The Letter of James
Chapter Three
Copyright ©2001, Charles Hess, Ridgefield, Washington
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This chapter[ 1 ] discusses two main topics: the untamable tongue (Jas 3:1-12) and heavenly versus earthly wisdom (Jas 3:13-18; see chart OUTLINE OF JAMES 3).


  1. Lessons on the tongue (Jas 3:1-12).
  2. Wisdom from above is peaceful, gentle, merciful (Jas 3:13-18).


3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.

My brethren [my brothers].[ 2 ] James addresses his Christian brothers and sisters. The undertone here has to do with the right spirit, preparation, faithfulness and responsibility.


Let not many of you become teachers [be not many of you teachers, be not many masters,[ 3 ] not many of you should be teachers].[ 4 ] The work of teaching in early churches of Christ was not assigned by some hierarchy to only certain individuals. Almost anyone one could choose to become a teacher.[ 5 ] Because instructing in the word of God is such a serious responsibility, James urges caution in eagerly entering into it.

God has ordained a sharp and dangerous instrument [the tongue] to be used in the great service of teaching. Hence, the caution. The purpose of teaching should always be to impart the truth and to edify or build up others in knowledge and faith (1Co 14:26). Without preparation, teaching is like the blind leading the blind (Mt 15:14). Some in the early churches became false teachers for money (1Ti 6:3-5; see chart ERRORS OF SOME EARLY TEACHERS).

    (Jas 3:1)

  1. To be a leader?
  2. No one else will do it?
  3. An easy job?
  4. To show off?
  5. To become important?
  6. Pride?
  7. To convert the lost?
  8. To strengthen the church?
  9. A great knowledge of the Bible?
  10. Cannot keep from it?

Knowing that [because you know, for you know].[ 6 ] Teachers should tremble before the mighty word of God because they know that it is true. "But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word" (Isa 66:2).

    (Jas 3:1)

  1. Saying circumcision was essential to salvation (Ac 15:1).
  2. Saying Gentiles had to observe the Law of Moses (Ac 15:5).
  3. Not practicing what they preached (Ro 2:21-23).
  4. Fruitless discussions (1Ti 1:6).

    (Jas 3:1)

  1. Forbidding marriage; advocating abstinence from foods (1Ti 4:3).
  2. Teaching for dishonest gain (Tit 1:11).
  3. Denying the Master who bought them (2Pe 2:1).
  4. Turning God's grace into lewdness (Jude 4).

We shall receive a stricter judgment [we shall receive heavier judgment, the greater condemnation, we teachers shall receive a greater judgment, that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness].[ 7 ] In the OT, all infractions were not considered equal. All violations did not deserve the same punishment. For example, a person who sinned unintentionally had to bring an offering for it (Le 5:15-18; Nu 15:29). On the other hand, one who sinned defiantly was to be "cut off from among the people" (Nu 15:30). In the case of a beating, circumstances related to the crime altered the number of stripes to be meted out. "Then it shall be, if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, that the judge will cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence, according to his guilt, with a certain number of blows" (De 25:2).

Jesus implied that God's judgment will vary in strictness. "And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes" (Lu 12:47).

    (Jas 3:1)

  1. Slow to speak (Jas 1:19).
  2. Not bridle tongue . . . religion vain (Jas 1:26).
  3. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man (Jas 3:2).
  4. Do not speak evil of one another (Jas 4:11, 12).
  5. Above all, do not swear (Jas 5:12).


3:2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.

For we all stumble [for we offend all, for we all make mistakes].[ 8 ] "To err is human." Everybody is guilty of some improprieties, mistakes or blunders. "For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin" (Ec 7:20; compare Ro 3:23).

James includes himself among those who stumble. He was in good company. On one occasion, Peter and Barnabas were guilty of hypocrisy (Ga 2:11-13). John Mark deserted the missionary team at Pamphylia (Ac 15:38). Although I cannot point out a specific sin Paul committed after his baptism, he himself did not claim to have arrived (Php 3:13).

In many things [many][ 9 ] When the tarnished lives of Christians are compared with the holiness of Jesus Christ, many flaws can be seen.

If anyone does not stumble [if any stumbleth not, if any man offend not, and if any one makes no mistakes].[ 10 ] Who has not immediately regretted something he has said?

In word [in what he says].[ 11 ] Other than unchristian thoughts, errors of speech are most common. Unbefitting words slide right out of the mouth with no difficulty at all.

    (Jas 3:2)

  1. O that you would be silent, and it would be your wisdom! (Job 13:5).
  2. Put your hand over your mouth (Job 21:5).
  3. In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking (Pr 10:19).
  4. The wicked is ensnared by the transgression of his lips (Pr 12:13).
  5. He who guards his mouth preserves his life (Pr 13:3).

    (Jas 3:2)

  1. A whisperer separates the best of friends (Pr 16:28).
  2. He who has knowledge spares his words (Pr 17:27).
  3. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise (Pr 17:28).
  4. Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Pr 18:21).
  5. Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles (Pr 21:23).

    (Jas 3:2)

  1. The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue an angry countenance (Pr 25:23).
  2. The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body (Pr 26:22).
  3. He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue (Pr 28:23).
  4. A fool vents all his feelings [literally, spirit], but a wise man holds them back (Pr 29:11).
  5. Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him (Pr 29:20).

    (Jas 3:2)

  1. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight (Ps 19:14).
  2. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver (Pr 10:20).
  3. A word spoken in due season, how good it is! (Pr 15:23).
  4. The heart of the righteous studies how to answer (Pr 15:28).
  5. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver (Pr 25:11).
  6. The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary (Isa 50:4).

He is a perfect man [the same is a perfect man, he is a mature man].[ 12 ] According to James, if a man is perfect, he possesses the ability to control his tongue and his entire body. Many times in the NT "perfect" is used in the sense of maturity. Here he partly defines the word "perfect" by describing the outstanding self-control developed by the perfect man.

    (Jas 3:2)

  1. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Col 4:6).
  2. Hold fast the pattern of sound words (2Ti 1:13).
  3. Sound in speech that cannot be condemned (Tit 2:8; 1Pe 4:11).

    (Jas 3:2)

  1. Spiteful words (Pr 17:4).
  2. Revenge (Ro 12:19).
  3. Reviling (1Co 6:10).
  4. Silly, foolish talk (Eph 5:4).
  5. Hotheads striking out in anger (Eph 4:26).
  6. Coarse jesting (Eph 5:4).
  7. Lying (Re 21:8).

Able also to bridle [and able also to bridle, able to control].[ 13 ] It takes more effort to bridle the tongue than any other part of the body. This is of first importance. It is essential that the tongue be subdued and guided. David said,

    "I said, will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle, while the wicked are before me" (Ps 39:1).

    "If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless" (Jas 1:26).

The whole body [the whole body also, the whole body as well].[ 14 ] The tongue is an "indicator" organ. It and the heart back of it are the two most difficult organs to control. If one controls it, he is able to master every other bodily organ.

    (Jas 3:3).

  1. Bit (Jas 3:3).
  2. Rudder (Jas 3:4).
  3. Fire (Jas 3:5, 6).
  4. Wild animals (Jas 3:7, 8).
  5. Fountain (Jas 3:9-11).
  6. Fig tree (Jas 3:12).
  7. Vine (Jas 3:12).


3:3 Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.

Indeed [if, now if, behold].[ 15 ]

We put bits [we put the horses' bridles].[ 16 ] Horses are known to have been used by the Babylonians to draw war chariots as early as 1700 BC.

In horses' mouths [into their mouths, the mouths of horses].[ 17 ] An ancient bridle was probably a piece of rope looped tightly through the mouth and around the jaw of the horse. Modern bits are part of the bridle and are usually made of linked steel. They are fitted between the teeth and usually over the tongue of a horse.

