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3 Consider that we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we guide their whole body.
3 Now if we put the horses` bridles into their mouths that they may obey us, we turn about their whole body also.
3 For so we put bridles into the mouths of horses, in order to submit them to our will, and so we turn their whole body around.
4 Consider also the ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the impulse of the pilot desires.
4 Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by rough winds, are yet turned about by a very small rudder, whither the impulse of the steersman willeth.
4 Behold also the ships, great as they are, when driven by severe winds, they are turned about with a very small rudder, wherever the pilot wishes.
5 Even so the tongue is a small member and it boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!
5 So the tongue also is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how much wood is kindled by how small a fire!
5 So also the tongue certainly is a small part, but it moves great things. Consider that a small fire can set ablaze a great forest.
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. Thus the tongue is set among our members, as that which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
6 And so the tongue is like a fire, comprising all iniquity. The tongue, stationed in the midst of our body, can defile the entire body and inflame the wheel of our nativity, setting a fire from Hell.
6 The tongue is a fire, and the sinful world like a forest: that very tongue, while it is among our members, can defile our whole body, and set on fire the records of our race which have rolled down from the beginning: and in the end it is consumed by fire.
7 For every kind of both beasts and birds, of both reptiles and sea creatures, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.
7 For the nature of all beasts and birds and serpents and others is ruled over, and has been ruled over, by human nature.
8 But no man can tame the tongue. [It] is an unrestrainable evil, full of deadly poison.
8 But the tongue can no man tame; [it is] a restless evil, [it is] full of deadly poison.
8 But no man is able to rule over the tongue, a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who are created according to [the] likeness of God.
9 Therewith bless we the Lord and Father; and therewith curse we men, who are made after the likeness of God
9 By it we bless God the Father, and by it we speak evil of men, who have been made in the likeness of God.
10 Out of the same mouth come blessings and curses. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
11 The spring does not pour forth from the same opening [both ]the sweet and the bitter [water, does it]?
11 Doth the fountain send forth from the same opening sweet [water] and bitter?
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.
10a mouth Metonymy Here James switches from the tongue to the mouth as a figure for the power of speech.
2b perfect man Theme of Completion and Wholeness James again picks up the theme of wholeness and perfection, first discussed at Jas 1:4, "that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing" (cf. →James: Perfection / Wholeness in James).
The Greek teleios echoes Jesus' teaching ("Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48), just as it ties in with the Stoic doctrine that the person who has all the virtues is perfect and complete. Here James refers specfically to the teacher as the "complete man" (Ancient Texts 1:4a; Ancient Texts 1:4b; Biblical Intertextuality 1:4b; Peritestamental Literature 1:4a).
2b in word Internal and External Logos The Stoics distinguished between an internal logos (endiathetos logos) and a "spoken" or "uttered" logos (prophorikos logos) (→SVF 2.43). Here James seems to have in mind the latter, while Jas 1:18,21 likely refers to the former; cf. → 71. See also this distinction in Migr.Jas 3:11 (Peritestamental Literature 3:11).
4f,5:4,7,9,11 Look Call for Attention James uses the verb idou (V = ecce) several times throughout the work to call special attention to what follows.
6b establishes itself Connotation of Power In its transitive sense, the verb kathistêmi means to set down or place something, thus in a more metaphorical sense to appoint or establish someone in a certain position (cf. 1 Macc 3:55).
In a reflexive sense, it can mean to establish or appoint oneself. This is likely James' meaning here: as the tongue claims great things for itself (v. 5), here it appoints itself or establishes itself (by implication, in a position of power or authority) among the other parts of the body. This interpretation is consistent with James' other use of the verb kathistêmi in Jas 4:4, where the person who wishes to be a friend of the world establishes himself, or makes himself, an enemy of God. From this position of power and authority, the tongue (representing sinful speech) affects the whole rest of the person (body) negatively.
6a tongue is a fire Metonymy The tongue here stands for speech; fire for the destructive consequences of improper speech. At times, the "tongue" takes on the particularly negative connotation of uncontrolled, destructive speech (e.g., Jas 3:6–8).
