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|4:13 #Age nu'n oiJ levgonte", Shvmeron h] au[rion poreusovmeqa eij" thvnde th;n povlin kai; poihvsomen ejkei' ejniauto;n kai; ejmporeusovmeqa kai; kerdhvsomen. 4:14 oi^tine" oujk ejpivstasqe to; th'" au[rion poiva hJ zwh; uJmw'n: ajtmi;" gavr ejste hJ pro;" ojlivgon fainomevnh, e[peita kai; ajfanizomevnh. 4:15 ajnti; tou' levgein uJma'", JEa;n oJ kuvrio" qelhvsh/ kai; zhvsomen kai; poihvsomen tou'to h] ejkei'no. 4:16 nu'n de; kauca'sqe ejn tai'" ajlazoneivai" uJmw'n. pa'sa kauvchsi" toiauvth ponhrav ejstin. 4:17 eijdovti ou\n kalo;n poiei'n kai; mh; poiou'nti, aJmartiva aujtw'/ ejstin.|
(141) 4.13 Come now,
you who say,
tomorrow we will go into this city
spend a year there
carry on business
earn a profit;
4.14 you who do not understand about tomorrow,
what your life may be.
(143) 4.15 Instead, you ought
In this pericope the rhetorical structure is fairly well defined. The first two statements set up an antithesis with the assertion of what is being said (statement 142) followed by an accusation that such a stance fails to understand the basic issue of life itself (statement 142) . The correct stance is set forth in statement 143, using a well known axiom in the ancient world. Statements 144 and 145 return to the initial stance with a stinging condemnation of its wrongness. The passage concludes with an application of the preceding in statement 146.
At the heart of the issue is a stance taken (statement 141) which the author declares reflects a basic ignorance about the nature of life itself. Subsequently, the author condemns it as an evil expression of pride (statements 144 and 145). In the midst of this, he presents the alternative stance in statement 143. The passage reaches a climax with the use of a piece of early Christian tradition that has come to be known as the 'sin of omission' in statement 146. This applies the discussion by way of a back-handed warning to adopt the correct stance.
Literary Setting Questions
1. By reading Jas 5:1-6, describe possible literary connections of 4:13-17 to 5:1-6.
James 4:13-17 (NRSV). 13 How foolish it is to say, Today or tomorrow we will go into this town, and be there for a year and do business there and get wealth: 14 When you are not certain what will take place tomorrow. What is your life? It is a mist, which is seen for a little time and then is gone. 15 But the right thing to say would be, If it is the Lord's pleasure and if we are still living, we will do this and that. 16 But now you go on glorying in your pride: and all such glorying is evil. 17 The man who has knowledge of how to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. James 5:1-6 (NRSV). 1 Come now, you men of wealth, give yourselves to weeping and crying because of the bitter troubles which are coming to you. 2 Your wealth is unclean and insects have made holes in your clothing. 3 Your gold and your silver are wasted and their waste will be a witness against you, burning into your flesh. You have put by your store in the last days. 4 See, the money which you falsely kept back from the workers cutting the grass in your field, is crying out against you; and the cries of those who took in your grain have come to the ears of the Lord of armies. 5 You have been living delicately on earth and have taken your pleasure; you have made your hearts fat for a day of destruction. 6 You have given your decision against the upright man and have put him to death. He puts up no fight against you.
Particularly important in the connection between these two passages is the introductory expression in the Greek text. The admonition #Age nu'n (= o come on you...) is found in identical form at the beginning of both passages. With other signals, such as the use of the direct address "brothers" in the two passages before (4:11-12) and after (5:7-11) these two pericopes, one can draw a legitimate conclusion that James in both these passages is addressing issues primarily found outside the community of faith, probably in the larger Jewish synagogue communities in which the believing community was still a part. Thus in the fashion of the Old Testament prophets beginning with Amos who condemned the surrounding nations as a warning to the Israelites, James uses 'preventative medicine' here to warn his Christian readers to not make these mistakes.
Study of 4:13-17
2. What was the ancient Jewish attitude toward merchants? Compare Prov. 20:23, Micah 6:11; Amos 8:4-6, and Eze. 27 to James 4:13.
