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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament
James 3

 

 

Verse 1

Be not many teachers (μη πολλοι διδασκαλοι γινεστεmē polloi didaskaloi ginesthe). Prohibition with μηmē and present middle imperative of γινομαιginomai “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 (James 2:13.), not for foolish ones. This soon became an acute question, as one can see in 1 Cor. 12 to chapter 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 κριμαmeizon krima). “Greater sentence.” See Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47 for περρισοτερον κριμαperrisoteron krima (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 (πολλαpolla). Accusative neuter plural either cognate with πταιομενptaiomen or accusative of general reference. On πταιομενptaiomen (stumble) see note on James 2:10. James includes himself in this list of stumblers.

If not (ειουei̇ou). Condition of first class with ουou (not μηmē) negativing the verb πταιειptaiei word (εν λογωιen logōi). In speech. The teacher uses his tongue constantly and so is in particular peril on this score.

The same (ουτοςhoutos). “This one” (not ο αυτοςho autos the same).

A perfect man (τελειος ανηρteleios anēr). “A perfect husband” also, for ανηρanēr is husband as well as man in distinction from woman (γυνηgunē). The wife is at liberty to test her husband by this rule of the tongue.

To bridle the whole body also (χαλιναγωγησαι και ολον το σωμαchalinagōgēsai kai holon to sōma). See note on James 1:26 for this rare verb applied to the tongue (γλωσσανglōssan). 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 (επιστομιζωepistomizō).


Verse 3

If we put (ει βαλλομενei ballomen). Condition of the first class assumed as true.

The horses‘ bridles (των ιππων τους χαλινουςtōn hippōn tous chalinous). ιππωνHippōn (genitive plural of ιπποςhippos 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 χαλινοςchalinos old word for bridle (from χαλαωchalaō to slacken, let down), except Revelation 14:20.

That they may obey us (εις το πειτεσται αυτους ημινeis to peithesthai autous hēmin). Present middle infinitive of πειτωpeithō with εις τοeis to as a purpose clause with the dative ημινhēmin after πειτεσταιpeithesthai and αυτουςautous the accusative of general reference.

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


Verse 4

The ships also (και τα πλοιαkai ta ploia). Old word from πλεωpleō to sail (Matthew 4:21). Another metaphor like “horses” (ιπποιhippoi). “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 ονταtēlikauta onta). Concessive participle of ειμιeimi The quantitative pronoun τηλικουτοςtēlikoutos 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 (και ελαυνομεναkai elaunomena). Present passive participle of ελαυνωelaunō old verb, in this sense (2 Peter 2:17) for rowing (Mark 6:48; John 6:19).

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

Are yet turned (μεταγεταιmetagetai). Present passive indicative of the same verb, μεταγωmetagō in 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 πηδαλιουhupo elachistou pēdaliou). For the use of υποhupo (under) with things see Luke 8:14; 2 Peter 2:7. There is possibly personification in the use of υποhupo for agency in James 1:14; James 2:9; Colossians 2:18. ΠηδαλιουPēdaliou (from πηδονpēdon the blade of an oar) is an old word, in N.T. only here and Acts 27:40. ΕλαχιστουElachistou is the elative superlative as in 1 Corinthians 4:3 (from the Epic ελαχυςelachus for μικροςmikros).

The impulse (η ορμηhē hormē). 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 ευτυνοντοςtou euthunontos). Present active genitive articular participle of ευτυνωeuthunō old verb, to make straight (from ευτυςeuthus 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 (βουλεταιbouletai). Present middle indicative of βουλομαιboulomai 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 μελοςmikron melos). ΜελοςMelos is old and common word for members of the human body (1 Corinthians 12:12, etc.; Romans 6:13, etc.).