6c staining the whole body Use of Cultic Purity Language James uses cultic purity language elsewhere at Jas 1:18b; 1:27; 3:17c; 4:8bc. This passage's use of spiloô is a specific echo of the use of the cognate aspilos at Jas 1:27 "to keep oneself unstained by the world." See also Literary Devices 1:27.
6a tongue is fire Fire as an Image for the Destructiveness of Uncontrolled Speech Sirach also warns against the destructiveness of the tongue, comparing it to a fire (Sir 28:13–27):
6a the world of unrighteousness Attempt to Clarify James' Meaning S attempts to flesh out James' metaphor, balancing the comparison of the first clause with a second comparison: "And the tongue is a fire, and the sinful world is like a forest."
7b tamed by human nature Allusions to the Genesis Creation Account Given his allusion to the four categories of animals in the creation account (Gn 1:26) in 3:7a, James' reference to "taming" animals likely alludes to the divine command to "have dominion over" (Greek: archô) all other living creatures (Gn 1:28). James again alludes to the creation account ( Gn 1:26-27 : humans created in God's likeness) in Jas 3:9b.
8a But the tongue Emphatic Anastrophe James begins this sentence with the object of the verb, emphasizing the power of the tongue that is so difficult to control.
8a tongue To Tame the Tongue The Hellenistic moral tradition often counseled against speaking too much. See above Ancient Texts 1:19c.
8b uncontrollable evil Allusion to Prov 26:28? The original text of James (akatastaton kakon) may allude here to Prv 26:28: "A false tongue hates truth, and an unguarded mouth works instability" (akatastasia).
8a tongue Wisdom Literature: Admonitions to Control One’s Speech Biblical wisdom literature frequently admonishes the reader to control his speech (Biblical Intertextuality 1:19c; Biblical Intertextuality 1:26b).
8c full of death-bearing poison Biblical Allusions?
9f with it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse humans Proper Use of Technology in Proper Speech → 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 Mir. Pr.Jas 3:9-10, he notes that these technologies can also be used for morally bad purposes.
11 spring Literal and Metaphorical Senses The Greek pêgê (V: fons; S: nbywt’) refers to the source of flowing water, either a natural spring or a fountain. It can then be used metaphorically as the source of any thought or activity.
11 Does a spring Interro-negation James uses the interrogative particle mêti, indicating an expected negative answer.
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).
11 sweet and bitter The Bitter Water at Marah A Jewish audience likely would have heard an allusion to the account in Ex 15:22-25, where the people find the water at Marah bitter (Greek: pikros) and undrinkable, and the Lord has Moses throw in a piece of wood to "sweeten" (Greek: glukainô) the water.
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.
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.
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.
Among the most notable individual passages:
2b does not stumble in word Irony? Interpreters disagree on whether this statement is to be taken at face value as an actual possibility, or whether James means it ironically or hyperbolically, in the sense, "If someone would be able to not go astray in speaking [though this is impossible]..."
Given the centrality of the theme of wholeness (perfection) in James, however, one should take James' word at face value. James clearly thinks it possible to be a "perfect man": "so that you may be complete (perfect) and whole, lacking in nothing" (Jas 1:4). But "pefect" here does not mean flawless but complete, perfected, fully matured. For the Stoics, the "complete" man is able to control his passions. Nonetheless, Jesus' teaching in Mt 5:48—"be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect"—is undoubedtly at work here. Cf. Ancient Texts 1:4a; Ancient Texts 1:4b; Peritestamental Literature 1:4a; Biblical Intertextuality 1:4a.
4a driven by fierce winds Image from Greco-Roman Moral Tradition: Chaotic Storms James again employs the image of fierce winds at sea first used at Jas 1:6 to evoke the inner state of a man with conflicting thoughts. Here too James alludes to a Greco-Roman moral tradition, appropriated by Hellenistic Judaism, in which the passions are symbolized as fierce storms on the sea (e.g., →4 Macc. 7:1–3). See also Ancient Texts 3:4b; Peritestamental Literature 3:3-4.
