James 4:11: Curing Detraction and Censoriousness, Part 1

Verse 11:[1] (Eph. 4:31; 1 Pet. 2:1) Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, (Matt. 7:1; Luke 6:37; Rom. 2:1; 1 Cor. 4:5) and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

[Detract not, etc., μὴ καταλαλεῖτε ἀλλήλων] He returns to that upon which he touched before, James 3:9, 10 (Grotius, thus Gataker). Now, these vices of the tongue, rather than other and more grevious vices, he reprimands sharply again, either, 1. as more common among them; or, 2. as creeping in under the guise of zeal and piety; or, 3. because these sins were believed to be the slightest; or, 4. because they were not restrained by human laws (Gataker). We also say καταλαλεῖν κατά τινος, to speak against someone, Numbers 21:7;[2] Psalm 50:20;[3] and more briefly, καταλαλεῖν τινος, Job 19:3;[4] Psalm 78:19.[5] So also 1 Peter 2:12;[6] 3:16.[7] In the Glossa, καταλαλεῖν, to interpose remarks. See on Romans 1:30[8] (Grotius). Let not some from others (or, yourselves by turns [Vatablus]) disparage (Piscator), or, interpose remarks (Beza), or, detract (Piscator, thus the Vulgate), by injuring the reputation (Estius, thus Gataker); or by laying a false charge, Psalm 35:11; or by exaggerating excessively a true charge, Genesis 38:24; or by bringing a hidden thing into the light, Proverbs 11:13; 20:19; or by extenuating a benefit, or leaving virtues and praises unmentioned when they ought to be spread (Tirinus, Gataker); by putting an evil construction upon words or deeds, either good or ambiguous, Matthew 11:18; 26:61; John 2:19, 20; since favors are to be amplified, but hatreds restrained. He here forbids rigid censure, and rash judgment concerning the hearts, lives, or actions of others (Gataker). Verbatim: Let not some speak against others (Piscator).

[He that, etc., ὁ καταλαλῶν—καὶ κρίνων, etc.] In a manuscript, it is ἢ κρίνων, or judging, disjunctively[9] (Grotius). Whoever detracts from his brother, and condemns (or, judges [Vulgate, Vorstius], that is, rashly: Κρίνειν, to judge, here is the same as κατακρίνειν, to condemn [Vorstius]: That καὶ/and teaches that the same man that detracts from his brother, judges his brother [Estius]) his brother (Piscator, etc.). On account of those matters which Christ does not condemn in the Gospel, of which sort are the observations of Days, of Meats, and the like. The sense is the same as in Romans 14:3, 4 (Grotius). Concerning others’ errors and vices, it is not lawful to speak out of curiosity or pride or desire for vengeance, so that from them we might gather for ourselves praise or advantage. But it is lawful to speak of them, if that is done for the glory of God, or for the correction of the sinner, Genesis 37:2; 1 Corinthians 1:11; 11:18; or for the caution of others, 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Timothy 4:14, 15; or in a judicial process, Leviticus 5:1 (Gataker). He here reprehens those that disdainfully condemn the deeds and words of others, whatever does not please us, and thence grasp at a reputation for holiness; and therefore they set their own moroseness in the place of the Divine Law (Calvin).

Speak not evil one of another; viz. unless in the way of an ordinance, by reproof, admonition, etc., Leviticus 5:1; 1 Corinthians 1:11; 11:18; 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Timothy 4:14, 15. He forbids all detraction, rigid censuring, and rash judging the hearts and lives of others, when men condemn whatever doth not suit with their notions or humours, and make their own moroseness the rule of other men’s manners. Judgeth his brother; finds fault with and condemns him for those things which the law doth not condemn in him, or forbid to him, Romans 14:3, 4.

