An Exposition of James 3

J. W. MacGorman  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 29 - Fall 1986

Two themes common to the Jewish Wisdom Literature are presented in James 3:1-18, namely, the abuses of the tongue in verses 1-12 and the practical expression of wisdom in verses 13-17. The former theme was reflected in several passages of the Book of Proverbs. For example, in the multitude of words there was transgression (Prov. 10:19); a fool’s vexation was presently known (12:16); a soft answer turned away wrath, but a grievous word stirred up anger (15:1); death and life were in the power of the tongue, and they that loved it would eat the fruit thereof (18:21); as the north wind brought forth rain, so did a backbiting tongue bring forth an angry countenance (25:23); contention ceased where there was no whisperer (26:20); and there was more hope for a fool than for a man who was hasty in his words (29:20).

A similar prominence prevailed in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, the longest work of Jewish Wisdom. For example: one was not to be rash in speech (Ecclus. 4:29); one was not to set an ambush with his tongue (5:14); the man who made no slip with his mouth was happy (14:1); everyone had sinned with his tongue (19:16); the minds of fools were in their mouths (21:26); more had fallen by the tongue than had fallen by the edge of the sword (27:18); Hades was better than the evil tongue (28:17); and balances and scales were needed to weigh one’s words (28:25).

Looking back over these random samples from two prominent works of Jewish Wisdom reveals the specific verbal sins of loquacity, rash utterance, back-biting, gossip, duplicity, slander, and lying.

James, too, was concerned about the sins of the tongue: men needed to be swift to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19); for human wrath did not work divine righteousness (1:20); the religion that did not enable a man to control his tongue was vain (1:26); men were to speak with the awareness that they would soon be judged by God for what they had said (2:12); men were commanded to stop slandering one another (4:11-12); and murmuring against one another (5:9); boasting was evil (4:16); and oaths were strictly forbidden (5:12).

However, the lengthiest and most important passage on the tongue in the Book of James occurred in conjunction with his warning to certain men who were rashly presuming upon the teaching office (3:1-12). These would-be teachers were inadequately sensitive “to the danger of talkativeness, of reckless statements, of frothy rhetoric, of abusive language, of misleading assertions, and the like.”[1]James Moffatt, The General Epistles in Moffatt New Testament Commentary (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, n.d.), p. 47. They occasioned much strife among the congregations of the dispersion addressed in this letter (1:1).

A Warning against Rash Presumption
upon the Teaching Office
(James 3:1-12)

The first two verses were directed specifically to these offending teachers. James admonished: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (v. 1; literally, “we shall receive greater condemnation”).

Observe that James identified himself as one of the teachers in these early congregations. Obviously those who fulfilled this important function enjoyed a measure of prestige that led others to aspire to the office. This made it possible for them to expound the Scriptures or to exhort their hearers regarding the responsibilities of Christian discipleship. Unfortunately not all who ventured to teach were called or equipped to do so, and this led to confusion.

Thus James set before his readers a sobering axiom, namely, whatever privileges attended the teacher’s role were matched by a corresponding liability to judgment. The greater the opportunity, the greater the responsibility before God. Because of the potential for large evil, the teacher fulfilled his vocation with a commensurate vulnerability to divine disfavor. This prospect was not intended to intimidate those who were truly commissioned and gifted to teach. How­ ever, it was written to discourage those who rashly presumed to teach without the call, endowment, and maturity to do so in a way that edified the congregation.

James acknowledged that all believers stumble from time to time. But the man who avoided the sins of the tongue established a particular claim to maturity, the fulfillment of the divinely intended purpose in his life (v. 2). Some scholars have regarded this as an extravagant claim. For example, James Moffatt stated that ”some of the most reticent men have by no means been able to control their sensual passions.”[2]Ibid. And some mass murderers have been quiet, subdued men, small of stature, who have experienced a lifetime of frustration and anger in twenty minutes of horrendous violence. Yet James insisted that a controlled tongue was essential to Christian maturity, and it constituted a particular requirement for those who ventured to teach. This was true because teachers, more than most others, depended upon verbal presentation, and the offenses of the tongue became occupational hazards.

