James 3:6

6 And 1the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which 2defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by 3hell.

James 3:6 Meaning and Commentary

James 3:6

And the tongue is a fire
It is like to fire, very useful in its place, to warm and comfort; so is the tongue in Christian conversation, and in the ministry of the word; the hearts of God's children burn within them, while they are talking together, and while the Scriptures of truth are opening to them; but as fire should be carefully watched, and kept, so should men take heed to their ways, that they sin not with their tongue, and keep their tongue from evil, and their lips from speaking guile; for as fire kindles and rises up into a flame, so unchaste, angry, and passionate words, stir up the flame of lust, anger, envy, and revenge; and as fire is of a spreading nature, so are lies, scandal, and evil reports vented by the tongue; and as fire devours all that comes in its way, such are the words of an evil tongue; and therefore are called devouring words, ( Psalms 52:4 ) they devour the good names of men, and corrupt their good manners, and destroy those who make use of them; and what wood is to fire, and coals to burning coals, that are whisperers, tale bearers, backbiters, and contentious persons to strife, ( Proverbs 26:20 Proverbs 26:21 )

a world of iniquity;
that is, as the world is full of things, and full of sin, for it lies in wickedness, so is the tongue full of iniquity; there is a world of it in it; it abounds with it; it cannot well be said how much sin is in it, and done, or occasioned by it; as blasphemy against God, Father, Son, and Spirit; cursing of men, imprecations on themselves, their souls, and bodies, and on others, with a multitude of profane and dreadful oaths; obscene, filthy, and unchaste words; angry, wrathful, and passionate ones; lies, flatteries, reproaches, backbitings, whisperings, tale bearings And the Jews say, that he that uses an evil tongue multiplies transgression, and that it is equal to idolatry, adultery, and murder F8, and the cause of all sin; and which they express by way of fable, in this manner F9:

``when Adam sinned, God laid hold on him, and slit his tongue into two parts, and said unto him, the wickedness which is, or shall be in the world, thou hast begun with an evil tongue; wherefore I will make all that come into the world know that thy tongue is the cause of all this.''

The Syriac version renders this clause thus, "and the world of iniquity is as wood"; or the branch of a tree; the tongue is fire, and a wicked world is fuel to it.

So is the tongue amongst our members, that it defileth the whole
the body politic, a whole nation, filling it with contention, strife, division, and confusion; and the ecclesiastical body, the church, by sowing discord, fomenting animosities, making parties, and spreading errors and heresies, whereby the temple of God is defiled; and the natural body, and the several members of it, even the whole person of a man, soul and body, bringing upon him a blot of infamy and reproach never to be wiped off; as for instance, the vice of the tongue, lying, does; and oftentimes through the tongue, the actions done in the body, which seem good, are quite spoiled:

and setteth on fire the course of nature,
or "wheel of nature": the natural body, as before, in which there is a continual rotation or circulation of the blood, by which it is supported; this is the wheel broken at the cistern at death, in ( Ecclesiastes 12:6 ) or the course of a man's life and actions, yea, of all generations, and the vicissitudes and changes which have happened in them, on which the tongue has a great influence; and so the Syriac version renders it, "and sets on fire the series of our genealogies, or our generations, which run like wheels": or it may intend the frame of nature, the whole fabric of the universe, and the general conflagration of it, which will be owing to the tongue; or because men's tongues are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory, because of the hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Christ and his people, of which they will be convinced by flames of fire about them:

and it is set on fire of hell;
that is, by the devil; for as heaven sometimes is put for God, who dwells in heaven, ( Matthew 21:25 ) ( Luke 15:18 ) so hell is put for the devil, whose habitation it is; see ( Matthew 16:18 ) , and the sense is, that the tongue is influenced, instigated, and stirred up by Satan, to speak many evil things, and it will be hereafter set on fire in hell, as the tongue of the rich man in ( Luke 16:24 ) . To which purpose are those words of the Talmud F11;

``whoever uses an evil tongue, the holy blessed God says to hell, I concerning him above, and thou concerning him below, will judge him, as it is said, ( Psalms 120:3 Psalms 120:4 ) . "What shall be done to thee, thou false tongue? sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper", there is no arrow but the tongue, according to ( Jeremiah 9:8 ) and there is no mighty one but God, ( Isaiah 42:13 ) "coals of juniper", (Mnhyg wnyyh) , these are hell.''


F8 T. Bab. Erachin, fol. 15. 2. Tzeror Hammor, fol. 100. 1.
F9 Otiot R. Aquiba in Ketoreth Hassammim in Gen. fol. 12. 4.
F11 T. Bab. Erachin, fol. 15. 2. Yalkut, par. 2. fol. 127. 2.

James 3:6 In-Context

4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.
5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!
6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.
7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race.
8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

Cross References 3

  • 1. Psalms 120:2, 3; Proverbs 16:27
  • 2. Matthew 12:36; Matthew 15:11, 18
  • 3. Matthew 5:22

Footnotes 2

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