gales, strong winds

The Greek phrase that is translated in some English versions as “strong winds” can also be translated with an existing specialized term in English: “gales” (see the Revised English Bible, 1989).

Translation commentary on James 1:21

Some commentators consider the particle Therefore as introducing a new theme (so Phillips, Living Bible [Living Bible]). More likely, however, is the view of most, that it is to be taken as a conclusion to the subsection (1.19-21); in this case it can be rendered as “So then” (Barclay), “In conclusion,” or even “So, keeping in mind what I have just said….”

The words put away are a participle in Greek, but this has an imperative force because it is related to the imperative receive, and so is rendered as an imperative by most translators. The Greek word can be used of removing dirt from one’s body, but in the New Testament the most commonly used sense is that of stripping off or laying aside clothing (Acts 7.58). It is often used metaphorically of putting off a person’s old self and pattern of behavior (Rom 13.12; Col 3.8; 1 Peter 2.1). It expresses the idea of turning away from evil and turning to God, a complete change of lifestyle. Because of this some scholars believe that the saying has its origin in a conversion or baptismal context. There are a variety of ways to translate this expression; for example, “stop [or, quit] doing…,” “don’t practice … any more,” “give up,” “put aside,” or “leave behind.”

What should be stripped off is all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness. There are several possible ways of understanding this expression. First, we can take the two phrases connected by and as two distinctive parts. In this case the force of all can go with both filthiness and wickedness. The expression can then be rendered as “all filthiness and all rank growth of wickedness.” This understanding is reflected in the following translations: “everything … every…” (Goodspeed, Revised English Bible), “everything … all…” (Barclay), “all … all…” (Knox), and “every … all…” (Good News Translation).

Secondly, it is possible to take filthiness and rank growth of wickedness as expressing a single idea, meaning “all filthiness caused by rank growth of wickedness,” or “all filthiness caused by overflowing wickedness.”

Thirdly, it is also possible to take rank growth of wickedness as an explanation of filthiness. In this case the expression may be rendered as “all filthiness, that is rank growth of wickedness.” This is apparently the way Knox understood it: “… of all defilement, of all the ill will that remains in you.”

These are all possible interpretations, but on the whole the first is the easiest one to follow and translate.

The word filthiness is used only here in the New Testament. Its adjective form is used in 2.2 to refer to the shabby clothing of a poor man. In the context of “stripping off,” it seems obvious that the author intends to continue the clothing metaphor. The intent is clear; it describes any moral defilement, anything that makes a person unclean and therefore unacceptable to God. It refers to a person’s “filthy habit” (Good News Translation), “moral filth” (New International Version), something that “would soil life” (Barclay), or even “indecent behavior.”

The meaning of the expression rank growth of wickedness is understood in various ways.
(1) Some take rank growth, which is one word in Greek, in the sense of “excess” or “surplus” and translate the phrase as “superfluity of naughtiness” (King James Version), “the malice that hurries to excess” (New English Bible), or “wicked excess” (Revised English Bible). This interpretation has the danger of allowing the misunderstanding that wickedness that is not excessive may be tolerated.
(2) A related interpretation is to take rank growth as something both extra and offensive, a kind of cancerous growth. This apparently is the sense favored by Barclay when he renders the expression as “malice that is like an alien growth on life.”
(3) The word is sometimes taken to mean “that which survives,” or “that which is left over.” On this understanding the exhortation is to take off every trace of wickedness that remains, and this is reflected in some translations; for example, “the remains of wickedness” (New American Standard Bible), “of all the ill-will that remains in you” (Knox), and “remnants of evil” (New Jerusalem Bible). This makes some sense, but the meaning is a bit forced.
(4) More scholars and translators have therefore taken rank growth in its basic sense of “abundance,” “profusion,” or “overflowing,” and rendered the phrase as “overflowing of wickedness” (American Standard Version), “every other evil that overflows…” (Phillips), “the malice which is so abundant” (Biblia Dios Habla Hoy), “the evil that is so prevalent” (New International Version), or “all wicked conduct” (Good News Translation). Translators are advised to follow this interpretation.

The word wickedness is rendered in various ways. The rendering “naughtiness” (King James Version) as used nowadays is a bit too weak and even misleading, since it often refers to the mischievous behavior of children. The word can also have the general sense of “evil” (so Goodspeed, Translator’s New Testament, New Jerusalem Bible), although in the present context, where there is an admonition to avoid “anger,” the more precise meaning of “ill-will” (so Knox) or “malice” (Barclay, New English Bible) may be desirable.

An alternative translation model for the first part of this verse may be:
• So, keeping in mind what I have just said, you must stop [or, quit] all your indecent [or, filthy] behavior and all the wicked things you do.

