James 1:26: Essentials of True Religion, Part 1

Verse 26:[1] If any man among you seem to be religious, and (Ps. 34:13; 39:1; 1 Pet. 3:10) bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

[If any man, etc., εἴ τις δοκεῖ θρῆσκος εἶναι] This part is not found in the Syriac, so that it could appear to be an addition, although it does not interfere with the sense. It makes for the unfolding of the precept, slow to speak (Estius). He had previously shown that hearing alone does not suffice without practice, etc. Hence he deduces two corollaries, 1. concerning the tongue, in this verse; 2. concerning the hand and the life, in the following verse (Gataker): he now shows who are the true observers of the Law (Zegers). If any man seems (that is to say, seems and not is: Δοκεῖ, one is taken, as in 1 Corinthians 3:18;[2] 8:2;[3] 14:37;[4] Galatians 6:3;[5] δοκησίσοφος, wise in his own conceits [Gataker]; or, he supposes [Syriac in Grotius]) to be religious (Beza, Piscator, thus Erasmus, Illyricus, Tigurinus, Castalio, Pagnine), or, serving God (the Syriac and Arabic in Grotius). It is more commonly θρησκευτὴς/ worshipper, which in the Glossa is explained as a religious man. But θρῆσκος Hesychius[6] also finds elsewhere (Grotius). Θρῆσκος is the same as εὐσεβὴς/ devout, Acts 10:2,[7] 7,[8] and as σεβόμενος/devout, Acts 13:50[9] (Gataker).

If any man among you seem to be religious; seems to others, or rather to himself; thinks himself religious, because of his hearing and outward worship: thus the word rendered seems is often taken, 1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:2; 14:37; Galatians 6:3. Here he shows who are not doers of the work, as in the next verse, who are.

[Not bridling, etc., μὴ χαλιναγωγῶν,[10] etc.] As in James 3:2, 3.[11] Thus Plato, Concerning Laws 11, ἀχάλινον κεκτημένοι τὸ στόμα, they possess an unbridled mouth; Euripides,[12] in Orestes, says, Ἀκόλαστον ἔσχε γλῶσσαν, he had an unbridled tongue, of Tantalus.[13] Thus in Aristophanes’ The Frogs 837 concerning Æschylus,[14] ἄνθρωπον αὐθαδόστομον, ἔχοντ᾽ ἀχάλινον, ἀκρατὲς, ἀπυλωτὸν, στόμα, a man presumptuous of speech, having an unbridled, uncontrolled, ungated mouth. Thus Euripides said, ἀχαλίνων στομάτων τέλος δυστυχίαν, the end of unbridled tongues is misfortune[15] (Gataker). [Thus they render it:] Whoever does not restrain (or, curb [Tremellius out of the Syriac]) his tongue (Illyricus, Pagnine, Tigurinus, etc.), that is, from loquacity, contentions, detractions, cursing, and other vices of the tongue, to which those that desire to appear religious are generally liable (Estius). He often reprehends Cursing, because he sees it as a vice reigning widely among the Hebrews. And the comparison, taken from a Bridle, is common in this matter. Such is found in Psalm 39:1. The Greeks say γλωσσῆς κρατεῖν, to rule over the tongue (Grotius).

And bridleth not his tongue; restrains it not from the common vices of the tongue, reviling, railing, censuring, etc.

[But deceiving, etc., ἀλλ᾽ ἀπατῶν, etc.] It is an Hebraic expression, as it appears in Job 31:27.[16] He entices himself with vain hope (Grotius). But seducing (or, he allows to stray [Erasmus, Vatablus], or, he leads astray [Estius]) his own heart (Vulgate, etc.). It is the same as in James 1:22, παραλογιζόμενοι ἑαυτούς, deceiving your own selves (Gataker out of Cajetan and Fab.,[17] Estius), and as in Galatians 6:3, ἑαυτὸν φρεναπατᾷ, he deceives himself, except that there the mind of a man seduces him, while here a man is said to seduce his own heart (Gataker). He deceives himself, while he, yet wrapped up in these vices, is pleased with himself, as if he were good (Estius). Others: He causes his heart to stray from the paths of virtue and quiet, and draws it into out-of-the-way wanderings, hatreds, quarrels, a thousand perils, and eternal death (Tirinus). He here points out the fountain of petulance and cursing (Calvin, similarly Beza, Erasmus), and of the other vices of the tongue (Beza); which is [either,] a heart wandering and unstable (Erasmus): [or,] ignorance of oneself (Beza): [or,] immoderate love of oneself, by which they delude themselves, sparing their own vices, and persuading themselves that they are far better than they are: for hence they are made such supercilious critics of others (Calvin). A deception of oneself he calls the improper judgment concerning the self of those that labor φιλαυτίᾳ, in self-love[18] (Beza).

