The Bible in Its Traditions

James 3:1,10,12

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My brothers, let not many become teachers, knowing that we shall receive greater judgment.

MY brethren, do not allow doubtful teachers among you; but know, that we are under a great judgment.

Byz Nes V S TR

10  Out of the same mouth come blessings and curses. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

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12  It is not possible, my brothers, [for] a fig tree to make olives, or a vine [to make ]figs, [is it]? Thus no spring is able to produce [both] salt and sweet water.

12  Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a vine figs? Neither [can] salt water yield sweet.

12  My brothers, can the fig tree yield grapes? Or the vine, figs? Then neither is salt water able to produce fresh water.

12 appropriate fruits Mt 7:16-20

Text

Literary Devices

10a mouth Metonymy  Here James switches from the tongue to the mouth as a figure for the power of speech. 

1b we will receive a greater judgment Ethos: James’ Appeal to His Authority as a Teacher James identifies himself as a teacher, thus subtly referencing his authority for the community. 

Reception

Christian Tradition

1b greater judgment Erasmus comments that the teacher receives a stricter judgment because if he strays in his words, he leads many people astray, not only himself:

  • Erasmus Iac. Par. "Because the speech (sermo) of a person with authority has very great weight, its poison can spread more widely and dangerously" (Bateman 1993, 154; Bateman 1997, 140).

Theology

9f with it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse humans Proper Use of Technology in Proper Speech Pius XII Mir. Pr. 122 welcomes the development of motion pictures, radio, and television, as these technologies can be used for good in the fields of education, art, recreation, and the spread of the Gospel. Yet, citing Jas 3:9-10, he notes that these technologies can also be used for morally bad purposes.

Text

Literary Devices

11f Diatribe Style: Rhetorical Questions In the diatribe style, James asks rhetorical questions, expecting negative responses, "Does a spring pour forth both fresh and brackish water from the same opening?" (3:11). "Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs?" (3:12a).

Grammar

12b Neither can salty [water] produce sweet water V Nes: A Compressed Expression The grammar of this phrase is very compressed, reading (in Nes) literally: "neither salty produces sweet water." In analogy with the image in Jas 3:11 (a spring does not produce both brackish and sweet water from the same opening) and taking the verbs "can" as implied from 3:12a, one may translate, "neither can salty [water] produce sweet water" or "neither can a salty [spring or fountain] produce sweet water." See also Textual Criticism 3:12b.

Context

Ancient Cultures

12a olives Cultural and Religious Significance James' reference to olives in his analogy would have been familiar to his Mediterranean readers; on the cultural and religious significance of olives (especially in connection with olive oil and anointing), see Ancient Texts 5:14c; Biblical Intertextuality 5:14c; Peritestamental Literature 5:14c.

12a fig tree Cultural Significance of Figs Figs were a staple in ancient Mediterranean cultures; they were eaten fresh or pressed into cakes (e.g., 1Sm 30:12). Figs were also considered to have medicinal value: Isaiah orders Hezekiah to apply a "poultice of figs" to a boil (Is 38:21).

Suggestions for Reading

1–12 An Ethics of Language The connection of this pericope with Jas 2:14–26 is not obvious. In general, however, it sustains James' concern with proper speech (→Speech in James).  The specific concern of Jas 2:14–26 was the consistency between speech (confession of faith) and action. The major point of Jas 3:1–12 is clear enough: James exhorts his readers to control their tongues.  

Artistry: Coinage of a "Classic"

Structure
  • In contrast with other parts of James that are a collection of materials that have no clear relationship, Jas 3:1–12 is a coherent composition that features substantial rhetorical design (Literary Devices 3:1–12).
Rhetorics
Philosophy

Reception

Among the most notable individual passages:

Text

Vocabulary

1b greater judgment Judgment and Punishment The Greek meizon krima may refer to

  • being judged by a stricter standard, or
  • receiving a harsher punishment.

It is probable that James refers to God's eschatological judgment here, given James' principle that only God is in a position to judge others (cf. Jas 4:11–12; Jas 5:9; see also →James: Judging). This eschatological sense is found in the verbally similar Mk 12:40: "They will receive a very severe condemnation" (lêmpsontai perissoteron krima). See also Biblical Intertextuality 3:1b.

