Or do you think that the
Scripture speaks to no purpose: e dokeite (2PPAI) hoti kenos e graphe
legei, (3SPAI): (John 7:42; 10:35; 19:37; Romans 9:17;
TO TRANSLATE & INTERPRET
It should be noted at the outset
of the exposition that James 4:5 presents one of the most difficult
challenges in the entire New Testament. There is not only a question
regarding the most accurate Greek text (see below for discussion of
the verb to dwell) but also the question of how the Greek text
is most accurately interpreted grammatically. The following discussion
will briefly discuss these problematic areas but the interested reader
is referred to more academic resources for more detail. After studying
multiple resources detailing the difficulties regarding James 4:5, I
would suggest that the gracious reader take care not to be too
dogmatic in the interpretation of this passage.
Or do you think -
Parallels the introduction to Jas 4:4 "do you not know". The "or"
introduces a question which addresses their attitude toward the
authority of Scripture. Scripture speaks but do you think it speaks
for no reason or without reason? Is the message which the
Scripture speaks purposeless, so that it has no authoritative
claim on how we conduct ourselves? While most of us would quickly
respond with an emphatic "No, Scripture does not speak to me without
purpose", our conduct many times unfortunately answers "Yes"!
The Scripture speaks -
Scripture is personified. And rightly so for when we read the pages of
Scripture, we are reading living and active (energetic) words (Heb
4:12), the words of God spoken to us. So when Scripture speaks, God
speaks. Are you (am I)
listening (like young Samuel)?
(1Sa 3:9, 10) Speaks is in the present tense - Scripture
continually speaks. And so we should continually listen,
taking care to be doers and not merely hearers only, deluding
ourselves. (James 1:22)
While this phrase in the first half of this verse would be expected to
introduce a definite OT reference in the second half, there is no
obvious passage of Scripture (OT or NT) that contains the words of the
assumed quotation. Many explanations have been offered in an attempt
to explain this enigma, but none are conclusive.
Ideas include (1) James quoted
from some unknown apocryphal work (2) The quote is an unrecorded
statement of James' half brother Jesus. (3) James quotes from some NT
passage. (4) James was paraphrasing an OT passage. (5) James was not
quoting a specific single passage, but is summarizing truths found in
several OT passages. (6) Finally, some commentators (and Bible
translations) do not treat the first half of verse 5 as a "formula"
introducing a quotation but as a sentence which stands by itself.
Several of the translations emphasize this latter view by dividing
verse 5 into two separate sentences...
Or think ye that the scripture
speaketh in vain? Doth the spirit which he made to dwell in us long
unto envying? (ASV)
Think ye that the scripture speaks
in vain? Does the Spirit which has taken his abode in us desire
Do you think what the scriptures
have to say about this is a mere formality? Or do you imagine that
this spirit of passionate jealousy is the Spirit he has caused to live
in us? (Phillips)
Or think ye that, in vain, the
scripture speaketh? Is it, for envying, that the spirit which hath
taken an abode within us doth crave? (Rotherdam)
Hiebert favors two
separate sentences and comments that "Lenski supports the view that verse
5 consists of two sentences by pointing out that the wording of the
first part of the verse never occurs elsewhere as a formula of
quotation; he insists, "If a quotation were to follow, we should
certainly expect the addition, `saying that.' (D
Edmond Hiebert - James -
Highly Recommended Commentary
- Any commentary written by Hiebert
Gill explains that it...
seems best of all to conclude that
the apostle has no regard to any one particular passage of Scripture,
in which the following words are expressly had, since no such passage
appears; but that his meaning is, the sense of the Scripture
everywhere, where it speaks of this matter, is to this purpose: nor
does it say this, or any thing else in vain; whatever is written there
is to answer some end, as for learning, edification, and comfort, for
doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. (Gill's
Hiebert goes on to add
that "When the first part of Jas 4:5 is
accepted as a separate question, by (his use of the phrase) the
Scripture James is seen to refer to the teaching of the Scriptures
as a whole, which supports the truth already declared in Jas 4:4, that
man cannot love both God and the world at the same time. If the
readers are prone to question the truth of what James had just said,
as might be implied from their conduct, does that mean that they
regard the teaching of Scripture—that worldliness and godliness cannot
exist together—as without abiding authority? We accept the rendering
of the ASV which makes two sentences of verse 5, as the most probable
means literally to be
without something material and thus means empty or without content. It
was used with the literal meaning (as in Mk 12:3 "they took him and
beat him and sent him away empty handed"). Figuratively,
kenos refers to endeavors, labors, acts, which result in nothing
and thus are vain, fruitless, without effect and will not succeed.
