James 3:3
Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
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(3) Behold.—A more clumsy reading is insisted upon here: but if, instead of “behold.” The supporters of such curious corrections argue that the least likely is the most so; and thus every slip of a copyist, either in grammar or spelling, becomes more sacred in their eyes than is the Received text with believers in verbal inspiration.

Three comparisons of the tongue are now introduced; the bit (James 3:3), the rudder (James 3:4), and a fire (James 3:6): the two former to show what mastery may be gained by self-discipline, the latter to warn us of a danger which may quickly spread beyond our power to quell.

James 3:3-5. Behold, &c. — As if the apostle had said, Think not the tongue a weak member because it is small; we put bits in the horses’ mouths that they may obey us — May go as we direct them; and, strong, and sometimes furious as they are; we turn about their whole body — Influence as we please all their motions. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great — So large and heavy, and are driven frequently by fierce winds which seem to be irresistible, yet are they turned about — To the right or left; with a very small helm — Which, to a person unacquainted with nautical affairs, would appear to be weak and insignificant; whithersoever the governor Η ορμη του ευθυνοντος, the force of the director, or steersman; willeth — That is, according to the will of the person who sits at the helm; who was not necessarily either the ship- master or the pilot, but a person appointed to that office. So the tongue is a little, and apparently insignificant member, and yet boasteth great things — Hath great influence: also, to show by another comparison the operation of the tongue, behold how great a matter — How great a quantity of wood and other materials; a little fire kindleth — Into a terrible flame.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.Behold, we put bits in the horses" mouths ... - The meaning of this simple illustration is, that as we control a horse by the bit - though the bit is a small thing - so the body is controlled by the tongue. He who has a proper control over his tongue can govern his whole body, as he who holds a bridle governs and turns about the horse. 3. Behold—The best authorities read, "but if," that is, Now whensoever (in the case) of horses (such is the emphatic position of "horses" in the Greek) we put the bits (so literally, "the customary bits") into their mouths that they may obey us, we turn about also their whole body. This is to illustrate how man turns about his whole body with the little tongue. "The same applies to the pen, which is the substitute for the tongue among the absent" [Bengel]. He illustrates the former proposition, that he that can rule his tongue may rule his whole body, by two similitudes: the first, of an unruly horse, which yet, as wanton as he is, being curbed in with a bit, may be easily managed; intimating, that even so, if a man’s tongue be well governed, the rest of the man will be under command. Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths,.... By this, and the following simile, the apostle not only expresses the smallness of that member of the body, which is like the bit in the horse's mouth, and the helm of a ship, but the good use of it, and the great influence it has over the whole body. Horses are without understanding, and need direction in what path to go, and are strong, and would be truly and ungovernable unless bits and bridles were put into their mouths:

that they may obey us; and go in the way we would have them:

and we turn about the whole body of the horse, this way, and that way, as is thought best, by the help of the bit and bridle; and of such use is the tongue to the natural body, that being bridled itself, bridles, directs, and governs the whole body; and its influence on bodies, and societies of men, and Christians, is like that of the bit in the horse's mouth; who, like horses, would be unruly and ungovernable, were it not for the force of language, the power of words, and strength of argument.

{4} Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

(4) He shows by two comparisons, the one taken from the bridles of horses, the other from the rudder of ships, how great matters may be brought to pass by the good control of the tongue.

Jam 3:3. But if we put bridles in the mouths of horses, we turn also their whole body. The clause καὶ ὅλον κ.τ.λ. forms the apodosis to the protasis beginning with εἰ (Pott, Wiesinger, Brückner, Lange, Bouman). Many expositors incorrectly attach this clause to the protasis, whereby Theile regards Jam 3:5 as the apodosis belonging to it, whilst others supply a thought as the apodosis; according to de Wette, this thought is, that “the tongue is not so easily tamed as a horse,” which is wholly unsuitable.[170]

