James 3:17: Wisdom Heavenly and Earthly, Part 5

Verse 17:[1] But (1 Cor. 2:6, 7) the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality (or, without wrangling[2]), (Rom. 12:9; 1 Pet. 1:22; 2:1; 1 John 3:18) and without hypocrisy.

[The wisdom that is from above (that is, given by God above nature [Grotius, similarly Estius], true and heavenly, that is, which characterizes good masters/teachers [Estius])] That is, the knowledge of divine things. This, says he, if it not only forms the intellect, but also affects the will, brings with itself all virtues as attendants (Estius).

But the wisdom that is from above; true wisdom, which is of God, opposed to that which descendeth not from above, verse 15.

[In the first place indeed modest, ἁγνή] Chaste (Erasmus, Vatablus, Estius, Piscator, Menochius). Pure (Beza, Piscator, Estius, Menochius, Grotius, etc.). Namely, from those worldly envies (Grotius), or, from the enticements of the flesh and senses (Estius); from lust (Menochius, Hammond), and from whatever purity of depraved doctrine, wickedness, or vice (Menochius). It is opposed either to sensual wisdom (Estius), or to hypocrisy and ambition (Calvin). He here enumerates seven properties of true wisdom (Estius). Now, he sets purity, or sanctity, in the first place, because this has regard both to God and to ourselves; those which follow have regard to others. Charity/love begins from itself. He teaches that piety is to be placed before peace. He mentions this, because there is also a fraternity in evils, peace among the impure, a foolish and ruinous ease, of which sort was that of Eli, 1 Samuel 2 (Gataker).

[Peaceable] That is, loving peace (Menochius), abhorring contentions (Estius, similarly Menochius, Calvin). This is a great part of wisdom. A fool neither knows the goodness of peace, Proverbs 17:1, nor foresees the results of contentions, Proverbs 17:14, or understand to avoid the occasions of contentions, which are innumerable, etc. (Gataker).

Is first pure; either excluding mixture, and then it is opposed to hypocritical; or rather excluding filthiness, and then it is opposed to sensual, verse 15, and implies freedom from the defilement of sin and error, it being the property of true wisdom to make men adhere both to truth and holiness. Then peaceable; disposeth men to peace, both as to the making and keeping it, in opposition to strife and contention, which is the fruit of the earthly wisdom. Peaceableness, which relates to man, is set after purity, which respects God in the first place, to intimate, that purity must have the preference to peace. Our peace with men must always be with a salvo to our respects to God and holiness.

[Modest (thus Grotius out of the Syriac), ἐπιεικής] Equal (Erasmus, Vatablus, Beza, Calvin, Estius). Humane (Erasmus). Moderate (Piscator, Menochius). Putting, as far as possible, a better construction upon all things. See 1 Corinthians 13:4, 5; Philippians 4:5;[3] 1 Timothy 3:3;[4] Titus 3:2[5] (Grotius). Yielding one’s own right for the sake of peace (Piscator). This is opposed to ἀκριβοδικαίῳ, one precise with respect to his rights (Gataker, Beza, Vorstius), or austerity, which tolerates nothing in one’s brethren (Calvin); likewise to πληκτῇ, a pugnacious person, and to αἰσχροκερδεῖ, an avarious person, 1 Timothy 3:3. With this is joined πραότης/meekness in 2 Corinthians 10:1[6] (Gataker). Good natures, or kind, gentle, or humble. For the wisdom of the world makes men supercilious, morose, and difficult (Menochius). This is the virtue by which one bears the infirmities of others, and judges benevolently of their faults; and readily pardons injuries, and does not rigidly exact debts and obligations: by which he grants to each his rights, but he himself yields his rights for the sake of charity and peace (Gataker).

Gentle; or equal, or moderate, Philippians 4:5; 1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 3:2. It implies that gentleness (as we translate it) whereby we bear with others’ infirmities, forgive injuries, interpret all things for the best, recede from our own right for peace sake; and is opposed to that austerity and rigidness in our practices and censures, which will bear with nothing in weak, dissenting, or offending brethren.