Textual Criticism

12b no spring produces salty and sweet water Explanatory Variants The likely original text (as given in Nes) reads elliptically "neither salty produces sweet water." Various textual traditions added words, apparently in an attempt to clarify the meaning.

  •  א , the second hand of C,  P, and Ψ, along with Byz, add "similarly" (houtôs) to clarify the relationship with the previous clause; TR, S, and V follow this reading;
  • Byz and P add "no spring" (oudemia / oute mia pêgê) to clarify the reference of "salty."

See also Grammar 3:12b.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

12a grapevine Symbolism

= Prosperity and Eschatological Plenty

Together with the fig tree, owning grapevines was a proverbial sign of self-sufficiency, security, and peace in ancient Israel. See above Biblical Intertextuality 3:12a.

= Israel

In Isaiah's parable, the vineyard symbolizes Israel,and the Lord is the owner (Is 5:1-7). Although the Lord carefully tends the vineyard, it produces only wild grapes, a symbol of the people's unfaithfulness and corruption. Jesus took over this basic symbolism in his parable of the vineyard (Mk 12:1-12) See also Ps 80:8, Jer 2:21; Hos 10:1 for Israel as a grapevine.

= Christ

In the Gospel of John (Jn 15:1-17) Jesus applies the imagery to himself: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower." His disciples are the branches; those that did not bear fruit would be cut off and burned; branches that did bear fruit would be pruned so that they would bear even more fruit. See also Ancient Cultures 3:12a.

Text

Vocabulary

11f sweet and bitter Metonymous Use: Drinkable and Undrinkable Water

  • Glukus ("sweet") and pikros ("bitter") literally refers to sweet and bitter taste; cf. Rv 10:9, "Take it, and eat; it will be bitter (pikrainô) to your stomach, but sweet (glukus) as honey in your mouth." The words are applied by extension to water that is drinkable and water that is not drinkable (e.g, brackish water, or salt water). See Herodotus Hist. 4.52; Philo Her. 208 for the contrast of these two words.
  • In Jas 3:12, the comparison is between fresh water (glukus) and salt water (halukos). Herodotus Hist. 7.35 uses both halukos and pikros to describe the Hellespont in his account of how Xerxes lashed the stream as punishment for destroying his bridge.

Literary Devices

11f Comparisons with Nature

Staying True to One’s Nature

To support his point that one should not both bless God and curse others, James draws some analogies from nature:

  • The same opening in a spring does not produce both fresh and brackish / salty water.
  • Fruit trees produce their own fruit, not the fruit of other types of trees.

The point of the comparisons is that nothing in nature acts against its own nature. Thus James argues not simply that it is inconsistent to bless God and curse others, but rather that such behavior contradicts human nature. God gave humans speech in order to worship God (Jas 3:9a) and to facilitate a harmonius life together (cf. Jas 3:17-18).

See also Ancient Texts 3:7a.

Evoking a Visual Similarity

James' image in 3:11 relies on a visual similarity between the human mouth and the opening of a spring: two types of water gushing forth from a single opening correspond with righteous and unrighteous speech coming forth from a single mouth.

Context

Ancient Texts

12a Can a fig tree Acting According to One’s Nature Hellenistic authors often used agricultural analogies to make the point that all things, including human beings, should act according to their nature in order to reach their fulfillment.

  • Plutarch Tranq. an. 13 "Therefore not all pursuits are for everyone, but one must, obeying the Pythian inscription, 'know one's self,' and then use one's self for that one thing for which Nature has fitted one (chrêsthai pros hen ho pephuke) and not do violence to Nature (phusis) by dragging one's self towards the emulation of now one sort of life, now another…runners are not discouraged because they do not carry off wrestlers' crowns…we do not expect the vine to bear figs nor the olive grapes" (Helmbold 1939, 209-13).
  • Epictetus Diatr. 4.1.121-25 "For when is a vine faring badly? When it is acting contrary to its own nature (para tên heautês phusin prassêᵢ). When is a cock faring badly? Under the same conditions. So also man. What, then, is his nature? To bite, and kick, and to throw into prison, and behead? No, but to do good, to work together, and to pray for the success of others... everything's evil is what is contrary to its own nature... the nature of man is gentle (hêmeros), and affectionate (philallêlos), and faithful" (pistos; Oldfater 1928, 285-87).

