Expositor's Greek Testament
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?Jam 4:1 ff. These verses reveal an appalling state of moral depravity in these Diaspora congregations; strife, self-indulgence, lust, murder, covetousness, adultery, envy, pride and slander are rife; the conception of the nature of prayer seems to have been altogether wrong among these people, and they appear to be given over wholly to a life of pleasure. It must have been terrible for the writer to contemplate such a sink of iniquity. On the assumption, therefore, of unity of authorship for this Epistle, it is absolutely incomprehensible how, in view of such an awful state of affairs, the writer could commence his Epistle with the words: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations”. It is held by some that the writer is, in part, using figurative language; thus, Mayor and Knowling do not think that the adultery referred to is meant literally; but in view of the mention of the “pleasures that war in your members,” and of the injunctions “Cleanse your hands,” “Purify your hearts,” it is difficult to believe that the writer is speaking figuratively. Is one to regard the words in Jam 2:11 (“For he that saith, Do not commit adultery, said also Do not kill …”) as figurative also? And Jam 1:14-15? Cf. Acts 15:20; Acts 15:29. Moreover, it is one of the characteristics of the writer that he speaks straight to the point. It is true that in the O.T. adultery is sometimes used in a figurative sense, meaning unfaithfulness to Jahwe; but it is well to remember that such a use is quite exceptional; out of the thirty-one passages in which adultery is spoken of, in only five is a figurative sense found. In the N.T. there are only two possible cases of a figurative use apart from the verse before us (Matthew 12:39 = Matthew 16:4, Mark 8:38). The word “to commit fornication” (זנה) occurs oftener, in the O.T., in a figurative sense; but in comparison with the vastly larger instances of a literal sense, the former must be regarded as exceptional. But even granting that this particular word is figuratively used, there is still a terrible list of other sins, the meaning of which cannot be explained away; these are more than sufficient to bear witness to the truly awful moral condition of those to whom the Epistle is addressed. On the assumption of an early date for our Epistle, the low state of morals here depicted is extremely difficult to account for. In a community which had recently received and accepted the new faith, with its very high ideals, one would naturally look for some signs of new-born zeal, some conception of the meaning of Christianity, some reflex of the example of the Founder; religious strife, owing to a mistaken zeal, one can understand; isolated cases of moral delinquency are almost to be expected; but the collective wickedness of a newborn Christian community,—this would be quite incomprehensible; and it is clear from the verses before us that the writer is not singling out exceptions. In a second or third generation the community living among heathen surroundings might conceivably become so contaminated as to have lost its genuinely Christian character; with the lapse of years there is an inevitable tendency to deteriorate, until a new spirit of discipline is infused. It seems more in accordance with known facts, and with commonsense, to regard the people to whom this Epistle (or part of it) was addressed as those who had deteriorated from the high ideal set by their fathers and grandfathers, and to see in the writer one who sought to inspire a new sense of discipline and morals into the hearts of his Jewish-Christian brethren.
Jam 4:1-10 form a self-contained whole, dealing with the general state of moral depravity in the community (presumably the writer has more particularly one community in view), and ending with a call to repentance. Jam 4:11-12 form another independent section, belonging in substance to Jam 2:1-13. Jam 4:13-17 form again a separate section without any reference to what precedes or follows.
Jam 4:1. πόλεμοι καὶ μάχαι: the former refers to the permanent state of enmity, which every now and then breaks out into the latter; like war and battles.—ἐν ὑμῖν: comprehensive.—ἐντεῦθεν: lays special stress on the place of origin, which is seen in the following words: ἐκ τῶν ἡδονῶν ὑμῶν: ἡδοναί is sometimes used of the lusts of the flesh, e.g., in the Letter of Aristeas (Swete, Intro. to O.T. in Greek, p. 567), in answer to the question: “Why do not the majority of men take possession of virtue”? it is said: “Ὅτι φυσικῶς ἅπαντες ἀκρατεῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς ἡδονὰς f1τρεπόμενοι γεγόνασιν. Cf. 4Ma 6:35; Luke 8:14; Titus 3:3; 2 Peter 2:13.—τῶν στρατευομένων ἐν τοῖς μέλεσιν ὑμῶν: the same thought is found in 1 Peter 2:11, παρακαλῶ ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν σαρκικῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν αἵτινες στρατεύονται κατὰ τῆς ψυχῆς, cf. Romans 7:23; 1 Corinthians 9:7.
Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.Jam 4:2-3. ἐπιθυμεῖτε καὶ οὐκ ἔχετε …: It must be confessed that these verses are very difficult to understand; we have, on the one hand, lusting and coveting, murdering and fighting; and, on the other hand, praying. Murdering and fighting are the means used in order to obtain that which is coveted; yet in the same breath it is said that the reason why the coveted things are not obtained is because they are not asked for! Is it intended to be understood that this lust (in the sense, of course, of desiring) and covetousness are not gratified only because they had not been prayed for, or not properly prayed for? This is what the words mean as they stand; but can it ever be justifiable to pray for what is evil? There is something extraordinarily incongruous in the whole passage, which defies explanation if the words are to be taken in their obvious meaning. Only one thing seems clear, and that is a moral condition which is hopelessly chaotic.—Carr says that “these two verses are among the examples of poetical form in this Epistle”; perhaps this gives the key to the solution of the problem. It may be that we have in the whole of these Jam 4:1-10 a string of quotations, not very skilfully strung together—a kind of “Stromateis”—taken from a variety of authorities, in order to make this protest against a disgraceful state of affairs more emphatic and authoritative.—φονεύετε: the reading φθονεῖτε cannot be entertained if any regard is to be paid to MS. authority; even if accepted it would not really simplify matters much.—ζηλοῦτε: refers rather to persons, ἐπιθυμεῖτε to things.
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.Jam 4:3. αἰτεῖτε … αἰτεῖσθε: There does not seem to be any difference in meaning between the active and middle here: “If the middle is really the stronger word, we can understand its being brought in just where an effect of contrast can be secured, while in ordinary passages the active would carry as much weight as was needed” (Moulton, op. cit., p. 160); cf. Mark 6:22-25; Mark 10:35-38; 1 John 5:15.—δαπανήσητε: Cf. Luke 15:14; Luke 15:30; Acts 21:24.
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.Jam 4:4. μοιχαλίδες: the weight of evidence is strongly in favour of this reading as against μοιχοὶ καὶ μοιχαλίδες. The depraved state of morals to which the whole section bears witness must in part at least have been due to the wickedness and co-operation of the women, so that there is nothing strange in their being specifically mentioned in connection with that form of sin with which they would be more particularly associated.—οὐκ οἴδατε … καθίσταται: what seems to be in the mind of the writer is John 15:18 ff.… εἰ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου ἦτε, ὁ κόσμος ἂν τὸ ἴδιον ἐφίλει· ὅτι δὲ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμος ἂυ οὐκ ἐστέ, ἀλλʼ ἐγὼ ἐξελεξάμην ὑμᾶς ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου, διὰ τοῦτο μισεῖ ὑμᾶς ὁ κόσμος …—καθίσταται: “is constituted”; cf. the Vulgate constituitur.
Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?Jam 4:5. ἡ γραφὴ λέγει πρὸς φθόνον …: this attributing of personality to Scripture is paralleled, as Lightfoot points out (Galatians 3:8), by the not uncommon Jewish formula of reference מה ראה “Quid vidit”. According to Lightfoot the singular γραφὴ in the N.T. “always means a particular passage of Scripture; where the reference is clearly to the sacred writings as a whole, as in the expressions, ‘searching the Scriptures,’ ‘learned in the Scriptures,’ etc., the plural γραφαί is universally found, e.g., Acts 17:11; Acts 18:24; Acts 18:28.… Ἡ γραφὴ is most frequently used in introducing a particular quotation, and in the very few instances where the quotation is not actually given, it is for the most part easy to fix the passage referred to. The biblical usage is followed also by the earliest fathers. The transition from the ‘Scriptures’ to the ‘Scripture’ is analogous to the transition from τὰ βιβλία to the ‘Bible’ ” (ibid., pp. 147 f.). In the present instance the “Scripture” is nowhere to be found in the O.T.; it is, however, reflected in some Pauline passages, Galatians 5:17; Galatians 5:21, and cf. Romans 8:6; Romans 8:8; 1 Corinthians 3:16 : ἡ γὰρ σὰρξ ἐπιθυμεῖ κατὰ τοῦ πνεύματος, τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα κατὰ τῆς σαρκός (Galatians 5:17); τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ Θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν (1 Corinthians 3:16). It is difficult not to see a Pauline influence in our passage; and what is certainly noteworthy is the fact that the two Agrapha which the Epistle contains (Jam 1:12 and the one before us) are both closely connected with St. Paul, Jam 1:12 = 2 Timothy 4:8; 2 Timothy 4:5 = Galatians 5:17. But that which is conclusive against the “Scripture” here referring to the O.T. is the fact that the doctrine of the Spirit is not found there in the developed form in which it is represented here; the pronounced personality of the Spirit as here used is never found in the O.T. The reference here must be to the N.T., and this is one of the many indications which point to the late date of our Epistle, or parts of it. As early a document as the Epistle of Polycarp (110 A.D.) refers once to the N.T. quotations as “Scripture”; and in the Epistle of Barnabas (about 98 A.D. according to Lightfoot, but regarded as later by most scholars) a N.T. quotation is prefaced by the formula “It is written”.—πρὸς φθόνον ἐπιποθεῖ …: on this very difficult text see, for a variety of interpretations, Mayor’s elaborate note; the best rendering seems to be that of the R.V. margin: “That Spirit which he made to dwell in us yearneth for us even unto jealous envy”. The words witness to the truth that the third Person of the Holy Trinity abides in our hearts striving to acquire the same love for Him on our part which He bears for us. It is a most striking passage which tells of the love of the Holy Spirit, as (in one sense) distinct from that of the Father or that of the Son; in connection with it should be read Romans 8:26-28; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19.
But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.Jam 4:6. μείζονα δὲ δίδωσιν χάριν: these words further emphasise the developed doctrine of the Spirit referred to above; they point to the nature of divine grace, which is almost illimitable. These verses, 5, 6, witness in a striking way to the Christian doctrine of grace, and herein breathe a different spirit from that found in most of the Epistle.—ὁ Θεὸς … χάριν: Cf. Sir 10:7; Sir 10:12; Sir 10:18; Pss. of Sol. 2:25, 4:28; the quotation is also found in 1 Peter 5:5; taken with the preceding it teaches the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Ephrem Syrus quotes this as a saying of Christ’s (Opp. iii. 93 E., ed. Assemani; quoted by Resch, op. cit., p. 199).