The particle δέ is not, with Theile, to be explained as closely connecting this verse to the following,[171] for here and in Jam 3:4 nothing else than a contrast to Jam 3:2 is to be expressed; it is rather used here even as in chap. Jam 2:15, simply distinguishing the case adduced for comparison from that for the sake of which it is introduced (Wiesinger). By τῶν ἵππων standing first, the view is at once directed to the object by which the sentiment expressed is to be illustrated (comp. Jam 3:4). The genitive depends not on τοὺς χαλινούς (Theile, Lange, and others), but on τὰ στόματα (Oecumenius, Hornejus, Pott, Gebser; Bouman wavers), for on this word the emphasis rests. τοὺς χαλινούς points back to χαλιναγωγῆσαι, Jam 3:2, by which apparently this image was suggested to James.

On the phrase: εἰς τὰ στόματα βάλλειν, comp. in Aelian: χαλινὸν ἵππῳ ἐμβάλλειν.

The words εἰς τὸ πείθεσθαι ἡμῖν αὐτούς are for the purpose of accentuating the governing of the horse by the bridle put into its mouth. The apodosis καὶ ὅλον τὸ σῶμα κ.τ.λ. corresponds to χαλιναγωγῆσαι καὶ ὅλον τὸ σῶμα, Jam 3:2.

μετάγειν] in the N. T. only here and in Jam 3:4, is = circumagere. The tertium comparationis lies in εἰς τὰ στόματα; for, as Bengel correctly remarks: in ore lingua est, and οὐ πταίειν ἐν λόγῳ, is identical with the bridling of the tongue in the mouth.

[170] Bede supplies: quanto amplius decet, ut nobis ipsis frenum continentiae in ora mittamus; Lorinus: si hoc in equis contingit, simile quid oportet circa linguam procurari; Hottinger: eodem modo qui linguam coercere potest, toti corpori facile moderabitur.

[171] Theile says: Ita a difficultate linguam moderandi transitus fit ad necessitatem: in memoriam vocatur, exigua saepe esse, quibus ingentia moveantur non solum in bonam (vv. 3, 4), sed maxime etiam in malam partem.

Jam 3:3-4. Two comparisons by which the thought εἴ τις ἐν λόγῳ κ.τ.λ. is illustrated and confirmed. It is incorrect when it is assumed that “James, with Jam 3:3-4, will primarily explain and establish by examples the importance, maintained in Jam 3:2, of power over a little thing, as the tongue, for the government of the whole” (Wiesinger), and that the tertium comparationis is “a little thing does much” (Gunkel); for neither in Jam 3:2 is the smallness of the tongue mentioned, nor in Jam 3:3 is the smallness of the bridle brought forward. The examples adduced, which are closely attached to the preceding, are rather designed to prove how by the mastery of the tongue that of the whole body is possible; it is, James will say, even as one rules the horse by the guidance of the bridle, and the ship by the guidance of the helm. Only in the second image does the smallness of that by which the steersman rules the great ship appear to James as something important, so that he dwells upon this point in what follows (so also Lange).Jam 3:3. εἰ δὲ: this is the best attested reading, but see Mayor’s admirable note in favour of the reading ἴδε γάρ.—τῶν ἵππων: “The genitive is here put in an emphatic place to mark the comparison. It belongs both to χαλινούς and to στόματα, probably more to the former as distinguishing it from the human bridle, so we have ἄχρι τῶν χαλινῶν τῶν ἵππων, Revelation 14:20, ἐπὶ τὸν χαλινὸν τοῦ ἵππου, Zechariah 14:20. Cf. Psalm 32:9” (Mayor). Knowling draws attention to Philo who “speaks of the easy way in which the horse, the most spirited of animals, is led when bridled, De Mundi Opif., p. 19E”.—καὶ ὅλον τὸ σῶμα …: Cf. what was said in the preceding verse.3. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths] The thought of man’s power over brute creatures and natural forces, and of his impotence in the greater work of self-government, present a singular parallelism to that of the well-known chorus in the Antigone of Sophocles. (332–350):

Many the forms of life

Full marvellous in might,

But man supreme stands out

Most marvellous of all.

