Danger of Eagerness to Teach, and of an
Unbridled Tongue: True Wisdom Shown by
1. be not—literally, "become not":
taking the office too hastily, and of your own accord.
many—The office is a noble one; but
few are fit for it. Few govern the tongue well (Jas 3:2), and only such as can govern it are fit
for the office; therefore, "teachers" ought not to be many.
masters—rather, "teachers." The Jews
were especially prone to this presumption. The idea that faith (so
called) without works (Jas 2:14-26) was all that is required, prompted
"many" to set up as "teachers," as has been the case in all ages of the
Church. At first all were allowed to teach in turns. Even their
inspired gifts did not prevent liability to abuse, as James here
implies: much more is this so when self-constituted teachers have no
such miraculous gifts.
knowing—as all might know.
we … greater condemnation—James
in a humble, conciliatory spirit, includes himself: if we
teachers abuse the office, we shall receive greater condemnation than
those who are mere hearers (compare Lu 12:42-46). Calvin,
like English Version, translates, "masters" that is,
self-constituted censors and reprovers of others Jas 4:12 accords with this view.
2. all—The Greek implies "all
without exception": even the apostles.
offend not—literally "stumbleth not":
is void of offence or "slip" in word: in which respect one is
especially tried who sets up to be a "teacher."
3. Behold—The best authorities read,
"but if," that is, Now whensoever (in the case) of horses (such
is the emphatic position of "horses" in the Greek) we put
the bits (so literally, "the customary bits") into their mouths
that they may obey us, we turn about also their whole body. This
is to illustrate how man turns about his whole body with the
little tongue. "The same applies to the pen, which is the substitute
for the tongue among the absent" [Bengel].
4. Not only animals, but even
the governor listeth—literally, "the
impulse of the steersman pleaseth." The feeling which moves the tongue
corresponds with this.
5. boasteth great things—There is
great moment in what the careless think "little" things [Bengel]. Compare "a world," "the course of
nature," "hell," Jas 3:6, which
illustrate how the little tongue's great words produce great
how great a matter a little fire
kindleth—The best manuscripts read, "how little a fire
kindleth how great a," &c. Alford,
for "matter," translates, "forest." But Grotius translates as English Version,
"material for burning": a pile of fuel.
6. Translate, "The tongue, that world of
iniquity, is a fire." As man's little world is an image of the greater
world, the universe, so the tongue is an image of the former [Bengel].
so—omitted in the oldest
is—literally, "is constituted." "The
tongue is (constituted), among the members, the one which defileth,"
&c. (namely, as fire defiles with its smoke).
course of nature—"the orb (cycle) of
setteth on fire … is set on
fire—habitually and continually. While a man inflames others,
he passes out of his own power, being consumed in the flame
of hell—that is, of the devil.
Greek, "Gehenna"; found here only and in Mt 5:22. James has much in common with the
Sermon on the Mount (Pr 16:27).
7. every kind—rather, "every nature"
(that is, natural disposition and characteristic power).
of beasts—that is, quadrupeds of every
disposition; as distinguished from the three other classes of creation,
"birds, creeping things (the Greek includes not merely
'serpents,' as English Version), and things in the sea."
is tamed, and hath been—is continually
being tamed, and hath been so long ago.
of mankind—rather, "by the nature of
man": man's characteristic power taming that of the inferior animals.
The dative in the Greek may imply, "Hath suffered itself to be
brought into tame subjection TO the nature of men." So it shall be in
the millennial world; even now man, by gentle firmness, may tame the
inferior animal, and even elevate its nature.
8. no man—literally, "no one of men":
neither can a man control his neighbor's, nor even his own tongue.
Hence the truth of Jas 3:2
unruly evil—The Greek, implies
that it is at once restless and incapable of restraint.
Nay, though nature has hedged it in with a double barrier of the lips
and teeth, it bursts from its barriers to assail and ruin men [Estius].
9. God—The oldest authorities read,
"Lord." "Him who is Lord and Father." The uncommonness of the
application of "Lord" to the Father, doubtless caused the change in
modern texts to "God" (Jas 1:27).