That they may obey us [so that they will obey us].[ 18 ] A small bit can control an average horse. In order to control a particularly rebellious stallion, it may be necessary to use a "saw" bit that actually cuts the flesh when the reins are jerked by the rider.

And we turn their whole body [we turn about their whole body also, their entire body, we guide their whole bodies].[ 19 ] James uses the illustration of putting bits into horses' mouths to show that the tongue can be controlled if enough effort is devoted to it.


3:4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.

Look [behold, look at].[ 20 ] I wonder if James was by the Sea of Galilee or the Mediterranean Sea observing the ships at the very time he wrote. No doubt he had seen both.

Also at ships [the ships also, also the ships, the boats also].[ 21 ] There is an early reference to ships in Judges 5:17. Phoenicians and other ancient peoples built ships and sailed the seas (see 1Ki 9:26, 27; 10:22; Ps 104:26; Isa 2:16; 18:2; Eze 27:4-11; Da 11:30). Some of the boats on the Sea of Galilee accommodated a dozen men or more men.

Although they are so large [though they are so great, which though they be so great, which are large].[ 22 ] Just as horses are much larger than the bits that control them, ships are much greater in size than their rudders. Some of the ancient ships were quite large. For example, the one Paul rode to Malta had 276 people on board (Ac 27:37). It was probably larger than some church auditoriums. Josephus states that he traveled to Rome on a ship with no less than 600 aboard.[ 23 ]

And are driven by fierce winds [and are driven by, of, rough winds, fierce winds, strong winds].[ 24 ] Strong winds suggest violent emotions that tend toward uncontrolled speech.

They are turned [are yet turned about, yet are they turned about, they are turned about, they are guided].[ 25 ] Unless winds are extremely violent, rudders are useful in turning a ship. This implies free will and will power that may be used in controlling the tongue.

By a very small rudder [with a very small helm].[ 26 ] Some rudders on ancient vessels looked more like giant paddles supported by frameworks at the rear of the ships. They were not used to propel the ships but for regulating its direction. Some ships had two of them. The ship on which Paul was a passenger had a plurality of rudders (see Ac 27:40).

Wherever the pilot desires [whither the impulse of the steersman willeth, whithersoever the governor listeth, wherever the will of the pilot directs].[ 27 ] The rudder of a ship is managed by the pilot. He puts forth comparatively little effort to turn the massive vessel whatever way he chooses. The tongue is governed by the spirit within a person. It may not be as easy to control the tongue as it is the rudder but when it is controlled, the entire life of the individual is directed and made better.


3:5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!

Even so [so also, so].[ 28 ]

The tongue [with the tongue].[ 29 ]

Is a little member [it is a small member].[ 30 ] There is a tendency to belittle or ignore smaller things. The tongue may be given a poor rating in the control department because of its small size. People consider smallness of great value when they compare a large truck with a child.

And boasts great things [and boasteth greatly, great things, of great things].[ 31 ] The power of the tongue is stupendous. It is used for various "great things." One "great thing" the tongue is used for is the enormous influence of flattery. "May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaks proud things" (Ps 12:3). Another "great thing" is threatening others. "They mock, and wickedly speak of oppression; they speak from on high. They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue parades through the earth" (Ps 73:8, 9). The tongue may also be used for "great" teaching of the word of God, His power to salvation (Ro 1:16; see chart TONGUE BOASTS GREAT THINGS).

    (Jas 3:5)

  1. Flattery (Ps 12:3).
  2. Threats (Ps 73:8, 9).
  3. Encouragement (Ac 27:22).
  4. Teaching of the word of God (Ro 1:16).
  5. Comfort (1Th 5:11).
  6. Warning (1Th 5:14).
  7. Prayer (1Th 5:17).

See [behold].[ 32 ] James calls for his readers to imagine a huge fire.


How great a forest [how a large forest, how much wood, how great a matter].[ 33 ] God has employed the image of fire many times in the Bible. He appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Ex 3:2). He led the children of Israel with a pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:21, 22). He answered the prayer of Elijah with fire (1Ki 18:38). In the book of Proverbs, there is a "fire" passage that has to do with the tongue. "Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife" (Pr 26:20, 21).

A little fire kindles [is kindled by how small a fire, a little fire kindleth, a small fire kindles, is set ablaze by a small fire!].[ 34 ] A spark, a glowing match or a cigarette not snuffed out can ignite a raging inferno.


3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

And the tongue is a fire [is in effect a fire, the tongue is also a fire].[ 35 ] "The tongue is a fire" is a metaphor,[ 36 ] one of seven in this chapter (see chart OUTLINE OF JAMES 3 at verse 1).

A world of iniquity [the world of iniquity, is an unrighteous world].[ 37 ] The tongue is, hyperbolically speaking,[ 38 ] the sum total of unrighteousness. It is the atom bomb of sin.

    "Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips and from a deceitful tongue. What shall be given to you, or what shall be done to you, you false tongue?" (Ps 120:2, 3).

The use of the tongue has eternal implications.

    "But I say to you, that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Mt 12:36, 37).

The tongue is so set among our members [among our members is the tongue, so is the tongue among our members, the tongue is set among our members, the tongue among our members].[ 39 ]
The tongue is small compared to most body members. Is it too small to worry about? No. Size has nothing to do with it. The whole being, including the tiny tongue, is to be dedicated to God (Ro 12:1, 2).

That it defiles the whole body [which defileth the whole body, that it defileth the whole body, defiling the whole body, staining the whole body].[ 40 ] The tongue ranks right along with the love of money as a basis of evil (see 1Ti 6:10). "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Mt 15:11). "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man" (Mt 15:18).

And sets on fire [setting, and setting, and setteth, on fire].[ 41 ]

The course of nature [the wheel of nature, the course of life, the cycle of nature].[ 42 ] The expressions "course of nature" and "cycle of nature" are not easy to understand. Some think they refer to sexual urges that may be stimulated by listening to suggestive speech. They probably have reference to the whole of one's life.

And is set on fire by hell [and set on fire of hell, by Gehenna].[ 43 ] The word for "hell" is not "Hades" but "Gehenna." Jesus' first recorded use of the latter word[ 44 ] is in Matthew 5:22 (compare Mk 9:47). He called it "hell fire." He warned about going "to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched" (Mk 9:43). He added, "Where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mk 9:48). An evil tongue is so wicked that it applies to hell to get a light. Just how is the tongue set on fire by gehenna? Probably in the sense that evil speaking, especially lying is of the devil himself (see Joh 8:44). He knows that the misuse of the tongue will send souls to hell (see Mt 12:37).


3:7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.

For every kind [every kind, for all kinds, of every kind].[ 45 ]

Of beast [of beasts, of animals].[ 46 ] "Beasts" include wild animals of all kinds, mainly quadrupeds[ 47 ] as distinguished from birds, certain reptiles and creatures of the sea. James makes a general statement about the taming of them. Some of the more difficult to tame are the Ai, bat, badger, fox, mole, shrew, wolverine and zebra.

And bird [and birds, and of birds].[ 48 ] Some birds that have been tamed are the canary, chicken, condor, crow, eagle, emu, falcon, goose, hawk, parakeet and parrot.

Of reptile [of,and of, creeping things, and of serpents].[ 49 ] Crocodiles, lizards, snakes and turtles have been kept as pets.

And creature of the sea [and things in the sea, and sea creature, and sea creatures, and of things in the sea].[ 50 ] Gold fish and various tropical species are kept in aquaria. Among the fish that have been tamed are the koi that surface to allow people to pat them on the head. Other sea creatures that may be tamed include dolphins, otters, sea lions, walruses and whales.

Is tamed [have been restrained, can be tamed].[ 51 ]

And has been tamed [and hath been tamed, and are being restrained].[ 52 ]

By mankind [of mankind, by people, by humankind].[ 53 ] Mankind was given authority to "Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Ge 1:28).


