James 4:5

From the Differentiator magazine:
Vol. 23 New Series April, 1961 No. 2

In the King James Bible published in 1611, this verse has long been considered to be very difficult to understand. It has often been said that no such passage as James apparently quotes is to be found in the Bible. The text reads thus: "Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?"

Literally, the Greek text would mean: "Or, are-you supposing that in-vain the Scripture is-saying (or, speaking)? Towards envy is-earnestly desiring the spirit which dwells in us?"
Dean Alford suggested the following: "Or do you think that the Scripture saith in vain, The Spirit that He (God) placed in us (viz. when the Spirit descended on the church) jealously desireth (us for His own)." Alford also attempted to find passages in the O.T., and gave the following, Gen. 6:5 and 8:21; Num. 11:29; Deut. 32:19 and 21; Prov. 21:10. But not one of these came close enough to explain James 4:5.

Bloomfield had endeavoured to render the passage thus: "Do ye think that the Scripture speaketh in vain? Does the Spirit that dwelleth in us lust to envy?" But the word for earnestly-desiring or longing (epipothei) does not mean lust. And besides, we must remember that in the Angle tongue lust meant desire or pleasure, even in the writings of Chaucer (1340-1400) and later, in the time of Spenser (1552-1599) and Bacon (1561-1626). In Exodus 15:9 we find the word in the King James version, but in the Hebrew it means soul, and in the English text it means pleasure. Compare Romans 1:27, where the word lust means a very evil form of pleasure, the Greek term meaning eager-desire or craving.

On the above matter Dr. Bullinger, in his Companion Bible had little to say: "This can only refer to the general testimony of Scripture that the natural man is prone to selfish desires, leading to envy of others who possess the things desired (Cp. Gen. 6:5; 8:21)." How unfortunate that he did not examine the Revised Version of 1881, which reads: "Or think ye that the scripture speaketh in vain? Doth the spirit which he made to dwell in us long unto envying?" Even in a version in Old English about 1400 we find: "What wene (imagine) ye? That scripture seye in veyn, that the spiryt that is in yow coveyteth to envye."

The American Bible Union version (1865) reads thus: "Or do ye think that the Scripture says in vain, the spirit he made to dwell in us has jealous longings?"

Paton J. Gloag, in Schaff's Commentary paraphrases as follows: "Do you think that the Scripture speaks in vain? Are its declarations against worldliness, and strife, and envy, a mere empty sound? Does the Spirit that dwells in Us lust to envy? Does He encourage such worldly affections? Are the fruits of the Spirit envy, and strife, and worldliness, and not rather love, joy, peace?" Rotherham's 1st edition: "Or are ye supposing that vainly the Scripture says, The Spirit which took up its dwelling in us, unto envy, is eagerly longing?"

Most of the renderings are reasonably good, the Revised Standard, New World, Diaglott, Weymouth, Wordsworth, Concordant, etc.

But can it be that there is nothing in the Old Testament which James was thinking of? What of Psalm 42, verse 1 of the Septuagint? "In the manner the stag is earnestly desiring the fountains of the waters, thus is earnestly desiring my soul toward Thee, O God." Or in the King James: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." Observe in this verse that earnestly desiring or panting occurs twice. It is most unlikely that the first readers of James' epistle were not well acquainted with this verse, just as Christian people today are well acquainted with it. Probably James intended his readers to carry their minds back to this psalm, so that their hearts and souls might pant for "Thee, O God," and not for the things of the world. We must keep in mind that 1. John 2:15 was a new maxim in the first century A.D.: "Love not the world, nor the things in the world."

One could well imagine the utter self-loathing of the readers of James produced in their souls by the idea that in place of "Thee, O God," they were in danger of putting base worldly "envying," which is directly antagonistic to God, as James had told them in the previous sentence, "Adulterers and adulteresses! Are you not aware that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever, then, should be intending to be a friend of the world is being constituted an enemy of God."

F. W. Farrar says the spirit which God has given us longs, even to jealous fondness, that we should pay to God an undivided allegiance; and for that reason He gives us greater grace, that we may maintain that allegiance.

