Of James 4:5, Albert Barnes wrote in his commentary: “Few passages of the New Testament
have given expositors more perplexity
than this” (1972, p. 70). Those hostile to Christianity often try to find anything they can
to discredit the Bible. The slightest
“discrepancy” or “contradiction” is considered as solid proof that the Bible
is inaccurate and therefore
unreliable. The passage in James 4:5 is one such instance where skeptics and infidels have taken a
verse and tried to use it to
discredit the Scriptures. In context, the passage reads as follows (the section in bold type is
the particular portion in question):
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity
with God? whosoever therefore will
be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The
spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth
to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth
grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves
therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:4-7, KJV).
Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of
the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture
says, “He yearns jealously over the
spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace; therefore it says,
“God opposes the proud, but gives
grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee
from you (James 4:4-7, RSV, emp. added).
The KJV and RSV separate this verse into two
sections. The first introduces a supposed
quote with the phrase “the scripture says,” and draws attention to the second section,
which seems to highlight the quotation
either via quotation marks (as in the RSV) or by capitalizing the first
word of the quote (as in the KJV). According to those attempting to discredit the Bible, this verse
“proves” that the Bible is false since the
supposed quotation is found nowhere in scripture. If it is true that there is a missing quote in
the Bible, then some would perceive it
as bringing into doubt the validity of the book of James. If the Bible is called into question,
then Christianity’s foundation
crumbles. So there is a need to answer such charges brought against the inspired Word of God.
With careful study and consideration, it appears that the reason for this alleged controversy
is very simple: when correctly
translated and taken in context, it seems that James apparently did not intend for the second half
of the verse to be taken as a direct
quotation from the Old Testament. The translations provided by the King James Version, Revised
Standard Version, and others that render
the verse as a quotation are inaccurate.
Such a suggestion raises the question as to what the correct translation is for the passage.
Several solutions have been presented,
with the most likely being that James did not intend to quote a specific verse, but instead
was referring to ideas and
concepts found throughout the Old Testament. In his commentary on the books of Hebrews and
James, R.C.H. Lenski wrote:
Many pages have been written regarding the different interpretations of v. 5 and the
discussions of these interpretations.
We confine ourselves to two points. We are not convinced that the question is a formula of
quotation. Such a formula has never been
used: “Do you think that the Scripture speaks in an empty way?” If a quotation were
to follow, we should certainly
expect the addition “saying that.” What follows has never been verified as being a
quotation; nothing like it has been found
in any writing as all admit. The fact that the Scripture does not speak in an empty way refers to
v. 4 which presents as a teaching of
Scripture the truth that friendship of the world is enmity against God, etc. The idea is not that
this is a quotation, but that it is a
teaching of Scripture and by no means empty (1966, p. 631, emp. in orig.).
The late Guy N. Woods supported the idea of James’ reference being, not to a specific
quote, but rather to a general concept
within the Old Testament writings. He cited Genesis 6:3-7, Exodus 29:5, Deuteronomy 32:1-21, Job
5:12, Ecclesiastes 4:4, and Proverbs
27:4 as verses where the thought behind James 4:5 is conveyed (1972, p. 214). Several commentators
believe that James’ statement
represents a “condensation” of the Old Testament instead of an exact quotation. This
seems to best fit the context of the
verse, and solves the problem of the “missing quote.”
James Coffman offered another possibility along the same line. He suggested that the verse is
referring to the New Testament
writings, particularly those of Paul, instead of those from the Old Testament (1984, p. 87).
However, it seems highly unlikely that, as
Coffman maintains, James’ comment refers to the Pauline epistles, since New Testament
Scripture is referenced only twice—once
where Paul (in 1 Timothy 5:18) quotes the words of Christ as written by Luke in Luke 10:7, and
once where Peter (in 2 Peter 3:15-16)
mentions as a whole the writings of Paul. The rest of the scriptural citations in the New
Testament come from the Old Testament, except
for a quote from an Athenian poet in Acts 17:28, and a quote from a now-lost hymn or poem in
Whether it is a reference to Old or New Testament concepts, the KJV and
RSV do a poor
job of translating the verse. Greek scholar J.W. Roberts was right in saying that the 1901
American Standard Version provides the
closest match to the correct meaning (1977, p. 129).
Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?
Whosoever therefore would be a friend of
the world maketh himself an enemy of God. Or think ye that the scripture speaketh in vain? Doth
the spirit which he made to dwell in
us long unto envying? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore the scripture saith, God resisteth
the proud, but giveth grace to the
humble. Be subject therefore unto God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James
4:4-7, ASV, emp.
Hugo McCord, in his independent translation of the New Testament, rendered James 4:5 very much
like the American Standard Version,
with a slight updating of language. His translation reads: “Do you think that the scripture
speaks emptily? Does the Spirit living
in us lust to envy?” (1988, p. 442).
Regardless of which version is used, it appears that James did not intend this verse to be
taken as a quotation. The most likely
answer is that James did indeed refer to ideas and thoughts expressed in the Old Testament, rather
than quoting a specific verse.
Barnes, Albert (1972 reprint), Barnes’ Notes—James, Peter, John, and Jude
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Coffman, James Burton (1984), Commentary on James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude
(Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
Lenski, R.C.H. (1966), The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle
of James (Minneapolis, MN:
McCord, Hugo (1988), McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel
(Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman
Roberts, J.W. (1977), The Letter of James (Austin, TX: Sweet).
Woods, Guy N. (1972), A Commentary on the Epistle of James (Nashville, TN: Gospel
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