Stoic thought makes a clear distinction between the the nature of a good person and the nature of a bad person (phaulos).

  • Marcus Aurelius Med. 12.16 "Note that he who would not have the wicked (phaulos) do wrong is as one who would not have the fig-tree secrete acrid juice in its fruit, would not have babies cry, or the horse neigh, or any other things be that must be" (hosa alla anagkaia; Haines 1916, 331).

Seneca applies this teaching to moral context: an action is good or bad based on its own nature, not on human opinion:

  • Seneca Ep. 87.25 "good (bonum) does not spring from evil (malum), any more than figs grow from olive-trees. Things which grow correspond to their seed; and goods cannot depart from their class" (Gummere 1917, 2:337).

Biblical Intertextuality

1b we will receive a greater judgment Teachers in New Testament Context In his condemnation of the scribes (Jewish teachers in Jesus' time; cf. Mk 1:22), Jesus teaches that they will receive a "greater judgment" (perissoteron krima; Mk 12:40). It is possible that James alludes to, or rewrites, a teaching of Jesus in 3:1. Such a reference would also explain why James introduces this admonition with "since you know."

James seems to be following the general principle enunciated in Lk 12:48: "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more." The teacher of the community has been entrusted with great authority, and so will be held to a higher standard. 

Reception

Christian Tradition

1–4 bridle his entire body also Reason Controls the Passions Some commentators understood James to refer to the Greek philosophical principle that reason (logos) must control the passions of the body:

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena ad Jas 3:3–4 "If we drive back the high spirit (thrasos) of a horse with a bridle, and change the rushing course (hormê) of a ship with a small rudder, how much more should we guide the tongue by right reason (orthos logos) to what is good" (Cramer 1844, 8:19–20). Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. repeats this interpretation (col. 484).
  • Ps.-Andrew of Crete Bios 7: James placed a restraint on the tongue and taught that one should both remain silent and speak according to reason (kata logon; Noret 1978, 52). See also Literary Devices 1:26.

Text

Literary Devices

12b Neither can salty [water] produce fresh water Concluding Aphorism James concludes his lengthy exhortation on controlling the tongue with a maxim, a common closing technique (see Jas 1:12; 2:13; 2:26; 3:18; 4:17).

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

1a teachers The Office of Teacher in the NT The Greek didaskalos is used 58 times in the NT and 49 times in the Gospels (41 times of Jesus).

In an Ancient Jewish Context

A didaskalos meant primarily an expositor of the Torah (cf. Lk 2:46). The title didaskalos presupposes that the man has a group of students or disciples (mathêtês) who follow him. The Hebrew equivalent to didaskalos is rabbi (which, in turn, is etymologically similar to magister); the Gospels occassionally record his disciples addressing Jesus as such (Mt 26:25; Mk 9:5; 11:21; Jn 4:31; 9:2; 11:8). 

In the Synoptic Tradition

Jesus himself is identified as a teacher in statements summarizing his activity (Mk 2:13, Mk 4:1, Mt 7:28f, Lk 5:3). Jesus is said to teach "as one having authority, and not as their scribes" (Mt 7:28). Even non-Christians recognized Jesus as a teacher; Josephus A.J. 18.63 characterizes him as a "wise man,"(sophos anêr) a "teacher" (didaskalos; 8:48-49).  Jesus' designation as a teacher is doubtless part of the reason why James places such weighty importance on this office. 

In the Earliest Christian Communities

  • The office of "teacher" (didaskalos) was recognized. Paul identifies "teacher" as a distinct office in his churches: "Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers" (1Cor 12:28); see also Eph 4:11, "And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers." Acts 13:1 identifies "prophets and teachers" in the church of Antioch.
  • Two major functions of an early Christian teacher were: (1) to act as an interpreter of scripture and (2) to instruct and explicate oral traditions from and about Jesus. The author of our epistle fulfills both functions.
  • The necessity of distinguishing true from false teaching was a central issues in the early churches (e.g., 1Tm 4:1; 1Tm 6:3f; cf. Did. 11:1ff; 13:2). See also Christian Tradition 3:1a.

