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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
James 3

 

 

Verse 1

My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. Be not , [ ginethe (Greek #1096)] - become not: taking the office too hastily, of your own accord.

Many. The office is noble; but few are fit for it. Few govern the tongue well. (James 3:2); only such are fit for the office; therefore 'teachers' ought not to be many.

Masters , [ didaskaloi (Greek #1320)] - 'teachers.' The Jews were prone to this presumption. The ides that faith without works (James 2:1-26) is all that is required, prompted "many" to set up as 'teachers,' as in all ages of the Church. At first all were allowed to teach in turns. Even their inspired gifts did not prevent liability to abuse; much more so when self-constituted teachers have no such gifts.

Knowing - as all might know.

We shall receive the greater condemnation. James, in a humble spirit, includes himself: if we teachers abuse the office, we shall receive greater condemnation than mere hearers? (cf. Luke 12:42-46). Calvin also translates "masters" - i:e., self-constituted censors of others. So James 4:12.


Verse 2

For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

All , [ hapantes (Greek #537)] - 'all without exception;' even the apostles.

Offend not , [ ptaiei (Greek #4417)] - stumbleth not: slips not in word: in which one especially tried who sets up as a 'teacher.'


Verse 3

Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

Behold. So C. But 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate [ ei (Greek #1510) de (Greek #1161)], 'But if;' "What if" (Romans 9:22): there being understood, Should we not similarly bridle our tongue? (Psalms 39:1.) Others explain, Now whensoever (in the case) of horses. So the position of "horses" in the Greek, we put the customary [ tous (Greek #3588)] bits into their mouths that they may obey us; we turn about also their whole body. So man turns about his whole body with the little tongue. 'The same applies to the pen, the substitute for the tongue' (Bengel).


Verse 4

Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

Not only animals, but even ships.

The governor , [ hee (Greek #3588) hormee (Greek #3730) tou (Greek #3588) euthunontos (Greek #2116)] - the impulse of the steersman, answering to the feeling which moves the tongue.


Verse 5

Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

Boasteth great things. What the careless think 'little,' is often of great moment (Bengel). "A world," "the course of nature," "hell" (James 3:6), show how great mischief the little tongue's great words produce.

How great a matter , [material for burning: fuel. Alford, 'forest:' huleen (Greek #5208)]

A little fire kindleth. 'Aleph (') B C, Vulgate, read [ heelikon (Greek #2245)] 'how great a fire kindleth how great a matter.'


Verse 6

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

[ Hee (Greek #3588) gloossa (Greek #1100) pur (Greek #4442) ho (Greek #3588) kosmos (Greek #2889) tees (Greek #3588) adikias (Greek #93): 'the tongue, that world of iniquity, is a fire'] As man's little world is an image of the greater, the universe, so the tongue is an image of the former (Bengel).

So. Omitted in 'Aleph (') A B C, Vulgate.

Is , [ kathistatai (Greek #2525)]. 'The tongue is constitued, among the members, the one which defileth, etc.-namely, as fire defiles with its smoke. Course of nature , [ ton (Greek #3588) trochon (Greek #5164) tees (Greek #3588) geneseoos (Greek #1078)] - 'the cycle of creation.'

Setteth on fire ... is set on fire - habitually, continually. While a man inflames others, he passes out of his own power, being consumed in the flame himself.

Of hell - Greek, 'Gehenna:' here only and Matthew 5:22. James has much in common with the sermon on the mount (Proverbs 16:27).


Verse 7

For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:

Every kind , [ fusis (Greek #5449)] - "nature."

Of beasts - i:e., quadrupeds of every disposition: distinguished from the three other classes, 'birds,' creeping things [ herpeton (Greek #2062): not merely "serpents"] and things in the sea.

Is tamed, and hath been - is continually being tamed, and hath been so, long ago.

Of mankind , [ tee (Greek #3588) fusei (Greek #5449) tee (Greek #3588) anthroopinee (Greek #442)] - 'by the nature of man:' man's characteristic nature taming that of the inferior animals. The Greek may imply, 'Hath been brought into tame subjection TO the nature of men.' So it shall be in the millennial world: even now man, by gentle firmness, may tame and even elevate the lower animals nature.


Verse 8

But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

No man - literally, no one of men: neither can a man control his neighbour's nor even his own tongue. Hence, the truth of James 3:2 appears.

