James 3:11
Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
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(11) Doth a (or, the) fountain send forth (literally, spurt) at the same place (or, hole, see margin) sweet water and bitter (i.e., fresh water and salt)?—A vivid picture, probably, of the mineral springs abounding in the Jordan valley, near the Dead Sea; with which might be contrasted the clear and sparkling rivulets of the north, fed by the snows of Lebanon. Nature had no confusion in her plans; and thus to pour out curse and blessing from the same lips were unnatural indeed. Or, again—

James 3:11-12. Doth a fountain send forth at the same opening, alternately, and at different times, sweet water and bitter — As if he had said, No such inconsistency is found in the natural world, and nothing of the kind ought to be known in the moral world. Estius observes, “that the apostle’s design was to confirm his doctrine by four similitudes; the first taken from fountains, the second and third from fruit-trees, and the fourth from the sea, which being in its nature salt, does not produce fresh water.” He therefore approves of the reading of the Alexandrian MS., which is, So neither can salt water produce sweet. The Syriac version reads, Salt waters cannot be made sweet; and the Vulgate, So neither can salt water make fresh water. In like manner, we ought to maintain a consistency in our words or discourses; and if we profess religion and devotion, we should speak at all times as persons who are endeavouring to employ our tongues to the noble purposes for which the use of speech was granted to man.

3:1-12 We are taught to dread an unruly tongue, as one of the greatest evils. The affairs of mankind are thrown into confusion by the tongues of men. Every age of the world, and every condition of life, private or public, affords examples of this. Hell has more to do in promoting the fire of the tongue than men generally think; and whenever men's tongues are employed in sinful ways, they are set on fire of hell. No man can tame the tongue without Divine grace and assistance. The apostle does not represent it as impossible, but as extremely difficult. Other sins decay with age, this many times gets worse; we grow more froward and fretful, as natural strength decays, and the days come on in which we have no pleasure. When other sins are tamed and subdued by the infirmities of age, the spirit often grows more tart, nature being drawn down to the dregs, and the words used become more passionate. That man's tongue confutes itself, which at one time pretends to adore the perfections of God, and to refer all things to him; and at another time condemns even good men, if they do not use the same words and expressions. True religion will not admit of contradictions: how many sins would be prevented, if men would always be consistent! Pious and edifying language is the genuine produce of a sanctified heart; and none who understand Christianity, expect to hear curses, lies, boastings, and revilings from a true believer's mouth, any more than they look for the fruit of one tree from another. But facts prove that more professors succeed in bridling their senses and appetites, than in duly restraining their tongues. Then, depending on Divine grace, let us take heed to bless and curse not; and let us aim to be consistent in our words and actions.Doth a fountain send forth at the same place - Margin, "hole." The Greek word means "opening, fissure," such as there is in the earth, or in rocks from which a fountain gushes.

Sweet water and bitter - Fresh water and salt, James 3:12. Such things do not occur in the works of nature, and they should not be found in man.

11. fountain—an image of the heart: as the aperture (so the Greek for "place" is literally) of the fountain is an image of man's mouth. The image here is appropriate to the scene of the Epistle, Palestine, wherein salt and bitter springs are found. Though "sweet" springs are sometimes found near, yet "sweet and bitter" (water) do not flow "at the same place" (aperture). Grace can make the same mouth that "sent forth the bitter" once, send forth the sweet for the time to come: as the wood (typical of Christ's cross) changed Marah's bitter water into sweet. Ordinarily and naturally; if any such be, it is looked upon as uncouth and prodigious.

Doth a fountain send forth at the same place,.... "Or hole"; for at divers places, and at different times, as Pliny (m) observes, it may send forth

sweet water and bitter: and it is reported (n), there is a lake with the Trogloditae, a people in Ethiopia, which becomes thrice a day bitter, and then as often sweet; but then it does not yield sweet water and bitter at the same time: this simile is used to show how unnatural it is that blessing and cursing should proceed out of the same mouth.

(m) Nat. Hist. l. 2. c. 103. (n) Isodor. Hispal. Originum, l. 13. c. 13. p. 115.

Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
Jam 3:11. Illustration of the unnaturalness of the conduct mentioned by an image taken from nature: Does the fountain from the same hole send forth the sweet and the bitter?

ἡ πηγή] The article is not here for the sake of liveliness (Schneckenburger: articulus fontem quasi ante oculos pingit), but is used because πηγή is generically considered.

ἐκ τῆς αὐτῆς ὀπῆς] ὀπή, the hollow, Hebrews 11:38, Exodus 33:22, Obad. Jam 3:3, is here the hole from which the water of the fountain streams forth. ἡ πηγή refers to man; ἡ ὀπή, to the mouth. The chief accent is on αὐτῆς, which points back to ἐκ τοῦ αὐτοῦ στόματος, Jam 3:10.