Kenos can also refer to that which is devoid of intellectual,
moral, or spiritual value.
It appears then that in the
present passage James is asking his readers if they think the
Scripture lacks effectiveness, is useless, is of no purpose or is
unable to produce results. When the passage is read in this way, it
becomes essentially a rebuke to the readers.
He jealously desires the
Spirit which He has made to dwell in us: pros phthonon epipothei
(3SPAI) to pneuma o katokisen (3SAAI) en hemin: (Genesis
4:5,6; 6:5; 8:21; 26:14; 30:1; 37:11; Nu 11:29; Ps 37:1; 106:16; Pr
21:10; Eccl 4:4; Isa 11:13; Acts 7:9; Ro 1:29; Titus 3:3)
The interpretation of the latter
portion of James 4:5 is even more difficult than the first
section and there is no clear consensus. There are at least 4 points
of difficulty: (1) Is the word spirit the subject or the object
of the main verb desires? (2) Is the spirit to be
written with a little or big "s"? In other words is James referring to
the Holy Spirit (which would be his only reference in the book) or to
the spirit of man? (3) Is the phrase jealously desires to be
understood in a good or bad sense? (4) Finally, is James making a
statement or asking a question?
In the Greek this sentence
begins with the preposition pros which generally describes
direction toward and in this case would describe the direction toward
which the jealousy (or envy) is directed. For example, the NIV
renders this phrase "tends toward envy" while the New English Bible
renders it "turns towards envious desires". One can readily see from
these renderings that jealously desires has a negative
connotation and this would indicate the passage could hardly refer to
the Holy Spirit! One wordsmith, Bishop Trench, in fact has written
(somewhat dogmatically) of phthonos (see below) that it "is used
always and only in an evil signification." To reiterate, if one
interprets jealously in this way, the NAS rendering
would be difficult to accept (but see discussion under jealously).
The KJV marginal reading is not far from the NAS, reading "the Spirit
that dwelt in us loveth us to jealousy" (Jas 4:5, KJV, marginal
in most NT uses describes not just wanting what another person
has, but also resenting that person for having it. Phthonos
thus is generally given a negative connotation in biblical usage.
Carson says that phthonos was occasionally used in secular
Greek to describe "the jealous feeling of a lover towards a rival."
Such a meaning would be compatible with the NAS interpretation
that it is the Spirit of God Who jealously desires.
Hiebert adds that...
the nouns phthonos [envy]
and zelos [zeal, jealousy] were sometimes used interchangeably.
"Phthonos was occasionally used in Greek writers of the
jealousy of the Olympian gods," (Douglas Moo - "The Letter of James")
and both terms were "often used for the `jealousy' of God (1Mac.
8:16; T Sim. 4.5; T. Gad. 7.2; 1 Clem. 3.2; 4.7; 5.2)." (Ralph Martin,
Word Biblical Commentary) So understood, the expression (jealously
desires, NAS) could be used to describe God's unwillingness to
share man's affections with the world (Ed: The affection for which
James has just warned his readers in Jas 4:4-note).