3:8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

But no man [but no person, but no human being].[ 54 ] Even Moses, probably the meekest man who ever lived, erred with his tongue (see Nu 12:3; 20:10-12). Samson, the strongest, did likewise (Jg 16:15-18).

Can tame the tongue [the tongue can tame, can restrain the tongue].[ 55 ] Until one's heart is pure and righteous, the undomesticated tongue spills out bad talk. One may discipline or control the tongue but it is difficult if not impossible to completely subdue or tame it. The Bible does not teach that the only way a Christian is enabled to control his tongue is by a personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit any more than the Spirit assists in thwarting other sins (see note on "Then Peaceable" at verse 17). One of the graces that Christians super-add or supply in their faith is self-control (see 2Pe 1:6).

It is an unruly evil [a restless evil, it is a restless, an unceasing, evil].[ 56 ] Picture a wild animal in a cage as it restlessly paces back and forth ready to attack or escape if given opportunity. The tongue is ever prepared to get loose and offend.

Full of deadly poison [it is full of deadly poison].[ 57 ] Picture a deadly snake ready to strike.


3:9, 10 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.

With it we bless [therewith bless we, by it we bless].[ 58 ] James describes the double nature of the tongue. It is used for praising God but also for cursing men.

Our God and Father [the Lord and Father, God, even the Father, the Lord and the Father].[ 59 ] See James 1:27 where the writer calls the Lord "God and the Father."

And with it we curse men [and therewith curse we men, and by it we curse people].[ 60 ] God was speaking to the wicked who allowed their tongues to go uncaged (see Ps 50:16). He further said to them:

"You give your mouth to evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother's son. These things you have done, and I kept silent; you thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes. Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver. Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; and to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God" (Ps 50:19-23).

David expected his enemies to curse but instead he would praise God. "Let them curse, but You bless. . . . I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth; yes, I will praise Him among the multitude" (Ps 109:28, 30). We are not surprised when evil men and women curse but the least bit of off-color language spoken by a Christian is like finding a fly in the milk.

Who have been made [who, which, are made].[ 61 ]

In the similitude of God [after the likeness of God, after the similitude of God, in the likeness of God].[ 62 ] Man was made in God's image from the very first. My thought is that the image is in spirit enabling man to love, hate, choose and communicate. To some degree, that likeness still remains in every human being even though they are sinners (see chart IN THE LIKENESS OF GOD).

    (Jas 3:9)

  1. Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness (Ge 1:26).
  2. After the fall, God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil" (Ge 3:22).
  3. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God (Ge 5:1).
  4. For in the image of God He made man (Ge 9:6).
  5. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man (1Co 11:7).

[10] Out of the same mouth [from the same mouth].[ 63 ] Paul showed that we are always to have our speech "seasoned with salt" (palatable, in good taste), answering every person as a Christian should (see Col 4:6). Have you ever known of a man who hit his finger on Saturday and cursed? The same man may bless[ 64 ] the fruit of the vine on Sunday. How can bad and good language come from the same source? Only because the heart is an impure fountain.

Proceed blessing [cometh forth blessing, proceedeth blessing, come blessing, blessings][ 65 ] (see chart BLESSINGS FROM THE TONGUE).

    (Jas 3:10)

  1. And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness and of Your praise all the day long (Ps 35:28).
  2. My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness (Ps 119:172).
  3. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing (Ps 126:2).
  4. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness (Pr 31:26).

And cursing [and cursings].[ 66 ] "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (Ro 12:14).

My brethren [my brothers].[ 67 ] This is another of the times that James addresses his readers as brethren (see Jas 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19.

    (Jas 3:10)

  1. Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation (Jas 1:9).
  2. If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food (Jas 2:15).
  3. Do not speak evil of one another, brethren (Jas 4:11).

These things ought not to be so [these things ought not so to be, it should not be like this, this ought not to be so].[ 68 ] Do you think James wrote these words with a hopeless sigh? Or did he write them with dogged conviction? He probably knew that some would keep on misusing their tongues. For others, he could be sure that his gentle reminder would be all that was necessary to change them.


3:11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?
Does a spring? [doth the fountain, a fountain?].[ 69 ] Palestine is a land of springs. They gush forth in canyons, out of hillsides and in valleys. Many of them issue forth clear, refreshing water. "He sends the springs into the valleys; they flow among the hills" (Ps 104:10). Enemies tried to stop up the springs (see De 8:7; 11:11; Jos 15:19; 1Ki 18:5; 2Ki 3:25; 2Ch 32:3, 4).

Send forth [pour forth].[ 70 ]

Fresh water [sweet, sweet water].[ 71 ]

And bitter [and brackish].[ 72 ] The Israelites found some of the water in the wilderness undrinkable.

    "Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called [ 73 ]Marah" (Ex 15:23).

When they settled in Canaan, they found the site of the city of Jericho to be ideal but the water was bad. They said to Elisha the prophet,

    "Please notice, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the ground barren" (2Ki 2:19).

The waters were purified when Elisha threw salt into them.[ 74 ]

Bitter wickedness reaches to the heart (Jer 4:18). James wrote of hearts having bitter envy and self-seeking (Jas 3:14). Bitter words are curses, lies, deceptions and enticements. David prayed for deliverance from his enemies, whose speech was like arrows-- "bitter words" (Ps 64:3). He wrote,

    "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. 4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear, 5 Which will not heed the voice of charmers, Charming ever so skillfully" (Ps 58:3-5).

Solomon alluded to the enticing speech of a seductress, who causes a man to yield "with her flattering lips" (Pr 7:21).

    "And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God shall escape from her, but the sinner shall be trapped by her" (Ec 7:26).

From the same opening [at the same place].[ 75 ] How inconsistent it would be for the same spring to gush forth two kinds of water!


3:12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

Can a fig tree? [can the fig tree?].[ 76 ] The fig is the first fruit tree to be mentioned in the Bible (Ge 3:6, 7). In Palestine, I have seen them twenty-five feet tall with large spreading branches. A tree like that makes an ideal shade. Dried figs were strung and eaten while traveling (see 1Sa 25:18).

My brethren [my brothers][ 77 ] (see notes on Jas 1:2; 3:1).

Bear olives [yield olives, bear olive berries].[ 78 ] Olive trees grow abundantly in Palestine (see Ho 14:6). Old stone olive presses still bear witness to the historical importance of olive oil. Some of the oil was used in foods. It was also fuel for lamps in homes and in the temple (see Ex 27:20) as well as for anointing (see note on Jas 5:14). Olives themselves were processed with lye and used for food.

Or a grapevine [or a vine, either a vine].[ 79 ] Cultivated grapevines look much like the wild ones. Palestine had wild ones that produced worthless grapes (Isa 5:2-4; Jer 2:21). Grapes were symbolic of fruitfulness (see De 8:8; Ps 105:33). Like fig trees, grapevines were sometimes used for shade (Zec 3:10).

Bear figs [figs, produce figs].[ 80 ] That a vine could yield figs is incongruous. So it is for the mouth of a Christian to use bad language.

Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh [no more can, neither can, salt water yield, so can no fountain both yield, neither can a fountain produce, salty and sweet water].[ 81 ] It seems impossible that a spring could yield both salt water and sweet, fresh water. It ought to be impossible for the mouth of a Christian to both curse and bless.


Those who desire to be teachers are probably still thinking about James' lesson in previous verses on the use of the tongue (Jas 3:2-12). They are aware that the introduction to this chapter dealt specifically with teachers (Jas 3:1). But what about the thinking and actions of teachers? These aspects of life are critical too. God's teachers must first do and then teach (compare Ezr 7:10; Ac 1:1). They must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Mt 10:16).

The lessons on the tongue have a general application. Everyone needs to watch his speech. "But no one man can tame the tongue" (Jas 3:8). What should be the answer to others who misuse the tongue? A good response to an unbridled tongue is "the gentleness of wisdom." The following section on true wisdom applies to us all but it is especially applicable to teachers.


