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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
James 3

 

 

Verses 1-12

James 3:1-12. "Do not crowd into the ranks of the teachers, my brothers. You know that we teachers shall be judged more severely than other men; and there are many things in which all of us stumble." This leads to the discussion of the snare of speech, into which those who talk much are peculiarly liable to fall. The words rendered "now if" (James 3:3) should be taken as one word meaning "see," and the conjunction "for" inserted. "Now with horses, for example, it is in their mouths, look you, that we put the bit when we want them to obey us." In James 3:4 the word "impulse" may be the "pressure" of the steersman's hand on the tiller. To the small bridle and the small rudder the tongue is compared as an insignificant part of man's equipment, but one that can "boast of great power." "See what a spark it takes to kindle what a mass of wood! And the tongue is fire: the world of wrong is represented among our members by the tongue, which defiles the whole body, kindles the wheel of life, and is itself kindled from Gehenna." In many primitive rituals a wooden wheel is rapidly rotated on a wooden axle to produce fire. The image here is that of a flame spreading from the centre down all the radiating spokes. It is the wheel—we should probably say "sphere"—"of birth" (mg.), like "the face of birth" in James 1:23, the whole round of changing earthly circumstance. "To tame the tongue is beyond the power of man"—the word is emphatic: it is a restless plague, it is charged with deadly poison." We use it for pious ejaculations (without which correct Jews would not name God) and for curses on God's image around us. But just as bitter water, like that of the Dead Sea, would spoil the sweetness of any water in which it mingled, so the curses embitter all blessing: to curse God would be more honest, and quite as acceptable to Him! For the first figure we should not have expected two different good fruits (contrast Matthew 7:16). James is, however, using a common proverb.


Verses 13-18

James 3:13-18. "Who is enlightened among you, and a man of knowledge? Let him exhibit the fruits of it by a noble life, with the humility that true enlightenment brings." We must be careful to remember that "meekness" in popular use has lost its nobility: the Gr. word describes a strong man's self-discipline and a wise man's humility. One who is strong, and knows it, is not jealous of rivals, or frenzied with partisanship for a cause that God will prosper. Such a spirit means only scorning truth and heaping up lies. "Sensual," "natural," and "animal" are all imperfect representations of the adjective psychic from psych, "soul" or "life." As contrasted with "spirit," it means the immaterial parts of man as untouched by the Divine: the climactic adjective following shows that what does not touch God is touched by hell. Note in James 3:16 the stress on unproductiveness as the characteristic of sin. "Confusion" or "restlessness" (cf. James 3:8) and "worthless deeds" follow; jealous partisans can never get any good thing done, and are condemned for this more than the mischief they actually achieve. The characterisation of "heavenly enlightenment" has close affinities with the Beatitudes; we may fit Matthew 5:8-9; Matthew 5:5; Matthew 5:7 respectively to "pure, peace-loving, gentle . . . full of compassion." For "gentle" (Matthew Arnold's "sweet reasonableness") compare especially 2 Corinthians 10:1, also Philippians 4:5. It and the next adjective describe that freedom from pride and obstinacy which produces perfect openmindedness. "Without variance" has the word of James 1:6 and James 2:4; we may render it "impartial" here. "A harvest of right is being sown in the field of peace for those who work for peace"; cf. Psalms 97:11, Galatians 6:7 f., Hebrews 12:11.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on James 3:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/james-3.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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