lord and Father, ESV, NASB, NIV]. The combination “Lord and Father” as a designation of God occurs nowhere else in the Bible. In we have “our God and Father.” 
and therewith curse we men. Thus showing that our profession of love towards God is empty and insincere. Compare 1 John 4:20. 
And: A proof that the tongue is a “restless evil” [verse 8]. A man may not only be double-minded (1:7), but also double-tongued—with the same tongue blessing God and cursing man made in the image of God. 
which are made after the similitude of God. Bear his image as rational and immortal beings, and ought therefore to be the objects of our love. 
This place is of considerable theological importance, for it teaches us that the image of God in man is not wholly obliterated. Man in his fallen state retains some, if not much of the image of God, and the remains of this image we must reverence, and behold in it the promise of better things. 
Man was originally created after the Divine image (Genesis ); and this image, although marred and obscured, is not, as some rashly affirm, obliterated by sin. Thus murder was declared to be punishable by death, because man was made in the image of God (Genesis 9:6). Man in his understanding and affections, and especially in his conscience, still bears the traces of the moral image of his Creator; indeed, it is by reason of this resemblance that we can attain to a knowledge of the perfections of God, and are rendered capable of religion. And this Divine image obscured by sin is restored by Christ (Colossians ). This Divine similitude, then, we ought to respect both in ourselves and in others. He who curses man curses the image of God, and consequently God Himself in His image. It is evident that the reference is not to the original condition of man prior to the fall, but to his present state; for thus only can there be any force in the apostle’s remark. 
WEB: Out of the same mouth comes forth blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
Young’s: out of the same mouth doth come forth blessing and cursing; it doth not need, my brethren, these things so to happen.
Conte (RC): From the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so!
Out of the same mouth. Why is this? Because man is a paradox, inasmuch as there is in him that which proceedeth from God, and that which proceedeth from the evil one. 
Ancient recognition of this human inconsistency: Plutarch relates that “Amasis, king of
Examples of “out of
the same mouth:” As
it did once out of the mouth of Pope Julius II, who in the battle of Ravenna on
Easter Day, between him and the French, as he sat by the fire reading his
prayers, and having news of the defeat, he flung away his book, saying, Sit
ergo Gallus in nomine diabolorum,
Let Gaul be in the name of the demons.
The devil take the French. A loaf of the same bran was that foul mouthed
cardinal, who entering the city of Paris, and being met by the people who
begged his blessing, blessed them at first; but when they came thicker upon
him, and hindered his passage, he cursed them as fast; using these words, Quandoquidem hic populus
vult decipi, decipiatur in nomine diaboli, i.e.
Since this people will needs be deceived, let them be deceived in the
devil’s name. Os sceleratum
et profanum! Plutarch in Dion
tells of a land about
proceedeth blessing and cursing. The tongue can speak either--or both. It is an instrument to be used for either good or bad. Which will be use it for? It's like a gun: it can be used to gain food or it can be used to kill someone who angers us. It is morally "neutral" until actually used. [rw]
My brethren. You aren’t outsiders. You are my spiritual kin. Why haven’t you, of all people, already learned this? [rw]
these things ought not so to be. Properly, “it is not becoming,” or “it is not fitting” that these things should occur, and now he shows [in verses 11-12] that such a thing is unnatural. 
WEB: Does a spring send out from the same opening fresh and bitter water?
Young’s: doth the fountain out of the same opening pour forth the sweet and the bitter?
Conte (RC): Does a fountain emit, out of the same opening, both sweet and bitter water?
Doth a fountain. Margin, “hole.” The Greek word means “opening, fissure,” such as there is in the earth, or in rocks from which a fountain gushes. 
send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? God's "unspeaking" creation was made so it was impossible to do "contradictory" things like these. Why, then, as God's moral creation, do we dare bend our nature to violate that intended principle of uniformity? [rw]
WEB: Can a fig tree, my brothers, yield olives, or a vine figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh water.
Young’s: is a fig-tree able, my brethren, olives to make? or a vine figs? so no fountain salt and sweet water is able to make.
Conte (RC): My brothers, can the fig tree yield grapes? Or the vine, figs? Then neither is salt water able to produce fresh water.