3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.

Who among you is wise and understanding among you? [who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you, is any among you wise and understanding?].[ 82 ] Most older men and some younger ones consider themselves wise. If not, they would like to be. No doubt, they have prayed for wisdom (see Jas 1:5). James calls for them to step forward and demonstrate the wisdom they have asked for. The test he gives for true wisdom is a little surprising. Please read on.

Let him show by good conduct that his works are done [let him show by his good life his works, let him shew out of a good conversation his works, he is to show, out of a good manner of life, his works, by his good life let him show his works].[ 83 ] "Conversation" (KJV) today means discussion. In 1611, it meant manner of life, conduct or behavior and that is exactly what the Greek denotes. By a good conduct, Christians show that they are sincere in serving the Lord. John the immerser stated it like this: "Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance" (Mt 3:8). He called for a changed and holy life that his converts had repented, that is, made up their minds to serve the Lord.[ 84 ]

There are two kinds of faith. One is the obedient faith of a Christian. The other is the "faith only" of trembling devils. There are two kinds of wisdom also. Worldly wisdom may show itself in inconsiderate actions or sarcastic, barbed and caustic speech. The life of a worldly-wise person may be characterized by arrogance, selfishness or bitterness. Wisdom from above is shown by gentle and merciful behavior with words that match.


In the meekness of wisdom [with, in, meekness of wisdom, in meekness and wisdom].[ 85 ] Wisdom (the gentleness of wisdom), like love, may be expressed by words but is best demonstrated by kind deeds. Wisdom from above is never without gentleness.


3:14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.

But if you have bitter envy [but if ye, you, have bitter jealousy, bitter envying].[ 86 ] Bitterness, jealousy and arrogance are worldly traits. They do not match up with the example of Christ nor the truth He taught (see note on 2Co 10:1). Bitter envy or jealousy expressess the degree of these attitudes. It alludes to the intensity or a resentful attitude toward someone else. This attitude has no place in the heart of a Christian (Eph 4:31; compare De 29:18; Heb 12:15). Jealousy is an indicator that one is still fleshly (1Co 3:3). Christians are to put it away (Eph 4:31). God's wise men and women are not fussy over non-essential points. Neither do they hold resentment or anger against others of different status, disposition or race. They never argue just for the purpose of winning. They never utter insulting words. Paul taught, "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (Eph 4:29).

And self-seeking in your hearts [and faction in your heart, and strife in your hearts, or, and, selfish ambition in your heart, hearts].[ 87 ] Selfish ambition characterizes one who will do almost anything fair or foul to win, succeed or make a conquest. Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition usually find expression in speech. "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Mt 12:34; Lu 6:45).

When in the wilderness of Engedi, Saul, for personal reasons, entered the recesses of a cave where David was hiding. David, in the darkness of the cave, secretly cut off the edge of Saul's robe. He was not willing to slay him in order to gain the kingship. He would not harm "the Lord's anointed." This wickedness would not proceed from his good heart. Even so, his conscience bothered him. He said in part, "As the proverb of the ancients says, `Wickedness proceeds from the wicked.' But my hand shall not be against you" (1Sa 24:13). This implies that evil actions come from the inner self. Jesus taught the same thing. "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man" (Mt 15:18).

Do not boast [glory not].[ 88 ] In the event that a worldly-wise person should succeed, he ought not to brag about it. The truly wise Christian never boasts about how smart he is nor how he put someone else in their place. Real scholars become increasingly aware of how much they do not know. They are not selfish, intolerant or hateful as they teach the truth. They are not bullheaded opinionated. They do not egotistically try to hurt others but are humble enough to listen to the opposite view and then respond with kindness.

And lie against the truth [and lie not against the truth, and be false to the truth].[ 89 ] In a sense, all lies are against the truth. The Greek present middle imperative means, "Stop glorying and lying against the truth."[ 90 ] Perhaps James has in mind a jealous and bitter person who had been opposing the righteousness of Christ Himself who is the embodiment of truth (Joh 14:6; compare Heb 12:3). One may lie in words. He may also deceive by actions inconsistent with the truth. The life of the unconverted may be expected to deviate from the truth but that of a Christian should not, especially after some growth time has transpired (see chart RIGHT KIND OF TEACHING).

    (Jas 3:14)

  1. Gentle (Jas 3:13).
  2. Never bitter (Jas 3:14).
  3. Unselfish, never self-seeking (Jas 3:14).
  4. Humble, never arrogant (Jas 3:14).
  5. According to the truth (Jas 3:14).


3:15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.

This wisdom does not descend from above [this wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down, descendeth not, this is not the wisdom that comes down, this wisdom is not such as comes down, from above].[ 91 ] "This wisdom" is the wrong kind of wisdom that is described in verse 14. It comes from a bitter, jealous and selfish heart. It may pretend to uphold the truth but instead it lies against it in word or in life.

But is earthly.[ 92 ] The contemplations of a Christian who thinks only in terms of the here and now is little better than those of an unbeliever (see Heb 11:10, 16, 27).

Sensual [physical].[ 93 ] The Greek word for "natural" has been transliterated "soul-ical"[ 94 ] and translated "sensual" or "unspiritual." The Greek PSUCHIKEE is related to PSUCHEE soul. This may be hard to grasp because the word soul and spirit are sometimes used interchangeably in Scripture. In the present context, soul ranks between the body and spirit. It thus relates not only to the spiritual but to the physical or animal life. An animal may be friendly to the one who feeds it but will growl and snarl when a rival approaches. Wisdom that is "natural" is like that of the animals. Its main concern is self-gratification. Williams renders the word "human" because it is in contradistinction to wisdom that is divine.

Demonic [devilish].[ 95 ] Demonic wisdom is associated with that which is sordid, evil and depraved. Earthly, natural wisdom is just that. The devil is pleased with it.


3:16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.

For where jealousy and self-seeking exist [for where envying and faction, strife, selfish ambition, are, exist, is].[ 96 ] One may expect jealous factions to arise when people not truly converted to Christ or when weak Christians follow the dictates of earthly wisdom.

Confusion [there is, there you, find, shall be, will be, come, disorder].[ 97 ] The source of quarrels and conflicts is "your desires for pleasure that wage war in your members" (Jas 4:1). Earthly wisdom is based on earthly desires. Those desires produce instability, gossip, commotion, agitation and disruption. Disturbances and divisions among God's righteous people are produced by wisdom that is earthly, sensual and devilish. The wisdom from above does not produce disorder and confusion. "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace" (1Co 14:33). Therefore, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1Co 14:40).

And every evil thing are there [and every vile deed, and every evil work, and every evil thing, and every vile practice].[ 98 ] The Greek word for "evil" in this verse means good-for-nothing. Earthly wisdom is "cheap." Not only will it result in confusion and disorder but one may expect all kinds of evil practices to arise. Righteous deeds do not emerge from minds filled with earthly, sensual and devilish wisdom. When people have that mentality, sooner or later, one may expect that which is evil, vile or hateful to surface.


3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

But the wisdom that is from above [but the wisdom from above].[ 99 ] Wisdom and knowledge are partners. A truly wise person attains and makes prudent use of knowledge. The word "but" begins a contrast between disruptive worldly wisdom and the peaceful wisdom from above. Wisdom from above is that which Christ Himself demonstrated. He is both "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1Co 1:24). He "became for us wisdom from God--and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1Co 1:30; compare Lu 11:49). In Him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" Col 2:3). He illustrated the gentle wisdom from above when He explained, "I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Mt 11:29). James lists several characteristics of a wise person (see charts WISDOM FROM ABOVE A and B).

    (Jas 3:13)

  1. Good behavior.
  2. Deeds in gentleness of wisdom.
  3. Pure.
  4. Peaceable.
  5. Gentle.

    (Jas 3:13)

  1. Reasonable.
  2. Full of mercy.
  3. Full of good fruits.
  4. Unwavering.
  5. Without hypocrisy.

Wisdom from above comes from the "giving God" (see notes on Jas 1:5, 17):

"My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding" (Pr 2:1-6).