βρύειν] an ἅπ. λεγ., properly to sprout forth, then to overflow, is here used transitively, to cause to flow forth.

τὸ γλυκύ and τὸ πικρόν indicate, indeed, the two different kinds of water, yet linguistically τὸ ὕδωρ is not to be supplied; the former refers to εὐλογεῖν, and the latter to καταρᾶσθαι. With this verse James says only that happens not in nature, which occurs in the case of man, out of whose mouth proceed blessing and cursing. The following verse first expresses the impossibility.

Jam 3:11. μήτι ἡ πηγὴτὸ πικρόν: these words show that the writer is thinking of the real source whence both good and evil words come; cf. Matthew 12:34-35 : Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh …; cf. ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν below; βρύει does not occur elsewhere in the N.T. or the Septuagint; and ὀπή is only found elsewhere in the N.T. in Hebrews 11:38, cf. Exodus 33:22; πικρόν is only used here and in Jam 3:14 in the N.T.; cf. Sir 4:6, … καταρωμένου γάρ σε ἐν πικρίᾳ ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ.

11. Doth a fountain] The Greek gives the article, the fountain, as more emphatically generalising the question.

send forth at the same place …] Both verb and noun in the Greek are more vivid. Our word spurt or gush, if it could be used transitively, would answer to the former; our mouth, or “source”, or “orifice”, to the latter. The comparison was a natural one in a country like Palestine, where springs more or less salt or sulphureous are not uncommon. Most of those on the eastern slope of the hill-country of Judah and Benjamin are indeed brackish. Comp. the sweetening of the spring which supplied the college of the Sons of the Prophets in 2 Kings, 2 Kings 2:19, and the symbolic healing of the waters in Ezekiel 47:9.

Jam 3:11. Πηγὴ, a fountain) The heart resembles this.—ὀπῆς, an aperture) the mouth resembles this.

Verses 11, 12. - Illustrations showing the absurdity of the conduct reprobated. From one principle opposite things cannot be produced. Nothing can bring forth that which is not corresponding to its nature.

(1) The same fountain cannot give both sweet and bitter water.

(2) A fig tree cannot yield olives, nor a vine figs.

(3) Salt water cannot yield sweet.

How, then, can the tongue yield both blessing and cursing? It will be seen that the thought in (2) is different from that in Matthew 7:16, to which it bears a superficial resemblance. There the thought is that a good tree cannot yield bad fruit. Here it is that a tree must yield that which corresponds to its nature; a fig tree must yield figs and not olives, etc. So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. The Received Text, which the A.V. follows, is wrong here. Read, οὔτε ἀλυκόν γλυκὺ ποιῆσαι ὕδωρ (A, B, C, and א, except that it reads οὐδέ), and translate, neither can salt water yield sweet; Vulgate, sic neque salsa dulcem potest facere aquam; Syriac, "Thus also salt waters cannot be made sweet." The construction, it will be seen, is suddenly changed in the middle of the verse, and St. James ends as if the previous clause had been οὔτε δύναται συκῆ ἐλαίας, κ.τ.λ. (cf. Winer, p. 619, Grimm's 'Lexicon of N. T. Greek,' p. 324). James 3:11Doth a fountain, etc

The interrogative particle, μήτι, which begins the sentence, expects a negative answer. Fountain has the article, "the fountain," generic. See Introduction, on James' local allusions. The Land of Promise was pictured to the Hebrew as a land of springs (Deuteronomy 8:7; Deuteronomy 11:11). "Palestine," says Dean Stanley, "was the only country where an Eastern could have been familiar with the language of the Psalmsist: 'He sendeth the springs into the valleys which run among the mountains.' Those springs, too, however short-lived, are remarkable for their copiousness and beauty. Not only not in the East, but hardly in the West, can any fountains and sources of streams be seen, so clear, so full-grown even at their birth, as those which fall into the Jordan and its lakes throughout its whole course from north to south" ("Sinai and Palestine"). The Hebrew word for a fountain or spring is áyin, meaning an eye. "The spring," says the same author, "is the bright, open source, the eye of the landscape."

Send forth (βρύει)

An expressive word, found nowhere else in the New Testament, and denoting a full, copious discharge. Primarily it means to be full to bursting; and is used, therefore, of budding plants, teeming soil, etc., as in the charming picture of the sacred grove at the opening of the "Oedipus Coloneus" of Sophocles: "full (βρύων) of bay, olive, and vine." Hence, to burst forth or gush. Though generally in-transitive, it is used transitively here.

Place (ὀπῆς)

Rather, opening or hole in the earth or rock. Rev., opening. Compare caves, Hebrews 11:38. The word is pleasantly suggestive in connection with the image of the eye of the landscape. See above.

Sweet water and bitter

The readers of the epistle would recall the bitter waters of Marah (Exodus 15:23), and the unwholesome spring at Jericho (2 Kings 2:19-21).

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