James 3
Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
Chap. 3 a. 1-12.] The danger, as connected with the upholding of faith without works, of eagerness to teach: and, by occasion, the manifold and irrepressible sins of the tongue. Then follows, b. 13-18.] an exhortation, to prove a man’s wisdom by mildness, not by a contentious spirit.

1.] The more the idea prevailed, that faith, without corresponding obedience, was all that is needful, the more men would eagerly press forward to teach: as indeed the Church has found in all ages when such an opinion has become prevalent: for then teachers and preachers of their own appointing have rapidly multiplied. Be not (‘become not:’ let not that state of things prevail among you in which you become) many teachers (πολλοί belongs not to the predicate, as Schueckenb. al., so that πολλοὶ γίνεσθαι should = multiplicari: nor does it mean “nimii in docendo,” as Baumgarten: nor = πάντες, as Grotius: but is to be taken with διδάσκαλοι, and in its proper meaning. And διδάσκαλοι is not, as E.V., “masters,” which conveys a wrong idea: but teachers, persons imparting knowledge in the congregation. This in the primitive times might be done by all in turn, as we know from 1Corinthians 14:26-33: and St. James exhorts against the too eager and too general assumption of this privilege), my brethren, knowing (as ye do: or, as ye ought to do: it is a good remark of Huther’s, that εἰδότες, being closely joined to the imperative, is itself hortatory: ‘knowing, as ye might know’) that we (i. e. as many of us as are teachers) shall receive greater condemnation (than others who are not teachers: κρῖμα, in the phrase κρῖμα λαμβάνειν, according to N. T. usage, is not a ‘vox media,’ but signifies condemnation only: see besides reff. 1Timothy 5:12. This being so, it has surprised some Commentators, that the Apostle includes himself with those whom he is dissuading: and Grot., al. would understand κρῖμα as meaning “responsibility:” but the solution is easy,—viz. that he includes himself out of humility, and obviously on the assumption that the office of teacher is not faithfully performed. The sense might be thus filled up, as, indeed, it is virtually filled up in ver. 2: ‘be not many teachers, for in such office there is great danger of failing, and if we teachers fail, our condemnation will be greater’).

2.] For (see above: this supplies the ellipsis) oftentimes (adverbial: see reff. and Winer, § 54. 1) we all (without exception: ἅπαντες is a stronger form than πάντες, being originally contracted from ἅμα πάντες) offend (πταίω, cognate with πίπτω, πέπτωκα, πτῶσις, see Buttmann, Lexil. i. p. 295, to stumble, fall: cf. the proverb, μὴ δὶς πρὸς τὸν αὐτὸν λίθον πταίειν: hence figuratively, to err or offend morally. The present assertion is to be taken in the widest moral sense, as an axiom applying to our whole conduct. It is in the next clause limited to the subject in hand, viz. the tongue): if any man (see ch. 1:5, 23, 26) offendeth not (is void of offence: οὐ, because the negative belongs, not subjectively to the hypothesis, but objectively to the fact included within the hypothesis) in word (in speaking: and therefore the hypothesis is applicable to these many who set up for teachers, seeing that thus their chances of offence would be multiplied many fold), he (is) a perfect man (explained by what follows), able to bridle the whole body also (I cannot see the force of De Wette’s objections against the general sense of the πολλὰ πταίομεν ἅπαντες. The sense surely runs well thus: We all oftentimes offend: and of those frequent offences, sins of the tongue are so weighty a part and so constant a cause, that he who is free from them may be said to be perfect, inasmuch as he is able to rule every other minor cause of offence: ‘the whole body’ standing for all those other members by which, as by the tongue, sin may be committed: which may be ὅπλα ἀδικίας τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ or ὅπλα δικαιοσύνης τῷ θεῷ, Romans 6:13).

3-6.] The importance and depravity of the tongue, so small a member, is illustrated by comparisons: 1. with the small instrument, the horse-bit, ver. 3:2. with the small instrument, the ship-rudder, ver. 4:3. with a small fire burning a great forest, vv. 5, 6.

3.] This mention of χαλιναγωγῆσαι, and the situation of the tongue where the χαλινός also is placed, introduce this similitude: which circumstances will also account for τῶν ἵππων standing first and emphatic, χαλινός and στόμα being ideas already given by the context. But (transitional) if (as we do: = in our vernacular, ‘when,’ ‘as often as’) of horses (this would not be English, but indicates the emphatic place of τῶν ἵππων. The gen. depends on τὰ στόματα, not on τοὺς χαλινούς) we put (so χαλινὸν ἵππῳ ἐμβάλλειν, Ælian V. H. ix. 16) bits (τούς, which are in common use: the bits, of which every one knows) into the mouths, in order to their obeying us (thus shewing, by the expression of this purpose, that we recognize the principle of turning the whole body by the tongue),—(now comes the apodosis after the εἰ: see below) we turn about also (in turning the bit one way or the other) their whole body (cf. Soph. Antig. 473, σμικρῷ χαλινῷ δʼ οἰδα τοὺς θυμουμένους Ἵππους καταρτυθέντας).

