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James 3

Cautions against proud behaviour, and the mischief of an unruly tongue. (1-12) The excellence of heavenly wisdom, in opposition to that which is worldly. (13-18)

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Cautions against proud behaviour, and the mischief of an unruly tongue

1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:

8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?

12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

The excellence of heavenly wisdom, in opposition to that which is worldly

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. But not many masters, teachers, and preachers. An admonition to all those who are not called, or not qualified to undertake this high ministry, lest they incur a greater condemnation. Wi.

Ver. 2. For in many things we all offend,[1] fall into many, at least failings. — If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man. He that in all occurrences can govern his tongue, has attained to a great degree of perfection. — He is able also with a bridle to lead about the whole body. He alludes to the comparison in the following verse; and the sense is, that when he has once perfectly subdued this unruly adversary, it may be presumed he can govern himself as to other passions, and the whole body of his actions. Wi.

Ver. 3. If we put bits, &c. By the help of a bridle, a skillful rider can turn and guide horses never so headstrong and unruly. An experienced pilot sitting at the helm, steers the course of the vessel in a storm, turns and guides the ship what way he thinks most proper; so must a man learn, and use his utmost endeavours to bridle and govern his tongue. Wi.

Ver. 5-6. The tongue is indeed a little member, yet doth great things:[2] causeth great evils and mischiefs, when it is not carefully governed; as a little fire,[3] it kindleth and consumeth a great wood. It is a world of iniquity, the cause of infinite evils, dissensions, quarrels, seditions, wars, &c. It defileth the whole body, even the body politic of kingdoms. This fire, kindled by hell, sets all in a flame during the course of our lives, (lit. the wheel of our nativity) from our cradle to our grave. Wi.

Ver. 7. Is tamed, &c. The wildest beasts may be tamed, lions and tigers, and the rest,[4] and so managed as to do no harm. Wi.

Ver. 8. But the tongue no man can tame, without the special assistance of God. Wi. — Wherefore we are to understand, says S. Austin, that as no one is able of himself to govern his tongue, we must fly to the Lord for his assistance. S. Aug. ser. 4. de verb. Mat. vi. — It is an unquiet evil,[5] which cannot be stopt. It is full of deadly poison, which brings oftentimes death both to men’s bodies and souls. Wi.

Ver. 9-13. By it we bless God, &c. Such different effects from the same cause, as of blessing God, and cursing men, created to the likeness of God, seem contrary to the ordinary course of nature; for a fountain from the same source doth not send forth both sweet and bitter streams. — Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge among you? &c. This seems to be connected with the admonition given at the beginning of the chapter, be not many masters; let none pretend to this but who have wisdom and knowledge, which also may be known by their prudent and mild conversation.

Ver. 14-16. But if you have bitter zeal. He hints at that bitter, false zeal, which many teachers among the Jews, even after their conversion, were apt to retain against the converted Gentiles, pretending with lies, and against the truth of the Scriptures, that they are not to be made partakers of the blessings brought to all nations by the Messias. — Glory not, boast not in this pretended wisdom, which descendeth not from above, from God, but which is earthly, sensual, diabolical, from an evil spirit, which foments these jealousies and divisions; and where there are such emulations and divisions, there is nothing but inconstancy, and all kind of evils. Wi.

Ver. 17-18. But the true wisdom, which is from above, . . . is chaste, and pure, peaceable, modest, free from such divisions, tractable, easy to be persuaded[6] of the truths foretold in the Scriptures, &c. Now the fruit and effect of such justice, piety, and sanctity, is sown in peace, with peaceable dispositions, in those who with sincerity seek true peace, and who hereby shall gain the reward of an eternal peace and happiness. Wi. — S. Paul gives a similar character of charity. 1 Cor. c. xiii. “Charity is patient, is kind, . . . is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil, . . . believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” — Easy to be persuaded. A good lesson for those devotees, who are not few in number, who are so obstinate and so wedded to their own opinions and ways, as to be unwilling to be controlled, even by those whom God has placed over them, for the direction of their souls. A. — Without judging. That is, it does not condemn a neighbour upon light grounds, or think evil of him. It puts the best construction upon every thing he says or does, and never intrudes itself into the concerns of others. C. — “Judge not, and you shall not be judged,” says the Saviour of our souls; “condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.” S. Luke, vi. 37. “No,” says the holy apostle, (1 Cor. iv. 5.) “judge not before the time until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart.”


[1] V. 2. Offendimus, ptaiomen, we stumble, rather than fall.

[2] V. 5. Et magna exaltat, megalauchei; which is not only magnificè loqui et gloriari, but also magna facere.

[3] Ibid. Quantus ignis, for quantulus by the Greek, oligon pur.

[4] V. 7. Et cæterorum, by which the ancient interpreter had read ton allon, though in the present Greek copies we read, kai enalion, et Marinorum.

[5] V. 8. Inquietum malum; so in divers Greek MSS. akatastaton, though in others, akatacheton, quod coerceri non potest.

[6] V. 17. Suadibilis, eupeithes; which may either signify easy to be persuaded or who can easily persuade.