James 3:2
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.
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(2) For in many things we offend all.—Better thus, For in many things we all offend: not, what might be inferred, “we are an offence to all,” as Matthew 24:9; 1Corinthians 4:13, et al. Humble, indeed, was the holy mind of James, but this confession of error uplifts him in all right appreciation, and in no way casts him down. The very human weakness of Peter, and Paul, and James, endears them to us; for so we know assuredly that they were “men of like passions” with ourselves (Acts 14:15), and, where they succeeded, we, by the like grace of God, may also win the crown.

If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.—If any man: much more one who fain would teach his fellows. To “offend” means to stumble over something, and fall, and in this sense we get the exact meaning of “offending” by an unguarded allusion to a subject painful in the mind of another. “A constant governance of our speech, according to duty and reason, is a high instance, and a special argument of a thoroughly sincere and solid goodness,” says Isaac Barrow; but the meekest of men failed once, and blessed indeed is he who takes heed to his ways that he sins not with his tongue (Psalm 39:1).

Able also to bridle the whole body.—Not that if the tongue be stilled all the members of the body are consequently in peace; but, because the work of ruling the one rebel is so great, that a much less corresponding effort will keep the others in subjection.

3:1-12 We are taught to dread an unruly tongue, as one of the greatest evils. The affairs of mankind are thrown into confusion by the tongues of men. Every age of the world, and every condition of life, private or public, affords examples of this. Hell has more to do in promoting the fire of the tongue than men generally think; and whenever men's tongues are employed in sinful ways, they are set on fire of hell. No man can tame the tongue without Divine grace and assistance. The apostle does not represent it as impossible, but as extremely difficult. Other sins decay with age, this many times gets worse; we grow more froward and fretful, as natural strength decays, and the days come on in which we have no pleasure. When other sins are tamed and subdued by the infirmities of age, the spirit often grows more tart, nature being drawn down to the dregs, and the words used become more passionate. That man's tongue confutes itself, which at one time pretends to adore the perfections of God, and to refer all things to him; and at another time condemns even good men, if they do not use the same words and expressions. True religion will not admit of contradictions: how many sins would be prevented, if men would always be consistent! Pious and edifying language is the genuine produce of a sanctified heart; and none who understand Christianity, expect to hear curses, lies, boastings, and revilings from a true believer's mouth, any more than they look for the fruit of one tree from another. But facts prove that more professors succeed in bridling their senses and appetites, than in duly restraining their tongues. Then, depending on Divine grace, let us take heed to bless and curse not; and let us aim to be consistent in our words and actions.For in many things we offend all - We all offend. The word here rendered offend, means to stumble, to fall; then to err, to fail in duty; and the meaning here is, that all were liable to commit error, and that this consideration should induce men to be cautious in seeking an office where an error would be likely to do so much injury. The particular thing, doubtless, which the apostle had in his eye, was the peculiar liability to commit error, or to do wrong with the tongue. Of course, this liability is very great in an office where the very business is public speaking. If anywhere the improper use of the tongue will do mischief, it is in the office of a religious teacher; and to show the danger of this, and the importance of caution in seeking that office, the apostle proceeds to show what mischief the tongue is capable of effecting.

If any man offend not in word - In his speech; in the use of his tongue.

The same is a perfect man - Perfect in the sense in which the apostle immediately explains himself; that he is able to keep every other member of his body in subjection. His object is not to represent the man as absolutely spotless in every sense, and as wholly free from sin, for he had himself just said that "all offend in many things;" but the design is to show that if a man can control his tongue, he has complete dominion over himself, as much as a man has over a horse by the bit, or as a steersman has over a ship if he has hold of the rudder. He is perfect in that sense, that he has complete control over himself, and will not be liable to error in anything. The design is to show the important position which the tongue occupies, as governing the whole man. On the meaning of the word perfect, see the notes at Job 1:1.

And able also to bridle the whole body - To control his whole body, that is, every other part of himself, as a man does a horse by the bridle. The word rendered "to bridle," means to lead or guide with a bit; then to rein in, to check, to moderate, to restrain. A man always has complete government over himself if he has the entire control of his tongue. It is that by which he gives expression to his thoughts and passions; and if that is kept under proper restraint, all the rest of his members are as easily controlled as the horse is by having the control of the bit.

2. all—The Greek implies "all without exception": even the apostles.

offend not—literally "stumbleth not": is void of offence or "slip" in word: in which respect one is especially tried who sets up to be a "teacher."

For in many things we offend all: there is no man absolutely free from sin, 1 Kings 8:46 Job 14:4 Proverbs 20:9 Ecclesiastes 7:20 1Jo 1:8,10; and therefore we must not be too critical in other men’s actions, having so many failings ourselves, Galatians 6:1.