4.] The second comparison takes up, not the protasis with its εἰ δέ, but only the apodosis foregoing. Behold, even (or also) the ships, though so great (the participle carries a slightly ratiocinative force, illative or exceptive according to the circumstances), and driven by fierce (see reff.: and cf. Ælian de Animal, v. 13, σκληρὸν πνεῦμα: and Hist. Var. ix. 14, ἵνα μὴ ἀνατρέπηται ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνέμων, εἴποτε σκληροὶ κατέπνεον. See other citations in Wetst.) winds ( interprets this as having a meaning respecting ourselves: “Naves magnæ in mari, mentes sunt hominum in hac vita, sive bonorum sive malorum. Venti validi, a quibus minantur (?), ipsi appetitus sunt mentium, quibus naturaliter coguntur aliquld agere” &c. But it is not likely that the Apostle had any such meaning), are turned about by a very small rudder, whither-soever (οπου for ὅποι, which is not used in N. T. So also in the classics: e. g. Soph. Trach. 40, κεῖνος ὅπου βέβηκεν) the desire (not, as many Commentators, the external impulse given by the hand. Cf. Plato, Phileb. p. 35 d, ξύμπασαν τήν τε ὁρμὴν καὶ ἐπιθυμίαν καὶ τὴν ἀρχὴν τοῦ ζώου παντός) of the steersman (him who actually handles the tiller) may wish. The same thought occurs in Aristot. Quæst Mechan. 5, τὸ πηδάλιον, μικρὸν ὄν, καὶ ἐπʼ ἐσχάτῳ τῷ πλοίῳ, τοσαύτην δύναμιν ἔχει, ὥστε ὑπὸ μικροῦ οἴακος, καὶ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου δυνάμεως, καὶ ταύτης ἠρεμαίας, μεγάλα κινεῖσθαι μεγέθη πλοίων. Philo, In Flacc. 5, vol. ii. p. 521, joins the two ideas together, ἐμπειροτάτους κυβερνήτας, οἳ καθάπερ ἀθλητὰς ἵππους ἡνιοχοῦσιν, ἀπλανῆ παρέχοντας τὸν ἐπʼ εὐθείας δρόμον. Cf. also Lucret. iv. 899, and other examples in Wetst.

5.] Application of the comparison. Thus also the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things (μεγάλα αὐχεῖ (or μεγαλαυχεῖ) is interpreted by Œc., μεγάλα ἐργάζεται, and so Thl., Calv., De Wette, al., in the Homeric sense of εὔχεται εἶναι. But Huther well observes that there is no need for thus forcing the word out of its ordinary meaning, for the deeds of the tongue follow. This μεγάλα αὐχεῖ is the method which it uses to accomplish its deed; it vaunts great words which bring about great acts of mischief). Behold, how small (ἡλίκος is ‘quantulus’ as well as ‘quantus,’ e. g. in Lucian, Hermot. 5, παπαί, ὦ Ἑρμότιμε, ἡλίκους ἡμᾶς ἀποφαίνεις, οὐδὲ κατὰ τοὺς πυγμαίους ἐκείνους, ἀλλὰ χαμαιπετεῖς παντάπασιν ἐν χρῷ τῆς γῆς. De Wette however understands it here “how great,” and thinks that not the smallness of the first spark, but the greatness of the fire in its ultimate extent, is intended. Against this, as Wiesinger and Huther observe, is ἀνάπτει, which can hardly mean ‘consumes,’ but must be said of the first lighting up. Seneca has the very similar words, “quam lenibus initiis quanta incendia oriantur,” Contr. v. 5) a fire kindleth how great a forest (ὕλη is taken by some Commentators to mean “materia, lignorum congeries,” as in ref. Sir. So Jerome on Isaiah 66:15, Isaiah 66:16, vol. iv. p. 813, “Parvus ignis quam grandem succendit materiam:” Erasm., Grot., al. But the ordinary meaning gives a far livelier and more graphic sense here. Cf. also Hom. Il. β. 455, ἠΰτε πῦρ ἀΐδηλον ἐπιφλέγει ἄσπετον ὕλην, and λ. 155, ὡς δʼ ὅτε πῦρ ἀΐδηλον ἐν ἀξύλῳ ἐμπέσῃ ὕλῃ. The comparison is beautifully used in a good sense by Philo, De Migr. Abr. § 21, vol. i. p. 455, σπινθὴρ γὰρ καὶ ὁ βραχύτατος ἐντυφόμενος ὅταν καταπνευσθεὶς ζωπυρηθῇ, μεγάλην ἐξάπτει πυράν· καὶ τὸ βραχύτατον οὖν ἀρετῆς, ὅταν ἐλπίσι χρησταῖς ὑποθαλπόμενον ἀναλάμψῃ, καὶ τὰ τέως μεμυκότα καὶ τυφλὰ ἐξωμμάτωσε, καὶ τὰ ἀφαυανθέντα ἀναβλαστεῖν ἐποίησε, καὶ ὅσα ὑπὸ ἀγονίας ἐστείρωτο εἰς εὐφορίαν εὐτοκίας περιήγαγεν [Tischdf. in his 8th edn., omitting with 1 the καί in ver. 6, carries on the sentence to ἡ γλῶσσα, construing ἡλίκον πῦρ as an accusative, and ἡλίκην ὕλην as in apposition with it]).

