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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies

James 3



Verse 1

Masters ( διδάσκαλοι )

Literally, and better, teachers, with a reference to the exhortation to be slow to speak (James 1:19). Compare 1 Corinthians 14:26-34. James 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.

Verse 2

Offend ( πταίομεν )

Lit., stumble, as Rev. Compare James 2:10.

To bridle

See on James 1:26.

Verse 3


Following the old reading, ἴδε . All the best texts read εἰ δὲ , now if. So Rev.

Bits ( χαλινοὺς )

Only here and Revelation 14:20. 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 (James 3:2) which is compounded with this noun.


The position in the sentence is emphatic.

We turn about ( μετάγομεν )

Used by James only.

Verse 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.”

So great

As the ship which conveyed Paul to Malta, which contained two hundred and seventy-six persons (Acts 27:37).

Fierce ( σκληρῶν )

More literally, and better, as Rev., rough. The word primarily means hard, harsh

Helm ( πηδαλίου )

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 27:40.

The governor listeth ( ἡ ὁρμὴ τοῦ εὐθύνοντες βούλεται )

Lit., the impulse or desire of the steersman wisheth. Ὁρμὴ , impulse, only here and Acts 14:5, of an assault, onset.

The governor ( τοῦ εὐθύνοντος )

Rev., steersman. Lit., of him who is guiding. Only here and John 1:23. From εὐθύς straight.

Verse 5

Boasteth great things ( μεγαλαυχεῖ )

The best texts separate the compound, and read μεγάλα αὐχεῖ , of course with the same meaning. Αὐχεῖ , boasteth, only here in New Testament.

How great a matter a little fire kindleth ( ἡλίκον πῦρ ἡλίκην ὕλην ἀνάπτει )

The word ὕλη (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 νοῦς , 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:

“As when a fire

Seizes a thick-grown forest, and the wind

Drives it along in eddies, while the trunks

Fall with the boughs amid devouring flames.”

Iliad, xi., 155.

Hence, Rev., rightly, “Behold how much wood or how great a forest is kindled by how small a fire.

This, too, is the rendering of the Vulgate: quam magnam silvam.

Verse 6

World of iniquity ( κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας )

Κόσμος , 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 Judges href="/desk/?q=jud+1:23&sr=1">Judges 1:23. See on 2 Peter 2:13.

Setteth on fire ( φλογίζουσα )

Lit., setting on fire. Only in this verse in New Testament.

The course of nature ( τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως )

A very obscure passage. Τροχός , (only here in New Testament), from τρέχω , 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. Γενέσεως 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 Matthew 1:1, “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 Matthew 1:18, according to the best texts, also meaning birth. In James 1:23, as we have seen, πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως , is the face of his birth. We may then safely translate τροχός by wheel; and as birth is the meaning of γένεσις 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.

Verse 7

Kind ( φύσις )

Wrong. 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. Hence, as Rev., in margin, nature.

Beasts ( θηρίων )

Quadrupeds. Not beasts generally, nor wild beasts only. In Acts 28:4, Acts 28:5, the word is used of the viper which fastened on Paul's hand. In Peter's vision (Acts 10:19; Acts 11:6) there is a different classification from the one here; quadrupeds being denoted by a specific term, τετράποδα , four-footed creatures. There θηρία includes fishes, which in this passage are classed as ἐναλίων , things in the sea.

By mankind ( τῇ φύσει τῇ ἀνθρωπίνῃ )

Rather, by the nature of man, φύσις , 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.”

Verse 8

No man ( οὐδεὶς ἀνθρώπων )

A strong expression. Lit.,no on of men.

Unruly ( ἀκατάσχετον )

Lit., not to be held back. The proper reading, however, is ἀκατάστατον , unsettled. See on καθίσταται , hath its place, James 3:6. Rev., correctly, restless.

Deadly ( θανατηφόρου )

Lit., death-bearing, or-bringing. Only here in New Testament.

Poison ( ἰοῦ )

Rendered rust at James 5:3; and found only in these two passages and in Romans 3:13, in the citation of Psalm 140:3.

Verse 9

God, even the Father ( τὸν Θεὸν καὶ πατέρα )

The proper reading is τὸν Κύριον , the Lord, and the καὶ , and, is simply connective. Read, therefore, as Rev., the Lord and Father. This combination of terms for God is uncommon. See James 1:27.


Not who, which would designatepersonally certain men; whereas James designates them generically.