Boasteth great things (μεγαλα αυχειmegala auchei). Present active indicative of αυχεωaucheō old verb, here only in N.T. The best MSS. here separate μεγαλαmegala from αυχεωaucheō though μεγαλαυχεωmegalaucheō does occur in Aeschylus, Plato, etc. ΜεγαλαMegala is in contrast with μικρονmikron much - how small (ηλικονηλικηνhēlikon- αναπτειhēlikēn). 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 αναπτωanaptei is present active indicative of υληνanaptō to set fire to, to kindle (Luke 12:49, only other N.T. example except some MSS. in Acts 28:2). αναπτειHulēn is accusative case, object of anaptei 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 πυρhē glōssa pur). So necessarily since there is no article with πυρpur (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 αδικιαςho kosmos tēs adikias). A difficult phrase, impossible to understand according to Ropes as it stands. If the comma is put after πυρpur instead of after αδικιαςadikias then the phrase may be the predicate with κατισταταιkathistatai (present passive indicative of κατιστημιkathistēmi “is constituted,” or the present middle “presents itself”). Even so, κοσμοςkosmos 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 αδικιαςadikias 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 σωμαhē spilousa holon to sōma). Present active participle of σπιλοωspiloō late Koiné, verb, to stain from σπιλοςspilos (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 ασπιλονaspilon (unspotted).

Setteth on fire (πλογιζουσαphlogizousa). Present active participle of πλογιζωphlogizō old verb, to set on fire, to ignite, from πλοχphlox (flame), in N.T. only in this verse. See αναπτειanaptei (James 3:5).

The wheel of nature (τον τροχον γενεσεωςton trochon geneseōs). Old word for wheel (from τρεχωtrechō to run), only here in N.T. “One of the hardest passages in the Bible” (Hort). To what does τροχονtrochon refer? For γενεσεωςgeneseōs see note on 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 κυκλοςkuklos cycle, in place of τροχοςtrochos), 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 (και πλογιζομενη υπο γεεννηςkai phlogizomenē hupo gehennēs). Present passive participle of πλογιζωphlogizō giving the continual source of the fire in the tongue. For the metaphor of fire with γεενναgehenna see Matthew 5:22.


Verse 7

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

Of beasts (τηριωνthēriōn). Old word diminutive from τηρthēr 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 (πετεινωνpeteinōn). Old word for flying animals (from πετομαιpetomai to word from ερπωherpō to crawl (Latin serpo), hence serpents.

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

Is tamed (δαμαζωdamazetai). Present passive indicative of δεδαμασταιdamazō 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 (τηι πυσει τηι αντρωπινηιdedamastai). Perfect passive indicative of the same verb, repeated to present the state of conquest in some cases (domestic animals, for instance).

By mankind (πυσιςtēi phusei tēi anthrōpinēi). Instrumental case with repeated article and repetition also of αντρωπινοςphusis “by the nature the human.” For anthrōpinos see Acts 17:25.


Verse 8

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

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

Full of deadly poison (μεστη ιου τανατηπορουmestē iou thanatēphorou). Feminine adjective agreeing with γλωσσαglōssa not with κακονkakon (neuter). ΙουIou (poison here, as in Romans 3:13, but rust in James 5:3, only N.T. examples), old word. Genitive case after μεστηmestē (full of). ΤανατηπορουThanatēphorou old compound adjective (from τανατοςthanatos death, περωpherō 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 αυτηιen autēi). This instrumental use of ενen is not merely Hebraistic, but appears in late Koiné writers (Moulton, Prol., pp. 11f., 61f.). See also Romans 15:6.

We bless (ευλογουμενeulogoumen). Present active indicative of ευλογεωeulogeō old verb from ευλογοςeulogos (a good word, ευ λογοςeuτον κυριον και πατεραlogos), as in Luke 1:64 of God. “This is the highest function of speech” (Hort).

The Lord and Father (καταρωμεταton kurion kai patera). Both terms applied to God.

Curse we (καταραομαιkatarōmetha). Present middle indicative of the old compound verb καταραkataraomai to curse (from τους κατ ομοιωσιν τεου γεγονοταςkatara a curse), as in Luke 6:28.

Which are made after the likeness of God (γινομαιtous kath' homoiōsin theou gegonotas). Second perfect articular participle of ομοιωσιςginomai and ομοιοωhomoiōsis old word from ομοιωμαhomoioō (to make like), making like, here only in N.T. (from Genesis 1:26; Genesis 9:6), the usual word being homoiōma resemblance (Philemon 2:7). It is this image of God which sets man above the beasts. Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18.


