3. Taming the tongue, 3:1-4:12

ii] Disputes are of worldly wisdom, peace is of the wisdom from above


In this passage, James offers a contrast between two types of wisdom. There is the wisdom of this age and the wisdom of the age to come. The earthly wisdom comes out of selfish ambition and is no better than lies. The heavenly wisdom comes out of a personal relationship with God and issues in practical social concern for the needy and distressed. When we promote earthly wisdom we deny Christ.


i] Context: See 3:1-12.


ii] Background: 1:1.


iii] Structure: Taming the tongue 2:


Disputes are a product of worldly wisdom.

Instruction / sayings:

#7. Whoever wishes to be wise cannot be contentious, v13-17;

#8. True wisdom is marked by peace, v18.


iv] Interpretation:

In examining the subject of wisdom, James compares two types of wisdom, one that leads to humility, good works, and peace, and another that is contentious and leads to envy, selfishness and disorder. This discussion on wisdom sits well in its context with the harm caused by the tongue covered in 3:1-12 and quarreling the subject of 4:1-3. It is possible that James' focus remains the teachers / leaders of the church. Are we not all about wisdom, speaking and quarreling? Moo takes the view that although this is kind-of true, the instruction is aimed at the "ordinary members of the congregation."

James' examination of wisdom has an Old Testament ring about it. There are two types of wisdom, one gained from revelation, one from experience. The wisdom from above is exemplified by a fear of God, Prov.1:7. It is the wisdom that guides a person's walk with God, a wisdom in the eyes of secular man that is foolishness. This wisdom from above "proceeds from genuine faith", McCartney, and bears as its fruit "the harvest of righteousness .. sown in peace by those who make peace", v18, cf., Matt.5:9-10. The more earthly wisdom is not evil by nature, in that it is the wisdom that guides a person's walk through life. The problem with earthly wisdom is that it is constantly manipulated by demonic forces, v15; it caters to our selfish needs, what we can get out of life, often at the expense of others.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 3:13

Instruction #7, "Whoever wishes to be wise cannot be contentious, v13-17. "Whoever wishes to be wise cannot be contentious, for if he is contentious, his is an earthly and not a heavenly wisdom, since heavenly wisdom is peace-loving", Dibelius. James' words apply to all believers, but he may well have in mind the worldly-wise teachers of the church. He calls on them to set aside words and replace them with deeds. True wisdom will issue in deeds of humility, and it is true wisdom that should be exhibited in the fellowship of believers, rather than the power of secular oratory. The humility that James speaks of may be that of brokenness in the sight of God, but given the context, it is more likely gentleness, as opposed to pride and boastfulness.

"Who among you is wise and understanding? Let them show their works through good conduct with gentleness that springs from wisdom", Adam.

tiV "who" - who is. Interrogative pronoun.

sofwV (oV) "wise" - wise. Predicate adjective. Obviously here the Jewish / Christian technical sense of "a knowledge of practical moral wisdom, resting on a knowledge of God", Ropes. Again some commentators try to identify the "wise" as Christian teachers, such that James is addressing a particular situation, but although his words can apply to Christian teachers, his exhortation is general, applying to all believers who live by the principles of "wisdom" (as defined above) in their life.

episthmwn adj. "understanding" - [and] understanding. Probably to be taken synonymously with "wise", cf. Deut.1:13,15, ...

en + dat. "among" - in = among [you]. Expressing association, as NIV.

deixatw (deiknumi) aor. imp. "let him show" - let him demonstrate, prove / explain, make clear. The sense is probably more like "reveal the character of", rather than "demonstrate / give proof of / evidence of" it, ie., "reveal" rather than "prove". "Then your lives will be an example of ...", Phillips.

"it" - This addition to the text is somewhat misleading. Is the wise man supposed to show "it", namely, that he is wise? The idea that the wise man should prove his wisdom by his good life and / or reveal it in humility, may be present, so Dibelius, but it is not actually what James says. Rather, the wise man should show [out of good lifestyle] "his works". Something like "let him evidence, in the good of his life, works", ie., rather than sprouting wisdom, how about doing it!!! The idea is probably parallel to James' claim that "faith without works is a dead thing".

ek + gen. "by" - out of, from. Sometimes with an instrumental sense, expressing means, so "by good conduct", but source / origin is the more likely sense, "from a good life ...", NJB.

thV .... anastrofhV (h) "[his good] life" - the = his [good] lifestyle, way of life, conduct.

ta erga (on) "by the deeds done" - the works [of him]. As already noted in James, "works" is generally understood as "works of the law", with, of course, the law now inclusive of NT ethics encapsulated in the law of love; "deeds done in accordance with the will of God".

en + dat. "in" - in [gentleness, meekness, mildness]. "Gentleness", as apposed to arrogance. The intended sense is somewhat unclear, but probably the preposition is adverbial, modal, expressing manner, modifying the verbal noun "works": "let him reveal, by the good of his life, works done with gentleness."

sofiaV (a) "that comes from wisdom" - of wisdom. The genitive is probably ablative expressing source / origin, as NIV, "a humility that itself is the product, or result, of wisdom", Moo, but adjectival, attributive, is possible, "wise gentleness."