Dobson, et al write that
when taken adverbially, “the
Spirit that dwells in us lusts jealously,” speaks of divine
jealousy, a familiar doctrine to these Jews (Ex 20:5; 34:14; Zech
E G, Charles Feinberg, E Hindson, Woodrow Kroll, H L. Wilmington: KJV
Bible Commentary: Nelson)
from epi =
intensifies + potheo = to yearn) means to have a strong desire
for something, with implication of need. It mean to long for, have
great affection for, yearn for someone or something. The
indicates this strong desire is continual. Epipotheo is used
elsewhere in the NT always to express longing in a good sense and not
to express an evil desire (See the 9 NT uses: Ro 1:11; 2Co 5:2; 9:14;
Php 1:8; 2:26; 1Th3:6; 2Ti 1:4; Jas 4:5; 1Pe 2:2). Ropes
remarks that epipotheo was even used to describe "the longing
affection of the lover." (cp uses of epipotheo in the Lxx - Ps 42:1,
Ps 119:20, 131)
The Greek scholar A T
Robertson comments that the phrase (pros phthonon epipothei)
A difficult phrase... (and if) God
(is) presented as a jealous lover, does to pneuma (the spirit)
refer to the Holy Spirit as the subject of epipothei or to
man’s spirit as the object of epipothei? Probably the former
and epipothei then means to yearn after in the good sense as in
Phil. 1:8. (Study
Notes on 4:5)
(pneuma) in the present context can be taken as either the
subject (NET = "The spirit that God caused to live within us
has an envious yearning") or the object (ESV = "He yearns
jealously over the spirit") of the verb desires and
to further complicate the picture can be interpreted as a reference to
either the human spirit or the Holy Spirit. The various translations
at the beginning of this note (click) have been divided
into those who interpret pneuma as the Divine Spirit or
the human spirit.
To dwell - The specific
Greek verb which is translated to dwell is also
in dispute. Most modern translations favor katoikizo while the
KJV (based on the Greek Textus Receptus) favors the verb katoikeo.
Katoikizo (no unique
Strong's # - some resources list it with katoikeo
used only here in James 4:5 (but used 40x in the non-apocryphal
and means to cause to dwell, to establish, to settle. Katoikizo is the verb which most scholars favor as the
one James intended. BDAG writes that katoikizo is used
in James 4:5 "of the Spirit" (BDAG favors the Holy Spirit) and so
renders this phrase as "the Spirit which (God) has caused to live in
us." Louw & Nida on the other hand favors the spirit of man and
so renders it "the spirit that (God) caused to dwell in us" or "the
spirit that (God) put within us". The confused reader can begin to see
the difficulties and disagreements among respected scholars regarding
the basic rendering of James 4:5!
Katoikeo (2730) is the much more
commonly used Greek verb (45x in 43 NT verses) meaning literally to reside and figuratively
speaking of God dwelling in the heart (1Co 3:16), of demons dwelling
humans (Mt 12:45), of God dwelling in the temple (Mt. 23:21), of Satan
dwelling where Antipas was killed (Rev. 2:13), of Christ dwelling in
His people by faith (Eph 3:17), of the fullness of God dwelling in
Christ (Col. 1:19), of the fullness of Deity dwelling in Christ bodily
(Col 2:9), and of righteousness dwelling in the new heaven and
earth (2Pe 3:13).
The NET Bible note says
Both because of the absence of an explicit subject and the relative
scarcity of the causative katoikizo ("cause to dwell") compared
to the intransitive katoikeo (live, dwell") in Biblical
Greek...it is easy to see why scribes
would replace katokisen with katokesen (Ed:
Replacing "i" with an "e" changes the root verb
[lemma] from katoikizo to
katoikeo)...On internal and external grounds, katokisen is the
preferred reading. (Ed: In other words, the NET Bible
translators and most other
scholars favor the conclusion that James used the rare verb katoikizo
rather than the more common
verb katoikeo which is favored by the Greek Textus Receptus [KJV].
Are you confused yet?)
Hiebert a highly
respected expositor summarizes the textual and grammatical conundrum
When the second half of Jas 4:5 is
accepted as a separate sentence, is it to be punctuated as a question
or as a declarative statement? The ASV makes it a question, but its
contents may equally be regarded as a declarative statement." Its
close connection with the statement in the first part of Jas 4:6
supports the view that this is also a statement of fact. We accept it
as a statement of fact made by James. In view of the grammatical
structure, there are four possibilities as to the intended meaning:
1. The human spirit as the
object of the main verb:
"He [God] yearns enviously for the
spirit which He caused to dwell in us."
Then the meaning is that God, who
placed man's spirit in him at creation, longs for its total loyalty
and devotion to Him.