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.Jam 4:7. ὑποτάγητε οὖν τῷ θεῷ: Cf. Hebrews 12:9, οὐ πολὺ μᾶλλον ὑποταγησόμεθα τῷ πατρὶ τῶν πνευμάτων καὶ ζήσομεν. It is not a question of subjection either to God or the devil, but rather one of the choice between self-will and God’s will; it is the proud spirit that has to be curbed.—ἀντίστητε δὲ τῷ διαβόλῳ, καὶ φεύξεται ἀφʼ ὑμῶν: the two ideas contained in these words are very Jewish; in the first place, the withstanding of the devil is represented as being within the competence of man; the more specifically Christian way of putting the matter is best seen by comparing the words before us with the two following passages: Luke 10:17, Ὑπέστρεψαν δὲ … λέγοντες· κύριε, καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια ὑποτάσσεται ἡμῖν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου. And the passage in 1 Peter 5:6 ff. which is parallel to the one before us, is prefaced by the words. “Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He careth for you,” and followed by the words, “And the God of all grace … shall Himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you”. The difference between the Jewish and Christian doctrines of grace and freewill here cannot fail to be observed. It is useless to cite the words, “Be subject unto God,” as indicating divine assistance in withstanding the devil, because the subject of thought in either passage is quite independent; the meaning is not that ability to withstand the devil is the result of being subject to God; but two courses of action are enjoined, in each of which man is represented as able to take the initiative.—In the second place, the representation of Satan (the devil) here is altogether Jewish; the Hebrew root from which “Satan” comes (שׂטן) means “to oppose,” or “to act as an adversary”; the idea is very clearly brought out in Numbers 22:22, where the noun is used: And the Angel of Jahwe placed himself in the way for an adversary (literally “for a Satan”). This is precisely the picture represented in the words before us; the ancient Hebrew idea of something in the way is to some extent present in the Greek ὁ διάβολος, from διαβάλλω “to throw across,” i.e., the pathway is impeded (cf. Ephesians 4:27; Ephesians 6:11). Jewish demonology was full of intensely materialistic conceptions; the presence of demons in various guise, or else invisible, was always feared; primarily it was bodily harm that they did; the idea of spiritual evil, as in the passage before us, was later, though both conceptions existed side by side. The words under consideration are possibly an inexact quotation from Test. of the Twelve Patriarchs, Naphth. viii. 4, “If ye work that which is good my children … and the devil shall flee from you”. Knowling quotes an interesting parallel in Hermas, Mand., xii. 5, 2, where in connection with the devil it is said, “If ye resist him he will be vanquished, and will flee from you disgraced”.
Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.Jam 4:8. ἐγγίσατε τῷ θεῷ, καὶ ἐγγίσει ὑμῖν: here, again, we have what to Christian ears sounds rather like a reversal of the order of things; we should expect the order to be that expressed in such words as, “Ye did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). The words before us seem to be a quotation (inexact) from Hosea 12:6 (Sept.), … ἔγγιζε πρὸς τὸν θεόν σου διὰ παντός. The Hebrew phrase נגשׁ אל־ is a technical term for approaching God for the purpose of worship, e.g., Exodus 19:22; Jeremiah 30:21; Ezekiel 44:13. There is an extraordinary passage in Test. of the Twelve Patriarchs, Dan. vi. 1, 2 which runs, “And now, fear the Lord, my children, and beware of Satan and his spirits. Draw near unto God and to the angel that intercedeth for you, for he is a mediator between God and man” (the latter part here is not a Christian interpolation).—καθαρίσατε χεῖρας: Cf. Psalm 24:4, ἀθῷος χερσὶ καὶ καθαρὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ …; in Is. Jam 1:16 we have, λούσασθε, καθαροὶ γένεσθε, and in Sir 38:10, ἀπόστησον πλημμελίαν καὶ εὔθυνον χεῖρας, καὶ ἀπὸ πάσης ἁμαρτίας καθάρισον καρδίαν. In each case it is a metaphorical use of language which otherwise expressed the literal ritual washing; the former, taken from the latter, was in use at least as early as exilic times.—ἁμαρτωλοί: the close connection with this word and the δίψυχοι which follows almost immediately recalls the language in Sir 5:9, … οὕτως ὁ ἁμαρτωλὸς ὁ δίγλωσσος.—ἁγνίσατε καρδίας: the thought of these, as well as of the preceding words, is an adaptation of Psalms 72 (73) 13, Ἄρα ματαίως ἐδικαίωσα τὴν καρδίαν μου, καὶ ἐνιψάμην ἐν ἀθῴοις τὰς χεῖράς μου. The verb ἁγνίζω (התקדשׁ) means originally to sanctify oneself preparatory to appearing before the Lord by separating oneself from everything that might cause uncleanness; the idea of separating oneself is still present in the passage before us, because mourning implied temporary withdrawal from the world and its doings. Mayor quotes in connection with this verse, Hermas, Mand., ix. 7, καθάρισον τὴν καρδίαν σου ἀπὸ τῆς διψυχίας.—δίψυχοι: Cf. Hosea 10:2, and in addition to the passages referred to above, Jam 1:8, cf. Barnabas xix. 5, οὐ μὴ διψυχήσῃς, πότερον ἔσται ἢ οὔ, and the identical words in Did. iv. 4.
Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.Jam 4:9. ταλαιπωρήσατε: ἅπ. λεγ. in N.T. cf. Micah 2:4; Jeremiah 4:13; “undergo hardship”; it was a recognised tenet in Jewish theology that self-inflicted punishment of any kind was a means of reconciliation, e.g., in Mechilta, 76a, the words of Psalm 89:32 (33 in Heb.), I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes, are interpreted to mean that the pain suffered under liberal chastisement is one of the means of reconciliation with God; for instances of how chastisement has reconciled men to God, see Baba mezia, 84 a b.—πενθήσατε καὶ κλαύσατε: these words are found together in 2 Esdras 18:9 (= Nehemiah 8:9); and in Luke 6:25 we have, οὐαὶ ὑμῖν οἱ γελῶντες νῦν, ὅτι πενθήσετε καὶ κλαύσετε. Repentance (תשׁובה) was, according to Jewish teaching, also in itself another of the means of reconciliation.—ὁ γέλως ὑμῶν εἰς πένθος μετατραπήτω: μετατραπ. ἅπ. λεγ. in. N.T.; cf. Amos 8:10, καὶ μεταστρέψω τὰς ἑορτὰς ὑμῶν εἰς πένθος.—καὶ ἡ χαρὰ εἰς κατήφειαν: Cf. Jeremiah 16:9; Proverbs 14:13; the words express the contrast between the loud unseemly gaiety of the pleasure-seeker, and the subdued mien and downcast look of the penitent. κατήφειαν occurs only here in the N.T.; it is often found in Philo.
Jam 4:10. ταπεινώθητε ἐνώπιον Κυρίου καὶ ὑψώσει ὑμᾶς: Cf. Sir 2:17, οἱ φοβούμενοι Κύριον ἑτοιμάσουσι καρδίας αὐτῶν καὶ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ταπεινώσουσι τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν, and cf. Jam 3:18; in the Test. of the Twelve Patriarchs, Jos. xviii. 1, we read, “If ye also, therefore, walk in the commandments of the Lord, my children, He will exalt you there (i.e., on high), and will bless you with good things for ever and ever”. Although the actual word is not mentioned in these Jam 4:7-10, it is obvious that they constitute a call to repentance. Both as establishing a proper relationship towards God, and as a means of bringing about that relationship, the need of repentance had always been greatly insisted on by Jewish teachers; in Pirqe Aboth, e.g., iv. 15, it is said, “Repentance and good works are as a shield against punishment”; and Taylor quotes Berachoth, 17a, “It was a commonplace in the mouth of Raba that, The perfection of wisdom is repentance,” cf. Bereshith Rabba, lxv.; Nedarim, 32b, etc., etc.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.Jam 4:11-12. The subject of these verses, speaking against and judging others, is the same as that of the section Jam 2:1-13; they follow on quite naturally after Jam 4:12-13 of that chapter, while they have nothing to do with the context in which they now stand. They constitute a weaving together of several quotations, much after the style of the section which precedes.