[He detracts from the law, and judges the law] This he does, either, 1. because, when he judges his brother, doing rightly, and obeying the law, for concerning this he here speaks (Menochius), he condemns the Law, which commands or urges it (Tirinus, similarly Menochius). Or, 2. because by approving an action contrary to the Law he pronounces the Law to be not good (Dickson), as if it did not rightly by commanding or forbidding such things. For the Law prohibits detraction (Bede, etc., in Estius, similarly Piscator), and rash judgments (Dickson). For, with a good work, of which the Law approves, condemned, the Law itself is disparaged and condemned (Cajetan in Estius). Or, 3. because he usurps the office and functions of the Law (certain interpreters in Estius). Or, 4. because he despises the Law, that is, that precept of loving one’s neighbor, concerning which he spoke in chapters 1 and 2, which prohibits detraction, etc. (Estius). Or, 5. because he claimed the power of censure for himself above the Law of God (Calvin), condemning that which the Law permits (Gomar). [The sense:] Evangelical Doctrine (which even above he several times called by the name of law, as Paul also does in Galatians 6:2) such a man despises and condemns as imperfect. For Christ does not condemn such (Grotius). He judges or carps at the Law, whoever, 1. sins deliberately, because he judges it to be better to violate it than to keep it; 2. incites others to sin; 3. either adds to the Law, as in Matthew 15:2, 9; Colossians 2:21, or detracts from it, Matthew 5:43;[10] 23:16, and thus he makes the sins either more numerous, or fewer, than God does, and himself wiser or more just than the Law. 4. Whoever bends the Law to his own pleasure. 5. Whoever accuses the Law of excessive severity or inequity, Ezekiel 18:2; John 6:60 (Gataker).

[Thou art not a doer (or, observer [Estius, Piscator, etc.]) of the Law, but a judge] That is, you make yourself a Judge of the Law, and superior to it (Estius), and therefore you exempt yourself from subjection to the Law (Calvin, similarly Estius). You, who are obliged to render obedience to the Law, take to yourself judgment against the Law. They are called ποιηταὶ νόμου, doers of the Law, also in Romans 2:13, by Metonomy, who doe those things which the Law prescribes. Thus Deuteronomy 6:25.[11] The same elsewhere, τηρεῖν νόμον, to keep the Law,[12] and φυλάσσειν νόμον, to keep the Law[13] (Grotius).

Judgeth the law; viz. either, 1. By his practising and approving what the law condemns, i.e. this very censoriousness and detraction: or, 2. By condemning that which the law allows; he condemns the law for allowing it, taxing it as too short and imperfect. But if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge; if thou not only judgest thy brother, and therein invadest the law’s office, (whose part it is to judge him,) but judgest him for what the law doth not forbid him, and therein judgest the law itself, as insufficient, and not strict enough; thou dost cast off the law’s government, disown its superiority, exempt thyself from any subjection to it, and make thyself merely a judge of it.

[1] Greek: Μὴ καταλαλεῖτε ἀλλήλων, ἀδελφοί.  ὁ καταλαλῶν ἀδελφοῦ, καὶ κρίνων τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, καταλαλεῖ νόμου, καὶ κρίνει νόμον· εἰ δὲ νόμον κρίνεις, οὐκ εἶ ποιητὴς νόμου, ἀλλὰ κριτής.

[2] Numbers 21:7b:  “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee (כִּֽי־דִבַּ֤רְנוּ בַֽיהוָה֙ וָבָ֔ךְ; ὅτι κατελαλήσαμεν κατὰ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ κατὰ σοῦ, in the Septuagint); pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.”

[3] Psalm 50:20:  “Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother (בְּאָחִ֣יךָ תְדַבֵּ֑ר; κατὰ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου κατελάλεις, in the Septuagint); thou slanderest thine own mother’s son.”

[4] Job 19:3:  “These ten times have ye reproached me (תַּכְלִימוּנִי; καταλαλεῖτέ μου, in the Septuagint):  ye are not ashamed that ye make yourselves strange to me.”

[5] Psalm 78:19:  “Yea, they spake against God (וַֽיְדַבְּר֗וּ בֵּֽאלֹ֫הִ֥ים; κατελάλησαν τοῦ θεοῦ, in the Septuagint); they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?”

[6] 1 Peter 2:12:  “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles:  that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers (καταλαλοῦσιν ὑμῶν ὡς κακοποιῶν), they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

[7] 1 Peter 3:16:  “Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers (καταλαλῶσιν ὑμῶν ὡς κακοποιῶν), they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”

[8] Romans 1:30a:  “Backbiters (καταλάλους), haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters…”

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

[10] See also Matthew 5:19.

[11] Deuteronomy 6:25:  “And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments (כִּֽי־נִשְׁמֹ֙ר לַעֲשׂ֜וֹת אֶת־כָּל־הַמִּצְוָ֣ה; ἐὰν φυλασσώμεθα ποιεῖν πάσας τὰς ἐντολὰς ταύτας, in the Septuagint) before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us.”

[12] For example, Acts 15:5:  “But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law (τηρεῖν τὸν νόμον) of Moses.”

[13] For example, Galatians 6:13:  “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law (νόμον φυλάσσουσιν); but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.”

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