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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

James 4

Verse 1

Whence (ποθεν). This old interrogative adverb (here twice) asks for the origin of wars and fights. James is full of interrogatives, like all diatribes.

Wars (πολεμο)

--fightings (μαχα).

War (πολεμος, old word, Matthew 24:6) pictures the chronic state or campaign, while μαχη (also old word, 2 Corinthians 7:5) presents the separate conflicts or battles in the war. So James covers the whole ground by using both words. The origin of a war or of any quarrel is sometimes hard to find, but James touches the sore spot here.

Of your pleasures (εκ των ηδονων υμων). Old word from ηδομα. Ablative case here after εκ, "out of your sinful, sensual lusts," the desire to get what one does not have and greatly desires.

That war (των στρατευομενων). Present middle articular participle (ablative case agreeing with ηδονων) of στρατευω, to carry on a campaign, here as in 1 Peter 2:11 of the passions in the human body. James seems to be addressing nominal Christians, "among you" (εν υμιν). Modern church disturbances are old enough in practice.

Verse 2

Ye lust (επιθυμειτε). Present active indicative of επιθυμεω, old word (from επι, θυμος, yearning passion for), not necessarily evil as clearly not in Luke 22:15 of Christ, but usually so in the N.T., as here. Coveting what a man or nation does not have is the cause of war according to James.

Ye kill and covet (φονευετε κα ζηλουτε). Present active indicatives of φονευω (old verb from φονευς, murderer) and ζηλοω, to desire hotly to possess (1 Corinthians 12:31). It is possible (perhaps probable) that a full stop should come after φονευετε (ye kill) as the result of lusting and not having. Then we have the second situation: "Ye covet and cannot obtain (επιτυχειν, second aorist active infinitive of επιτυγχανω), and (as a result) ye fight and war." This punctuation makes better sense than any other and is in harmony with verse James 4:1. Thus also the anticlimax in φονευετε and ζηλουτε is avoided. Mayor makes the words a hendiadys, "ye murderously envy."

Ye have not, because ye ask not (ουκ εχετε δια το μη αιτεισθα υμας). James refers again to ουκ εχετε (ye do not have) in verse James 4:2. Such sinful lusting will not obtain. "Make the service of God your supreme end, and then your desires will be such as God can fulfil in answer to your prayer" (Ropes). Cf. Matthew 6:31-40.6.33. The reason here is expressed by δια and the accusative of the articular present middle infinitive of αιτεω, used here of prayer to God as in Matthew 7:7. Hυμας (you) is the accusative of general reference. Note the middle voice here as in αιτεισθε in James 4:3. Mayor argues that the middle here, in contrast with the active, carries more the spirit of prayer, but Moulton (Prol., p. 160) regards the distinction between αιτεω and αιτεομα often "an extinct subtlety."

Verse 3

Because ye ask amiss (διοτ κακως αιτεισθε). Here the indirect middle does make sense, "ye ask for yourselves" and that is "evilly" or amiss (κακως), as James explains.

That ye may spend it in your pleasures (ινα εν ταις ηδοναις υμων δαπανησητε). Purpose clause with ινα and the first aorist subjunctive of δαπαναω, old verb from δαπανη, cost (Luke 14:28 only in N.T.), to squander (Luke 15:14). God does not hear prayers like this.

Verse 4

Ye adulteresses (μοιχαλιδες). Μοιχο κα (ye adulterers) is spurious (Syrian text only). The feminine form here is a common late word from the masculine μοιχο. It is not clear whether the word is to be taken literally here as in Romans 7:3, or figuratively for all unfaithful followers of Christ (like an unfaithful bride), as in 2 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:24-49.5.28 (the Bride of Christ). Either view makes sense in this context, probably the literal view being more in harmony with the language of verses James 4:2. In that case James may include more than Christians in his view, though Paul talks plainly to church members about unchastity (Ephesians 5:3-49.5.5).

Enmity with God (εχθρα του θεου). Objective genitive θεου with εχθρα (predicate and so without article), old word from εχθρος, enemy (Romans 5:10), with εις θεον (below and Romans 8:7).

