James 3:12: Government of the Tongue, Part 10

Verse 12:[1] Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

[Can the fig tree bear grapes, etc.] There is a similar sentence in Matthew 7:16 and in Emperor Marcus Antonius (Grotius) [see Grotius]. He teaches us, in imitation of nature, to love simplicity in speech; not to put out diverse things that are not consistent, much less contrary, of which sort are blessing and cursing (Estius).

Can the tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? The same tree cannot ordinarily bring forth fruit of different kinds, (on the same branch, whatever it may on different, by ingrafting,) much less contrary natures: see Matthew 7:16-18.

[So, etc., οὕτως οὐδεμία πηγὴ ἁλυκὸν, etc.] Ἀνακόλουθον/ anacoluthon,[2] that is, καθάπερ συκῆ οὐ ποιεῖ, etc., just as a fig tree does not bear, etc., οὕτως οὐδεμία, etc., so also no, etc. (Cameron). So no fountain salty and sweet, etc. (Piscator). This he had already said: for under the name πικροῦ, of bitter,[3] is comprehended also the salty: May Doris[4] blend no bitter wave with thine.[5] So also the Greek Poet concerning Alpheios,[6] —Καὶ ἄνθεα πικρὰ θαλάσσης, and the bitter foam of the sea (Grotius). And, in the Odyssey 5, Ulysses, emerging from the sea, spit out ἅλμην πικρὴν, halmen pikren, bitter brine. And in Eustathius, on Odyssey 4, anyone surnamed Halmion was thus marked by bitter brine. And Plato in Phædrus and Athenæus in Banquet of the Learned[7] 3 say salty words instead of bitter words. And indeed the bitter and the salty are of neighboring tastes, as Plato notes in Suidas (Bochart’s[8] Sacred Geography “Canaan” 1:79:610). Wherefore a manuscript rightly reads here, οὔτε ἁλυκὸν γλυκὺ ποιῆσαι ὕδωρ, neither does salty water bring forth fresh,[9] that is, just as, I believe, the Latin Translator has written, neither is salty (water is understood, just as when we say in Latin Calidam/warm or Frigidam/cold [Beza]) able to make sweet water (Grotius, similarly Beza). The Sea does not bring forth of itself sweet waters (Grotius). The Syriac also favors the Latin reading, which thus translates it, so neither are briny waters able to be made sweet (Estius, similarly Beza).

So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh; or, neither can a salt fountain yield fresh water; but the scope is still the same as in our reading. The apostle argues from what is impossible, or monstrous, in naturals, to what is absurd in manners: q.d. It is as absurd in religion, for the tongue of a regenerate man, which is used to bless God, to take a liberty at other times to curse man, as it would be strange in nature for the same tree, on the same branch, to bear fruits of different kinds; or the same fountain at the same place to send forth bitter water and sweet.

[1] Greek: μὴ δύναται, ἀδελφοί μου, συκῆ ἐλαίας ποιῆσαι, ἢ ἄμπελος σῦκα; οὕτως οὐδεμία πηγὴ ἁλυκὸν καὶ γλυκὺ ποιῆσαι ὕδωρ.

[2] That is, a construction that breaks grammatical sequence.

[3] Verse 11.

[4] In Greek mythology, Doris was a sea-nymph, daughter of Oceanus and Tethys.

[5] Virgil’s Eclogue 10.

[6] In Greek mythology, Alpheios was a river-god, son of Oceanus and Tethys.

[7] Athenæus of Naucratis (late first-early second century AD) wrote Deipnosophistæ (or Banquet of the Learned), a dialogue in which the characters discuss a wide range of topics including food.

[8] Samuel Bochart (1599-1667) was a French pastor and scholar with a wide variety of interests, including philology, theology, geography, and zoology. He was on familiar terms with many of the greatest men of his age.

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

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