Unruly evil , [ akatastation (Greek #182), akin to akatastasia (Greek #181), James 3:16] - unstable, unquiet, and incapable of restraint. Nay, though nature has hedged it in with a double barrier, the lips and teeth, it bursts forth to assail and ruin men (Estius).

Deadly , [ thanateeforou (Greek #2287)] - death-bearing.


Verse 9

Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

God. 'Aleph (') A B C read 'Lord' [ ton (Greek #3588) kurion (Greek #2962) kai (Greek #2532) patera (Greek #3962)]; 'Him who is Lord, and Father.' The uncommon application of 'Lord' to the Father doubtless caused the change to "God" (James 1:27). But as Messiah is called "Father" (Isaiah 9:6), so, the Father is called the Son's title, 'Lord:' showing the unity of the Godhead. "Father" implies His paternal love; 'Lord,' His dominion.

Men, which - not 'men, who;' what is meant is not particular men, but men generically (Alford).

Are made after the similitude of God. Though in a great measure man has lost God's likeness, in which he was originally made, yet enough still remains to show what once it was, and what in regenerated and restored man it shall be. We ought to reverence this remnant and earnest of what man shall be in ourselves and in others. 'Absalom has fallen from his father's favour; but the people still recognize him to be the king's son' (Bengel). Man resembles the Son of man, "the express image of his person" (Hebrews 1:3 : cf. Genesis 1:26; 1 John 4:20). In Genesis 1:26 "image" [ eikoon (Greek #1504)] and "likeness." [homoiosis] are distinct: "image," according to the Alexandrians, was something in which men were created, common to all, and continuing after the fall, while the "likeness" was something toward which man was created, to strive and attain it: the former marks man's physical and intellectual, the latter his moral pre-eminence.


Verse 10

Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

The tongue (AEsop) is at once the best and the worst of things. A man with the same breath blows hot and cold. 'Life and death are in the power of the tongue' (cf. Psalms 62:4).

Brethren - a mild appeal to their consciences by their brotherhood in Christ.

Ought not so to be - themselves may understand that such conduct deserves severe reprobation.


Verse 11

Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?

Fountain - the heart: as the aperture [so opees (Greek #3692), 'place'] of the fountain represents the month. The image is appropriate to the scene of the letter, Palestine, wherein salt and bitter springs are found. Though "sweet" springs are sometimes found near, yet "sweet and bitter" (water) do not flow 'at the same aperture.' Grace can make the mouth that 'sent forth the bitter' once, send forth the sweet: as the wood (typical of Christ's cross) changed Marah's bitter water into sweet.


Verse 12

Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Transition from the month to the heart.

Can the fig tree ... - an impossibility: as in James 3:10, it "ought not so to be." James does not, as Matthew 7:16-17, ask, "Do men gather figs of thistles?" His argument is, No tree "can" bring forth fruit inconsistent with its nature, as, e.g., the fig tree, olive berries: so if a man speaks bitterly, and afterward good words, the latter toilet be so only seemingly, and in hypocrisy: they can not be real.

So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. 'Aleph (') A B C read [ oute (Greek #3777) halukon (Greek #252) gluku (Greek #1099) poieesai (Greek #4160) hudoor (Greek #5204)] 'neither can a salt (water spring) yield fresh.' So the mouth that emits cursing cannot really emit also blessing.


Verse 13

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

Who - (cf. Psalms 34:12-13.) All wish to appear "wise:" few are so.

Show - `by works,' not merely by profession (James 2:18).

Out of a good conversation his works - by general 'good conduct' [ anastrofees (Greek #391)] manifested in particular "works." "Wisdom" and "knowledge," without these being 'shown,' are as dead as faith without works (Alford).

With meekness of wisdom - with the meekness inseparable from true wisdom.


Verse 14

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

If ye have - as is the case (Greek indicative).

Bitter (Ephesians 4:31).

Envying , [ zeelon (Greek #2205)] - zeal: generous emulation is not condemned, but "bitter" (Bengel).

Strife , [ eritheian (Greek #2052)] - 'rivalry:' cabal, faction (note, Galatians 5:20).

In your hearts - from which flow words and deeds, as from a fountain.

Glory not, and lie not against the truth. To boast of wisdom which your lives evince not, is virtually lying against the Gospel truth. James 3:15; James 1:18, "the word of truth." Romans 2:17; Romans 2:23, warns such "contentious" Jewish Christians.


Verse 15

This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

This wisdom - in which ye "glory," as if "wise" (James 3:13-14).