Can the fig tree,
my brethren, bear olive berries?
The comparison here also has an eminently local character. The court-yard of well-nigh every house had
its vine and fig-tree (2 Kings ). The
either a vine, figs? That is, no tree can bring forth fruits inconsistent with its nature. The illustration here is not, that we must not expect bad fruits from a good tree, or conversely, good fruits from a bad tree, according to our Lord’s illustration: ‘Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?’ (Matthew ); but only that we must not expect different fruits from the same tree—figs and olives from the fig tree, or figs and grapes from the vine. 
so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Or, as other manuscripts have it, ‘so neither can salt water bring forth sweet;’ the salt water referring to the cursing, and the sweet or fresh water to the blessing. That cursing and blessing should proceed from the same mouth is as great an incongruity as that salt and fresh water should flow from the same spring. In the natural world no such incongruity exists, as does in the moral world. Man is a self-contradiction, acting continually inconsistently with his nature. 
The comparison seems at first to break down, as the fact which it was meant to illustrate was that “blessing and cursing” did issue from the same mouth. What is meant, however, is that in such a case, the “blessing” loses its character, and is tainted with the bitterness of the cursing. The prayers and praises of the hypocrite who cherishes hatred in his heart, are worse than worthless. 
WEB: Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good conduct that his deeds are done in gentleness of wisdom.
Young’s: Who is wise and intelligent among you? let him shew out of the good behaviour his works in meekness of wisdom.
Conte (RC): Who is wise and well-taught among you? Let him show, by means of good conversation, his work in the meekness of wisdom.
Who is a wise man. That is, Who among you professes to be such? The Jews were great pretenders to wisdom, and they as well as the Greek sophists gloried in the title of wise men; and indeed an assertion of wisdom is a general feature of the human race; humility is the rarest of virtues. 
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge. The adjective corresponding to “endued with knowledge” (literally knowing or understanding) is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but occurs in the LXX of Deuteronomy 1:13, 15; 4:6; Isaiah 5:21. Both qualities were required in one who claimed to be, as in James 3:1, a “Master” or “Teacher,” and James, in strict sequence of thought, proceeds to point out how the conditions may be fulfilled. 
There is not much difference between these two epithets, ‘wise’ and ‘endued with knowledge.’ Some understand wisdom as intelligence generally, and knowledge as a practical insight which judges correctly in particular cases. But, if we were to distinguish them, we would rather say that wisdom denotes the adaptation of means to ends, and knowledge the acquisition of particular facts; the knowledge of facts constitutes the materials with which wisdom works. 
Connection with previous section: With this verse a new section of the Epistle apparently begins, and yet in strict connection with what precedes. The connection appears to be as follows: The want of command over our tongues argues a defect in wisdom and knowledge; so that if you do not govern your tongues, your boast of these qualities is a mere pretence. 
among you? They need not look half way around the world to find such people. They can—or should!—be able to find such people in the very community they live in. But the point is not so much whether others may manifest this mind frame, but that they themselves are obligated to do so. [rw]
let him shew out of a good conversation [conduct, NKJV] his works. Your conduct/behavior manifests your "works"--showing that James uses "works" not of obeying some church ordained demands but as synonymous with the proper Christian lifestyle . . . what you say, do, and how you behave. It is these works that bring you praise from God and not the works ordained by some religious institution. [rw]
with meekness of wisdom. Not to be rendered ‘in a meek wisdom,’ or ‘in a wise meekness;’ but the genitive of possession, ‘in wisdom’s meekness,’ that is, in that meekness which is the proper attribute of true wisdom; the meekness which belongs to wisdom and proceeds from it. Compare the somewhat similar sentiment of the psalmist: ‘What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile’ (Psalms 34:12-13); for the meekness of wisdom is seen in the government of the tongue. 
WEB: But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, don't boast and don't lie against the truth.
Young’s: and if bitter zeal ye have, and rivalry in your heart, glory not, nor lie against the truth.
Conte (RC): But if you hold a bitter zeal, and if there is contention in your hearts, then do not boast and do not be liars against the truth.