6.] Likewise the tongue is a fire, that world of iniquity (these latter words are still in apposition with ἡ γλῶσσα (and belong appositionally to the subject, not to πῦρ the predicate: as e. g. in Æsch. Choeph. 529 f., ἐν σπαργάνοισι παιδὸς ὁρμῆσαι δίκην, τινὸς βορᾶς χρῄζοντα, νεογενὲς δάκος); not, as many Commentators, an elliptical clause requiring ὕλη to complete it—“igni respondet lingua, materiæ seu silvæ respondet mundus improbus,” Morus, in Huther. But, when taken as a designation of ἡ γλῶσσα, the interpretations are various. 1. Œc. mentions as an alternative the signification “adornment” for κόσμος. After giving the ordinary interpretation, he says, ἢ κόσμος ἐστίν, ἤτοι κοσμοῦσα τὴν ἀνθρωπίνην φύσιν κ.τ.λ., and before, κοσμεῖ τὴν ἀδικίαν διὰ τῆς τῶν ῥητόρων εὐγλώττου δεινότητος. And so it is taken by Wetst., Elsner, Wahl, and others. But it is rightly objected by Huther, that κόσμος never signifies that which (actively) adorns, but that wherewith a thing or person is adorned, as in 1Peter 3:3: so that it would be here that wherewith, not that whereby, iniquity is adorned. 2. Estius makes the words mean, a world of iniquity, “quia (lingua) peccata omnigena parit.” 3. Le Clerc, Hammond, Kuinoel, al. hold the words to be spurious, and a gloss: but most absurdly. We have the similar use of ὁ κόσμος in ref. Prov., τοῦ πιστοῦ ὅλος ὁ κόσμος τῶν χρημάτων, τοῦ δὲ ἀπίστου οὐδὲ ὄβολος: and the Latins often use ‘abyssus,’ ‘mare,’ ‘oceanus,’ in the same sense [a complete repertory of all wickedness, as the world is of all things]. The use of the art. in titular appositional clauses of this kind is natural as designating the thing pointed at—‘mundus ille iniquitatis’): the tongue (we must not, although we omit οὕτως, follow Lachmann, and Tischdf. [edn. 7], in destroying the stop at ἀδικίας and carrying the sense on to this clause: for thus we make a very lame sentence, with the subject, ἡ γλῶσσα, twice repeated. The new sentence begins here) is (perhaps we cannot find in English a better word for καθίσταται, though it does not give the exact meaning, which is as in vulg., “constituitur.” Any rendering of this in English would be too forcible; as if some divine arrangement were spoken of: “collocata est” (Beza, Piscator, Schneckenburger, al.) is not exact. See reff.) among our members that one which (De Wette compares for the construction, Philippians 2:13, ὁ θεὸς … ἐστιν ὁ ἐνεργῶν) defileth (ref.) the whole body (thus justifying the title given to it of ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας) and setteth on fire (the other clause, καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα πῦρ, is now taken up. By the construction, strictly considered, these two participles, φλογίζουσα and φλογιζομένη, are (as Wiesinger) subordinated to ἡ σπιλοῦσα, there being no articles before them. But forasmuch as thus we should find a difficulty in the sense, in that the action indicated by the first of these participles can hardly take place within our members, it is better, with Huther, to regard the participles as new particulars, and the construction as not a strictly exact one. Something of the same inaccuracy is found in ch. 4:11, but not in 4:14, as Huther also alleges) the orb of the creation (in interpreting the difficult words τὸν τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως, one thing must especially be borne in mind: that like ὅλον τὸ σῶμα, they designate some material thing which agreeably to the figure used may be set on fire. This would at once set aside all figurative explanations, such as “rotam originis nostræ, quæ, simul atque nati sumus, cursum suum auspicatur,” Gebser, al.,—τὸν χρόνον, τὸν τροχοείδη δηλονότι, τῆς ζωῆς, lsidor.-pelus.,—founded on the parallel in Anacreon (iv. 7), τροχὸς ἅρματος γὰρ οἷα βίοτος τρέχει κυλισθείς. So likewise Œc., τροχός, ὁ βίος εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἀνελιττόμενος, illustrating it by the Psalmist speaking of ὁ στέφανος τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ: such again as that of Wolf, “indesinens successio hominum aliorum post alios nascentium,” after the Syr., “It turneth the course of our generations which run as a wheel,” In seeking then for some material interpretation, we come first to that of Wiesinger,—the whole bodythe circumference of our corporeal being, the τροχὸς τῆς γενέσεως, as the πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως in ch. 1:23: the circumference (of the body) which is congenital with us. But, as Huther has observed, it would be in the highest degree unnatural, when the Writer has just expressed ὅλον τὸ σῶυα without a figure, that be