Informal Teaching in Synagogues

James' admonition, "Not many of you should become teachers" seems to assume that becoming a teacher within the faith community was a position accessible to many. The NT portrays members or guests of a synagogue as preaching on occasion, e.g., Jesus at Capernaum (Mk 1:21; Lk 6:6) and Nazareth (Lk 4:16); Acts portrays Paul and associates in a similar way (e.g., Salamis: Acts 13:5; Antioch in Pisidia: Acts 13:14-15; Iconium: Acts 14:1; Thessalonica: Acts 17:1-3).

Reception

Christian Tradition

2:14–3:2a Divisio Textus

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena groups Jas 3:1–2 with Jas 2:14–26 under the heading: "That a person is justified (dikaioutai anthrôpos) not from faith alone (ouk ek pisteôs monon), but also from actions (alla kai ex ergôn);  and not from each one individually, but from both together" (ex amphoion hama; Cramer 1844, 8:14).

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.

Text

Vocabulary

10b ought not to be A Expression from the Classical Greek The classical Greek impersonal expression ou chrê is rare in Koine Greek, where it was largely replaced by dei. It does not appear elsewhere in the NT or in G.

Literary Devices

1a my brothers Apostrophe

Actio : Pathos, Appeal to Familiarity 

James uses two techniques in Jas 3:1–12 to underscore his close relationship with his readers: 

  • addessing his readers as "my brothers" (adelphoi): Jas 3:1,10,12; Literary Devices 1:2;
  • employing first person plural address (Jas 3:1–3; 9) to identify himself more closely with his readers: (e.g., 3:2a: "we all stumble in many ways"). 

Dispositio: Change of Topic

The direct address, "my brothers," signals a change in topic or emphasis (see Jas 1:2; 1:16; 1:19; 2:1; 2:5; 2:14). 

1b knowing that Paraenetic Discourse: Appeal to Shared Knowledge James appeals to a shared knowledge that he expects the community to know, a common paraenetic technique.  In this case James may allude to a teaching of Jesus regarding the harsher judgment that teachers will receive (cf. Mk 12:38–40; Jn 9:40–41).

Context

Ancient Cultures

9f curse Cursing in Ancient Cultures

Formal and Informal Curses

The curse (Greek verb: kataraomai; noun: katara): is a wish that harm or disaster befall another person. Motives for cursing vary and include envy or desire to avenge a past wrong. Other curses involve future actions, cursing those who would transgress some sacred law. This category may also involve a self-curse. Often a divine power is invoked to carry out the curse. Many formal curses were inscribed on thin lead sheets (Greek: katadesmos; Latin: defixio).

  • Mid-3rd c. AD epitaph from Phrygia: "If any one shall open the tomb, there shall be upon him the curses (katarai) as many as are written in [the book], on his sight and his whole body (eis holon to sôᵢma autôᵢ) and his children and his life" (Moulton and Milligan 1929, s.v. katara). Epitaphs such as this from central Phrygia often exhibit a similarity and possible influence from the curses in Dt 27-29.

In addition to these more formal, written, or ritualized curses, there were doubtless many informal curses.

Literary Examples of Curses

Following are some examples of curses found in literature:

  • Xenophon Anab. 7.7.48 "Seuthes cursed (katêrasato) the man who was to blame for the fact that the soldiers' wages had not been paid long ago" (Brownson 1922, 1:639).
  • Diodorus Siculus Bib. hist.  1.45.2: The Egyptian king Tnephachthus "pronounced a curse (katarasthai) on the king who had first taught the people their extravagant way of living" (Oldfather 1967, 1:161).

Biblical Intertextuality

1a teachers The Office of Teacher in the NT The Greek didaskalos is used 58 times in the NT and 49 times in the Gospels (41 times of Jesus).