5c small fire ignites such a wood Traditional Image James draws on a conventional image:
6a world of unrighteousness Unclear Syntax The syntax of this verse is unclear. The basic interpretive issue is to determine how the phrase "the world of unrighteousness" (ho kosmos tês adikias) is related syntactically to the previous phrase ("the tongue is a fire") and to the following phrase, "the tongue is placed among the parts" [of the body]," along with the attributive participles that modify the tongue: "staining the entire body," "sets on fire the course of life," and "is set on fire by hell."
There are two basic options:
7b human nature Hellenistic Jewish Adoption of the Phrase The Greek anthrôpinê phusis (Ancient Texts 3:7b) was taken up in Hellenistic Judaism:
8c full of death-bearing poison Biblical Allusions Several Second Temple texts pick up on the biblical connection between deceitful tongues and the poison of snakes (Biblical Intertextuality 3:8c).
9a bless the Lord Liturgical Blessing A prayer blessing the Lord begins the Liturgy of the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Mass:
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.
See also Grammar 3:12b.
12a grapevine Symbolism
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.
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.
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.
1:27c,3:6,4:4 world Negative Connotations The word kosmos is negative in James's worldview, expressing a realm or state opposed to God (Biblical Intertextuality 1:27; Christian Tradition 1:27; Christian Tradition 4:4b).
5b boasts : Byz TR | Nes : claims great [things]
There is little difference in meaning.
3a See : Byz S TR | V Nes: For if
Ide is more in keeping with James' regular style, although it may be due to iotacism, as eide would have been pronounced the same as ide. The mss. evidence favors ei de. See below Comparison of Versions 3:3a.
5c small : Byz TR | Nes: such: Clarification James uses the ambiguous adjective hêlikon for both "so small" and "so large" (Vocabulary 3:5c). To clarify his meaning the first hands of A (apparently) and C, along with Ψ and Byz replace hêlikon with oligon ("small") before "fire" (Comparison of Versions 3:5c).
6b P and Byz add houtôs ("thus") before "the tongue." See below Grammar 3:6a.
8b uncontrollable : Byz TR | Nes: unstable
א , A, and B read akatastatos ("unstable"); cf. also V.
2b word Semantic Range of Logos Literally meaning “word,” logos has a rich range of meaning (→James: Philosophical background of logos).
In this context, the most natural referent is speech, since a discourse concerning the ability to control one’s tongue immediately follows this verse (Jas 3:2–5). Since James is discussing teachers, logos could also be translated as "teaching" in the sense of the content of one's teaching; cf. Lk 10:39: "[Mary] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak" (lit.: "listening to his logos"). → ad loc. takes it in this sense: Tract. Iac.doctrina recte fidei (col. 75).
6d wheel of birth Course of Life? The noun trochós has the basic sense of "wheel" (distinct from tróchos "race-course"). The word can refer metaphorically to the turning and changing of events, a cycle, a whole round of; cf. →Ps.-Phoc. 27: "life is a wheel" (ho bios trochos; , 88–89). See also Peritestamental Literature 3:6d.
The phrase "of birth" (tês geneseôs) translates the Greek word genesis, which means also the beginning and origin of something. It can refer to a person's birth (e.g., → 17.51.3). James also uses this term at Bib. hist. Jas 1:23 (Vocabulary 1:23b). One can understand James' phrase as referring to a person's course of life, beginning from birth.
8c poison and "rust": Polysemy or Homonymy? The dictionaries vary in deciding whether the noun ios is a case of polysemy (one word with two meanings) or a case of homonymy, i.e. the two nouns have no etymological relation. James uses ios in both meanings:
11f sweet and bitter Metonymous Use: Drinkable and Undrinkable Water
11 pour forth Image of Overflowing Abundance The Greek bruô has the sense of something being full to the point of overflowing; it can also refer to budding plants. This may well be a conscious allusion to Jesus' teaching: "For from the fullness (perisseuma) of the heart the mouth speaks" (Mt 12:34).
8b uncontrollable Echo James' original text read akatastasos ("unstable"). See also Textual Criticism 3:8b. James uses the same word to describe the double-minded man in Jas 1:8; the noun form is used in Jas 3:16, which can be translated as "instability."
