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Bible Commentaries

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament
James 3



Verse 1

James 3:1. ΄ὴ πολλοὶ, not many) A rightly governed tongue is rarely found. James 3:2, all. There ought therefore to be few teachers. Comp. Romans 15:18. In accordance with this principle also, he who acts as teacher ought not to be too much given to speaking.— γίνεσθε, be) of your own accord.— μεῖζον κρίμα, greater condemnation) on account of more numerous offences. Comp. Wisdom of Solomon 6:5. [For we shall have to render an account of all our words.—V. g.]

Verse 2

James 3:2. πολλὰ) in many and various circumstances and ways.— ἅπαντες, all) The apostles do not even except themselves; 1 John 1:8.— ἐν λόγῳ, in word) viz. in a single word. Opposed to many things. The tongue does not always answer to the feeling.— πταίει, offend) This word is properly used of any fault or slip of the tongue.— οὗτος) he indeed.— δυνατὸςσῶμα, able to bridle the whole body) The description of a perfect man.— τὸ σῶμα, the body) that is, the man himself. Antithetical to the tongue, which is a member; James 3:5. Comp. body, James 3:3; James 3:6.

Verse 3

James 3:3. ἴδε) I have thus edited on the best authority:(30) ἰδοὺ, Erasmus. There are very few MSS. remaining of which we can with confidence determine that they read ἰδοὺ. The interjection, ἴδε, is from an active verb; ἰδοὺ follows the Middle Voice. If there is any difference, ἴδε gives the idea of reflection; ἰδοὺ is more impassioned. Therefore James in this first passage uses ἴδε; afterwards, he often uses ἰδοὺ, as he advances in strength. And one writer at least, in another place, uses both ἰδοὺ and ἴδε, and that too in the short compass of a conversation; John 12:15; John 12:19; John 16:29; John 16:32.(31) Not to enlarge further upon a matter of slight importance, I am satisfied with the reasons already alleged for the preference given by me to ἴδε.— τῶν ἵππων, of the horses) This is emphatically put at the beginning of the sentence.— στόματα, mouths) This is an appropriate word; for the tongue is in the mouth.— μετάγομεν) we turn about.(32)

(30) εἰ δὲ is the reading of AB Vulg. Memph. So Lachm. and Tisch. In this case the Apodosis to εἰ is virtually given in ver. 5, “Seeing that we put bits,” etc.; so also the tongue, etc. C reads ἴδε. Rec. Text ἰδοὺ, without very old authority. Later Syr. and Theb. have ecce. Syr. has ecce enim.—E.

Verse 4

James 3:4. καὶ) even. Not only animals, but even ships.— σκληρῶν) σκληρὸς, vehement. There is a twofold impulse (momentum): the bulk of the ships, and the force of the winds.— πηδαλίου, with a helm) An elegant simile, as applied to the tongue. The phrases, very small, and a small member, answer to each other. The same may be applied to the pen, which is the substitute for the tongue amongst the absent.— ὁρμὴ, the impetus) The force moving, and turning, and directing to its place. The feeling which moves the tongue corresponds with this.— βούληται, listeth) An instance of Hypallage:(33) equivalent to, wherever he wishes, who has the command; for the moving force is under his control.

Verse 5

James 3:5. ΄εγαλαυχεῖ) boasts itself greatly: makes great pretensions, both respecting the past, and with a view to the future. There is often great importance in those things which the careless think small. The idea of greatness is also conveyed by the words, world, the course of nature, and hell, James 3:6.— ἰδοὺ, behold) The word behold, used for the third time, is prefixed to the third comparison.— ὀλίγον) So just before, μικρόν, a little. The Alex. MS. reads ἡλίκον,(34) with which the Latin version, and not that alone, plainly agrees: and yet I have with good reason removed this various reading from my margin: (1st) because it is plainly an alliteration with ἡλίκην which follows: (2d) because even Latin writers retain the word modicum. This is sufficient for maintaining the received reading.