James 4:13-16 (NRSV). 13 How foolish it is to say, Today or tomorrow we will go into this town, and be there for a year and do business there and get wealth: 14 When you are not certain what will take place tomorrow. What is your life? It is a mist, which is seen for a little time and then is gone. 15 But the right thing to say would be, If it is the Lord's pleasure and if we are still living, we will do this and that. 16 But now you go on glorying in your pride: and all such glorying is evil. Prov. 20:23 (NRSV). Differing weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good. Micah 6:11 (NRSV). Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Amos 8:4-6 (NRSV). 4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5 saying, "When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat." 7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. 8 Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? 9 On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10 I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day. Ezekiel 27 (NRSV). 1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Now you, mortal, raise a lamentation over Tyre, 3 and say to Tyre, which sits at the entrance to the sea, merchant of the peoples on many coastlands, Thus says the Lord God: O Tyre, you have said, "I am perfect in beauty." 4 Your borders are in the heart of the seas; your builders made perfect your beauty. 5 They made all your planks of fir trees from Senir; they took a cedar from Lebanon to make a mast for you. 6 From oaks of Bashan they made your oars; they made your deck of pines from the coasts of Cyprus, inlaid with ivory. 7 Of fine embroidered linen from Egypt was your sail, serving as your ensign; blue and purple from the coasts of Elishah was your awning. 8 The inhabitants of Sidon and Arvad were your rowers; skilled men of Zemer were within you, they were your pilots. 9 The elders of Gebal and its artisans were within you, caulking your seams; all the ships of the sea with their mariners were within you, to barter for your wares. 10 Paras and Lud and Put were in your army, your mighty warriors; they hung shield and helmet in you; they gave you splendor. 11 Men of Arvad and Helech were on your walls all around; men of Gamad were at your towers. They hung their quivers all around your walls; they made perfect your beauty. 12 Tarshish did business with you out of the abundance of your great wealth; silver, iron, tin, and lead they exchanged for your wares. 13 Javan, Tubal, and Meshech traded with you; they exchanged human beings and vessels of bronze for your merchandise. 14 Beth-togarmah exchanged for your wares horses, war horses, and mules. 15 The Rhodians traded with you; many coastlands were your own special markets; they brought you in payment ivory tusks and ebony. 16 Edom did business with you because of your abundant goods; they exchanged for your wares turquoise, purple, embroidered work, fine linen, coral, and rubies. 17 Judah and the land of Israel traded with you; they exchanged for your merchandise wheat from Minnith, millet, honey, oil, and balm. 18 Damascus traded with you for your abundant goods — because of your great wealth of every kind — wine of Helbon, and white wool. 19 Vedan and Javan from Uzal entered into trade for your wares; wrought iron, cassia, and sweet cane were bartered for your merchandise. 20 Dedan traded with you in saddlecloths for riding. 21 Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your favored dealers in lambs, rams, and goats; in these they did business with you. 22 The merchants of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; they exchanged for your wares the best of all kinds of spices, and all precious stones, and gold. 23 Haran, Canneh, Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Asshur, and Chilmad traded with you. 24 These traded with you in choice garments, in clothes of blue and embroidered work, and in carpets of colored material, bound with cords and made secure; in these they traded with you. 25 The ships of Tarshish traveled for you in your trade. So you were filled and heavily laden in the heart of the seas.
26 Your rowers have brought you into the high seas. The east wind has wrecked you in the heart of the seas. 27 Your riches, your wares, your merchandise, your mariners and your pilots, your caulkers, your dealers in merchandise, and all your warriors within you, with all the company that is with you, sink into the heart of the seas on the day of your ruin. 28 At the sound of the cry of your pilots the countryside shakes, 29 and down from their ships come all that handle the oar. The mariners and all the pilots of the sea stand on the shore 30 and wail aloud over you, and cry bitterly. They throw dust on their heads and wallow in ashes; 31 they make themselves bald for you, and put on sackcloth, and they weep over you in bitterness of soul, with bitter mourning. 32 In their wailing they raise a lamentation for you, and lament over you: "Who was ever destroyed like Tyre in the midst of the sea? 33 When your wares came from the seas, you satisfied many peoples; with your abundant wealth and merchandise you enriched the kings of the earth. 34 Now you are wrecked by the seas, in the depths of the waters; your merchandise and all your crew have sunk with you. 35 All the inhabitants of the coastlands are appalled at you; and their kings are horribly afraid, their faces are convulsed. 36 The merchants among the peoples hiss at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever."
How does James compare to the Old Testament view in regard to merchants?