Whosoever therefore would be (ος εαν ουν βουληθη). Indefinite relative clause with ος and modal εαν and the first aorist passive (deponent) subjunctive of βουλομα, to will (purpose).

A friend of the world (φιλος του κοσμου). Predicate nominative with infinitive εινα agreeing with ος. See James 2:23 for φιλος θεου (friend of God).

Maketh himself (καθιστατα). Present passive (not middle) indicative as in James 3:6, "is constituted," "is rendered."

An enemy of God (εχθρος του θεου). Predicate nominative and anarthrous and objective genitive (θεου).

Verse 5

The Scripture (η γραφη). Personification as in Galatians 3:8; James 2:23. But no O.T. passage is precisely like this, though it is "a poetical rendering" (Ropes) of Exodus 20:5. The general thought occurs also in Genesis 6:3-1.6.5; Isaiah 63:8-23.63.16, etc. Paul has the same idea also (Galatians 5:17; Galatians 5:21; Romans 8:6; Romans 8:8). It is possible that the reference is really to the quotation in verse James 4:6 from Proverbs 3:34 and treating all before as a parenthesis. There is no way to decide positively.

In vain (κενως). Old adverb (Aristotle) from κενως (James 2:20), here alone in N.T. "Emptily," not meaning what it says.

Made to dwell (κατωικισεν). First aorist active of κατοικιζω, old verb, to give a dwelling to, only here in N.T.

Long unto envying (προς φθονον επιποθε). A difficult phrase. Some even take προς φθονον with λεγε rather than with επιποθε, as it naturally does go, meaning "jealously." But even so, with God presented as a jealous lover, does το πνευμα refer to the Holy Spirit as the subject of επιποθε or to man's spirit as the object of επιποθε? Probably the former and επιποθε then means to yearn after in the good sense as in Philippians 1:8.

Verse 6

More grace (μειζονα χαριν). "Greater grace." Greater than what? "Greater grace in view of the greater requirement" (Ropes), like Romans 5:20. God does this.

Wherefore (διο). To prove this point James quotes Proverbs 3:34.

God resisteth the proud (ο θεος υπερηφανοις αντιτασσετα). Present middle (direct) indicative of αντιτασσω, old military term, to range in battle against, with dative case (Romans 13:2) as in James 5:6. Hυπερηφανοις (υπερ, φαινομα) is like our vernacular "stuck-up folks" (Romans 1:30), "haughty persons."

But giveth grace to the humble (ταπεινοις δε διδωσιν χαριν). Anarthrous adjective again, "to humble or lowly persons," for which word see James 1:9. Cf. James 2:5-59.2.7; James 5:1-59.5.6.

Verse 7

Be subject therefore unto God (υποταγητε ουν τω θεω). Second aorist (ingressive) passive imperative of υποτασσω, old verb, to range under (military term also). Same form in 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Peter 5:5. With the dative case θεω (unto God). The aorist has the note of urgency in the imperative. Note the ten aorist imperatives in verses James 4:7-59.4.10 (υποταγητε, αντιστητε, εγγισατε, καθαρισατε, αγνισατε, ταλαιπωρησατε, πενθησατε, κλαυσατε, μετατραπητω, ταπεινωθητε).

But resist the devil (αντιστητε δε τω διαβολω). Second aorist (ingressive) active (intransitive) imperative of ανθιστημ, "take a stand against." Dative case διαβολω. Result of such a stand is that the devil will flee (φευξετα, future middle of φευγω). See 1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 6:11; Luke 10:17.

Verse 8

Draw nigh to God (εγγισατε τω θεω). First aorist active imperative of εγγιζω, late verb from εγγυς (near) as in Matthew 3:2. With dative case again of personal relation. The priests in the sanctuary drew nigh to God (Exodus 19:22), as we should now.

Cleanse your hands (καθαρισατε χειρας). First aorist active imperative of καθαριζω, to cleanse, from dirt in a ritual sense (Exodus 30:19-2.30.21; Mark 7:3; Mark 7:19). Here it is figurative, as in Hosea 1:16; Psalms 24:4. If we always had clean (from sin) hands and hearts?

