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James 4

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Friendship with the World Pride Promotes Strife The Contrast Between Godliness and Worldliness Friendship with the World Disunity Among Christians
    (4:1-5:6)    
4:1-10 4:1-6 4:1-10 4:1-6 4:1-3
  Humility Cures Worldliness     4:4-10
  4:7-10   4:7-10  
Judging a Brother Do Not Judge A Brother   Warning Against Judging One Another  
4:11-12 4:11-12 4:11-12 4:11-12 4:11
        4:12
Warning Against Boasting Do Not Boast About Tomorrow   Warning Against Boasting A Warning for the Rich and Self-Confident
        (4:13-5:6)
4:13-17 4:13-17 4:13-5:6 4:13-16 4:13-5:6
      4:17  

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHT INTO JAMES 4:1-10

A. The diatribe (literary technique of using a supposed objector to present the author's message) of previous sections continues in James 4:1-10 with two rhetorical questions in v. 1.

 

B. This chapter deals with Christians' struggle with their fallen natures, exacerbated by the influence of worldly wisdom in the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 1-2). This may relate to the rivalry of church leaders (teachers, cf. 1 Corinthians 3)) of chapter 3, whose actions influence all Christians.

 

C. This section reflects Christians' continuing struggle with their fallen natures. Christians are addressed in such terms as "adulteresses," "sinners," and "double-minded." The three enemies of mankind are listed in this section.

1. fallen nature (vv. 1,2, and possibly 5)

2. the world system (v. 4)

3. the devil (v. 7)

These three enemies also appear in Ephesians 2:2-3 (cf. W. T. Conner, Christian Doctrine, pp. 248-249).

D. The Jerome Biblical Commentary outlines these verses as (1) root causes of conflict (vv. 1-6) and (2) remedies (vv. 7-10) (p. 374). This is a valid way to outline this section. It is related to the improper use of the tongue as in chapter 3.

 

E. Verse 5 is very ambiguous because

1. The Scriptural referent is uncertain

2. The original reading is uncertain (see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary On the Greek NT, p. 683)

a. The causative form, katōkisev, which would mean God has caused His Spirit to be in believers (in MSS P74, א, A, B).

b. The intransitive form, katōkēsev, which would mean the Spirit indwells believers (in MSS K, L, P). 

3. The punctuation is uncertain

a. One question leading to an unknown quote in NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB, NAB (possibly from a lost Jewish apocalyptic writing)

b. Two questions leading to the OT quote (Pro. 3:34 from the Septuagint) in v. 6 in ASV, Moffatt and Phillips translations

4. The meaning of "jealously desires" is uncertain

a. God yearns for His Spirit to guide believers' lives (Exod. 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 6:14-15). This would mean a positive connotation, "zealous" or "jealous" and a capital "s" Spirit.

b. Mankind's fallen nature yearns for world pleasures (cf. Rom. 8:1-8). This would mean a negative connotation, "envy" and a small "s" spirit.

5. The verse may refer to

a. God's jealous love for believers' complete allegiance to Him

b. Mankind's total corruption (v. 5), but God's grace (v. 6) (cf. TEV).

 

F. In verses 7-10 there is a series of ten aorist imperatives which denote urgent commands. This structure reminds one of the OT wisdom teachers and the rhetoric of the OT prophets.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:1-10
 1What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us?" 6But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 7Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

4:1 "What is the source. . .is not the source" The conflict within the believer and within the church are not from God! They are (second question expects a "yes" answer) from the fallen aspect of the human experience (i.e., Gen. 3; 6:11-12, 13).

Believers, too, must be on constant guard (cf. Romans 7-8)! At salvation the intensified spiritual battle truly begins!

The "tongue" of 3:5 has set the church on fire!

1. attack each other (vv. 1,11)

2. pray inappropriately (vv. 2-3)

3. judge each other (v. 11)

4. use arrogant, self-directing sayings (vv. 13,16)

 

▣ "quarrels and conflicts" These are military terms with slightly different connotations. The first term (polemos) refers to an entire military campaign, while the second (maxē) refers to an individual battle. The NJB translation tries to combine these usages: "Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Is it not precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves?" Both are used here and in v. 2 metaphorically of strife within individual Christians (cf. 2 Cor. 7:5), while in 2 Tim. 2:23 and Titus 3:9 they refer to conflict within congregations.