2. The divine Spirit as the
object of the verb:
"He [God] yearns enviously for the
Spirit which He caused to dwell in us."
But it is difficult to see how one
member of the Trinity should be pictured as enviously longing for
another. This alternative is highly improbable.
3. The human spirit as the
subject of the main verb:
"The spirit which He made to dwell
in us longs enviously"
Then the meaning is that the human
spirit, imparted at creation, longs perversely for enjoyment of the
world's pleasures, even to the point of envy Then James charges his
readers with perverseness in being cool toward God while yearning for
the world's pleasures.
4. The divine Spirit as the
subject of the verb:
"The Spirit which He made to dwell
in us yearns enviously"
Then the meaning is that the Holy
Spirit, imparted to us by God at conversion, yearns enviously for our
total loyalty and devotion to Him. The incoming Holy Spirit, Who
sealed our redemption, justly claims our undivided love. He can brook
no rival for our affection. The only reference to the Holy Spirit in
this epistle is under the second and fourth views.
In view of the rebuke to
worldliness that James is administering to his Christian readers, the
last view seems most probable. Then this reference to the Holy
Spirit's reaction to their worldliness fittingly expresses a further
ground for censure. This view harmonizes with the natural force of the
relative clause. The assertion that God caused the Spirit to dwell in
believers is a central teaching of the New Testament (Acts 5:32; Ro
8:11; Gal. 4:6; 2Ti 1:14). The better-attested verb "causes to live"
(katokisen) most naturally points to a distinctive experience that is
not true of all men and is best taken as referring directly to the
Spirit's impartation at regeneration. This view also gives the most
natural meaning to "us" as restricted to Christians. This picture of
the Holy Spirit's yearning for the undivided love of His people, and
grudgingly refusing to yield to a rival, is consistent with the
statement in Galatians 5:17 concerning the Spirit's opposition to the
lusts of the flesh. This view also is supported by the assertion in
the first part of verse 6, which stands in close connection with verse
The ESV Study Bible
God created mankind with a “spirit,”
and he deeply desires that our spirits worship Him (cf. John 4:23,24).
Some interpreters believe the verse speaks of human jealousy (“The
spirit that he has made to live in us envies intensely”). But the
idea of divine jealousy fits the context best, since the
surrounding verses (James 4:4, 6, 7, 8) deal with man's relationship
with God. (ESV = “He yearns jealously over the spirit that
he has made to dwell in us”)
The Handbook on the Letter to
James has five alternative translations and has the following note
on translation #4 (consult the
UBS NT Handbook
for all five possibilities with the pros and cons of each)...
“The Spirit he caused to live in
us longs jealously” (NIV second alternative rendering). In this
instance the Holy Spirit is the subject of yearning. But God is the
one who caused the Holy Spirit to live in us. The verb phrase “to
yearn jealously” is taken in the good sense of “to long jealously for
our full devotion,” or “to love us passionately.” What James appears
to say here, then, is that Christians are indwelt by God’s Spirit, and
that the Spirit longs for the undivided loyalty and the love of God’s
people. The unstated application of this is that it would be
inconceivable for Christians to continue to live in accordance with
their own sinful desires and passions.
To think of the Holy Spirit as
dwelling in human beings is a concept well known in the Bible (Ro
8.11; 1Co3.16). The indwelling in human beings is the act and purpose
of God. It makes more sense to say that God placed the Holy Spirit in
us, rather than to say that he placed in us the human spirits with
tendency to sin. However, the difficulty is that this would be the
only reference to the Holy Spirit in the book, and this is considered
by some scholars as most unlikely. Furthermore it would be unnatural
to link the Holy Spirit with envy and jealousy. For this reason we
would have to interpret the word “jealousy” in the good sense of a
strong desire to love and care. This, to some scholars, is contrary to
its normal usage in the New Testament, and it is therefore considered
to be doubtful.
