James 3:15
This wisdom descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(15) This wisdom descendeth not from above . . . .—Better thus, This is not the wisdom coming down from above, but is earthly, natural, devilish. This—it were profanation to call it by the holy name of Σοφία (Sophia), being in sharpest contrast to it, of the earth earthy; natural (as margin), or “psychical,” in the second sense of the tripartite division of man—body, soul, and spirit—explained under James 1:21 (comp. Jude 1:19, “Sensual, having not the Spirit”); and even worse, akin to the craft of devils.

3:13-18 These verses show the difference between men's pretending to be wise, and their being really so. He who thinks well, or he who talks well, is not wise in the sense of the Scripture, if he does not live and act well. True wisdom may be know by the meekness of the spirit and temper. Those who live in malice, envy, and contention, live in confusion; and are liable to be provoked and hurried to any evil work. Such wisdom comes not down from above, but springs up from earthly principles, acts on earthly motives, and is intent on serving earthly purposes. Those who are lifted up with such wisdom, described by the apostle James, is near to the Christian love, described by the apostle Paul; and both are so described that every man may fully prove the reality of his attainments in them. It has no disguise or deceit. It cannot fall in with those managements the world counts wise, which are crafty and guileful; but it is sincere, and open, and steady, and uniform, and consistent with itself. May the purity, peace, gentleness, teachableness, and mercy shown in all our actions, and the fruits of righteousness abounding in our lives, prove that God has bestowed upon us this excellent gift.This wisdom descendeth not from above - Compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 3:3. The wisdom here referred to is that carnal or worldly wisdom which produces strife and contention; that kind of knowledge which leads to self-conceit, and which prompts a man to defend his opinions with over-heated zeal. In the contentions which are in the world, in church and state, in neighborhoods and families, at the bar, in political life, and in theological disputes, even where there is the manifestation of enraged and irascible feeling, there is often much of a certain kind of wisdom. There is learning, shrewdness, tact, logical skill, subtle and skilful argumentation - "making the worse appear the better reason;" but all this is often connected with a spirit so narrow, bigoted, and contentious, as to show clearly that it has not its origin in heaven. The spirit which is originated there is always connected with gentleness, calmness, and a love of truth.

But is earthly - Has its origin in this world, and partakes of its spirit. It is such as men exhibit who are governed only by worldly maxims and principles.

Sensual - Margin, "natural." The meaning is, that it has its origin in our sensual rather than in our intellectual and moral nature. It is that which takes counsel of our natural appetites and propensities, and not of high and spiritual influences.

devilish - Demoniacal (δαιμονιώδης daimoniōdēs). Such as the demons exhibit. See the notes at James 2:19. There may be indeed talent in it, but there is the intermingling of malignant passions, and it leads to contentions, strifes, divisions, and "every evil work."

15. This wisdom—in which ye "glory," as if ye were "wise" (Jas 3:13, 14).

descendeth not from above—literally, "is not one descending," &c.: "from the Father of lights" (true illumination and wisdom), Jas 1:17; through "the Spirit of truth," Joh 15:26.

earthly—opposed to heavenly. Distinct from "earthy," 1Co 15:47. Earthly is what is IN the earth; earthy, what is of the earth.

sensual—literally, "animal-like": the wisdom of the "natural" (the same Greek) man, not born again of God; "not having the Spirit" (Jude 19).

devilish—in its origin (from "hell," Jas 3:6; not from God, the Giver of true wisdom, Jas 1:5), and also in its character, which accords with its origin. Earthly, sensual, and devilish, answer to the three spiritual foes of man, the world, the flesh, and the devil.

This wisdom, which they pretended so much to, who so criticized on other men’s actions, and inveighed against them, and which was accompanied with strife and envy.

Descendeth not from above; i.e. from God the author of wisdom, from whom, though every good and perfect gift descends, Jam 1:17, and even knowledge and skill in natural things, Isaiah 28:26,29; yet this wisdom, being sinful, is not from him, because it

is earthly, of the earth, of no higher original than from the first Adam, who was of the earth, and earthly, 1 Corinthians 15:47; and likewise because it is employed, and fixeth men’s minds, on earthly things.

Sensual; this may be understood either:

1. According to the reading in the text, the word here used being so rendered, Judges 1:19, agreeable to 1 Thessalonians 5:23, where soul, from whence the word is derived, is opposed to spirit, and taken for the sensitive powers, which men have in common with brutes, in distinction from the intellectual, which go under the name of spirit, and are proper to men: mere reason, without the Divine grace, being apt to degenerate into brutishness, and easily brought to serve the ends of sensual appetite, this wisdom may well be called sensual. Or:

2. According to Judges 1:19, natural, in opposition to spiritual. The natural man {1 Corinthians 2:14, where the same word, in the Greek, is used as here} is one that lives under the conduct of his own carnal reason, not enlightened, nor regenerated by the Spirit of God; a man of soul, (as the word imports), or that hath no better, no higher principle in him than his own soul. Accordingly, this wisdom here mentioned, is such as proceeds merely from a man’s own soul, in its natural state, destitute of the light and grace of God’s Spirit, and therefore may be termed natural.

