James 3:6
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
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(6) And the tongue is a fire.—Better thus, The tonguethat world of iniquity—is a fire, to burn and destroy the fairest works of peace. The tongue is in our members that which defileth the whole body, and setteth the world aflame, and is set on fire itself of Gehenna. “The course of Nature” is literally the “wheel,” the “orb of creation.” The Jewish word for the place of torment, the accursed side of Hades, should be thus preserved: whence it was that the rich man of the parable prayed for water to cool his tongue (Luke 16:24).

“Speech is silver; silence, gold.” But even the Christian world will not endure overmuch the godly discipline of silence. Three temptations “to smite with the tongue” are specially powerful of evil: viz., as a relief from passion, as a gratification of spite, as revenge for wrong. The first is experienced by hot tempered folk; the second yielded to by the malicious; the third welcomed by the otherwise weak and defenceless; and all of us at times are in each of these divisions. Then, again, there are the “foolish talkings” (Ephesians 5:4), and worse, the jestings at holy things, and misquotations of Scripture: all to be avoided as not becoming saints. If then we would “walk in love” we must curb the tongue; but, better still, strive to cleanse the heart, and so be quite determined that nothing shall go forth but words of meekness and affection. Nay, if we be truly Christ’s, though “reviled” by the unruly tongues of others, we shall, like Him, “revile not again” (1Peter 2:23). And as the whole body is the Lord’s to be sanctified to Him (1Corinthians 6:19 et seq.), so particularly must the tongue be kept from “evil-speaking, lying, and slandering,” and used rightly for the service of God. Thus may we truly offer “the calves of our lips” (Hosea 14:2), more acceptable than the blood of victims slain on a thousand altars, “than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:23).

James 3:6. The tongue is a fire — Which often produces a great conflagration; a world of iniquity — This is a metaphor of the same kind with a sea of troubles, a deluge of wickedness. The meaning is, that a great collection of iniquity proceeds from the tongue. Indeed “there is no iniquity which an unbridled tongue is not capable of producing; either by itself, when it curses, rails, teaches false doctrine, and speaks evil of God and man; or by means of others, whom it entices, commands, terrifies, and persuades, to commit murders, adulteries, and every evil work.” So is the tongue — Such is the rank and place it holds among our members, that it defileth the whole body — The whole man, all our members, senses, and faculties. In this, and in what follows, the similitude of the fire and wood is carried on. For as the fire, put among the wood, first spotteth or blackeneth it with its smoke, and then setteth it on fire, so the tongue spotteth or blackeneth, and then setteth on fire the natural frame, termed here the course, τροχον, the wheel, of nature — “The wonderful mechanism of the human body, and its power of affecting and of being affected by the soul, is in this passage aptly represented by the wheels of a machine which act on each other. The pernicious influence of the tongue, in first spotting, and then destroying, both the bodies and the souls of men, arises from the language which it frames, whereby it inflames men’s passions to such a degree, that, being no longer under the direction of their reason, those passions push them on to such actions as are destructive both of their bodies and souls.” Some writers, by the natural wheel, or course of nature, understand the successive generations of men, one generation going, and another coming, without intermission; according to which interpretation the apostle’s meaning is, that the tongue hath set on fire our forefathers, it inflameth us, and will have the same influence on those who come after us. And it is set on fire of hell — Put here for the devil; as, by a like metonymy, heaven is put for God. Satan influences the heart, and its wickedness overflows by the tongue, and tends, by its fatal consequences, to produce a very hell upon earth. “The use we ought to make of the doctrine taught in this highly figurative passage is obvious. Being surrounded with such a mass of combustible matter, we should take great care not to send from our tongues the least spark by which it may be kindled, lest we ourselves, with those whom we set on fire, be consumed in the flames which we raise.” — Macknight.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.And the tongue is a fire - In this sense, that it produces a "blaze," or a great conflagration. It produces a disturbance and an agitation that may be compared with the conflagration often produced by a spark.

A world of iniquity - A little world of evil in itself. This is a very expressive phrase, and is similar to one which we often employ, as when we speak of a town as being a world in miniature. We mean by it that it is an epitome of the world; that all that there is in the world is represented there on a small scale. So when the tongue is spoken of as being "a world of iniquity," it is meant that all kinds of evil that are in the world are exhibited there in miniature; it seems to concentrate all sorts of iniquity that exist on the earth. And what evil is there which may not be originated or fomented by the tongue? What else is there that might, with so much propriety, be represented as a little world of iniquity? With all the good which it does, who can estimate the amount of evil which it causes? Who can measure the evils which arise from scandal, and slander, and profaneness, and perjury, and falsehood, and blasphemy, and obscenity, and the inculcation of error, by the tongue? Who can gauge the amount of broils, and contentions, and strifes, and wars, and suspicions, and enmities, and alienations among friends and neighbors, which it produces? Who can number the evils produced by the "honeyed" words of the seducer; or by the tongue of the eloquent in the maintenance of error, and the defense of wrong? If all men were dumb, what a portion of the crimes of the world would soon cease! If all men would speak only that which ought to be spoken, what a change would come over the face of human affairs!

So is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body - It stains or pollutes the whole body. It occupies a position and relation so important in respect to every part of our moral frame, that there is no portion which is not affected by it. Of the truth of this, no one can have any doubt. There is nothing else pertaining to us as moral and intellectual beings, which exerts such an influence over ourselves as the tongue. A man of pure conversation is understood and felt to be pure in every respect; but who has any confidence in the virtue of the blasphemer, or the man of obscene lips, or the calumniator and slanderer? We always regard such a man as corrupt to the core.