The verses that follow (vv. 3-12) seem to have an application that reaches beyond teachers to all believers. Surely what is particularly true of teachers is generally true of all. All of us are prone to failure in the exercise of our tongues. James emphasized this propensity and its seriousness by portraying the power of the tongue (vv. 3-5) and the perversity of the tongue (vv. 6-12).

The Power of the Tongue (vv. 3-5)

What are the requirements for an apt illustration of the tongue’s power? Since the tongue is a small member of the body in comparison to other members or to the body as a whole, it is evident that the comparison must be to something relatively small in size. But smallness is not enough. The comparison must also be with something that wields a power all out of proportion to the meager size it commands.

James found one such illustration in the bit that is placed in the mouth of horses, to enable the charioteer to control them (v. 3). If one were to hold a bit up against the flank of a horse, he would be impressed with its smallness in comparison to the size of the horse. Yet by means of the bit a man can control a spirited horse and determine where it goes.

In his second illustration James abandoned the hippodrome and headed for the high seas. In verse 4 the tongue was likened to the rudder of a ship. Once again if one were to compare the size of the rudder with the size of the ship, he would be impressed with its relative smallness, as anyone who has ever seen a ship in drydock can verify. Yet by means of a rudder the helmsman can chart the course of the ship he commands wherever he wants to go: “Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds. They are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs” (v. 4).

The third illustration features a small flame and the forest it is capable of igniting: “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire” (v. 5)! Years ago during a drouth in eastern Canada some children   were playing with matches in a dried-up swamp. One dropped a match into the tinder-dry grass which caught afire. Fanned by a stiff breeze, the fire quickly spread into the surrounding woods, and before it had burned out, it had destroyed hundreds of acres of choice timberland, farm homes, barns, and machinery. Indeed, what a small flame is capable of setting ablaze such a large forest!

In remarkably few words and with aptly chosen illustrations James depicted the power of the tongue. Small like the bit, rudder, and spark or tiny flame, it wields a power all out of proportion to its size. Thus teachers, who are particularly vulnerable to the temptations of abusive utterance, and all others, are reminded of the awesome power of the tongue.

The Perversity of the Tongue (vv. 6-12)

However, in his inveighing against the abuses of the tongue, James not only expounded its power but also its perversity. And wherein does its perversity lie? The following verses score two features of the tongue’s perversity, namely, its tamelessness (vv. 6-8) and its shamelessness (vv. 9-12).

Before proceeding with James’ elaboration of these two features, special attention needs to be given to the problems of verse 6. Interpreters have long been vexed by this verse, because of its unfamiliar phrases, “the world of unrighteousness” and “the wheel of existence”; its textual variants; and its uncertain syntax.

For a detailed study of all aspects of these problems, one may consult Dibelius. He ventures the opinion that in its present form verse 6 “is among the most controversial in the New Testament.”[3]Martin Dibelius, James, rev. Heinrich Greeven, trans. Michael A. Williams in Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), p. 193. Regarding the unfamiliar phrases he states that “the world of unrighteousness” means no more nor less than “the evil world,” and that “the wheel of existence” or “cycle of becoming” signifies little more than “life,” with the possibility of some pessimistic overtone. He rejects out of hand the textual variants that are obviously emendations, e.g., the omission of “and” at the beginning of the verse, the replacement of the article “the” before “staining” with “and,” and the insertion of “so” after “unrighteousness” or “iniquity,” as in the King James Version. And he resolves the problem of uncertain syntax by regarding the bracketed portion of the following translation as a gloss: ”And the tongue is a fire [the tongue presents itself among our members as the evil world, staining the whole body and setting on fire the cycle of becoming and being set on fire by Gehenna.”[4]Ibid., pp. 181, 195.

James Hardy Ropes argues against connecting “the world of iniquity” with what preceeds it. Though a case could be made for the phrase as appositive to “fire” or as a second predicate, it yields no satisfactory sense. Thus he connects it with what follows: “The tongue stands as (i.e., represents) the unrighteous world among our members; it defiles the whole body, itself having direct connection with hell.”[5]James Hardy Ropes, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of St. James in International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1916), p. 234.