Devilish; because it is of the devil, or such as is in him, and makes men like him, who is a proud spirit, and envious, a liar and slanderer, John 8:44, and who observes men’s faults, not to amend them, but accuse them for them. This wisdom descendeth not from above,.... If it must be called wisdom, as it ought not; an envious, quarrelsome, and contentious spirit, does not deserve such a name; yet if any will call it so, or can think that a man of such a disposition is a man possessed of wisdom; it is such wisdom as does not come from above, from heaven, from the Father of lights, from Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and from the spirit of wisdom and revelation: what the Jews say (o) of the wisdom of Egypt, may be said of this, that it is "wisdom from below", or inferior wisdom, as it follows:

but is earthly, sensual, and devilish; it is "earthly", or of the earth, and springs from thence; and it is only conversant about earthly things, and is only suitable to earthly minds: it is sensual, or natural; what a natural man, one destitute of the Spirit of God, and without the knowledge of the things of the Spirit, may have; it is what is acquired by the mere strength of nature, and only relates to natural things; and is only agreeable to corrupt nature, or to a natural and unregenerate man: yea, it is devilish, or such as the devil himself has; and which comes from him, and being used, serves only his kingdom and interest.

(o) Zohar in Gen. fol. 119. 2.

This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Jam 3:15. The character of the σοφία from which bitter zeal and partisanship proceed.

οὐκ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ σοφία] αὕτη is not to be separated from ἡ σοφία, but forms along with it the subject. Luther incorrectly translates: “for this is not the wisdom,” etc. By αὕτη ἡ σοφία is meant that wisdom by which man has ζῆλον πικρόν in his heart, or that from which it springs; the predicate to it is: οὐκ ἔστιν ἄνωθεν κατερχομένη.

οὐκ ἔστιν] emphatically precedes, and the participle takes the place of an adjective (de Wette, Wiesinger, Winer, p. 313 [E. T. 439]). Gebser, Pott, Schneckenburger incorrectly explain ἐστιν κατερχομένη = κατέρχεται. On the idea ἄνωθεν κατέρχ. comp. chap. Jam 1:17.

As an ungodly wisdom it is characterized by three adjectives which form a climax: ἐπίγειος, ψυχική, δαιμονιώδης.

ἐπίγειος] expresses the sharpest contrast to ἄνωθεν κατερχομένη, that wisdom being designated as such which belongs not to heaven, but to earth. That it is sinful (“taking root in a whole life of sin,” Kern, Wiesinger) is not yet expressed. James calls it ψυχική] inasmuch as it belongs not to the πνεῦμα, but, in contrast to it, to the earthly life of the soul; see Meyer on 1 Corinthians 2:14, and author’s explanation of Judges 1:19. These two first ideas are abstractly not of an ethical character, but they become so by being considered in contrast to the heavenly and the spiritual. It is otherwise with the third idea: δαιμονιώδης. This word (ἅπ. λεγ.) = devilish, betokens both the origin and the nature, and is to be taken not in a figurative, but in its literal sense; comp. Jam 3:6, chap. Jam 4:7; incorrectly, Hottinger: impuro genio magis quam homine digna.

The explanation of Hornejus contains arbitrary statements: terrena, quia avaritiae dedita est, quae operibus terrenis inhiat; animalis, quia ad animi lubidines accommodatur; dacmoniaca, quod ambitioni et superbiae servit, quae propria diaboli vitia sunt; and equally so that of Lange, who finds here characterized “Judaistic and Ebionite zealotism,” and refers ἐπιγ. to “the chiliastic claims to the dominion of the earth.”[184]

[184] Without any justification, Schwegler finds here an allusion to the wisdom of the Gnostics.Jam 3:15. οὐκ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ σοφία ἄνωθεν κατερχομένη: The wisdom referred to,—acute argumentl subtle distinctions, clever controversia, methods which took small account of truth so long as a temporary point was gained, skilful dialectics, bitter sarcasms, the more enjoyed and triumphed in if the poisonous shaft came home and rankled in the breast of the opponent,—in short, all those tricks of the unscrupulous controversialist which are none the less contemptible for being clever,—this was wisdom of a certain kind; but, as expressed by the writer of the Epistle with such extraordinary accuracy, it was earthly (ἐπίγειος) as opposed to the wisdom which came down from above, it was human (f1ψυχική, i.e., the domain wherein all that is essentially human holds sway) in that it pandered to self-esteem, and it was demoniacal (δαιμονιώδης) in that it raised up the “very devil” in the hearts of both opposer and opposed. Nowhere is the keen knowledge of human nature, which is so characteristic of the writer, more strikingly displayed than in these Jam 3:15-16.15. This wisdom descendeth not from above] St James returns to the thought of chap. James 1:5, that true wisdom was the gift of God, coming, like every other good and perfect gift, from above (ch. James 1:17). But this was not “the wisdom” of which the “many teachers” of the party of the Circumcision were boasting. It was, however, that of the Proverbs of Solomon, and of the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach, on which so much of St James’s teaching was modelled. (Comp. Sir 1:1-10.) It was that which had been manifested to mankind in all its fulness in Christ.

