Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

A Brother’s Wisdom 66

JesusJames*.jpgThe following words, however clear they might be in an English translation like the TNIV, are much disputed:

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused
to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why
Scripture says:
   “God opposes the proud
      but gives grace to the humble.”

I clip this from my forthcoming commentary on James, which sums up a lengthy discussion:


“If we put this together, then, we have this: the subject of the verb is most likely “the spirit”; that word most likely refers to human spirit given by God to use to be used for God’s glory.  Therefore, we have a sentence that literally reads like this so far: “the spirit that God caused to dwell in us yearns toward jealousy.” Now we can be more specific: the leaders were using God’s bestowal of the spirit – not for God’s glory – but for their own glory; they were letting the spirit of envy rule their hearts.”

And this whole jealousy thing: “The distinctive and decisive problems with the divine jealousy reading of 4:5 are two: first, though it is possible that James simply alludes to a text when he says “scripture” in verse five, the evidence uniformly supports the view that James means a specific text in Scripture. This is simply not the case with the view that James is alluding to the theme of divine jealousy. The word “scripture” leads us to look for a cited text and we find that, albeit delayed for the moment, in 4:6. (We argue below that 4:5b-6a is a paraphrase of the text cited in 4:6b.)


Second, and in our view decisive, is that the expression “yearns with jealousy” uses a term, the Greek word phthonos, that is uniformly negative and never used of God.  it is nearly impossible to think of God yearning “with jealousy” (pros phthonon). Furthermore, the expression itself fits admirably with the theme of human envy on the part of the teachers in 3:13-18 and 4:1-3. Thus, the scripture reference to which James refers is found in James 4:6 (Prov 3:34) and the point James makes before he gets to that citation is what is needed for James to get to that point: the teachers have within them a divinely-planted spirit that (un)naturally craves for envy and the good news is that God is there to supplant those cravings with his grace.

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posted June 9, 2009 at 2:23 pm

That is interesting. I am leading a Sunday School class through James currently and we covered this passage a couple weeks ago. I read a little about this debate. It didn’t come up too much in our class. I went with the NET bible reading (, which I believe accord with your interpretation here, Scot.
I have been surprised by how strong the contrast is between true wisdom and humility on the one hand and jealousy, envy, strife, etc. on the other. I did not previously realize James made such a strong point about jealousy. God is a jealous God. The more I think about this, the more it concerns me on the one hand (jealousy implies involvement and emotion – I don’t want to think of the consequences of my “spiritual adulteries”) but the more I like it. I am in a relationship with a God who is jealous for me. This does not extend to justify my selfish jealousy. In fact, to conflate a couple passages here in James, where I discover envy, jealousy, strife, selfishness in my life, there is not true wisdom. I want to be wise. How to be wise? Well, it is not found down selfishness lane!

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Dana Ames

posted June 9, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Your explanation of James’ point is indeed good news!

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Jay Wermuth

posted June 9, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Very interesting interpretation indeed. I look forward to your new commentary. When will it be available? Also, I know you are currently in a series of recommending commentaries and have not yet reached James, but what commentaries – besides your forthcoming one – have you found most helpful in the process of writing your own?

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posted June 10, 2009 at 6:17 am

I have never before thought that any of the NT writers were aware that they were composing scripture (isn’t this what you’re implying, Scot?) Am I the only one for whom this is a new thought?

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