should again express it in a figure, and that without the least indication of the identity of meaning. The same objection is fatal to Bengel’s view, who also understands it of the body, but gets this meaning by an allegorical method, “Rota sive sphæra superior est ipsa nature humana rationalis: gehenna vero est pars profundior, cor: lingua in medio ex inferioribus inflammatur et superiora inflammat.” More ingenious is the idea of Beza (ed. 1598), “Jacobus mihi videtur alludere ad rapiditatem circumactæ rotæ, suo motu flammam concipientis:” and this is followed by Benson, who says, “The present life of man is here compared to a wheel, which is put in motion at our birth, and runs swiftly till death puts a stop to it. By the rapidity of its (?) motion the tongue sets this wheel in a flame, which sometimes destroys the whole machine.” Cf. Hor. Od. i. 1. 3, “metaque fervidis evitata rotis:” but it seems to lie too far from the words for us to suppose that the Apostle can have thus intended to express it. And besides, the propriety of the comparison is not satisfied: for in the case of a wheel, it is set on fire by its own rapid motion, not by any thing without it. It appears then to me that we are driven to the rendering given above, on which Beza says (ed. 1565), “Mihi videtur minus dura explicatio, si τὸν τροχόν accipiamus ἀντὶ τοῦ κύκλου, et τῆς γενέσεως pro τῆς κτίσεως, ut significetur linguam posse vel totum orbem conditum accendere.” In favour of this, we have, that τροχός is used for “orbis” in Aristoph. Thesmoph. 17: for circular enclosures, Plato, Critias, p. 113 ff.; Soph. frag. 222 d; Schol. on Plato, Legg. iii. p. 451: see also Odyss. μ. 173; φ. 178, 183: and that γένεσις is used in the concrete sense of “creation” by Plato, Tim. p. 29 d, e (λέγωμεν δὴ διʼ ἥντινα αἰτίαν γένεσιν καὶ τὸ πᾶν τόδε ὁ ξυνιστὰς ξυνέστησεν), and by other writers. And it is remarkable also (De W.), that just below, when St. James would speak of men as created after God’s image, he uses not κτισθέντας but γεγονότας. Cf. also his use of τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως, before cited, in ch. 1:23, “the face wherewith he was created.” This sense, the whole orb or cycle of creation, is not, as Wiesinger affirms, “at least not favoured” by ver. 7, but on the contrary agrees exceedingly well with it. After the mention of the τροχὸς τῆς γενέσεως, it is natural that the Apostle should take up with the γάρ the details of creation, and assert that they might all be tamed by man, but that the tongue is untameable. Again, such sense is most agreeable to the similitude just used, of a small spark kindling a vast forest. This sense is found in Syr., æth., Crusius, Cocceius, and De Wette [the expression in E.V., the course of nature, is sufficiently near the meaning, and expresses it in better English, perhaps, than any other]), and itself set on fire (notice the present, indicating that it is habitually, continually, so set on fire: see below) by hell (which is itself γέεννα τοῦ πυρός, ref. and al. These words are not to be explained away, as Theile, “igne fœdissimo ac funestissimo:” such is not St. James’s teaching, cf. ch. 4:7, where the devil, as a tempter to evil, is personally contrasted with God: but are to be literally taken. It is the devil, for whom hell is prepared, that is the tempter and instigator of the habitual sins of the tongue. It is out of the question (see above) to regard φλογιζομένη as alluding to the original temptations of the fall: equally so, to suppose it to have a future reference, and to imply that the tongue shall be tormented in (ὑπο?) hell: as some in Œc., ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτή φησι φλογίζεται ὑπὸ τῆς γεέννης, ὡς δῆλον ἀπὸ τοῦ τὴν γλώσσην ἀποτηγανιζομενου πλουσίου: so also Grot., Benson, Semler, Storr, Rosenmüller. I need hardly add, that the foolish conjectural emendation γέννης, “a (ὑπο?) nativitate,” insisted on with much confidence in a note to an anonymous version of St. James and St. Peter (Hatchard, 1842), is quite out of the realm of, as the construing proposed on its adoption is beneath, legitimate criticism [though it can claim the support of spec ‘a genitura’]. Wiesinger says, “This passage reminds us, in its general sense, of the O. T. sayings, Proverbs 16:27: Psalm 120:2-4: Sir. 28:11 ff.” The last clause, καὶ φλογ. ὑπὸ τ. γ., is strikingly paralleled by the Targum on Psalm 120:2, where the deceitful tongue is compared “cum carbonibus juniperi, qui incensi sunt in gehenna inferne.” But none of these passages treats of the destruction which the tongue brings on its own body (cf. Wiesinger’s interp. above)).

