James 4:11
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.
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(11) Speak not evil . . .—Do not “back-bite,” as the same word is translated in Romans 1:30, and 2Corinthians 12:20. The good reason why not is given in the graceful interjection “brothers.” Omit the conjunction in the next phrase, and read as follows:—

He that speaketh evil . . .—Punctuate thus: He that speaketh evil of his brother, judgeth his brother; speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law. In this way the cumulative force of St. James’s remarks is best preserved. Hearken to the echo of his Master’s words. “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). But the apostolic condemnation is in no way meant to condone a vicious life, and leave it unalarmed and self-contented; for boldness in rebuke thereof we have the example of John the Baptist. All that he reproves is the setting up of our own tribunals, in which we are at once prosecutor, witness, law, lawgiver, and judge; not to say executioner as well. Prœjudicium was a merciful provision under Roman law, and often spared the innocent a lengthier after trial; but prejudice—our word taken from it—is its most unhappy opposite. Many worthy people have much sympathy with David, in their effort to hold their tongue and keep “silence, yea even from good words;” truly it is “pain and grief” to them (Psalm 39:3). But “to take the law into one’s own hands” is to break it, and administer inequitably.

James 4:11-12. Speak not evil one of another — See on Titus 3:2. Evil- speaking is a grand hinderance of peace and comfort; yea, and of holiness. O who is sufficiently aware of the evil of that sin? He that speaketh evil of his brother — Of his fellow-Christian or fellow-creature; and judgeth his brother — For such things as the word of God allows, or does not condemn, does, in effect, speak evil of the law — Both of Moses and of Christ, which forbids that kind of speaking; and judgeth the law — Condemns it, as if it were an imperfect rule. In doing which, thou art not a doer of the law — Dost not yield due obedience to it; but a judge of it — Settest thyself above it, and showest, if thou wert able, thou wouldest abrogate it. There is one lawgiver — By whose judgment and final sentence thou must stand or fall hereafter; for he is able to execute the sentence he denounces, and save with a perfect and everlasting salvation, and to destroy with an utter and endless destruction; who art thou — A poor, weak, dying worm; that judgest another — And thereby assumest the prerogative of Christ?

4:11-17 Our lips must be governed by the law of kindness, as well as truth and justice. Christians are brethren. And to break God's commands, is to speak evil of them, and to judge them, as if they laid too great a restraint upon us. We have the law of God, which is a rule to all; let us not presume to set up our own notions and opinions as a rule to those about us, and let us be careful that we be not condemned of the Lord. Go to now, is a call to any one to consider his conduct as being wrong. How apt worldly and contriving men are to leave God out of their plans! How vain it is to look for any thing good without God's blessing and guidance! The frailty, shortness, and uncertainty of life, ought to check the vanity and presumptuous confidence of all projects for futurity. We can fix the hour and minute of the sun's rising and setting to-morrow, but we cannot fix the certain time of a vapour being scattered. So short, unreal, and fading is human life, and all the prosperity or enjoyment that attends it; though bliss or woe for ever must be according to our conduct during this fleeting moment. We are always to depend on the will of God. Our times are not in our own hands, but at the disposal of God. Our heads may be filled with cares and contrivances for ourselves, or our families, or our friends; but Providence often throws our plans into confusion. All we design, and all we do, should be with submissive dependence on God. It is foolish, and it is hurtful, to boast of worldly things and aspiring projects; it will bring great disappointment, and will prove destruction in the end. Omissions are sins which will be brought into judgment, as well as commissions. He that does not the good he knows should be done, as well as he who does the evil he knows should not be done, will be condemned. Oh that we were as careful not to omit prayer, and not to neglect to meditate and examine our consciences, as we are not to commit gross outward vices against light!Speak not evil one of another, brethren - It is not known to whom the apostle here particularly refers, nor is it necessary to know. It is probable that among those whom he addressed there were some who were less circumspect in regard to speaking of others than they should be, and perhaps this evil prevailed. There are few communities where such an injunction would not be proper at any time, and few churches where some might not be found to whom the exhortation would be appropriate. Compare the Ephesians 4:31 note; 1 Peter 2:1 note. The evil here referred to is that of talking against others - against their actions, their motives, their manner of living, their families, etc. Few things are more common in the world; nothing is more decidedly against the true spirit of religion.