This makes the phrase a predicate after the verb translated “stands as.” However, he acknowledges that this interpretation is both awkward and unsatisfactory, and so concludes that the text is probably corrupt. He rejects the earlier interpreters who sought to relieve the difficulty of the phrase by understanding “world” in the sense of “adornment,” that is, “the use of rhetorical arts by designing speakers.”[6]Ibid.

James Adamson appeals to the Peshitta for the correct text, yielding the sense, “The tongue is fire, the sinful world, wood.”[7]James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James in New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), p. 158. This proposal reaches back to the preceding verse, where James compared the tongue’s power to the power of a small flame to set ablaze a forest. Thus the tongue is a fire, and the sinful world is the forest it inflames.

Moreover, Adamson claims that the phrase translated “the round of creation” must not be understood in the sense of endlessness or a cyclical course of history. Rather James used the term eschatologically, “signifying the course (of time) ordained by God for the present era, now (as James thinks) in its last days.”[8]Ibid., p. 163.

Most translations make a simple sentence out of the first four words of the Greek text; then they place the phrase “the world of unrighteousness” in the predicate after the verb “represents.” For example, the New English Bible reads: ”And the tongue is in effect a fire. It represents among our members the world with all its wickedness; it pollutes our whole being; it keeps the wheel of our existence red-hot, and its flames are fed by hell.”

James traced the origin of the lingual abuses prevalent in, the churches he addressed back to hell itself, or Satan. Pointing out that Satan’s residence in a fiery hell was stated for the first time in the Apocalypse of Abraham, Dibelius concludes, “James 3:6 is therefore evidence of great significance for the history of religions.”[9]Dibelius, p. 198.

What a powerful statement James has given in verse 6! No matter how difficult the problems in defining the precise meaning of its troublesome phrases, in determining the original text, or in demonstrating the most reasonable syntax, the verse still resounds with a stinging indictment of the abusive speech too much in vogue among his readers.

For those of us who carry various responsibilities of religious leadership, it would be comforting if we could extricate James’s warnings against the sins of speech, as some able commentators do, from any particular reference to teachers of religion. To be sure, the application that James made was broad enough to include all, believers and otherwise. Yet his intense pronouncements against verbal excesses and failures followed immediately upon his warning to those who rashly presumed to be teachers in the churches (vv. 1-2). It is hard to eliminate the possibility that James may have intended a particular hearing on the part of the would-be teachers, whose claims, counter­claims, and charges occasioned so much strife in their meetings.

In such contentions and debates no doubt each claimed a direct line to God as the source of his message, not realizing that the spirit revealed in the utterance pointed to an opposite ancestry. Possibly James was warning these would-be teachers, or religious spokesmen, that a lot that is passed off as the latest communique from heaven is straight out of hell. And it could have been done, as it so often is, in the name of orthodoxy!

The Tongue is Tameless (vv. 6-8)

As evidence of the tongue’s perversity, James pointed to its tamelessness, stating that “no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (v. 8). This is all the more remarkable when seen against the background of his success in taming “every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature . . .” (v. 7). This emphasis upon man’s ability to control the various species of wild life is a familiar Old Testament theme (e.g., Gen. 1:28; 9:2; and Ps. 8:6-8), and it has many counterparts in Greek and Roman sources.[10]Ibid., pp. 199-200, where citations from Cicero, Seneca, Sophocles, and Philo are given.

Indeed, attendance upon any circus performance provides exciting demonstrations of man’s power to tame or subdue animals many times larger, stronger, and swifter than he is. It is common to see a man enter a large cage with several lions and tigers and put them through a routine that includes jumping through hoops of fire. Bears ride motorcycles, chimpanzees engage in boxing matches, and elephants are trained to stand on their heads. Yet how ludicrous it is for a man to be able to tame two tons of elephant and still be unable to tame a few ounces of his own flesh residing between his upper and lower jaws.

Verse 8 ends with the words translated “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” The Revised Standard Version translators use a dash to indicate the lack of a well-defined relationship to the first part of the verse. This allows some exclamatory force.

Some textual witnesses use an adjective meaning “uncontrollable” (akatascbeton) rather than “restless” or “unstable” (akatastaton), to qualify   “evil.” To be sure, it seems to suit the context better, in which James has scored the fact that man’s tongue remains uncontrollable, though he has had much success in subduing all species of animal life. Furthermore, the spellings of the two words are close. Yet the variant is likely an emendation prompted by contextual considerations.