In an Ancient Jewish Context

Didaskalos primarily denotes an expositor of the Torah (cf. Lk 2:46). By definition, a didaskalos has a group of students or disciples (mathêtês) that follow him. The Hebrew equivalent to didaskalos is rabbi (which, in turn, is etymologically similar to magister); the Gospels occassionally record his disciples addressing Jesus as such (Mt 26:25; Mk 9:5; 11:21; Jn 4:31; 9:2; 11:8). 

In the Synoptic Tradition

Jesus himself is identified as a teacher in statements summarizing his activity (Mk 2:13, Mk 4:1, Mt 7:28f, Lk 5:3). Jesus is said to teach "as one having authority, and not as their scribes" (Mt 7:28). Even non-Christians recognized Jesus as a teacher; Josephus A.J. 18.63 characterizes him as a "wise man" (sophos anêr) and a "teacher" (didaskalos; Thackeray 1965, 8:48-49).  Jesus' designation as a teacher is doubtless part of the reason why James places such weighty importance on this office. 

In the Earliest Christian Communities

Paul identifies the didaskalos as a distinct office in his churches: "Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers" (1Cor 12:28); see also Eph 4:11, "And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers." Acts 13:1 identifies "prophets and teachers" in the church of Antioch.

Two major functions of an early Christian teacher were:

  • (1) to act as an interpreter of scripture
  • and (2) to instruct and explicate oral traditions from and about Jesus. The author of our epistle fulfills both functions.

The necessity of distinguishing true from false teaching was a central issues in the early churches (e.g., 1Tm 4:1; 1Tm 6:3f; cf. Did. 11:1ff; 13:2). See also Christian Tradition 3:1a.

Informal Teaching in Synagogues

James' admonition, "Not many of you should become teachers" seems to assume that becoming a teacher within the faith community was a position accessible to many. The NT portrays members or guests of a synagogue as preaching on occasion, e.g., Jesus at Capernaum (Mk 1:21; Lk 6:6) and Nazareth (Lk 4:16); Acts portrays Paul and associates in a similar way (e.g., Salamis: Acts 13:5; Antioch in Pisidia: Acts 13:14-15; Iconium: Acts 14:1; Thessalonica: Acts 17:1-3).

9f bless the Lord + curse humans / Application of Jesus’ Teaching?

  • James' teaching here may be an application of Jesus' teaching: "bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Lk 6:28); James and the Luke passage use the same words for blessing and cursing. Paul echoes this same teaching: "Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them" (Rom 12:14). See also 1Cor 4:12; 1Pt 3:9. Rather than quoting the teaching of Jesus, James describes the actual hypocritical behavior of his community and admonishes them: this should not be (Jas 3:10b).
  • Compare also James' further teaching on avoiding swearing oaths (Jas 5:12), a practice closely connected with cursing, as oaths were often accompanied with curses.

12a fig tree Symbolism 

= Security and Peace

Owning one's own fig tree was a proverbial sign of self-sufficiency and calm in ancient Israel: "Every one sat under his vine and fig tree, with no one to disturb them" (1Mc 14:12; cf. 1Kgs 5:5). See also Jl 1:12 for the opposite symbolism.

= Eschatological Fulfilment

The fig tree also figured in visions of eschatological plenty: "the people shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks...Every man shall sit under his own vine or under his own fig tree, undisturbed" (Mi 4:3-4; cf. Zec 3:10). 

= Israel as a Whole

The fig tree could represent the people of Israel as a whole (see Jer 8:13; Jl 1:7; Hos 9:10). 

= Use in the Gospel

Jesus' parables refer to fig trees (cf. Mt 24:32: sprouting leaves as a sign of summer); especially significant are references to their ability to produce fruit (cf. Lk 13:6-9). Jesus' cursing of a fig tree has been seen as a symbolic foreshadowing of the coming destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (Mk 11:12-14,20-25).

James Reworking Jesus' Teaching?

  • Mt 7:16-20: "By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them."

Jesus' teaching recorded in Luke connects this principle explicitly with speaking:

  • Lk 6:45: "A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks." See also Lk 6:44.

