James 4:12
There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
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(12) There is one lawgiver . . . .—Better thus: One is the Law-giver and Judge, Who is able to save and to destroy: but thouwho art thou that judgest a neighbour? As a king is the fountain of honour, so the ultimate source of law is God; and all judgment really is delegated by Him, just as ordinary courts represent the royal majesty: to usurp such functions is to provoke the offended sovereign—whether of earth or heaven. “It is not our part,” said Bengel, “to judge, since we cannot carry out our sentence.” (Comp. a parallel scripture, Romans 14:4.)

Able to save and to destroy.—Life and death, salvation and utter destruction, seem to be placed in intentional contrast here. (Comp. Matthew 10:28.) The thought of annihilation meets us with awful suggestiveness, yet let us leave the mystery for awhile in happier thought—

“That nothing walks with aimless feet;

That not one life shall be destroyed,

Or cast as rubbish to the void,

When God hath made the pile complete.”

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!There is one lawgiver - There is but one who has a right to give law. The reference here is undoubtedly to the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Legislator of the church. This, too, is a most important and vital principle, though one that has been most imperfectly understood and acted on. The tendency everywhere has been to enact other laws than those appointed by Christ - the laws of synods and councils - and to claim that Christians are bound to observe them, and should be punished if they do not. But it is a fundamental principle in Christianity that no laws are binding on the conscience, but those which Christ has ordained; and that all attempts to make other laws pertaining to religion binding on the conscience is a usurpation of his prerogatives. The church is safe while it adheres to this as a settled principle; it is not safe when it submits to any legislation in religious matters as binding the conscience.

Who is able to save and to destroy - Compare Matthew 10:28. The idea here would seem to be, that he is able to save those whom you condemn, and to destroy you who pronounce a judgment on them. Or, in general, it may mean that he is intrusted with all power, and is abundantly able to administer his government; to restrain where it is necessary to restrain; to save where it is proper to save; to punish where it is just to punish. The whole matter pertaining to judgment, therefore, may be safely left in his hands; and, as he is abundantly qualified for it, we should not usurp his prerogatives.

Who art thou that judgest another? - "Who art thou, a weak and frail and erring mortal, thyself accountable to that Judge, that thou shouldest interfere, and pronounce judgment on another, especially when he is doing only what that Judge permits him to do?" See this sentiment explained at length in the notes at Romans 14:4. Compare the Romans 2:1 note, and Matthew 7:1 note. There is nothing more decidedly condemned in the Scriptures than the habit of pronouncing a judgment on the motives and conduct of others. There is nothing in which we are more liable to err, or to indulge in wrong feelings; and there is nothing which God claims more for himself as his peculiar prerogative.

12. There is one lawgiver—The best authorities read in addition, "and judge." Translate, "There is One (alone) who is (at once) Lawgiver and Judge, (namely) He who is able to save and destroy." Implying, God alone is Lawgiver and therefore Judge, since it is He alone who can execute His judgments; our inability in this respect shows our presumption in trying to act as judges, as though we were God.

who art thou, &c.—The order in the Greek is emphatic, "But (inserted in oldest manuscripts) thou, who art thou that judgest another?" How rashly arrogant in judging thy fellows, and wresting from God the office which belongs to Him over thee and THEM alike!

another—The oldest authorities read, "thy neighbor."

There is one lawgiver; one absolute, supreme, universal and spiritual Lawgiver, and who can simply and directly bind men’s consciences, and make laws for their souls, Proverbs 8:15,16 Isa 33:22 Acts 4:19. By this he intimates, that they did invade God’s right, who took upon them a legislative power in prescribing to other men’s consciences, and making their own will the rule of the others’ duty.

Who is able to save and to destroy, both temporally and eternally, Deu 32:39 1 Samuel 2:6 Isaiah 43:13; whereas other lawgivers cannot save or destroy men’s souls, nor so much as their lives, without God’s concurrence.

Who art thou; what a sorry creature, a man, a worm, that thou shouldst lift up thyself into God’s place, and make thyself a judge of one not subject to thee!

That judgest another; the servant of another Master, Romans 14:4. It is a fond thing for thee to take upon thee the power of a judge, when thou hast no power of saving or destroying, rewarding or punishing.