If any man offend not in word; know how to govern his tongue aright, speak what, and when; as he ought.

The same is a perfect man; either sincere, in opposition to the hypocrisy of those that pretend so great zeal in correcting others, when they are alike or more guilty themselves: or rather, we may understand it comparatively, and with respect to others, of one that hath made good proficiency in religion, and is of greater attainments than others: see 1 Corinthians 2:6.

And able also to bridle the whole body; to govern all the other parts, (eyes, ears, hands, &c.,) as to those actions which are performed by them. No member of the body being more ready to offend than the tongue, he that can rule that, may rule all else. For in many things we offend all,.... Or "we all offend", slip and fall; no man lives without sin; in many, in most, if not in all things, a good man himself does, he sins; and this extends to the most solemn services, and best works of a good man; there is sin in his holy things, imperfections in all his performances; his righteousnesses are as filthy rags; hence no man can be justified by his works before God, nor is any man perfect in this life, so as to be without sin in himself: the apostle includes himself in this account, and that not out of modesty merely, or in a complaisant way, but as matter of fact, and what he found in himself, and observed in the conduct of his life: and now this is given as a reason why persons should not be anxious of teaching others, since in many instances, in common speech and conversation, men are apt to offend, and much more in a work which requires a multitude of words; or why men should be careful how they charge, censure, and reprove others, in a rash, furious, and unchristian manner; since they themselves are in the body, and may be tempted, and are attended with many infirmities, slips, and falls in common life.

If any man offend not in word; from slips and falls in general, the apostle proceeds to the slips of the tongue, and to the use and abuse of that member; and his sense is, that if a man has so much guard upon himself, and such a command over his tongue, and so much wisdom to use it, as to give no offence by it, to his fellow creatures, and fellow Christians:

the same is a perfect man; not that he is perfect in himself, and without sin, that is denied before; unless this is considered as a mere hypothesis, and by way of concession; that could there be found out a man that never, for instance, offends in word in anyone part of life, that man may be allowed, and be set down to be a perfect man; but no such man is to be found, and therefore none perfect: but rather the sense is, that he who in common is so careful of his speech, as not to offend his brethren, may be looked upon as a sincere and truly religious man; See James 1:26 or he may be accounted a wise and prudent man, such an one as in James 3:13 he is not a babe in understanding, a child in conduct, but a grown man; at full age; a perfect man; in which sense the word is used in 1 Corinthians 2:6.

And able also to bridle the whole body; either to govern the whole body, the church, to teach a society of Christians, and to feed them with knowledge, and with understanding; or rather, as he appears to be able to bridle that member of the body, the tongue, so likewise to be able, through the grace of God, to keep under the whole body, that sin shall not reign in it, or the lusts of it be in common obeyed.

For in many things we offend all. {3} If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

(3) The seventh place, concerning the bridling of the tongue, joined with the former, so that it is revealed that there is no man in who can not justly be found fault as well, seeing as it is a rare virtue to bridle the tongue.

Jam 3:2. The reason (γάρ) of the preceding; yet not so much of the warning: μὴγίνεσθε (Schneckenburger),—this is conditioned by εἰδότες κ.τ.λ.,—as rather of the thought μεῖζον κρῖμα ληψόμεθα; namely, so that the first clause refers only to κρῖμα ληψόμεθα, and only that which follows to the idea μεῖζον; whilst in the expression εἴ τις κ.τ.λ. the idea is contained, that as οὐ πταίειν ἐν λόγῳ conditions τελειότης, sinful man is thus not in a position to bridle the tongue. Brückner incorrectly considers the clause εἴ τις κ.τ.λ. as the explanatory reason of the directly preceding sentence: “we all offend frequently, for whosoever offends not in word he only preserves himself from πολλὰ πταίειν.”

The words πολλὰ πταίομεν ἅπαντες] are to be taken in their widest sense (Wiesinger, Brückner); by ἅπαντες (a stronger form than πάντες) neither the διδάσκαλοι simply are meant, nor is it = plerique (Grotius), and πταίειν points not expressly to errores, qui docentibus obvenire possint (Grotius), or to “speech which is used in teaching” (de Wette), but it comprehends all and every moral error of whatever kind it may be.[169]

πολλά] is adverbial, as in Matthew 9:14.

To this first thought that which follows is annexed ἀσυνδέτως.

εἴ τις] see chap. Jam 1:5; Jam 1:23; Jam 1:26 = ὅστις.

ἐν λόγῳ] is not to be limited to teaching proper (Pott = ἐν διδασκαλίᾳ), but is equivalent to ἐν τῷ λαλῆσαι, chap. Jam 1:19; ἐν denotes the sphere within which the οὐ πταίειν occurs; otherwise in chap. Jam 2:10. On οὐ after εἰ, see on chap. Jam 2:11.