United Bible Societies' New Testament Handbook Series)
Thomas Constable notes
that James 4:5...
is very difficult to translate this
statement, but the best rendering seems to be something such as the
following. “God jealously longs for the spirit that He made to live
in us.” Another translations is, “the Spirit which he made to
dwell in us jealously yearns for the entire devotion of the heart”
(cf. Ro 8:11; 1Co 3:16; Gal. 4:6; Ep 4:30; Jn 7:39; 16:7). Both
translations fit the preceding context well. God’s people who love the
world have committed spiritual adultery against Him (Jas 4:4-note),
but God (or His Spirit) jealously longs for their love (Jas 4:5). (James Expository Notes)
What is the subject and what is the
object of the verb “longs for” (epipothei)? The NIV
has chosen to muddy the waters by conflating (bringing together,
combining two readings of a text into a composite whole) two
consecutive Greek terms, phthonon (“envy, jealousy”) and
epipothei ("express strong desire for") (NIV = "the
spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely"). It is
best to treat phthonon as an adverb (“with envy, with jealousy,
jealously”) and to see “God” as the subject and “the spirit” as the
object of the verb. This leaves us with the following translation: “Out
of jealousy he [God] longs for the spirit that he [God]
made to live in us.” This is the interpretation chosen by the NRSV
("God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in
us") (cf. NIV footnote = "that God jealously longs for
the spirit that he made to live in us" or "that the Spirit he
caused to live in us longs jealously"). Other renderings are, of
course, possible and grammatically defensible. The subject could be
the Holy Spirit, in which case the translation would be, “The Holy
Spirit that he sent to live in us desires us for himself alone.”
This, however, leaves us not distantly removed from where we find
ourselves if God is the subject.
In any case, the point is,
plainly, that God desires with all of His heart for us to come home
and to live with and in Him, for us to ask for His wisdom. Instead, we
follow the wisdom of the world (cp Jas 3:15, 16, 17, Jas 4:4-note),
whether knowingly or unwittingly, and by following that errant path we
can never achieve what we truly seek. ((NIV Application
Commentary, New Testament: James. David P. Nystrom, Page 227. Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) (Bolding added)
Donald Burdick also
commenting on Jas 4:5 in the NIV adds that...
there is good reason to believe
that the translation given in the NIV footnote for the last part of
the verse is correct, "that God jealously longs for the spirit that
he made to live in us." This rendering fits the immediate context
better than the NIV text, "that the spirit he caused to live in us
tends toward envy." Jas 4:4-note,
which is closely tied to Jas 4:5 by the conjunction "or,"
indicates that the believer who is a friend of the world is guilty of
spiritual adultery. Although his love and devotion belong to God, he
has fallen in love with the world. It is natural, therefore, to expect
Jas 4:5 to speak of God's jealous longing for His people's love,
rather than of their envious spirit. And there are OT passages that
refer to God as jealously desiring the devotion of His people. Since
there is no passage of which James 4:5 is a verbatim quotation, it is
best to understand it as giving the gist of such passages as Ex 20:5
and Ex 34:14...
It is much better... to translate
pros phthonon epipothei as "longs jealously for." Thus, in Jas
James has accused his readers of spiritual unfaithfulness. If they are
not willing to accept this indictment, he asks in Jas 4:5 what they
think about the OT passages dealing with God's jealous longing for His
people. This is the significance of the introductory conjunction "or."
Do they think Scripture speaks "without reason" or emptily? Of course
they don't think this. Consequently, it is necessary to believe that
friendship with the world is enmity toward God, and thus it is
F, Editor: Expositor's Bible Commentary 6-Volume New Testament.
Zondervan Publishing or
Pradis = computer version)
Warren Wiersbe says...
Living for the flesh means grieving
the Holy Spirit of God Who lives in us... just as the world is the
enemy of God the Father, so the
is the enemy of God
the Holy Spirit. There is a holy, loving jealousy that a husband and
wife have over each other, and rightly so. The Spirit within
jealously guards our relationship to God, and the Spirit is grieved
when we sin against God’s love.
W: Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989. Victor)
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary
reminds us that...
God is a jealous God (cf. Ex 20:5;
34:14; Dt 32:16; Zech 8:2; 1Co 10:22), and hence He will not
tolerate divided allegiance.