There is one lawgiver,.... The Alexandrian copy, and others, and the Syriac, Ethiopic, and Vulgate Latin versions, add, "and judge". Who is the one only Lord God, Isaiah 33:22. This is a character that may be applied to God the Father, who gave the law to the people of Israel, both the judicial and ceremonial law, and also the moral law; from his right hand went a fiery law, and to him belongs the giving of it; and also to the Son of God, the Lord Jesus who is King of saints, and lawgiver in his house; who has given out commandments to be observed, and laws of discipline for the right ordering of his house, and kingdom, to be regarded; and particularly the new commandment of love, which is eminently called the law of Christ; and which is most apparently broke, by detraction and speaking evil one of another: now there may be inferior and subordinate lawgivers, as Judah is said to be God's lawgiver, and Moses is said to command the Jews a law; yet there is but one supreme, universal, and perfect lawgiver, who is God; and though there may be many lawgivers in things political, whose legislative power is to be obeyed, both for the Lord's sake, and for conscience sake; yet in things religious, and relating to conscience, God is the only lawgiver, who is to be hearkened unto:

who is able to save, and to destroy; this is true of God the Father, who is able to save, and does save by his Son Jesus Christ, and even persons that have broken the law he has given, and are liable to the curse and condemnation of it; and he is able to save them according to that law, in perfect consistence with it, and with his justice and holiness, since Christ, by whom he saves, was made under it, and has fulfilled it; and that Christ is mighty to save, able to save to the uttermost, is certain from the Scripture, and all experience; and God, the lawgiver, is able to destroy both body and soul in hell, for the transgressions of his law; and even Christ the Lamb is also the lion of the tribe of Judah, who will break his enemies in pieces, as a potter's vessel, and punish the contemners of his Gospel with everlasting destruction, from his presence and glory: in a word, God, the lawgiver, is sovereign, and can destroy, or save, whom he pleases; he is able to save the brother that is spoken against, and to destroy him that speaks against him:

who art thou that judgest another? another man's servant, as in Romans 14:4 or "thy neighbour", as the Syriac and Ethiopic versions read; or "the neighbour", as the Alexandrian copy, and the Vulgate Latin version; that is, any brother, friend, or neighbour, in the manner as before observed in the preceding verse.

There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
Jam 4:12. One is the lawgiver and judge, (namely) He who can rescue (save) and destroy. The chief accent lies on εἷς, in opposition to men who presume to be judges.

ὁ νομοθέτης καὶ κριτής] The idea νομοθέτης is here introduced, because the judging belongs only to Him who has given the law, and is adduced against those who by judging their neighbour act as lawgivers, whereas their duty is to obey the given law. The explanation of Morus is false: legislator et judex est una eademque persona; and Theile infers from this something entirely foreign: unus est legislator … idem utriusque legis auctor: et severioris mosaicae et liberalioris christianae … isque etiam judex … et legitimus et idoneus, idque et utriusque legis et eorum qui alterutram sequuntur; of all which there is here no mention.

ὁ δυνάμενος σῶσαι καὶ ἀπολέσαι] serves for a more precise statement of the subject εἷς (so also Brückner, Lange, Bouman); it mentions who this One is, and in such a manner that it is also announced why He and He only can be νομοθέτης καὶ κριτής. Schneckenburger correctly observes: ὁ δυνάμενος … articulus appositionis signum, ad subjectum εἷς pertinentis grammatice; but incorrectly adds: ita autem ut, quoad sensum, melius in propriam resolvatur sententiam. Not only grammatically, but also according to the sense, ὁ δυνάμενος, etc., is to be most closely united to εἷς; therefore also Luther’s translation: “there is one Lawgiver who is able to save and to condemn,” is incorrect.[205]

ὁ δυνάμενος] is not, with Schneckenburger, to be resolved into ᾧ ἔξεστι, but is to be retained in its literal meaning. Bengel correctly remarks: nostrum non est judicare; praesertim cum exequi non possimus.

On σῶσαι, see chap. Jam 2:14; on ἀπολέσαι, particularly Matthew 10:28.

σὺ δὲ τίς εἶ] expresses the insignificance of man, in contrast to ὁ δυνάμενος κ.τ.λ. (Schneckenburger), thus: “Thou who hast no power to save and to destroy;” comp. Matthew 10:28.

The same question in Romans 14:4; Romans 9:20.[206]

Ὁ ΚΡΊΝΩΝ] Schneckenburger: “thou appos. ad pron. σύ; qui articuli hanc vim nescierunt, loco participii posuerunt Ὃς ΚΡΙΝΕΙς.”

ΤῸΝ ΠΛΗΣΊΟΝ] without the personal pronoun, as in Mark 12:33; Romans 13:10; Romans 15:2. The Rec. τὸν ἕτερον perhaps arose from Romans 2:1.

[205] Most expositors in the interpretation of this passage have failed in precision, being satisfied with giving only its general meaning. They appear for the most part to regard ὁ δυνάμενος κ.τ.λ. as an attribute of ὁ νομοθέτης (the Rec. omits καὶ κριτής); thus de Wette translates it: “One is the lawgiver and judge, who is able to save and to destroy.” Wiesinger gives here only a paraphrase which is wanting in definiteness: “Judging us and our brethren belongs to Him alone (namely, to Him who as lawgiver is not under, but above the law), and He proves His exclusive right by His power to save and to destroy, with which He confirms His judicial sentence.”

[206] Yet is the σύ here to be understood in definite antithesis to another, namely to God, on which account also δέ is added. It has therefore a more independent meaning than in the passages adduced from the Epistle to the Romans. In this there is reason for the editors Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Buttmann here placing a comma after εἶ, but not in those other passages.

