New American Standard Bible
So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!
King James Bible
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
Darby Bible Translation
Thus also the tongue is a little member, and boasts great things. See how little a fire, how large a wood it kindles!
World English Bible
So the tongue is also a little member, and boasts great things. See how a small fire can spread to a large forest!
Young's Literal Translation
so also the tongue is a little member, and doth boast greatly; lo, a little fire how much wood it doth kindle!
James 3:5 Parallel
CommentaryBarnes' Notes on the Bible
Even so the tongue is a little member - Little compared with the body, as the bit or the rudder is, compared with the horse or the ship.
And boasteth great things - The design of the apostle is to illustrate the power and influence of the tongue. This may be done in a great many respects: and the apostle does it by referring to its boasting; to the effects which it produces, resembling that of fire, James 3:6; to its untameableness, James 3:8-9; and to its giving utterance to the most inconsistent and incongruous thoughts, James 3:9-10. The particular idea here is, that the tongue seems to be conscious of its influence and power, and boasts largely of what it can do. The apostle means doubtless to convey the idea that it boasts not unjustly of its importance. It has all the influence in the world, for good or for evil, which it claims.
Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! - Margin, "wood." The Greek word ὕλην hulēn, means a wood, forest, grove; and then fire-wood, fuel. This is the meaning here. The sense is, that a very little fire is sufficient to ignite a large quantity of combustible materials, and that the tongue produces effects similar to that. A spark will kindle a lofty pile; and a word spoken by the tongue may set a neighborhood or a village "in a flame."
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The next part of our sanctification is in reference to our daily failings and transgressions, committed partly through the violence of temptations, as we see in David and Peter, and other eminent men of God; partly through daily infirmities, because of our weakness and imperfections; for, "in many things we offend all," James iii. 2; and, "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," 1 John i. 8; "a righteous man falleth seven times," Prov. xxiv. 16; "there is not …
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May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, The tongue that speaks great things;
For the choir director, for Jeduthun. A Psalm of David. I said, "I will guard my ways That I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle While the wicked are in my presence."
They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high.
For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.
Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.
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