James 1:19: The Right Reception of the Word, Part 1

Verse 19: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, (Eccles. 5:1) let every man be swift to hear, (Prov. 10:19; 17:27; Eccles. 5:2) slow to speak, (Prov. 14:17; 16:32; Eccles. 7:9) slow to wrath…[1]

[Ye know] The Vulgate reads ἴστε, ye know[2] (Estius, Grotius), as it is in a Manuscript[3] (Grotius). Which does not easily fit here (Estius).

[Ὥστε] And so: It forms a transition to the following exhortation (Estius). Since unto this tend the adversities that are sent upon us, that we might be made better, as it was said in verse 4, and that in addition God might deem us worthy of such a vocation, as it was just now said (Grotius).

[Let him be…swift to hear] Not just anything, for many harmful things are said; but the word of truth (Piscator, similarly Estius, Calvin, Gataker, Gomar), out of verse 18 (Piscator, Gomar), and verse 21 (Estius), even every edifying word; that is to say, Be diligent and prompt (Gomar), and teachable (Calvin).

Let every man be swift to hear; prompt and ready to hear God speaking in the word of truth, before mentioned.

[Slow…to speak] Namely, concerning divine things, concerning which one should not quickly and readily declare, but should learn well beforehand what he would teach. Hence the Pythagoreans[4] appointed their hearers to be silent through a period of five years, so that thus at length they might be able to speak to advantage (Estius). The sense: Let him quietly listen to God speaking, and not with poor timing break in on God, or be the first to speak to Him, as if in his haste he would cut short the word of God (Calvin). Talkativeness is an impediment to hearing. See Job 6:24; 13:13; 29:21; 33:33; Proverbs 12:23; 18:2, 13 (Gataker). Others: The sense: Let him not hasten judgment concerning doctrines, nor tenaciously defend uncertain opinions, etc. (Pareus). Others: Let him be slow to take to himself the authority to teach others, as if he were wise above the others. A Synecdoche of genus; thus James 3:1 (Piscator). [Others take it more generally:] He undertakes to exhort to good works, in attending to which the first degree, as it were, is to restrain the tongue, willingly to hear the precepts of discipline (Menochius). With this in view, Philosophers say that two Ears are given to us, but only one Mouth; and the Ears are wide-spread, but the Tongue is hedged in by an enclosure of teeth. But there are many of whom that of Sophocles[5] might be said, βούλει λέγειν τι, καὶ λέγων μηδὲν κλύειν, you will to say something, and, while speaking, to hear no one. See Proverbs 10:19; 13:3; 17:28 (Grotius).

Slow to speak; either silently and submissively hear the word, or speak not rashly and precipitately of the things of faith, but be well furnished yourselves with spiritual knowledge, ere you take upon you to teach others.

[Slow to wrath] Which is wont easily to arise in disputes (Estius). Let him be longsuffering (Drusius, similarly Grotius). Let all the fervor and uproar of contention depart: for God is not able to be heard, except with a calm spirit (Calvin). Cato: Anger hinders the soul, lest it be able to discern the truth.[6] The same is observed by Demades[7] and Aristotle. Other affections hear more readily. But anger fills all things with smoke and confustion, so that it might no more receive an admonition than a ship might receive a captain while in the midst of a storm. Irascibility impedes hearing. See 1 Kings 22:8; 2 Kings 5:11; Luke 4:28; it is easily provoked;[8] it takes occasion by the things offered on all sides (Gataker); it resents those restraining, and at variance with, it (Pareus).

Slow to wrath; either, be not angry at the word, or the dispensers of it, though it come close to your consciences, and discover your secret sins; the word is salt, do not quarrel if it make your sores smart, being it will keep them from festering: or, be not angrily prejudiced against those that dissent from you.

[1] Greek:  ὥστε, ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοί, ἔστω πᾶς ἄνθρωπος ταχὺς εἰς τὸ ἀκοῦσαι, βραδὺς εἰς τὸ λαλῆσαι, βραδὺς εἰς ὀργήν·

[2] In the place of ὥστε/wherefore.

[3] Thus Codices Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and Ephræmi Rescriptus.

[4] Pythagoras (582-507 BC) was a Greek philosopher and mathematician.

[5] Sophocles (c. 495-406) was a Greek playwright.  Of his one hundred and twenty-three plays, only seven tragedies survive.

[6] About Dionysius Cato, little is known, except that he was an author of the third or fourth century AD.  His Distichs were used to teach the young Latin and morality until the eighteenth century.

[7] Demades (c. 380-c. 318) was an Athenian orator.

[8] See 1 Corinthians 13:5.

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