The words translated “full of deadly poison” may owe something to the Septuagint version of Ps. 139:4, “They whet their tongue as sharp as that of a snake; the poison of asps is under their lips” (cf. Ps. 140:3; Rom. 3:13).

The Tongue is Shameless (vv. 9-12)

The shamelessness of the tongue is seen in its readiness to bless God on Sunday and curse men, who are made in his likeness, on Monday: “With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God” (v. 9).

Doubtless the tongue is never exercised more nobly than when singing God’s praises. One of Charles Wesley’s hymns sounds this note:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of his grace!

Yet the same tongue that may rise to lofty heights of blessing God on one occasion can degenerate to abysmal depths of cursing men on another. And the divine likeness in man renders this lapse unthinkable. James admonished: “My brethren, this ought not to be so” (v. 10).

The impersonal verb (chre) with its negative particle translated “it ought not” occurs here only in the New Testament. Also, it appears in the Septuagint only once (Prov. 25:27). It gave way to another impersonal verb (det) translated “it is necessary,” denoting compulsion of any kind. Dibelius suggests, “Its occasional use seems to suggest literary style.”[11]Ibid., p. 202.

Nature’s consistency makes this duplicity of the tongue particularly untenable: “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish?” (v. 11). Indeed, James asked the question in a way that demanded a negative answer. Thus, “No spring pours forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water, does it?” (author’s translation).

A similar question follows in verse 12: “No fig tree, my brethren, is able to bear olives, nor a grapevine figs, can they?” (author’s translation). The obvious answer is no, for the law of the seed and its fruit or harvest prevails in the natural realm with unfailing consistency. This makes man’s inconsistency in the use of his tongue, now blessing God and then cursing man, even more deplorable.

James ended his exhortation on the tongue, not with a leading question, but with a terse pronouncement: “No more can salt water yield fresh,” (v. 12).

Observe that unlike the sages whose teachings are preserved in the Jewish Wisdom Literature, James did not offer an optimistic word about the many good uses to which the tongue can be put, nor man’s capacity to control his tongue. For instance, he did not follow his assertions that no man can tame his tongue, with the assurance that God can, and so plead for submission to Him. He simply left his readers with the taste of brine in their mouths and moved on to a discussion of the two kinds of wisdom.


The Two Wisdoms
(James 3:13-18)

Since an emphasis on wisdom is that which gives to the Jewish Wisdom Literature its characteristic designation, it is not necessary to cite or summarize pertinent texts to establish this feature. Rather it will suffice to show that this theme or motif was important to the Book of James also.

At the outset of his letter he wrote: “If any one of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given to him” (1:5). This passage pointed to God as the source of wisdom; and furthermore, it stated that he was predisposed to give wisdom to all who, lacking it, asked for it.

The three other uses of the noun translated “wisdom” (sophia) occur in the paragraph before us (3:13, 15, and 17); also, the one use of the adjective “wise” (sophos) occurs here (3:13).

Observe in the verses that follow a contrast between two kinds of wisdom, namely, the wisdom that is not from above (vv. 13-16) and the wisdom from above (vv. 17-18). One may add, whether or not James intended such a connection with the preceding paragraph, that the former wisdom disqualifies one for a leadership role in a church, and the latter wisdom qualifies him for such a role.

The Wisdom That is Not from Above (vv. 13-16)

James launched the paragraph with a penetrating question that he answered immediately: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (v. 13).

Once again James revealed his impatience with all sham. Earlier he had warned that a man who merely heard the word without acting upon it deceived him­ self (1:22). He had denounced as futile all religious claim that was accompanied by an unbridled tongue (1:26). Adulterated and defiled in God’s sight was all religion that neglected the poor and afflicted and sat loosely with regard to personal purity (1:27). The religion that exhausted itself in claims of faith which were not validated by changed lives could not save anyone (2:14). Indeed, the faith that proclaimed God’s oneness and remained insensitive to the moral implications intrinsic to the affirmation was inferior to the faith of demons. At least, they shuddered (2:19). So now, in keeping with this emphasis on the shame of sham, James demanded the validation of every claim of faith with a commensurate lifestyle. Wisdom by pronouncement can prove to be misleading and self- serving. What is wanted and needed is a wisdom that is demonstrated day by day in one’s total deportment or manner of life. Its deeds will be characterized by a gentleness qualified by wisdom.