James thus connects the instability of the double-minded person (who is caught between his attraction to sin and his attraction to God) with the instability of a person's tongue (which speaks both good and evil: cf. Jas 3:9). This internal instability within a person results in instability within the community: "For wherever there is jealousy and rivalry, there is instability and every low-minded practice" (Jas 3:16).
11f Comparisons with Nature
To support his point that one should not both bless God and curse others, James draws some analogies from nature:
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.
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.
5c such a wood Palestinian Setting? Some commentators, including those who argue for a Palestinian provenance for James, argue that James does not refer to a forest fire (there being few forests in Palestine), but rather a brush fire that might have been set by a farmer to clear his fields of grass, thorns, or weeds (cf. Ex 22:5 (6); Zec 12:6). See also Vocabulary 3:5c.
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.
Stoic thought makes a clear distinction between the the nature of a good person and the nature of a bad person (phaulos).
Seneca applies this teaching to moral context: an action is good or bad based on its own nature, not on human opinion:
5c such a wood Symbolism of the Forest Fire A forest fire is often used a symbol of great destruction in Scripture. The following passages use it to symbolize God's wrath.
9b come into existence according to the likeness of God Moral Application of Gn 1:26-28
James uses the phrase kath' homoiôsin theou gegonotas, alluding to G-Gn 1:26: "Let us make humans in our image (kat' eikona) and in our likeness (kath' homoiôsin)." G uses the verb poieiô for creating, while James uses the perfect of gignomai. James is unusual in the biblical tradition in his reference to the "likeness" (homoiôsis); most references back to the creation accounts (e.g., Gn 5:1; 9:6) recall the phrase "in our image" (kat' eikona).
James alludes to Gn 1:26-28 (humans, make in God's image and likeness, so as to rule over all other living creatures); cf. Gn 5:1. James' reference reinforces the similar allusion in Jas 3:7: humans are able to tame every other creature, alluding to God's commandment "to have dominion over" the rest of creation (Biblical Intertextuality 3:7b).
Gn 9:6 reads, "Anyone who sheds the blood of a human being, by a human being shall that one's blood be shed; For in the image of God have human beings been made." The implication is that it is a horrendous crime to kill someone who is created in God's image. Two justifications for this view are possible:
5c–6a a small fire ignites such a great wood + tongue is a fire | Metaphor: Destructive Nature of the Tongue James' metaphor is common in Second Temple literature:
9b curse humans who have come into existence according to the likeness of God Moral Implications of Human Creation in the Divine Image In Second Temple Jewish texts one finds further expansions of the two moral implications of the divine image: (1) the one who disrespects humans made in the divine image disrespects the creator of that image; (2) humans should be treated well because they are made in the divine image (Biblical Intertextuality 3:9b; Theology 3:9b).
11 sweet and bitter An Apocalyptic Sign: Confusion in Nature
James does not allude to these eschatological signs, however. His point is to emphasize the regular order in nature as a foil for a disordered human nature.
11 a spring + from the same opening / Metaphor for Inner and Outer Logos? James' choice of a spring pouring forth through its opening as a metaphor for human speech is not original. uses the image to illustrate the distinction between the inner logos (reason within the human mind) and the outer logos (speech). Philo here draws on a Stoic distinction between an internal logos (endiathetos logos) and a "spoken" or "uttered" word (prophorikos logos; e.g., →SVF 2.43).
3a See Following some miniscules, part of the Byz tradition reads ide ("see"). The TR reads idou: "behold!" V (si autem) follows the first hand of א in reading ei de ("and if" or "but if"). See above Textual Criticism 3:3a.
5c such ...such: TR Byz V (Explanatory Variants) James (as witnessed in Nes) uses the ambigious adjective hêlikon for both "so small" and "so large" (Vocabulary 3:5c). To clarify his meaning:
9a God Variations of the Divine Name The Sahidic Coptic and some Syriac, Vulgate, and Boharic Coptic manuscripts, read theos ("God") instead of kurios (Textual Criticism 3:9a).