▣ "pleasures" This same word is repeated in verse 3. From this Greek word we get the English term "hedonism," which is a passion for self gratification, pleasure, or position at any cost! This term is only used three other times in the NT, Luke 8:14; Titus 3:3; and 2 Pet. 2:13. It is always used in a negative sense.

NASB"wage war"
NKJV, NRSV"war"
TEV"constantly fighting"
NJB"fighting"

This is a present middle participle which emphasizes the emotional struggle within believers (cf. Romans. 7). It is literally the term "soldiering." From this Greek term we get the term "strategy" (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11).

▣ "in your members" Our physical bodies are not evil, nor the source of evil (Greek thought), but they are the battle ground of evil (cf. Rom. 6:12-14). This was a major ontological difference between Greek philosophy and biblical Christianity. 

It is just possible the "members" may refer to the body of Christ, the Church. It is uncertain whether the warning is (1) internal (fallen nature); (2) external (problem in the church); or (3) both.

4:2 The punctuation of this verse is uncertain. There is an intended two or threefold parallelism. The thrust of the verse is that we desire things which we cannot obtain so we resort to violent acts in order to get them instead of asking God and trusting in His provision.

The NT offers modern readers a window into the diversity and divisiveness of the early church. The book of Romans reveals tensions between believing Jewish and believing Gentile leadership in the Roman Church. The book of I Corinthians reveals the party spirit in the Corinthian Church. Colossians reveals the struggle with Gnosticism (cf. Col. 2:14-26). Here James reveals the internal struggle of lust and the external struggle of criticism and judgmentalism among the Jewish Christian congregations of the Greco-Roman world.

▣ "lust" This term means "to desire," "to set one's heart upon something." That something can be good or evil. Usually in the NT the term has a negative connotation. It is possible, in context, that the things desired were not evil in themselves but became evil in the person's willingness to obtain them by any and every means apart from God's will.

▣ "murder" In his second edition of the Greek New Testament (a.d. 1519), Erasmus changed the Greek word to "envy." They are similar and the cognate nouns formed from these verbs "murder" and "envy" are confused in the Greek manuscript variations of 1 Pet. 2:1. This solution to the problem of v. 2 has been adopted by Luther and the modern translations by Moffatt and Phillips and the New International Commentary. There is no Greek manuscript support for this emendation in James!

The term may be used in the sense of "hate," like Matt. 5:21-26, as a means of comparison. James often alludes to Jesus' teachings in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 5-7).

▣ "envious" This Greek term, like "lust," is a neutral term and can be used of "zeal" or "strong desire."

4:2-3 "ask" Un-Christlike motives and lack of prayer are two reasons why Christians often experience unfruitful lives. Often we use prayer as an attempt to obtain our will, not God's. In this attitude the worst thing that God could do for us would be to answer our self-centered prayers!

Prayer is a powerful weapon in Christians' battle against evil (cf. Eph. 6:18-19). I believe that the sovereign God has chosen to limit Himself to the appropriate prayers of His children. Believing, Christ-like prayer affects God, us, and situations. Oh, the tragedy of a prayerless Christian! Oh, the tragedy of a proof-texted promise out of context (cf. Matt. 7:7-11).

SPECIAL TOPIC: PRAYER, UNLIMITED YET LIMITED

4:4 "adulteresses" This is a feminine form. This could refer to (1) literal adultery, (2) but it is probably an OT metaphor for spiritual adultery (examples: Isa. 54:4-8; Jer. 3:20; Hos. 9:1; Matt. 12:39; 16:4). The KJV adds "and adulterers" because the translators understood the term literally, but this is not found in the most ancient uncial manuscripts (א*, A, B) or the Vulgate (Latin), Peshitta (Syriac), or Coptic (Egyptian) versions. It is found in a later corrected copy of Sinaiticus (אc) and many later Greek manuscripts (mostly minuscules). The UBS4 gives the shorter reading an "A" rating (certain).

