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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
James 3



Verses 1-18

The Control of the Tongue

1, 2. Warning against undue eagerness to teach: cp. Matthew 12:37; Matthew 23:7; Romans 2:19-20; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 14:26-40; Ephesians 4:11. Masters] better, 'teachers.' The position of a teacher is one of great responsibility. Greater condemnation] RV 'heavier judgement' (Luke 12:48). We all frequently err (RV 'stumble,' better than AV offend). There is no such thing as human infallibility. That which is most likely to cause us to err is the tongue (James 3:3-12).

4. Governor] RV 'steersman.'

5. Great power is exercised by small things like a horse's bridle and a rudder. So also the tongue, although small, is very powerful, and generally for evil rather than for good. How great a matter] better, 'how great a wood.' A tiny spark can set on fire a great forest.

6. The tongue is.. a world of iniquity] better, 'the tongue maketh itself (or, becometh) like the wicked world.' 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. 'There is no divine law which the tongue cannot break' (R. W. Dale, 'Epistle of James,' 94). Course of nature] perhaps, 'the wheel of nature'—the whole circle or sphere of life.

Set on fire of hell (RV 'by hell')] i.e. the source from which this evil activity of the tongue springs is hell, the Gehenna of Fire.

8. Unruly] better, 'restless,' 'unstable,' 'never still.'

9-12. 'The tongue is not only mischievous, but also gives rise to inconsistency. With it we bless the God of love (and thereby profess that we are striving to be like Him), and in the same breath curse our fellow-men, made in His image. Nature should teach us to avoid such inconsistency. The purposes of nature are clear and single. Fig trees bear figs, and vines grapes. Salt water does not yield fresh.' The last clause means that, just as a fountain of bitter water cannot yield any that is sweet, so the man who speaks bitter words against his fellow-men cannot truly praise or love God (1 John 4:20).

13. Here St. James returns from the digression of James 3:3-12 to the subject of James 3:1, James 3:2. His readers desired to become teachers. But the first qualification for a teacher is wisdom. True wisdom defined, and contrasted with its counterfeit. Out of a good conversation] RV 'by his good life.' True wisdom is practical and gentle; false wisdom shows itself in strife and party spirit. If a contentious man boasts of his wisdom he is a liar.

15. Sensual] better, 'carnal,' 'belonging to the natural man' (1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Corinthians 15:44).

17. Easy to be intreated] better, 'teachable,' ready to welcome truth from whatever quarter it may come, not refusing the guidance of others. Without partiality] better, 'free from double-mindedness,'

18. Of them that make peace] better, 'by peacemakers.' The wise man is a peacemaker who sows good seed that in God's time will bear precious fruit.

To sum up. The heavenly wisdom is, (1) chaste, pure (in relation to its possessor); (2) peaceable (in its relation to others), (a) actively, 'reasonable,' (b) passively, 'easy to be persuaded'; (3) practical, 'full of pity and good works'; (4) certain of itself, 'without doubtfulness,' and therefore 'without hypocrisy.' Wisdom, in St. James's view, is moral rather than an intellectual quality.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on James 3:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.

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