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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament
James 4



Other Authors
Verse 1

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

Wars (πολεμοιpolemoi) - fightings (μαχαιmachai).

War (πολεμοςpolemos old word, Matthew 24:6) pictures the chronic state or campaign, while μαχηmachē (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 υμωνek tōn hēdonōn humōn). Old word from ηδομαιhēdomai Ablative case here after εκek “out of your sinful, sensual lusts,” the desire to get what one does not have and greatly desires.

That war (των στρατευομενωνtōn strateuomenōn). Present middle articular participle (ablative case agreeing with ηδονωνhēdonōn) of στρατευωstrateuō 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 υμινen humin). Modern church disturbances are old enough in practice.

Verse 2

Ye lust (επιτυμειτεepithumeite). Present active indicative of επιτυμεωepithumeō old word (from επι τυμοςepiπονευετε και ζηλουτεthumos 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 (πονευωphoneuete kai zēloute). Present active indicatives of πονευςphoneuō (old verb from ζηλοωphoneus murderer) and πονευετεzēloō to desire hotly to possess (1 Corinthians 12:31). It is possible (perhaps probable) that a full stop should come after επιτυχεινphoneuete (ye kill) as the result of lusting and not having. Then we have the second situation: “Ye covet and cannot obtain (επιτυγχανωepituchein second aorist active infinitive of πονευετεepitugchanō), and (as a result) ye fight and war.” This punctuation makes better sense than any other and is in harmony with James 4:1. Thus also the anticlimax in ζηλουτεphoneuete and ουκ εχετε δια το μη αιτεισται υμαςzēloute is avoided. Mayor makes the words a hendiadys, “ye murderously envy.”

Ye have not, because ye ask not (ουκ εχετεouk echete dia to mē aiteisthai humas). James refers again to διαouk echete (ye do not have) in 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 6:31-33. The reason here is expressed by αιτεωdia and the accusative of the articular present middle infinitive of υμαςaiteō used here of prayer to God as in Matthew 7:7. αιτειστεHumās (you) is the accusative of general reference. Note the middle voice here as in αιτεωaiteisthe 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 αιτεομαιaiteō and aiteomai often “an extinct subtlety.”

Verse 3

Because ye ask amiss (διοτι κακως αιτειστεdioti kakōs aiteisthe). Here the indirect middle does make sense, “ye ask for yourselves” and that is “evilly” or amiss (κακωςkakōs), as James explains.

That ye may spend it in your pleasures (ινα εν ταις ηδοναις υμων δαπανησητεhina en tais hēdonais humōn dapanēsēte). Purpose clause with ιναhina and the first aorist subjunctive of δαπαναωdapanaō old verb from δαπανηdapanē cost (Luke 14:28 only in N.T.), to squander (Luke 15:14). God does not hear prayers like this.

Verse 4

Ye adulteresses (μοιχαλιδεςmoichalides). Μοιχοι καιMoichoi kai (ye adulterers) is spurious (Syrian text only). The feminine form here is a common late word from the masculine μοιχοιmoichoi 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 5:24-28 (the Bride of Christ). Either view makes sense in this context, probably the literal view being more in harmony with the language of 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 5:3-5).

Enmity with God (εχτρα του τεουechthra tou theou). Objective genitive τεουtheou with εχτραechthra (predicate and so without article), old word from εχτροςechthros enemy (Romans 5:10), with εις τεονeis theon (below and Romans 8:7).

Whosoever therefore would be (ος εαν ουν βουλητηιhos ean oun boulēthēi). Indefinite relative clause with οςhos and modal εανean and the first aorist passive (deponent) subjunctive of βουλομαιboulomai to will (purpose).

A friend of the world (πιλος του κοσμουphilos tou kosmou). Predicate nominative with infinitive ειναιeinai agreeing with οςhos See note on James 2:23 for πιλος τεουphilos theou (friend of God).

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

An enemy of God (εχτρος του τεουechthros tou theou). Predicate nominative and anarthrous and objective genitive (τεουtheou).

Verse 5

The Scripture (η γραπηhē graphē). 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 6:3-5; Isaiah 63:8-16, 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 James 4:6 from Proverbs 3:34 and treating all before as a parenthesis. There is no way to decide positively.

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

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

Long unto envying (προς πτονον επιποτειpros phthonon epipothei). A difficult phrase. Some even take προς πτονονpros phthonon with λεγειlegei rather than with επιποτειepipothei as it naturally does go, meaning “jealously.” But even so, with God presented as a jealous lover, does το πνευμαto pneuma refer to the Holy Spirit as the subject of επιποτειepipothei or to man‘s spirit as the object of επιποτειepipothei Probably the former and επιποτειepipothei then means to yearn after in the good sense as in Philemon 1:8.