Jam 4:11. Μὴ καταλαλεῖτε ἀλλήλων, ἀδελφοί, etc.: this speaking against one another must be taken together with the judging of one another; it is a question of deciding who is and who is not observing the Torah; some of the brethren were evidently arrogating to themselves the right of settling what did and what did not constitute obedience to the Torah, and those who, according to the idea of the former, were not keeping the Torah, were denounced and spoken against. Difficulties of this kind were bound to be constantly arising in a community of Jewish-Christians; if unnumbered differences of opinion with regard to legal observances was characteristic, as we know it to have been, of Rabbinism, it was the most natural thing in the world for Jewish-Christians to differ upon the extent to which they held the Torah to be binding. The writer of the Epistle is finding fault on two counts; firstly, the fact of the brethren speaking against one another at all, and secondly, their presuming to decide what was and what was not Torah-observance.—καταλαλεῖ νόμου καὶ κρίνει νόμον: the reason why speaking against and judging a brother is equivalent to doing the same to the Law is because the Law has been misinterpreted and misapplied; the Law had, in fact, been maligned; it had been made out to be something that it was not. It is not a general principle, therefore, which is being laid down here, viz.: that speaking against a brother or judging a brother is always necessarily speaking against and judging the Law; these things are breaches of the Law, but not necessarily for that reason denunciation of it; the point here, as already remarked, is a maligning of the Law by making it out to be something that it was not. It is not a general principle, but a specific case, which is referred to here.—εἰ δὲ νόμον κρίνεις, οὐκ εἶ ποιητὴς … κριτής: here again it is a specific case which is referred to; as a general principle the statement would be contrary to fact, for it is possible to give a judgment upon the Law, in the sense of criticising it, or even to denounce it, and yet obey it; the Rabbis were constantly discussing and giving their judgments on points of the Law, and were nevertheless earnest observers of its precepts. When a man misinterpreted the Law, and then acted upon that misinterpretation, and denounced others who did not do likewise, then he was truly not a doer of the Law, but a judge,—and a very bad one too.
There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?Jam 4:12. εἷς ἐστιν νομοθέτης καὶ κριτής; the words are intended to show the arrogant impertinence of those who were judging their neighbours on a misinterpretation of the Law. The word νομοθέτης does not occur elsewhere in the N.T., though νομοθετέω and νομοθεσία do; cf. Psalm 27:11.—ὁ δυνάμενος σῶσαι καὶ ἀπολέσαι: Cf. Matthew 10:28, τὸν δυνάμενον καὶ ψυχὴν καὶ σῶμα ἀπολέσαι ἐν γεέννῃ, and Luke 6:9.—σὺ δὲ τίς εἶ ὁ κρίνων τὸν πλησίον: we find very similar words in Romans 14:4, σὺ τίς εἶ ὁ κρίνων ἀλλότριον οἰκέτην; In Pirqe Aboth, i. 7, we read, “Judge every man in the scale of merit,” i.e., Give every man the benefit of the doubt (Taylor); cf. Shabbath, 127b, “He who thus judges others will thus himself be judged”.
Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:Jam 4:13-17 form an independent section entirely unconnected with what precedes or follows. The section is very interesting as giving a picture of the commercial Diaspora-Jew. The Jews of the Dispersion had, from the outset, to give up agricultural pursuits; since for the most part they congregated in the cities it was commerce in which they engaged chiefly. A good instance of the Diaspora-Jew going from city to city occurs in Josephus, Antiq., xii. 2–5 (160–185), though the period dealt with is far anterior to that of our Epistle. Egypt was, of course, the greatest centre of attraction, and many wealthy Jews were to be numbered among the large Jewish population of Alexandria; Philo speaks of Jewish shipowners and merchants in this city (In Flaccum, viii.). When such Jews embraced Christianity there would be, obviously, no reason for them to give up their calling. It must, however, be confessed that both this section and the following read far more naturally as addressed to Jews than to Jewish-Christians.
Jam 4:13.—Ἄγε: this expression of disapproval occurs only here and in Jam 5:1 in the N.T.; although it is used here and there in the Septuagint, it is the rendering of different Hebrew words; one may compare, though it is not the equivalent of ἄγε, the Aramaic expression of disapproval ייא לכון (“Ah you!” literally “Woe unto you”). Ἄγε is used with either a singular or a plural subject, cf. Jdg 19:6; 2 Kings 4:24.—σήμερον ἢ αὔριον πορευσόμεθα: Cf. Proverbs 27:1, μὴ καυχῶ τὰ εἰς αὔριον, οὐ γὰρ γινώσκεις τί τέξεται ἡ ἐπιοῦσα. There is a Rabbinical saying, in Sanhed., 100b, which runs: “Care not for the morrow, for ye know not what a day may bring forth. Perhaps he may not be [alive] on the morrow, and so have cared for a world that does not exist for him” (quoted by Edersheim, Life and Times, ii. 539); cf. Luke 12:16 ff; Luke 13:32-33.—ἐμπορευσόμεθα: 2 Peter 2:3 is the only other passage in the N.T. in which this word occurs; it means primarily “to travel,” then to travel for the purpose of trading, and finally “to trade” simply.—κερδήσομεν: a rare form; “the Attic is κερδανῶ, with aorist ἐκέρδανα, Ion. and late Attic κερδήσομαι, aorist ἐκέρδησα; the latter occurs often in the N.T.” (Mayor).