And setteth on fire the course of nature - The margin is "the wheel of nature." The Greek word also (τροχός trochos) means "a wheel," or any thing made for revolving and running. Then it means the course run by a wheel; a circular course or circuit. The word rendered "nature" (γένεσις genesis), means "procreation, birth, nativity;" and therefore the phrase means, literally, the wheel of birth - that is, the wheel which is set in motion at birth, and which runs on through life. - Rob. Lex. sub voce γένεσεως geneseōs. It may be a matter of doubt whether this refers to successive generations, or to the course of individual life. The more literal sense would be that which refers to an individual; but perhaps the apostle meant to speak in a popular sense, and thought of the affairs of the world as they roll on from age to age, as all enkindled by the tongue, keeping the world in a constant blaze of excitement. Whether applied to an individual life, or to the world at large, every one can see the justice of the comparison. One naturally thinks, when this expression is used, of a chariot driven on with so much speed that its wheels by their rapid motion become self-ignited, and the chariot moves on amidst flames.

And it is set on fire of hell - Hell, or Gehenna, is represented as a place where the fires continually burn. See the notes at Matthew 5:22. The idea here is, that that which causes the tongue to do so much evil derives its origin from hell. Nothing could better characterize much of that which the tongues does, than to say that it has its origin in hell, and has the spirit which reigns there. The very spirit of that world of fire and wickedness - a spirit of falsehood, and slander, and blasphemy, and pollution - seems to inspire the tongue. The image which seems to have been before the mind of the apostle was that of a torch which enkindles and burns everything as it goes along - a torch itself lighted at the fires of hell. One of the most striking descriptions of the woes and curses which there may be in hell, would be to portray the sorrows caused on the earth by the tongue.

6. Translate, "The tongue, that world of iniquity, is a fire." As man's little world is an image of the greater world, the universe, so the tongue is an image of the former [Bengel].

so—omitted in the oldest authorities.

is—literally, "is constituted." "The tongue is (constituted), among the members, the one which defileth," &c. (namely, as fire defiles with its smoke).

course of nature—"the orb (cycle) of creation."

setteth on fire … is set on fire—habitually and continually. While a man inflames others, he passes out of his own power, being consumed in the flame himself.

of hell—that is, of the devil. Greek, "Gehenna"; found here only and in Mt 5:22. James has much in common with the Sermon on the Mount (Pr 16:27).

The application of the similitude in the foregoing words.

The tongue is a fire, i.e. hath the force of fire, and resembles it in the mischief it doth.

A world of iniquity; a heap or aggregation of evils, (as the natural world is an aggregation of many several beings), as we say, an ocean, or a world, of troubles, meaning, a great multitude of them. And the words may be understood, earlier with an ellipsis of the word matter, expressed just before, and supplied here; and the pointing a little altered, they may be thus read, And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity (or an unrighteous world, viz. which lies in wickedness, 1Jo 5:19) is the matter, namely, which it inflames. A wicked world is fit fuel for a wicked tongue, and soon catcheth the fire which it kindles. Or rather, as they stand plainly, without any such defect: The tongue is a world of iniquity, i.e. a heap or mass of various sorts of sins; though it be but a little piece of flesh, yet it contains a whole world of wickedness in it, or is as full of evils as the world is of bodies.

It defileth the whole body; infecteth the whole man with sin, Ecclesiastes 5:6, as being the cause of sin committed by all the members of the body; for though sin begin in the soul, yet it is executed by the body, which therefore seems here put {as Jam 3:2} for the man.

And setteth on fire the course of nature; or, setteth on fire the wheel of geniture, or nativity, (in allusion to a wheel set on fire by a violent, rapid motion), meaning the course of nativity, i.e. the natural course of life, as the face of nativity or geniture, Jam 1:23, for the natural face: the sense is, it inflames with various lusts, wrath, malice, wantonness, pride, &c., the whole course of man’s life, so that there is no state nor age free from the evils of it. Whereas other vices either do not extend to the whole man, or are abated with age, or worn away with length of time; the vices of the tongue reach the whole man, and the whole time of his life.

And it is set on fire of hell; i.e. by the devil, the father of lies and slanders, and other tongue sins, Job 1:10 John 8:44 Revelation 12:10; the tongue being the fire, the devil, by the bellows of temptations, inflames it yet more, and thereby kindles the fire of all mischiefs in the world. And the tongue is a fire,.... It is like to fire, very useful in its place, to warm and comfort; so is the tongue in Christian conversation, and in the ministry of the word; the hearts of God's children burn within them, while they are talking together, and while the Scriptures of truth are opening to them; but as fire should be carefully watched, and kept, so should men take heed to their ways, that they sin not with their tongue, and keep their tongue from evil, and their lips from speaking guile; for as fire kindles and rises up into a flame, so unchaste, angry, and passionate words, stir up the flame of lust, anger, envy, and revenge; and as fire is of a spreading nature, so are lies, scandal, and evil reports vented by the tongue; and as fire devours all that comes in its way, such are the words of an evil tongue; and therefore are called devouring words, Psalm 52:4 they devour the good names of men, and corrupt their good manners, and destroy those who make use of them; and what wood is to fire, and coals to burning coals, that are whisperers, tale bearers, backbiters, and contentious persons to strife, Proverbs 26:20

a world of iniquity; that is, as the world is full of things, and full of sin, for it lies in wickedness, so is the tongue full of iniquity; there is a world of it in it; it abounds with it; it cannot well be said how much sin is in it, and done, or occasioned by it; as blasphemy against God, Father, Son, and Spirit; cursing of men, imprecations on themselves, their souls, and bodies, and on others, with a multitude of profane and dreadful oaths; obscene, filthy, and unchaste words; angry, wrathful, and passionate ones; lies, flatteries, reproaches, backbitings, whisperings, tale bearings, &c. And the Jews say, that he that uses an evil tongue multiplies transgression, and that it is equal to idolatry, adultery, and murder (h), and the cause of all sin; and which they express by way of fable, in this manner (i):

"when Adam sinned, God laid hold on him, and slit his tongue into two parts, and said unto him, the wickedness which is, or shall be in the world, thou hast begun with an evil tongue; wherefore I will make all that come into the world know that thy tongue is the cause of all this.''