7, 8.] The untameableness of the tongue. The thought in ver. 3, though not directly leading on to this, yet is a hint tending towards it.

7.] For (a fresh fact is adduced, substantiating the strong terms used of the mischief of the tongue) every nature (natural generic disposition and character; and so below, when joined to ἀνθρώπινος: not, “kind,” “genus,” as E. V. and many Commentators) of beasts (quadrupeds, see below) and winged things, of creeping things and things in the sea (creation is divided into four classes: θηρία, πετεινά, ἑρπετά, and ἐνάλια. The first then is not to be taken in its wide sense, as Acts 28:4, Acts 28:5, but as distinguished from the other three, i. e. as = quadrupeds, beasts of the earth, proper. The classification in Peter’s vision, ref. Acts, is different: τὰ τετράποδα τῆς γῆς καὶ τὰ θηρία κ. τὰ ἑρπετὰ κ. τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, θηρία there at least including the fishes) is (habitually, pres.) tamed and hath been tamed (has long ago been reduced into subjection: such taming has become (perf.) an enduring fact in the world’s history, exemplified (pres.) every day) by (not, ‘to,’ as a ‘dativus commodi:’ it is the dat. of the agent, after a passive verb, = the construction with ὑπό and a gen., as is shewn by the following active construction with οὐδεὶς ἀνθρώπων) the nature (not, “ingenii sollertia,” as Schneckenb., al.; but φύσις as before, natural generic character) of man:

8.] but (exception) the tongue no one of men can tame (the assertion is absolute, not to be weakened by εὐκόλως κ. ἄνευ πόνου, as the Schol. in Matthæi. And it is plain that to read it, as Œc., interrogatively (εἰ τὰ ἀτίθασσα θηρία ὁ ἄνθρωπος τιθασσεύει καὶ χειροήθη ποιεῖ, ἆρα τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γλῶσσαν οὐ δαμάσει;), is quite out of the question. Observe δαμάσαι, aor., ‘even to tame once,’ not habitually, pres. Now we see fully the meaning of ver. 2): it is a restless mischief (ἀκατάστατον expresses both fickleness and restlessness, see above on ch. 1:8 and Dio Chrys. there, who calls a democracy ἄστατον κακόν. The figure here seems to correspond nearly to what is related of Proteus, that he eluded the grasp of Menelaus under many various shapes. Cf. Hermas, Pastor ii. 2, p. 916, ὦ πόσον πονηρά ἐστιν ἡ καταλαλιά, καὶ ἀκατάστατον δαιμόνιον), (it is) (the supply of a copula is necessary on account of the change of gender, referring back again to γλῶσσα. Or, the two clauses may be rendered without any copulæ, as quasi-exclamations) full of death-bringing poison (cf. ref. Ps., ἠκόνησαν γλῶσσαν αὐτῶν ὡσεὶ ὄφεως, ἰὸς ἀσπίδων ὑπὸ τὰ χείλη αὐτῶν). I cannot forbear referring the reader to Erasmus’s very elegant paraphrase of these two verses, 7, 8; and thanking Wiesinger for directing attention to it.