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.Jam 4:14. οἵτινες οὐκ ἐπίστασθε τὸ τῆς αὔριον: “Ye are they that know not …”; it is the contrast between the ignorance of men, with the consequent incertitude of all that the morrow may bring forth, and the knowledge of God in accordance with Whose will (cf. ἐὰν ὁ κύριος θελήσῃ in the next verse) all things come to pass.—ποία ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν; “Of what kind is your life”? The reference here is not to the life of the wicked, but to the uncertainty of human life in general; the thought of the ungodly being cut off is, it is true, often expressed in the Bible, but that is not what is here referred to; it is evidently not conscious sin, but thoughtlessness which the writer is rebuking here.—ἀτμὶς γάρ ἐστε: the reading ἐστε, in preference to ἐστι or ἔσται, makes the address more personal; ἀτμὶς is often used for “smoke,” e.g., Acts 2:17; cf. Psalm 102:3 (4), ἐξέλιπον ὡσεὶ καπνὸς αἱ ἡμέραι μου; the word only occurs here in the N.T., in Acts 2:19 it is a quotation from Joel 2:30 (Sept.) Jam 3:3 (Heb.). In Job 7:7 we have μνήσθητι ὅτι πνεῦμά μου ἡ ζωή, cf. Wis 2:4; the rendering “breath” instead of “vapour” does not commend itself on account of the former being invisible, and the point of the words is that man does appear for a little time (πρὸς ὀλίγον φαινομένη) and then disappears, cf. Wis 16:6.—ἀφανιζομένη: the word occurs, though in a different connection, in Sir 45:26.
For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.Jam 4:15. ἀντὶ τοῦ λέγειν ὑμᾶς: “A classical writer would rather have said δέον λέγειν or οἵτινες βέλτιον ἂν εἷπον” (Mayor).—ἐὰν ὁ κύριος θελήσῃ: Cf. Berachoth, 17a, “It is revealed and known before Thee that our will is to do Thy will” (quoted by Taylor, op. cit., p. 29); cf. John 7:17, ἐάν τις θέλῃ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ ποιεῖν, γνώσεται … In the Hebrew commentary on a curious little work called The Book of the Alphabet of Ben Sira there occur the words אם גוזר שׁם, i.e., “If the Name (= God) wills”; and it is said that this formula should never be omitted when a man is about to undertake anything. This passage occurs in the comment on the eleventh proverb of the “Alphabet,” which runs: “The bride enters the bridal chamber and, nevertheless, knows not what will befall her”. The formula, “If the Name wills,” is, according to Ginsberg, of Mohammedan origin, “for the use of formulas was introduced to the Jews by the Mohammedans”. The formula is, of course, not Ben Sira’s, as it forms no part of the work ascribed to him; the commentary in which it occurs belongs to about the year 1000 probably (see Jewish Encycl., ii. 678 f.). Cf., further, Acts 18:21, τοῦ θεοῦ θέλοντος, 1 Corinthians 4:19, ἐὰν ὁ κύριος θελήσῃ; and in Pirqe Aboth, ii. 4 occur the words of Rabban Gamliel (middle of third century A.D.), “Do His will as if it were thy will, that He may do thy will as if it were His will. Annul thy will before His will, that He may annul the will of others before thy will” (Taylor).—καὶ ζήσομεν καὶ … both life and action depend upon God’s will.
