James Chapter 3 Notes – Winterim with Dr. Moo

James Chapter 3Here’s chapter 3 of James from my winterim class with Dr. Douglas Moo. You can download them in pdf format or view them in plain text here on the blog.

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Notes from the 2008 Winterim at the Master’s Seminary on James with Dr. Moo
by Nathan Wells

The Letter of


Chapter 3

The Structure of 3:1-4:12[NRW1]
Sub-Section 3:1-12[NRW2]

1 Let not many of you[NRW3] become teachers[NRW4] , my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter[NRW5] judgment[NRW6] .

2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect[NRW7] man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.

4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.

5 So also[NRW8] the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

See how great a forest[NRW9] is set aflame by such a small fire!

6[NRW10] And the tongue is a fire, the very world[NRW11] of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members [NRW12] as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course[NRW13] of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

7 [NRW14] For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed[NRW15] and has been tamed by the human race[NRW16] .

8 But no one[NRW17] can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil [NRW18] and full of deadly poison.

9[NRW19] With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness[NRW20] of God;

10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.

11[NRW21] Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?

12[NRW22] Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

Sub-Section 3:13-4:3[NRW23]

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

14 But if you have bitter jealousy [NRW24] and selfish ambition[NRW25] in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.

15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above[NRW26] , but is earthly, natural, demonic.

16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

17 But[NRW27] the wisdom from above [NRW28] is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy[NRW29] .

18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make [NRW30] peace.


[NRW1]Somewhat chiastic structure (from the Greek letter χ)

-Sinful abusive speech 3:1-12

–Jealousy, Pride 3:13-16

—Peace 3:17-18

—Lack of peace 4:1

–Jealousy, Price 4:2-10

-Sinful Critical Speech 4:11-12


A lot of parallels between James and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (ToTP) – this does not mean that James was directly quoting this book, but just an indirect reflection of common general teaching. All we can say is that James seems to have some very close parallels with other teachings that were written down and available to him. We cannot dogmatically say that James actually did use these sources, only that it there is an interesting similarity. In some ways, this is the way wisdom works, and this helps us to see that James’ book has much of the wisdom genre. For example, why the brothers got rid of Joseph, is stated to be envy in the ToTP

Understanding where James gets his stuff, can help us to see why he says what he says, and why he says it in the order that he says it, and why he says it the way he says it.

[NRW2]This section seems to go until verse 12 The Teacher and the Tongue

Warning: Teaching is Dangerous! v. 1a


1. Teachers face Stricter judgment v. 1b

2. Teachers use a dangerous weapon

a. Tiny, yet how powerful vv. 2-5

b. Difficult to control vv. 6-8

Incongruity and impropriety of its double nature vv. 9-12

[NRW3]Who is James addressing?

Teachers only (see v. 13)

Teachers mainly

Teachers, yes – but all Christians

[NRW4]Probably not so much a person that teaches every so often, but those who are recognized as teachers and who are in that position within the church. Because there is a sense in which all Christians are engaged in teaching (Great Commission etc), but that just helps us see James is speaking of the office of teacher.

[NRW5]God will look at us more carefully, not necessarily a greater condemnation (i.e. a worse place in hell), think about how your words will effect others.

[NRW6]QUESTION: must this refer to God’s judgment or just the “we live in a glass house” mentality that teachers must come to grips with? ANSWER: As we look at the word “judgment” in Scripture, and specifically in the way James uses the term, we conclude he is referring to God’s judgment and not the mere “opinion” of men.

[NRW7]Again, we have the “completeness” notion again. We see similarities with what James says in Philo, Post. and Exile of Cain 88 “But if a man succeeded, as if handling a lyre, in brining all the notes of the thing that is good into tune, bringing speech in harmony with intent, and intent with deed, such an one would be considered perfect and of a truly harmonious character.”

[NRW8]James is a master at illustrating his points. And here he brings his illustrations to his point.

[NRW9]TRANSLATION NOTE: forest might not be the best translation, because forest in our mind means something different than the word ὕλην – though some believe

[NRW10]The ESV leaves out the def. article on “world” – they claim to be “literal,” but are they? All translations say, “Let’s follow the structure of the Greek and Hebrew as long as it makes sense in English” and they draw the line in different places – Dr. Moo.


