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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
James 3

 

 

Verse 1

1. Two results are noted from the intemperate or unconsidered use of language: [1] The swiftness with which the evil spreads from an insignificant beginning. [2] The vast influence of words, which have large issues. A chance word which gives pain or which stimulates may influence a life. The thought of the irretrievable character of the word once spoken comes out in the Homeric phrase ποῖόν σε ἔπος φύγεν ἕρκος ὀδόντων Il. IV. 350 and frequently. Comp. Virgil’s account of fama—a thing spoken.

μὴ πολλοὶ διδάσκαλοι γίνεσθε, do not become many (of you), do not put yourselves under instruction with the view of being, teachers or Rabbis. The temptation to become a διδάσκαλος was great; for to no other class of the community were higher honours paid. “To speak with the teacher, to invite him to be the guest, to marry his daughter, Israel was taught to consider the highest honour. The young men were expected to count it their glory to carry the Rabbi’s burdens, to bring his water, to load his ass.” Hausrath, N. T. Times I. 105, Eng. Trans. Rabbi ben Joezer said: “Let thine house be a meeting-house for the wise; and powder thyself in the dust of their feet, and drink their words with thirstiness.” Pirke Aboth, I. 4, quoted by Hausrath.

In these circumstances to become a Rabbi was the ambition of every Israelite of leisure and ability. Even married men and those advanced in life became disciples in the synagogue schools, in order to obtain this dignity. Our Lord foresaw this danger for the Christian Church which St James denounces, Matthew 23:5-8. Note especially James 3:8 εἶς γάρ ἐστιν ὑμῶν ὁ διδάσκαλος, πάντες δὲ ὑμεῖς ἀδελφοί ἐστε, a word which St James seems to recall here by the introduction of ἀδελφοί μου.

We learn from Acts 13:1, 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 that the office of διδάσκαλος was recognised in the Christian Church or synagogue.

μεῖζον κρίμα, a severer judgment, a keener censure, than those who are not teachers. See Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47, οὗτοι λήμψονται περισσότερον κρίμα the context of which brings it into close connexion with this passage.

κρίμα is in itself a neutral word—a judgment or decision which may be either of acquittal or condemnation, ὧν τὸ κρίμα ἒνδικόν ἐστιν, Romans 3:8, whose judgment or verdict, here of condemnation, is just, οἱ δὲ ἀνθεστηκότες ἑαυτοῖς κρίμα λήμψονται, Romans 13:2, sentence of condemnation human and divine. ὁ γὰρ ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων κρίμα ἑαυτῷ ἐσθίει καὶ πίνει μὴ διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα, 1 Corinthians 11:29, where the context, especially 1 Corinthians 11:32, shews that ‘damnation’ or even ‘condemnation’ is too strong a word. κρίμα is here a divine judgment that disciplines and corrects in this world.

As regards the accent the only authority for κρῖμα is the length of the first syllable in a single passage, Aesch. Supp. 397. κρίμα is rightly preferred. See Dr Vaughan on Romans 2:2 and Dr Moulton’s note, Winer p. 57 (II. vi. 2).

λημψόμεθα, the use of the 1st person plural implies the authority of St James as himself a διδάσκαλος.


Verse 2

2. πολλά, in many ways apart from speech.

εἴ τις ἐν λόγῳ οὐ πραίει. Comp. γλώσσῃ σὺ δεινός· ἄνδρα δʼ οὐδένʼ οἶδʼ ἐγὼ | δίκαιον ὅστις ἐξ ἃπαντος εὖ λέγει. | KP. χωπὶς τό τʼ εἰπεῖν πολλὰ και τὰ καίρια Soph. Oed. Col. 806–808; si volumus aequi omnium rerum judices esse … hoc primum nobis suadeamus neminem nostrum esse sine culpa, Seneca de Ira LI. 27; ἄνθρωπος οὐκ ἔστι δίκαιος ἐν τῇ γῇ ὄς ποιήσει ἀγαθὸν καὶ οὐχ ἁμαρτήσεται, Ecclesiastes 7:20.

For the use of οὐ after εἰ, see note James 2:11.

τέλειος, see note James 1:4. The respect in which he is τέλειος is defined by the following clause δυνατὸςσῶμα. Control over the tongue implies perfect control over the whole body.

For χαλιναγωγῆσαι, see James 1:26. The word suggests the illustration which follows.


Verses 2-12

2–12. FROM THIS THOUGHT OF THE TEACHING OFFICE AND ITS RESPONSIBILITIES AND FAILURES THERE IS A NATURAL TRANSITION TO THE USE AND GOVERNMENT OF THE TONGUE. Yet so passionate and agitated is the rebuke, that we may imagine it to have been occasioned by an actual experience of gross slander or grievous inconsistency of conduct


Verse 3

3. εἰ δὲ τῶν ἴππων κ.τ.λ. A man’s tongue or speech is regarded as a force distinct from himself, just as his body is. If he can bring his tongue under control, he can bring his body under control; just as one who controls the horse’s mouth or the ship’s helm guides the whole horse or ship. τὸ σῶμα, the body, including its members, forces and affections. Comp. Romans 6:12 μὴ οὖν βασιλευέτω ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐν τῷ θνητῷ ὑμῶν σώματι εἰς τὸ ὑπακούειν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις αὐτοῦ κ.τ.λ. See also Romans 7:23; 1 Corinthians 9:27.