But as Messiah is called "Father," Isa 9:6, so God the Father is called by the
Son's title, "Lord": showing the unity of the Godhead. "Father" implies
His paternal love; "Lord," His dominion.
men, which—not "men who"; for
what is meant is not particular men, but men genetically [Alford].
are made after … similitude of
God—Though in a great measure man has lost the
likeness of God in which he was originally made, yet enough of
it still remains to show what once it was, and what in regenerated and
restored man it shall be. We ought to reverence this remnant and
earnest of what man shall be in ourselves and in others. "Absalom has
fallen from his father's favor, but the people still recognize him to
be the king's son" [Bengel]. Man
resembles in humanity the Son of man, "the express image of His person"
1:3), compare Ge 1:26; 1Jo
4:20. In the passage, Ge 1:26, "image" and "likeness" are
distinct: "image," according to the Alexandrians, was something
in which men were created, being common to all, and continuing
to man after the fall, while the "likeness" was something toward
which man was created, to strive after and attain it: the former marks
man's physical and intellectual, the latter his moral pre-eminence.
10. The tongue, says ÆSOP, is at once the best and the worst of things. So
in a fable, a man with the same breath blows hot and cold. "Life and
death are in the power of the tongue" (compare Ps 62:4).
brethren—an appeal to their
consciences by their brotherhood in Christ.
ought not so to be—a mild appeal,
leaving it to themselves to understand that such conduct deserves the
most severe reprobation.
11. fountain—an image of the
heart: as the aperture (so the Greek for "place"
is literally) of the fountain is an image of man's mouth. The
image here is appropriate to the scene of the Epistle, Palestine,
wherein salt and bitter springs are found. Though "sweet" springs are
sometimes found near, yet "sweet and bitter" (water) do not flow "at
the same place" (aperture). Grace can make the same mouth that
"sent forth the bitter" once, send forth the sweet for the time to
come: as the wood (typical of Christ's cross) changed Marah's bitter
water into sweet.
12. Transition from the mouth to the
Can the fig tree, &c.—implying
that it is an impossibility: as before in Jas 3:10 he had said it "ought not so to
be." James does not, as Matthew (Mt 7:16, 17), make the question, "Do men gather figs
of thistles?" His argument is, No tree "can" bring forth
fruit inconsistent with its nature, as for example, the fig
tree, olive berries: so if a man speaks bitterly, and afterwards speaks
good words, the latter must be so only seemingly, and in hypocrisy,
they cannot be real.
so can no fountain … salt … and
fresh—The oldest authorities read, "Neither can a salt (water
spring) yield fresh." So the mouth that emits cursing, cannot really
emit also blessing.
13. Who—(Compare Ps 34:12, 13). All wish to appear "wise": few
show—"by works," and not merely by
profession, referring to Jas 2:18.
out of a good conversation his
works—by general "good conduct" manifested in
particular "works." "Wisdom" and "knowledge," without these
being "shown," are as dead as faith would be without works [Alford].
with meekness of wisdom—with the
meekness inseparable from true "wisdom."
14. if ye have—as is the case
(this is implied in the Greek indicative).
bitter—Eph 4:31, "bitterness."
envying—rather, "emulation," or
literally, "zeal": kindly, generous emulation, or zeal, is not
condemned, but that which is "bitter" [Bengel].
in your hearts—from which flow your
words and deeds, as from a fountain.
glory not, and lie not against the
truth—To boast of your wisdom is virtually a lying
against the truth (the gospel), while your lives belie your glorying.
Jas 3:15; Jas 1:18, "The word of truth." Ro 2:17, 23, speaks similarly of the same
contentious Jewish Christians.
15. This wisdom—in which ye "glory," as
if ye were "wise" (Jas 3:13, 14).
descendeth not from above—literally,
"is not one descending," &c.: "from the Father of lights" (true
illumination and wisdom), Jas 1:17;
through "the Spirit of truth," Joh 15:26.
earthly—opposed to heavenly.