▣ "friendship with the world" The term "world" is often used metaphorically of "human society, organized and functioning apart from God" (cf. 1:27; 3:6; Matt. 6:24; John 15:19; 1 John 2:15-17). See Special Topic at 1:27. Even Christian prayer can exhibit "worldly" attitudes and characteristics.

4:5 Verse 5 is very ambiguous because (repeated from Contextual Insights)

1. The Scriptural referent is uncertain.

2. The original reading is uncertain

a. the causative form, katōkisev, which would mean God has caused His Spirit to be in believers (in MSS P74, א, A, B).

b. the intransitive form, katōkēsev, which would mean the Spirit indwells believers (in MSS K, L, P). 

3. The punctuation is uncertain

a. one question leading to an unknown quote in NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB, NAB (possibly from a lost Jewish apocalyptic writing)

b. two questions leading to the OT quote (Pro. 3:34 from the Septuagint) in v. 6 in ASV, Moffatt and Phillips translations

4. The meaning of "jealously desires" is uncertain

a. God yearns for His Spirit to guide believers' lives to worship Him and Him alone (Exod. 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 6:14-15; Rom. 8:26-27). This would mean a positive connotation—"zealous" or "jealous" and a capital "s" Spirit.

b. mankind's fallen nature yearns for worldly pleasures (cf. Rom. 8:1-8). This would mean a negative connotation—"envy" and a small "s" spirit.

5. The verse may refer to

a. God's jealous love for believers' complete allegiance to Him

b. mankind's total corruption (v. 5), but God's grace (v. 6, cf. TEV).

 

4:6 "But He gives a greater grace" In respect to mankind's sin problem, which seems to interpret v. 5 in a negative sense, God gives even more grace (cf. Rom. 5:20-21). This phrase should not be turned into an item of systematic theology, but a literary emphasis.

▣ "God is opposed to the proud" This is from Pro. 3:34 in the Septuagint (cf. 1 Pet. 5:5-6). The spiritual battle lines have been drawn. The term "proud" comes from two Greek words: "above" and "to show oneself." This relates to the haughty teachers of 3:14-16.

▣ "but gives grace to the humble" This relates to the teachers with godly wisdom of 3:17-18. It is also a general principle.

4:7 "Submit therefore to God" This is an aorist passive imperative. This is a military term which means "to align oneself under authority" (cf. Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:13). Notice the twin aspects of submission (to God) and resistance (to evil). The first verbal form (aorist passive imperative) implies that believers must allow God to enable them to submit in a completed way to His will. (I must mention here that the passive voice was replacing the middle voice in Koine Greek. This text and 4:10 and 5:19 may be explained by this grammatical transition). The second verbal form (aorist active imperative) implies that the believer must combine God's work with active participation—resist the devil in a complete way!

SPECIAL TOPIC: SUBMISSION (HUPOTASSŌ)

▣ "Resist the devil" This is an aorist active imperative. This is literally "take a stand against" (cf. Eph. 6:13; 1 Pet. 5:9).

SPECIAL TOPIC: PERSONAL EVIL

▣ "he will flee from you" Satan will flee before God's provision (cf. Eph. 6:11-18) and our faith, but only for a season (cf. Luke 4:13).

4:8 "Draw near to God" This is an aorist active imperative. This verse reflects OT regulations for the priests that now are applicable to all believers (cf. Exod. 19:22). The collective title for the OT Levitical priests has now been transferred to all of the NT saints (cf. 1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6). Notice the covenantal reciprocal requirement—believers draw near and God draws near (cf. 2 Chr. 15:2; Zech. 1:3; Mal. 3:7).

▣ "He will draw near to you" This is not a works-righteousness emphasis, but a promise that God responds to faith (cf. Deut. 4:7; Ps. 145:18).

▣ "Cleanse your hands, you sinners" This is another aorist active imperative. (cf. Ps. 24:3-6; Isa. 1:16). Notice that James calls believers "sinners"! This is OT metaphor that relates to the ceremonial purification worship rites for OT priests (cf. Exod. 30:17-21; Ezek. 44:15). It became an OT idiom for the turning from and removal of sin (cf. Ps. 24:4; 26:6). The "hand" becomes a revealer of the "heart." We become what we think, what we dwell on mentally. Believers need to have clean hearts and hands, as well as a single commitment to God (which is the exact opposite of a double-minded person, cf. 1:8; 4:5).