Moreover, Mk 11:12-13,20-21: in Jesus' enacted parable, he curses a fig tree that does not produce fruit.

It is unclear, however, whether James relies on Jesus' teaching here or on common themes of the Greek philosophical tradition (Ancient Texts 3:12a).

Peritestamental Literature

10a Out of the same mouth come forth blessing and cursing Relationship of Blessing and Cursing

Integrity of Speech

  • Philo Decal.   93 in his warning about taking oaths too rashly, echoes James' point, "For it would be sacrilege (ou hosion) to employ the mouth by which one pronounces the holiest of names, to utter any words of shame" (Colson 1937, 53-55).
  • T. Ben. 6:5-7 closely parallels James' horror of divided motivation and speech, and his insistence on integrity: "The good set of mind does not talk from both sides of its mouth (lit.: "does not have two tongues"): praises (eulogia) and curses (katara), abuse and honor, calm and strife, hypocrisy and truth, poverty and wealth, but it has one disposition, uncontaminated and pure (kathara), towards all men...The works of Beliar are twofold, and have in them no integrity" (haplotês; OTP 1:827; de Jonge 1978, 172-73).

Benefit of Both Blessing and Cursing

In contrast to James' wholly negative view of cursing, Philo sees its benefits:

  • Philo Her. 177-78: Commenting on Moses (Dt 27) assigning Jacob's sons to two mountains for both blessing (eulogeô) and cursing (kataraomai), Philo observes that "curses are equal in number to blessings and (if we may say so without offence) of equal value. For praises given to the good and censure given to the bad are equally beneficial, since, in the judgment of men of sense, avoiding evil and choosing good are one and the same" (Colson 1932, 371-73).

Reception

Liturgies

1–12 Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 19, Year B.

1–10 Use in Lectionary

  • RML: Saturday, Week 6, Year 2.
  • BL : Tuesday, 32nd Week after Pentecost.

3:11–4:6 Use in Lectionary BL : Wednesday, 32nd Week after Pentecost. 

Christian Tradition

1a teachers Principles Governing Teaching and Teachers The commentary tradition finds in James' words an opportunity to reflect on Christian teachers and teaching.

Who Should Teach?

  • Many commentators  (e.g., Gregory the Great  Reg. Past. 1.3; Lapide Comm. ad loc. (20:85) apply James' teaching to bishops—the preeminent teachers of the Church. 
  • Aquinas Impug. 2.1 [1.2] refers to Jas 3:1 in his Liber contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, an apologia defending the teaching role of religious orders (specifically written in defense of Dominican and Franciscan teachers at the University of Paris).

Heresy and False Teaching

Many commentators find in James' words the principle that many teachers result in heresy and false teaching. In contrast, there should be a single, clear teacher and teaching, as in the rule that there should be a single bishop for one city. See Gloss. Ord. ad loc. (cols. 1283–84); Aquinas Impug. 2.1 (1.2; Procter 1902, 78); Lapide Comm. ad loc. (20:85–86); and Biblical Intertextuality 3:1a.

  • Isho'dad of Merv Comm. Cath. Ep. ad loc. "He does not forbid that many teachers should be amongst them, but he warns them from false doctrines" (Gibson 1913, 36–37; Syriac: ibid., 50).
  • Aquinas Impug. 2.1 [1.2] (Procter 1902, 78): James refers to the dangers of many (false) teachings, not many teachers.

Qualifications of Good Teachers

Commentators take the opportunity to comment on the qualifications of Christian teachers:

Doctrinal Qualifications
  • The teacher must be discreet and learned in Scriptures (discreti, et in Scripturis docti) (Gloss. Ord. [interlinear gloss] ad loc. (cols. 1283–84); Aquinas Impug. 2.1 [1.2](Procter 1902, 78).
Moral Qualifications

The teacher's words must correspond with his actions:

  •  Ps.-Andreas Catena ad loc.: John Chrysostom connects James' instruction on teachers with other themes in James: "to teach without doing [cf. Jas 2:14–26]...brings much damage....just as the one not stumbling in acting on or speaking (mê ptaiôn en ergôᵢ kai logôᵢ) of those things he teaches, and is able to bridle his entire body, is perfect (teleios). For if he teaches these things, and he marks out the faith of right words (pistin orthôn logôn) with vigorous deeds that harmonize with faith, it is apparent that he has bridled his own entire body, permitting it to have no love for the world" (Cramer 1844, 8:18).

