Monday, November 26, 2012

James 3

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Taming the Tongue (v. 1-12)

Although the tongue is small, it is very powerful. It is like the rudder of a ship, which is small and yet controls where the ship goes in a strong wind. Or like a small flame that sets a forest fire ablaze. So be careful who becomes teachers, for the tongue of a teacher can control many.

I think that was the point here, it didn't quite lay it out exactly like that, but it started saying that not many people should be teachers and then spent the rest of the section talking about the power of the tongue, I think this is the intended message.

That being said, I agree with the idea that the tongue is very powerful, I guess the real message there is you should watch what you say. We can do a lot of damage with thoughtless words and we should be careful to avoid it.

Verse 1 says that not many people should become teachers. I definitely disagree with this message, I think everyone should try to teach what they know to other people, it is the best way to learn something yourself and spreading knowledge is always a good thing. We had a saying back in grad school, if you want to learn a topic, teach it to someone else. That being said,  I have a feeling that this is meant as more "leaders" than "teachers" in the way I am thinking about it, so my comments probably don't really apply. Nevertheless I find this idea compelling so I wanted to mention it anyway.

Guzik highlights that this is talking about becoming a teacher in the church and his take on this is basically that the position should not be taken lightly. I agree with this perspective, especially if you are talking about being a real leader in the church (which I think is the intention of the verse), but I do like the idea that many people within the church can take up smaller roles of authority and the congregation can spend a lot of energy teaching each other.

v. 7 "For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,"

I also wanted to point this verse out just because it is silly. At the time of this being written, we certainly hadn't discovered every type of creature that exists in nature, and I would say it is more than likely that is still true today. And we certainly haven't tamed them all.

Wisdom from Above (v. 13-18)

Wisdom comes from above, and unspiritual and demonic things from from below.

This is yet another one of those times when the bible just claims all good things as coming from God and all bad things as not coming from God. If you just claim that all wisdom comes from God, and then attribute all good things to him, while letting him get away from anything that is bad, of course he will look good, but it's just a bullshit illusion. Oh, actually, it sounds almost like a politician when I put it that way. That being said, there is some good advice here.

As usual, Guzik seems to take this message hook line and sinker.

v 13 says to show your works in the meekness of wisdom.

This is pretty good, being meek isn't always the best thing to do, but I think as a general guideline it is pretty good. 

v 14 says that jealousy, selfish ambition, boasting, and lying are bad.

That's a lot to shove together, but yeah, I agree here.

v 17 "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere."

I'm actually not completely sure what to say about this one. If by "wisdom from above" we mean the bible, then I disagree with every point here. It's riddled with contradictions, so calling it pure doesn't work for me. There is some peace preached by Jesus, but there is also a ton of violence (some even preached by Jesus). Gentle? there is plenty of heavy-handedness by God, for example, killing nearly everyone on the planet with a flood. Open to reason? not with all of the blind faith talk. Full of mercy? Again, the flood. good fruits, impartiality and sincerity? All of these seem to be destroyed with all of the contradictions all over the place.

They all sound good, and if this verse had said that we should have these qualities I would have put it in my good list, but it is saying that the book has those properties, and I simply disagree with the statement.

For the overview post (If you think I should add or remove stuff from this list please let me know, I think it would make good conversation)


3:10 Be careful what you say, you can do a lot of damage with a thoughtless word

"From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so."

3:13 Show your works through meekness

"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom."

3:14 Lying, selfishness, boasting, and jealousy are bad

"But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth."


3:15 God gets credit for good things, absolved from bad things

"This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic."


  1. "I think everyone should try to teach what they know to other people, it is the best way to learn something yourself and spreading knowledge is always a good thing."

    It sure is, Hausdorff. I think if more people sought out to understand the material as a teacher, there would be a lot more atheists! In fact, I think I've heard it said something to the effect of "if you can make it through seminary school with your faith intact, it is a miracle!"

    "Wisdom comes from above, and unspiritual and demonic things from from below."

    You made some great comments about this verse and God only taking credit for the good stuff. We should also note that this is an implicit reference to the now-debunked "fact" that Heaven was literally above the earth, while Hell was literally below it. It's almost hard to think in those terms today, as the modern teaching doesn't hesitate to claim that it is a metaphorical "above" and "below."

    Of course, I could be wrong about that, and that it was intended to be metaphorical even back then, but the scene of Jesus ascending into Heaven after His resurrection makes that position unlikely.

    1. I would tend to agree that if more people tried to teach this stuff it would potentially make more atheists, but I was actually thinking more broadly. Any knowledge you have about any subject, teach it to other people and you will understand it better. Although all honesty I was thinking about math when I wrote that because I used to teach math. I tried so hard to get my students to do their homework in study groups. I assured them that it was not cheating and they would wind up learning better that way. I'm pretty sure that few took the advice though.

      That is interesting about how they thought that heaven was literally above. My understanding is that they thought of it as a dome right? Do you know a good resource to look up how they viewed such things back then? I tried googling for it but failed.

    2. Yeah, I knew what you meant. :-) While I've never been a formal teacher, I did spend several semesters as a tutor in my college's math lab. You are right that you really get an in-depth understanding when you try to teach, but you knew that. ;-) I was just following it out to what I think, or hope, would be the natural conclusion of such an exercise.

      This site has a lot of information across many ancient religions, but focused on Judaism, on what they likely believed about where "heaven" was. It's really worth a look there if you have some time.

      Me personally, I don't remember that there is anything in the Bible suggesting a dome, but given that they had no concept of an infinite universe, it makes sense that they would have reasoned that there were limits to our domain. So a dome would fit, as would a bowl.

    3. Thanks for the reference, I'll put it on my (ever growing) list of things I want to look up and write about.

  2. Nice to see a section that has more "good" than "bad" after you break it down. However, I must correct you, I have personally tamed all animals, I have a tame squirrel who lives with my tamed I am working on Grundy, but it's more work than I thought...

    1. You must have a bad ass zoo...can I come over?

    2. Lol...3 cats, 2 dogs...which at times seems like a zoo...


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