He with the wintry gales,

O’er the foam-crested sea,

’Mid wild waves surging round,

Tracketh his way across.

He fastens firm the yoke

On horse with shaggy mane,

Or bull that walks untamed upon the hills.

So in another passage of the same drama:

“And I have known the steeds of fiery mood

With a small curb subdued.” (Antig. 475.)Jam 3:3. Ἴδε) I have thus edited on the best authority:[30] ἰδοὺ, Erasmus. There are very few MSS. remaining of which we can with confidence determine that they read ἰδοὺ. The interjection, ἴδε, is from an active verb; ἰδοὺ follows the Middle Voice. If there is any difference, ἴδε gives the idea of reflection; ἰδοὺ is more impassioned. Therefore James in this first passage uses ἴδε; afterwards, he often uses ἰδοὺ, as he advances in strength. And one writer at least, in another place, uses both ἰδοὺ and ἴδε, and that too in the short compass of a conversation; John 12:15; John 12:19; John 16:29; John 16:32.[31] Not to enlarge further upon a matter of slight importance, I am satisfied with the reasons already alleged for the preference given by me to ἴδε.—τῶν ἵππων, of the horses) This is emphatically put at the beginning of the sentence.—στόματα, mouths) This is an appropriate word; for the tongue is in the mouth.—μετάγομεν) we turn about.[32]

[30] Εἰ δὲ is the reading of AB Vulg. Memph. So Lachm. and Tisch. In this case the Apodosis to εἰ is virtually given in ver. 5, “Seeing that we put bits,” etc.; so also the tongue, etc. C reads ἴδε. Rec. Text ἰδοὺ, without very old authority. Later Syr. and Theb. have ecce. Syr. has ecce enim.—E.

[31] ἴδε. This is a middle reading; from which some few have made ἰδοὺ, and many, long since (and perhaps also Song of Solomon 2, which Mill refers to on ver. 4, and Baumgarten with him), εἰ δὲ, or εἰδὲ, with the difference only of one or two letters; and this difference is less apparent in the Greek MSS. than in the Arabic and Coptic. In the Latin it is si autem.

[32] αὐτῶν) Baumgarten says, Omittit Hunt. 2, nec est in Barb. 2, etc. But the 1st Edition of Mill, “Omittit Hunt. 1, nee est in B. 2 (id est in Bas. 2), etc.” No injury is done to this celebrted man, but it is right that others should know that he has not gained an accurate knowledge of the Manuscripts.Verse 3. - Illustration of the last statement of ver. 2. The bit in the horse's mouth enables us to turn about the whole body. So the man who can govern his tongue has the mastery over the whole body. A remarkable parallel is afforded by Sophocles, 'Antigone,' 1. 470, Σμικρῷ χαλινῷ δ οῖδα τοὺς θυμουμένους ἵππους καταρτυθέιτας. So also Philo, 'De Op. Mundi,' p. 19, Τὸ θυμικώτατον ζῶον ἵππος ῤᾳδίως ἄγεται χαλινωθείς. The manuscript; authority is overwhelming in favor of εἰ δὲ (A, B, K, L; א, εἰδε γάρ, etc.; and Vulgate, si autem) instead of ἰδού of the Received Text (C has ἴδε, and the Syriac ecce): thus the apodosis is contained in the words, καὶ ὅλον κ.τ.λ. Translate, with R.V., now if we put the horses bridles into their mouths that they may obey us, we turn about their whole body also. (For a similar correction of ἰδέ to εἰ δέ, see Romans 2:17.) Behold

Following the old reading, ἴδε. All the best texts read εἰ δὲ, now if. So Rev.

Bits (χαλινοὺς)

Only here and Revelation 14:20. It may be rendered either bit, as A. V., or bridle, as Rev., but bridle is preferable because it corresponds with the verb to bridle (James 3:2) which is compounded with this noun.


The position in the sentence is emphatic.

We turn about (μετάγομεν)

Used by James only.

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