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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

James 3

Verse 1

Be not many teachers (μη πολλο διδασκαλο γινεσθε). Prohibition with μη and present middle imperative of γινομα. "Stop becoming many teachers" (so many of you). There is thus a clear complaint that too many of the Jewish Christians were attempting to teach what they did not clearly comprehend. There was a call for wise teachers (verses James 3:13), not for foolish ones. This soon became an acute question, as one can see in I Cor. 12 to 14. They were not all teachers (1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 14:26). The teacher is here treated as the wise man (James 3:13-18) as he ought to be. The rabbi was the teacher (Matthew 23:7; John 1:38; John 3:10; John 20:16). Teachers occupied an honourable position among the Christians (Ephesians 4:11; Acts 13:1). James counts himself a teacher (we shall receive, James 3:1) and this discussion is linked on with James 1:19-27. Teachers are necessary, but incompetent and unworthy ones do much harm.

Heavier judgment (μειζον κριμα). "Greater sentence." See Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47 for περρισοτερον κριμα (the sentence from the judge, Romans 13:2). The reason is obvious. The pretence of knowledge adds to the teacher's responsibility and condemnation.

Verse 2

In many things (πολλα). Accusative neuter plural either cognate with πταιομεν or accusative of general reference. On πταιομεν (stumble) see on James 2:10. James includes himself in this list of stumblers.

If not (ει ου). Condition of first class with ου (not μη) negativing the verb πταιε.

In word (εν λογω). In speech. The teacher uses his tongue constantly and so is in particular peril on this score.

The same (ουτος). "This one" (not ο αυτος the same).

A perfect man (τελειος ανηρ). "A perfect husband" also, for ανηρ is husband as well as man in distinction from woman (γυνη). The wife is at liberty to test her husband by this rule of the tongue.

To bridle the whole body also (χαλιναγωγησα κα ολον το σωμα). See James 1:26 for this rare verb applied to the tongue (γλωσσαν). Here the same metaphor is used and shown to apply to the whole body as horses are led by the mouth. The man follows his own mouth whether he controls the bridle therein (James 1:26) or someone else holds the reins. James apparently means that the man who bridles his tongue does not stumble in speech and is able also to control his whole body with all its passions. See Titus 1:11 about stopping people's mouths (επιστομιζω).

Verse 3

If we put (ε βαλλομεν). Condition of the first class assumed as true.

The horses' bridles (των ιππων τους χαλινους). Hιππων (genitive plural of ιππος, horse, old word, in N.T. only here except in the Apocalypse), put first because the first of the several illustrations of the power and the peril of the tongue. This is the only N.T. example of χαλινος, old word for bridle (from χαλαω to slacken, let down), except Revelation 14:20.

That they may obey us (εις το πειθεσθα αυτους ημιν). Present middle infinitive of πειθω with εις το as a purpose clause with the dative ημιν after πειθεσθα and αυτους the accusative of general reference.

We turn about (μεταγομεν). Present active indicative of μεταγω, late compound to change the direction (μετα, αγω), to guide, in N.T. only here and verse James 3:4. The body of the horse follows his mouth, guided by the bridle.

Verse 4

The ships also (κα τα πλοια). Old word from πλεω, to sail (Matthew 4:21). Another metaphor like "horses" (ιππο). "There is more imagery drawn from mere natural phenomena in the one short Epistle of James than in all St. Paul's epistles put together" (Howson).

Though they are so great (τηλικαυτα οντα). Concessive participle of ειμ. The quantitative pronoun τηλικουτος occurs in the N.T. only here, 2 Corinthians 1:10; Hebrews 2:3; Revelation 16:18. If James had only seen the modern mammoth ships. But the ship on which Paul went to Malta carried 276 persons (Acts 27:37).

And are driven (κα ελαυνομενα). Present passive participle of ελαυνω, old verb, in this sense (2 Peter 2:17) for rowing (Mark 6:48; John 6:19).

Rough (σκληρον). Old adjective (from σκελλω, to dry up), harsh, stiff, hard (Matthew 25:24).

Are yet turned (μεταγετα). Present passive indicative of the same verb, μεταγω, in verse James 3:3. James is fond of repeating words (James 1:13; James 2:14; James 2:16; James 2:21; James 2:25).

By a very small rudder (υπο ελαχιστου πηδαλιου). For the use of υπο (under) with things see Luke 8:14; 2 Peter 2:7. There is possibly personification in the use of υπο for agency in James 1:14; James 2:9; Colossians 2:18. Πηδαλιου (from πηδον, the blade of an oar) is an old word, in N.T. only here and Acts 27:40. Ελαχιστου is the elative superlative as in 1 Corinthians 4:3 (from the Epic ελαχυς for μικρος).