He that speaketh evil of his brother - Referring here probably to Christian brother, or to a fellow Christian. The word may however be used in a larger sense to denote anyone - a brother of the human race. Religion forbids both, and would restrain us from all evil speaking against any human being.

And judgeth his brother - His motives, or his conduct. See the notes at Matthew 7:1.

Speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law - Instead of manifesting the feelings of a brother he sets himself up as judge, and not only a judge of his brother, but a judge of the law. The law here referred to is probably the law of Christ, or the rule which all Christians profess to obey. It is that which James elsewhere calls the "law of liberty," (Notes, James 1:25) the law which released men from the servitude of the Jewish rites, and gave them liberty to worship God without the restraint and bondage Acts 15:10; Galatians 4:21-31 implied in that ancient system of worship; and the law by which it was contemplated that they should be free from sin. It is not absolutely certain to what the apostle refers here, but it would seem probable that it is to some course of conduct which one portion of the church felt they were at liberty to follow, but which another portion regarded as wrong, and for which they censured them.

The explanation which will best suit the expressions here used, is that which supposes that it refers to some difference of opinion which existed among Christians, especially among those of Jewish origin, about the binding nature of the Jewish laws, in regard to circumcision, to holy days, to ceremonial observances, to the distinctions of meats, etc. A part regarded the law on these subjects as still binding, another portion supposed that the obligation in regard to these matters had ceased by the introduction of the gospel. Those who regarded the obligation of the Mosaic law as still binding, would of course judge their brethren, and regard them as guilty of a disregard of the law of God by their conduct. We know that differences of opinion on these points gave rise to contentions, and to the formation of parties in the church, and that it required all the wisdom of Paul and of the other apostles to hush the contending elements to peace.

Compare the notes at Colossians 2:16-18. To some such source of contention the apostle doubtless refers here; and the meaning probably is, that they who held the opinion that all the Jewish ceremonial laws were still binding on Christians, and who judged and condemned their brethren who did not observe them, by such a course judged and condemned "the law of liberty" under which they acted - the law of Christianity that had abolished the ceremonial observances, and released men from their obligation. The judgment which they passed, therefore, was not only on their brethren, but was on that law of Christianity which had given greater liberty of conscience, and which was intended to abolish the obligation of the Jewish ritual. The same thing now occurs when we judge others for a course which their consciences approve, because they do not deem it necessary to comply with all the rules which we think to be binding.

Not a few of the harsh judgments which one class of religionists pronounce on others, are in fact judgments on the laws of Christ. We set up our own standards, or our own interpretations, and then we judge others for not complying with them, when in fact they may be acting only as the law of Christianity, properly understood, would allow them to do. They who set up a claim to a right to judge the conduct of others, should be certain that they understand the nature of religion themselves. It may be presumed, unless there is evidence to the contrary, that others are as conscientious as we are; and it may commonly be supposed that they who differ from us have some reason for what they do, and may be desirous of glorifying their Lord and Master, and that they may possibly be right. It is commonly not safe to judge hastily of a man who has turned his attention to a particular subject, or to suppose that he has no reasons to allege for his opinions or conduct.

But if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge - It is implied here that it is the simple duty of every Christian to obey the law. He is not to assume the office of a judge about its propriety or fitness; but he is to do what he supposes the law to require of him, and is to allow others to do the same. Our business in religion is not to make laws, or to declare what they should have been, or to amend those that are made; it is simply to obey those which are appointed, and to allow others to do the same, as they understand them. It would be well for all individual Christians, and Christian denominations, to learn this, and to imbibe the spirit of charity to which it would prompt.

