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Mh; polloi; didavskaloi givnesqe, ajdelfoiv mou, eijdovte" o&ti mei'zon
krivma lhmyovmeqa. 2 polla; ga;r ptaivomen a&pante". ei[ ti" ejn lovgw/
ouj ptaivei, ou|to" tevleio" ajnhvr dunato;" calinagwgh'sai kai; o&lon
to; sw'ma. 3 eij de; tw'n i&ppwn tou;" calinou;" eij" ta; stovmata
bavllomen eij" to; peivqesqai aujtou;" hJmi'n, kai; o&lon to; sw'ma
aujtw'n metavgomen. 4 ijdou; kai; ta; ploi'a thlikau'ta o[nta kai; uJpo;
ajnevmwn sklhrw'n ejlaunovmena, metavgetai uJpo; ejlacivstou phdalivou
o&pou hJ oJrmh; tou' eujquvnonto" bouvletai, 5 ou&tw" kai; hJ glw'ssa
mikro;n mevlo" ejsti;n kai; megavla aujcei'.
jIdou; hJlivkon pu'r hJlivkhn u&lhn ajnavptei. 6 kai; hJ glw'ssa pu'r. oJ kovsmo" th'" ajdikiva" hJ glw'ssa kaqivstatai ejn toi'" mevlesin hJmw'n, hJ spilou'sa o&lon to; sw'ma kai; flogivzousa to;n troco;n th'" genevsew" kai; flogizomevnh uJpo; th'" geevnnh". 7 pa'sa ga;r fuvsi" qhrivwn te kai; peteinw'n, eJrpetw'n te kai; ejnalivwn damavzetai kai; dedavmastai th'/ fuvsei th'/ ajnqrwpivnh/, 8 th;n de; glw'ssan oujdei;" damavsai duvnatai ajnqrwvpwn, ajkatavstaton kakovn, mesth; ijou' qanathfovrou. 9 ejn aujth'/ eujlogou'men to;n kuvrion kai; patevra kai; ejn aujth'/ katarwvmeqa tou;" ajnqrwvpou" tou;" kaq j oJmoivwsin qeou' gegonovta", 10 ejk tou' aujtou' stovmato" ejxevrcetai eujlogiva kai; katavra. ouj crhv, ajdelfoiv mou, tau'ta ou&tw" givnesqai. 11 mhvti hJ phgh; ejk th'" aujth'" ojph'" bruvei to; gluku; kai; to; pikrovn; 12 mh; duvnatai, ajdelfoiv mou, sukh' ejlaiva" poih'sai h] a[mpelo" su'ka; ou[te aJluko;n gluku; poih'sai u&dwr.
|(73) 3.1 Let not many of you become
because you know
that we will receive a stricter judgment.
if one does not stumble in what he says,
how a small fire kindles a huge forest;
(82) An iniquitous
world the tongue proves itself among our members,
3.10 out of the same
Out of the same opening
3.12 My brothers,
A couple of rhetorical issues are present in this pericope. Let's see if we can unpack them and then make clear sense out of what the text is trying to say.
First, the issue of statement 73 needs to be treated. One possibility is to see this as the topic sentence for the entire passage. If so taken, then the passage has to be understood as a warning to those in the community of faith who would strive to be teaching leaders. Thus the scope of the passage is limited to a category of leaders in the Christian community, rather than to the community at large. Another option, taken by many commentators today, is to see statements 73 through 75 as comprising the initial expression of the passage. In this approach, statements 74 and 75 are taken as setting forth a thesis position, namely the disportionate power of the tongue. Statement 73 underscores the importance of this for a prominent group inside the community of faith, that is, the teachers who use their tongue more than others in the group. Thus, they stand as perhaps most vulernable to failure with the tongue. We will explore in the questions below these options, and try to come to a conclusion about the best one then.
Second, statements 76 through 93 clearly make the point of the huge power of the tongue. These statements fall into two groupings, and are introduced by comparisons to the natural world: the bit in the horse's mouth (76), the ship's rudder (77), and the spark igniting a forest fire (80). The first group (statements 76 - 79) makes the point of the disportionate power of the tongue in comparison of its small size to the mass of the whole body. But the two analogies used for this -- the bit and the rudder -- merely affirm this huge influence, which can go either positive or negative directions.
The second section (statements 80-93) continues the emphasis on disportionate power, but underscores the destructive tendency of this power. The third metaphor, the spark of fire, introduces this section in statement 80, and is quickly applied to the tongue in the following statements. Two emphases are present: (1) the destructive nature of the tongue (statements 81-83); (2) the uncontrollable hypocrisy of the tongue (statements 84-93). Once more dramatic analogies from the natural world are used to highlight these two points: the taming of animals (83-85); the consistency of product in the natural world (86-93), including the spring, the fig tree, and the grapevine.
Literary Context Questions:
1. What is the relationship of 3:1-12 to 3:13-18? That is, do statements 73 (v. 1a) and 94 (v. 13a) refer to the same group?