The impulse (η ορμη). Old word for rapid, violent motion, here of the hand that worked the rudder, in N.T. only here and Acts 14:5 (rush or onset of the people).

Of the steersman (του ευθυνοντος). Present active genitive articular participle of ευθυνω, old verb, to make straight (from ευθυς, straight, level, Mark 1:3), in N.T. only here and John 1:23. Used also of the shepherd, the charioteer, and today it would apply to the chauffeur. "The twin figure of the control of horse and of ship are frequently found together in later Greek writers" (Ropes). As in Plutarch and Philo.

Willeth (βουλετα). Present middle indicative of βουλομα, common verb to will. Here intention of the steersman lies back of the impact of the hand on the rudder.

Verse 5

A little member (μικρον μελος). Μελος is old and common word for members of the human body (1 Corinthians 12:12; Romans 6:13, etc.).

Boasteth great things (μεγαλα αυχε). Present active indicative of αυχεω, old verb, here only in N.T. The best MSS. here separate μεγαλα from αυχεω, though μεγαλαυχεω does occur in Aeschylus, Plato, etc. Μεγαλα is in contrast with μικρον.

How much--how small (ηλικον--ηλικην). The same relative form for two indirect questions together, "What-sized fire kindles what-sized forest?" For double interrogatives see Mark 15:24. The verb αναπτε is present active indicative of αναπτω, to set fire to, to kindle (Luke 12:49, only other N.T. example except some MSS. in Acts 28:2). Hυλην is accusative case, object of αναπτε, and occurs here only in N.T., though old word for forest, wood. Forest fires were common in ancient times as now, and were usually caused by small sparks carelessly thrown.

Verse 6

The tongue is a fire (η γλωσσα πυρ). So necessarily since there is no article with πυρ (apparently same word as German feuer, Latin purus, English pure, fire). This metaphor of fire is applied to the tongue in Proverbs 16:27; Proverbs 26:18-22; Sirach 28:22.

The world of iniquity (ο κοσμος της αδικιας). A difficult phrase, impossible to understand according to Ropes as it stands. If the comma is put after πυρ instead of after αδικιας, then the phrase may be the predicate with καθιστατα (present passive indicative of καθιστημ, "is constituted," or the present middle "presents itself"). Even so, κοσμος remains a difficulty, whether it means the "ornament" (1 Peter 3:3) or "evil world" (James 1:27) or just "world" in the sense of widespread power for evil. The genitive αδικιας is probably descriptive (or qualitative). Clearly James means to say that the tongue can play havoc in the members of the human body.

Which defileth the whole body (η σπιλουσα ολον το σωμα). Present active participle of σπιλοω late Koine, verb, to stain from σπιλος (spot, also late word, in N.T. only in Ephesians 5:27; 2 Peter 2:13), in N.T. only here and Judges 1:23. Cf. James 1:27 ασπιλον (unspotted).

Setteth on fire (φλογιζουσα). Present active participle of φλογιζω, old verb, to set on fire, to ignite, from φλοξ (flame), in N.T. only in this verse. See αναπτε (verse James 3:5).

The wheel of nature (τον τροχον γενεσεως). Old word for wheel (from τρεχω, to run), only here in N.T. "One of the hardest passages in the Bible" (Hort). To what does τροχον refer? For γενεσεως see James 1:23 apparently in the same sense. Vincent suggests "the wheel of birth" (cf. Matthew 1:1; Matthew 1:18). The ancient writers often use this same phrase (or κυκλος, cycle, in place of τροχος), but either in a physiological or a philosophical sense. James may have caught the metaphor from the current use, but certainly he has no such Orphic or Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of souls, "the unending round of death and rebirth" (Ropes). The wheel of life may be considered either in motion or standing still, though setting on fire implies motion. There is no reference to the zodiac.

And is set on fire by hell (κα φλογιζομενη υπο γεεννης). Present passive participle of φλογιζω, giving the continual source of the fire in the tongue. For the metaphor of fire with γεεννα see Matthew 5:22.

Verse 7

Kind (φυσις). Old word from φυω, order of nature (Romans 1:26), here of all animals and man, in 2 Peter 1:4 of God and redeemed men.

Of beasts (θηριων). Old word diminutive from θηρ and so "little beasts" originally, then wild animals in general (Mark 1:13), or quadrupeds as here. These four classes of animals come from Genesis 9:2.

Birds (πετεινων). Old word for flying animals (from πετομα, to word from ερπω, to crawl (Latin serpo), hence serpents.

Things in the sea (εναλιων). Old adjective (εν, αλς, sea, salt) in the sea, here only in N.T. The four groups are put in two pairs here by the use of τε κα with the first two and the second two. See a different classification in Acts 10:12; Acts 11:6.

