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1. Masters (didaskaloi). Literally, and better, teachers, with a reference to the exhortation to be slow to speak (ch. i. 19). Compare 1 Corinthians xiv. 26-34. Jas. is warning against the too eager and general assumption of the privilege of teaching, which was not restricted to a particular class, but was exercised by believers generally.
2. Offend (ptaiomen). Lit., stumble, as Rev. Compare ch. ii. 10.
To bridle. See on ch. i. 26.
3. Behold. Following the old reading, ide. All the best texts read eij de, now if. So Rev. Bits (calinouv). Only here and Apoc. xiv. 20. It may be rendered either bit, as A.V., or bridle, as Rev., but bridle is preferable because it corresponds with the verb to bridle (ver. 2) which is compounded with this noun.
Horses. The position in the sentence is emphatic.
We turn about (metagomen). Used by James only.
4. The ships. See Introduction, on James' local allusions. Dean Howson observes that "there is more imagery drawn from mere natural phenomena in the one short epistle of James than in all St. Paul's epistles put together."
Helm (phdaliou). Better, rudder, as Rev. The rudder was an oar worked by a handle. Helm and rudder were thus one. The word occurs only here and Acts xxvii. 40.
The governor listeth (h ormh tou euqunontov bouletai). Lit., the impulse or desire of the steersman wisheth. 'Ormh, impulse, only here and Acts xiv. 5, of an assault, onset.
The governor (tou euqunontov). Rev., steersman. Lit., of him who is guiding. Only here and John i. 23. From 'Ormh, straight.
5. Boasteth great things (megalaucei). The best texts separate the compound, and read megala aujcei, of course with the same meaning. Aujcei, boasteth, only here in New Testament.
How great a matter a little fire kindleth (hlikon pur hlikhn ulhn anaptei). The word ulh (only here in New Testament) means wood or a forest, and hence the matter or raw material of which a thing is made. Later, it is used in the philosophical sense of matter - "the foundation of the manifold" - opposed to the intelligent or formative principle nouv, mind. The authorized version has taken the word in one of its secondary senses, hardly the philosophical sense it would seem; but any departure from the earlier sense was not only needless, but impaired the vividness of the figure, the familiar and natural image of a forest on fire. So Homer:
This, too, is the rendering of the Vulgate: quam magnum silvam.
6. World of iniquity (kosmov thv adikiav). Kosmov, 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 in the latter part of Prov. xvii. 6 (Sept.), which is not given in the A.V. "The trusty hath the whole world of things, but the faithless not a groat." Is the tongue (kaqistatai). 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.
Defileth (spilousa). Lit., defiling. Only here and Jude 23. See on 2 Peter ii. 13.
The course of nature (trocon thv genesewv). A very obscure passage. Trocov (only here in New Testament), from trecw, to run, applies generally to anything round or circular which runs or rolls, as a wheel or sphere. Hence, often a wheel. Used of the circuit of fortifications and of circles or zones of land or sea. 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. Genesewv 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. In the New Testament it occurs but twice outside of this epistle, viz., at Matt. i. 1, "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ," where the meaning is origin or birth; the birth-book of Jesus Christ. The other passage is Matt. i. 18, according to the best texts, also meaning birth. In Jas. i. 23, as we have seen, proswpon thv genesewv is the face of his birth. We may then safely translate trocov by wheel; and as birth is the meaning of genesiv in every New Testament passage where it occurs, we may give it the preference here and render the wheel of birth - i.e.., 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. So Anacreon: "The chariot-wheel, like life, runs rolling round."
Tertullian says: "The whole revolving wheel of existence bears witness to the resurrection of the dead." The Rev., which gives nature, puts birth in margin. This revolving wheel is kindled by the tongue, and rolls on in destructive blaze. The image is justified by the fact. The tongue works the chief mischief, kindles the most baleful fires in the course of life.
7. Kind (fusiv). Wrong. Jas. 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. Hence, as Rev., in margin, nature.
Beasts (qhriwn). Quadrupeds. Not beasts generally, nor wild beasts only. In Acts xxviii. 4, 5, the word is used of the viper which fastened on Paul's hand. In Peter's vision (Acts x. 12; xi. 6) there is a different classification from the one here; quadrupeds being denoted by a specific term, tetrapoda, four-footed creatures. There qhria includes fishes, which in this passage are classed as ejnaliwn, things in the sea.