“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members..” ESV


“And the tongue is a fire! The tongue represents the world of wrongdoing among the parts of our bodies” NET


[NRW11]This is an interesting use of this term – why did James choose to use it?

[NRW12]What does this mean? The members of the body of Christ? Or our individual physical bodies? We need to be careful to read our own culture into the text.

[NRW13]τροχὸν – “The wheel of being” is how we would render the Greek literally.

Some say this is Stoic Philosophical language, therefore some say James could not have written this letter – but we don’t know anything about James’ life! That is a very weak argument. More likely, we have an example here of a technical phrase that became common and widely used.

[NRW14]Obvious allusion to Genesis (mandate to rule etc) – looking at the creation story, even in the way that he splits creation into its different parts.

[NRW15]δαμάζω – Though before the fall, Adam probably didn’t need to tame the animals – but the word “tame” probably isn’t the best word – possibly more the notion of “subdue” would be clearer.

[NRW16]TNIV has “human beings” and that kind of missing the point of the Greek, in the whole of the human race or kind. New edition of the TNIV planned in 2012 or 2015 and Dr. Moo just received over 500 pages of suggested revisions. Dr. Moo also thinks that “man” can still be used as a collective word, though he lost the debate in the TNIV council (humankind just sounds artificial – people just don’t say that).

[NRW17]James says, “No one among human beings” – but most translations do not reflect the “human being” aspect (though the NET and ESV says, “no human being”

Why did James put it this way – why not just say “no one?”

Perhaps James is pointing out the contrast between us and God – for without the power of God we cannot tame it (Augustine argued this interpretation).

[NRW18]Seen also in Hermas (written after James), Mandate 2.3 “Slander is evil; it is a restless demon, never at peace.”

[NRW19]Again we see James concern about “double-ness” and how there is something intrinsically wrong with our tongues. We should be people who are moving towards consistency, or oneness, in the way it is used, for praise of God alone.

[NRW20]Again, James continues his allusion to the Genesis account – we were made in the “image” of God.

This also helps us to see that we still have the image of God, even in our fallen state, though it is marred.

[NRW21]There is some difficulty in the translation of this verse – but overall, the idea is pretty much clear. It is wrong for duality to exist in us, for we have been renewed by the Spirit. SO what the tongue might reveal then, is that the heart has not been renewed. We see the “already not yet” idea here. The process is not complete yet. James’ concern is that we realize how important it is that we be involved in that process – not so much that we would be able to be train our speech, but that our HEART would be more and more changed, to be made holy, for then our speech will change as a reflection of that changed heart. FOCUS ON THE HEART! Not “Better Homes and Gardens” sermons!

[NRW22]One thing should produce something like it. Point: the heart renewed by the Spirit of God, should be producing speech that reflects that heart (Matt. 15:11, 17-20).


Quarrels and Peace:

Peace comes from divine wisdom vv. 13-18
Divine wisdom v. 13

Godly lifestyle, humility

“Earthly” wisdom vv. 14-15

Jealousy, partisanship, boasting, denying the truth

CAUSING: disorder & all kinds of evil v. 16

Note the highlighted words in this section, showing the reasons for this structured outline. Though it is possible the outline has gone a little too far in trying to see structure in the book.


[NRW24]ζῆλον πικρὸν see 4:2 comment on “envious” and note Greek root.

[NRW25]Possibly especially said for the sake of the leaders – why are they leading? To enhance their carrier, or for the sake of God?

[NRW26]i.e. God’s wisdom

[NRW27]Here is the contrast between the wisdom from below and the wisdom from above.

[NRW28]How do we get it? From God – the “Giver” James 2:6 as well as through persistence James 1:2-5

What is “wisdom?”

Knowledge, Wise dealing, Insight, Shrewdness, Discipline

[NRW29]Again notice the “oneness” concept – God and the things from Him are not dual in nature as the things that the world are.

[NRW30]τοῖς ποιοῦσιν – Dative case TRANSLATION ISSUE (advantage or instrumental?):

A statement of what peacemakers do (“And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” [RSV]) or what peacemakers are promised (“And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” [NRSV])

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