11. Having mentioned sins of the tongue (Jas 3:5-12), he shows here that evil-speaking flows from the same spirit of exalting self at the expense of one's neighbor as caused the "fightings" reprobated in this chapter (Jas 4:1).

Speak not evil—literally, "Speak not against" one another.

brethren—implying the inconsistency of such depreciatory speaking of one another in brethren.

speaketh evil of the law—for the law in commanding, "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Jas 2:8), virtually condemns evil-speaking and judging [Estius]. Those who superciliously condemn the acts and words of others which do not please themselves, thus aiming at the reputation of sanctity, put their own moroseness in the place of the law, and claim to themselves a power of censuring above the law of God, condemning what the law permits [Calvin]. Such a one acts as though the law could not perform its own office of judging, but he must fly upon the office [Bengel]. This is the last mention of the law in the New Testament. Alford rightly takes the "law" to be the old moral law applied in its comprehensive spiritual fulness by Christ: "the law of liberty."

if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer … but a judge—Setting aside the Christian brotherhood as all alike called to be doers of the law, in subjection to it, such a one arrogates the office of a judge.

Speak not evil one of another; viz. unless in the way of an ordinance, by reproof, admonition, &c., Leviticus 5:1 1 Corinthians 1:11 11:18 2 Corinthians 11:13 2 Timothy 4:14,15.

He forbids all detraction, rigid censuring, and rash judging the hearts and lives of others, when men condemn whatever doth not suit with their notions or humours, and make their own moroseness the rule of other men’s manners.

Judgeth his brother; finds fault with and condemns him for those things which the law doth not condemn in him, or forbid to him, Romans 14:3,4.

Judgeth the law; viz. either:

1. By his practising and approving what the law condemns, i.e. this very censoriousness and detraction: or:

2. By condemning that which the law allows; he condemns the law for allowing it, taxing it as too short and imperfect.

But if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge; if thou not only judgest thy brother, and therein invadest the law’s office, (whose part it is to judge him), but judgest him for what the law doth not forbid him, and therein judgest the law itself, as insufficient, and not strict enough; thou dost cast off the law’s government, disown its superiority, exempt thyself from any subjection to it, and make thyself merely a judge of it.

Speak not evil one of another, brethren,.... The apostle here returns to his former subject, concerning the vices of the tongue, he had been upon in the preceding chapter, James 3:6, and here mentions one, which professors of religion were too much guilty of, and that is, speaking evil one of another; which is done either by raising false reports, and bringing false charges; or by aggravating failings and infirmities; or by lessening and depreciating characters, and endeavouring to bring others into discredit and disesteem among men: this is a very great evil, and what the men of the world do, and from them it is expected; but for the saints to speak evil one of another, to sit and speak against a brother, and slander an own mother's son, is barbarous and unnatural.

He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law; he that is a talebearer and backbites his brother, his fellow member, and detracts from his good name and character, and takes upon him to judge his heart, and his state, as well as, to condemn his actions, he speaks evil of the law; and judges and condemns that, as if that forbid a thing that was lawful, even tale bearing and detraction, Leviticus 19:16, or by speaking evil of him for a good thing he does, he blames and condemns the law, as though it commanded a thing that was evil; and by passing sentence upon his brother, he takes upon him the province of the law, which is to accuse, charge, convince, pronounce guilty, and condemn:

but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law; as is a duty, and would best become:

but a judge; and so such a person not only infringes the right of the law, but assumes the place of the Judge and lawgiver himself; whereas, as follows,

{7} 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.

(7) He reprehends most sharply another double mischief of pride. The one is, in that the proud and arrogant will have other men to live according to their will and pleasure. Therefore they do most arrogantly condemn whatever does not please them: which cannot be done without great injury to our only lawmaker. For through this his laws are found fault with, as not carefully enough written, and men challenge that to themselves which properly belongs to God alone, in that they lay a law upon men's consciences.