The Syriac version renders this clause thus, "and the world of iniquity is as wood"; or the branch of a tree; the tongue is fire, and a wicked world is fuel to it.

So is the tongue amongst our members, that it defileth the whole body: the body politic, a whole nation, filling it with contention, strife, division, and confusion; and the ecclesiastical body, the church, by sowing discord, fomenting animosities, making parties, and spreading errors and heresies, whereby the temple of God is defiled; and the natural body, and the several members of it, even the whole person of a man, soul and body, bringing upon him a blot of infamy and reproach never to be wiped off; as for instance, the vice of the tongue, lying, does; and oftentimes through the tongue, the actions done in the body, which seem good, are quite spoiled:

and setteth on fire the course of nature, or "wheel of nature": the natural body, as before, in which there is a continual rotation or circulation of the blood, by which it is supported; this is the wheel broken at the cistern at death, in Ecclesiastes 12:6 or the course of a man's life and actions, yea, of all generations, and the vicissitudes and changes which have happened in them, on which the tongue has a great influence; and so the Syriac version renders it, "and sets on fire the series of our genealogies, or our generations, which run like wheels": or it may intend the frame of nature, the whole fabric of the universe, and the general conflagration of it, which will be owing to the tongue; or because men's tongues are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory, because of the hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Christ and his people, of which they will be convinced by flames of fire about them:

and it is set on fire of hell; that is, by the devil; for as heaven sometimes is put for God, who dwells in heaven, Matthew 21:25 so hell is put for the devil, whose habitation it is; see Matthew 16:18, and the sense is, that the tongue is influenced, instigated, and stirred up by Satan, to speak many evil things, and it will be hereafter set on fire in hell, as the tongue of the rich man in Luke 16:24. To which purpose are those words of the Talmud (k);

"whoever uses an evil tongue, the holy blessed God says to hell, I concerning him above, and thou concerning him below, will judge him, as it is said, Psalm 120:3. "What shall be done to thee, thou false tongue? sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper", there is no arrow but the tongue, according to Jeremiah 9:8 and there is no mighty one but God, Isaiah 42:13 "coals of juniper", , these are hell.''

(h) T. Bab. Erachin, fol. 15. 2. Tzeror Hammor, fol. 100. 1.((i) Otiot R. Aquiba in Ketoreth Hassammim in Gen. fol. 12. 4. (k) T. Bab. Erachin, fol. 15. 2. Yalkut, par. 2. fol. 127. 2.

And the tongue is a fire, a {b} world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and {c} setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

(b) A heap of all mischiefs.

(c) It is able to set the whole world on fire.

Jam 3:6. Application of the image: Also the tongue is a fire, the world of unrighteousness; the tongue sets itself among our members, as that which defileth the whole body and kindleth the wheel (of life) revolving from birth, and is kindled of hell. As a (little) fire setteth a forest in conflagration, so also the tongue kindleth the whole life of man. Such is the destructive power of the tongue, that whosoever knows how to bridle it may with truth be called a perfect man (Jam 3:2).

Several interpreters divide the first clause: καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα πῦρ, ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας, into two corresponding parts, supplying the idea ὕλη to ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας; thus Morus: igni respondet lingua, materiae seu silvae respondet mundus improbus. Manifestly wholly arbitrary; rather the words ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας form an apposition to ἡ γλῶσσα, by which the power of the tongue similar to destructive fire is explained. κόσμος has here the same meaning as in LXX. Proverbs 17:6 : ὅλος κόσμος τῶν χρημάτων;[172] thus the multitude comprehending the individual: consequently Ὁ ΚΌΣΜΟς Τῆς ἈΔΙΚΊΑς is the fulness of unrighteousness. The tongue is so called because, as the organ of ὀργή, it includes a fulness (not exactly the sum-total) of unrighteousness which from it pervades the other members (ὅλον τὸ σῶμα). Calvin correctly, according to the sense: acsi vocaret mare vel abyssum (Luther inaccurately: “a world full of wickedness”). This is the explanation of most expositors. Bouman correctly explains the definite article: famosus iste mundus iniquitatis. The following are other explanations:—(1) Oecumenius takes κόσμος = ornament, and explains: Ἡ ΓΛῶΣΣΑ ΚΟΣΜΕῖ ΤῊΝ ἈΔΙΚΊΑΝ ΔΙᾺ Τῆς ΤῶΝ ῬΗΤΌΡΩΝ ΕὐΓΛΏΤΤΟΥ ΔΕΙΝΌΤΗΤΟς; similarly Wetstein, Semler, Elsner, Rosenmüller, Storr, Lange[173] (Wahl is doubtful). But κόσμος never signifies in an active sense that which puts an ornament on another, but always the ornament itself, that wherewith a person adorns himself (or another). (2) Bretschneider likewise takes the word as equivalent to ornament, but supplies ὡς, and explains: ut ornatus (mulierum) inhonestus sc. inquinat mentes, sic lingua deprehenditur inter corporis membra id quod totum corpus inquinat; yet evidently more arbitrarily than the foregoing explanation. (3) Theile retains the usual meaning of the word world, and explains: lingua (est ignis), mundus (vero est) improbitatis i.e. improbitate plenus, nimirum ob illam ipsam linguae vim; but apart from the inadmissible supplements rendered necessary, and the harshness contained in this combination of the genitive, this explanation is to be rejected, because by it the words would contain an assertion on the nature of the world, instead of on the nature of the tongue. (4) Estius, indeed, is right in his comprehension of the idea, but he arbitrarily understands it as causative: quia (lingua) peccata omnigena parit; so also Herder: “the mainspring and the cause of all unrighteousness.” Gebser introduces something foreign into the explanation, taking κόσμος = the wicked world. Clericus, Hammond, Eichhorn, Kuinoel, and Hottinger, without any sufficient reason, think that the words are to be expunged from the text as spurious.