To οὗτος τέλειος ἀνήρ, ἐστι is to be supplied; οὗτος is emphatic; what follows δυνατὸς κ.τ.λ. is in apposition to τέλ. ἀνήρ; the word ἀνήρ is used here as in chap. Jam 1:8.

The meaning is: Whosoever offends (sins) not in speech, and thus is able to bridle his tongue, proves himself thereby to be a perfect man who is able to rule also the whole body, that is, all the other members, so that it is subject to his will. James here places the body in opposition to the man “as a relative independent power which offers moral resistance to the will of the Ego” (Wiesinger), which it is his task to bridle. The καρδία, indeed, is the fountain of evil deeds (Matthew 15:19), but the lust which is rooted therein has so thoroughly appropriated the members of man, and as it were fixed its dwelling in them (Romans 7:23), that they appear as lusting subjects, and may be represented as such in lively concrete language. By such explanations as ὅλον τὸ σῶμα, equivalent to “the whole connection of the actions and changes of man” (Baumgarten), or = reliquae peccandi illecebrae (Pott), or = tota vita (Schneckenburger), the idea lying at the foundation does not receive its full meaning. Even the remark of de Wette, that τὸ σῶμα denotes “not only all organs proper, but even the affections,” is not to be retained; on which account Brückner adds: “the latter only in so far as they are expressed by the former.” The explanation of Lange is also arbitrary, that the body here denotes the organ and symbol of all other modes of human action, with the exception of speech. Laurentius rightly observes: nihil obstat, quo minus per totum corpus intelligamus caetera corporis nostri membra: manus, pedes, etc.

[169] Brückner correctly asserts, against de Wette, that the subject in ἅπαντες has experienced an extension, and that the circumstance that in what follows ἐν λόγῳ πταίειν is particularly brought forward, requires for πταίειν here a more universal meaning.Jam 3:2. πταίομεν: see note above on this word Jam 2:10.—εἴ τις ἐν λογῳ οὐ πταίει: Cf. Sir 19:16, τίς οὐχ ἥμαρτεν ἐν τῇ γλώσσῃ αὐτοῦ;—τέλειος: see note on Jam 1:4.—ἀνήρ: see note on Jam 1:12.—χαλιναγωγῆσαι: see note on Jam 1:26.—καὶ ὅλον τὸ σῶμα: it is quite possible that these words are meant literally; the exaggerated gesticulation of an Oriental in the excitement of debate is proverbial; that the reference here is to even more than this is also quite within the bounds of possibility, cf. John 18:22; Acts 23:2-3.2. we offend all] The word is the same as that in ch. James 2:10. See note there.

a perfect man …] One who has attained the fulness of moral growth, as in 1 Corinthians 14:20, Hebrews 5:14, the same word denotes that of physical growth. Control of speech is named, not as in itself constituting perfection, but as a crucial test indicating whether the man has or has not attained unto it.

able also to bridle the whole body] St James returns to the besetting sin of those to whom he writes, uses the same phrase as in ch. James 1:26, and then proceeds to develope the metaphor which it suggests. The “whole body” is used to sum up the aggregate of all the temptations which come to us through the avenues of sense.Jam 3:2. Πολλὰ) in many and various circumstances and ways.—ἅπαντες, all) The apostles do not even except themselves; 1 John 1:8.—ἐν λόγῳ, in word) viz. in a single word. Opposed to many things. The tongue does not always answer to the feeling.—πταίει, offend) This word is properly used of any fault or slip of the tongue.—οὗτος) he indeed.—δυνατὸςσῶμα, able to bridle the whole body) The description of a perfect man.—τὸ σῶμα, the body) that is, the man himself. Antithetical to the tongue, which is a member; Jam 3:5. Comp. body, Jam 3:3; Jam 3:6.Verse 2. - Γὰρ gives the reason for this κρίμα. We shall be judged because in many things we all stumble, and it is implied that teachers are in danger of greater condemnation, because it is almost impossible to govern the tongue completely. With the thought comp. Ecclesiastes 7:20, "There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not." Πολλά is adverbial, as in Matthew 9:14, and may be either

(1) "in many things," or

(2) "oft." Ἅπαντες. No se ipsos quidem excipiunt apostoli (Bengel). If any stumbleth not in word (R.V.). "Control of speech is named, not as in itself constituting perfection, but as a crucial test indicating whether the man has or has not attained unto it" (Plumptre). Τέλειος (see James 1:4). Ξαλιναγωγεῖν (cf. James 1:26). It is only found in these two passages; never in the LXX. Offend (πταίομεν)

Lit., stumble, as Rev. Compare James 2:10.

To bridle

See on James 1:26.

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