9, 10.] Exemplification of ἀκατάστατον κακόν, by the inconsistent use of the tongue.

9.] Therewith (there could not be a word more accurately expressing the instrumental sense, as it is called, of ἐν: it is as clad in, and working in the realm and sphere of, that this use is found, as we say ‘a man in armour,’ ‘in a helmet:’ ἐν ῥάβδω ἔλθω πρὸς ὑμᾶς) bless we (i. e. as applied to God, ‘praise we:’ cf. Ps. 144:21 LXX. The first person is used of mankind in general, considered as one agent) the Lord and Father (an unusual connexion to designate God: cf. ch. 1:27, where we have the more usual one, found also here in the rec. Both terms are to be taken of the Father: the former, on the side of His Power: the latter, on that of His Love), and therewith curse we men (generic), which (not, who, which would personally designate certain men thus made; but which, generic. This distinction, which some modern philologists are striving to obliterate, is very important in the rendering of Scripture, and has been accurately observed by our English translators) have been created (and are still, as the perf. part. shews. See below) after the likeness of God (which remains in us, marred indeed, but not, as is sometimes carelessly said, destroyed. This likeness we ought to revere, in ourselves and in others: and he who curses, despises it. Not man’s original state, but man’s present state is here under consideration: and on that consideration depends the force of the Apostle’s argument).

10.] Out of the same mouth cometh forth blessing and cursing (by this resuming and collocation of the two opposite acts, the inconsistency is further shewn). These things, my brethren, ought not (χρή is not elsewhere found in the N. T., but always δεῖ) so to take place.

11.] Illustration from nature, that such conduct is unnatural. Doth a fountain (the fountain, generically, as ὁ κόκκος τοῦ σίτου, John 12:24: ἐξῆλθεν ὁ σπείρων τοῦ σπεῖραι, Matthew 13:3: τὰ κοινοῦντα τον ἄνθρωπον, ib. 15:19, 20 al. freq.) out of the same chink (hole, from which the water flows, in a rock, or in the earth. The word is probably connected with ὄψ, ὄπτομαι) send forth (βρύω, which is generally intransitive,—cf. Soph. Œd. Col. 16 f., χῶρος δʼ ὅδʼ ἱερός, ὡς σάφʼ εἰκάσαι, βρύων " δάφνης ἐλαίας ἀμπέλου,—is used transitively by Anacreon, 37. 2, ἴδε πῶς, ἔαρος φανέντος, χάριτες ῥόδα βρύουσιν) the sweet and the bitter (water, of course: but there is no need to supply any thing: the contrast is in the contrary nature of the two)?

12.] Shews further that natural organizations do not bring forth things opposite to or inconsistent with their usual fruits, but each one has one result, and that always. Can, my brethren, a figtree bring forth (see on the whole, and on ποιῆσαι in this sense, Matthew 7:16 ff. But De Wette is wrong, when he says that thistles or the like would be here, as there, more agreeable to the similitude. For the reasoning is not here, that we must not look for good fruit from a bad tree: but that no tree can bring forth fruit inconsistent with its own nature: as in Arrian, Epict. ii. 20, πῶς δύναται ἄμπελος μὴ ἀμπελικῶς κινεῖσθαι, ἀλλʼ ἐλαϊκῶς; ἢ ἔλαια πάλιν μὴ ἐλαϊκῶς ἀλλʼ ἀμπελικῶς; ἀμήχανον, ἀδιανόητον) olives, or a vine figs? Nor (as if the former sentence had been a negative one) can salt (water) bring forth sweet water (i. e. if the mouth emit cursing, thereby making itself a brackish spring, it cannot to any purpose also emit the sweet stream of praise and good words: if it appear to do so, all must be hypocrisy and mere seeming).

13-18.] Wisdom must be shewn by meekness and peaceableness, not by contentiousness. This paragraph is closely connected with the subject of the chapter as enounced in ver. 1. Where that ambition, and rivalry to be teachers, existed, there was sure to be contentiousness and every evil thing.