τῶν ἵππων depends directly on τὰ στόματα not on τοὺς χαλινούς. If we put their bits into horses’ mouths &c. καὶ marks the apodosis. For the thought comp. Soph. Ant. 483 σμικρῷ χαλινῷ δʼ οἶδα τοὺς θυμουμένους | ἵππους καταρτυθέντας.

μετάγομεν, drive or lead in different directions, μετά implies change of place.


Verse 4

4. ἰδού, in later Greek little more than a vivid particle of transition.

ὑπό, generally used of personal agency: ch. James 1:14 is hardly an exception to this. Comp. 1 Corinthians 6:12 ἀλλʼ οὐκ ἐγὼ ἐξουσιασθήσομαι ὑπότινος. Colossians 2:18 εἰκῇ φυσιούμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ νοὸς τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ.

μετάγεται. Singular according to the rule where the subject is regarded as a class: contrast with this ch. James 2:19 τὰ δαιμόνια πιστεύουσιν καὶ φρίσσουσιν, where τὰ δαιμόνια are regarded as separate personal agencies.

ὁρμή, voluntas O.L., impetus dirigentis V., impulse, will, desire of the steersman. In N.T. only here and Acts 14:5, where it probably bears the same meaning: see Page on that passage.


Verse 5

5. μεγάλα αὐχεῖ, boasteth great things. There is no thought of an unfounded boast. The achievements on which the tongue prides itself are real achievements.

ἰδοὺ ἡλίκον πῦρ κ.τ.λ.: a third similitude. The tongue is like a spark that sets on fire a mighty forest.

ἡλίκον, how small. Like quantulus in Latin, ἡλίκος has both meanings, ‘how great,’ ‘how small.’ The var. lect. ὀλίγον points to the latter signification here. Alford compares Lucian, Hermot. 5 παπαῖ, ὧ Ἑρμότιμε, ἡλίκους ἡμᾶς ἀποφαίνεις, οὐδὲ κατὰ τοὺς πυγμαίους ἐκείνους, ἀλλὰ χαμαιπετεῖς παντάπασιν ἐν χρῷ τῆς γῆς.

ἡλίκην ὓλην ἀνάπτει, in quam magna silva incendium fecit, O.L., quam magnam silvam incendit V.; ‘how great a matter’ A.V.; ‘how much wood’ R.V.; ‘how great a forest’ R.V. marg. The A.V. rendering ‘matter,’ i.e., a mass of materials, timber, firewood, etc., is a frequent and classical meaning of ὕλη from Homer downwards: Od. 3:257 πολλὴν δʼ ἐπεχεύατο ὕλην (shipbuilding material), so ὕλη ναυπηγησίμη Plato Legg. 705 c. But the prevailing use of the word in the sense of forest, and the aptness and frequency of the illustration, are in favour of that interpretation here: comp. Il. XI. 155 f. ὡς δʼ ὅτε πῦρ ἀΐδηλον ἐν ἀξύλῳ ἐμπέσῃ ὕλῃ· | πάντῃ τʼ εἰλυφόων ἄνεμος φέρει, οἱ δέ τε θάμνοι | πρόῤῥιζοι πίπτουσιν ἐπειγόμενοι πυρὸς ὁρμῇ. Pind. Pyth. III. 36 πολλὰν δʼ ὄρει πῦρ ἐξ ἑνὸς | σπέρματος ἐνθορὸν ἀίστωσεν ὕλαν. Plut. Symp. VII. p. 730 E τὸ πῦρ τὴν ὕλην ἐξ ἦς ἀνήφθη μητέρα καὶ πατέρα οὖσαν ἤσθιε. Psalms 82 (LXX.) 14 ὡσεὶ πῦρ ὅ διαφλέξει δρυμόν, ὡσεὶ φλὸξ κατακαύσαι ὄρη. See also Virg. Georg. II. 303, Aen. II. 304, x. 405, XII. 521. The passage in the Georgic indicates the hidden, unnoticed beginning; in Aen. II. the terror; in x. the swift progress; in II. and XII. the violence and destructive fury. Comp. also Lucr. 3:1243 f. ignis ubi ingentes silvas ardore cremarat … quacunque e causa flammeus ardor | horribili sonitu silvas exederat altis | ab radicibus et terram percoxerat igni.