Jam 4:11. Without any indication of a connection with the preceding, James passes to a new exhortation, which, however, is so far closely attached to the preceding, inasmuch as humiliation before God carries with itself humility toward our brethren. From the fact that this exhortation, although decidedly earnest, has yet undeniably a milder character than the former, and that James uses here the address ἀδελφοί, whereas before it was μοιχαλίδες, ἁμαρτωλοί, δίψυχοι,[201] it is to be inferred that James now addresses, at least primarily, those who by the worldly ways of others felt induced to do those things against which he here exhorts them.

μὴ καταλαλεῖτε ἀλλήλων] καταλαλεῖν only here and in 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 3:16 (the substantive in 2 Corinthians 12:20; the adjective in Romans 1:30; 1 Peter 2:1), to speak in a hostile manner against one; Luther, “to slander:” ἀλλήλων] against each other. Estius, Semler, Pott, Gebser, Hottinger incorrectly restrict the exhortation to teachers.[202]

ὁ καταλαλῶν κ.τ.λ. assigns the reason of the exhortation. The two ideas καταλαλῶν and κρίνων are indeed closely connected, but are not equivalent, since καταλαλεῖν presupposes κρίνειν; they are here indicated as distinct ideas by .

By the addition ἀδελφοῦ not only is the reprehensibleness of καταλαλεῖν emphasized (Schneckenburger: jam hoc vocabulo, quantum peccatur καταλαλιαῖς, submonet), but also the reason is given for the sentiment here expressed καταλαλεῖ νόμου. By αὐτοῦ added to τὸν ἀδελφόν this is brought out more strongly, whilst also the brotherly union is more distinctly marked than by the simple ἀδελφοῦ; incorrectly Bengel: fraterna aequalitas laeditur obtrectando; sed magis judicando.

καταλαλεῖ νόμου καὶ κρίνει νόμον] By νόμος the same law is here meant as in chap. Jam 1:25, Jam 2:9, etc.: the law of Christian life, which according to its contents is none other than the law of love, to which ἀδελφοῦ and τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ already point. By reviling and condemning one’s brother, the law of love itself is reviled and condemned, whilst it is thereby disclaimed as not lawfully existing, and, as may be added, its tendency to save and not to destroy is condemned (Lange). The explanation of de Wette, that there is here a kind of play of words, in which is contained only the idea of contempt and disregard of the law, is unsatisfactory.[203] Grotius, Baumgarten, Hottinger quite erroneously understand by νόμος the Christian doctrine, and find therein expressed the sentiment, that whosoever imposes upon his neighbour arbitrary commandments designates the Christian doctrine as defective, and in so far sets himself up as its judge.[204]

With the following words: εἰ δὲ νόμον κρίνεις κ.τ.λ., the further consequence is added: but if thou judgest the law, thou art not a doer of the law, out a judge.

The particle δέ serves to carry on the thought: ΟὐΚ ΕἾ ΠΟΙΗΤῊς ΝΌΜΟΥ, i.e. thou thereby departest from the attitude which becomes thee; for the law is given to man that he might do it, but whosoever thinks he has right against the law, cannot be a doer of it, and consequently assumes a position which does not belong to him (Wiesinger), which position is, as the sequel says, ἀλλὰ κριτής. Baumgarten, Gebser, Neander, Wiesinger, Lange, and others supply the genitive ΝΌΜΟΥ to ΚΡΙΤΉς; incorrectly, for (1) this would make this sentence and the one preceding it tautological; (2) it dilutes the idea ΚΡΙΤΉς in its contrast to ΠΟΙΗΤῊς ΝΌΜΟΥ; and (3) the sequel which is added to this idea ΚΡΊΤΗς, adverts not to the judging of the law, but to the judging of the man. The meaning is: Whosoever judges the law constitutes himself a judge, giving a law according to which he judges or pronounces sentence upon his neighbour. But this is not the province of man. The following verse tells the reason why it is not so.