Descendeth not from above - `is not one descending,' etc.: "from the Father of lights" (true illumination) (James 1:17), through "the Spirit of truth" (John 15:26).

Earthly - opposed to heavenly: what is IN the earth. Distinct from "earthy" (1 Corinthians 15:47): what is OF the earth.

Sensual , [ psuchikee (Greek #5591)] - animal-like; the wisdom of the "natural" [ psuchikos (Greek #5591)] (1 Corinthians 2:14) man, not born again of God: "having not the Spirit" (Jude 1:19).

Devilish - originating from "hell" (James 3:6): not from God, the Giver of true wisdom (James 1:5): its character accords with its origin. Earthly, sensual, and devilish answer to man's three spiritual foes, the world, the flesh, and the devil.


Verse 16

For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

Envying - Greek, 'zeal,' 'emulation' (note, James 3:14; Romans 13:13). 'The envious man stands in his own light. He thinks his candle cannot shine in presence of another's sun. He aims directly at men, obliquely at God, who makes men to differ.'

Confusion , [ akatastasia (Greek #181)] (note, James 3:8) - tumultuous anarchy; both in society ("commotions," Luke 21:9; "tumults," 2 Corinthians 6:5) and in the individual; in contrast to the "peaceable" composure of true "wisdom" (James 3:17). James does not honour such effects of earthly wisdom with the name "fruit," as in the ease of the wisdom from above. James 3:18 : cf. Galatians 5:19-22, "works of the flesh ... fruit of the Spirit."


Verse 17

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

First pure , [ hagnee (Greek #53)] - 'clean' from all that is "earthly, sensual (animal), devilish" (James 3:15). This is 'first of all' before "peaceable," because there is an unholy peace with the world, which makes no distinction between clean and unclean. Compare "undefiled" and "unspotted from the world," James 1:27; James 4:4; James 4:8; 1 Peter 1:22, "purified your souls" [ heegnikotes (Greek #48)]. Ministers must not preach before a purifying change of heart, "Peace (Ezekiel 13:10; Ezekiel 13:19). Seven (the perfect number) characteristics of true wisdom are enumerated. Purity (sanctity) is put first, because it has respect both to God and ourselves: the six that follow regard our fellowmen. Our first concern is to have in ourselves sanctity; our second, to be at peace with men.

Gentle , [ epieikes (Greek #1933)] - 'forbearing:' making allowance for others: lenient as to the DUTIES they owe us.

Easy to be entreated , [ eupeithees (Greek #2138)] - easily persuaded; not harsh as to a neighbour's FAULTS.

Full of mercy - as to a neighbour's MISERIES.

Full of mercy and good fruits - contrasted with "every evil work" (James 3:16).

Without partiality - recurring to the warning against "respect to persons" (James 2:1; James 2:4, Greek, James 2:9). Alford translates [ adiakritos (Greek #87): cf. Greek, James 1:6], 'without doubting.' But thus there would be an epithet referring to one's self amidst those referring to one's conduct toward others.

Without hypocrisy. Not as Alford, from James 1:22; James 1:26, 'Without deceiving yourselves' with the name without the reality of religion. For it must refer, like the other six epithets, to our relations to others: our peaceableness and mercy must be 'without dissimulation.'


Verse 18

And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

'The peaceable fruit of righteousness.' Righteousness is itself the true wisdom. As in the case of the earthly wisdom, after the description came its results: so in the case of the heavenly wisdom. There the results were present; here, future.

Fruit ... sown - cf. Psalms 97:11; Isaiah 61:3.) The seed whose "fruit," "righteousness," shall be ultimately reaped, is now "sown in peace." "Righteousness," now in germ, when developed as "fruit," shall be itself the everlasting reward of the righteous. As 'sowing in peace' (cf. Proverbs 11:18; Hosea 10:12; 1 Corinthians 15:43; Galatians 6:8) produces the "fruit of righteousness," so, conversely, "the work" and "effect of righteousness" is "peace" (Isaiah 32:17).

Of them that make peace - `by (implying also that it is for them to their good) them that work peace.' They, and they alone, are "blessed" (Matthew 5:9). "Peacemakers," not merely reconcile others, but work (cultivate) peace. Those wise toward God, while peaceable and tolerant toward their neighbours, make it their chief concern to sow righteousness, not cloaking, but reproving, sins with such moderation as to be the physicians, rather than the executioners, of sinners (Calvin).

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on James 3:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/james-3.html. 1871-8.

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Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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