James 4:5

I’m preaching on James 4:1-6 this Sunday. One of the most challenging aspects of the sermon prep was working out what James 4:5 said and what it meant.

The Greek of the verse is:

ἢ δοκεῖτε ὅτι κενῶς ἡ γραφὴ λέγει· πρὸς φθόνον ἐπιποθεῖ τὸ πνεῦμα ὃ κατῴκισεν ἐν ἡμῖν,

Some comments on the verse.

The initial ἢ is significant. It links v5 back to v4 (as opposed to linking it forward to v6, or making the verse stand alone). This is significant for interpretation, as it means that vv4 and 5 are to be understood together.

δοκεῖτε ὅτι introduces a nominal content clause of that James is suggesting his readers might think.

κενῶς ἡ γραφὴ λέγει· adv + article + noun + verb. “Vainly the Scripture says…”. There is an additional issue here because James introduces his quotation as Scripture, yet he doesn’t quote any specific verse from OT or NT. I take it that here he is quoting the general sense and teaching of the OT, rather than referring to any extra-biblical material.


Now comes the tricky part:

The main issue is with the τὸ πνεῦμα. They could be either nominative or accusative (neuter singular). Remember from 1st year Greek class that nom and acc neuter singular and plural forms have identical endings. Usually context makes it clear which is which. But here, it could legitimately be either.

The verb ἐπιποθεῖ (“to long for”) takes a nom subject and acc direct object. So is τὸ πνεῦμα subject or object:

Subject: The spirit, which he caused to dwell within us, longs jealously.

Object: He longs jealously for the spirit which he caused to dwell within us.

The meaning is determinded by ones grammatical interpretation of this verse. If τὸ πνεῦμα is subject, then James’ argument goes like this: The human spirit (life/soul) that is within us has a tendency to be jealous. In other words, God is aware that humans struggle with jealousy and selfish desires, as is the case in vv1-3. Alternatively, if τὸ πνεῦμα is the subject then the ideas is this: God has put our spirit within us, and he longs that it is wholly committed to him.

Either interpretation is possible. However, I think the context constrains the meaning to the latter, taking τὸ πνεῦμα as object of the verb. This is because of the connection between vv4 and 5. James clearly intends these two verses to be taken together and so to emphasise the same idea. In v4 James has called his readers “Adulteresses”, referring back to unfaithful Israel in their idolotous rebellion. He then goes on to comment about the mutual exclusivity of being friends with the world and friends of God. It is difficult to see, if τὸ πνεῦμα is the subject of the clause, how v5 links to v4, rather it seems to link more directly back to vv1-3; which in turn makes v4 seem out of place.

[ An additional issue is the textual variant of κατῴκισεν. This form is a NT hapax, and so some manuscripts have the more common form κατῳκησεν. The former is causative, the latter instransitive. Given that the former is the harder reading and so less likely to have been added either by mistake or on purpose, it is the more likely reading. See KJV for a translation. ]

[ Yet another issue, not addressed here, is whether τὸ πνεῦμα referrs to the Holy Spirit or the human spirit (as in Gen 2:7). I’ve taken it as the latter. ]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s