But deceiveth his own heart; either deceiveth his own heart in thinking himself religious, when indulging himself in things so contrary to religion, or deceiveth his own heart, being blinded with self-love, and lifted up with self-conceit, which is the cause of his censuring and speaking evil of others.

[This man’s, etc., τούτου μάταιος ἡ θρησκεία] The religion of this man is vain (Vulgate, Piscator, etc.). Such imaginary religion will profit him nothing. Μάταιον, that which is without effect, 1 Corinthians 15:17;[19] Titus 3:9.[20] And θρησκεία is used here in that general way, so that it might comprehend both good and bad religion. See Wisdom of Solomon 14:18,[21] 27.[22] This appears out of what follows.[23] This is a saying especially worthy to be contemplated in this age (Grotius). Θρησκεία here is taken as in Acts 26:5;[24] Colossians 2:18;[25] and μάταιον as μάτην, in vain, in Matthew 15:9 (Gataker). [The sense:] Unfruitful to him is the worship of God, whom he makes to himself hostile by these sins (Estius)

This man’s religion is vain; empty, and to no purpose, having no reality in itself, and bringing no benefit to him.

[1] Greek:  εἴ τις δοκεῖ θρῆσκος εἶναι ἐν ὑμῖν, μὴ χαλιναγωγῶν γλῶσσαν αὐτοῦ, ἀλλ᾽ ἀπατῶν καρδίαν αὐτοῦ, τούτου μάταιος ἡ θρησκεία.

[2] 1 Corinthians 3:18:  “Let no man deceive himself.  If any man among you seemeth (δοκεῖ) to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.”

[3] 1 Corinthians 8:2:  “And if any man think (δοκεῖ) that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”

[4] 1 Corinthians 14:37:  “If any man think (δοκεῖ) himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”

[5] Galatians 6:3:  “For if a man think (δοκεῖ) himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.”

[6] Hesychius of Alexandria (fifth century AD) composed a Greek lexicon of almost fifty-one thousand entries, filled with explanations of rare and obscure words and phrases.

[7] Acts 10:2:  “A devout man (εὐσεβὴς), and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.”

[8] Acts 10:7:  “And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout (εὐσεβῆ) soldier of them that waited on him continually…”

[9] Acts 13:50:  “But the Jews stirred up the devout (σεβομένας) and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.”

[10] Χαλιναγωγέω is from ἄγω, to lead, and χαλινός/bridle.

[11] James 3:2, 3:  “For in many things we offend all.  If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle (χαλιναγωγῆσαι) the whole body.  Behold, we put bits (χαλινοὺς) in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about (μετάγομεν) their whole body.”

[12] Euripides (c. 480-406 BC) was a Greek playwright, one of the great tragedians.

[13] In Greek mythology, for atrocities Tantalus was condemned eternally to Tartarus.  He was set standing in a pool of water from which he could never drink, with low-hanging fruit above his head, ever just out of reach.

[14] Æschylus (525-456 BC) was perhaps the earliest of the Greek tragedians.

[15] Bacchæ 388.

[16] Job 31:27:  “And my heart hath been secretly enticed (וַיִּ֣פְתְּ בַּסֵּ֣תֶר לִבִּ֑י; καὶ εἰ ἠπατήθη λάθρᾳ ἡ καρδία μου, in the Septuagint), or my mouth hath kissed my hand…”

[17] This is likely a reference to Jacobus Faber Stapulensis, one of the forerunners of the French Reformation (although a Roman Catholic), a man of piety and learning.  He wrote commentaries on the Catholic Epistles.

[18] See 2 Timothy 3:2:  “For men shall be lovers of their own selves (φίλαυτοι), covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy…”

[19] 1 Corinthians 15:17:  “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain (ματαία); ye are yet in your sins.”

[20] Titus 3:9:  “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain (μάταιοι).”

[21] Wisdom of Solomon 14:18:  “Also the singular diligence of the artificer did help to set forward the ignorant to more superstition (θρησκείας).”

[22] Wisdom of Solomon 14:27:  “For the worshipping (θρησκεία) of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end, of all evil.”

[23] James 1:27:  “Pure religion (θρησκεία) and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

[24] Acts 26:5:  “Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion (τῆς ἡμετέρας θρησκείας) I lived a Pharisee.”

[25] Colossians 2:18a:  “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping (θρησκείᾳ) of angels…”

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