earthly, sensual, devilish] Each word is full of meaning. (1) The counterfeit wisdom is “earthly” in its nature and origin as contrasted with that which cometh from above. (Comp. St Paul’s “who mind earthly things,” Php 3:19). (2) It is “sensual.” The word is used by classical writers for that which belongs to the “soul” as contrasted with the “body.” This rested on the twofold division of man’s nature. The psychology of the New Testament, however, assumes generally the threefold division of body, soul, and spirit, the second element answering to the animal, emotional life, and the third being that which includes reason and will, the capacity for immortality and for knowing God. Hence the adjective formed from “soul” acquired a lower meaning, almost the very opposite of that which it once had, and expresses man’s state as left to lower impulses without the control of the spirit. So St Paul contrasts the natural man with the spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:14), the natural and the spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44; 1 Corinthians 15:46). So St Jude describes the false teachers, whom he condemns as “sensual, having not the Spirit.” What St James says then of the false wisdom is that it belongs to the lower, not the higher, element in man’s nature. It does not come from the Spirit of God, and therefore is not spiritual. (3) In “devilish” we have yet a darker condemnation. Our English use of the same word, “devil,” for the two Greek words diabolos and dœmonion, tends, however, to obscure St James’s meaning. The epithet does not state that the false wisdom which he condemns came from the devil, or was like his nature, but that it was demon-like, as partaking of the nature of the “demons” or “unclean spirits,” who, as in the Gospels, are represented as possessing the souls of men, and reducing them to the level of madness. Such, St James says, is the character of the spurious wisdom of the “many masters” of James 3:1. Met together in debate, wrangling, cursing, swearing, one would take them for an assembly of demoniacs. Their disputes were marked by the ferocity, the egotism, the boasting, the malignant cunning of the insane. St Paul’s account of the “doctrines of devils,” i. e. proceeding from demons (1 Timothy 4:1), not from the Spirit of God, presents a striking parallel. St James’s previous allusion to “demons” (see note on ch. James 2:19) confirms the interpretation thus given, as shewing how much his thoughts had been directed to the phænomena of possession.Jam 3:15. [Ἄνωθεν, from above) ch. Jam 1:17.—V. g.]—ἐπίγειος, earthly) not heavenly, such as descends from the Father.—ψυχικὴ, animal) not spiritual, which is from the Holy Spirit. Comp. animal, 1 Corinthians 2:14; Judges 1:19. This is a middle term between earthly and devilish.—δαιμονιώδης, devilish) such as even devils have: Jam 2:19 : not that which Christ gives.Verses 15-18. - Contrast between the earthly and the heavenly wisdom:

(1) the earthly (vers. 15, 16);

(2) the heavenly (vers. 17, 18). Verse 15. - " This wisdom [of which you boast] is not a wisdom which cometh down from above." Vulgate, non est enim ista sctpientia desursum descendens. But is earthly, sensual, devilish. Dr. Farrar well says that this wisdom is "earthly because it avariciously cares for the goods of earth (Philippians 3:19); animal, because it is under the sway of animal lusts (1 Corinthians 2:14); demon-like, because full of pride, egotism, malignity, and ambition, which are the works of the devil (1 Timothy 4:1)." Sensual (ψυχική), Vulgate, animalis; R.V. margin, natural or animal. The position of the word is remarkable, occurring between ἐπίγειος and δαιμονιώδης. it is never found in the LXX., nor (apparently) in the apostolic Fathers. In the New Testament it occurs six times - three times of the "natural" body, which is contrasted with the σῶμα πνευματικόν (1 Corinthians 15:44 (twice), 46); and three times with a moral emphasis resting upon it, "and in every instance a most depreciatory" (see 1 Corinthians 2:14), "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God," and Jude 1:19, Ψυχικοὶ, πνεῦμα μὴ ἔχοντες. The ψυχή in general in the New Testament is that which is common to man with the brute creation, including the passions, appetites, etc.; and therefore, by the use of this word ψυχικός to describe the wisdom which cometh not from above, but is "earthly, sensual [or, 'animal'], devilish," we are reminded of the contrast between the spirit of man which goeth upward and the spirit of a beast which goeth downward (Ecclesiastes 3:21). The "animal" man, then, is one who is ruled entirely by the ψυχή in the lower sense of the word; and by the depreciatory sense given to the adjective we are strongly reminded that "nature" is nothing without the aid of grace. See further Archbishop Trench's 'Synonyms of the N. T.,' § 71, and for the later history of the word (it was applied by the Montanists to the orthodox), Suicer's 'Thesaurus,' vol. it. p. 1589. Wisdom (σοφία)

See on σοφός, James 3:13.

From above

Compare James 1:17.

Sensual (ψυχική)

See on Jde 1:19.

Devilish (δαιμονιώδης)

Or demoniacal, according to the proper rendering of δαίμων (see on Matthew 4:1). Only here in New Testament. Devilish, "such," says Bengel, "as even devils have." Compare James 2:19.

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