13.] Who is (cf. the similar question in Psalm 33:12, τίς ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος ὁ θέλων ζωὴν κ.τ.λ.; παῦσον τὴν γλῶσσάν σου ἀπὸ κακοῦ κ.τ.λ.) wise and a man of knowledge (the same adjectives are joined in reff. It is not easy to mark the difference, if any is here intended. Wiesinger says, “σοφός is a general term for the normal habit as regards intelligence, cf. ch. 1:5: while ἐπιστήμων denotes the practical insight which in any given case judges rightly and teaches the right way to put σοφία in practice.” Rather would it follow the general analogy of the words to regard σοφία as denoting general ability backed by knowledge, ἐπιστήμη as acquaintance with particular facts and departments of knowledge. The σοφός is an able man, the ἐπιστήμων a well-informed man. But the distinction must be very uncertain: for while Plato says, Rep. 5. p. 477 b, ἐπιστήμη ἐπὶ τῷ ὄντι πέφυκε γνῶναι ὡς ἔστι τὸ ὄν, in the Phædrus, p. 96 b, he says again, οἱ σοφοὶ ἐπιστήμῃ σοφοί εἰσιν … ἐπιστήμη ἄρα σοφία ἐστίν) among you? Let him shew (aor. because referring to each individual ἔργον when performed, rather than to his general habit) out of (ref.: to which passage and its reasoning the Apostle seems again to be referring. The σοφία and ἐπιστήμη would be dead without this exhibition, as faith without works) his good conduct (in life: see reff.) his works (the good conduct is the general manifestation: the works, the particular results of that general manifestation. The sum of both makes up the ἔργα in the former case, ch. 2.) in meekness of wisdom (an adverbial clause belonging to δειξάτω: not to be tamed down into πραεία σοφία as Beza, Grot., al., nor into πραΰτης σοφή as Laurentius: meekness is the attribute, σοφία the character to which it belongs: ‘in that meekness which is the proper attribute of wisdom’).

14-16.] Consequences of the opposite course.

14.] But if ye have (as is the fact: this is implied by the indic.: cf. Colossians 3:1, εἰ οὖν συνηγέρθητε τῷ χριστῷ κ.τ.λ.) bitter emulation (πικρόν seems to refer back to the example in vv. 11, 12. “Non damnatur,” says Bengel, “zelus dulcis et ira dulcis, ex fide et amore”) and rivalry (see on ἔριθος and ἐριθεία in note, Romans 2:8. Beware of confounding ἐριθεία with ἔρις, as is very generally done) in your heart (out of which come thoughts and words and acts, see Matthew 15:18, Matthew 15:19), do not (in giving yourselves out for wise, which (cf. ver. 15) you cannot really be) boast against (ref.) and lie against the truth (q. d. κατακαυχᾶσθε κ. καταψεύδεσθε, but the latter compound is resolved to bring out more forcibly the ψεῦδος in their conduct. Some, as De W. and Wiesinger, suppose κατακαυχ. κατά to belong together, and καὶ ψεύδεσθε to be an insertion of the Apostle further to define the κατακαυχᾶσθε. Others again have taken pains to excuse the imagined tautology in ψεύδεσθε κατὰ τῆς ἀληθείας, which however is no tautology at all. ἡ ἀλήθεια, from its following κατακαυχᾶσθε, is necessarily not subjective, ‘truth’ merely, as a quality absent from the conduct of those thus acting, but objective, ‘the truth,’ of which their whole lives would be thus a negation and an opposition;—which would be in their persons vaunted against and lied against).

15.] Designation of such pretended wisdom. This wisdom is not one descending from above (the verb is purposely resolved, to throw out the negation οὐκ ἔστιν, and to put the categorical κατερχομένη into prominence as a class to which this σοφία does not belong. So that we must not miss this purpose by making ἐστιν κατερχομένη = κατέρχεται, as does E. V., Schneckenb., al.: still less must we with Luth … al., render ungrammatically, “this is not the wisdom which cometh down” (ἡ ἄνωθεν κατερχομένη)), but earthly (as the sharpest contrast to ἄνωθεν κατερχομένη: belonging to this earth, and its life of sin and strife), sensual (it is almost impossible to express satisfactorily in English the idea given by ψυχικός. Our ‘soul’ is so identified with man’s spiritual part in common parlance, that we have lost the distinction between ψυχή and πνεῦμα, except when we can give a periphrastic explanation. The idea here is, belonging to the unspiritual mind of man. See the whole treated in the note on Jude 1:19, ψυχικοὶ πνεῦμα οὐκ ἔχοντες), devilish (like, or partaking of the nature of, the devils. This word must not be figuratively taken, as by Hottinger (in Huther), “impuro genio magis quam homine digna:” it betokens both the origin of this hypocritical wisdom (cf. φλογιζομένη ὑπὸ τῆς γεέννης above, ver. 6), and its character: it is from,—not God, the giver of all true wisdom, ch. 1:5, but—the devil,—and bears the character of its author).

16.] Justification of the foregoing assertion. For where is emulation (in a bad sense) and rivalry (see above), there is confusion (ref. 1 Cor.: anarchy, restless disturbance. Cf. ref. Prov., στόμα ἄστεγον ποιεῖ ἀκαταστασίας), and every evil (reff.) thing (or, deed).

