James 4:5 And The Jealous Spirit -- By: J. William Johnston

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 170:679 (Jul 2013)
Article: James 4:5 And The Jealous Spirit
Author: J. William Johnston

James 4:5 And The Jealous Spirit

J. William Johnston

J. William Johnston is Associate Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary Houston Campus.

The identity of the Old Testament text that James appears to cite in James 4:5 remains a vexing problem for interpreters. This is because its solution requires answers to multiple related problems. First, the sentence division or punctuation of verse 5 is especially difficult, since the prepositional phrase πρὸς φθόνον (“toward envy”), which is between λέγει (“says”) and ἐπιποθεῖ (“desires”) can relate to either (“says toward envy” or “desires toward envy”). Second, the neuter gender of πνεῦμα (“spirit”) permits it to be taken as either the nominative subject or the accusative object of the verb ἐπιποθεῖ (“desires”). Third, does πνεῦμα refer to the Holy Spirit or the human spirit? Fourth, how far does James’s question run, and did he ask more than one question?

More than a hundred years ago Friedrich Spitta insisted that πρὸς φθόνον (“toward envy”) should be taken with λέγει (“says”) rather than with ἐπιποθεῖ (“desires”).1 This has been largely dismissed or ignored. However, an examination of James’s anthropology may lend support to Spitta’s suggestion. This seems preferable because (1) it helps clarify whether there is an Old Testament quotation in 4:5; (2) it makes better sense of an asyndeton in 4:5b; and (3) it settles the referent of πνεῦμα in a more satisfactory way.

This study proposes that James 4:5 introduces a direct quotation of Proverbs 3:34 that appears in verse 6. This interpretation in turn clarifies the referent of πνεῦμα as the human spirit. The text should thus read as follows:

4:5 ἢ...

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