But if ye have bitter envying. The word “bitter” is perhaps added to “envy” because the Greek word “zeal” was neutral, and admitted of a good meaning. 
and strife [self-seeking, NKJV]. Or rather factiousness, contention, party-strife; the reference being specially to religious controversies. 
in your hearts. Not necessarily in what you say but in what is really motivating your conduct. [rw]
0glory [boast, NKJV] not. The churches addressed by James were troubled by the contentions of self-appointed teachers who were proud of boasted knowledge, who were fond of dispute, who were bitter in their discussions, who were more eager to defeat their opponents than to establish the truth. Having rebuked their evil use of the tongue, James suggests that the fault is due to their evil hearts, and that their vaunted wisdom, judged by its expression, is false and unreal. Unfortunately the persons described are not confined to the class of teachers or to the churches of the first century. The spirit here reproved is manifested to-day by many who profess to know Christ, and who claim, in their angry disputes, to be defending His cause. 
and lie not against the truth. By falsely boasting of these as the fruits of true wisdom, which is to slander God’s truth. 
Or: Some would interpret, “lie not against the facts of the case.” Better, lie not against the Christian truth revealed in the Gospel. If you have such a bitter spirit in your hearts, your Christian profession is a lie (1 John 1:6). 
WEB: This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, sensual, and demonic.
Young’s: this wisdom is not descending from above, but earthly, physical, demon-like.
Conte (RC): For this is not wisdom, descending from above, but rather it is earthly, beastly, and diabolical.
This wisdom. That which is envious, quarrelsome, and leads to contention. 
descendeth not from above. There are no heavenly aspirations about it; it overlooks or forgets the unseen world; it is limited to the affairs of the present life, 
but is earthly. The
counterfeit wisdom is “earthly” in its nature and
origin as contrasted with that which cometh from above. (
So far from being heavenly, it is of this world—taking its inspiration from the mind and maxims of this world. 
Sensual [natural, NASV; unspiritual, ESV,
NIV]. The word is used by
classical writers for that which belongs to the “soul” as contrasted with the
“body.” This rested on the twofold
division of man’s nature. The psychology
of the New Testament, however, assumes generally the threefold division of
body, soul, and spirit. The adjective
formed from “soul” acquired a lower meaning, almost the very opposite of that
which it once had, and expresses man’s state as left to lower impulses without
the control of the spirit. So
Or: Hardly a correct rendering; literally, ‘belongs to the soul,’ not to the spirit. The contrast is well brought out in Jude 1:19: ‘sensual, not having the spirit.’ Elsewhere the word is translated ‘natural.’ ‘There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body’ (1 Corinthians ). ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God’ (1 Corinthians ). There is a distinction drawn in Scripture between the soul and the spirit; the soul is the intellectual nature of man, that which qualifies him for this world; the spirit is his religious nature, that which renders him capable of religion, and assimilates him to God. Hence, then, the word is to be translated ‘natural,’ as upon the whole the best equivalent. This wisdom appertains to our natural mental powers, but takes no cognizance of our spiritual powers; it regards man as an intellectual being capable of knowledge, rather than as a spiritual being capable of holiness. These two epithets, earthly and natural, are perhaps negative qualities; the third quality is positively sinful. 
devilish. In “devilish” we have yet a darker condemnation. Our English use of the same word, “devil,” for the two Greek words diabolos and dœmonion, tends, however, to obscure St James’s meaning. The epithet does not state that the false wisdom which he condemns came from the devil, or was like his nature, but that it was demon-like, as partaking of the nature of the “demons” or “unclean spirits,” who, as in the Gospels, are represented as possessing the souls of men, and reducing them to the level of madness. Such, St James says, is the character of the spurious wisdom of the “many masters” of James 3:1. Met together in debate, wrangling, cursing, swearing, one would take them for an assembly of demoniacs. Their disputes were marked by the ferocity, the egotism, the boasting, the malignant cunning of the insane. 
WEB: For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is confusion and every evil deed.
Young’s: for where zeal and rivalry are, there is insurrection and every evil matter.
Conte (RC): For wherever envy and contention is, there too is inconstancy and every depraved work.
For where envying. Where you are more concerned with what you have—in money, status, or respect—than in what you are. [rw]
and strife is. Needless conflict, disagreement, controversy. [rw]
there is confusion. This seems to point to the strifes and wranglings of parties and wranglings of parties and sects rather than of private persons. 