Verse 6

6. καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα πῦρ. For the general sense of the difficult passage which follows, comp. Proverbs 16:24-30, especially the expressions: ἐπὶ δὲ τῶν ἑαυτοῦ χειλέων θησαυρίζει πῦρ, Proverbs 16:27; λαμπτῆρα δὸλου πυρσεύσει κακοῖς (not in Hebr.), Proverbs 16:28; κάμινός ἐστι κακίας (not in Hebr.), Proverbs 16:30 : and Sirach 28:10-26, especially ψίθυρον καὶ δίγλωσσον καταράσασθε, πολλοὺς γὰρ εἰρηνεύοντας ἀπώλεσαν. γλῶσσα τρητὴ πολλοὺς ἐσάλευσε καὶ διέστησεν αὐτοὺς ἀπὸ ἔθνους εἰς ἔθνος, καὶ πόλεις ὀχυρὰς καθεῖλε, καὶ οἰκίας μεγιστάνων κατέστρεψε, James 3:13-14.

A consideration of the structure of the sentence, the poetical form in which the thoughts are cast, also throws light on the meaning. From this it appears that the first thought is resumed and expounded in the last two lines, while the centre doublet contains a parallelism in itself. The effect is that of an underground flame concealed for a while, then breaking out afresh. Thus φλογίζουσα and φλογιζομένη refer to πῦρ, and σπιλοῦσα to κόσμος, though grammatically these participles are in agreement with γλῶσσα. A somewhat similar relation between the beginning and end of a clause may be noted in ch. James 2:5 ἀγαπητοίτοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν αὐτόν. The subjoined arrangement of the words may assist the reader:

καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα πῦρ,

ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας, ἡ γλῶσσα καθίσταται ἐν τοῖς μέλεσιν ἡμῶν,

ἡ σπιλοῦσα ὄλον τὸ σῶμα

καὶ φλογίζουσα τὸν τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως

καὶ φλογιζομένη ὑπὸ τῆς γεέννης.

ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας, universitas iniquitatis V., i.e. the sum total of iniquity. ‘The world of iniquity’ R.V., ‘that world …’ R.V. marg. This rendering, adopted by most editors ancient and modern, is open to question, (a) from the abruptness and difficulty of the expression itself, (b) from its want of relation to what follows, (c) from the presence of the article, (d) from the want of N.T. parallels for this signification. In the O.T., Proverbs 17:6 is cited as the only instance: τοῦ πιστοῦ ὄλος ὁ κόσμος χρημάτων. The expression occurs in the LXX. only, not in the Hebr. It is true that as Beyschlag remarks κόσμος is used to translate צָבָא; but in these passages it refers to the order of the heavenly host, not to the number or mass of it.

But ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας may also be rendered ‘the adornment’ or ‘embellishment of iniquity,’ that which gives it its fair outward show and yet conceals its inner foulness, the tongue or speech “robed to allure and fanged to rend and slay” (W. Watson). Comp. “Vice no longer made repulsive by grossness, but toned down by superficial refinements and decked in the tinsel of false chivalry.” Bp Stubbs, Const. Hist. II. 336. In favour of this rendering it may be urged (a) that it offers no strain on the sense of this passage, but falls in naturally with the context: (b) that it is the prevailing meaning of κόσμος in the O.T. and is so used in 1 Peter 3:3-4 ὁ ἔξωθεν ἐμπλοκῆς τριχῶν καὶ περιθέσεως χρυσίων ἢ ἐνδύσεως ἱματίων κόσμος: (c) that the guile and deceitfulness of the tongue, though the most obvious and dangerous evils of speech, if not included in this expression would be absent from St James’ description. This is indeed the predominant meaning of ‘to gloze’ and ‘gloss,’ words directly derived from γλῶσσα: “glozing the evil that is in the world” Jer. Taylor: “so glozed the tempter” Milton: “lay these glozes by” Shakspere: “a false glozing paradise” South. Comp. with this Eur. Troad. 981 μὴ ἀμαθεῖς ποίει θεὰς | τὸ σὸν κακὸν κοσμοῦσα: Med. 576 εὖ μὲν τούσδʼ ἐκόσμησας λόγους: Ion 834 οἱ συντιθέντες τἄδικʼ εἶτα μηχαναῖς | κοσμοῦσι. See also Cramer’s Catena ad loc. ὡσανεὶ ἔλεγεν, ὁ τῆς εὐγλωττίας πυρσός, ὅταν τοὺς μεγάλα πταίοντας κοσμεῖ, ἐγκαλλώπισμα δοκεῖ τῆς ἀδικίας. χρὴ τοιγαροῦν τῇ δεινότητι κεχρῆσθαι, οὐ πρὸς τὸ τὴν ἀδικίαν κοσμεῖν ἀλλὰ πρὸς τὸ τὴς ἀρετὴν σεμνύειν, τὴν καὶ χωρὶς λόγων ὑπέρλαμπρον. Comp. also 1 Thessalonians 2:5 οὔτε γάρ ποτε ἐν λόγῳ κολοκίας ἐγενήθημεν, καθὼς οἴδατε, οὔτε προφάσει πλεονεξίας and in Latin: Aen. IV. 172 conjugium vocat, hoc praetexit nomine culpam; Ov. Met. VII. 69 speciosaque nomina culpae │ imponis. Comp. also Psalms 5:9 (with this Matthew 23:29), Psalms 12:2, Psalms 28:3, Psalms 62:4; Isaiah 5:20; Jeremiah 9:8. The sentence thus interpreted might have been written ἡ γλῶσσακοσμοῦσα τὴν ἀδικίαν καὶ σπιλοῦσα ὅλον τὸ σῶμα. The evil tongue adorns and embellishes iniquity and yet it denies and stains the whole body or personality of a man.