Verse 11

Doth a fountain, etc

The interrogative particle, μήτι , 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 8:7; Deuteronomy 11:11). “Palestine,” says Dean Stanley, “was the only country where an Eastern could have been familiar with the language of the Psalmsist: '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 áyinmeaning an eye. “The spring,” says the same author, “is the bright, open source, the eye of the landscape.”

Send forth ( βρύει )

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 ( βρύων ) of bay, olive, and vine.” Hence, to burst forth or gush. Though generally in-transitive, it is used transitively here.

Place ( ὀπῆς )

Rather, opening or hole in the earth or rock. Rev., opening. Compare caves, Hebrews 11:38. 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 (Exodus 15:23), and the unwholesome spring at Jericho (2 Kings 2:19-21).

Verse 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, οὔτε ἁλυκὸν γλυκὺ ποιῆσαι ὕδωρ . 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 Tiberius to the Dead Sea, and the adjoining plain was covered with salt streams and brackish springs. Warm springs impregnated with sulphur abound in the volcanic valley of the Jordan. Ἁλυκὸν , salt, occurs only here in the New Testament.

Verse 13

Wise and endued with knowledge ( σοφός καὶ ἐκπισπήμων )

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 σοφός , 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 skilful, and is often used in that sense in the English Bible (see Genesis 25:27; 1 Samuel 16:16).

In the New Testament σοφός is used - 1. In the original classical sense, skilled in handicraft (1 Corinthians 3:10). 2. Accomplished in letters, learned (Romans 1:14, Romans 1:22; 1 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Corinthians 1:26; 1 Corinthians 3:18). So of the Jewish theologians and doctors (Matthew 11:25), and of Christian teachers (Matthew 23:34). 3. In a practical sense, of the practice of the law of piety and honesty; so Ephesians 5:15, where it is joined with walking circumspectly, and 1 Corinthians 6:5, 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, Romans 16:27; 1 Timothy 1:17; Judges 1:25; 1 Corinthians 1:25. In this passage the word appears to be used in the sense of 3: practical wisdom in pious living.

Ἐπιστήμων occurs only here in the New Testament. In classical Greek it is often used like σοφός , 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 δοξαστής , a mere conjecturer. In this passage σοφός would seem to be the broader, more general, and perhaps more dignified term of the two, as denoting the habit or quality, while ἐπιστήμων 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.

Conversation ( ἀναστροφῆς )

See on 1 Peter 1:15.

Meekness of wisdom

On meekness, see on Matthew 5:5. 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.”

Verse 14

Envying ( ζῆλον )

The word is used in the New Testament both in a bad and a good sense. For the latter, see John 2:17; Romans 10:2; 2 Corinthians 9:2. 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 5:17; Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:20, and here, where the bad sense is defined and emphasized by the epithet bitter. It is often joined with ἔρις strife, as here with ἐρίθεια , intriguing or faction. The rendering envying, as A. V., more properly belongs to φθόνος , 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. rendersjealousy.

Strife ( ἐριθείαν )

A wrong rendering, founded on the mistaken derivation from ἔρις , strife. It is derived from ἔριθος , a hired servant, and means, primarily, labor for hire. Compare Romans href="/desk/?q=ro+2:8&sr=1">Romans 2:8: them that are contentious ( ἐξ ἐριθείας )lit., of faction. Rev., factious. Also, 2 Corinthians 12:20. Rev., here, rightly, faction.

Verse 15

Wisdom ( σοφία )

See on σοφός , James 3:13.

From above

Compare James 1:17.

Sensual ( ψυχική )

See on Judges 1:19.

Devilish ( δαιμονιώδης )

Or demoniacal, according to the proper rendering of δαίμων (see on Matthew 4:1). Only here in New Testament. Devilish, “such,” says Bengel, “as even devils have.” Compare James 2:19.

Verse 16

Confusion ( ἀκαταστασία )

See on restless, James 3:8.

Evil ( φαῦλον )

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 3:20; John 5:29; Titus 2:8. Rev., vile, which, according to its etymology, Lat., vilis, follows the same process of development from cheap, or paltry, to bad.

Verse 17


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 ( ἐπιεικής )

See on 1 Peter 2:18.

Easy to be intreated ( εὐπειθής )

Only here in New Testament.

Without partiality ( ἀδιάκριτος )

Only here in New Testament and very rare in classical Greek. Rev., without variance or doubting. See on James 1:6.


Copyright Statement
The text of this work is public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on James 3:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

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