There is a good article on "Washing Hands" in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, pp. 362-3.

▣ "purify your hearts" This is another aorist active imperative. This is not just outward ceremonial cleansing but inward spiritual cleansing (cf. Jer. 4:14; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 John 3:3). The covenant has requirements! See Special Topic: The Heart at 1:26.

▣ "you double-minded" This same descriptive term is used of believers with unanswered prayers in 1:5-8. Here it is used of believers again. James is clearly asserting that believers' motives and lifestyles make a real difference in the way one experiences the Christian life. Peace, security, joy, and effectiveness are not automatic.

4:9 "Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning" These are four aorist imperatives (the first three are aorist active and the last one aorist passive). Collectively they refer to the need for spiritual mourning over sin like Matt. 5:3-9. This is a Hebraic way of referring to a repentant attitude and lifestyle (i.e., Isa. 32:11-12). This sorrow must be balanced with the joy of 1:2 and 5:13. Somehow Christianity is both!

4:10 "Humble yourselves" The form is an AORIST PASSIVE IMPERATIVE but used in the sense of a MIDDLE VOICE (notice the English translation, cf. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:6). This may reflect the teachings of Jesus (cf. Matt. 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14) and/or possibly an OT allusion to Isa. 57:15. Believers' humility and repentance invoke a promised covenantal response from YHWH.

NASB"in the presence of the Lord"
NKJV"in sight of the Lord"
NRSV, TEV,
NJB"before the Lord"

This is a Hebrew idiom for (1) a worship service (cf. Deut. 33:10); or (2) the Lord's personal knowledge (cf. Gen. 19:13; Judg. 18:6). Since this is not a worship service setting but an emphasis on a repentant attitude, #2 fits best.

"and He will exalt you" This also is an idiom meaning

1. God will raise up your spirit and give you joy

2. God will exalt you among your peers (cf. vv. 11-12; Matt. 23:12)

3. physical safety (cf. Job 5:11; 22:29)

Notice, victory comes through repentance and humility!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Does this chapter reflect the attitude and actions of believers or their unbelieving Jewish co-worshipers?

2. List the three enemies of mankind. Define them (cf. Eph. 2:2-3)

a.

b.

c.

3. Explain in your own words the different ways that verse 2 has been understood. Check several English translations.

4. Read verse 5 in several English translations and note the differences.

5. What does James want from us in verses 7-10?

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHT INTO JAMES 4:11-17

A. James 4:11-12 seems to form some type of closing summary about the improper use of the tongue. The topic is introduced in 1:19 but is developed in 3:1ff.

B. James 4:17 is also some type of closing summary, but its exact relevance to the context is uncertain. A. T. Robertson says it is the key summary verse of the entire letter.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:11-12
 11Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

4:11 "Do not speak against one another" This is a present imperative with a negative particle, which usually means to stop an act that is in process. The Tyndale translation has "backbiting," possibly because this same word is used in this sense in the LXX of Ps. 50:20. The church had/has been guilty of this (cf. 5:9; 2 Cor. 12:20; 1 Pet. 2:1).

▣ "brethren. . .brother. . .brother" See notes at 1:2 and 1:9.

▣ "judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law" A judgmental attitude among Christians is a major spiritual problem (cf. Lev. 19:16,17-18; Matt. 7:1ff; Luke 6:36-38; Rom. 14:1-12). The term "law" here seems to refer to "the law of love" mentioned in 1:25; 2:8,12.

▣ "you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it" In James 1:22 we are told to be doers, not just hearers; here we are told to be lovers, not judges.

4:12 "one Lawgiver and Judge" "One" is placed first in the Greek for emphasis. This is another reference to monotheism, as in 2:19 and probably an allusion to Deut. 6:4. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY at Jude v. 20.

▣ "One who is able to save and to destroy" This phrase is often used of God the Father (cf. Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4-5). In the OT all causality is attributed to YHWH. This was a theological way of asserting monotheism (cf. Deut. 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6-7; 2 Kgs. 5:7).