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:
6bc the tongue …staining the whole body: Body as the Body of Christ
See also → ad loc. (36). Annot. Jac.
7 every nature of beast ...has been tamed: Examples of Tamed Animals The tradition illustrates James' statement that all species have been tamed with specific examples:
7a every nature of beasts and of birds Allegorical Interpretation → ad loc. holds that James wishes to to show that the human tongue surpasses various animals in their vices. Each point is supported by a scriptural proof-text: Ep. cath.
→Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. quotes interpretation (col. 1286).
8b uncontrollable evil Dangers of Uncontrolled Speech
In his discussion on the dangers of speaking too much, Gregory the Great quotes this passage together with Jas 1:19 and Jas 1:26. He connects these texts with Jesus' teaching in Mt 12:36, "on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak."
6d is flamed by Gehenna Interpretation of Gehenna S renders "by Gehenna" with bnwr’ ("by fire"). → interprets this as a reference to eschatolgoical punishment: "burns in punishment from God" ( Comm. Cath. Ep. , 37; Syriac: ibid., 50).
6d wheel of birth Attempt at Clarification
2c body Connotations of "Body"
→ ad loc. lists other options: James uses "body" to mean an aggregate group, hence "body of sins" or "body of passions" (20:79). Comm.
5c wood Forest or Matter The noun hulê has a range of meanings.
5c such a [size of] fire ignites such a wood (Nes) An Ambigious Adjective The adjective hêlikos generally means "how large" (cf. Col 2:1), but can also mean "how small" (cf. →5). James (as witnessed in Nes) takes advantage of this ambiguity to contrast, "how small" ( Hermot. hêlikon) a fire with "how great" (hêlikon) a wood [i.e., forest]. See also Literary Devices Jas3:5c; Textual Criticism 3:5c.
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.
2f bridle his entire body also Long-drawn Metaphor of Bridling a Horse Jame again uses the Greek chalinagôgeô, meaning literally "to bridle a horse," first used at Jas 1:26; the word here sets up the image of bridling a horse in 3:3. James here draws on an extensive classical literary and philosophical background (Literary Devices 1:26; Ancient Texts 1:26b).
References to riders controlling horses and pilots controlling ships are common in Greco-Roman philosophical and moral texts as illustrations of the principle that right reason should control unruly forces, such as the passions.
7f every nature of beast ...no human: Contrastive Comparison and Hyperbole In the previous verse, James established the meaning of "tongue": by metonymy, it stands for uncontrolled speech (Literary Devices 3:6a). Here James uses a contrastive comparison to emphasize the difficulty of controlling the tongue: although humans can tame wild animals, they cannot control their own speech. James' word choice creates an absolute contrast: every kind of animal has been tamed, but no human being can tame the tongue.
James' use of hyperbole to emphasize his point here is clear from the following, since he assumes that humans do have the ability to control their tongue:
It is unlikely that James literally believed that all animals have been tamed. Rather, James exagerrates, using hyperbole to drive home his point about the difficulty of controlling one's speech.
9 bless the Lord ...curse humans: Reiterating Central Themes of James: Contrastive Comparisons James' reference to blessing the Lord and cursing humans builds on several themes prominent in James:
James closely connects worship of God and practical ethics, for example:
Blessing the Lord while cursing the humans is an example of what James calls double-mindedness (Jas 1:8). The person displays an inner conflict; he is divided, attempting to follow both values associated with God and values associated with "the world" (cf. Jas 4:4). This internal division is a variation of James' overriding theme that all division is sinful: his goal is unity and integrity both within each person and within the community. See also →James: Perfection / Wholeness in James .
6d Gehenna Valley of Hinnom, South of Jerusalem The name "Gehenna" (Greek: geenna) derives from the Aramaic and Hebrew names of the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. See also Vocabulary 3:6d.
9f curse Cursing in Ancient Cultures
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).
In addition to these more formal, written, or ritualized curses, there were doubtless many informal curses.
Following are some examples of curses found in literature:
4b wherever the impulse of the steersman wishes Use of Stoic Terminology?