The best place to seek wisdom is the word of God itself.

Is first pure.[ 100 ] The heart is purified by obeying the truth (1Pe 1:22). It is kept purified when a Christian keeps walking in the light of God's word (1Jo 1:7). The wisdom from above is clean, unsullied and undefiled. The heart of a wise person is absolutely honest, virtuous and good. Its intent is as pure as the spotless Lamb of God. Pure wisdom is the source of good words and kind actions toward others. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). A pure heart comes from the forgiveness of Christ together with a resolve to serve Him and be true to His word.

What is a pure heart? It is one that is uncontaminated. It is wholesome and moral. It is one that has a simple trust in the Lord. A pure heart has a single purpose of serving Christ. It is not "double-minded" (Jas 4:8). Its motives are sincere and righteous. It is one that follows the revealed will of God. A pure heart may ache when difficult decisions have to be made. When the Corinthians responded to Paul's teaching concerning withdrawal of fellowship from the fornicator, no doubt tears were shed. He said they demonstrated themselves "to be HAGNOUS [pure] clear in this matter" (2Co 7:11).

Then peaceable.[ 101 ] Jesus pronounced a blessing upon peacemakers. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Mt 5:9). Peace is that calm and quiet relationship between self, others and God. Mature Christians serve as intermediaries, diplomats and peace-makers. They soothe, calm, appease and comfort others. Their inner peace monitors and regulates their words and actions according to the spirit and mind of Christ (Ro 8:9; Php 2:5).

    (Jas 3:13)

  1. As one works righteousness. "The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance (Isa 32:17).
  2. When the Lord of peace gives it (2Th 3:16).
  3. A result of discipline that yields "the peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Heb 12:11).
  4. When one pursues it. "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb 12:14).

Gentle.[ 102 ] Barclay says EPIEKEES gentle, considerate is the most untranslatable word in all the Greek NT. Williams renders it "willing to yield." It is a super quality. It describes a better action than following written law. It is superior to fairness. It knows that the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath. It is that which prompts mercy and not sacrifice. It is willing to give up "rights" in order to favor others. It is inherent in the very wisdom that comes from God. The tender heart of Christ had this spirit. His whole being was gentle and humble (Mt 11:29). A truly wise person will let his "gentleness be known to all men" (Php 4:5). Rough and gluttonous Cretans were told "to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men" (Tit 3:2).

Christians are to be gentle when others are not. Discern this in Peter's admonition to servants. "Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh" (1Pe 2:18). He continued to say, "Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[ 103 ] not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing" (1Pe 3:8, 9).

Willing to yield [easy, and easy, to be entreated, entreated, compliant, open to reason].[ 104 ] "Willing to yield" is related to "gentle." If one is gentle, he is open to reason, submissive and willing to yield in obedience to God's will. Another meaning of the word "reasonable" is the willingness to be persuaded. The truly wise person is not "carried about by every wind of doctrine" but he is sensible about what he hears. He is not so stubborn that he cannot give sincere consideration to the thoughts and feelings of others. He does not hesitate to yield when wrong.

Full of mercy.[ 105 ] This reminds one of James' description of pure religion: "To visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (Jas 1:27). A person who is "full of mercy" is kind to the poor whether or not they brought their poverty upon themselves. He is merciful regardless of how the unfortunate soul got himself into a tight spot.

And good fruits [and good fruit].[ 106 ] Earthly wisdom, like faith alone, may end with internal feelings or a few quiet mutterings. As far as good works are concerned, it may be completely barren. On the other hand, wisdom from above always produces a large amount of good fruits. Its inner attitudes and thoughts are so positive that they cannot stay hidden within.

Without partiality [without variance, impartial, without uncertainty].[ 107 ] The prayer for wisdom is to be offered without uncertainty. "But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind" (Jas 1:6). The Christian with true wisdom maintains an unwavering spirit. He makes decisions based upon truth, fairness, gentleness and mercy. Once he decides what is right he abides by his decision. For example, it is not difficult for him to decide to do deeds of kindness and mercy and then continue to carry out what he has determined.

It is popular in some circles to say, "I don't have all the answers," as if to imply the mind is unsettled and uncertain, especially about God's truth. Some modify its plain meaning in order to fit times and circumstances. Others express doubt that Scripture can be understood at all.[ 108 ] The truly wise person is able to form definite convictions about doctrine. He wills to do God's will (Joh 7:17). He knows the truth (Joh 8:32). He understands what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:17).

And without hypocrisy [without hypocrisy, or insincerity].[ 109 ] The word "hypocrisy" once described a play-actor. The man who possesses wisdom from above is no play-actor. He is not a hypocrite. He never practices pretension or subterfuge in order to gain recognition or money. He is open and honest.


3:18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Now the fruit of righteousness [the fruit, and the fruit, of righteousness, and the harvest of righteousness].[ 110 ] The seed of a plant is often found in its fruit. When the fruit is planted, the seed inside it is planted. The fruit of true wisdom is righteousness. "For all Your commandments are righteousness" (Ps 119:172; compare Ac 10:34, 35). The wise are sowing that which produces righteousness The fruit of righteousness is whatever deeds righteousness produces. It includes everything good that Christians do.

Is sown in peace.[ 111 ] This is a beautiful picture of a wise and gentle sower planting righteousness in peace.

By those who make peace [for, of, them that make peace, those who are peacemakers].[ 112 ] Those who make peace are called peacemakers (see Mt 5:9). Not only does the wise sower plant seeds of righteousness, but he applies every effort to make peace. First between self and God. Christ is our peace (Eph 2:15). We are reconciled to God through the blood of His cross (Eph 2:16; Col 1:20). Then between self and others. Many times problems between brethren can be worked out. Sometimes it requires concessions on the part of one or both parties. An example is when Abram said to Lot,

    "Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren" (Ge 13:8).

Abram allowed his nephew Lot to choose whatever land he wanted. That ended the dispute.

    "When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Pr 16:7).

After a person has achieved peace with God and fellow-Christians he is qualified to begin to reconcile differences between others.


