James 3:6-12

6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish,
8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.
10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.

James 3:6-12 Meaning and Commentary

INTRODUCTION TO JAMES 3

In this chapter the apostle cautions against censoriousness, and reproving others with a magisterial air; advises to bridle the tongue, and guard against the vices of it; and shows what true wisdom is, and from whence it comes. He advises the saints not to arrogate too much to themselves, and take upon them to be the censorious reprovers of others; which he dissuades from, by the consideration of the greater damnation such shall receive, and by the frailty of all men, and a common proneness to offend by words; for he must be a very singular man indeed that does not offend by words, Jas 3:1,2 wherefore he exhorts them to watch over their words, and bridle their tongues; which he illustrates by the methods used with horses to keep them in subjection, and with ships, to turn them as occasion serves, and the master pleases, Jas 3:3,4 and though the tongue is a little member, and not comparable to a horse, or ship, for its bulk; yet it boasts of great things, has a world of iniquity in it, and much mischief is done by it, being influenced by the powers of hell; therefore care, and all possible means, should be used to restrain it, Jas 3:5,6 though it is not tameable by man, only by the Lord, when all sorts of creatures are, even the most fierce and savage, and therefore are worse than they, being an unruly evil, and full of deadly poison, Jas 3:7,8. And what is the most monstrous and shocking, blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth, are pronounced by the same tongue, which is used in blessing God, and cursing men made after his image, which by no means ought to be done, Jas 3:9,10 and which is not to be paralleled in nature; no instance like it can be given, no fountain sending forth, in the same place, water sweet and bitter, salt and fresh, or any fig tree bearing olives, or vine figs, Jas 3:11,12. And because all this evil springs from a vain opinion men have of their own wisdom, the apostle proceeds to give an account of true wisdom; and observes, that that shows itself in good works, in a holy conversation, attended with meekness and humility, and not in envying, strife, and lies, Jas 3:13,14. Such sort of wisdom is not from heaven, but of the earth; it is not rational; it is no better than that of brutes; yea, no other than that of devils, since where the above sins prevail, it is a hell on earth, there is nothing but confusion, and everything that is vile and wicked, Jas 3:15,16 but, on the other hand, true wisdom is of an heavenly original, of a pure, peaceable, gentle, and tractable nature, and is full of good fruits or works in its effects, particularly mercy, and is clear of partiality and hypocrisy, Jas 3:17 and as one of its fruits is righteousness, that is sown in peace by the peacemaker, and produces it, Jas 3:18.

James 3:6-12 In-Context

4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.
5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.
6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish,
8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.
10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.
13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. Or for it will burn in hell (Greek Gehenna ).
  • [b]. Greek from salt.