Receive with meekness the implanted word: the exhortation now switches from a negative to a positive tone. In the UBS Greek text the phrase with meekness goes with the previous clause, modifying put away. Although there is at least one version that follows the Greek text and renders it “… put away with meekness…,” the majority take it as qualifying the verb receive. The metaphor is now shifted from that of clothing to one of planting. The attitude required is meekness, the kind of disposition needed in hearing and doing the word. Here the contrast is most likely not with “wickedness” or “malice” as some scholars have suggested, but with “anger,” especially if the anger mentioned in the previous verses is understood to be an arrogant and hostile temper against others as the result of overconfidence in the word of God. Meekness is a very difficult word to render, as shown by the different renderings in various translations; for example, “a teachable spirit” (Barclay), “be patient” (Knox), “in a humble spirit” (Goodspeed), “be humble” (Contemporary English Version), “submit to God” (Good News Translation). It is that kind of disposition or temper always under perfect control, a combination of being gentle, modest, humble, patient, submissive, and having a teachable spirit. In some languages it will be good to render this term with a negative expression; for example, “As you receive … don’t do it in a proud way” or “As you receive … don’t act as if you are somebody big.”

It is with this kind of spirit that a person should receive … the implanted word. The verb receive is an aorist imperative, indicating that the action is not progressive but one-time and decisive, pointing perhaps to the first reception. The fact that readers are advised to receive means that what is to be received is a gift, something that comes from God. There is a problem in the logical consequence here: How can someone receive what has been inborn or implanted? To resolve this problem some suggest that the word receive is best understood in the sense of “obey.” Others, however, render it as “welcome [what has been given]” (so New American Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, New Revised Standard Version).

The adjective implanted has two meanings. It can have the sense of “innate,” “inborn,” and therefore “natural,” as opposed to what is acquired from outside. In this case word is often understood to be referring to the inborn reason or principle in every human being, the faculty that makes it possible for a person to understand and be receptive to a revelation. There are some difficulties with this understanding. For one thing, as already mentioned above, it is odd for people to be urged to accept what is already within them. For another, in a context where James places such an emphasis on the word as the gospel message, on hearing it and practicing it, it is unlikely that he would introduce a Stoic understanding of the word as inborn reason.

For these reasons most scholars prefer the second sense of implanted, that is, like a seed that is planted in the soil. In this case the gifts cannot be inborn and natural, but they are given or planted: “which roots itself inwardly” (Moffatt). Here we recall the parable of the sower (Matt 13.1-23), which tells how the seed (word, gospel) is sown into the hearts of people. In this sense the verb receive is best understood as meaning “welcome” or “accept in” (in Japanese translations), that is, first taking in what the person accepts and then turning it into action. The place where the word is planted is not stated in the text, but some translations have identified it as “in you” (Luther 1984, La Sainte Bible: Nouvelle version Segond révisée, Traduction œcuménique de la Bible, New Jerusalem Bible) or “in your hearts” (Translator’s New Testament, Good News Translation, Revised English Bible). The latter appears to be more common and appropriate, in that the “heart” is considered in many cultures to be the seat of the emotions and the will, where actions are initiated. The agent who plants is God, and this can be made clear (so Good News Translation, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch). The object or thing that is planted is the word, which most scholars agree to be the same as “the word of truth” in verse 18, meaning “the message of the Gospel,” and which is sometimes rendered as “the message” (Goodspeed, Biblia Dios Habla Hoy, Revised English Bible).

Alternative translation models for this sentence are:
• You must be humble and accept the message that God has planted [or, placed] in your hearts.
• Don’t be proud, but accept [or, welcome] the message [or, the true word] that God has planted in your hearts.
• When you accept the message that God has planted in your hearts, don’t act as if you are somebody big.

The message that is planted deep in the hearts of Christians is able to save your souls. The “sowing” of the “seed,” that is, the gospel message, will yield as its fruit “salvation.” The reference to “salvation” appears elsewhere in the letter at 2.14; 4.12; and 5.20. It is most likely that it is a reference to future salvation at the last judgment. The souls here should not be interpreted as a reference to a higher part of a person, as against the body, but to the whole person. The phrase is best rendered “is able to save you” (Good News Translation), “has the power to save you” (Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch; similarly Revised English Bible), or “is capable of saving your life” (Bible en français courant). In a number of languages it will be helpful to begin a new sentence here and say “This word [or, message] has the power to save you” or “… is capable of saving your life.”

Quoted with permission from Loh, I-Jin and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Letter from James. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on James 2:26

At this point James tries to bring his argument to a close. He repeats the thoughts of his theme stated in verse 17, that faith apart from works is dead, but adds an analogy to make it plain. In many languages it will be helpful to begin a new paragraph here to show that this verse is a summary of James’ argument in the whole chapter (so Good News Translation and Contemporary English Version).

For as …: the particle For can be taken to mean that with this concluding analogy James wants to explain the Rahab example. However, it may also be taken as a conclusion of the whole argument. Good News Translation has apparently adopted this understanding by rendering the particle as “So then,” and in addition has made the verse as a separate paragraph (so also Phillips, Parola Del Signore: La Bibbia in Lingua Corrente).