By mankind (th fusei th anqrwpinh). Rather, by the nature of man, fusiv, as before, denoting the generic character. Every nature of beasts is tamed by the nature of man. Compare the fine chorus in the "Antigone" of Sophocles, 343-352:
"The thoughtless tribe of birds, The beasts that roam the fields, The brood in sea-depths born, He takes them all in nets, Knotted in snaring mesh, Man, wonderful in skill. And by his subtle arts He holds in sway the beasts That roam the fields or tread the mountain's height; And brings the binding yoke Upon the neck of horse with shaggy mane, Or bull on mountain crest, Untamable in strength."
8. No man (oudeiv anqrwpwn). A strong expression. Lit., no one of men.
Deadly (qanathforou). Lit., death-bearing, or bringing. Only here in New Testament.
9. God, even the Father (ton Qeon kai patera). The proper reading, is ton Kurion, the Lord, and the kai, and, is simply connective. Read, therefore, as Rev., the Lord and Father. This combination of terms for God is uncommon. See ch. i. 27.
Which. Not who, which would designate personally certain men; whereas James designates them generically.
11. Doth a fountain, etc. The interrogative particle, mhti, which begins the sentence, expects a negative answer. Fountain has the article, "the fountain," generic. See Introduction, on James' local allusions. The Land of Promise was pictured to the Hebrew as a land of springs (Deuteronomy viii. 7, xi. 11). "Palestine," says Dean Stanley, "was the only country where an Eastern could have been familiar with the language of the Psalmist: 'He sendeth the springs into the valleys which run among the mountains.' Those springs, too, however short-lived, are remarkable for their copiousness and beauty. Not only not in the East, but hardly in the West, can any fountains and sources of streams be seen, so clear, so full-grown even at their birth, as those which fall into the Jordan and its lakes throughout its whole course from north to south" ("Sinai and Palestine"). The Hebrew word for a fountain or spring is ayin, meaning an eye. "The spring," says the same author, "is the bright, open source, the eye of the landscape." 31 Send forth (bruei). An expressive word, found nowhere else in the New Testament, and denoting a full, copious discharge. Primarily it means to be full to bursting; and is used therefore, of budding plants, teeming soil, etc., as in the charming picture of the sacred grove at the opening of the "Oedipus Coloneus" of Sophocles: "full (bruwn) of bay, olive, and vine." Hence, to burst forth or gush. Though generally intransitive, it is used transitively here.
Place (ophv). Rather, opening or hole in the earth or rock. Rev., opening. Compare caves, Heb. xi. 38. The word is pleasantly suggestive in connection with the image of the eye of the landscape. See above. Sweet water and bitter. The readers of the epistle would recall the bitter waters of Marah (Exod. xv. 23), and the unwholesome spring at Jericho (2 Kings ii. 19-21).
12. So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. The best texts omit so can no fountain, and the and between salt and fresh. Thus the text reads, oute aJlukon gluku poihsai udwr. Render, as Rev., neither can salt water yield sweet. Another of James' local allusions, salt waters. The Great Salt Sea was but sixteen miles from Jerusalem. Its shores were lined with salt-pits, to be filled when the spring freshets should raise the waters of the lake. A salt marsh also terminated the valley through which the Jordan flows from the Lake of Tiberias to the Dead Sea, and the adjoining, plain was covered with salt streams and brackish springs. Warm springs impregnated with sulfur abound in the volcanic valley of the Jordan. 'Alukon, salt, occurs only here in the New Testament.
13. Wise and endued with knowledge (sofov kai episphmwn). A rendering needlessly verbose, yet substantially correct. Probably no very nice distinction was intended by the writer. It is somewhat difficult to fix the precise sense of sofov, since there is no uniformity in its usage in the New Testament. In classical Greek it primarily means skilled in a handicraft or art. Thence it runs into the sense of clever, in matters of common life, worldly wise. Then, in the hands of the philosophers, it acquires the sense of learned in the sciences, and, ironically, abstruse, subtle, obscure, like the English cunning, which originally meant knowing or skillful, and is often used in that sense in the English Bible (see Genesis xxv. 27; 1 Sam. xvi. 16).