Verse 6

James 3:6. κόσμος, the world) This is part of the subject, with the addition of the article (as σπιλοῦσα, which follows), showing why the tongue is called fire: namely, because it is a world (in the Vulgate universitas, a universe) of iniquity. The words, how great a matter, and the world, refer to each other. As the little world of man is an image of the universe,(35) so the tongue is an image of the little world of man, exciting it altogether. There is a frequent metaphor from the universe to the lesser world: Psalms 139:15; Ecclesiastes 12:2; and not only to man: there is a reference to the whale, Jonah 2:3; Jonah 2:6-7. James employs this figure. The world has its higher and its lower parts: these are, in a better point of view, the heaven and the earth; in a worse, the earth and hell. And as in the world, heaven or hell is with reference to the earth; so in man, the heart, of which the tongue is the instrument, is with reference to the whole body or nature. For in the case of the good, heaven, and in the case of the wicked, hell, has its veins in the heart: from which source so many wonders are diffused to the course of nature (nativitatis). We may learn from Psalms 77:18, what is meant by this course. φωνὴ τῆς βροντῆς σου ἐν τῷ τροχῷ, ἔφαναν αἱ ἀστραπαί σου τῇ οἰκουμένῃ. The voice of Thy thunder teas in the heaven, Thy lightnings lightened the world: for as in that passage גלגל, τροχὸς, as opposed to חבל, τῇ οἰκου΄ενῃ, denotes the celestial or aerial sphere, so in this place τροχὸς τῆς γενέσεως, the course of nature, as opposed to τῇ γεέννῃ, hell, or the heart, denotes the higher parts of the earth, or the entire nature of man, which holds a middle place between heaven and hell; and thus it denotes the body with its entire temperament. Comp. James 3:15, from above, earthly, devilish.— γένεσις, the natural constitution; James 1:23; and life; Judith 12:18.— πάσας τὰς ἡ΄έρας τῆς γενέσεώς ΄ου, all the days since I was born. The metaphor is taken from a round wheel, and is very appropriate: for as a wheel is turned about with great velocity; so it is with the sphere of heaven, and the nature of man; and this being set on fire while it revolves, soon breaks out into a blaze in every part, so that the fire seems not only to be borne in a circle, but also to be a circle. Respecting the flaming wheels of the Divine throne, see Daniel 7:9.— οὕτως, so) This word not read in the African copies, has been introduced into this place from the beginning of the fifth verse.(36) If the apostle had intended to use it a second time in this comparison, he would have used it at the beginning, and not in the middle of the Apodosis, οὓτω καὶ γλῶσσα πῦρ. A few copies, but those of great authority, omit οὓτως. Isidorus of Pelusinm in particular joining them. There are three comparisons beginning with ἴδε, ἰδοὺ, ἰδοὺ (James 3:3-5). The third comparison has its Protasis in the middle of James 3:5 : ἰδοὺ ὀλίγον πῦρ ἡλίκην ὓλην ἀνάπτει· the Apodosis begins at the beginning of James 3:6, and consists of two declarations, the former of which is as follows: καὶ γλῶσσα πῦρ, κόσ΄ος τῆς ἀδικίας (supply ἐστίν): the other is γλῶσσα καθίσταται ἐν τοῖς ΄έλεσιν ἡ΄ῶν σπιλοῦσα ὅλον τὸ σῶ΄α. In this second declaration γλῶσσα, the tongue, is as it were the Subject, and is repeated a second time by way of Anaphora(37) and emphasis, as far as the particle οὓτως· the predicate is καθίσταται τὸ σῶ΄α, in this easy sense; the tongue is that which defiles the whole body. Between these two clauses οὕτως seems to be out of place; so far is the sense from being impaired by the removal of οὕτως. This is followed by the explanation, inasmuch as being that which both inflames and is itself inflamed, etc.; where, by a metaphor from the universe (the macrocosm) to man (the microcosm), the wheel, or higher sphere (comp. Psalms 77:18), is man’s rational nature itself; but hell is the lower part, the heart. The tongue, situated in the middle, is inflamed by the lower parts, and inflames the higher, being itself a world, or orb of iniquity. Thus I hope that those things which Wolf has remarked on this passage, will be explained; and I am quite willing that the things which I have said should be compared with the interpretation of Baumgarten.— καθίσταται) The same word occurs ch. James 4:4.— σπιλοῦσα, defiling) as fire, by smoke.— καὶ φλογίζουσα καὶ φλογιζομένη) inasmuch as being that which both inflames and is inflamed. The passive is put after the active form; for the man who sins with his tongue, departs more and more out of his own power.

“Quid mirum, noscere mundum

Si possunt homines, quibus est et mundus in ipsis

Exemplumque Dei quisque est in imagine parvâ?”

And Shakespeare:—

Coriolanus.—“If you see this in the map of my microcosm.”—T.

