James 3:8
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly (or, restless) evil, full of deadly poison.—Mortiferous, bringer of death, like a poisoned dart or arrow; and therefore most suggestive of envenomed flights at the fame of others. St. James does not mean that no one can tame his own tongue, for so he would hardly be responsible for its vagaries; and lower down it is written expressly, “these things ought not so to be.” The hopeless savagery of the tongue, excelling the fury of wild beasts, must be that of the liar, the traducer, and blasphemer. (Comp. Psalms 140)

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.But the tongue can no man tame - This does not mean that it is never brought under control, but that it is impossible effectually and certainly to subdue it. It would be possible to subdue and domesticate any kind of beasts, but this could not be done with the tongue.

It is an unruly evil - An evil without restraint, to which no certain and effectual check can be applied. Of the truth of this no one can have any doubt, who looks at the condition of the world.

Full of deadly poison - That is, it acts on the happiness of man, and on the peace of society, as poison does on the human frame. The allusion here seems to be to the bite of a venomous reptile. Compare Psalm 140:3, "They have sharpened their tongues like serpent; adders" poison is under their lips." Romans 3:13, "with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips." Nothing would better describe the mischief that may be done by the tongue. There is no sting of a serpent that does so much evil in the world; there is no poison more deadly to the frame than the poison of the tongue is to the happiness of man. Who, for example, can stand before the power of the slanderer? What mischief can be done in society that can be compared with that which he may do?

- 'Tis slander;

Whose edge is sharper than the sword; whose tongue

Outvenoms all the worms of Nile; whose breath

Rides on the posting winds, and doth belie

All corners of the world: kings, queens, and states,

Maids, matrons, nay, the secrets of the grave

This viperous slander enters.

Shakespeare in Cymbellna.

8. no man—literally, "no one of men": neither can a man control his neighbor's, nor even his own tongue. Hence the truth of Jas 3:2 appears.

unruly evil—The Greek, implies that it is at once restless and incapable of restraint. Nay, though nature has hedged it in with a double barrier of the lips and teeth, it bursts from its barriers to assail and ruin men [Estius].

deadly—literally, "death-bearing."

But the tongue; not only other men’s tonges, but his own.

Can no man tame; no man of himself, and without the assistance of Divine grace, can bring his tongue into subjection, and keep it in order; nor can any man, by the assistance of any grace promised in this life, so keep it, as that it shall never at all offend.

It is an unruly evil; or, which cannot be restrained, and kept within bounds: wild beasts are kept in by grates and bars, but this by no restraint.

Full of dead poison; the wickedness of the tongue is compared to poison, in respect of the mischief it doth to others. It seems to allude to those kinds of serpents which have poison under their tongues, Psalm 140:3, with which they kill those they bite. The poison of the tongue is no less deadly, it murders men’s reputations by the slanders it utters, their souls by the lusts and passions it stirs up in them, and many times their bodies too by the contentions and quarrels it raiseth against men. But the tongue can no man tame,.... Either his own, or others; not his own, for the man that has the greatest guard upon himself, his words and actions; yet, what through pride or passion, or one lust or another in his heart, at one time or another, bolts out vain, idle, angry, and sinful words: and he that does not may be set down for a perfect man indeed: nor can he tame or restrain the tongues of others from detraction, calumnies, backbitings, and whisperings; who say, their lips are their own, and who is Lord over us? no man can, by his own power and strength, tame or subdue his tongue, or restrain it from evils it is habituated to, be it lying, cursing, swearing, or what else: God, by his Spirit, power, and grace, can, and often does, change the note of the curser, swearer, liar, and blasphemer; but no man can do this, though he can tame beasts, birds, serpents, and fishes; which shows the tongue to be worse than anything to be found in the whole compass of nature:

it is an unruly evil: an evil it is, for it is a world of iniquity; and an unruly one, being more so than the horse and mule, which are without understanding, who are kept in and governed, and turned any way by the bit and bridle: but though in nature the tongue is fenced by a double fence of the lips and teeth, this is not sufficient to restrain it; it breaks all bounds, and is not to be kept in by nature, art, or argument: nothing but the grace of God can in any measure govern it, or lay an embargo on it:

full of deadly poison, which, privately, secretly, and gradually, destroys the characters, credit, and reputation of men; and is of fatal consequence in families, neighbourhoods, churches, and states.