σπιλοῦν from the post-classical σπίλος, a stain, for which the classical word is κηλίς: Lob. Phryn. 28.

With φλογίζουσα there is a return to the metaphor of πῦρ. φλογίζουσα is ἄπ. λεγ. in N.T.

τὸν τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως, rotam nativitatis V. τροχός, a wheel, is to be distinguished from τρόχος, a course. Comp. ἐκ τρόχων πεπαυμένοι Eur. Med. 46, and σύριγγες τʼ ἄνω τροχῶν ἐπήδων, Eur. Hipp. 1235. Here τὸν τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως is the wheel or revolution of a man’s life to which he was destined from his γένεσις, that for which he was created in the image of God, the natural life in the highest sense, comp. Tennyson’s “I was born to other things,” In Mem. cxx. Or, in a wider sense, the world’s divinely appointed course. This ordered life of the individual or of society the tongue has often set aflame by speech that curses (see below James 3:9) or stirs passion or suggests evil or creates slander and suspicion. On such words and their results, tragedies like Othello and Romola are founded. The metaphor suggests fierce and violent disturbance and ruin, φλόξ being often used of fire in its destructive aspect: Ζηνὸς ἄγρυπνον βέλος | καταιβάτης κεραυνὸς ἐκπνέων φλόγα, Aesch. P. v. 359: ναυσὶν ἐμβαλεῖν φλόγα, Eur. Rh. 120: τὰν φόνιον ἔχετε φλόγα, Eur. Troad. 1318.

For this sense of τροχός comp. τροχὸς ἅρματος γὰρ οἶα βίοτος τρέχει κυλισθείς Anacreon, IV. 7.

Some have seen in this passage a reference to the astrological use of γένεσις. Comp. Lat, ‘nativitas’ and Eng. ‘nativity’ in such expressions as ‘to cast a man’s nativity’—his destined life. The Clementine Homilies shew how prevalent such thoughts were in early times.

φλογιζομένη ὑπὸ τῆς γεέννης. Gehenna, valley of Hinnom, or of the sons of Hinnom, a valley to the south of Jerusalem, where in the days of Ahaz children were made to pass through fire to Moloch. Hence in after times accursed and regarded as the earthly type of the place of torment for the ungodly. See Matthew 5:22 τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός. Comp. also Book of Enoch, ch. liii, ‘I beheld a deep valley burning with fire; to this valley they brought monarchs and the mighty.’

For the poetical form of the whole of this passage see Bishop Jebb’s Sacred Literature, § 14.


Verse 7

7. γάρ introduces a further fact in illustration of the preceding thought—the indomitable character of the tongue. James 3:7 is subordinate to James 3:8, and might have been expressed by a concessive clause, ‘for though all creatures are subject to man, yet cannot he tame the tongue.’

ἑρπετῶν. Heb. רֶמֶשׂ, Genesis 1:24-25; Acts 10:12; Romans 1:23.

δαμάζεται καὶ δεδάμασται. The act is characterised as not only present, but as past with abiding result.

τῇ φύσει τῇ ἀνθρωπίνῃ. The dative is here instrumental. Note how St James exalts the dignity of man’s nature. He recognises an original and inherent superiority in that nature over the lower animals.

Comp. Soph. Antig. 332 ff. πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει | … κουφονόων τε φῦλον ὀρνίθων ἀμφιβαλὼν ἄγει | καὶ θηρῶν ἀγρίων ἔθνη, πόντου τʼ εἰνλίαν φύσιν | σπείραισι δικτυοκλώστοις | περιφραδὴς ἀνήρ.


Verse 8

8. ἀκατάστατον, restless, disquieted. ἀκατάσχετον, uncontrolled, unruly. For the reading see critical notes. For the thought comp. Hesiod, Ἔργα 761 δεινὴν δὲ βροτῶν ὑπαλεύεο φήμην· | φήμη γάρ τε κακὴ πέλεται κούφη μὲν ἀεῖραι | ῥεῖα μάλʼ ἀργαλέη δὲ φέρειν χαλεπὴ δʼ ἀποθέσθαι. | φήμη δʼ οὔτις πάμπαν ἀπόλλυται ἤν τινα πολλοὶ | λαοὶ φημίζουσι· θεός νύ τις ἐστὶ καὶ αὐτή.

