TEACH, AND OF AN
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
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
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
CALVIN, like English Version, translates,
"masters" that is, self-constituted censors and reprovers of
accords with this view.
2. all--The Greek implies "all without exception": even
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
4. Not only animals, but even ships.
the governor listeth--literally, "the impulse of the steersman
pleaseth." The feeling which moves the tongue corresponds with
5. boasteth great things--There is great moment in what
the careless think "little" things [BENGEL].
Compare "a world," "the course of nature," "hell,"
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 authorities.
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 creation."
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 himself.
of hell--that is, of the devil. Greek, "Gehenna"; found
here only and in
James has much in common with the Sermon on the Mount
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
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"
But as Messiah is called "Father,"
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
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"
In the passage,
"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
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
12. Transition from the mouth to the heart.
Can the fig tree, &c.--implying that it is an
impossibility: as before in
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.
Ps 34:12, 13).
All wish to appear "wise": few are so.
show--"by works," and not merely by profession, referring to
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
14. if ye have--as is the case (this is implied in the
envying--rather, "emulation," or literally, "zeal": kindly,
generous emulation, or zeal, is not condemned, but that which is
in your hearts--from which flow your words and deeds, as from a
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.
"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),
through "the Spirit of truth,"
earthly--opposed to heavenly. Distinct from "earthy,"
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
devilish--in its origin (from "hell,"
not from God, the Giver of true wisdom,
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
"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."
confusion--literally, "tumultuous anarchy": both in society
and in the individual mind; in contrast to the "peaceable" composure of
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.
"works of the flesh . . . fruit of the
17. first pure--literally, "chaste," "sanctified": pure from all
that is "earthly, sensual (animal), devilish"
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";
"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