Wishing (Greek: boulomai) is often connected in Stoic and other Greek philosophical discourse with a deliberate rational choice, as contrasted with a descision based on passions:
See also Ancient Texts 1:18a.
6c wheel of birth An Orphic Background? Some commentators see an Orphic background to this phrase. To express their concept of existence as an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, Orphic literature used such phrases as the "wheel of fate and birth" (trochos tês heimarmenês te kai geneseôs), as in → 2 [168B] ( In Cael. 1894, 377).
7a nature of beast Use of Hellenistic Terminology The Greek word phusis, generally translated as "nature," can also denote what modern science might call a "species"; thus → 6.1.1 uses Hist. plant.phusis to refer to different classes of plants.
For Aristotle, phusis is an auto-motive force that brings about growth oriented to a relative state of stasis (i.e., the telos):
See further →. 1946
7b tamed by human nature Common Stoic Topos: Human Ability to Control Nature The human ability to control and benefit from nature is a common Stoic topos.
7a every nature of beast Classes of Animals Dividing animals into four classes is common in Scripture. Following are the four general classes together with their usual names in G:
The paradigmatic reference occurs in the creation account of Gn 1:26-28, which employs ichthus, peteinon, ktênon, and herpeton. Many other lists occur, commonly using the four-fold division: e.g., Gn 9:2; Dt 4:17-18; Ps 148:10; Hos 4:3; Acts 11:6 (all from G).
James' use of peteinon, thêrion, and herpeton is standard in G. His use of the adjective enalios for "sea creatures," however, is unusual: it is unattested elsewhere in Greek Bible. An interesting parallel is → 345: Ant.pontou t' einalian phusin, "the watery brood of the sea" ( 1891, 34-35), which occurs within a discussion of the human dominance over animals.
9f bless the Lord + curse humans / Application of Jesus’ Teaching?
9a bless the Lord and Father Reference to the Liturgical Worship of God With the phrase "bless the Lord," James likely refers to prayers said during liturgical worship.
James likely refers to the blessing formula used in prayers:
For the combination of Lord and Father, see
9b curse Prevalence of Cursing in the OT In G kataraomai means to invoke a curse on someone:
Passages often pair the promise of God's blessings with the threat of his curses:
12a fig tree Symbolism
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.
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).
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).
Jesus' teaching recorded in Luke connects this principle explicitly with speaking:
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).
2b perfect man Completion and Wholeness (Perfection) In ancient Greek and Hellenistic Jewish philosophy, the "complete man" possesses all the virtues; the "complete man" and the "wise man" are closely connected (cf. Ancient Texts 1:4a; Ancient Texts 1:4b; Peritestamental Literature 1:4a; Ancient Texts 3:2b).
3f horses + Ships: Hellenistic Judaism’s Appropriation of Images of Greco-Roman Moral Discourse Like James, Hellenistic Judaism appropriated images taken from Greco-Roman moral discourse, often using the images of the chariot driver and the ship's helmsman. See Ancient Texts 3:4b.
Human Reason Controls the Passions
6c wheel of birth The Instability of Life Second Temple Jewish authors used the word trochos to refer to the instability of life:
10a Out of the same mouth come forth blessing and cursing Relationship of Blessing and Cursing
In contrast to James' wholly negative view of cursing, Philo sees its benefits:
9a bless the Lord Blessing Formulas in Rabbinic Prayers Phrases blessing the Lord are common in rabbinic prayers:
9b made according to the likeness of God Moral Implications of the Divine Image Rabbi Akiva thus comments on the central biblical principle of Lv 19:18, "Love your neighbor as yourself":
2b–12 Divisio Textus
See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus .
2b does not stumble in word How Can One Avoid Sinning in One's Speaking?
The interpretive tradition often specifies ways in which one might possibly stumble in one's speech:
3f horses’ mouths ...ships: Various Interpretations of James’ Analogies
5f claims great [things] …such a small fire: What Are the "Great Things"?