Ye sinners (αμαρτωλο). A sharp term to strike the conscience, "a reproach meant to startle and sting" (Ropes).

Purify your hearts (αγνισατε καρδιας). First aorist active imperative of αγνιζω, old verb from αγνος (James 3:17), ceremonially (Acts 21:24; Acts 21:26), but here morally as in 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:3. Anarthrous use of καρδιας as of χειρας (wash hands, purify hearts).

Ye double-minded (διψυχο). As in James 1:8.

Verse 9

Be afflicted (ταλαιπωρησατε). First aorist active imperative ταλαιπωρεω, old verb from ταλαιπωρος (Romans 7:24), to endure toils, here only in N.T. Cf. ταλαιπωριαις in James 5:1.

Mourn (πενθησατε). First aorist active imperative of πενθεω, old verb from πενθος (mourning, James 4:9), as in Matthew 5:4. Often in N.T. joined as here with κλαιω, to weep (Mark 16:10; Luke 6:25). A call to the godly sorrow spoken of in 2 Corinthians 7:10 (Mayor), like an O.T. prophet.

Weep (κλαυσατε). First aorist active imperative of κλαιω.

Laughter (γελως). Old word from Homer down, only here in N.T. as γελαω, to

laugh (opposite of κλαιω), in N.T. only in Luke 6:21; Luke 6:25, but καταγελαω in Luke 8:53 (Mark 5:40; Matthew 9:24).

Be turned (μετατραπητω). Second aorist passive imperative of μετατρεπω, old word, to turn about, to transmute, in Homer (not in Attic), here only in N.T.

Heaviness (κατηφειαν). Old word from κατηφης (of a downcast look, from κατα, φαη eyes), hanging down of the eyes like the publican in Luke 18:13, here only in N.T.

Verse 10

Humble yourselves (ταπεινωθητε). First aorist passive imperative of ταπεινοω, old verb from ταπεινος (James 1:9), as in Matthew 18:4. The passive here has almost the middle or reflexive sense. The middle voice was already giving way to the passive. See 1 Peter 5:6 for this same form with the same promise of exaltation.

He shall exalt you (υψωσε υμας). Future active indicative of υψοω, common verb from υψος (height), used by Jesus in contrast with ταπεινοω as here (Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14).

Verse 11

Speak not one against another (μη καταλαλειτε αλληλων). Prohibition against such a habit or a command to quit doing it, with μη and the present imperative of καταλαλεω, old compound usually with the accusative in ancient Greek, in N.T. only with the genitive (here, 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 3:16). Often harsh words about the absent. James returns to the subject of the tongue as he does again in James 5:12 (twice before, James 1:26; James 3:1-59.3.12).

Judgeth (κρινων). In the sense of harsh judgment as in Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37 (explained by καταδικαζω).

Not a doer of the law, but a judge (ουκ ποιητης νομου, αλλα κριτης). This tone of superiority to law is here sharply condemned. James has in mind God's law, of course, but the point is the same for all laws under which we live. We cannot select the laws which we will obey unless some contravene God's law, and so our own conscience (Acts 4:20). Then we are willing to give our lives for our rebellion if need be.

Verse 12

One only (εις). No "only" in the Greek, but εις here excludes all others but God.

The lawgiver (ο νομοθετης). Old compound (from νομοσ, τιθημ), only here in N.T. In Psalms 9:20. Cf. νομοθετεω in Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 8:6.

To save (σωσα, first aorist active infinitive of σωζω)

and to destroy (κα απολεσα, first aorist active infinitive of απολλυμ to destroy). Cf. the picture of God's power in Matthew 10:28, a common idea in the O.T. (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:16; 2 Kings 5:7).

But who art thou? (συ δε τις ει;). Proleptic and emphatic position of συ (thou) in this rhetorical question as in Romans 9:20; Romans 14:4.

Thy neighbour (τον πλησιον). "The neighbour" as in James 2:8.

Verse 13

Go to now (αγε νυν). Interjectional use of αγε (from αγω) as in James 5:1 (only N.T. instances) with a plural verb (ο λεγοντες, present active articular participle, ye that say) as is common in ancient Greek like ιδε νυν ηκουσατε (Matthew 26:65).

