Questions From Readers
● James 4:5 seems to contain a quotation from the Bible, but which verse was James quoting, and what was his point?
James 4:5 reads: “Or does it seem to you that the scripture says to no purpose: ‘It is with a tendency to envy that the spirit which has taken up residence within us keeps longing’?”
Actually there is no single Bible verse that the disciple James can definitely be said to be quoting. Perhaps he was simply giving a summary, as it were, of a basic idea found in a number of verses.
Because no specific verse in the Hebrew Scriptures matches James’ wording, certain commentators have suggested that he was quoting from some apocryphal or lost writings. However, the inspired writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures consistently used the expression ‘the scripture says’ to introduce quotations from or references to parts of the inspired canon, either from the original Hebrew-language books or a Greek translation of them. (John 19:37; Rom. 4:3; 9:17; Gal. 4:30; 1 Tim. 5:18) They did not quote from the noncanonical books of the Apocrypha.
A number of Bible passages testify to the fact that imperfect humans are burdened with a sinful inclination. For instance, we read: “Jehovah saw that the badness of man was abundant . . . and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time,” and, “The very soul of the wicked one has craved what is bad.” (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Ps. 51:3-5; Prov. 21:10; Jer. 17:9; Gal. 5:17) Also, Jehovah plainly counsels against the envious and covetous, competitive spirit that gives rise to so much trouble. (Ex. 20:17; Ps. 37:1; 73:3; Eccl. 4:4) So, the disciple James could well have been bringing these basic thoughts together in making his point, introducing it with the expression “the scripture says.”—Compare Romans 3:9-18.
James had just admonished his Christian brothers against strife, dissension and conflicts. (Jas. 4:1, 2) Next he pointed out that being a friend of the world means being God’s enemy. (Jas. 4:4) These thoughts are nicely tied together in Jas 4 verse five: “Or does it seem to you that the scripture says to no purpose: ‘It is with a tendency to envy that the spirit which has taken up residence within us keeps longing’?” Yes, a person who succumbs to an inclination to badness and envy, and the resulting fruitage, sets himself in opposition to God. The basic tenor of God’s Word proves that. James then rounds out the matter with a quotation from Proverbs, writing: “However, the undeserved kindness which he gives is greater. Hence it says [in Proverbs 3:34]: ‘God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.’”—Jas. 4:6.