[Compliant, εὐπειθής] Persuadable (Valla). Easy to persuade (Valla, Estius). Tractable (Erasmus, Illyricus, Tigurinus, Vatablus, Calvin). Well persuadable (Montanus). Obliging (Menochius), which concedes to reason (Estius), which easily yields (Menochius): Obsequious (Castalio, Grotius out of the Syriac, thus Tremellius, Beza, Gataker out of Stephanus[7]). Philo[8] and Galen[9] make use of this word in this way (Grotius). Affable (Calvin). It is opposed to αὐθαδείᾳ/self-willed[10] (Beza). To pride and malice (Calvin). Readily yielding to one advising right conduct (Piscator). Εὐπειθὴς is the same as ταχυπειθὴς, soon persuaded, in Theocritus, —ἐγὼ δὲ τις οὐ ταχυπειθὴς, but I am not soon persuaded by them.[11] To this is opposed ἀπειθὴς, willful, refractory, in Xenophon;[12] and δυσπειθὴς, one who is convinced with difficulty, who scarcely yields: which Xenophon uses of ill-trained hunting dogs,[13] as in the former of horses, etc.: and also δυσπειστὸς καὶ οὐ εὐμετάπειστος , one opinionated and not easily persuaded, who is ἰσχυρογνώμων, stiff in his opinions, and ἐμμενετικὸς τῇ δόξῃ, disposed to abide by his views, Aristotle’s Ethics 7:9. This is the virtue by which one willingly admits the admonitions of others, and he, having been thoroughly instructed in better things by good and wise men, readily recedes from his own opinion and is moved from whatever evil practice; and in doubtful matters he readily believes that which is best; and without reluctance he forgives injuries inflicted on himself. This also is not the least part of wisdom, which certainly teaches us to prefer conscience to reputation, to yield to right reason, to return from a byway to the right way at the admonition of any, to moderate passions, and to preserve the mean, both between excessive ease and severity, and between persuadability and inconstancy, between charity and credulity. Against this virtue sin those who are implacable, Romans 1:31, and think of themselves arrogantly, Proverbs 12:1; 13:1, and are suspicious, 1 Corinthians 13, pertinacious in evil, tenacious in their purpose, and altogether given to their own will, according to that saying, let the things that once pleased me remain to me, etc.[14] (Gataker).

Easy to be entreated; easily persuadable. True wisdom makes men yield to good admonitions, good counsel, good reason. This is opposed to implacableness, Romans 1:31; pride, and obstinacy in evil, Proverbs 12:1; 13:1.

[Full of, etc., μεστὴ ἐλέους, etc.] Full of mercy (by which we are inclined to succor the needy and wretched [Estius]; by which another’s misery is a matter of concern to us, and near to our hearts; by which empathize with, or pity, others, whether afflicted, or sinners [Gataker]: He opposes this to those inhuman [Calvin, thus Beza], and inexorable [Calvin]: Others: Full of beneficence: for we said that ἔλεος is thus taken by us elsewhere, and in James 2:13[15] [Grotius]) and good fruits (Beza, Piscator, etc.). Works he here calls fruits (Grotius, similarly Estius, Menochius, Gataker), as in Matthew 3:8; 7:16, 17; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:9 (Grotius), that is, external, which proceed from mercy; of which sort are to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, etc. (Estius, similarly Calvin). Mercy is the root, the fruit of which is the liberality of the hand, etc. This also is part of wisdom, both, because it renders us both similar and agreeable to the most wise and excellent God; and, because we do not know what evils will be able to befall us; and because he who serves another, generally does good to himself. It also belongs to wisdom to teach both what and to whom largess is to be granted, so that we sow with the hand, not with the whole sack, as it is said, and so that we might not exhaust the fount of liberality with immoderate generosity, etc. (Gataker).

Full of mercy; a grace whereby we pity others that are afflicted, or that offend, and is opposed to inhumanity and inexorableness. And good fruits; beneficence, liberality, and all other offices of humanity, which proceed from mercy.