μεστὴ ἰοῦ θανατοφόρου, comp. Psalms 141:3 ἰὸς ἀσπίδων ὑπὸ τὰ χείλη αὐτῶν.


Verse 9

9. ἐν αὐτῇ. The instrumental use of ἐν in N. T. is generally to be attributed to a Hebraism, introduced from the LXX., or due to the writer’s familiarity with the Semitic idiom: e.g. εἰ πατάξομεν ἐν μαχαίρῃ; Luke 22:49 : ἐὰν ὁμολογήσῃς ἐν τῷ στόματί σου, Romans 10:9 : ἀποκτεῖναι ἐν τῇ ῥομφαίᾳ, Revelation 6:8. But in many instances this use of ἐν may be explained on classical principles: comp. ἐν τίνι ἀλισθήσεται; (in what, &c.) Matthew 5:13, and ἐν φόνῳ μαχαίρης ἀπέθανον (in slaughter of the sword) Hebrews 11:37, with δῆσαι ἐν πέδαις Xen. An. IV. 3. 8, καθικόμενον ἐν τῇ ῥάβδῳ Lucian Dial. Mort. 23. 3. See Winer 485, and specially Dr Moulton’s note 3.

τὸν κύριον καὶ πατέρα. κύριον has here the O.T. sense of Jehovah. The collocation is unusual. God is regarded in His power and in His love (Beyschlag).

τοὺς ἀνθρώπους τοὺς καθʼ ὁμοίωσιν θεοῦ γεγονότας Comp. ποιήσωμεν ἄνθρωπον κατʼ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθʼ ὁμοίωσιν, Genesis 1:26. This designation conveys the gravity of the sin of cursing; it is a sin against God Himself. “Remanet nobilitas” Bengel; the image of God is not lost even through sin.

εὐλογοῦμενκαταρώμεθα. Comp. Philo de Decal. p. 196 οὐ γὰρ ὅσιον διʼ οὗ στόματος τὸ ἱερώτατον ὄνομα προφέρεται διὰ τούτον φθέγγεσθαί τι τῶν αἰσχορῶν.


Verse 10

10. οὐ χρή. χρή. here only in N.T.: it is not right or fitting. It is not the same as δεῖ, which implies moral obligation, duty. Here the unfitness or incongruity is expressed.


Verse 11

11. μήτι ἡ πηγὴ κ.τ.λ. An argument from natural analogy. This inconsistency of blessing and cursing with the same mouth is unnatural. We are reminded of Aristotle’s argument against usury—the unnaturalness of ‘barren metal’ bearing, having offspring (τόκος) as it were.

ἡ πηγή, the article generalises. Comp. Od. IV. 406 πικρὸν ἀποπνείουσαι ἁλὸς πολυβενθέος ὀδμήν: Herod. IV. 52 ἐκδιδοῖ γὰρ ἐς αὐτὸν κρήνη πικρή: Geor. II. 238 “salsa etiam tellus et quae perhibetur amara.”


Verse 12

12. συκῆ ἐλαίας ποιῆσαι κ.τ.λ. Comp. Matthew 7:16-17, where the thought is similar but not quite parallel.

ἁλυκὸν (ὕδωρ). So θερμόν, Aristoph. Nub. 1040: and in Latin frigida, calida, gelida (aqua). In LXX. ἁλυκός is always used of the Salt Sea (never called the Dead Sea in the Bible), e.g. ἔσται ἡ διέξοδος θάλασσα ἡ ἁλυκή, Numbers 34:12 : ἕως θαλάσσης Ἀραβὰ θαλάσσης ἁλυκῆς, Deuteronomy 3:17.


Verse 13

13. τίς σοφὸς καὶ ἐπιστήμων. St James is here thinking of σοφία and ἐπιστήμη as practical systems of life. σοφία as well as πίστις and ἔλεος must have its ἔργα. Comp. Ephesians 5:15 βλέπετε οὖν ἀκριβῶς πῶς περιπατεῖτε μὴ ὡς ἄσοφοι ἀλλʼ ὡς σοφοί, where the Apostle indicates a philosophy of life. σοφία, ἀκρίβεια and ἐπιστήμη are closely connected terms: see Aristotle Eth. Nic. I. 7:18. Comp. Sirach 16:26 ἐν ἀκριβείᾳ ἐπαγγελῶ ἐπιστήμην. σοφὸς καὶ ἐπιστήμων are also connected Deuteronomy 1:13; Deuteronomy 1:15; Deuteronomy 4:6 : δότε ἑαυτοῖς ἄνδρας σοφοὺς καὶ ἐπιστήμονας καὶ συνετοὺς εἰς τὰς φυλὰς ὑμῶν. Comp. Isaiah 33:6 σοφία καὶ ἐπιστήμη καὶ εὐσέβεια πρὸς τὸν Κύριον, Daniel 1:20 καὶ ἐν παντὶ ῥήματι σοφίας καὶ ἐπιστήμης ὦν ἐζήτησε παρʼ αὐτῶν ὁ βασιλεὺς κ.τ.λ.