[ 1 ]The basic text in this chapter is the New King James Version (NKJV) Alternate phrases in brackets are from ASV, Darby, English Study Bible (ESB), KJV and RSV and, occasionally, still another version. Greek transliteration follows the BibleSoft method. Most quotations from Colossians, 1, 2 and 3 John are from the Old Paths Version (OPV). Most other quotations are from the NKJV.
[ 2 ]ADELPHOI MOU, brothers of me (Marshall 901).
[ 3 ]"Masters" in the KJV is often used in the sense of teachers (compare the term school master which once meant a male school teacher).
[ 4 ]MEE POLLOI DIDASKALOI GINESTHE, not many teachers become ye (Marshall 901); of teachers of the truth in the churches (Vine 1124); literally, teachers, with a reference to the exhortation to be slow to speak (Jas 1:19) (Vincent 1.746). Transliteration from the Greek follows the BibleSoft method.
[ 5 ]In the OT, it was not the prerogative of just anyone to become a priest (see Heb 5:4). Before the establishment of the church, to be a "teacher in Israel" was a serious responsibility (see Joh 3:10; compare Mt 23:8). It seems that in the early churches the liberty to teach resulted in a little confusion about who was teaching and what was being taught (see Ac 15:24; 1Co 1:12; 14:26; Ga 2:12).
[ 6 ]EIDOTES HOTI, knowing that (Marshall 901).
[ 7 ]MEIZON KRIMA LEEMPSOMETHA, greater judgment we shall receive (Marshall 901); the comparative degree of MEGAS great; of God's judgment upon men (Vine 595, 611).
[ 8 ]GAR PTAIOMEN HAPANTES, for we stumble all (Marshall 901); cause to stumble, signifies intransitively, to stumble, used metaphorically with a moral significance (Vine 1099); literally, stumble (Vincent 1.746); make many a slip (Williams).
[ 9 ]POLLA, [in] many [respects] (Marshall 901).
[ 10 ]EI TIS OU PTAIEI, if anyone stumbles not (Marshall 901); stumble, used metaphorically with a moral significance (Vine 1099).
[ 11 ]EN LOGOO, in word (Marshall 901); word, speech; what one says (Littrell).
[ 12 ]HOUTOS TELEIOS ANEER, this [is] a perfect man (Marshall 901); complete, conveying the idea of goodness without necessary reference to maturity or being fully grown, mature (Vine 846).
[ 13 ]DUNATOS CHALINAGOOGEESAI, able to bridle (Marshall 901); bridle; "the primitive bridle was simply a loop on the halter-cord passed round the lower jaw of the horse" [Hastings Bible Dictionary] (Vine 142).
[ 14 ]KAI HOLON TO SOOMA, indeed all the body (Marshall 901).
[ 15 ]EI DE, now if (Marshall 901); [IDE, behold, the reading in the Received Text]; all the "best texts" read EI DE now if (Vincent 1.746).
[ 16 ]TOUS CHALINOUS BALLOMEN, of horses bridles we put (Marshall 901); may be rendered either bit or bridle but bridle is preferable because it corresponds with the verb to bridle (verse 2) which is compounded with this noun (Vincent 1.746).
[ 17 ]TOON HIPPOON EIS TA STOMATA, of horses into the mouths (Marshall 901); the position of "horses" in the sentence is emphatic (Vincent 1.747).
[ 18 ]EIS TO PEITHESTHAI AUTOUS HEEMIN, for the to obey them to us=to make them obey us, (Marshall 901); the obedience suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion (Vine 796).
[ 19 ]KAI HOLON TO SOOMA AUTOON METAGOMEN, and all the body of them we direct (Marshall 901); move from one side to another, turn about (Vine 1174).
[ 20 ]IDOU, behold (Marshall 901); imperative mood, middle voice, of EIDON to see, calling attention to what may be seen or heard or mentally apprehended in any way (Vine 106).
[ 21 ]KAI TA PLOIA, also the ships (Marshall 901); [akin to PLEOO to sail], boats or ships (Vine 1036).
[ 22 ]TEELIKAUTA ONTA, so great being (Marshall 901); so great (Vine 805).
[ 23 ]Josephus, Vita 3, cited by Zondervan 788.
[ 24 ]KAI HUPO ANEMOON SKLEEROON ELAUNOMENA, and by winds hard (strong) being driven (Marshall 901); hard (Vine 977); more literally, rough. The word primarily means hard, harsh (Vincent 1.747); hard [to the touch], figurative, hard, harsh, strong (Littrell).
[ 25 ]METAGETAI, is (are) directed (Marshall 901); moved from one side to another, turn about (Vine 1174).
[ 26 ]HUPO ELACHISTOU PEEDALIOU, by a very little helm (Marshall 901); [akin to PEEDOS the blade of an oar], a rudder (Vine 978); rudder. The rudder was an oar worked by a handle. Helm and rudder were thus one (Vincent 747).
[ 27 ]HOPOU HEE HORMEE TOU EUTHUNONTOS BOULETAI, where the impulse of the [one] steering resolves (Marshall 901); the verb EUTHUNOO to make or guide straight, is used in the present participle, as a noun, denoting the "steersman" or pilot of a vessel (Vine 499); literally, the impulse or desire of the steersman wisheth. HORMEE impulse only here and Acts 14:5 of an assault, onset. TOU EUTHUNONTOS steersman; literally, of him who is guiding [from EUTHUS straight] (Vincent 747).
[ 28 ]HOUTOS KAI, so also (Marshall 901).
[ 29 ]HEE GLOOSSA, the tongue (Marshall 901); the tongue, as an organ of speech (Vine 1154).
[ 30 ]MIKRON MELOS ESTIN, a little member is (Marshall 901); a limb of the body (Vine 730).
[ 31 ]KAI MEGALA AUCHEI, and great things boasts (Marshall 901); [from MEGALA great things, AUCHEOO to lift up the neck]; hence, to boast . . . indicates any kind of haughty speech which stirs up strife or provokes others (Vine 128); the best texts separate the compound and read MEGALA AUCHEI, of course with the same meaning (Vincent 1.747).
[ 32 ]IDOU, behold (Marshall 901); imperative mood, middle voice, of EIDON to see, calling attention to what may be seen or heard or mentally apprehended in any way (Vine 106).
[ 33 ]HEELIKON HULEEN, how great wood (Marshall 901); the word HULEE means wood or a forest, and hence the matter or raw material of which a thing is made. . . . Behold how much wood or how great a forest (Vincent 1.747, 748).
[ 34 ]HEELIKON PUR ANAPTEI, how little a fire kindles (Marshall 901); is kindled by how small a fire (Vincent 1.747, 748).
[ 35 ]KAI HEE GLOOSSA PUR, and the tongue [is] a fire (Marshall 901); "the tongue is a fire "to burn and destroy the fairest works of peace" (Ellicott 4.369)..
[ 36 ]A metaphor is a figure of speech in which one object is said to be another. For example, Jesus called Herod a fox (Lu 13:32). Of the bread in the communion, He said, "This is My body" (Mk 14:22; Lu 22:19).
[ 37 ]HO KOSMOS TEES ADIKIAS, the world of iniquity (Marshall 901); metaphorically, of the tongue as "a world [of iniquity], expressive of magnitude and variety (Vine 1245); KOSMOS primarily means order, and is applied to the world or universe as an orderly system. A world of iniquity is an organism containing within itself all evil essence, which from it permeates the entire man. World is used in the same sense as the latter part of Proverbs 17:6 [Septuagint], which is not given in the KJV. "The trusty hath the whole world of things, but the faithless not a groat" (Vincent 1.748); unrighteousness . . . a phrase having reference to sins of the tongue (Thayer 12); unrighteousness, wickedness, injustice; the tongue becomes [or proves to be] the sum total of iniquity (Arndt 18, 446).
[ 38 ]Hyperbole is a figure of speech using exaggeration.
[ 39 ]KATHISTATAI EN TOIS MELESIN HEEMOON, is set among the members of us (Marshall 901); this differs a little from the simple is, though it is not easy to render it accurately. The verb means to appoint, establish, institute, and is used of the tongue as having an appointed and definite place in a system (among our members). It might be rendered hath its place (Vincent 1.748).
[ 40 ]HEE SPILOUSA HOLON TOO SOOMA, spotting all the body (Marshall 901, 902); makes a stain or spot, and so defiles, of the defiling effects of an evil use of the tongue (Vine 278).
[ 41 ]KAI PHLOGIZOUSA, and inflaming (Marshall 902); literally, setting on fire (Vincent 1.748); of the tongue, as governed by a fiery disposition and as exercising a destructive influence over others (Vine 432).