Whilst almost all expositors refer ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας to what precedes (to which, according to the reading of the Rec. which has οὕτως before the following ἡ γλῶσσα, it necessarily belongs), Tischendorf has put a point after πῦρ but not after ἀδικίας;[174] and Neander translates: “As a world full of unrighteousness, the tongue is among our members;” so also Lange construes it. But this construction is not only difficult, but isolates too much the first thought ἡ γλῶσσα πῦρ, which only has a correct meaning when it is closely connected with what follows.

The new clause accordingly begins with ἡ γλῶσσα, and καθίσταται has its necessary supplement in what follows: ἡ σπιλοῦσα κ.τ.λ.

καθίσταται] can neither here nor in chap. Jam 4:4 mean it stands: the perfect only has this meaning, but not the present; it means: it sets itself, it appears (Wiesinger). Also the explanations are false: “it is so placed” (Pott); collocata est (Beza, Piscator, Schneckenburger); “it becomes (such)” (de Wette, appealing to Romans 5:19), and “it rules” (Lange, appealing to Hebrews 8:3). Theile arbitrarily completes the idea: hand raro. The words which follow mention how the tongue appears among the members—as that which defileth the whole body. The idea σπιλοῦν, to which certainly πῦρ is not suited, is suggested by the apposition ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας. Only with the following participle does James carry on the image of fire; it is artificial to assume in σπιλοῦν a reference to it. Bengel: maculans, ut ignis per fumum; comp. on this passage Ecclesiastes 5:5. Neither the double καί (for how often the several καί succeed each other in a simple copulative sense!) nor the omission of the article before the two participles (comp. chap. Jam 4:11; Jam 4:14) proves that the participles which follow καὶ φλογίζουσα and καὶ φλογιζομένη are subordinated to σπιλοῦσα (Wiesinger). This construction could only be considered as correct if the two participles analyzed the idea σπιλοῦσα ὅλ. τ. σῶμα into its individual parts or confirmed it; but neither of these is the case here; they rather add to this idea two new points. The object τὸν τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως, belonging to φλογίζουσα, has found very different explanations. The word τροχός, according to its etymology, denotes something running, and, although used of other rotatory orbs, as particularly of the potter’s wheel, it is especially used as a designation of a wheel, 1 Kings 7:30 ff.; Ezekiel 1:15; Ezekiel 1:19-20. The word γένεσις can here be only in the same sense as in chap. Jam 1:23; the compound idea: the wheel of birth, i.e. “the wheel revolving from birth,” is a figurative designation of human life; comp. Anacreon, Od. iv. 7: τροχὸς ἅρματος γὰρ οἷα βίστος τρέχει κυλισθείς. Thus Gebser in particular correctly explains it: “the wheel which is set in motion from our birth, i.e. a poetical description of life;” so also Brückner and Bouman. The explanations of Oecumenius (τροχός· ὁ βίος ὡς εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἀνελιττόμενος), Calvin, Laurentius, Hornejus, Pott, Neander, amount to the same thing. Also Estius, Grotius, Carpzov, Michaelis understand life, only deriving this idea in a different manner. They explain τροχός (for which Grotius would read τρόχος) = cursus, γένεσις = natura, and cursus naturae = vita; by this explanation, however, the figurative nature of the expression suffers. Wiesinger (with whom Rauch agrees), deviating from this explanation, prefers to understand by it the whole body (ὅλον τὸ σῶμα), τροχός denoting either the wheel (by which, then, τροχὸς τ. γεν. would be the revolving wheel of existence, of life, namely, of that to which the tongue belongs), or (which Wiesinger prefers) the circumference (thus τροχ. τ. γεν. would be the circumference of being, i.e. the circumference belonging to the tongue from birth, native to it). But, on the one hand, it is not to be supposed that James, after using the ordinary expression ὅλον τὸ σῶμα, should express the same thing figuratively without the least indication of the identity of meaning; and, on the other hand, it is opposed to the first interpretation that the body is not to be represented as a wheel, and to the second that τροχός is taken in a sense which it never has, for it never means the circumference, but at the most the round border which incloses something. Other expositors go beyond the restriction of the expression to the life of the individual,—which is evidently required by the foregoing ὅλον τὸ σῶμα,—either, with Wolf, appealing to the Hebrew גִּלְגַּל תּוֹלְרוֹת, explaining it: indesinens successio hominum aliorum post alios nascentium (thus Lambert, Bos, Alberti, Augusti, Stäudlin),[175] or taking ΤΡΟΧΌς = ΚΎΚΛΟς, ΓΈΝΕΣΙς = ΚΤΊΣΙς, and accordingly ΤΡΟΧ. Τ. ΓΕΝΈΣΕΩς = “the circle of creation;” thus de Wette, and among the earlier interpreters Beza (in the edition of 1565), Crusius, Coccejus. All these ideas are foreign to the context. If the first explanation drags something “foreign” into it, the second bears besides “a monstrous character” (Wiesinger). Still less is the explanation of Lange to be justified: “the wheel of the development of life, primarily of the Jewish nation, and then further of all mankind,” since ΓΈΝΕΣΙς never denotes development of life.

It is to be observed that the LXX. often translate the Hebrew צָבָא by κόσμος; see Genesis 2:1; Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; Isaiah 24:21; Isaiah 40:26.

[173] Lange, indeed, grants that κόσμος is not an active idea, but he yet thinks that we must return to the original signification of the word, and he then explains it: “the tongue is the form of the world, worldliness, or worldly culture, because it is that which sophistically, etc., gives to unrighteousness its worldly … and even splendid form.” But is not the idea so explained taken in an active sense?

[174] Lachmann and Buttmann have, by leaving out the punctuation, left the pointing to the expositor.

[175] Already the Syriac version translates: incendit proventus generationum nostrarum, quae currunt sicut rotae.