[201] Lange incorrectly observes that there is no reason to see here a transition from one class to another. But it is not here maintained that James has in view a sharply exclusive distinction of different classes of his readers.

[202] Wiesinger correctly says that we are not here to think of a contest between Jewish and Gentile Christians; Lange incorrectly asserts that the primary reference here is to the internal divisions of Judaism.

[203] The opinion of Stier is mistaken: “Whoever improperly and officiously notes and deals with the sins of other men, throws blame thereby upon the law of God, as if it were not sufficient; for he acts as if he supposed it necessary to come to the help of the law.”

[204] Lange, in accordance with his view, supposes the reference to be to the Jewish ceremonial law, although he does not explain νόμος as equivalent to doctrine. Also Bouman thinks that James has here in view the judicia de aliena conscientia; but James does not indicate that among his readers disputes took place de sabbati veneratione, de licito vel illicito ciborum usu, etc. Augustine here arbitrarily assumes an attack upon the Gentile Christians. Correctly Laurentius: Is qui detrahit proximo, detrahit legi, quia lex prohibet omnem detractionem, sed et judicat idem legem, quia hoc ipso quod contra prohibitionem legis detrahit, judicat quasi, legem non recte prohibuisse.

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.

11, 12. Rebuke of Evil-speaking

11. Speak not evil one of another, brethren] The last word indicates the commencement of a new section. It scarcely, however, introduces a new topic. The writer dwells with an iteration, needful for others, and not grievous to himself, (Php 3:1) on the ever-besetting sin of his time and people, against which he had warned his readers in Ch. James 1:19-20; James 1:26, and throughout Ch. 3.

speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law …] The logical train of thought seems to run thus. To speak against a brother is to condemn him; to condemn, when no duty calls us to it, is to usurp the function of a judge. One who so usurps becomes ipso facto a transgressor of the law, the royal law, of Christ, which forbids judging (Matthew 7:1-5). The “brother” who is judged is not necessarily such as a member of the Christian society. The superscription of the Epistle includes under that title every one of the family of Abraham, perhaps, every child of Adam.

Jam 4:11. Μὴ καταλαλεῖτε, speak not evil) He now notices other excesses of a restless soul; having in ch. 3 spoken of rest, and in the beginning of ch. 4 of confusion.—τὸν ἀδελφὸν, his brother) The article is here used, though not with ἀδελφοῦ. The equality of brothers is violated by evil-speaking, but more so by judging.—κρίνει νόμον, judges the law) For he acts, just as though the law itself could not perform that office, which a man of this kind pounces (flies) upon.—εἰ δὲ, but if) If you judge, you are a judge. The figure Ploce.[52]—ΝΌΜΟΥ, of the law) After this passage, the Law is not expressly mentioned in the volume of the New Testament, since it does not occur in the Epistles of Peter, John, and Jude, or in the Apocalypse.

[52] The figure Ploce is, when a word is used twice, so that in one place the word itself is meant, and in the other its property or attribute. See Append.

Verses 11, 12. - Warning against censorious depreciation of others. Verse 11. - Speak not evil. Καταλαλεῖν: only here and 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 3:16. Vulgate, detrahere. But the context shows that the writer is thinking rather of harsh censorious judging. R.V., "Speak not one against another." And judgeth; rather, or judgeth; η} (א, A, B, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic) for καὶ of the Textus Receptus. Speaketh evil of the law. What law? According to Dean Plumptre, "the royal law of Christ, which forbids judging (Matthew 7:1-5)." Alford: "The law of Christian life: the old moral Law, glorified and amplified by Christ: the νόμος βασιλικός of James 2:8; νόμος τῆς ἐλευθερίας of James 1:25." Huther: "the law of Christian life which, according to its contents, is none other than the law of love." James 4:11
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