C F: Wycliffe Bible Commentary. 1981. Moody)
Comment: See Dt 4:23, 24,
25, 26; 6:14, 15; Josh 24:19, 20 for other OT verses [among many] that describe God as jealous and as the
One Who forbids idolatry remembering that an idol would be like a "lover" with
which a believer seeks companionship, committing adultery with
their true Husband, Jehovah. If human husbands become angered by a wife's
adultery, how much more right would God have to be jealous toward His
unfaithful wife?! (see Pr 6:32, 33, 34, 35-notes)
Motyer adds that...
God’s people are indwelt by God’s
Spirit and there is no way in which the living presence of that Spirit
is compatible with those sinful yearnings and promptings to
self-interest which are destructive of the peace of the church.
(Motyer, J. A. The Message of James: The Tests of Faith: Inter-Varsity
Lehman Strauss comments
We might paraphrase this to read as
follows: "The Spirit, who hath taken up His abode in us, enviously
yearns over us." I have capitalized the word Spirit, for I believe
James is referring to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, indwelling us,
is longing after something: namely, to make us wholly Christ's, to
bring us to the place where we have no divided allegiance. The Holy
Spirit has just one envy, one desire, one longing; that is, our entire
devotion to Jesus Christ. God warned His people of old time to have no
other gods, neither to bow down to them, for, said He: "I the Lord thy
God am a jealous God" (Dt 5:1-9). This is the intense desire of divine
love, and the dispensations do not alter it. God's pure and perfect
love for us yearns over us, for He too longs to be loved by His own.
This is the consistent teaching of all Scripture, and it is not mere
vain (or empty) teaching. No teaching in the Word of God can be
The popular preacher and Bible
expositor R. Kent Hughes writes...
I am convinced that the text refers
to the Holy Spirit's jealousy over us because it best fits the
argument of the context and because it touches on that grand truth so
indispensable to the New Testament theology—the indwelling of the Holy
Spirit. Understanding that the Holy Spirit's jealousy for us is what
is meant here opens a heart-changing truth to us: even when we sin by
seeking our pleasures in friendship with the world (Jas 4:4-note),
we are greatly loved, for jealousy is an essential element of true
love. We are brides of Christ, and the Holy Spirit does not want us to
go somewhere else to "have our needs met." The Holy Spirit's true love
for us evokes a proper intolerance of straying affection. The
personalness of this ought to steel us against wandering.
This jealous Spirit is inside us. When we sin, He is pained!
Furthermore, His jealousy is passionate, for the idea in the Greek (epipotheo)
is that He longs or yearns for us with an intense jealousy. To realize
that the awesomely holy God who transcends the universe and is wholly
other and self-contained is at the same time personally and
passionately and lovingly jealous for our affection—this realization
ought to stop any of our "affairs" with the world and cause us to
prostrate our souls adoringly before him. How we are loved! And how we
ought to love! For as John informs us, "We love because he first loved
us" (1Jn 4:19).
R. K. James : Faith that works. Preaching the Word. Crossway Books)
George Stulac in the IVP
NT Commentary series has a well done analysis of this difficult
section of James. After assessing alternative interpretations (see
Stulac explains why he favors the NAS (and the NIV marginal
translation) noting first that...
the subject of the verb (desires)
is the understood He, referring to God. The object of His yearning is
the spirit He caused to live in us. This spirit could be either the
created human spirit or the Holy Spirit given to Christians, though
the former seems more likely because it is consistent with James's
only other reference to "spirit" in Jas 2:26-note.
In either case, the meaning is that God jealously desires us to belong
wholeheartedly to Him. (Even if one takes the Jerusalem Bible or
Living Bible rendering with "spirit" referring to the Holy Spirit as
the subject of the clause, one is left with the same meaning: that God
jealously desires us.)
The arguments making this understanding of Jas 4:5 preferable are the
1. Linguistic. Two terms for
"envy," phthonos and zelos, are sometimes interchangeable, and
zelos is used elsewhere of God. James would be choosing this more
unusual use of phthonos simply for stylistic contrast, since he
recently used zelos negatively of human envy in Jas 3:14 and Jas 3:16.