▣ "who are you who judge your neighbor" This is an emphatic statement (cf. Rom. 14:3-4,10,13). Judging, criticizing, or comparing makes one look better at another's expense. This is another inappropriate use of the tongue.

In v. 11 James addresses his readers as "brothers" and the object of their criticism as "brothers" (see note at 1:2). This obviously refers to a Christian setting (see note at 1:9), but by using "neighbor" (cf. 2:8) in v. 12, he widens the specific admonition into a general command.

SPECIAL TOPIC: JUDGING (SHOULD CHRISTIANS JUDGE ONE ANOTHER?)

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:13-17
 13Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." 14Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." 16But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

4:13 "Come now, you who say" It is uncertain to which group of recipients this refers: (1) unbelieving Jews; (2) believing Jews; or (3) a continuing diatribe with a supposed dissenter or objector.

▣ "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit" This refers to the specific plans of Jewish businessmen who do not take God into account. It is a glaring example of practical atheism.

4:14 This seems to relate to Pro. 27:1. This truth is also stated in Jesus' parable of Luke 12:16-21, called "the Rich Fool."

NASB, NKJV"vapor"
NRSV, NJB"mist"
TEV"like a puff of smoke"

We get the English word "atmosphere" from this Greek word (atmis). The frailty and fleetingness of human life is often alluded to in the Bible as:

1. a shadow (cf. Job 8:9; 14:2; Ps. 102:11; 109:23)

2. a breath (cf. Job 7:7.16)

3. a cloud (cf. Job 7:9; 30:15)

4. a wild flower (cf. Ps. 103:15; Isa. 40:6-8; 1 Pet. 1:24)

5. vanity or mist (cf. Eccl. 1:2,14; 2:1,11,15,17,19,21,23,26; 3:19; 4:4,7,8,16; 5:7,10; 6:2,4,9,22; 7:6,15; 8:10,14; 9:9; 11:8,10; 12:8).

 

"that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" These are two Present participles that sound alike: "appears" (phainomenē) and "vanishes away" (aphanizomenē). Human plans come and go; only God's plan remains.

4:15 "If" This is a third class conditional sentence, which means potential action, but with a contingency.

▣ "the Lord wills" This type of phrase is used often by NT writers (cf. Acts 18:21; Rom. 1:10; 15:32; 1 Cor. 4:19; 16:7; Heb. 6:3; 1 Pet. 3:17). The biblical worldview attributes all knowledge and direction to God. This is a NT idiom affirming monotheism and should not be taken as a theological determinism. Believers know and assert that God is involved in their lives, but this does not link God to evil, tragedy, and random natural acts of violence. We live in a spiritually fallen and "cursed" world. This is not the world that God intended it to be! He is still active in His creation, but there is mystery in the how and why of individual actions and lives.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE WILL (thelēma) OF GOD

4:16

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV"you boast in your arrogance"
TEV"you are proud and you boast"
NJB"how boastful and loud-mouthed you are"

Human plans apart from God are empty and vain as are human pride and boasting (cf. John 15:5; Rom. 14:8).

▣ "all such boasting is evil" Paul states this same truth in 1 Cor. 5:2 and 6. Mankind's problem from the beginning has been a desire for independence from God. Life apart from God is sin and rebellion. See SPECIAL TOPIC: BOASTING at 1:9.

4:17 This seems to be a significant independent summary statement, unrelated to the immediate context. This refers to the sins of omission (cf. Matt. 25:35-40). This may reflect the cryptic sayings of Jesus on the relationship between knowledge and sin (cf. Matt. 23:23; Luke 12:47; John 9:41; 15:22,24). In many ways it sounds like Rom. 14:23.

Robert B. Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old Testament has an interesting remark on this verse:

"An important definition of sin is given by St. James—'to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin' (4. 17). It would seem to be implied that where there is no knowledge of what is right or wrong there is no sin; and with this agree the words of our Lord to the Pharisees, 'If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth' (John 9.41). The profession of knowledge involved responsibility, and caused the Pharisees to be condemned, out of their own mouth, as sinners. Absolute ignorance is excusable, even though it is a missing of the mark, but negligence is not (see Heb. 2:3)" (p. 85).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is judging among Christians such a serious sin?

2. Why is the frailty of human life such a recurring biblical theme?