σοφός, as in Classical Greek, is used of practical skill (thus Oholiab and Bezalel and his fellow-craftsmen are σοφοὶ τῇ διανοίᾳ, Exodus 36:1; Exodus 36:4; Exodus 36:8; comp. Arist. Eth. Nic. VI. 7 where the Margitis is cited: τὸν δʼ οὔτʼ ἂρ σκαπτῆρα θεοὶ θέσαν οὔτʼ ἀροτῆρα | οὔτʼ ἄλλως τι σοφόν) as well as of supreme and heavenly wisdom. If any distinction is to be drawn here ἐπιστήμων would refer to the trained and exact Rabbinical knowledge which would tempt its possessor to seek the office of a διδάσκαλος, James 3:1.

ἐκ τῆς καλῆς ἀναστροφῆς. ἀναστροφή lit. a turning back; of a ship returning for a second attack, διέκπλοι δὲ οὐκ εἰσὶν οὐδὲ ἀναστροφαί, Thuc. II. 89. So of a horse wheeling round, Xen. Mag. Eq. 3. 14, hence from the notion of turning about in a place, a habitation, δαιμόνων ἀναστροφή Aesch. Eum. 23. Then later, as here, a mode of life, in old English ‘conversation.’ Comp. Polyb. IV. 89 ὁ Φίλιππος κατά τε τὴν λοιπὴν ἀναστροφὴν καὶ κατὰ τὰς πράξεις τεθαυμασμένος. So in Apocr. ἴσθι πεπαιδευμένος ἐν πάσῃ ἀναστροφῇ σου, Tobit 4:14 and 2 Maccabees 5:8, and in N.T. τὴν ἐμήν ποτε ἀναστροφὴν ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ, Galatians 1:13; in two other passages of the Pauline Epp. Ephesians 4:22, 1 Timothy 4:12, and eight times in 1 and 2 Peter, in Hebrews 13:7 τὴν ἔκβασιν τῆς ἀναστροφῆς, the issue of their life. ἀναστροφή is therefore the life of movement and action. The life of Christian Wisdom and of ‘Zeal’ are contrasted in their outcome. καλός as a philosophical term is associated with that which is ideally perfect in life or art. ἡ καλὴ ἀναστροφή is therefore the perfect life of action.

ἐν πραΰτητι σοφίας, in mildness of wisdom, gentleness which is characterised by wisdom. Comp. mitis sapientia Laeli. See ch. James 1:21. The gentleness of wisdom is perhaps emphasized in contrast to the asperity of philosophic discussion, but here it is more especially opposed to the rivalry of religious parties among the Jews and to that fierce and fanatical spirit indicated by ζῆλος. In a good sense ζῆλος is used of passionate devotion to the cause of Jehovah, ὁ ζῆλος κυρίου τῶν δυνάμεων ποιήσει ταῦτα, 2 Kings 19:31; ὁ ζῆλος τοῦ οἴκος σου κατέφαγέν με, Psalms 68:9 cited by our Lord, John 2:17, the only passage where the word occurs in the Gospels. But comp. Σίμωνα τὸν καλούμενον ζηλωτήν, Luke 6:15 and the parallel καναναῖος from the Hebrew (קִנְאָה) equivalent to ζῆλος. Thus like other elements in Jewish life ‘zeal’ was turned to account in the kingdom of God. The zealots derived their tenets from the signal instances of zeal in the O.T. such as that of Phinehas Numbers 25:7; Numbers 25:11 or of Jehu 2 Kings 10:16. Then by a natural transition the word became associated with the thought of contention and strife: comp. ἔριδι καὶ ζήλῳ, Romans 13:13; ζῆλος καὶ ἔρις καὶ διχοστασίαι, 1 Corinthians 3:3; θυμοὶ ἐριθίαι, 2 Corinthians 12:20; ἔρεις ζῆλοι θυμοί, Galatians 5:20. St Paul however recognises its good side as a characteristic of Israel: ζῆλον θεοῦ ἔχουσιν· ἀλλʼ οὐ κατʼ ἐπίγνωσιν, Romans 10:2.


Verses 13-18

13–18. Another line of thought, also springing from the topio of teaching (James 3:1), is the right use of wisdom and knowledge (James 3:13), contrasted with a perverted use of them (James 3:14). Then follows a description of the false wisdom (James 3:15-16) and the true wisdom (James 3:17-18).