But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Jam 3:8. The chief thought is marked by δέ, as a contrast to the foregoing. With τὴν γλῶσσαν is meant not the tongue of others (Estius, Grotius, Hornejus, Baumgarten), but one’s own tongue (according to Lange, both are indicated, the last primarily). The remark of Bengel is also unsuitable: nemo alius, vix ipse quisque. The words οὐδεὶς δύναται ἀνθρώπων δαμάζειν (or more correctly, after B C: οὐδεὶς δαμάσαι δύναται ἀνθρώπων, because the accent is on δαμάσαι) are to be understood in all their sharpness; the weakening completion of the Schol. in Matthaei: εὐκόλως δηλαδὴ καὶ ἄνευ πόνου, is false. By this thought, what was said in Jam 3:2 now receives its full light. The moral earnestness of the author urges him at the close to the exclamation: ἀκατάστατον κακόν κ.τ.λ.; hence the independent form of this addition (see Winer, p. 471 [E. T. 668]). By ἀκατάστατον (unsteady, restless, see chap. Jam 1:8) the unrest of the passions is indicated, not simply with reference to what follows, unsteadfastness (de Wette); comp. Hermas, Past. II. mand. 2 : πονηρὸν πνεῦμά ἐστιν ἡ καταλαλία, καὶ ἀκατάστατον δαιμόνιον. This reading is to be preferred to that of the Rec. ἀκατάσχετον (not to be tamed), “because it adds a new idea after οὐδεὶς δαμάσαι δυν. ἀνθρ.” (Wiesinger).

The image of the poisonous serpent lies at the foundation of the second exclamation: μεστὴ ἰοῦ θανατηφόρου; comp. Psalm 140:4.8. but the tongue can no man tame] There is a special force in the Greek tense for “tame”, which expresses not habitual, but momentary action. St James had learnt, by what he saw around him, and yet more, it may be, by personal experience, that no powers of the “nature of man” were adequate for this purpose. He had learnt also, we must believe, that the things which are impossible with man are possible with God.

an unruly evil] Literally, uncontrollable. Many of the better MSS., however, give the adjective which is rendered “unstable” in ch. James 1:8, and which carries with it, together with that meaning, the idea of restlessness and turbulence. So in the Shepherd of Hermas (11.2) calumny is described as a “restless demon.”

full of deadly poison] Literally, death-bringing. For the idea comp. “the poison of asps is under their lips,” Psalm 140:3. The adjective is found in the LXX. version of Job 33:23, for “angels or messengers of death.”Jam 3:8. Οὐδεὶς, ἀνθρώπων, no one of men) The antithesis is, of man, Jam 3:7.—οὐδεὶς, no other; scarcely each individual himself.—ἀκατάσχετον κακὸν) an unruly evil. Phocylides, λαός τοι καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ πῦρ, ἀκατάσχετα πάντα. So πῦρ, Jam 3:6.—μεστὴ, full) The nominative, after the parenthesis, compared with Jam 3:6. Then especially the evil is not to be restrained, when[38] it swells with deadly poison.

[38] So Beng. seems to take μεστὴ, when it is full, etc.—E.Verse 8. - It is an unruly evil; rather restless, reading ἀκατάστατον (א, A, B) for ἀκατάσχετον of Textus Receptus (C, K, L); Vulgate, inquietum malum (cf. James 1:8). The nominatives in this verse should be noticed: "The last words are to be regarded as a kind of exclamation, and are therefore appended in an independent construction" (Winer, p. 668). A restless evil! Full of deadly poison! Compare the abrupt nominative in Philippians 3:19 with Bishop Light-feet's note. Deadly (θανατηφόρος); here only in the New Testament. In the LXX. it is found in Numbers 18:22; Job 33:23; 4 Macc. 8:17, 24; 15:23. For the figure, cf. Psalm 140:3, "They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders' poison is under their lips." No man (οὐδεὶς ἀνθρώπων)

A strong expression. Lit., no on of men.

Unruly (ἀκατάσχετον)

Lit., not to be held back. The proper reading, however, is ἀκατάστατον, unsettled. See on καθίσταται, hath its place, James 3:6. Rev., correctly, restless.

Deadly (θανατηφόρου)

Lit., death-bearing, or-bringing. Only here in New Testament.

Poison (ἰοῦ)

Rendered rust at James 5:3; and found only in these two passages and in Romans 3:13, in the citation of Psalm 140:3.

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