[ 42 ]TON TROCHON TEES GENESEOOS, the course of nature (Marshall 902); a wheel, with metaphorical reference to the round of human activity as a glowing axle would set on fire the whole wooden wheel (Vine 241); TROCHOS from TRECHOO to run applies generally to anything round or circular which runs or rolls, as a wheel or sphere. Hence, often a wheel. . . . from the radical sense, to run, comes the meaning course, as the course of the sun; and from this a place for running, a race-course. GENESEOOS, rendered nature, means origin, beginning, birth, manner of birth, production, and is used by Plato for the creation, or the sum of created things. It also means a race, and a generation or age. . . . We may then safely translate TROCHOS by wheel; and as birth is the meaning of GENESIS in every NT passage where it occurs, we may give it the preference here and render the wheel of birth--that is, the wheel which is set in motion at birth and runs on to the close of life. It is thus a figurative description of human life. . . . The tongue works the chief mischief, kindles the most baleful fires in the course of life (Vincent 1.749).
[ 43 ]KAI PHLOGIZOMENEE HUPO TEES GEENNEES, and being inflamed by gehenna (Marshall 902); in James 3:6 hell is described as the source of the evil done by misuse of the tongue; here the word stands for the powers of darkness, whose characteristics and destiny are those of hell (Vine 543); the Jewish word for the place of torment, the accursed side of Hades (Ellicott 4.369).
[ 44 ]Gehenna in Matthew 5:22 is GEENNAN.
[ 45 ]PASA GAR PHUSIS, for every nature (Marshall 902); James is not speaking of the relation between individual men and individual beasts, but of the relation between the nature of man and that of beasts, which may be different in different beasts . . . margin, nature (Vincent 1.749).
[ 46 ]THEERIOON, of beasts (Marshall 902); to be distinguished from ZOOON, almost invariably denotes a wild beast (Vine 95); quadrupeds, not beasts generally, nor wild beasts only. The creature that fastened on to Paul's hand was a THEERIOON (Ac 28:4, 5). In Acts 10:12; 11:6 there is a different classification from the one here; quadrupeds being denoted by a specific term TETRAPODA four-footed creatures (Vincent 1.749, 750); diminutive of THEER; hence little beasts, little animals . . . in usage it had almost always the force of its primitive; the later diminutive is THEERIDION . . . animals, wild animals, wild beasts, beasts (Thayer 290).
[ 47 ]"Beasts" at one time [about 280 BC] included bees (Theocritus 19.6).
[ 48 ]TE KAI PETEINOON, both and of birds (Marshall 902); signifies that which is able to fly, winged (Vine 119).
[ 49 ]HERPETOON, of reptiles (Marshall 902); signifies creeping things [HERPOO to creep; English serpent" is from the same root] . . . set in contrast to quadrupeds and birds (Vine 248).
[ 50 ]TE KAI ENALIOON, both and of marine creatures (Marshall 902); In Acts 10:12; 11:6, THEERIA includes fishes, which in this passage are classed as ENALIOON things in the sea (Thayer 1.750).
[ 51 ]DAMAZETAI, is tamed (Marshall 902); subdued, tamed, used metaphorically, of the tongue (Vine 1121); [from DAMAZOO to subdue; tame], figurative, to restrain within proper limits (Littrell).
[ 52 ]KAI DEDAMASTAI, and has been tamed (Marshall 902).
[ 53 ]TEE PHUSEI TEE ANTHROOPINEE, by the nature human (Marshall 902); rather, by the nature of man, PHUSIS, as before, denoting the generic character. Every nature of beasts is tamed by the nature of man (Vincent 1.750).
[ 54 ]DE OUDEIS ANTHROOPPON, but no one (Marshall 902); a strong expression, literally, no one of men (Vincent 1.750).
[ 55 ]TEEN GLOOSSAN DAMASAI DUNATAI, the tongue to tame is able (Marshall 902); tame, metaphorically, of the tongue (Vine 1121).
[ 56 ]AKATASTATON KAKON or AKATASCHETON KAKON, an unruly evil (Marshall 902); unsettled, unstable, disorderly translated "unstable" in James 1:8; "restless" in 3:8; in James 3:8, some texts have AKATASCHETOS, "that cannot be restrained" (Vine 961, 1186); literally, not to be held back. The proper reading, however, is AKATASTATON unsettled (Vincent 1.750).
[ 57 ]MESTEE IOU THANATEEPHOROU, full poison of death-dealing (Marshall 902); rendered rust [corroded] at James 5:3; and found only in these two passages and in Romans 3:13, in the citation of Psalm 140:3 (Vincent 1.750); poison, as of asps, acting destructively on living tissues, figuratively of the evil use of the lips as the organs of speech, Romans 3:13; so of the tongue, James 3:8 (Vine 863).
[ 58 ]EN AUTEE EULOGOUMEN, by this we bless (Marshall 902); literally, speak well of [EU well, LOGOS a word], praise, celebrate with praises, of that which is addressed to God, acknowledging His goodness, with desire for His glory (Vine 124).
[ 59 ]TON KURION [or THEON] KAI PATERA; the Lord and Father (Marshall 902); the proper reading is TON KURION the Lord, and the KAI and is simply connective. . . the Lord and Father (Vincent 1.750, 751).
[ 60 ]KAI EN AUTEE KATAROOMETHA TOUS ANTHROOPOUS, and by this we curse men (Marshall 902); [KATA down, intensive, ARA a malediction, cursing], primarily signifies to pray against, to wish evil against a person or thing; hence to curse (Vine 254).
[ 61 ]GEGONOTAS, having become (Marshall 902); which (not who, which would designate personally certain men; whereas James designates them generally (Vincent 1.751).
[ 62 ]TOUS KATH' HOMOIOOSIN THEOU, according to likeness of God (Marshall 902); a making like (Vine 674).
[ 63 ]EK TOU AUTOU STOMATOS, out of the same mouth (Marshall 902).
[ 64 ]To bless the bread or fruit of the vine means to give thanks.
[ 65 ]EXERCHETAI EULOGIA, comes forth blessing (Marshall 902); the invocation of blessings, benediction (Vine 125).
[ 66 ]KAI KATARA, and cursing (Marshall 902); execrations, imprecations, curses, uttered out of malevolence (Vine 254).
[ 67 ]ADELPHOI MOU, brothers of me (Marshall 902).
[ 68 ]OU CHREE TAUTA HOUTOOS GINESTHAI, it is not fitting these things so to be (Marshall 902); an impersonal verb [akin to CHRAOMAI to use], "[these things] ought [not so to be]," literally, "it is not befitting these things so to be" (Vine 820).
[ 69 ]MEETI HEE PEEGEE, not the fountain (Marshall 902); the interrogative particle MEETI which begins the sentence, expects a negative answer. Fountain has the article, "the fountain," generic (Vincent 1.751); a natural fountain or spring (Vine 458).
[ 70 ]BRUEI, sends forth (Marshall 902); third person singular, present active indicative of BRUOO (Han 414); an expressive word found nowhere else in the NT and denoting a full, copious discharge . . . burst forth or gush (Vincent 1.751); to be full to bursting, said of springs gushing with water, "[doth the fountain] send forth . . . ?" (Vine 1016).
[ 71 ]TO GLUKU, the sweet (Marshall 902); [compare English glycerine, glucose], sweet (Vine 462, 1142).
[ 72 ]KAI TO PIKRON, and the bitter (Marshall 902); [from a root PIK-, meaning to cut, to prick], hence, literally, pointed, sharp, keen, pungent to the sense of taste, smell, etc., in verse 11, it has its natural sense, with reference to water (Vine 121).
[ 73 ]Marah is from the Hebrew MARIM bitterness.
[ 74 ]I personally drank fresh, cool water from Elisha's spring; also from the spring-fed stream from which Gideon's troops drank without any ill effects.
[ 75 ]EK TEES AUTEES OPEES, out of the same hole (Marshall 902); opening or hole in the earth or rock (Vincent 1.751).
[ 76 ]MEE DUNATAI SUKEE, not can a fig-tree (Marshall 902).
[ 77 ]ADELPHOI MOU, brothers of me (Marshall 902).
[ 78 ]ELAIAS POIEESAI, olives to produce (Marshall 902).