The following are other explanations which are refuted by their arbitrariness and rarity:—(1) that of Semler, who explains it ordo generandi, according to the expression occurring in Plutarch: ποταμὸν τῆς γενέσεως ἐνδελεχῶς; (2) that of Bengel rota sive sphaera superior est ipsa natura humana rationalis; gehenna vero est pars profundior cor; lingua in medio ex inferioribus inflammatur et superiora inflammat; (3) that of Meyer (Observatt. ad ep. Jacobi), who takes the expression = sanguinis orbis seu circulato; lastly, (4) that of Kype, who assumes the rota poenalis is figuratively meant cujus radiis illigabantur rei, and accordingly φλογίζειν τὸν τροχ. τ. γενέσεως means: augere vitae hujus cruciatus.

The verb φλογίζειν is in the N. T. ἅπ. λεγ.; in the LXX. it is found in Exodus 9:24; Numbers 21:14; Psalm 97:3, and other places. The figurative expression, which refers back to πῦρ, indicates the fatal effect which the tongue, from which the pollution of the whole body proceeds, exercises on the life of man, whilst it pervades the same by its passionate heat. James so presents it, that being ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας, and thus concentrating in itself (or in word) a fulness of unrighteousness, it forms, as it were, the axle round which the wheel of life moves, and by which it is set on fire. Morus incorrectly understands φλογίζειν “de damnis, quae lingua dat;” but the discourse is not concerning the injury which man suffers, but concerning his moral conduct; still less corresponding is the explanation of Michaelis, according to which φλογίζειν = to inflame, and that in the words of James the thought is contained: “lingua saepe alii excitantur, ut insano studio mala ingrediantur.” The representation that the tongue defiles the whole body and sets the life on fire is, as Wiesinger correctly remarks, not to be justified by the remark that all sins have their foundation in the sins of the tongue, but rests on the observation that ὀργή, before it manifests itself in other ways, first and foremost appears in word, and thus the tongue is its most direct organ.[176] The second participial sentence states whence the tongue receives this destructive power (ΦΛΟΓΊΖΕΙΝ), by which also the idea that it is ΚΌΣΜΟς Τῆς ἈΔΙΚΊΑς finds its justification. The participle ΦΛΟΓΙΖΟΜΈΝΗ is to be retained in the sense of the present; it has neither the meaning of the perfect, as if the tongue had been only once set on fire by γεέννα, nor is it, with Grotius, Mill, Benson, Semler, Storr, Rosenmüller, to be taken as future, and to be referred to future punishment. The expression γεέννα, except in the Synoptics, is only found here; in Matthew 5:22; Matthew 18:9, Mark 9:47, it is used for a more exact description of the genitive ΤΟῦ ΠΥΡΌς. The thought that the tongue is set on fire of hell is not to be explained away either by ex inferno being paraphrased by Theile by igne diabolico, and this by igne foedissimo ac funestissimo; or by being explained with Morus: tantus est ille ignis, ut ex geennae igne videatur esse incensus. James means that as ἐπιθυμία (or more precisely ὈΡΓΉ), whose most direct organ is the tongue, has its origin from the devil, it is thus from hell (see Jam 3:15). Also in the O. T. the injurious effects of the tongue are described; see Psalm 52:4; Psalm 120:3-4, Proverbs 26:27, and other passages (Sir 5:13 ff; Sir 28:11 ff.); yet in all these passages the discourse is only on the evil which is inflicted by it on others, or on the punishment which befalls the man who misuses it. This peculiar thought of James has its counterpart in no passage of the O. T.