Its Expression (v. 14)

At the heart of the wisdom that is not from above James found bitter jealousy and selfish ambition at work: ”If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts—and you do—stop boasting and lying against the truth” (author’s translation).

The word translated “selfish ambition”(eritheia) merits further study. Prior to New Testament times it was found only in the writings of Aristotle, “where it denotes a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means.”[12]William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 309. It occurs seven times in the New Testament (Rom. 2:8; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20; Phil. 1:17; 2:3; James 3:14, 16), and in each instance it is keeping bad company.

Selfish ambition is the life-blood of factions, for a faction is best described as organized self-interest. When one self-seeking person can find another whose selfish aims are similar enough to his own that both may enhance their prospects by joining hands, you have the beginnings of a faction. Then through vigor­ ous recruiting that often panders to the basest instincts and the exuberance that attends the early growth of almost anything, good or evil, the faction increases in number, picking up more clout along the way.

Common standards of integrity are given short shrift, as an “end justifies the means” mentality predominates. Every ruse of expediency is pressed into service. The more the success, the greater the arrogance, and the need for concealment seems less necessary. There is much boasting or glorying, but in the midst of it all James’s forceful indictment must be heard: All such bitter jealousy and organized self­ interest, with their attendant boasting over goals achieved, must be recognized for what they are, namely, lies against the truth. In other words, no one can baptize bitter jealousy and organized self-interest into divine service, for both give the lie to the truth they purportedly promulgate.

Its Characteristics (v. 15)

It seems unnecessary for James to remind his readers, “This wisdom is not such as comes down from above . . .” (v. 15), except that this is exactly what it so often claims to be.

Leaving no question about the origin and character of such wisdom, James warned that it was earthly, not heavenly; unspiritual, not spiritual;[13]The word translated “unspiritual” is psuchikos. William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter in Daily Study Bible, 2d ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), p. 109, states, “It is characteristic of the natural man.” devilish, not godlike.

Its Consequence (v. 16)

Furthermore, where jealousy and organized self-interest prevail, “there will be disorder and every vile practice” (v. 16).

The adjective form of the noun translated “disorder” has occurred twice earlier. In James 1:8   it was used to describe the double-minded man, who was “unstable in all his ways.” And in James 3:8 it qualified the evil represented by the tongue as “a restless evil.” Here the noun form was used, as in only four other instances in the New Testament (Luke 21:9; 1Cor. 14:33; 2 Cor. 2:5; 12:20). It describes well the continuous state of upheaval, confusion, or disorder that inevitably plagues the congregation, or other religious body, where jealousy and organized self-interest hold sway.

“Every vile practice” sounds like hyperbole or exaggeration, but it is not. No infamy or perfidy, however horrendous, transgresses the moral threshold of nether wisdom. No distortion is so misleading but that it can be encouraged; no prevarication is so perverse but that it can be propagated; no strategy is so devious but that it can be devised and deployed-and all done under claims of religious auspices, though actually Gehenna-sired and fired.

It is important to notice that the contrast in James 3:13-18 is between two wisdoms, one heavenly and the other hellish, and not between wisdom on the one hand and stupidity on the other. For the wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish” may boast a high intelligence quotient and be enormously clever and resourceful.

The Wisdom That is from Above (vv. 17-18)

Leaving behind the depressing description of nether wisdom in verses 14-16, James proceeded to describe the characteristics and consequences of the wisdom from above in verses 17-18.

Its Characteristics (v. 17)

He wrote: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity” (v. 17).

Observe that since this wisdom is from above, it is received from God as a gift (cf. 1:5). It is not achieved through human ingenuity or contrivance, and so its proper accompaniment is a humble attitude.

Then James enumerated seven characteristics of this divinely bestowed wisdom. First and foremost it is pure. This means that it is free from the bitter jealousy and selfish ambition that are rampant in nether wisdom. C. Leslie Mitton explains: “It means that one who claims to be serving God is wholly serving Him and not, at the same time, seeking to further some private interest of his own…”[14]C. Leslie Mitton, The Epistle of James (Greenwood, S.C.: Attic Press, Inc., 1966), p. 140.

