James 3:11, 12

James 3:11‑12  •  3 min. read  •  grade level: 10
In this portion follow fresh illustrations to impress on the readers the incongruity and the enormity of injurious speech, all the worse for utterances of piety and propriety interchanged with it, and beyond just question condemnatory of it, as indicating the lack of the fear of God and of regard for man. The inspired writer's sense of its evil kindles into glowingly indignant questions, to which expostulation he himself supplies the answer in a few pregnant words.
“Doth the fountain out of the same opening pour forth the sweet and the bitter? Can, my brethren, a fig tree produce olives, or a vine figs? Neither [can] salt water produce sweet” (vers. 11, 12).
Here as elsewhere, the homeliness of the examples lends the more force to the reproof. To take the first instance: who ever heard of the fountain from the same slit emitting sweet water and bitter? Nature itself rebukes so shameless a mixture, and issues so contradictory, in those who praise the Lord and the Father. The great apostle of the Gentiles drew weapons from the same armory in 1 Cor. 11:14, 1614Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (1 Corinthians 11:14)
16But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:16)
for divine order, and in 2 Thess. 3:1010For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10) also; as he did repeatedly to his confidential fellow-laborer Timothy in his First Epistle (2:12-15, 4:3-5, 6:6-8). But nowhere have we more telling thrusts of this kind than in the Epistle before us; where the impossible in nature is made to expose and castigate the ethically inconsistent, especially aggravated as it was by the profession of relationship to God and by the claim to enjoyment of His favor. Is the new nature to be disgraced by that which the old universal nature repudiates even though fallen?
In the second the demand is still more peremptory. It is not, Does, but “Can a fig tree produce olives, or a vine figs?” And we have the repetition of “my brethren” in this second case, though so soon after its dignified affectionate introduction just before in verse 10, in order to send the appeal home to their bosoms. One of the learned men who, setting up to interpret the words, set at naught its spirit, dares to compare the figure with our Lord's in Matt. 7:16-2016Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:16‑20) in order to disparage His servant here. But it is only another sample of the ill-willed ignorance which so constantly appears where erudition is not subservient to faith; that is, where man assumes to judge God, instead of seeking to profit by His word. For the Lord was there laying down the error of expecting good fruit from a bad tree; whereas His servant in, order to rebuke the glaring inconsistency of calling on the Lord of glory and indulging evil speech, confronts it with the natural impossibility of a tree producing any but its own proper fruit. Both are plainly true, and each exquisitely adapted to its purpose. Unbelief blindly errs, but only betrays its sinful presumption to those that know God and bow to His word. It is possible that the first word of the last clause (οὔτε, neither) may have through hasty misapprehension given rise to the added οὔτως (“thus") of the Text. Rec. Then came an effort to make the phrase more pointed by reading οὐδεμία πηγή (no fountain). The Sinaitic Uncial has οὕτως οὐδέ. But even Tischendorf, and Westcott and Hort decline to follow; for they with Alford, Lachmann, Tregelles, and Wordsworth, read the text which yields the translation given above. There is, it would seem, a certain strangeness in reading οὄτε rather than οὐδέ. But this appears to be explicable by the writer's carrying on in his mind the preceding clause. The insertion of the conjunction (καἱ, “and") in the last clause is opposed to the weightiest of the ancient witnesses, both MSS. and Vv. and loses the point of the true text, which varies the figure by a negation which is indisputable.