Jam 4:12. εἷς ἐστιν νομοθέτης καὶ κριτής; the words are intended to show the arrogant impertinence of those who were judging their neighbours on a misinterpretation of the Law. The word νομοθέτης does not occur elsewhere in the N.T., though νομοθετέω and νομοθεσία do; cf. Psalm 27:11.—ὁ δυνάμενος σῶσαι καὶ ἀπολέσαι: Cf. Matthew 10:28, τὸν δυνάμενον καὶ ψυχὴν καὶ σῶμα ἀπολέσαι ἐν γεέννῃ, and Luke 6:9.—σὺ δὲ τίς εἶ ὁ κρίνων τὸν πλησίον: we find very similar words in Romans 14:4, σὺ τίς εἶ ὁ κρίνων ἀλλότριον οἰκέτην; In Pirqe Aboth, i. 7, we read, “Judge every man in the scale of merit,” i.e., Give every man the benefit of the doubt (Taylor); cf. Shabbath, 127b, “He who thus judges others will thus himself be judged”.

12. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy …] Here again we have to trace a latent sequence of thought. The Giver of the Law is, St James implies, the only true and ultimate Judge (comp. 1 Corinthians 4:4-5), able to award in perfect equity the sentence of salvation or destruction. Men who are called by His appointment to exercise the office of a judge do so as His delegates. Those who are not so called do well to abstain altogether from the work of judging. The description of God as “able to destroy” presents a striking parallel to Matthew 10:28; the question “Who art thou that judgest another?” to Romans 14:4. On this point at least St Paul and St James were of one heart and mind. The word “destroy” does not necessarily either include or exclude the idea of annihilation.

Jam 4:12. Ὁ νομοθέτης) There is one, namely, the Lawgiver, God, who is able, etc. The Alex. and Lat. add καὶ κριτὴς, and many and weighty authorities confirm this reading; but I formerly preferred the received reading to this fuller one.[53] Baumgarten often asserts, that I am not consistent with myself. But it is commendable to change one’s opinion for the better; though at the same time he has never proved that I am at variance with myself. Consult App. Crit. Ed. ii. on this passage.—ὁ δυνάμενος, who is able) It is not ours to judge, especially when we are not able to carry into execution.—σῶσαι) Psalm 62:1 : παρʼ αὐτοῦ γὰρ τὸ σωτήριόν μου, “for from Him is my salvation:” and the same psalm, Jam 4:3; Jam 4:7-8. The Lat. [“perdere et liberare”], inverts the order of the words, as the Scripture often does: to kill and to make alive, to wound and to heal, to cause sadness and to comfort. See App. Crit. Ed. ii.—σὺ δὲ) The Greeks alone, and but few of these, read σὺ:[54] and these Baumgarten would not endeavour to extend into a great number, did he not place too great confidence in the critics who revise the manuscripts according to the text of Erasmus. Comp. again App. Crit. Ed. ii. In criticism, this rule has great weight: That which is wanting cannot be numbered, Ecclesiastes 1:15.—τίς, who) A feeble person.—τὸν ἕτερον) Many read Ὁ ΚΡΊΝΩΝ ΤῸΝ ΠΛΗΣΊΟΝ,[55] and thus the Syr[56] plainly reads: comp. ch. Jam 2:8. The Greek word ἕτερος is usually translated by another word, which means a companion, not a neighbour.

[53] AB Vulg. add καὶ κριτής. Rec. Text, without any very old authority, omits these words.—E.

[54] AB Vulg. support δέ. Rec. Text omits it, without any very old authority save that of Theb. Version.—E.

[55] AB Vulg. read πλησίον. Rec. Text, without very old authority, ἕτερον. “The margin of both Ed. as well as the Germ. Vers, of Beng. prefer πλησίον.”—E. B.—E.

[56] yr. the Peschito Syriac Version: second cent.: publ. and corrected by Cureton, from MS. of fifth cent.

Verse 12. - To play the part of a censor is to assume the office of a judge. But this is an office which belongs to God and not to man (cf. Romans 14:3, 4). The first words of the verse should be rendered as follows: "One only is the Lawgiver and Judge:" the last words, καὶ κριτής, omitted in the Received Text, being found in א, A, B, and most versions, the Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. In the last clause also the Received Text requires correction. Read, Σὺ δὲ τίς εῖ (insert δὲ, א, A, B, L, K, Latin, Syriac, Coptic) ὁ κρίνων τὸν πλήσιον (א, A, B). James 4:12There is one lawgiver (εἶς ἐστὶν ὁ νομοθέτης)

The A. V. fails to note the emphatic position of one. Better, Rev., one only is the lawgiver. Νομοθέτης, lawgiver, only here in New Testament.

But who art thou? (σὺ δὲ τίς εἶ)

According to the Greek order: but thou, who art thou?

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