Is tamed (δαμαζετα). Present passive indicative of δαμαζω, old verb kin to Latin dominus and English tame, in N.T. only in this passage and Mark 5:4. The present tense gives the general picture of the continuous process through the ages of man's lordship over the animals as stated in Genesis 1:28.

Hath been tamed (δεδαμαστα). Perfect passive indicative of the same verb, repeated to present the state of conquest in some cases (domestic animals, for instance).

By mankind (τη φυσε τη ανθρωπινη). Instrumental case with repeated article and repetition also of φυσις, "by the nature the human." For ανθρωπινος see Acts 17:25.

Verse 8

No one (ουδεις). Especially his own tongue and by himself, but one has the help of the Holy Spirit.

A restless evil (ακαταστατον κακον). Correct reading, not ακατασχετον, for which see James 1:8. The tongue is evil when set on fire by hell, not evil necessarily.

Full of deadly poison (μεστη ιου θανατηφορου). Feminine adjective agreeing with γλωσσα, not with κακον (neuter). Ιου (poison here, as in Romans 3:13, but rust in James 5:3, only N.T. examples), old word. Genitive case after μεστη (full of). Θανατηφορου, old compound adjective (from θανατος, death, φερω, to bear or bring), death-bringing. Here only in N.T. Like the restless death-bringing tongue of the asp before it strikes.

Verse 9

Therewith (εν αυτη). This instrumental use of εν is not merely Hebraistic, but appears in late Koine writers (Moulton, Prol., pp. 11f., 61f.). See also Romans 15:6.

We bless (ευλογουμεν). Present active indicative of ευλογεω, old verb from ευλογος (a good word, ευ, λογος), as in Luke 1:64 of God. "This is the highest function of speech" (Hort).

The Lord and Father (τον κυριον κα πατερα). Both terms applied to God.

Curse we (καταρωμεθα). Present middle indicative of the old compound verb καταραομα, to curse (from καταρα a curse), as in Luke 6:28.

Which are made after the likeness of God (τους καθ' ομοιωσιν θεου γεγονοτας). Second perfect articular participle of γινομα and ομοιωσις, old word from ομοιοω (to make like), making like, here only in N.T. (from Genesis 1:26; Genesis 9:6), the usual word being ομοιωμα, resemblance (Philippians 2:7). It is this image of God which sets man above the beasts. Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18.

Verse 10

Ought not (ου χρη). The only use of this old impersonal verb (from χραω) in the N.T. It is more like πρεπε (it is appropriate) than δε (it is necessary). It is a moral incongruity for blessing and cursing to come out of the same mouth.

So to be (ουτως γινεσθα). "So to keep on happening," not just "to be," present middle infinitive of γινομα.

Verse 11

The fountain (η πηγη). Old word for spring (John 4:14).

Opening (οπης). Old word for fissure in the earth, in N.T. only here and Hebrews 11:38 (caves).

Send forth (βρυε). Present active indicative of βρυω, old verb, to bubble up, to gush forth, here only in N.T. The use of μητ shows that a negative answer is expected in this rhetorical question.

The sweet and the bitter (το γλυκυ κα το πικρον). Cognate accusatives with βρυε. Separate articles to distinguish sharply the two things. The neuter singular articular adjective is a common way of presenting a quality. Γλυκυς is an old adjective (in N.T. only here and Revelation 10:9), the opposite of πικρον (from old root, to cut, to prick), in N.T. only here and verse James 3:14 (sharp, harsh).

Verse 12

Can? (μη δυναται;). Negative answer expected. See the same metaphor in Matthew 7:16.

Fig-tree (συκη). Old and common word (Matthew 21:19).

Figs (συκα). Ripe fruit of η συκη.

Olives (ελαιας). Elsewhere in the N.T. for olive-trees as Matthew 21:1.

Vine (αμπελος). Old word (Matthew 26:29).

Salt water (αλυκον). Old adjective from αλς (αλας salt), here only in N.T.

Verse 13

Who (Τις). Rhetorical interrogative like Luke 11:11. Common in Paul and characteristic of the diatribe. James here returns to the standpoint of verse James 3:1 about many teachers. Speech and wisdom are both liable to abuse (1 Corinthians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:1-3).

Wise and understanding (σοφος κα επιστημων). Σοφος is used for the practical teacher (verse James 3:1), επιστημων (old word from επισταμα, here only in N.T.) for an expert, a skilled and scientific person with a tone of superiority. In Deuteronomy 1:13; Deuteronomy 1:15; Deuteronomy 4:6, the two terms are practically synonyms.

Let him shew (δειξατω). First aorist active imperative of δεικνυμ, old verb to show. As about faith in James 2:18. Emphatic position of this verb.