Today or tomorrow (σημερον η αυριον). Correct text (Aleph B), not κα (and).

Into this city (εις τηνδε την πολιν). Old demonstrative οδε, rare in N.T. (Luke 10:39) save in neuter plural ταδε (these things Acts 21:11). One would point out the city on the map (Mayor) as he made the proposal (we will go, πορευσομεθα).

And spend a year there (κα ποιησομεν εκε ενιαυτον). Another future (active of ποιεω). "We will do a year there."

And trade (κα εμπορευσομεθα). Future middle of εμπορευομα (εν, πορευομα, to go in), old verb from εμπορος (a merchant or trader, a drummer, one going in and getting the trade, Matthew 13:45), a vivid picture of the Jewish merchants of the time.

And get gain (κα κερδησομεν). Future (Ionic form) active of κερδαινω, old verb from κερδος (gain, Philippians 1:21), as in Matthew 16:26.

Verse 14

Whereas ye know not (οιτινες ουκ επιστασθε). The longer relative οστις defines here more precisely (like Latin qui) ο λεγοντες (ye who say) of verse James 4:13 in a causal sense, as in Acts 10:47, "who indeed do not know" (present middle indicative of επισταμα).

What shall be on the morrow (της αυριον). Supply ημερας (day) after αυριον. This is the reading of B (Westcott) "on the morrow" (genitive of time), but Aleph K L cursives have το της αυριον ("the matter of tomorrow"), while A P cursives have τα της αυριον ("the things of tomorrow"). The sense is practically the same, though το της αυριον is likely correct.

What is your life? (ποια η ζωη υμων). Thus Westcott and Hort punctuate it as an indirect question, not direct. Ποια is a qualitative interrogative (of what character).

As vapour (ατμις). This is the answer. Old word for mist (like ατμος, from which our "atmosphere"), in N.T. only here and Acts 2:19 with καπνου (vapour of smoke (from Joel 2:30).

For a little time (προς ολιγον). See same phrase in 1 Timothy 4:8, προς καιρον in Luke 8:13, προς ωραν in John 5:35.

That appeareth and then vanisheth away (φαινομενη επειτα κα αφανιζομενη). Present middle participles agreeing with ατμις, "appearing, then also disappearing," with play on the two verbs (φαινομαι, αφανιζω as in Matthew 6:19, from αφανης hidden Hebrews 4:13) with the same root φαν (φαινω, α-φαν ης).

Verse 15

For that ye ought to say (αντ του λεγειν υμας). "Instead of the saying as to you" (genitive of the articular infinitive with the preposition αντ and the accusative of general reference with λεγειν), "instead of your saying."

If the Lord will (εαν ο κυριος θελη). Condition of the third class with εαν and the present active subjunctive (or first aorist active θελεση in some MSS). The proper attitude of mind (Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 16:7; Romans 1:19; Philippians 2:19; Philippians 2:24; Hebrews 6:3), not to be uttered always in words like a charm. This Hellenistic formula was common among the ancient heathen, as today among modern Arabs like the Latin deo volente.

This or that (τουτο η εκεινο). Applicable to every act.

Verse 16

In your vauntings (εν ταις αλαζονιαις υμων). Old word for braggart talk (from αλαζονευομα, to act the αλαζων empty boaster Romans 1:30), common in Aristophanes, in N.T. only here and 1 John 2:16.

Glorying (καυχησις). Act of glorying, late word from καυχαομα, good if for Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19), bad if for self as here.

Verse 17

To him that knoweth (ειδοτ). Dative case of second perfect participle ειδως (from οιδα), and with the infinitive to know how, "to one knowing how."

To do good (καλον ποιειν). "To do a good deed."

And doeth it not (κα μη ποιουντ). Dative again of the present active participle of ποιεω, "and to one not doing it." Cf. "not a doer" (James 1:23) and Matthew 7:26.

Sin (αμαρτια). Unused knowledge of one's duty is sin, the sin of omission. Cf. Matthew 23:23.

Copyright Statement
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 4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/james-4.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.