Distinct from "earthy," 1Co 15:47.
Earthly is what is IN the earth;
earthy, what is of the earth.
sensual—literally, "animal-like": the
wisdom of the "natural" (the same Greek) man, not born again of
God; "not having the Spirit" (Jude 19).
devilish—in its origin (from "hell,"
Jas 3:6; not from God, the Giver of true
1:5), and also in its
character, which accords with its origin. Earthly, sensual, and
devilish, answer to the three spiritual foes of man, the world, the
flesh, and the devil.
16. envying—So English Version
translates the Greek, which usually means "zeal";
"emulation," in Ro 13:13.
"The envious man stands in his own light. He thinks his candle cannot
shine in the presence of another's sun. He aims directly at men,
obliquely at God, who makes men to differ."
anarchy": both in society (translated "commotions," Lu 21:9; "tumults," 2Co 6:5), and in the individual mind; in
contrast to the "peaceable" composure of true "wisdom," Jas 3:17. James does not honor such effects of
this earthly wisdom with the name "fruit," as he does in the case of
the wisdom from above. Jas 3:18;
compare Ga 5:19-22, "works of the flesh …
fruit of the Spirit."
17. first pure—literally, "chaste,"
"sanctified": pure from all that is "earthly, sensual (animal),
devilish" (Jas 3:15).
This is put, "first of all," before "peaceable" because there is
an unholy peace with the world which makes no distinction between clean
and unclean. Compare "undefiled" and "unspotted from the world," Jas 1:27;
4:4, 8, "purify …
hearts"; 1Pe 1:22,
"purified … souls" (the same Greek). Ministers must
not preach before a purifying change of heart, "Peace," where there is
no peace. Seven (the perfect number) characteristic peculiarities of
true wisdom are enumerated. Purity or sanctity is put
first because it has respect both to God and to ourselves; the six that
follow regard our fellow men. Our first concern is to have in ourselves
sanctity; our second, to be at peace with men.
gentle—"forbearing"; making allowances
for others; lenient towards neighbors, as to the DUTIES they owe us.
easy to be entreated—literally,
"easily persuaded," tractable; not harsh as to a neighbor's FAULTS.
full of mercy—as to a neighbor's MISERIES.
good fruits—contrasted with "every
evil work," Jas 3:16.
without partiality—recurring to the
warning against partial "respect to persons," Jas 2:1, 4, 9. Alford translates as the Greek is translated,
Jas 1:6, "wavering," "without
doubting." But thus there would be an epithet referring to one's
self inserted amidst those referring to one's conduct towards
others. English Version is therefore better.
without hypocrisy—Not as Alford explains from Jas 1:22, 26, "Without deceiving yourselves" with the
name without the reality of religion. For it must refer, like the rest
of the six epithets, to our relations to others; our peaceableness and
mercy towards others must be "without dissimulation."
18. "The peaceable fruit of righteousness." He
says "righteousness"; because it is itself the true wisdom. As in the
case of the earthly wisdom, after the characteristic description came
its results; so in this verse, in the case of the heavenly
wisdom. There the results were present; here, future.
fruit … sown—Compare Ps
97:11; Isa 61:3, "trees of
righteousness." Anticipatory, that is, the seed whose "fruit," namely,
"righteousness," shall be ultimately reaped, is now "sown in peace."
"Righteousness," now in germ, when fully developed as "fruit" shall be
itself the everlasting reward of the righteous. As "sowing in
peace" (compare "sown in dishonor," 1Co 15:43) produces the "fruit of righteousness,"
so conversely "the work" and "effect of righteousness" is "peace."
of them that make peace—"by (implying
also that it is for them, and to their good) them that
work peace." They, and they alone, are "blessed." "Peacemakers," not
merely they who reconcile others, but who work peace. "Cultivate
peace" [Estius]. Those truly wise
towards God, while peaceable and tolerant towards their neighbors, yet
make it their chief concern to sow righteousness, not cloaking men's
sins, but reproving them with such peaceable moderation as to be the
physicians, rather than the executioners, of sinners [Calvin].