Certainly the reference is primarily to religious controversy; but the supposition that the controversy between the Jewish and Gentile Christians is here referred to is without foundation. 
Troublemakers naturally seek out their “kin” or “converts,” thereby magnifying their negative impact upon a congregation. However practical experience should show most folk that even one seriously irresponsible individual can produce an amazing amount of turmoil and ill-will within a congregation! The situation described by James would exist in either case. [rw]
The God whom the believer seeks to glorify “is not a God of confusion, but of peace” (1 Corinthians ). See also 2 Corinthians 12:20; Philippians 2:3. 
and every evil work [thing, NKJV]. It is the “wisdom” of making yourself great in disregard of the rights and well-being of all or any others. 
Neither Paul nor James seems to have the least idea that divisions in the Church are healthy, as proceeding from the right and due exercise of private judgment, or at least a sign of life of some sort. They always regard them as evil, and always proceeding from beneath and never from above. 
WEB: But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
Young’s: and the wisdom from above, first, indeed, is pure, then peaceable, gentle, easily entreated, full of kindness and good fruits, uncontentious, and unhypocritical: --
Conte (RC): But within the wisdom that is from above, certainly, chastity is first, and next peacefulness, meekness, openness, consenting to what is good, a plenitude of mercy and good fruits, not judging, without falseness.
But the wisdom that is from above. Compare 1 Corinthians 2:6-7. The wisdom which has a heavenly origin, or which is from God. This does not refer to the doctrines of religion, but to its spirit. 
is first pure. In its nature, and in its effects on the person himself and on others. 
Pure from worldly alloy; pure from double aims, as well as pure from what is usually called impurity. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” [Matthew 5:8]. Bengel says well: “He here anticipates, as it were. Being about to commend peace, he first removes that unholy peace with the world which collects together and cements in one indiscriminate mass that which comes in its way.” 
This word and its cognates are comparatively rare in the N.T., being chiefly found in the Pauline Epistles. These words are used in the LXX for the ceremonial cleanness required by the Levitical law; but this is not what James refers to here. In classical Greek the word is defined as “filled with religious awe; sacred, undefiled, impartial,” &c. It has been pointed out that it implies just that susceptibility to the influence of the spirit, the absence of which is denoted by “earthly, sensual, devilish.” Perhaps the term “consecrated,” as used in the phrase “a consecrated life,” would best express the meaning here (cf. Philippians 1:16; 1 Peter 3:2; 1 John 3:3). It is sometimes used in the N.T. in the special sense of “chaste” (2 Corinthians 11:2, &c.); but obviously its meaning cannot be so narrowly limited here. In Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” a different Greek word is used. 
The relationship of “purity” to doctrinal issues: Purity is [wisdom’s] primary quality; all other qualities of heavenly wisdom are subservient to this. We must, however, beware of perverting this remark in the interests of intolerance and party-strife; these are the bitter fruits, not of heavenly, but of earthly wisdom. 
And: This passage should not be applied, as it often is, to the doctrines of religion, as if it were the first duty of a church to keep itself free from errors in doctrine, and that this ought to be sought even in preference to the maintenance of peace--as if it meant that in doctrine a church should be “first pure, then peaceable;” but it should be applied to the individual consciences of men, as showing the effect of religion on the heart and life. 
then peaceable. Opposed to envy and party-strife; desirous to make and maintain peace. The spirit of love will cause us, as much as possible, to live peaceably with all men; instead of strife there will be a readiness to be reconciled. 
Desirous of making and maintaining peace; and willing, in order thereto, to sacrifice any thing, except important truth and manifest duty. 
It is true the Scriptures do not teach that “doctrinal purity” is to be preferred to a “peaceful spirit.” However pure a man’s doctrine may be, if he has not the peaceful spirit he is none of Christ’s. But the common view of this passage is not chargeable with any such absurdity. It supposes only that there may be circumstances in which the spirit of peace, though possessed, cannot be exercised, except in meek submission to wrong for conscience sake; never can it turn traitor to truth, or make any compromise with error. 
gentle. It is “gentle,” not always insisting upon its rights, considerate of others, characterized by “sweet reasonableness.” 