The basic issue in the underlying Greek text relates mostly to 3:13a and the two adjectives that are translated "wise and understanding." The two Greek terms, sofo;" kai; ejpisthvmwn, are capable of expressing meaning at two levels: informal (wise and understanding) and formal (sage and expert). If the formal meaning of these two adjectives is the correct one, this would favor the idea of teacher in 3:1 being the central topic for 3:1-12. Were this true, then all of chapter three of James would be a discussion of the leadership role of 'teacher' in early Christianity. James three would be comparable to similar discussions in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2. The emphasis then would be on the teacher's use of the tongue (vv. 1-12), and the presence of true wisdom as the source of the speech (vv. 13-18). On the other hand, if the two adjectives sofo;" kai; ejpisthvmwn are taken at the informal meaning "wise and understanding", this would favor the view of a general discussion of speech in 3:1-12 and wisdom in 3:13-18. The two pericopes would have basic application to everyone in the community of faith, rather than being limited to its leaders.
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
2. Read through the above translations and then
draw some conclusions about the basic thrust of 3:1-12. Is the passage
basically dealing with the speech of teachers in the Christian community?
Or, is the passage more oriented to issues of speech for all in the Christian
3. Compare James 3:2 to James 1:19, 26. What connection is there between these two passages?
3:2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. 1:19 Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, 1:26 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain.
4. Compare James 3:2 to James 4:11-12. What connection is there between these two passages?
3:2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. 4:11-12 11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?
Study of 3:1-2:
5. From the online article "Teach, Teacher" in the Baker's
Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, summarize the idea of
teaching and teacher as found in scripture. Then relate this discussion
to James 3:1.
6. From the online
NRSV concordance listing of the word 'teacher' in the New Testament,
summarize the basic points from these verses of scripture. Pay close attention
to Acts 13:1, 1 Cor. 12:28, Eph. 4:11, 1 Tim. 2:7, and 2 Tim. 1:11 and
7. Compare 3:1b to Mk. 12:38-40, Matt. 23:1-36, and Luke 20:45-47. What is the idea of "will be judged with greater strictness"?
How does the statement of James relate to the words of Jesus in the above passages?
James 3:1b Mk. 12:38-40 Matt. 23:1-12, 31-33 Luke 20:45-47 for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. 38 As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." 1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. . . .
31 Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. 33 You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?
45 In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, 46 "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
8. Read carefully the above translations of James 3:2, and study the diagram. Now describe what James is talking about in this verse.
(74) we all stumble many times.
if one does not stumble in what he says,
(75) this one is a mature man,
able to bridle even his entire body.
9. Compare James 3:2 to Rom. 3:23, 1 John 1:8, Eccles. 7:20.
For all of us make many mistakes.
23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;
1 John 1:8
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning.
What is the common link among these verses?
10. From an
online concordance study of the word 'tongue', describe how the Old
Testament views the tongue?
11. From an
online concordance study of the word 'tongue', describe how the New
Testament views the tongue?
Study of 3:3-5a:
12. From the above translations and the diagram below, describe how the thought develops in James 3:3-5a.
if we put bits into horses' mouths
so they will obey us,
(76) we also guide their entire body.
although very large
driven by fierce winds,
(77) the ships are also guided
by the smallest of rudders
wherever the will of the pilot chooses;
3.5 so also
(78) the tongue is a small member
(79) --- ------ boasts great things.
Study of 3:5b-12:
13. From the above translations and the diagram below, describe how the thought develops in James 3:5b-6. Pay close attention to how the word 'world' is translated.
(80) Notice how a small fire kindles a huge forest;
(81) the tongue is a fire.
(82) An iniquitous world the tongue proves itself among our members,
which stains the entire body
sets on fire the wheel of our life,
is itself set on fire
14. From the above translations and the diagram below, describe how the natural world can sit in judgment on the tongue in James 3:7-12.
(83) every kind of wild animal...is being tamed
(84) ----- ---- -- ----- -----...has been tamed
(85) the tongue no one of men can tame;
an unruly evil,
full of deadly poison.
3.9 With it
(86) we praise the Lord
(87) we curse men,
who are created in God's image;
3.10 out of the same mouth
(88) comes praise
(89) these things ought not to be!
3.11 Out of the same opening
(90) the spring certainly does not pour forth both sweet and bitter water, does it?
3.12 My brothers,
(91) a fig tree is not able to rpoduce olives, is it?
(92) a grapevine fits?
(93) can a salt spring produce fresh water.
15. Read carefully the following texts. Is there tension among them?
Jas. 3:7-8. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Jas. 1:26 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain. Matt. 12:33-37. 33 "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
Application of the Text:
1. How should the ancient concept of 'teacher' in early Christianity
impact a contemporary understanding of 'teacher' inside your church?
2. What implication(s) does the idea of eschatological judgment in 3:1b
have for Christians today?
3. How well do you control your tongue?
For Further Study:
See the Bibliography listing for James under Bibliography,
especially Individual Volumes and Articles.