[176] The view that James considered the tongue as the source of all sin is erroneous, since he, however prominently he brings forward the destructive power of the tongue, yet never asserts this. The restriction to ὀργή is justified by the Epistle itself. See Jam 1:19-20; Jam 1:26, Jam 2:9-10; Jam 2:13 (the opposite ἐν πραΰτητι σοφίας); 14, etc. According to this, in this edition the text in some places has been rectified.Jam 3:6. See critical note above for suggested differences in punctuation.—καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα πῦρ: this metaphor was familiar to Jews, see Proverbs 16:27, … And in his lips there is as a scorching fire; the whole of the passage Sir 28:8-12 is very à propos, especially Jam 3:11, ἔρις κατασπευδομένη ἐκκαίει πῦρ, καὶ μάχη κατασπεύδουσα ἐκχέει αἶμα. Knowling refers to Psalms of Sol. 12:2–4, where the same metaphor is graphically presented, but the reference is to slander, not to the fire engendered by public controversy; Jam 3:2 runs: “Very apt are the words of the tongue of a malicious man, like fire in a threshing-floor that burns up the straw” (the text in the second half of the verse is corrupt, but the general meaning is clear enough).—καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα πῦρ, ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίαςτῆς γεέννης: Carr has a very helpful note on this difficult verse, he says: “a consideration of the structure of the sentence, the poetical form in which the thoughts are cast, also throws light on the meaning. From this it appears that the first thought is resumed and expounded in the last two lines, while the centre doublet contains a parallelism in itself. The effect is that of an underground flame concealed for a while, then breaking out afresh. Thus φλογίζουσα and φλογιζομένη refer to πῦρ, and σπιλοῦσα to κόσμος, though grammatically these participles are in agreement with γλῶσσα.”—ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας: This expression is an extremely difficult one, and a large variety of interpretations have been suggested; the real crux is, of course, the meaning of κόσμος. In this Epistle κόσμος is always used in a bad sense, Jam 1:27, Jam 2:5, Jam 4:4. In the Septuagint ὁ κόσμος is several times the rendering of the Hebrew צבא, “host” (of heaven, i.e., the stars, etc.), see Genesis 2:1; Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; there is no Hebrew word which corresponds to κόσμος, properly speaking; and it would therefore be no matter of surprise if a Jew with a knowledge of Hebrew should use κόσμος in a loose sense. In the N.T. αἰών is often used in the same sense as κόσμος, e.g., Matthew 12:32; Mark 4:19; Ephesians 1:21, of this world; here again it is mostly in an evil sense in which it is referred to, whether as αἰών or κόσμος. It is, therefore, possible that κόσμος might be used in the sense of αἰών, by a Jew, but as referring to a sphere not on this earth. Schegg (quoted by Mayor) interprets the phrase, “the sphere or domain of iniquity,” and though this is not the natural meaning of κόσμος, this cannot be urged as an insuperable objection to his interpretation; we are dealing with the work of an Oriental, and a Jew, in an age long ago, and we must not therefore look for strict accuracy. If κόσμος may be regarded as being used in the sense of αἰών, which is applicable to this world or to the world to come, then Schegg’s “domain of iniquity” might refer to a sphere in the next world. When it is further noticed that the tongue is called “fire,” and that this fire has been kindled by ἡ γέεννα, the place of burning, it becomes possible to regard the words ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας as a symbolic expression of Gehenna (see further below, under τῆς γεέννης).—καθίσταται: “is set,” i.e., “is constituted”. Mayor says: “It is opposed to ὑπάρχω, because it implies a sort of adaptation or development as contrasted with the natural or original state; to γίγνομαι, because it implies something of fixity”.—ἡ σπιλοῦσα: σπίλος means a “stain,” cf. Judges 1:23.—φλογίζουσα; ἅπ. λεγ. in N.T., cf. Wisd. 3:28.—τὸν τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως. “the wheel of nature,” i.e., the whole circle of innate passions; the meaning is that this wrong use of the tongue engenders jealousy, and faction, and every vile deed, cf. Jam 3:16. For the different interpretations of the phrase see Mayor.—φλογιζομένη ὑπὸ τῆς γεέννης: In Jewish theology two ideas regarding the fate of the wicked hereafter existed, at one time, concurrently; according to the one, Hades (Sheol) was the place to which the spirits of all men, good as well as bad, went after death; at the resurrection, the good men arose and dwelt in glory, while the wicked remained in Sheol. According to a more developed belief, the place of the departed was not the same for the good and the bad; the former went to a place of rest, and awaited the final resurrection, while the latter went to a place of torment; after the resurrection the good enter into eternal bliss, the wicked into eternal woe, but whether these latter continue in the same place in which they had hitherto been, or whether it is a different peace of torment, is not clear. A realistic conception of the place of torment arose when the “Valley of Hinnom” (גי־הנם = ἡ γέεννα), was pointed out as the place in which the spirits of the wicked suffered; but very soon this conception became spiritualised, and there arose the belief that the Valley of Hinnom was only the type of what actually existed in the next world. The fire which burned in the Valley of Hinnom was likewise transferred to the next worm; hence the phrases: γέεννα τοῦ πυρός, κάμινος τοῦ πυρός, etc. Cf. 4 Esdr. 7:36; Revelation 9:1, etc.6. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity] The last words are in apposition with the subject, not the predicate, of the sentence. The tongue is described as emphatically that world—we should perhaps say, that microcosmof unrighteousness. As uttering all evil thoughts and desires, no element of unrighteousness was absent from it, and that which includes all the elements of anything well deserves the name of being its Cosmos.

so is the tongue among our members] The particle of comparison is not found in the best MSS., but is clearly implied, and is therefore legitimately inserted in the translation, as it is in some later MSS. The sentence strictly runs, The tongue is set in our members, referring of course not to a Divine appointment, but to its actual position. It is, as a fact, that which “defiles”, better perhaps spots or stains, the whole body. Every evil word is thought of as leaving its impress, it may be an indelible impress, as a blot upon the whole character.

and setteth on fire the course of nature] The last words have no parallel in any Greek author, and are therefore naturally somewhat difficult. Literally, we might render, the wheel of nature or of birth, just as in ch. James 1:23 we found “the face of nature,” for the “natural face,” that with which we are born. The best interpretation seems to be that which sees in the phrase a figure for “the whole of life from birth;” the wheel which then begins to roll on its course, and continues rolling until death. The comparison of life to a race, or course of some kind, has been familiar to the poetry of all ages, and in a Latin poet, Silius Italicus (vi. 120), we have a phrase almost identical with St James’s,

“Talis lege Deûm clivoso tramite vitæ

Per varios præceps casus rota volvitur ævi.”

“So by the law of God, through chance and change,

The wheel of life rolls down the steep descent.”

What is meant, if we adopt this view, is that from the beginning of life to its close, the tongue is an ever-present inflammatory element of evil.

As an alternative explanation it is possible that there may be a reference to the potter’s wheel, as in Jeremiah 18:3, and Sir 38:29, in the latter of which the same word for “wheel” is used. On this view the tongue would be represented as the flame that by its untempered heat mars the vessel in the hands of the potter. The frequent parallelisms between St James and the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach, are, as far as they go, in favour of this view, but the former seems to me, on the whole, preferable. A third view, that the words have the same kind of meaning as orbis terrarum, and mean, as in the English Version, the whole order or course of nature, i.e. of human history in the world at large, has, it is believed, less to recommend it.