[ 79 ]EE AMPELOS, or a vine (Marshall 902); used literally, Matthew 26:29 with parallel passages; Jas 3:12 (Vine 1200); TEES AMPELOU the vine with the article is without doubt the grape vine that grows so abundantly in Palestine.
[ 80 ]SUKA, figs (Marshall 902).
[ 81 ]OUTE HALUKON GLUKU POIEESAI HUDOOR, neither salt sweet to make water (Marshall 902); salt [water]; sweet [compare English glycerine, glucose] (Vine 988, 1112); the best texts omit so can no fountain, and the and between salt and fresh, no more does salt water yield fresh. Thus the text reads, OUTE HALUKON GLUKU POIEESAI HUDOOR, neither can salt water yield sweet (Vincent 1.752).
[ 82 ]TIS SOPHOS KAI EPISPTEEMOON EN HUMIN, who [is] wise and knowing among you (Marshall 902); in this passage the word SOPHOS appears to be used in the sense of practical wisdom in pious living. EPISTEEMOON indicates the special development and intelligent application of the quality to particular things (Vincent 1.753); a believer endowed with spiritual and practical wisdom (Vine 1232).
[ 83 ]DEIXATO EK TEES KALEES ANASTROPHEES TA ERGA AUTOU, let him show by the (his) good conduct the works of him (Marshall 902); shew by way of proving; deeds, acts of believers, frequent in James, as the effect of faith (Vine 1033, 1243).
[ 84 ]Adapted from Littrell.
[ 85 ]EN PRAUTEETI SOPHIAS, in meekness of wisdom (Marshall 902); meekness is the proper attitude of wisdom (Vincent 1.753); PRAUTEES describes a condition of mind and heart . . . The Lord was meek because He had the infinite resources of God at His command. Described negatively, meekness is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest; it is equanimity of spirit that is neither elated nor cast down, simply because it is not occupied with self at all; human wisdom in spiritual things (Vine 728, 1233).
[ 86 ]EI DE ZEELON PIKRON ECHETE, but if jealousy bitter ye have (Marshall 902); used in the NT in both a bad and a good sense . . . here the bad sense is defined and emphasized by the epithet bitter. . . . Emulation is the better general rendering, which does not necessarily include envy, but may be full of the spirit of self-devotion (Vincent 1.753); [from a root PIK-, meaning to cut, to prick], hence, literally, pointed, sharp, keen, pungent to the sense of taste, smell, etc., in verse 14, used metaphorically of jealousy (Vine 121); OUZA is a Greek drink made of wormwood.
[ 87 ]KAI ERITHEIAN EN TEE KARDIA HUMOON, and rivalry in the heart of you (Marshall 902); [not from ERIS strife but from ERITHOS a hireling], hence the meaning of seeking to win followers, "factions" . . . not improbably the meaning here is rivalries, or base ambitions (Vine 398); [strife is] a wrong rendering, founded on the mistaken derivation from ERIS strife. It is derived from ERITHOS a hired servant, and means, primarily, labor for hire . . . applied to those who serve in official positions for their own selfish interest, and who, to that end, promote party spirit and faction (Vincent 1.754); the disposition in the heart of one who resorts to evil measures to accomplish one's desires (Woods 183).
[ 88 ]MEE KATAKAUCHASTHE, do not exult over (Marshall 902); glory, boast [not] (Vine 127).
[ 89 ]KAI PSEUDESTHE KATA TEES ALEETHEIAS, and lie against the truth (Marshall 903); PSEUDESTHE is second person plural, present middle imperative of PSEUDOMAI (Han 414); [not] deceive by lies [always in middle voice in NT], followed by the preposition KATA against (Vine 665); lie, speak deliberate falsehoods (Thayer 675); lie, tell a falsehood against the truth (Arndt 891).
[ 90 ]Woods 185. "Stop being proud of it and stop being false to the standard of truth" (Williams).
[ 91 ]OUK ESTIN HAUTE HEE SOPHIA ANOOTHEN, is this wisdom from above coming down (Marshall 903); wisdom in its most debased form, "earthly, sensual, devilish" [margin, "demoniacal"] (Vine 1233); see note on verse 13).
[ 92 ]ALLA EPIGEIOS, but [is] earthly (Marshall 903); [EPI on, GE the earth], earthly (Vine 343).
[ 93 ]PSUCHIKEE, natural (Marshall 903); [belonging to the PSUCHE soul, as the lower part of the immaterial in man], "sensual," "natural," or "animal," here relating perhaps more especially to the mind, a wisdom in accordance with, or springing from, the corrupt desires and affections (Vine 774; see note on "Sensual, not having the Spirit" at Jude 19).
[ 94 ]Rotherham.
[ 95 ]DAIMONIOODEES, demon-like (Marshall 903); demoniacal, "even as the devils have" (Vincent 1.754); signifies proceeding from, or resembling a demon, "demonical" (Vine 283, 284).
[ 96 ]HOPOU GAR ZEELOS KAI ERITHEIA, where for jealousy and rivalry [are] (Marshall 903); zeal, jealousy (Vine 604).
[ 97 ]EKEI AKATASTASIA, there is tumult (Marshall 903); instability [A negative, KATA down, STASIS, a standing], James 3:16, revolution or anarchy (Vine 219); tumult (Macknight 596).
[ 98 ]KAI PAN PHAULON PRAGMA, and every worthless practice (Marshall 903); worthlessness, good-for-nothingness (Vincent 1.754).
[ 99 ]HEE DE ANOOTHEN SOPHIA, but the from above wisdom (Marshall 903); the insight into the true nature of things . . . theoretical; of things which come from heaven, or from God in heaven (Vine 8).
[ 100 ]PROOTON MEN HAGNEE ESTIN, firstly pure is (Marshall 903); emphasizing its inner quality, pure, as distinguished from its outward expressions. The idea is not first numerically, but first essentially. The other qualities are secondary as outgrowths of this primary quality (Vincent 1.754); pure from defilement, not contaminated [from the same root as HAGIOS holy] (Vine 903).
[ 101 ]EPEITA EIREENIKEE, then peaceable (Marshall 903); peaceful, of the wisdom that is from above (Vine 842).
[ 102 ]EPIEIKEES, forbearing (Marshall 903; [EPI unto, EIKOS, reasonable] (Vine 447). The opposite of unreasonable; suitable, fair, reasonable, gentle, mild, patient (Littrell).
[ 103 ]NU-Text reads humble.
[ 104 ]EUPEITHEES, compliant (Marshall 903); [EU well, PEITHOMAI to comply with, obey], easily obeying, compliant (Thayer 261); obedient, compliant (Arndt 324); easily persuaded, obedient (Littrell).
[ 105 ]MESTEE ELEOUS, full of mercy (Marshall 903); mercy; kindness or good will towards the miserable and afflicted, joined with a desire to relieve them (Thayer 203); mercy, compassion, pity, clemency (Arndt 250).
[ 106 ]KAI KARPOON AGATHOON, and fruits of good (Marshall 903).
[ 107 ]ADIAKRITOS, without uncertainty (Marshall 903); without variance or doubting (Vincent 1.755).
[ 108 ]The German physicist Werner Heisenberg and other scientists have pointed out the remoteness of knowing for sure the position of an electron around the nucleus of an atom. Genius minds have transferred this idea to other disciplines including the spiritual realm. To them, all truth is relative. The writer sees it as a mistake to apply imprecise human observations to God's revelation. To do this demonstrates a lack of faith in God's truth. At the same time, every human being strives to know more of the will of God and conform his life to it.
[ 109 ]ANUPOKRITOS, unfeigned (Marshall 903); [A not and an adjective form of HUPOKRISIS acting of a stage player].
[ 110 ]KARPOS DE DIKAIOSUNEES, and [the] fruit of righteousness (Marshall 903); fruit growing out of righteousness (Woods 195).
[ 111 ]EN EIREENEE SPEIRETAI, in peace is sown (Marshall 903).
[ 112 ]TOIS POIOUSIN EIREENEEN, for the [ones] making peace (Marshall 903);

Copyright ©2001, Charles Hess, Ridgefield, Washington, U.S.A.
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The basic text, and all quotations not designated otherwise, are from the New King James Version, copyrighted ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Bracketed alternatives are drawn from various sources such as the ASV, Darby, KJV and RSV. Greek transliteration follows the BibleSoft method.

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