Verse 7

James 3:7. γαρ, for) Nothing is more violent than fire.— φύσις θηρίων, the nature of beasts) A Periphrasis, for θήρια, beasts.— δαμάζεται καὶ δεδάμασται, is tamed, in a passive sense; and has been tamed [has suffered itself to be tamed], in a middle sense.— τῇ φυσει [in obedience] to the nature of man) The dative case denotes the obedience of those things which are tamed.

Verse 8

James 3:8. οὐδεὶς, ἀνθρώπων, no one of men) The antithesis is, of man, James 3:7.— οὐδεὶς, no other; scarcely each individual himself.— ἀκατάσχετον κακὸν) an unruly evil. Phocylides, λαός τοι καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ πῦρ, ἀκατάσχετα πάντα. So πῦρ, James 3:6.— μεστὴ, full) The nominative, after the parenthesis, compared with James 3:6. Then especially the evil is not to be restrained, when(38) it swells with deadly poison.

Verse 9

James 3:9. ἐν αὐτῇκαὶ ἐν αὐτῇ, with this itselfand with this itself) A very expressive phrase.— θεὸν) God. κύριον, Lord(39)) is the reading of the Alexandrian, Colbertinus 7, and Syriac texts. Baumgarten acknowledges the error; for God and Father is a common title, but not Lord and Father; but he adds the ancient Vulgate or Italian Version. In the Reutling. M.S. it is so read; for the copyists frequently use the name of God and Lord, without distinction; but the other Latin Manuscripts, with one consent, read God (wherefore many of them also omit the particle et, which immediately follows), and thus Cassioderus, in his Conplexiones, and more fully in the preface to his Commentary on the Psalms.— καὶ πατέρα) Baumgarten remarks, on the authority of Mill, δὲ is wanting in the Arabic and Æthiopic Versions.— γεγονότας) The Alexandrian and Colbertinus 7, read γεγεννημένους;(40) and, in addition, notice that δὲ is to be read for καὶ. Mill also reads καὶ: Kuster, δὲ. The latter also reads γεγενη΄ένους with a single ν.— καθ ̓ ὁ΄οίωσιν θεοῦ, after the likeness of God) We have lost the likeness of God: there remains however from that source a nobleness which cannot be destroyed, and this we ought to reverence both in ourselves and in others. Moreover, we have remained men, capable, by the Divine blessing, of being formed again after that likeness, to which the likeness of man ought to be conformed. They who curse, hinder that effect. Absalom has fallen from the favour of his father, but the people still recognise him to be the king’s son.

Verse 10

James 3:10. ἐκ τοῦ αὐτοῦ στόματος ἐξέρχεται εὐλογία καὶ κατάρα, out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing) Psalms 62:4. (Septuagint) τῷ στόματι αὐτῶν εὐλόγουν, καὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν κατηρῶντο, they blessed with their mouth, but in their heart they cursed.— οὐ χρὴ, there is no need) that is, it is by no means becoming.— ταῦτα οὕτω, these things so) these good things, with the evils mixed up with them in such a manner.

Verse 11

James 3:11. πηγὴ, a fountain) The heart resembles this.— ὀπῆς, an aperture) the mouth resembles this.

Verse 12

James 3:12. ΄ὴ δύναται, is it possible?) He now prepares a transition from the mouth to the heart. He had said with regard to the former, There is no need [it is not becoming]; he says respecting the latter, it is impossible.— οὕτως οὐδὲ ἁλυκὸν γλυκὺ ποιησαι ὕδωρ, so neither can a salt spring produce sweet water) viz. δύναται (to be supplied). Thus the most weighty authorities, Colbert. 7; Cov. 4; Gen.; Æth.; Copt.; Lat., and the Syr(41), The Alexand. reads οὔτε ἁλυκόν. Baumgarten has a long dissertation in favour of the more generally received reading: Exam., p. xxxii. You will see my reply in App. Crit., Ed. ii., on this passage.(42) The apostle had said in James 3:11, that it is not befitting that two contraries should proceed from one source; he now says, that nothing can proceed from any source whatever, unless it be of the same kind. Salt (water), in the nominative case, has the force of a substantive, as just before, sweet and bitter. In Hesychius ἁλυκὴ, θάλασσα, the sea. In James, ἁλυκὸν has a wider meaning, a lake or spring of salt, pouring forth water.— οὕτως, thus, is used before the word salt, now in particular, because this resemblance, already represented in the 11th verse, puts on here a more strict propriety,(43) and in this place contains the Apodosis itself, which is about to be added immediately, in plain (unfigurative) words.