But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.Jam 4:16. νῦν δὲ: “but now,” i.e., as things are; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:6, νῦν δὲ, ἀδελφοί, ἐὰν ἔλθω …—καυχᾶσθε ἐν ταῖς ἀλαζονίαις ὑμῶν: those vauntings were, of course, not on account of following out their own will in despite of the divine will, but because of the thoughtlessness which did not take God’s will into account, and therefore boasted of the ability of following one’s own bent. Both are bad, but conscious opposition to the will of God would, of the two, be worse. Ἀλαζονίαις comes from ἀλαζών which is literally a “wanderer,” then it comes to mean one who makes pretensions. Cf. Proverbs 27:1, μὴ καυχῶ τὰ εἰς αὔριον, f1οὐ γὰρ γινώσκεις τί τέξεται ἡ ἐπιοῦσα: the word occurs only here and in 1 John 2:16 (ἡ ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου) in the N.T.—πᾶσα καύχησις τοιαύτη …: boasting of this kind must be evil because it forgets God, and unduly exalts self.
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.Jam 4:17. Although this verse may be regarded as standing independent of what has preceded, and as being in the form of a more or less inexact quotation, it is quite permissible to take it with what has gone before. Those to whom the words have been addressed had, to some extent, erred through thoughtlessness; now that things have been made quite plain to them, they are in a position to know how to act; if, therefore, in spite of knowing now how to act aright, the proper course is neglected, then it is sinful. This seems to be the point of the words of this verse.—The words are perhaps an echo of Luke 12:47, ἐκεῖνος δὲ ὁ δοῦλος ὁ γνοὺς τὸ θέλημα τοῦ κυρίου αὐτοῦ καὶ μὴ ἑτοιμάσας ἢ ποιήσας πρὸς τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ δαρήσεται πολλάς. With καλὸν ποιεῖν cf. Galatians 6:9, τὸ δὲ καλὸν ποιοῦντες μὴ ἐνκακῶμεν.—ἁμαρτία αὐτῷ ἐστιν: for the converse of this, namely, doing what is wrong in ignorance—in which case it is excusable—see Acts 3:17, “And now, brethren, I wot that in ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers”; 1 Timothy 1:13, “… howbeit, I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief”.—It is, however, quite possible that we have in these words the enunciation of the principle that sins of omission are as sinful as those of commission; when our Lord says, “… these things ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone” (Matthew 23:23), it is clear that the sins of omission are regarded as wilful sin equally with those of commission, cf. Matthew 25:41-45. There is always a tendency to reckon the things which are left undone as less serious than actually committed sin; this was certainly, though not wholly so, in Judaism. It is exceptional when we read, for example, in 1 Samuel 12:23, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you”; as a rule sins of omission are regarded as venial, according to the Jewish doctrine, and are not punishable. The conception of sin according to Rabbinical ideas is well seen in what is called the ‘Al Chêt (i.e., “For the sin,” from the opening words of each sentence in the great Widdui [“Confession”] said on Yom Kippur [“the Day of Atonement”]); in the long list of sins here, mention is made only of committed sins. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Yoma, viii. 6) it is said that the Day of Atonement brings atonement, even without repentance, for sins of omission; in Pesikta, 7b the words in Zephaniah 1:12, “I will search Jerusalem with candles, and I will punish the men …,” are commented on by saying, “not by daylight, nor with the torch, but with candles, so as not to detect venial sins,” among these being, of course, included sins of omission. Although this is, in the main, the traditional teaching, there are some exceptions to be found, e.g., Shabbath, 54b; “ ‘Whosoever is in a position to prevent sins being committed by the members of his household, but refrains from doing so, becomes liable for their sins.’ The same rule applies to the govenour of a town, or even of a whole country” (see Jewish Encycl., xi. 378).
Having regard to the very Jewish character of our Epistle, it is quite possible that in the verse before us the reference is to this subject of sins of omission.