Second, it is peaceable. This adjective occurs in the New Testament only here and in Heb. 12:11, where it describes ”the peaceable fruit of righteousness” that follows upon divine chastening. As “earthly, unspiritual, devilish” wisdom causes alienation and divisions in churches, so divinely bestowed wisdom makes for conciliation and unity. Where it prevails, contentions cannot thrive, and harmony reigns.

Third, it is gentle. Regarding this adjective William Barclay writes: “Of all Greek words in the New Testament this is the most untranslatable.”[15]William Barclay, p. 112. He notes its use in Aristotle to describe a higher justice, one that serves the ultimate ends of justice when necessary by transcending written codes. In personal relationships it describes the diametric opposite of the person who is a stickler for his rights. It is forbearing.

Fourth, it is open to reason. This adjective occurs here only in the New Testament. It describes one for whom persuasion is not a one-way street. It allows the possibility of a change of mind after careful further consideration. One finds its opposites in the person whose mind is made up prior to all meaningful discussion. It is recalcitrant, obdurate, self-opinionated, and inclined to equate hardheadedness with strength of conviction. Where this quality persists, only monologue can take place.

Fifth, it is full of mercy and good fruits. Mercy is one of the higher compounds of love: love and forgiveness. It breathes compassion for those in need or trouble. And “good fruits” are the practical expressions of mercy, as it seeks to alleviate the suffering discerned. James was impatient with a mere acknowledgment of need that failed to do anything about it: “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’, without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16; cf. I John 3:17-18).

Sixth, it is without uncertainty (adiakritos). This adjective occurs here only in the New Testament; thus its meaning cannot be illumined by a comparison with its use in other contexts. One possibility, as indicated, looks back to James 1:6, where a present, passive participle of the verb diakrino was translated “with no doubting.” It described the opposite of praying in faith. However, C. Leslie Mitton argues the sense “without partiality” as more suitable to the context.[16]Mitton, p. 141. (Cf. NIV, “impartial;” TEV, “free from prejudice;” Phillips, “with no breath of favoritism.”) He points back to James 2:1, where the author has already spoken powerfully against the sin of discrimination or partiality. Dibelius rejects both of these senses and translates this adjective “simple” or “harmonious.”[17]Bibelius, p. 214.

Seventh, it is without insincerity. At the heart of this adjective is the word from which the English adjective “hypocritical” derives (the noun “hypocrisy”). It describes role-playing; that is, a person assumes a role in appearance that differs from what he actually is. True wisdom gives no place to hypocrisy. It is sincere; it rings true.

Its Consequence (v. 18)

            “And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Dibelius claims that verse 18 is an isolated saying, possessing its own wholeness and inclusiveness, and has no need to be connected either with James 3:13-17 or 4:1-6.[18]Ibid., p. 208. Instead of describing the “fruit of wisdom” it speaks of the “fruit of righteousness,” whose topic occurs nowhere in the context. The essential meaning of the metaphor is, “Righteousness is sown and harvested only in peace.”[19]Ibid., p. 215.

Yet verse 18 seems an appropriate climax to the inspiring characterization of the wisdom from above delineated in verse 17. Both the character (“earthly, unspiritual, devilish”) and consequence {“disorder and every vile practice”) of nether wisdom were described in verses 15 and 16 respectively. Had the contrast between the two wisdoms ended with the characterization of the wisdom from above in verse 17, it would have seemed somewhat truncated or incomplete. A corresponding description of the consequences of true wisdom seems required for rhetorical balance. Thus the what (“harvest of righteousness”), bow (“in peace”), and by whom (“by those who make peace”) of the sowing metaphor round out the contrast. And it seems a bit strained to belabor James for having the harvest sown instead of the seed.

This exposition of James 3:1-18 ends with a teasing suggestion: Occasionally for purposes of dramatic symbolism new converts should be baptized with their mouths open. Why?

Because it is just as important that tongues come up out of the baptismal waters to rise and talk in newness of life, as it is that feet come up out of the baptismal waters to rise and walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).


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