By his good life (εκ της καλης αναστροφης). For this literary Koine word from αναστρεφομα (walk, conduct) see Galatians 1:13. Actions speak louder than words even in the case of the professional wise man. Cf. 1 Peter 1:15.

In meekness of wisdom (εν πραυτητ σοφιας). As in James 1:21 of the listener, so here of the teacher. Cf. Matthew 5:5; Matthew 11:29 and Zac 9:9 of King Messiah quoted in Matthew 21:5. Startling combination.

Verse 14

Bitter jealousy (ζηλον πικρον). Ζηλος occurs in N.T. in good sense (John 2:17) and bad sense (Acts 5:17). Pride of knowledge is evil (1 Corinthians 8:1) and leaves a bitter taste. See "root of bitterness" in Hebrews 12:14 (cf. Ephesians 4:31). This is a condition of the first class.

Faction (εριθιαν). Late word, from εριθος (hireling, from εριθευω to spin wool), a pushing forward for personal ends, partisanship, as in Philippians 1:16.

In your heart (εν τη καρδια υμων). The real fountain (πηγη, verse James 3:11).

Glory not (μη κατακαυχασθε). Present middle imperative of κατακαυχαομα, for which see James 2:13. Wisdom is essential for the teacher. Boasting arrogance disproves the possession of wisdom.

Lie not against the truth (ψευδεσθε κατα της αληθειας). Present middle imperative of ψευδομα, old verb, to play false, with μη carried over. Lying against the truth is futile. By your conduct do not belie the truth which you teach; a solemn and needed lesson. Cf. Romans 1:18; Romans 2:18; Romans 2:20.

Verse 15

This wisdom (αυτη η σοφια). All talk and disproved by the life, counterfeit wisdom, not real wisdom (James 1:5; James 3:17).

Coming down from above (κατερχομενη ανωθεν). As in James 1:5; James 1:17. All true wisdom comes from God.

Earthly (επιγειος). Old adjective, on earth (επι, γη), as in John 3:12, then with earthly limitations (Philippians 3:19), as here.

Sensual (ψυχικη). Old adjective, belonging to the ψυχη, the sensuous or animal life (1 Corinthians 2:14 and here).

Devilish (δαιμονιωδης). Late adjective from δαιμονιον (demon) and so demoniacal or demon-like, here only in N.T.

Verse 16

Confusion (ακαταστασια). Late word (from ακαταστατος), James 1:8; James 3:8), a state of disorder (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Vile (φαυλον). Kin to German faul, first slight, ordinary, then bad. The steps are cheap, paltry, evil. Opposed to αγαθα (good) in John 5:39.

Verse 17

First pure (πρωτον μεν αγνη). First in rank and time. Hαγνος is from the same root as αγιος (holy), old adjective, pure from fault, not half-good and half-bad, like that above.

Then peaceable (επειτα ειρηνικη). Old adjective from ειρηνη (peace), loving peace here, bringing peace in Hebrews 12:11 (only N.T. examples). But clearly great as peace is, purity (righteousness) comes before peace and peace at any price is not worth the having. Hence Jesus spurned the devil's peace of surrender.

Gentle (επιεικης). Old adjective (from εικος, reasonable, fair), equitable (Philippians 4:5; 1 Peter 2:18). No English word renders it clearly.

Easy to be entreated (ευπειθης). Old adjective (ευ, πειθομα), compliant, approachable. Only here in N.T.

Mercy (ελεους). Practical help (James 2:13; James 2:16).

Good fruits (καρπων αγαθων). Καλο καρπο in Matthew 7:17. Good deeds the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11).

Without variance (αδιακριτος). Late verbal adjective (from alpha privative and διακρινω, to distinguish). "Unhesitating," not doubting (διακρινομενος) like the man in James 1:6. Here only in N.T. This wisdom does not put a premium on doubt.

Without hypocrisy (ανυποκριτος). Late and rare verbal adjective (alpha privative and υποκρινω). Not hypocritical, sincere, unfeigned (Romans 12:9).

Verse 18

Is sown in peace (εν ειρηνη σπειρετα). Present passive indicative of σπειρω, to sow. The seed which bears the fruit is sown, but James catches up the metaphor of καρπος (fruit) from verse James 3:17. Only in peace is the fruit of righteousness found.

For them that make peace (τοις ποιουσιν ειρηνην). Dative case of the articular participle of ποιεω. See Ephesians 2:15 for this phrase (doing peace), and Colossians 1:20 for ειρηνοποιεω, of Christ, and Matthew 5:9 for ειρηνοποιο (peacemakers). Only those who act peaceably are entitled to peace.

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on James 3". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.