Kind, forbearing, considerate, making every allowance for the ignorance and frailties of others, imitating the character of Him who is meek and lowly—‘the gentle Jesus.’ 
Compare “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1). 
and easy to be intreated [willing to yield, NKJV]. It is not stubborn, not refusing to do a thing because it has been suggested by another, submissive, tractable, conciliatory. 
Ready to welcome truth from whatever quarter it may come, not refusing the guidance of others. 
full of mercy. Pity for the unfortunate, and judicious compassion for the guilty. 
Merciful in word, in judging, in making all needful allowances; but it must be taken to include the outward works of mercy to the poor and distressed, for with it is associated “good fruits.” 
and good fruits. The reverse of “evil work,” James 3:16. 
without partiality. Whole-hearted, undivided, impartial. 
As Bengel explains, “not making a difference when it is not necessary; for instance, between the great and the humble.” 
and without hypocrisy. It needs none; it has nothing to hide, it makes no pretense, it is absolutely honest and sincere. 
Frank, open. 
There is no disguise or mask assumed. What the man pretends to be, he is. 
On the Greek word play underlying “without partiality . . . and hypocrisy.” These two clauses are two Greek words in the original which have similar terminations, and so make a word-echo. We might nearly parallel them by the words, neither hypercritical, nor hypocritical. The first of the two Greek words may signify, making no undue distinctions, (hence fair, impartial,) as, for instance, between rich and poor. Or, it may mean unequivocal, unambiguous, clear from equivocation or just liability to being doubted. The latter of the two words is, accordingly, rendered rightly in the English translation. We might (with these last definitions of the two) preserve the terminal similarity of sound by, without equivocation or dissimulation. 
WEB: Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Young’s: and the fruit of the righteousness in peace is sown to those making peace.
Conte (RC): And so the fruit of justice is sown in peace by those who make peace.
And the fruit of righteousness. That which the righteousness here referred to produces, or that which is the effect of true religion. The meaning is, that righteousness or true religion produces certain results on the life like the effects of seed sown in good ground. 
That spirit which righteousness produces, leads peaceable men in a peaceable way to disseminate such views as tend to promote peace with God and peace with one another; thus bringing glory to God in the highest, and proclaiming peace on earth good-will to men. 
is sown in peace. We must remember all the fullness of meaning which the Hebrew mind attached to peace as the highest form of blessedness. 
Some render the words ‘into peace,’ meaning that they who are of a peaceful disposition will reap a harvest of peace both in this world and in the next; but this is giving a wrong meaning to the preposition. ‘In peace’ denotes the spirit with which the seed or fruit is sown. 
of [by, NKJV] them that make peace. If one is genuinely trying to encourage peaceful behavior and attitudes with others, the only way one can act is peacefully (“sown in peace”). To claim to be making peace while acting as if at war with others makes one look a hypocrite and fatally undermines efforts at anything other than a faked forced “reconciliation.” [rw]
The case that “by” should begin the description instead “of/for them that make peace.” This passage has caused no little perplexity to the commentators, and it must be conceded that the writer has not expressed himself with precision. Since fruit is not literally sown, the term may be taken in the so-called “pregnant” sense for the seed which produces the fruit. Righteousness is not “justification,” but the moral quality of uprightness, and its fruit is the moral conduct appropriate to it. The seed of which the outcome is this conduct, is sown in peace, which is emphatic in contrast with the “jealousy and faction” mentioned in verse 16. The sowing is not the act of God, but of the men themselves who make peace. Accordingly the translation, for them that make peace, is incorrect, and “by them,” etc., should take its place. Perhaps the passage was suggested to the writer’s mind by the “peaceable wisdom” of verse 17. Compare “peaceable fruit . . . even the fruit of righteousness” (Heb. xii. 11). 
The case that “for them” makes quite adequate sense. “For them that make peace.” This is better than by them, although it is true the believers who sow are the peacemakers, and these same persons also reap the harvest. They who sow the seed enjoy the fruit. (See Hebrews 12:11; Galatians 6:7.) Compare the portrait of true wisdom as drawn here by James, with that of love as portrayed in 1 Corinthians 13. 
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