[Not, etc., ἀδιάκριτος] Not judging (Vulgate). That is, neither judging another’s words or deed, nor arrogantly or disdainfully looking down upon them (Menochius). Not (or, nothing [Tigurinus, Erasmus, Vatablus]) adjudicating (Montanus, Tigurinus), or discerning (Erasmus, Vatablus). Without inquiry (Calvin), or, arbitration (Beza), or, adjudication (Calvin, Erasmus, Illyricus, Pagnine), that is, excessively anxious and scrupulous inquiry, which sort is generally in hypocrites; who, while they inquire very exactly into the words and deeds of their brethren, construe everything in an unfavorable manner (Calvin). Which does not distinguish men according to the flesh. See James 2:4. The Syriac, ודלא פלגותא, without discrimination, namely, unrighteous (Grotius). Not having respect of persons, by honoring the rich and despising the poor: which vice he reprehends in the preceding chapter. A comparison with James 2:4 makes this sense probable (Estius). Which does not differentiate between one’s neighbors based on respect of persons (Piscator, similarly Gataker). He reprehends προσωποληψίαν, respect of persons, and other reflections that carry the soul off into bypaths, as it were, from promptly and swiftly yielding in simplicity to the will of God, and the example of Abraham (Beza). Without discord (Tremellius). Without hesitation (the Syriac [according to Boder.], Hammond). Without hesitation of faith (Æthiopic), that is, who constantly adheres to Christ, whatever temptations might attempt to seduce him. This is aptly added, so that it might be set over against the inconstancy of the Gnostics, who, with persecution pressing, were abjuring Christ. Διακρίνεσθαι signifies to hesitate, or to doubt, which we related on James 2:4[16] (Hammond). Not doubting. For, as ἀπρόκριτος is opposed to prejudgment, so ἀδιάκριτος excludes doubting (Strigelius). Διακρίνειν is taken variously: sometimes it signifies to dispute, as in Acts 11:2;[17] Jude 9.[18] Thus Romans 14:1.[19] Sometimes it signifies to hesitate/doubt, as in Acts 10:20;[20] 11:12; Romans 4:20;[21] 14:23;[22] sometimes it signifies the same thing as κρίνειν, to judge, or to pass judgment, as in 1 Corinthians 6:5;[23] 14:29;[24] sometimes, to discern, between cause and cause, between person and person, as in Acts 15:9;[25] 1 Corinthians 4:7;[26] 11:29.[27] Thus διάκρισις in 1 Corinthians 12:5;[28] Hebrews 5:14[29] (Gataker). In one Codex we read εὐδιάκριτος, rightly discerning, or, adjudicating (Beza). Which virtue is indeed required in Christians, Romans 2:18; Philippians 1:10; Hebrews 5:14 (Gataker).

Without partiality; or, without judging, i.e. either a curious inquiring into the faults of others, to find matter for censures, which many times infers wrangling, as our margin renders it; or a discerning between person and person, upon carnal accounts, which is partiality, as it is here translated, and James 2:4.

[Without, etc., ἀνυπόκριτος] He previously condemned hypocrisy, when he said pure, yet he repeats it again more clearly at the end; or, so that he might signify that we are for that reason morose, because we spare ourselves excessively, and connive at our own vices (Calvin); or, because hypocrisy corrupts, but sincerity perfects, all the rest. The rest, like purity, peace, equity, etc., are able to be counterfeited, etc. (Gataker). Not feigned (Montanus, similarly Beza, Piscator). Feigning nothing (Erasmus, Vatablus); he understands here dissimulation out of regard for men rather than God (Gataker). Not having, as it is the custom of Ambition, one thing shut up in the breast, another thing ready on the tongue, as that expression is in Sallust.[30] See Romans 12:9;[31] 2 Corinthians 6:6;[32] 1 Timothy 1:5;[33] 2 Timothy 1:5;[34] etc. (Grotius).