Verse 6

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

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

God resisteth the proud (ο τεος υπερηπανοις αντιτασσεταιho theos huperēphanois antitassetai). Present middle (direct) indicative of αντιτασσωantitassō old military term, to range in battle against, with dative case (Romans 13:2) as in James 5:6. υπερηπανοιςHuperēphanois (υπερ παινομαιhuperταπεινοις δε διδωσιν χαρινphainomai) is like our vernacular “stuck-up folks” (Romans 1:30), “haughty persons.”

But giveth grace to the humble (tapeinois de didōsin charin). Anarthrous adjective again, “to humble or lowly persons,” for which word see James 1:9. Cf. James 2:5-7; James 5:1-6.

Verse 7

Be subject therefore unto God (υποταγητε ουν τωι τεωιhupotagēte oun tōi theōi). Second aorist (ingressive) passive imperative of υποτασσωhupotassō old verb, to range under (military term also). Same form in 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Peter 5:5. With the dative case τεωιtheōi (unto God). The aorist has the note of urgency in the imperative. Note the ten aorist imperatives in James 4:7-10 (υποταγητε αντιστητε εγγισατε καταρισατε αγνισατε ταλαιπωρησατε πεντησατε κλαυσατε μετατραπητω ταπεινωτητεhupotagēteαντιστητε δε τωι διαβολωιantistēteαντιστημιeggisateδιαβολωιkatharisateπευχεταιhagnisateπευγωtalaipōrēsatepenthēsateklausatemetatrapētōtapeinōthēte).

But resist the devil (antistēte de tōi diabolōi). Second aorist (ingressive) active (intransitive) imperative of anthistēmi “take a stand against.” Dative case diabolōi Result of such a stand is that the devil will flee (pheuxetai future middle of pheugō). See 1 Peter 5:8.; Ephesians 6:11.; Luke 10:17.

Verse 8

Draw nigh to God (εγγισατε τωι τεωιeggisate tōi theōi). First aorist active imperative of εγγιζωeggizō late verb from εγγυςeggus (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 (καταρισατε χειραςkatharisate cheiras). First aorist active imperative of καταριζωkatharizō to cleanse, from dirt in a ritual sense (Exodus 30:19-21; Mark 7:3, Mark 7:19). Here it is figurative, as in Isaiah 1:16; Psalm 24:4. If we always had clean (from sin) hands and hearts?

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

Purify your hearts (αγνισατε καρδιαςhagnisate kardias). First aorist active imperative of αγνιζωhagnizō old verb from αγνοςhagnos (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 καρδιαςkardias as of χειραςcheiras (wash hands, purify hearts).

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

Verse 9

Be afflicted (ταλαιπωρησατεtalaipōrēsate). First aorist active imperative ταλαιπωρεωtalaipōreō old verb from ταλαιπωροςtalaipōros (Romans 7:24), to endure toils, here only in N.T. Cf. ταλαιπωριαιςtalaipōriais in James 5:1.

Mourn (πεντησατεpenthēsate). First aorist active imperative of πεντεωpentheō old verb from πεντοςpenthos (mourning, James 4:9), as in Matthew 5:4. Often in N.T. joined as here with κλαιωklaiō 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 (κλαυσατεklausate). First aorist active imperative of κλαιωklaiō (γελωςgelōs). Old word from Homer down, only here in N.T. as γελαωgelaō to laugh (opposite of κλαιωklaiō), in N.T. only in Luke 6:21, Luke 6:25, but καταγελαωkatagelaō in Luke 8:53 (Mark 5:40; Matthew 9:24).

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

Heaviness (κατηπειανkatēpheian). Old word from κατηπηςkatēphēs (of a downcast look, from καταkata παηphaē eyes), hanging down of the eyes like the publican in Luke 18:13, here only in N.T.

Verse 10

Humble yourselves (ταπεινωτητεtapeinōthēte). First aorist passive imperative of ταπεινοωtapeinoō old verb from ταπεινοςtapeinos (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 (υπσωσει υμαςhupsōsei humas). Future active indicative of υπσοωhupsoō common verb from υπσοςhupsos (height), used by Jesus in contrast with ταπεινοωtapeinoō as here (Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14).

Verse 11

Speak not one against another (μη καταλαλειτε αλληλωνmē katalaleite allēlōn). Prohibition against such a habit or a command to quit doing it, with μηmē and the present imperative of καταλαλεωkatalaleō 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 3:1-12).

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

Not a doer of the law, but a judge (ουκ ποιητης νομου αλλα κριτηςouk poiētēs nomoualla kritēs). 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 (ειςheis). No “only” in the Greek, but ειςheis here excludes all others but God.