"True wisdom simply does not exist along with jealousy and selfish ambition. Something else is present, not wisdom", Hamann. "Don't be arrogant and so promote the lie that selfish party-spirit is a product of God's wisdom."

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point, as NIV.

ei + ind. "if" - if. Introducing a conditional clause, 1st class, where the condition is assumed to be true for argument sake; "if, as is the case .... then ..."

zhlon pikron "bitter envy" - [you have] bitter jealousy. Accusative direct object of the verb "to have." These two words, along with "strife", "paraphrase a contentious attitude", so Dibelius, as opposed to "humility / gentleness". "Bitter" is possibly "contentious", Adamson, and "envy" may well be "zeal", Ropes, giving us the sense "fanatical ardor".

epiqeian (a) "selfish ambition" -[and] selfishness, hostility, rivalry. Hort goes too far when he defines the word as "the vice of a leader of a party created for his own pride; it is partly ambition, partly rivalry", although he is supported somewhat by BAGD "a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means". Calvin suggests "quarrels" (taken from eriV, "strife / discord"), and a "quarrelsome spirit" may well be in James' mind.

en + dat. "in [your hearts]" - in [the heart of you]. Local, expressing space, metaphorical; the place where the action occurs.

mh katakaucasqe (katakaucaomai) pres. imp. "do not boast about it" - do not boast, be boastful. Probably, "do not be arrogant", cf., Barclay.

yeudesqe (yeudomai) pres. imp. "[or] deny" - [and] lie, be false [against (kata, here expressing opposition) the truth]. The sense of "lie against the truth" is unclear. Most commentators, eg., Ropes, Mayor, Laws, Davids ... understand the statement as a claim to be wise when in fact one is foolish. A rewrite is possible, although always dangerous, "do not boast in defiance of the truth", Dibelius. James is critical of those who claim "wisdom" of the divine kind, but who are quarrelsome and arrogant. As far as James is concerned, their "boast" is a lie, it is against the truth (ie., the prepositional phrase stands in apposition to "lie"), it is against the wisdom that expresses itself in gentleness.


Wisdom exercised independently of God's authority "is characterized by the world, the flesh, and the devil", Moo. Such wisdom is "earthly", ie., not from above, but rather earthbound, inferior, it "bears the stamp of the world", Adamson. It is "unspiritual", ie., sensual, devoid of the Spirit. It is "of the devil", demonic, instigated by Satan.

auJth "Such" - this [is not]. Either attributive, "this wisdom is not", as NIV, or a predicative, "this is not the wisdom".

hJ sofia "wisdom" - the wisdom. Predicate nominative. The NIV's quotation-marks identifies the wisdom that shows itself in envy and selfish ambition, as against the wisdom that is from above.

ouk estin ..... katercomenh (katercomai) pres. part. "does not come down [from heaven]" - coming down [from above]. The participle, with the verb to-be, may form a present paraphrastic, as NIV, but it could also be adjectival, "this is not the wisdom which comes down from above", Moffatt. The sense is that this wisdom is not approved by God, or possibly not from God, given that true wisdom is a gift of God.

alla "but" - but. Strong adversative in a counterpoint construction; "not ....., but.....".

epigeioV adj. "earthly" - it is the wisdom that is earthly. James uses three adjectives to describe the wisdom which is not from above. The adjectives are compounding, each describing an increasingly negative aspect of this wisdom. "Earthbound", Johnson.

yucikh adj. "unspiritual" - natural, unspiritual. Predicate adjective. "Used in the sense of one who has not been awakened to the truth of God in Christ, who does not know the renewing power of God's Spirit", Mitton.

daimoniwdhV adj. "of the devil" - demonic. Predicate adjective. "Is demon-inspired", Barclay, or "demon-like", Martin.


Worldly wisdom, expressed in fanaticism and a quarrelsome spirit, produces "disharmony and all other kinds of evil", Phillips. Such wisdom does not build up the body of believers, rather it results in "disorder" (anarchy) and "evil practice", ie., promotes everything that is worthless rather than good.

gar "for" - for. Introducing a causal clause explaining why such wisdom is not of God, namely, because of the consequential evidence, namely, disorder and evil practice.

oJpou "where" - where [there is jealousy and selfishness]. Locative conjunction.

akatastasia (a) "disorder" - [there is] confusion. "Disorder / disturbance / trouble", Ropes.

pan faulon pragma "every evil practice" - [and] all evil deeds. "All manner of evil practice", Martin, is a catch-all. "Evil practice", possibly "wickedness", NRSV, "cruel things", CEV.