Verse 10

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

So to be (ουτως γινεσταιhoutōs ginesthai). “So to keep on happening,” not just “to be,” present middle infinitive of γινομαιginomai f0).


Verse 11

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

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

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

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


Verse 12

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

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

Figs (συκαsuka). Ripe fruit of η συκηhē sukē (ελαιαςelaias). Elsewhere in the N.T. for olive-trees as Matthew 21:1.

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

Salt water (αλυκονhalukon). Old adjective from αλςhals (αλαςhalas salt), here only in N.T.


Verse 13

Who (ΤιςTis). Rhetorical interrogative like Luke 11:11. Common in Paul and characteristic of the diatribe. James here returns to the standpoint of James 3:1 about many teachers. Speech and wisdom are both liable to abuse (1 Corinthians 1:5, 1 Corinthians 1:17; 2:1-3:20).

Wise and understanding (σοπος και επιστημωνsophos kai epistēmōn). ΣοποςSophos is used for the practical teacher (James 3:1), επιστημωνepistēmōn (old word from επισταμαιepistamai 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 (δειχατωdeixatō). First aorist active imperative of δεικνυμιdeiknumi old verb to show. As about faith in James 2:18. Emphatic position of this verb.

By his good life (εκ της καλης αναστροπηςek tēs kalēs anastrophēs). For this literary Koiné word from αναστρεπομαιanastrephomai (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 πραυτητι σοπιαςen prautēti sophias). As in James 1:21 of the listener, so here of the teacher. Cf. Matthew 5:5; Matthew 11:29 and Zechariah 9:9 of King Messiah quoted in Matthew 21:5. Startling combination.


Verse 14

Bitter jealousy (ζηλον πικρονzēlon pikron). ηλοςZēlos 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 (εριτιανerithian). Late word, from εριτοςerithos (hireling, from εριτευωeritheuō to spin wool), a pushing forward for personal ends, partisanship, as in Philemon 1:16.

In your heart (εν τηι καρδιαι υμωνen tēi kardiāi humōn). The real fountain (πηγηpēgē James 3:11).

Glory not (μη κατακαυχαστεmē katakauchāsthe). Present middle imperative of κατακαυχαομαιkatakauchaomai for which see note on James 2:13. Wisdom is essential for the teacher. Boasting arrogance disproves the possession of wisdom.

Lie not against the truth (πσευδεστε κατα της αλητειαςpseudesthe kata tēs alētheias). Present middle imperative of πσευδομαιpseudomai old verb, to play false, with μηmē 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 σοπιαhautē hē sophia). All talk and disproved by the life, counterfeit wisdom, not real wisdom (James 1:5; James 3:17).

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

Earthly (επιγειοςepigeios). Old adjective, on earth (επι γηepiπσυχικηgē), as in John 3:12, then with earthly limitations (Philemon 3:19), as here.

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

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


Verse 16

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

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


Verse 17

First pure (πρωτον μεν αγνηprōton men hagnē). First in rank and time. αγνοςHagnos is from the same root as αγιοςhagios (holy), old adjective, pure from fault, not half-good and half-bad, like that above.

Then peaceable (επειτα ειρηνικηepeita eirēnikē). Old adjective from ειρηνηeirēnē (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 (επιεικηςepieikēs). Old adjective (from εικοςeikos reasonable, fair), equitable (Philemon 4:5; 1 Peter 2:18). No English word renders it clearly.

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

Mercy (καρπων αγατωνeleous). Practical help (James 2:13, James 2:16).

Good fruits (Καλοι καρποιkarpōn agathōn). αδιακριτοςKaloi karpoi in Matthew 7:17. Good deeds the fruit of righteousness (Philemon 1:11).

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

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


Verse 18

Is sown in peace (εν ειρηνηι σπειρεταιen eirēnēi speiretai). Present passive indicative of σπειρωspeirō to sow. The seed which bears the fruit is sown, but James catches up the metaphor of καρποςkarpos (fruit) from James 3:17. Only in peace is the fruit of righteousness found.

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

 


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)

Bibliography Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on James 3:4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/james-3.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

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