In the New Testament sofov is used - 1. In the original classical sense, skilled in handicraft (1 Cor. iii. 10). 2. Accomplished in letters, learned (Rom. i. 14, 22; 1 Cor. i. 19, 26; iii. 18). So of the Jewish theologians and doctors (Matt. xi. 25), and of Christian teachers (Matt. xxiii. 34). 3. In a practical sense, of the practice of the law of piety and honesty; so Eph. v. 15, where it is joined with walking circumspectly, and 1 Cor. vi. 5, where it is represented as the quality adapted to adjust differences in the church. 4. In the higher, philosophical sense, of devising the best counsels and employing the best means to carry them out. So of God, Rom. xvi. 27; 1 Tim. i. 17; Jude 25; 1 Corinthians i. 25. In this passage the word appears to be used in the sense of iii. practical wisdom in pious living.
'Episthmwn occurs only here in the New Testament. In classical Greek it is often used like sofov, in the sense of skilled, versed; and by the philosophers in the higher sense of scientifically versed, in which sense it is opposed by Plato to doxasthv, a mere conjecturer. In this passage sofov would seem to be the broader, more general, and perhaps more dignified term of the two, as denoting the habit or quality, while ejpisthmwn indicates the special development and intelligent application of the quality to particular things. The Rev., wise and understanding, gives the distinction, on the whole, as nearly as is necessary.
Meekness of wisdom. On meekness, see on Matt. v. 5. The meekness which is the proper attribute of wisdom.
"Knowledge is proud that she has learned so much, Wisdom is humble that she knows no more."
14. Envying (zhlon). The word is used in the New Testament both in a bad and a good sense. For the latter, see John ii. 17; Rom. x. 2; 2 Corinthians ix. 2. From it is our word zeal, which may be either good or bad, wise or foolish. The bad sense is predominant in the New Testament. See Acts v. 17; Rom. xiii. 13; Gal. v. 20, and here, where the bad sense is defined and emphasized by the epithet bitter. It is often joined with eriv, strife, as here with ejriqeia, intriguing or faction. The rendering envying, as A.V., more properly belongs to fqonov, which is never used in a good sense. Emulation is the better general rendering, which does not necessarily include envy, but may be full of the spirit of self-devotion. Rev. renders jealousy.
Strife (eriqeian). A wrong rendering, founded on the mistaken derivation from eriv, strife. It is derived from eriqov, a hired servant, and means, primarily, labor for hire. Compare Tobit ii. 11: My wife did take women's work to do (hriqeueto). Thus it comes to be applied to those who serve in official positions for their own selfish interest, and who, to that end, promote party spirit and faction. So Rom. ii. 8: them that are contentious (ex eriqeiav), lit., of faction. Rev., factious. Also, 2 Corinthians xii. 20. Rev., here, rightly, faction.
15. Wisdom (sofia). See on sofov, ver. 13.
From above. Compare ch. i. 17.
Sensual (yucikh). See on Jude 19.
Devilish (daimoniwdhv). Or demoniacal, according to the proper rendering of daimwn (see on Matt. iv. 1). Only here in New Testament. Devilish, "such," says Bengel, "as even devils have." Compare ch. ii. 19.
16. Confusion (akatastasia). See on restless, ver. 8.
Evil (faulon). An inadequate rendering, because it fails to bring out the particular phase of evil which is dominant in the word: worthlessness, good-for-nothingness. In classical Greek it has the meanings slight, trivial, paltry, which run into bad. In the New Testament it appears in this latest stage, and is set over against good. See John iii. 20; v. 29; Tit. ii. 8. Rev., vile, which, according to its etymology, Lat., vilis, follows the same process of development from cheap, or paltry, to bad.
17. First. 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. Gentle (epieikhv). See on 1 Pet. ii. 18.
Easy to be intreated (eupeiqhv). Only here in New Testament.
Without partiality (adiakritov). Only here in New Testament and very rare in classical Greek. Rev., without variance or doubting. See on ch. i. 6.