Several interpreters see understand James to give an ambiguous interpretation of the power of the tongue in v 5:
Much of the Latin tradition (e.g., Codex Amiatinus, →Gloss. Ord. (S), →C) read exaltat (exalt) instead of exultat (claim or boast about great things). → knows both readings, and connects them with an ambiguous understanding of the tongue: it can be used both for great good and great evil. He then contrasts the destructive fire of the tongue with the refining fire described elsewhere in Scripture: Ep. cath.
6a world of unrighteousness Connotations of "the World"
In the tradition, one finds kosmos understood more metaphorically with the sense of a totality or whole (Vocabulary 3:6a).
9b likeness of God Reflection on God's Image in Humans
Later commentators reflect on whether the likeness of God in humans is still discernable:
11f Logical Interpretation The Gnomon Novi Testamenti summarizes James' verses thus :
11 spring Allegorical Interpretations The passage was given various allegorical interpretations:
9b made according to the likeness of God The Catechism's Teaching on the Divine Image in Humans The Catechism teaches:
The image of God is the fundamental basis of human dignity, which distinguishes humanity the rest of creation (→CCC 356-57).
5b–6 Also the tongue is fire Allusions in Dante's Divine Comedy → cantos 26–27 allude to the images of the tongue and fire in Div. Comm. Inf.Jas 3:5–6 (→). In the eighth bolgia sinners are punished for giving evil advice— a sin of the tongue. Their punishment is to be enveloped in a tongue of flame:
5f the tongue is a fire Illustration of Dante's Inferno 26–27 Several artists portray the scenes in → 26 and 27, where Dante and Virgil encounter the souls of those who gave false counsel, punished by being wrapped in tongues of fire ( Div. Comm. Inf.Literature 3:5b-6).
6a world of unrighteousness Extended Meaning or Semitism Kosmos may have a more extended meaning: "the totality" or "universality" of unrighteousness (Christian Tradition 3:6a). See also Vocabulary Jas 1:27c,3:6,4:4 and Grammar Jas 3:6a.
The phrase "world of unrighteousness" is a Semitic influenced use of a genitive noun in place of an adjective: "unrighteous world"; (cf. Jas 1:25: "a hearer of forgetfulness = a forgetful hearer").
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 → 23 and Hist. eccl.→ 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also Vir. ill.→James: Introduction.
Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:
The following images are noteworthy:
James holds a club.
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.
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 → 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. Leg. aur.
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.
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
The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in → 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews). Vir. ill.
James holds a book and club.
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.
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.
2b perfect man The Meaning of "Perfect" Commentators try to clarify what James means by "perfect," especially since James has just insisted that all people stumble in many ways.
9f we bless ...we curse: Condemnation of Hypocrisy and Double-mindedness
12 Allegorical Interpretations of Figs, Olives, and Grapes According to → ad loc.: Ep. cath.
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.
10a Out of the same mouth Integrity in Speech Many biblical passages support James' point that human speech must be integral and not divided:
6d Gehenna Etymology The word geena is a Greek form of the Aramaic gé hinnam, which in turn derives from the Hebrew gé hinnōm, an abbreviation of gé ben-hinnôm (see Jo 15:8): the Valley of Hinnom. See below Historical and Geographical Notes 3:6d.
9a Lord V S Nes: The Title "Lord" in James On James' application of the title "Lord" to both God the Father and to Jesus, see →James: The Title Kurios in James.
2b stumble in word Controlling One’s Tongue The biblical wisdom tradition warns of the need to control one's tongue (Biblical Intertextuality 1:19c; Biblical Intertextuality 1:19bc; Biblical Intertextuality 1:26).
6d wheel of birth Interpretations of “Trochos” Interpreters understand the phrase to mean that the sins of the tongue affect the entire course of one's life:
6d flamed by Gehenna Various Interpretations
See also Comparison of Versions 3:6d.
8a the tongue no human can tame Debate on Sin, Free Will, and Grace
Augustine reports that Pelagius had argued that this passage should be taken ironically, so that James is really reproaching his reader, "You can tame wild animals; can you not tame your tongue?" Augustine, however, argues that James meant the phrase literally: No human is able to control his tongue, and this knowledge should drive us to seek God's grace.