The teacher's motivations must be correct:

  • Gregory the Great  Reg. Past. 1.3 cites this passage as a warning to those who seek the heavy responsibilities of the bishop's office out of a desire for prestige.  
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. connects the role of the teacher with the office of a bishop. This office "requires a person who is first of all eminently learned in the content of evangelical doctrine (evangelicae doctrinae) and secondly has his emotions completely purged (purgatissimis affectibus)....Conversely, there is great loss to the people when someone occupies the positition of teacher whose doctrine is corrupt or whose mind is corrupted and warped by passions like hatred, anger, revenge, greed, ambition, or lust" (Bateman 1993, 154; Bateman 1997, 140).
The Good Teacher Should Speak Little
  • Dionysius of Alexandria Cat. Hav. Eccl. 5.5–25 connects this passage with Eccl 5:1, "Be not hasty with your utterance to the Christian teacher. The teacher must remember that the divine being (ousia) is beyond human ability to describe. Whatever can be learned from the divinely-inspired Scriptures is sufficient for theology" (Labate 1992, 78).

Specific Applications

  • Ps.-Clem. 1 Ep. Virg. 11.4 applies the verse to those who claim to be Christian teachers, but instead spread false doctrines.
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. notes that in the time of James, the brother of Jesus, many people were eager to teach and preach the word of Jesus, but some were not qualified. A preacher such as Apollos was wise because he realized the deficiencies of his knowledge and allowed himself to be instructed (see Acts 18:24–28), so that he returned "perfect" (cf. Jas 3:2) to the task of preaching. Other preachers, however, taught incorrectly that one could not be saved without being circumcised (see Acts 15:1). James, according to Bede, then removed such teachers from the responsibility of preaching the word so that they would not cause confusion (Hurst 1985, 35). The Gloss. Ord. abridges Bede's commentary (col. 1283).
  • Augustine of Hippo Tract Ev. Jo. 57.6 applies this to his own work as a teacher and preacher, asking that his readers pray for his inevitable sins and failings as he carries out this challenging work.
  • Augustine of Hippo Retract. prol. 2, setting out in his old age to critique his own voluminous writings, quotes this passage in his anxious reflection on the inevitable shortcomings and even simply unnecessary words he used in his teaching: "What remains for me, then, is to judge myself under the one Teacher (sub magistro uno) whose judgment of my offenses I yearn to escape" (Bogam 1968, 22; Knöll 1902, 9). 

Teachers in the Context of James

The Reformed tradition connects the teachers of 3:1 not with an official teaching office, but rather with community members who take it upon themselves to judge the sins of others in the community.

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. (Owen 1849, 317–18).
  • →GEN (1599) in a marginal note states: "Let no man usurp (as most men ambitiously do) authority to judge and censure others righteously."

2b–12 Divisio Textus

  •  Ps.-Andreas Catena groups verses Jas 3:2b–12 under the heading, "That the rash and undisciplined (propetês kai ataktos) tongue brings death to its possessor. It is necessary to master it for the honor (euphêmia) and glory of God" (Cramer 1844, 8:19).

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus .

11f Logical Interpretation The Gnomon Novi Testamenti summarizes James' verses thus :

  • v. 11: Two contrary principles cannot come forth from one principle (principium).
  • v. 12: No principle can come forth from any other principle, unless it is of that principle's own species (quod sua speciei sit; Bengel 1759, 1110).

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. Vat.gr. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.

Christian Tradition

9f we bless ...we curse: Condemnation of Hypocrisy and Double-mindedness

Hypocritical Speech as an Example of Doublemindedness

Early Christian traditions parallel James in connecting inconsistent, hypocritical speech with "doublemindedness" (cf. Jas 1:8; 4:8)

  • Did. 2.4 "Do not be of two minds (dignômôn) or speak from both sides of your mouth" (diglôssos; see also Barn. 19:7).  See also Peritestamental Literature 3:10a.
  • Herm. Sim. 9.18.3 associates those who are doubleminded (dipsuchoi) with hypocrites and blasphemers (i.e., those who misuse their speech; Ehrman 2003, 2:437).