Alexander Thomson

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Listing of Articles

Who is our God? Chapter 1
Who is our God? Chapter 2
Who is our God? Chapter 3
Who is our God? Chapter 4
Who is our God? Chapter 5
Who is our God? Chapter 6
Who is our God? Chapter 7
Who is our God? Chapter 8
Who is our God? Chapter 9
Who is our God? Chapter 10
Who is our God? Chapter 11
Who is our God? Chapter 12
Who is our God? Chapter 13
Who is our God? Chapter 14
Who is our God? Chapter 15
Who is our God? Chapter 16
Who is our God? Chapter 17
A Female Deity?
Acts 7:15 & 16
All Things
Amos 3:6
An Answer to the Challenge of Hell
Angels & Men One Species?
An Interesting New Version
Are You an Ambassador?
Are You a Pillar?
Are You a Witness for Jehovah?
Are You an Israelite? Chapter 1
Are You an Israelite? Chapter 2
Are You an Israelite? Chapters 3 & 4
A Special Resurrection?
Baptized for the Dead?
"Beloved" or "Loveable"?
Brotherly Love
Book Review
Colossians 1:23
Common or Unclean?
Common Sense
Did Paul Visit Spain?
Did the Lord give up His Flesh?
"Divine" Fire?
Doctoring the Holy Scriptures
Does God know Everything?
Does God will Everything?
Does your Spiritual Life seem Unreal?
Did God hate Esau?
Earth our Future Home?
Emphasis in the Scriptures
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Ephesians 1:23
Erroneous Translations
Gleanings from A.T.
Heaven our Homeland
How is Christ God's "Word"?
How many were Crucified?
In the Christ All Shall Be Made Alive
Is Dust the Serpent's Food?
Is the Devil Impersonal?
Isaiah 26:14,19
James 4:5
Jehovah's Theocratic Organization
Jesus the Saviour
John 19:29
The Kingdom of the Hebrews
Leave it with God
Men or Mortals?
Misplaced Ingenuity
New Light on the Second Death
None Other Things
Objective Value of Prayer
Other or Different
Our Advocate
Paul's Chain
Paul the Sensitive
Paul versus James
Prevailing Prayer
Problems of Translation: I Cor. 7:21
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Psalm 66:18
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
Rogues and Rascals
Rom 9 & 10: Human Freedom & Human Choice
Romans 9:14-24
Romans 9:30 to 10:21
II Corinthians 5:16
II Peter 3:10
Seven Wicked Spirits
Shall We See God?
Sir, We would see Jesus
Should we fear God?
The Bloody Husband
The Cherubim of Glory
The Corinthian Error
The Cunning Manager
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah
The Designation of Jesus as "God"
The Disruption Fallacy
The Disruption Fallacy #2
The Eighth of Proverbs
The Eleven "Generations" of Genesis
The Elohim
The Ends of the Eons
The Eternal Saviour-Judge
The Eternity of Hell Torments
The First Christian Convention
The Four Gospels
The Gentiles in Ephesians
The Greek Definite Article
The Hardening of Pharoah's Heart
The Hebrew Conception of Time
The Hebrews Epistle
The Hebrew Terms Rendered 'For Ever'
The Hope of Israel
The Life of Prayer
The Lord Jesus Revealing the Heart of God
The Lord's Relatives
The Lordly Supper
The Meaning of Ta Panta
The Ministry of Women Parts 1 & 2
The Ministry of Women Parts 3 & 4
The "Penalty of Sin"
The Poor in Spirit
The Primeval Laws
The Primeval Laws #2
The Problem of Evil
The Quality of Divine Love
The Rich Man and Lazarus
The Serpent of Genesis 3
The Soul and the Spirit
The Talmud of the Jews Parts 1 & 2
The Talmud of the Jews Parts 3 & 4
The Translation of Acts 28:25
The Trial of the Lord
The Truth of the Bible
The Two Seeds
The Works of Henry Clay Mabie, D.D.
"Three Days and Three Nights"
Translator's Incentive
Truthfulness and Mercy
Try the Spirits
Unto Eternity and Further
We have all been Wrong
What did Peter do?
What does Olethros mean?
What Happened to Jephthah's Daughter?
What is Destruction?
What is the Flesh?
What is the Sin unto Death?
Whence "Eternity"?
Who are the Saints?
Who is Jehovah?
Who Shall Deliver Me?
Why Pray?
Why the "Lake" of Fire?
Will God Punish?
Will the Lord Come for Us?
Will the Man of Lawlessness be Killed?


The Differentiator Revisited 2009