2. Grammatical. It is more natural to have the same subject for
the two verbs yearns (desires) and caused to live (made
3. Contextual. An emphasis on God's jealousy for righteousness
in us is equally consistent with what James has emphasized in the
4. Logical. A reference to human envy here would be
awkward, because it would seem to ignore the point to which James has
come in Jas 4:4-note
and would instead return to his point in Jas 4:1-3. On the other hand,
a reference to God's jealousy fits the flow of thought well. The point
of Jas 4:4 logically raises the objection "How does friendship with
the world make me an enemy of God?" James would be answering this
in Jas 4:5 by reminding us of God's jealousy. Then Jas 4:6-note
would follow as a reminder of God's grace to the humble, which
protects us from being overwhelmed by God's jealousy. (George
Stulac - IVP NT Commentary - James 4:4-5 Don't You Know the Choice to
Be Made) (Bolding added)
Ralph Martin explains
there is another argument
that speaks against construing “the human spirit” as the subject of
epipothei (desires). To take Jas 4:5b as a Scriptural
confirmation of human jealousy would require that the author has
returned to his description of human nature in Jas 4:1, 2, 3, but in
James has issued a call to repentance, warning his readers that
friendship with the world means enmity with God. Thus, more than
likely, Jas 4:5 is set down to highlight God’s displeasure with the
behavior reported in Jas 4:1-4. To conclude, therefore, that the
subject of epipothei is the human spirit is fraught with much
If it is the divine Spirit (taking
God as the subject of katokisen, a hapax legomenon = only Biblical
use) which opposes envy, then we have an understanding of Jas 4:5 that
continues the flow of Jas 4:4. Even though many interpreters prefer to
take God as the subject of epipothei Hort, p 93, 94; Ropes, p 263;
Dibelius, p 223, 24; Mayor, p 144,145; Mussner, p 142, 43), the same
thought could be expressed in terms of God at work in the believer
through the Holy Spirit, which opposes the jealous or envious
tendencies of our “earthly” human nature. As a result the effect of
“godly wisdom” should prevail. God opposes those who fight and war
within the church, and he has placed his Spirit within His people to
combat that tendency. Therefore, it is God’s jealousy that is
described in Jas 4:5, for He stands waiting for the belligerent to
forsake their envy of others and direct their attention back to Him.
(Martin, R. P. Vol. 48: Word Biblical Commentary: James. Page 150.
Dallas: Word, Incorporated. 2002)
John Piper (Godward Life -
Book Two) commenting on Jas 4:2, 4, 4 writes that...
James has in his mind a picture of
people who use prayer to try to get from God something they desire
more than God. He calls these people—men and women—"adulteresses."
Why? Because in his mind God is like our husband Who is jealous to be
our highest delight. If we then try to make prayer a means of getting
from Him something we want more than we want Him, we are like a wife
who asks her husband for money to visit another lover.
As if it were not clear enough,
James explains (in Jas 4:5) why this is offensive to God: "He
jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us." In
other words, God is jealous to be the object of our spirits greatest
delight. And Jas 4:4 says, if we become "friends" with the world, we
become "enemies" of God. That means if we find our most satisfying
relationships with others besides God, we make him our enemy. God is
either our first and greatest delight, or he is our enemy.
F B Meyer in Our Daily
THE SPIRIT...YEARNETH FOR US
EVEN UNTO JEALOUS ENVY.
Jamess 4:5 (RV, marginal reading).
A VERY deep and remarkable verse!
The apostle is contending against the worldliness which was so rife
among the believers he was addressing. They were set on pleasure; they
sought the friendship of the world, and became unfaithful to their
divine Lover; they were proud and high-minded. He went so far as to
speak of them as adulterers and adulteresses (Jas 4:4); and then
adopting a gentler, pleading tone, he says,
"You are grieving the gentle Holy
Spirit who has come to dwell within you, who yearns with a jealous
envy to possess your entire nature for Himself."
The Spirit of God dwells within
thee, O believer in Jesus Christ. If a man have not the Spirit of God,
he is none of His; and since thou art undoubtedly one of us, thou hast
most certainly the Holy Spirit (Ro 8:11-note).