For a further treatment of σοφία in its N.T. sense, and of the distinction here drawn by St James between ἡ ἄνωθεν σοφία and that designated as ἐπίγειος, ψυχική, δαιμονιώδης, see Introduction, p. xxxviii. Here it will suffice to say that ἡ ἄνωθεν σοφία is that beautiful conception of wisdom or Chokmah, which had sprung up among the Jews after the return from Babylon, and which is embodied chiefly in the books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Proverbs and Job. By the contrasted earthly σοφία appears to be meant not Hellenic or Græco—Roman philosophy, degraded though it was on its practical side at this epoch, but rather the principles of the Zealots—that conception of the kingdom of God and consequent plan of life which Josephus himself terms a φιλοσοφία (Ant. XVIII. 1. 1) and which by its passionate and misguided zeal and mundane view of the destiny of Israel precisely answers to this description.


Verse 14

14. ζῆλον πικρόν, in strong contrast to πραϋ̓τητι σοφίας.

ἐριθείαν (ἐριθίαν W. H.), party spirit, intrigue, contention. The derivation is from ἔριθος, a day labourer; ἐν δʼ ἐτίθει τέμενος βαθυλήιον· ἔνθα δʼ ἔριθοι | ἤμων ὀξείας δρεπάνας ἐν χερσὶν ἔχοντες, Il. XVIII. 550; πότνιʼ Ἀθηναία, ποῖαί σφʼ ἐπόνασαν ἔριθοι, Theocr. Id. XV. 80. ἐριθεία rare in classics, see Arist. Pol. VIII. (v.) 2. 6 where it is used in the derived sense of party spirit or faction. Aristotle also uses the verb ἐριθεύεσθαι, Pol. VIII (v.) 3. 9, comp. Polyb. x. 22. 9; ἐριθεύεσθαι τοὺς νέους, to inveigle the young men into party measures. Not in LXX., in N.T. see Romans 2:8, τοῖς δὲ ἐξ ἐριθίας, Galatians 5:20, Philippians 1:17 οἱ δὲ ἐξ ἐριθίας, James 2:3 μηδὲν κατʼ ἐριθίαν.

Curtius, Etym. § 343, refers ἔριθος to the root αρ- the fundamental meaning of which is movement in direction of something with a view to attainment, as in ἀρέσθαι, ἄρνυμαι, μίσθαρνος. The last word explains ἔριθος, earning wages, and also ἐριθία in the sense of struggle for party ends &c. It may be added that there is no etymological connexion between ἐριθεία and ἔρις.

εἰ δὲ ζῆλον πικρὸν ἔχετε. If you have (as you have in fact) bitter zeal (πικρόν emphatic by position, and added because zeal is not in itself evil), do not go on glorying and lying against the truth, i.e. the truth which heavenly wisdom shews—the truth of Christ, the Christian faith. Bitter emulation and contentiousness are absolutely inconsistent with the truth as Christ taught it. St James therefore calls upon the brotherhood to give up that life of emulation and quarrelling and show by a true and noble life what the heavenly σοφία is. The warning is addressed to zealots, whether converted or unconverted Jews (St James had influence with both). The spirit of misdirected zeal, already a danger in the Church, developed into the Judaistic opposition to St Paul. The tendency was to boast of the privileges of Israel: comp. Romans 4:1-2; 2 Corinthians 11:18 ff.


Verse 15

15. αὕτη (σοφία), this false wisdom indicated above, the fanaticism of the zealot.

ἐπίγειος. Comp. εἰ τὰ ἐπίγεια εἶπον ὑμῖν καὶ οὐ πιστεύετε, πῶς ἐὰν εἴπω ὑμῖν τὰ ἐπουράνια πιστεύσετε; John 3:12 : τὰ ἐπίγεια φρονοῦντες, Philippians 3:19, see also 1 Corinthians 15:40; 2 Corinthians 5:1; Philippians 2:10. As applied to σοφία, ἐπίγειος denotes a wisdom which is limited by earthly conceptions.

ψυχική. ψυχικός is used in N.T. in distinction from πνευματικός, to indicate the lower animal life in contrast with the higher spiritual life. Comp. ψυχικὸς δὲ ἄνθρωπος οὐ δέχεται τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ θεοῦ, 1 Corinthians 2:14 : σπείρεται σῶμα ψυχικόν, ἐγείρεται σῶμα πνευματικόν, 1 Corinthians 15:44 : οὗτό εἰσινψυχικοὶ πνεῦμα μὴ ἔχοντες, Judges 1:19. Taken absolutely both in the classics and in Hellenistic Greek ψυχή signifies life in all its degrees and modes from the lowest vegetative life to the highest spiritual existence. This extent of meaning gives force to the expression: ὃς γὰρ ἂν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι, Matthew 16:25.

δαιμονιώδης, here only in N.T. In its extreme phase the desperate resistance to foreign power or to any infringement of the national religion exhibited characteristics which closely approached the phenomena of demoniacal possession.

The false σοφία looked to a time of material prosperity and to the satisfaction of desire.