17, 18.] Character and praise of heavenly wisdom.

17.] But (contrast) the wisdom from above is first of all pure (“Ad duplex genus qualitas revocatur: altero interna vis uno vocabulo exprimitur, quippe una ipsa cæterarumque effectrix, altero externæ rationes sex notationibus describuntur, quæ ad primarium scriptoris consilium invidiæ rixisque occurrendi omnes redeunt.” Theile. ἁγνή, καθαρὰ καὶ ἀρύπαρος, μηδενὸς τῶν σαρκικῶν ἀντεχομένη, Œc. It is hardly necessary to guard any scholar against the abuse of this text often found, when it is made to signify that the heavenly-wise must be pure, i. e. free from all contact with any thing that offends, before he can be peaceable: and thus it is used to further, instead of to discourage, an uncharitable spirit), then (= in the second place: its external qualities are now enumerated) peaceable, forbearing (μὴ ἀκριβοδίκαιος ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον, Aristot. Eth. Nic. x. 6. See note on Philippians 4:5), easily persuaded (“suadibilis,” vulg. The word occurs in the active sense of “easily persuading,” in Æschyl. Agam. 274, πότερα δʼ ὀνείρων φάσματʼ εὐπειθῆ σέβεις: and Choeph. 259, πέμπειν ἔχοις ἂν σήματʼ εὐπειθῆ βροτοῖς: but not, that I am aware, in this passive sense), full of compassion (the great triumph of the Christian practical life is won by ἔλεος: see ch. 2:13) and good fruits (contrast to πᾶν φαῦλον πρᾶγμα above), without doubting (as might be expected, from the various meanings of διακρίνεσθαι, this word has been variously interpreted. Luther, E. V., and most Commentators render it “without partiality,” unparteiisch, thus giving to a passive adjective an active meaning: and in the same spirit, Œc., μὴ διακρίνουσα παρατηρήσεις βρωμάτων κ. διαφόρων βαπτισμάτων: Beza, “absque disceptatione:” vulg., “non judicans:” Calvin, “Nimis anxiam et scrupulosam inquisitionem notat, qualem fere in hypocritis cernere licet, qui dum nimis exacte inquirunt in fratrum dicta et facta, nihil non in sinistram partem rapiunt:” Bengel, “Non facit discrimen ubi non opus est, v. gr., inter potentes et tenues.” The passive sense is kept by Gebser, who understands “undivided:” the heavenly-wise keeping banded together in love: Wetst., “non duplex.” Two considerations contribute to substantiate the rendering given above, which is that of De Wette, Wiesinger, and Huther. 1. The word would seem, from its close junction with ἀνυπόκριτος, rather to betoken an inner quality than (as Gebser above) an outward circumstance: 2. when thus used of an inner quality, cf. ch. 1:6 and 2:4, our Apostle, in common with other N. T. writers, signifies by it ‘to doubt.’ So that I would understand by it “expers omnis cujuscunque ambiguitatis et simulationis,” as Huther), without feigning (“These two characteristics are also added with especial reference to the state of things among the readers: on ἀδιάκριτος, cf. ch. 1:6-8; 2:4: on ἀνυπόκριτος, ch. 1:22, 26; 2:1.” Huther).

18.] Before, in ver. 16, after the characterization came the statement of the result: and so now here. That result was designated as a present one, ἀκαταστασία κ. πᾶν φαῦλον πρᾶγμα: this is a future one, but beautifully anticipated by the pregnant expression καρπὸς σπείρεται: see below. But (δέ passes from the subjective character to the objective result) fruit (or, the fruit, καρπός being in the emphatic place and therefore losing its article) of righteousness (genitive of apposition: that fruit which is righteousness: see ref. Heb. and cf. Isaiah 32:17: righteousness in its wider sense: in themselves and in others; in practice and in reward; in time and in eternity) is sown (in saying καρπὸς σπείρεται the Apostle uses a prolepsis, as if a husbandman should this autumn be said to sow next year’s bread) in peace (not as De W., for εἰς εἰρήνην, but betokening the spirit and mode in which the sowing takes place, as opposed to ὅπου ζῆλος κ. ἐριθεία) by them who work (better than “make,” which seems to confine the meaning to the reconciling persons at variance. So also in ref. Matt. The dative participle is not a ‘dativus commodi,’ but the dat. of the agent: the former view would leave out of the proposition that which is in fact its necessary and most important feature, viz. that the peace-workers themselves are the sowers of the fruit) peace.

Henry Alford - Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

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