The lawgiver (ο νομοτετηςho nomothetēs). Old compound (from νομοσ τιτημιnomosνομοτετεωtithēmi), only here in N.T. In Psalm 9:20. Cf. σωσαιnomotheteō in Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 8:6.

To save (σωζωsōsai first aorist active infinitive of και απολεσαιsōzō) and to destroy (απολλυμιkai apolesai first aorist active infinitive of συ δε τις ειapollumi 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? (συsu de tis ei̱). Proleptic and emphatic position of τον πλησιονsu (thou) in this rhetorical question as in Romans 9:20; Romans 14:4.

Thy neighbour (ton plēsion). “The neighbour” as in James 2:8.

Verse 13

Go to now (αγε νυνage nun). Interjectional use of αγεage (from αγωagō) as in James 5:1 (only N.T. instances) with a plural verb (οι λεγοντεςhoi legontes present active articular participle, ye that say) as is common in ancient Greek like ιδε νυν ηκουσατεide nun ēkousate (Matthew 26:65).

Today or tomorrow (σημερον η αυριονsēmeron ē aurion). Correct text (Aleph B), not καιkai (and).

Into this city (εις τηνδε την πολινeis tēnde tēn polin). Old demonstrative οδεhode rare in N.T. (Luke 10:39) save in neuter plural ταδεtade (these things Acts 21:11). One would point out the city on the map (Mayor) as he made the proposal (we will go, πορευσομεταporeusometha).

And spend a year there (και ποιησομεν εκει ενιαυτονkai poiēsomen ekei eniauton). Another future (active of ποιεωpoieō). “We will do a year there.”

And trade (και εμπορευσομεταkai emporeusometha). Future middle of εμπορευομαιemporeuomai (εν πορευομαιenεμποροςporeuomai to go in), old verb from και κερδησομενemporos (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 (κερδαινωkai kerdēsomen). Future (Ionic form) active of κερδοςkerdainō old verb from kerdos (gain, Philemon 1:21), as in Matthew 16:26.

Verse 14

Whereas ye know not (οιτινες ουκ επισταστεhoitines ouk epistasthe). The longer relative οστιςhostis defines here more precisely (like Latin qui) οι λεγοντεςhoi legontes (ye who say) of James 4:13 in a causal sense, as in Acts 10:47, “who indeed do not know” (present middle indicative of επισταμαιepistamai).

What shall be on the morrow (της αυριονtēs aurion). Supply ημεραςhēmeras (day) after αυριονaurion This is the reading of B (Westcott) “on the morrow” (genitive of time), but Aleph K L cursives have το της αυριονto tēs aurion (“the matter of tomorrow”), while A P cursives have τα της αυριονta tēs aurion (“the things of tomorrow”). The sense is practically the same, though το της αυριονto tēs aurion is likely correct.

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

As vapour (ατμιςatmis). This is the answer. Old word for mist (like ατμοςatmos from which our “atmosphere”), in N.T. only here and Acts 2:19 with καπνουkapnou (vapour of smoke (from Joel 2:30).

For a little time (προς ολιγονpros oligon). See same phrase in 1 Timothy 4:8, προς καιρονpros kairon in Luke 8:13, προς ωρανpros hōran in John 5:35.

That appeareth and then vanisheth away (παινομενη επειτα και απανιζομενηphainomenē epeita kai aphanizomenē). Present middle participles agreeing with ατμιςatmis “appearing, then also disappearing,” with play on the two verbs (παινομαι απανιζωphainomaiαπανηςaphanizō as in Matthew 6:19, from πανaphanēs hidden Hebrews 4:13) with the same root παινω απανηςphan (phainōȧphaṅēs).

Verse 15

For that ye ought to say (αντι του λεγειν υμαςanti tou legein humās). “Instead of the saying as to you” (genitive of the articular infinitive with the preposition αντιanti and the accusative of general reference with λεγεινlegein), “instead of your saying.”

If the Lord will (εαν ο κυριος τεληιean ho kurios thelēi). Condition of the third class with εανean and the present active subjunctive (or first aorist active τελεσηιthelesēi in some MSS). The proper attitude of mind (Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 16:7; Romans 1:19; Philemon 2:19, Philemon 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 εκεινοtouto ē ekeino). Applicable to every act.

Verse 16

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

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

Verse 17

To him that knoweth (ειδοτιeidoti). Dative case of second perfect participle ειδωςeidōs (from οιδαoida), and with the infinitive to know how, “to one knowing how.”

To do good (καλον ποιεινkalon poiein). “To do a good deed.”

And doeth it not (και μη ποιουντιkai mē poiounti). Dative again of the present active participle of ποιεωpoieō “and to one not doing it.” Cf. “not a doer” (James 1:23) and Matthew 7:26.

Sin (αμαρτιαhamartia). 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)

Bibliography Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on James 4:4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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