James now tells us about the wisdom that is divine in origin, in contrast to earthly wisdom. He doesn't actually say what heavenly wisdom is, but rather he describes its results. These results are very similar to Paul's fruit of the Spirit, Gal.5:22-23. In fact, it is quite possible that James' "wisdom" is actually akin to the "Spirit" - a very Jewish idea. A believer needs to submit to the wise rule of God through the Spirit of God for the renewal of the mind. The practical consequences are easily observed: peaceable; considerate; gentle; non-combative - able to yield to persuasion; merciful; loving; impartial - "not given to party spirit" NASB; sincere - "without show or pretense", Mayor.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrast, to the other type of wisdom; "but on the other hand ..." "In contrast, the wisdom that does come down from heaven", Martin.

prwton adv. "first of all" - [the wisdom from above is] first. Serving to introduce a series; "Divinely inspired wisdom in the first place is a virtue marked by ..."

men "-" - The adversative comparative men ... de construction is missing the de which should properly follow agnh, "pure"; "..... marked by, but on the one hand purity and on the other peace ...." Here de is replaced by epeita, "then", indicating a series where the elements are not adversative. This reflects classical usage, cf., Mayor. The presence of this construction indicates that "pure" is the primary characteristic, an inward spiritual quality, which shows itself in a series of outward qualities, "peace-loving", etc.

agnh adj. "pure" - Predicate adjective. Here in the sense of partaking the divine quality of purity, "partakes of a characteristic of God", Davids.

epeita adv. "then" - Setting up the series of outward qualities that flow from "peace".

eirhnikh adj. "peace-loving" - peaceable. Predicate adjective. That quality which is "incompatible with jealousy and selfish ambition", Laws.

epieikhV adj. "considerate" - forbearing. Predicate adjective. "Reasonable / considerate / moderate / gentle", Ropes; "humane", Adamson.

eupeiqhV adj. "submissive" - open to reason. Predicate adjective which is a hapax legomenon, once only use in the NT. "Tractable", Dibelius, "he who heeds one who is giving proper advice and follows willingly."

eleouV (oV) gen. "[full of] mercy" - The genitive "of mercy", as with "good fruit" (although "good fruits" may serve to explain "mercy", or may even be the product of "mercy", so Dibelius, Davids, eg., alms), functions adjectivally, idiomatic / of content, after the adjective mesth, "full of."

karpwn agaqwn gen. "good fruit" - [and] good-fruits. This agricultural image most likely refers to moral behavior - loving kindness. "It produces a rich crop of kindly acts", Barclay.

adiakritoV adj. "impartial" - without partiality. Predicate adjective. Being a hapax legomenon, the meaning is unclear, but something like "not being prejudicial". Possibly "straightforward", NEB, or better "making no distinctions", RV; "without partiality", Mitton; "with no breath of favoritism", Phillips.

anupokritoV adj. "sincere" - sincere, unhypocritical. Predicate adjective. "Untainted by hypocrisy", Adamson.


Instruction #8: True wisdom is marked by peace, v18. Those whose goodness is marked by peace, work for peace. Peacemakers will receive a harvest of righteousness. Here we have another example of an independent saying stitched to a thematic unit, this time with the particle de. This is most likely James' work, so Dibelius, rather than a later add-on, so Blackman. As with these stitched sayings, there is not much flow in the argument, but the thematic link is obvious (note the usual link word, here "peace"). As Adamson notes, "the exact meaning is difficult". The NRSV probably best captures the sense: "And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for (by) those who make peace."

toiV poiousin (poiew) pres. part. dat. "peacemakers" - [but/and the fruit of righteousness in peace is sown by] the ones making [peace]. The participle serves as a substantive, dative of advantage, "for", Martin, Moo, Mayor, Laws, "for peaceable people", Dibelius, or agency, "by", Davids, Adamson, Mitton, Adam. Agency does produce a tautology, but James is probably using this for effect. "Who are those who in fact are doing justly? Those who make for peace, who do their just acts in a peaceful way", Davids.

speiretai (speirw) pres. pas. "who sow" - is sown. "Peace" could go with "righteousness" giving the sense "the fruit of righteousness in / which consists of peace", but it is best taken with the verb "is sown", "is sown in peace". "Plant seeds of peace", CEV.

en + dat. "in [peace]" - The dative is adverbial, expressing manner, "with peace / peacefully", but possibly instrumental, expressing means.

dikaiosunhV (h) gen. "[the harvest] of righteousness" - [fruit] of righteousness. "Righteousness" here with the more general sense of "conduct which is pleasing to God", Martin, Moo. As usual, the genitive "of righteousness" prompts numerous translations: adjectival, epexegetic, explaining the nature of the fruit, so Hort, Mayor, Johnson, Davids ..., "the fruit which is (which consists of) righteousness"; appositional, "the fruit, consisting of / namely righteousness" = "the fruit is wisdom itself", Laws; attributive, limiting "fruit", "righteous fruit"; verbal, objective, "the seeds that produce the fruit of godliness", Junkins; or possibly ablative, source / origin, so Ropes, "the harvest which righteousness yields", Cassirer.


James Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]