and it is set on fire of hell] The Greek participle is in the present. The tongue that speaks evil is ever being set on fire of Gehenna. St James does not shrink from tracing sins of speech to their source. The fire of man’s wrath is kindled from beneath, as the fire that cleanses is kindled from above. Bearing in our minds the wonder of the day of Pentecost, it is hardly too bold to say that we have to choose whether our tongue shall be purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit or defiled by that of Gehenna. The latter word is that employed in the Gospels, as here, for “Hell”, wherever that word means, not simply the place of the dead, which is expressed in the Greek by Hades, the unseen world, but the place of torment. Primarily, the word is a Hebrew one, signifying the Valley of Hinnom. As that valley had been in the days of the idolatries of Judah the scene of the fires of Moloch worship (2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5-6), and had in later times become the cloaca where the filth and offal of the city were consumed in fires kept continually burning (so it is commonly said, but the fact is not quite certain), it came to be among the later Rabbis what Tartarus was to the Greeks, the symbol of the dread penalties of evil. Comp. Matthew 5:22, Mark 9:43.Jam 3:6. Ὁ κόσμος, the world) This is part of the subject, with the addition of the article (as ἡ σπιλοῦσα, which follows), showing why the tongue is called fire: namely, because it is a world (in the Vulgate universitas, a universe) of iniquity. The words, how great a matter, and the world, refer to each other. As the little world of man is an image of the universe,[35] so the tongue is an image of the little world of man, exciting it altogether. There is a frequent metaphor from the universe to the lesser world: Psalm 139:15; Ecclesiastes 12:2; and not only to man: there is a reference to the whale, Jonah 2:3; Jonah 2:6-7. James employs this figure. The world has its higher and its lower parts: these are, in a better point of view, the heaven and the earth; in a worse, the earth and hell. And as in the world, heaven or hell is with reference to the earth; so in man, the heart, of which the tongue is the instrument, is with reference to the whole body or nature. For in the case of the good, heaven, and in the case of the wicked, hell, has its veins in the heart: from which source so many wonders are diffused to the course of nature (nativitatis). We may learn from Psalm 77:18, what is meant by this course. Φωνὴ τῆς βροντῆς σου ἐν τῷ τροχῷ, ἔφαναν αἱ ἀστραπαί σου τῇ οἰκουμένῃ. The voice of Thy thunder teas in the heaven, Thy lightnings lightened the world: for as in that passage גלגל, ΤΡΟΧῸς, as opposed to חבל, Τῇ ΟἸΚΟΥΜΕΝῌ, denotes the celestial or aerial sphere, so in this place ΤΡΟΧῸς Τῆς ΓΕΝΈΣΕΩς, the course of nature, as opposed to τῇ γεέννῃ, hell, or the heart, denotes the higher parts of the earth, or the entire nature of man, which holds a middle place between heaven and hell; and thus it denotes the body with its entire temperament. Comp. Jam 3:15, from above, earthly, devilish.—ΓΈΝΕΣΙς, the natural constitution; Jam 1:23; and life; Jdt 12:18.—ΠΆΣΑς ΤᾺς ἩΜΈΡΑς Τῆς ΓΕΝΈΣΕΏς ΜΟΥ, all the days since I was born. The metaphor is taken from a round wheel, and is very appropriate: for as a wheel is turned about with great velocity; so it is with the sphere of heaven, and the nature of man; and this being set on fire while it revolves, soon breaks out into a blaze in every part, so that the fire seems not only to be borne in a circle, but also to be a circle. Respecting the flaming wheels of the Divine throne, see Daniel 7:9.—οὕτως, so) This word not read in the African copies, has been introduced into this place from the beginning of the fifth verse.[36] If the apostle had intended to use it a second time in this comparison, he would have used it at the beginning, and not in the middle of the Apodosis, ΟὝΤΩ ΚΑῚ Ἡ ΓΛῶΣΣΑ ΠῦΡ. A few copies, but those of great authority, omit ΟὝΤΩς. Isidorus of Pelusinm in particular joining them. There are three comparisons beginning with ἼΔΕ, ἸΔΟῪ, ἸΔΟῪ (Jam 3:3-5). The third comparison has its Protasis in the middle of Jam 3:5 : ἸΔΟῪ ὈΛΊΓΟΝ ΠῦΡ ἩΛΊΚΗΝ ὝΛΗΝ ἈΝΆΠΤΕΙ· the Apodosis begins at the beginning of Jam 3:6, and consists of two declarations, the former of which is as follows: ΚΑῚ Ἡ ΓΛῶΣΣΑ ΠῦΡ, Ὁ ΚΌΣΜΟς Τῆς ἈΔΙΚΊΑς (supply ἘΣΤΊΝ): the other is Ἡ ΓΛῶΣΣΑ ΚΑΘΊΣΤΑΤΑΙ ἘΝ ΤΟῖς ΜΈΛΕΣΙΝ ἩΜῶΝ Ἡ ΣΠΙΛΟῦΣΑ ὍΛΟΝ ΤῸ ΣῶΜΑ. In this second declaration Ἡ ΓΛῶΣΣΑ, the tongue, is as it were the Subject, and is repeated a second time by way of Anaphora[37] and emphasis, as far as the particle ΟὝΤΩς· the predicate is ΚΑΘΊΣΤΑΤΑΙΤῸ ΣῶΜΑ, in this easy sense; the tongue is that which defiles the whole body. Between these two clauses οὕτως seems to be out of place; so far is the sense from being impaired by the removal of οὕτως. This is followed by the explanation, inasmuch as being that which both inflames and is itself inflamed, etc.; where, by a metaphor from the universe (the macrocosm) to man (the microcosm), the wheel, or higher sphere (comp. Psalm 77:18), is man’s rational nature itself; but hell is the lower part, the heart. The tongue, situated in the middle, is inflamed by the lower parts, and inflames the higher, being itself a world, or orb of iniquity. Thus I hope that those things which Wolf has remarked on this passage, will be explained; and I am quite willing that the things which I have said should be compared with the interpretation of Baumgarten.—καθίσταται) The same word occurs ch. Jam 4:4.—ΣΠΙΛΟῦΣΑ, defiling) as fire, by smoke.—καὶ φλογίζουσα καὶ φλογιζομένη) inasmuch as being that which both inflames and is inflamed. The passive is put after the active form; for the man who sins with his tongue, departs more and more out of his own power.

[35] The term macrocosmus (macrocosm) is applied to the universe at large; and microcosmus (microcosm) to the little world of man. Thus Manilius:—

[36] ABC Vulg. both Syr. Versions, Memph. Theb. omit οὕτως before ἡ γλῶσσα καθίσταται. Rec. Text supports it without very old authority.—E.

[37] See Append. The frequent repetition of the same word in beginnings.