But the mistake of thy
life consists in this, that He hath not thee. Some part of thy heart
is given, but not all; and this causes Him the most exquisite pain,
like that which we suffer from jealousy.
No keener pain is possible to the
heart of man than to have good reason for the belief that a loved one
is not wholly true; that there has been an alienation of affection
which was once whole and entire; that another is receiving a part at
least of the heart's devotion. The fire and screw are light in
comparison with our anguish then; but, this is what the Spirit of God
suffers when we share between Him and the world that love which should
be all His own. "I, the Lord thy God am a jealous God," is as true as
when first spoken from Sinai. The person of Jesus Christ must be the
Sun of our system, though that system may include many planets beside.
GOD'S JEALOUS SPIRIT - Do
you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in
us yearns jealously"? James 4:5
Shep, the newest member of our
family, is a young Shetland sheepdog who openly displays his jealousy
when I kiss my wife. He doesn't snarl or bite, but in the language of
barking he seems to be saying "Hey, Master, you belong to me!" His
jealousy gives me a good feeling. After all, don't we all like someone
to care that much about us?
There's another kind of jealousy -- a righteous jealousy -- at work in
the life of every Christian. It's not the yearning of a subject for
his master, like that of my dog Shep, but of "the" Master for His
subject. Some has rephrased James 4:5, 6 to read, "Do you think
that Scripture says without reason that the Holy Spirit, whom God
caused to live in us, jealously wants us exclusively to Himself in
order to pour out His grace on us generously?"
When we lust, covet, and create strife, we embrace the world's values
(Jas 4:1-4), and this stirs up God's jealousy. He continually longs to
keep us near to Him. He corrects, rebukes, comforts, guides, and urges
us to get to know Him better. This pure possessiveness doesn't stifle
or demean us, but uplifts and liberates because it is full of grace
and truth. That's why He
wants us all to Himself. Thank God for His jealous Spirit. -
Dennis J. De Haan
Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by
permission. All rights reserved)
ACTION SUGGESTION- Since we are aware of God's righteous jealousy,
what steps should we take so that He can bless us? (James 4:7-10)
There's no room for double
occupancy in the Christian's heart.
Tony Evans writes that...
Our God is jealous of His work in
us (Jas 4:5). He won’t share us with another spiritual suitor—and He
shouldn’t have to!
John Blanchard in his book
The Complete Gathered Gold- A Treasury of
Computer version) (Highly
recommended as one of
the best resources for Biblically sound quotes) has these quotes...
God is jealous for the good of His
redeemed people—but He can never be jealous of anything or anyone. -
The jealousy of God is one of the
Christian's greatest challenges—and comforts. - John Blanchard
God, as a jealous God, is filled
with a burning desire for our holiness, for our righteousness, for our
goodness. - Donald Grey Barnhouse
interpretation of the last half of James is somewhat in the
minority opinion for he writes that...
This difficult phrase (The
Spirit … yearns jealously) is best understood by seeing the “spirit”
as a reference not to the Holy Spirit, but to the human spirit, and
translating the phrase “yearns jealously” in the negative sense
of “lusts to envy.” James’ point is that an unbelieving
person’s spirit (inner person) is bent on evil (cf. Ge 6:5;
8:21; Pr. 21:10; Eccl 9:3; Jer 17:9; Mk 7:21, 22, 23- note).
Those who think otherwise defy the biblical diagnosis of fallen human
nature; and those who live in worldly lusts give evidence that their
faith is not genuine (cf. Ro 8:5-11- note;
J.: The MacArthur Study Bible Nashville: Word)
John MacArthur is not alone
in his interpretation, C H Spurgeon commenting that...
There is a spirit, resident in the
natural man, the human nature of man, which is always inclined toward
hate and envy, always wanting to get somewhat from other men, and
always grieved if other men seem to be or to have more than the person
himself has. How is this spirit to be met? This verse supplies the
answer, "He giveth more grace." (Jas 4:6- note)
"More grace," -this is the great remedy for hate and envy. "More
grace,"-this is the balm for sorrow. "More grace,"-this is our
greatest help out of all difficulties. "More grace,"-this is the
universal recipe for all that we need: "He giveth more grace."