And without hypocrisy; or, counterfeiting, as they do that judge others, being guilty of the same things, or as bad, themselves: or hypocrisy may be here added, to show that sincerity is the perfection of all the rest before named; purity, peace, and gentleness, etc., may be counterfeit; hypocrisy spoils all; and therefore the wisdom that is from above is sincere, and without hypocrisy.

[1] Greek: ἡ δὲ ἄνωθεν σοφία πρῶτον μὲν ἁγνή ἐστιν, ἔπειτα εἰρηνική, ἐπιεικής, εὐπειθής, μεστὴ ἐλέους καὶ καρπῶν ἀγαθῶν, ἀδιάκριτος καὶ ἀνυπόκριτος.

[2] Greek: ἀδιάκριτος.

[3] Philippians 4:5:  “Let your moderation (ἐπιεικὲς) be known unto all men.  The Lord is at hand.”

[4] 1 Timothy 3:3:  “Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre (μὴ πλήκτην, μὴ αἰσχροκερδῆ); but patient (ἐπιεικῆ), not a brawler, not covetous…”

[5] Titus 3:2:  “To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle (ἐπιεικεῖς), shewing all meekness unto all men.”

[6] 2 Corinthians 10:1:  “Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness (διὰ τῆς πρᾳότητος καὶ ἐπιεικείας) of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you…”

[7] Henri Estienne, or Henricus Stephanus (c. 1530-1598), was the eldest son of Robert Estienne, who had printed several famous editions of the Greek New Testament.  Henri continued in the family printing business, editing, collating, and preparing many classical works for the press.  His most famous work is his Thesaurus Linguæ Graecæ, which was a standard work in Greek lexicography until the nineteenth century.

[8] On the Virtues 15.

[9] Opera 6:3.

[10] For example, Titus 1:7:  “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed (αὐθάδη), not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre…”

[11] Idyll 7:38.  Theocritus was a Greek poet of the third century BC.

[12] On the Art of Horsemanship 3:6.

[13] Memorabilia 4:1:3.

[14] Seneca’s De Vita Beata 8.

[15] James 2:13:  “For he shall have merciless (ἀνίλεως) judgment, that hath shewed no mercy (ἔλεος); and mercy (ἔλεος) rejoiceth against judgment.”

[16] James 2:4:  “Are ye not then partial (καὶ οὐ διεκρίθητε) in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?”

[17] Acts 11:2:  “And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended (διεκρίνοντο) with him…”

[18] Jude 9:  “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending (διακρινόμενος) with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”

[19] Romans 14:1:  “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations (διακρίσεις).”

[20] Acts 10:20:  “Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting (διακρινόμενος) nothing:  for I have sent them.”  So also Acts 11:12.

[21] Romans 4:20:  “He staggered (διεκρίθη) not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God…”

[22] Romans 14:23:  “And he that doubteth (διακρινόμενος) is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith:  for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

[23] 1 Corinthians 6:5:  “I speak to your shame.  Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge (διακρῖναι) between his brethren?”

[24] Corinthians 14:29:  “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge (διακρινέτωσαν).”

[25] Acts 15:9:  “And put no difference (οὐδὲν διέκρινε) between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.”

[26] 1 Corinthians 4:7:  “For who maketh thee to differ (τίς γάρ σε διακρίνει) from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”

[27] 1 Corinthians 11:29:  “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning (διακρίνων) the Lord’s body.”

[28] 1 Corinthians 12:5:  “And there are differences (διαιρέσεις) of administrations, but the same Lord.”

[29] Hebrews 5:14:  “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised for distinguishing (πρὸς διάκρισιν) both good and evil.”

[30] Bellum Catilinæ 10.

[31] Romans 12:9a:  “Let love be without dissimulation (ἀνυπόκριτος).”

[32] 2 Corinthians 6:6:  “By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned (ἀνυποκρίτῳ)…”

[33] 1 Timothy 1:5:  “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned (ἀνυποκρίτου)…”

[34] 2 Timothy 1:5a:  “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned (ἀνυποκρίτου) faith that is in thee…”

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