Verse 16

16. ἀκαταστασία, opposed to the εἰρήνη of the heavenly wisdom and especially characteristic of the zealots. Comp. οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀκαταστασίας ὁ θεός, ἀλλʼ εἰρήνης, 1 Corinthians 14:33.

πᾶν φαῦλον πρᾶγμα, comp. πᾶς γὰρ ὁ φαῦλα πράσσων μισεῖ τὸ φῶς, John 3:20 : ἐκπορεύσονταιοἱ τὰ φαῦλα πράξαντες εἰς ἀνάστασιν κρίσεως, John 5:29.


Verse 17

17. ἡ ἄνωθεν σοφία, the heavenly wisdom, the supreme excellence of the religious life, in which the child Jesus kept advancing, προέκοπτεν τῇ σοφίᾳ, Luke 2:52, which was manifest in His manhood, πόθεν τούτῳ ἡ σοφία αὔτη; Matthew 13:54, and which guided His life, Matthew 11:19. It is described with enthusiasm 4 Maccabees 1:16 ff.; Sirach 51:13 ff. See on James 1:5 and Introduction. Comp. Book of Enoch ch. xlii, ‘wisdom found not a place on earth where she could inhabit; her dwelling therefore is in heaven.’

ἐπιεικής, from εἰκός, reasonable, fair, equitable. Arist. Eth. N. V. xiv. 8 says of the ἐπιεικής, ὁ μὴ ἀκριβοδίκαιος ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ἀλλʼ ἐλαττωτικός, καίπερ ἔχων τὸν νόμον βοηθόν. comp. Soph. O. C. 1125 f. ἐπεὶ τό γʼ εὐσεβὲς | μόνοις παρʼ ὑμῖν εὖρον ἀνθρώπων ἐγὼ | καὶ τοὐπιεικὲς καὶ τὸ μὴ ψευδοστομεῖν. In the N.T. ἐπιείκεια is noted as a leading characteristic of Christians, τὸ ἐπιεικὲς ὑμῶν γνωσθήτω πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις, Philippians 4:5 : it is required of a bishop to be ἐπιεικῆ, ἄμαχον, 1 Timothy 3:4 : of Christians generally ἀμάχους εἶναι, ἐπιεικεῖς, Titus 3:2. Like πραότης it is manifested in Christ Himself, παρακαλῶ ὑμᾶς διὰ τῆς πραότητος καὶ ἐπιεικείας τοῦ χριστοῦ, 2 Corinthians 10:1. Juvenal expresses the thought in the line: “mitem animum ac mores modicis erroribus aequos,” Sat. xiv. 15.

εὐπειθής, here only in N.T., suadibilis V., ‘easy to be intreated’ R.V., open to persuasion, the opposite of headstrong or obstinate.

ἀδιάκριτος, also ἄπ. λεγ. in N.T., non judicans V., ‘without variance’ R.V., ‘doubtfulness or partiality’ R.V. marg.

The various meanings are determined by the different senses of διακρίνεσθαι: and as the prevailing signification of the verb both in this epistle (i. 6 bis and possibly ii. 4) and elsewhere frequently (as Acts 10:20, Romans 14:23) is ‘to doubt,’ and as St James lays special stress on the sin of διψυχία, and as our Lord expressly rebukes the ὀλιγόπιστοι, the rendering in R.V. marg. ‘without doubtfulness’ is to be preferred to that given in the text.

ἀνυπόκριτος, comp. 1 Peter 1:22 τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν ἡγνικότες ἐν τῇ ὑπακοῇ τῆς ἀληθείας διὰ πνεύματος εἰς φιλαδελφίαν ἀνυπόκριτον—a quotation which illustrates εὐπειθής in this connexion. See also 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:5; and note our Lord’s frequent denunciation of hypocrisy.


Verse 18

18. καρπὸς δὲ δικαιοσύνης κ.τ.λ. δικαιοσύνης gen. of apposition, the fruit which consists of righteousness. The connecting thought between this and the preceding paragraph centres in δικαιοσύνη, which is regarded as the supreme aim and crown of the Christian life: comp. 2 Timothy 4:8 ὁ τῆς δικαιοσύνης στέφανος, and Matthew 5:6, where δικαιοσύνη occupies the central and culminating point of the beatitudes. In 4 Maccabees 1:18 δικαιοσύνη is noted as one of the ὀδέαι of σοφία. Bitter zeal and heavenly wisdom were alike sowing seed and the harvest was drawing on. But only for those who are now making peace (comp. μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί, Matthew 5:9) is the fruit of righteousness being sown in peace. For the zealots whose policy was resistance and war there would be a harvest of contention and hatred. Here too wisdom was justified by its results (ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων αὐτῆς). Zeal came to a bitter end at the siege of Jerusalem, while the true faith of Christ won its victory of peace.

τοῖς ποιοῦσιν, a dativus commodi.

 


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on James 3:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/james-3.html. 1896.

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Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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