Verse 13

James 3:13. τίς, who?) All wish to appear wise; though all are not so: see App. Crit. on this passage.(44)δειξάτω, let him show) by deed, rather than by words.— καλῆς ἀναστροφῆς, a good conversation) The opposite is found in James 3:16. This good conversation itself is described, James 3:17-18, compared with 1 Peter 2:12.— ἐν πραΰτητι σοφίας, with meekness, with which true wisdom is connected.

Verse 14

James 3:14. ζῆλον πικρὸν, bitter emulation) Emulation is not condemned, when exercised with kindness; nor anger, accompanied with kindness, and proceeding from faithfulness and love.— μὴ, do not) They boast and lie against the truth, who, when they have bitter emulation, still give out that they themselves have wisdom.— μὴ κατακαυχᾶσθε) The Alex. and others read μὴ καυχᾶσθε.(45) See App. Crit., Ed ii.

Verse 15

James 3:15. [ ἄνωθεν, from above) ch. James 1:17.—V. g.]— ἐπίγειος, earthly) not heavenly, such as descends from the Father.— ψυχικὴ, animal) not spiritual, which is from the Holy Spirit. Comp. animal, 1 Corinthians 2:14; Jude 1:19. This is a middle term between earthly and devilish.— δαιμονιώδης, devilish) such as even devils have: James 2:19 : not that which Christ gives.

Verse 16

James 3:16. ἐκεῖ ἀπαταστασια, there [is] confusion) contrary to peace, James 3:17. What is the character of that wisdom, is known by the effect. James thinks it unworthy of the name of fruit. Comp. James 3:17-18.— πᾶν φαῦλον πρᾶγμα, every evil work) The force of the word every, is plain, if the sentence is thus put: Every work which arises from that source is evil. The antithesis is, full of mercy and of good fruits, etc.

Verse 17

James 3:17. πρῶτον μὲν ἁγνή ἐστιν, first of all is pure) Pure from earthly, animal, and devilish defilements. 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 everything that comes in its way: James 1:27, at the end, and James 4:4 throughout. Thus also, cleanse your hands, etc.: James 4:8; 1 Peter 1:22.—( μὲν, indeed) in James 3:18, δὲ, but, follows.— εἰρηνικὴ, peaceable) The whole; the parts follow.— ἐπιεικὴς) gentle (indulgent), lenient, not harsh in cases where the question is as to the duties of a neighbour (the duties which a neighbour owes to us).— εὐπειθὴς) tractable, easy, not morose, where the question is as to the fault of a neighbour.— μεστὴ ἐλεόυς, full of mercy) where the question is as to the misery of a neighbour.— καρπῶν ἀγαθῶν, of good fruits) There follow two more distinguished fruits, and worthy of special commendation to those whom he addresses: not judging and without pretence.— ἀδιάκριτος, not judging) It does not make a difference (discrimination or distinction) where it is not necessary; for instance, between the great and the humble. Hesychius ἀδιάφορον, ἀδιάκριτον. It embraces all things which are good and just: it rejects all things which are evil. It acts without any difference (partiality), not harshly esteeming one in preference to others.— ἀνυπόκριτος, without pretence) removed from pretence and flattery, which is exercised directly towards the powerful, indirectly towards the humble, by harshness.

Verse 18

James 3:18. καρπὸς δὲ δικαιοσύνης ἐν εἰρήνῃ, but the fruit of righteousness [is] in peace) So Hebrews 12:11, note. The fruit of righteousness is most abundant; although that fruitfulness does not immediately appear at the beginning. Righteousness is peaceable; peace is fruitful.— ἐν εἰήνῃ σπείρεται, is sown in peace) The expression, is sown, is in accordance with the word, fruit. Peace is described, James 3:17. Respecting the sowing and the righteous, see Psalms 97:11, in the Hebrew.— τοῖς ποιοῦσιν εἰρήνην, for them that make peace) The dative expressing an advantage, with the force of limitation. See the opposite, James 4:1-2.— ποιεῖν εἰρήνην, to put forth peace; as ποιῆσαι ὕδωρ, to send forth water; James 3:12.


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Bibliography Information
Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on James 3:4". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 22nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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