“Quid mirum, noscere mundum

Si possunt homines, quibus est et mundus in ipsis

Exemplumque Dei quisque est in imagine parvâ?”

And Shakespeare:—

Coriolanus.—“If you see this in the map of my microcosm.”—T.Verse 6. - Application of illustration The translation is doubtful, οὕτως of the Received Text must certainly be deleted. It is wanting in א, A, B, C, K, Latt., Syriac. Three renderings are then possible.

(1) "And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body and setteth on fire the wheel of nature."

(2) "And the tongue is a fire, that world of iniquity: the tongue is among our members that which defileth the whole body," etc.: so Vulgate.

(3) "And the tongue is a fire: that world of iniquity, the tongue, is among our members that which defileth the whole body," etc. Of these, the first, which is that of the Revisers, appears to be preferable. A fourth rendering, which is wholly untenable, deserves notice for its antiquity, viz. that of the Syriac, "The tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity (is the forest)." The world of iniquity (ὁ κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας). The tongue is thus characterized, because it leads to and embraces all kinds of wickednesses. As Bishop Wordsworth points out, it contains within itself the elements of all mischief. A somewhat similar use of κόσμος is found in the LXX. of Proverbs 17:6, Τοῦ πιστοῦ ὅλος ὁ κόσμος τῶν χρημάτων τοῦ δὲ ἀπιστου οὐδὲ ὀβελός, "The whole world of wealth is for the faithful: for the faithless not a penny." Καθίσταται: "is set" or "has its place," and so simply "is." The tongue

(1) defiles the whole body, and

(2) sets on fire τὸν τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως, "the wheel of birth" or "of nature" - a very strange expression, and one almost without parallel. (Τροχός only here in the New Testament. There is, however, no doubt about its meaning "wheel." The A.V., which took it as τρόχος, equivalent to "course," is universally given up (see Winer, 'Gram. of N. T.,' p. 62). For γένεσις, comp. James 1:23. The Vulgate has retain nativitatis nostrae.) Alford translates the phrase, "the orb of the creation," and in favor of this the use of the word τροχός in Psalm 77. (76.) 19 may be appealed to. But more natural is the interpretation of Dean Plumptre, who takes it as "a figure for the whole of life from birth, the wheel which then begins to roll on its course and continues rolling until death." So Huther and Dean Scott in the ' Speaker's Commentary.' This view has the support of the Syriac Version: "The course of our generations which run as a wheel;" and is implied in the (false) reading of א, τῆς γενέσεως ἡμῶν, (compare the Vulgate). It should also be noticed that life is compared to a wheel in Ecclesiastes 12:6 (LXX., τροχός). And is set on fire. The tongue has already been called a fire. It is now shown how that fire is kindled - kern beneath, kern Gehenna. A similar expression is found in the Targum on Psalm 120:2, "Lingua dolosa ... cum carbonibus juniperi, qui incensi sunt in Gehenna interne." Gehenna, here personified, is mentioned also in Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:9; Matthew 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5. Thus the passage before us is the only one in the New Testament where the word is used except, by our Lord himself. The word itself is simply a Graecised form of גֵּי הִנּום, "valley of Hinnom," or fully, "valley of the sons of Hinnom" (variously rendered by the LXX. φάραγξ Ανννόμ or υἱοῦ Αννόμ or Γαιέννα, Joshua 18:16). This valley, from its associations, became a type of hell; and hence its name was taken by the Jews to denote the place of torment. In this sense it occurs in the New Testament, and frequently in Jewish writings (see Buxtorf, 'Lexicon,' sub verb. גְהִנָּם), and it is said that the later rabbis actually fixed upon this valley as the mouth of hell. World of iniquity (κόσμος τῆς ἀδικίας)

Κόσμος, primarily, means order, and is applied to the world or universe as an orderly system. A world of iniquity is an organism containing within itself all evil essence, which from it permeates the entire man. World is used in the same sense as in the latter part of Proverbs 17:6 (Sept.), which is not given in the A. V. "The trusty hath the whole world of things, but the faithless not a groat."

Is the tongue (καθίσταται)

This differs a little from the simple is, though it is not easy to render it accurately. The verb means to appoint, establish, institute, and is used of the tongue as having an appointed and definite place in a system (among our members). It might be rendered hath its place.

Defileth (σπιλοῦσα)

Lit., defiling. Only here and Jde 1:23. See on 2 Peter 2:13.

Setteth on fire (φλογίζουσα)

Lit., setting on fire. Only in this verse in New Testament.

The course of nature (τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως)

A very obscure passage. Τροχός, (only here in New Testament), from τρέχω, to run, applies generally to anything round or circular which runs or rolls, as a wheel or sphere. Hence, often a wheel. Used of the circuit of fortifications and of circles or zones of land or sea. From the radical sense, to run, comes the meaning course, as the course of the sun; and from this a place for running, a race-course. Γενέσεως rendered nature, means origin, beginning, birth, manner of birth, production, and is used by Plato for the creation, or the sum of created things. It also means a race, and a generation or age. In the New Testament it occurs but twice outside of this epistle, viz., at Matthew 1:1, "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ," where the meaning is origin or birth; the birth-book of Jesus Christ. The other passage is Matthew 1:18, according to the best texts, also meaning birth. In James 1:23, as we have seen, πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως, is the face of his birth. We may then safely translate τροχός by wheel; and as birth is the meaning of γένεσις in every New-Testament passage where it occurs, we may give it the preference here and render the wheel of birth - i.e., the wheel which is set in motion at birth and runs on to the close of life. It is thus a figurative description of human life. So Anacreon:

"The chariot-wheel, like life, runs rolling round,"

Tertullian says: "The whole revolving wheel of existence bears witness to the resurrection of the dead." The Rev., which gives nature, puts birth in margin. This revolving wheel is kindled by the tongue, and rolls on in destructive blaze. The image is justified by the fact. The tongue works the chief mischief, kindles the most baleful fires in the course of life.

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