3. Compare James 4:13-16 to other early Christian views of merchants as expressed in Rev. 18:11-17 and Matt. 13:45-46.
James 4:13-16 (NRSV). 13 How foolish it is to say, Today or tomorrow we will go into this town, and be there for a year and do business there and get wealth: 14 When you are not certain what will take place tomorrow. What is your life? It is a mist, which is seen for a little time and then is gone. 15 But the right thing to say would be, If it is the Lord's pleasure and if we are still living, we will do this and that. 16 But now you go on glorying in your pride: and all such glorying is evil. Rev. 18:11-17 (NRSV). 11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves — and human lives. 14 "The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your dainties and your splendor are lost to you, never to be found again!" 15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, 16 "Alas, alas, the great city, clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! 17 For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!" Matt. 13:45-46 (NRSV). 45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
How does James compare to these other New Testament expressions?
4. Compare the above translations of 4:14. What alternative readings of the Greek text are reflected by the variations in the translations?
A bit of explanation of ancient Greek text variations in readings. In the process of making copies of the NT documents during the first six to eight centuries after the apostolic era, variations of readings of these copies became a part of the Greek text tradition. Modern analysis seeks to evaluate all the five thousand plus ancient manuscripts known to exist today in order to determine which of the readings was most likely the original wording of the NT document. Since we do not have any of the original writings of the New Testament and the earliest full copies of the documents of the NT only reach back to within two hundred years of the original composition, this analysis is essential in order to have a starting point of the original language text upon which an English translation can be based. This verse in James has great diversity of readings among the ancient manuscripts. The following translates some of the primary ones:5. What does the Bible say about the nature of life? Compare statement 142 to Psalm 102:11, 103:15, Prov. 27:1, Job 7:7, 9.
(1) who do not know the (situation) of tomorrow. For what is your life? You are a vapor... (Codex Sinaiticus et als)
(2) who do not know the things of tomorrow. For what is your life? You will be a vapor... (Codex Alexandrinus et als)
(3) who do not know about tomorrow, that is, what your life is like. For you are a vapor... (Codex Vaticanus et als)
See if you can tell which reading each of the above translations follow. Is it 1, 2, or 3?
KJV: NKJV: NASB: RSV: NRSV: NIV: NLT: GNT: BBE:
Jas. 4:14b (NRSV). What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Psalm 102:11 (NRSV). My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. Psalm 103:15-16 (NRSV). 15 As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. Proverbs 27:1 (NRSV). Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. Job 7:7, 9 (NRSV). 7 Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. 8 The eye that beholds me will see me no more; while your eyes are upon me, I shall be gone. 9 As the cloud fades and vanishes, so those who go down to Sheol do not come up; 10 they return no more to their houses, nor do their places know them any more.
6. Compare statement 142 to other ancient perspectives.
Jas. 4:14b (NRSV). What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Sirach 11:18-20 (NRSV). 18 One becomes rich through diligence and self-denial, and the reward allotted to him is this: 19 when he says, "I have found rest, and now I shall feast on my goods!" he does not know how long it will be until he leaves them to others and dies. Pseudo-Phocylides 116-121. Nobody knows what will be after tomorrow or after an hour. Death is heedless of mortals, and the future is uncertain. Do not let evils dismay you nor therefore exult in success. Many times in life incredible calamity has come suddenly to the confident and release from evil to the vexed. Accommodate yourself to the circumstances, do not blow against the winds.
How does James' view compare to these other perspectives?
7. Compare Jas. 4:15 to Rom. 1:10, 1 Cor. 4:19, 16:7, Heb. 6:3, and Acts 18:21.
Jas. 4:15 (NRSV). Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that." Rom. 1:10 (NRSV). 9 For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10 asking that by God's will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 1 Cor. 4:19 (NRSV). But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 1 Cor. 16:7 (NRSV). I do not want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. Heb. 6:3 (NRSV). And we will do this, if God permits. Acts 18:21 (NRSV). 20 When they asked him to stay longer, he declined; 21 but on taking leave of them, he said, "I will return to you, if God wills." Then he set sail from Ephesus.
8. From the above translations, find the one translation
that takes a different view about the punctuation of 4:15. What difference
in meaning does this involve?
9. Compare Jas 4:17 to 1 John 3:4.
James 4:17 (NRSV). 17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin. 1 John 3:4 (NRSV). 4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
How is James both alike and different from John?
Application of the Text:
1. How do you go about making plans for the future? Especially,
2. Describe the nature of life as you understand it.
3. What does God's will mean to you?
4. What is sin? Is it just something we do? Or, does it involve other
For Further Study:
See the Bibliography listing for James under Bibliography,
especially Individual Volumes and Articles.