Erasmus on Religious Hypocrisy

  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. focuses on religious hypocrisy: "The tongue does the most harm under the pretext of godliness when it mixes things which cannot cohere. For the person who is cruel and slanderous (maledicus) towards a neighbor cannot be pious (pius) towards God. And yet with this organ we praise God, calling him Father, and with the same organ we revile and slander a neighbour created in the likeness of God (ad Dei similitudinem conditum). We use the tongue to sing to God from whom all blessings flow and we use it also to inflict the worst evils on another person as if the insult done to him is of no concern to God the creator. God's station is neither increased by our praises nor his person harmed by our insults. But a man can be either harmful or helpful to another man, and what we do to him, God reckons to be done to himself as well (hoc Deus putat ad se pertinere). Let no one believe, therefore, that the hymns which one produces with the tongue, not from the heart, are pleasing to God when that same tongue spews the poison of slander upon his neighbour" (Bateman 1993, 156; Bateman 1997, 142).

Erasmus' Application to Clerics

  • Erasmus Iac. Par. applies this passage to the clerics of his day in a long and unsparing passage: "They have on their lips, 'Our Father,' even as they pierce again and again with the lance of their tongue the neighbor for whose salvation Christ was pierced. They preach the goodness of God who saved mankind by his mercy while they themselves are quick to destroy it with the poison of their tongue....even from the same pulpit they begin with the praises of God and then launch into the denigration of a neighbor (infamiam proximi). The ruin with which they infect the minds of the audience is all the greater because under the fictitious appearance of religion they cover and disguise the deadly poison which they draw forth from their infected heart through the organ of the tongue. I ask you, brothers, does this not remind you of some kind of monster?" (prodigii simile videtur; Bateman 1993, 157; Bateman 1997, 143-44).

The Wages of Cursing

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena "Let nothing bitter be cast out of a mouth deemed worthy of such divine worship (mustagôgia); the tongue should not associate anything so distasteful with a holy (theion) mouth. Let us keep it pure (kathara). Let us bring forth no curses (aras) from it. For if even those who speak abusively will not inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor 6:10), how much more so those who curse (kateuchomenoi)?…Can you approach God to make an offering, and curse others?  Unless you forgive, it will not be forgiven you…" (allusion to Mt 6:15; Cramer 1844, 8:23).

12 Allegorical Interpretations of Figs, Olives, and Grapes According to Bede Ep. cath. ad loc.:

  • The fig tree stands for making excuses for sins (cf. Adam and Eve covering themselves with fig leaves after their sin: Gn 3:7).
  • The olives stand for the fruits of mercy; cf. Ps 52:8 (G-Ps 51:10): anyone who makes excuses for sin does not busy himself with works of mercy.
  • The grapevine stands for inebriation with divine love: a person drunk with divine love blames no one else but himself for his sins (Hurst 1985, 42-43; Hurst 1983, 207-8).

Context

Ancient Cultures

12a grapevine Cultural Value of the Grape Grapes were an important crop in ancient Mediterranean cultures. They were eaten directly, dried to make raisins, used as a source of leaven for baking bread, or fermented to make wine, a dietary staple. A good harvest from the grapevines was essential to the prosperity of these societies (cf. Jl 2:22).  Sir 39:31 (G-39:26) identifies "the blood of the grape" as one of the basic necessities of life.

Biblical Intertextuality

10a Out of the same mouth Integrity in Speech Many biblical passages support James' point that human speech must be integral and not divided:

  • Sir 28:12-13 too notes the duplicitous nature of the tongue: "If you blow on a spark, it turns into flame, if you spit on it, it dies out; yet both you do with your mouth! Cursed be gossips and the double-tongued, for they destroy the peace of many."
  • Ps 62:4 (G-62:4): "with their mouth they would bless, and curse with their heart" ; quoted in 1 Clem. 15:3. See also Biblical Intertextuality 3:9a.