James compares faith without works to a body without breath. It is interesting to observe that, in the structure of this sentence, faith is parallel to the body, and works to the spirit. This is perhaps not what we would have expected; however, there does not seem to be any need to press the exact details of the comparison. James is not interested in this; rather he is concerned to show that one thing cannot exist without the other.

When he says the body apart from the spirit is dead, it is possible that James is referring to the concept behind Gen 2.7, where a person is believed to consist of body and breath (spirit). (In both Hebrew and Greek the word for “spirit” can mean breath as well as spirit.) There is an organic relationship between the two; the separation of the two can only result in death. Here spirit is probably best taken as the life-giving breath; for example, “The body is dead without breath” (Translator’s New Testament), or “As the body is dead when there is no breath left in it” (New English Bible, Revised English Bible; similarly Barclay and Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch), and “Anyone who doesn’t breathe is dead” (Contemporary English Version). Apart from may be taken as “separated from” or “without.” Just as a body without breath is a corpse, so also faith apart from works is dead. This final sentence may be alternatively rendered as “So if a person doesn’t do good deeds, that person’s faith is useless” or “So if a person says, ‘I believe in God,’ but doesn’t do kind deeds, he doesn’t really believe at all.”

Quoted with permission from Loh, I-Jin and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Letter from James. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on James 4:14

Whereas you do not know about tomorrow: the confidence of the business people is unfounded. They make plans only in reference to this world. They do not know anything about the future, which starts tomorrow.

There are two problems in this verse. The first is the exact sense of the indefinite relative pronoun rendered as whereas by Revised Standard Version. The Revised Standard Version rendering obviously takes it adverbially, with the force of bringing out a contrary argument. This is the understanding of those translations that render the relative as “why” (New International Version) or “yet” (so Revised English Bible, New Revised Standard Version). Others suggest that it should be taken in the classical sense of “you are those who…,” referring back to “you who say…” in 4.13. In this case we can identify those who know nothing about what will happen in the future as the same ones who make plans to do something. Those translations favoring this interpretation normally place a dash before “you”; for example, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow … and making money’—you who know nothing about tomorrow!” (Moffatt; similarly New American Bible). Either understanding is possible. Actually, if the exact relationship of this verse with the previous one is not marked, that is, if the indefinite relative whereas is left untranslated, the next statement is in fact saying something contrary to the previous verse. Note, for example, the Good News Translation rendering: “You don’t even know what your life tomorrow will be!” One way to overcome this problem is to say “You people who talk like this don’t know…” or “You people who say such things don’t know….”

The next problem has to do with the structure of the first part of the sentence, which to some extent is compounded by variants in the Greek text. The UBS Greek New Testament takes the first half of the verse as a single sentence; that is, there is no punctuation between “you do not know the thing [with the singular article] tomorrow” and “what is your life.” If these two clauses are joined together, the resultant rendering will be something like what Good News Translation has done: “You don’t even know what your life tomorrow will be!” (so also La Sainte Bible: Nouvelle version Segond révisée, Bible en français courant; similarly New American Standard Bible and Barclay). On this interpretation James can be understood as saying that these business people are ignorant of what the conditions of their life will be tomorrow.

The other alternative is to separate this part of the verse into two sentences. In this case translators usually adopt in the first statement a form of the text with either the singular article (“the thing [or, course] of tomorrow”) or the plural (“the things [or, affairs] of tomorrow”). The resultant rendering is reflected in the Revised Standard Version rendering, you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? The answer to this question is then given in the second half of this verse. This is essentially the interpretation adopted by New International Version, Revised English Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Contemporary English Version. On this interpretation James appears to be emphasizing the uncertainty and shortness of life. It may be noted that some translations have rendered the first sentence also as a question; for example, “What do you know about tomorrow? How can you be so sure about your life?” (Contemporary English Version; so also Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch).

There appears to be a stronger case for the second interpretation for the following reasons. First, what James goes on to say about the readers’ life as a mist or a “puff of smoke” shows that he seems to have the uncertainty of life in mind. Secondly, if the first half of the verse is taken as one sentence, we would have to take “what” as the object of the verb “know.” Normally we would expect “what” to follow closely after the verb “know” when it is the object of that verb. But in this instance the two are separated by a phrase, “the thing of tomorrow.” It seems more natural, then, to take “what” as introducing a separate question relating to “your life.”

Tomorrow in certain languages will be expressed as “when the sun rises again” or “when a new day comes.” So we may translate you do not know about tomorrow as “You people who say this don’t even know what will happen after the sun rises again” or “You people who talk like this don’t even know what will happen when a new day comes.”

For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes: what is sure about life, according to James, is its uncertainty. You are a mist is of course referring to “your life” (“Your life is like a mist,” Barclay). The word mist can also mean “smoke,” and so it has been rendered as “a puff of smoke” by a number of translations (Good News Translation, Translator’s New Testament, New American Bible). It is used here as a metaphor indicating the uncertainty and shortness of life. It is like a mist that evaporates quickly under the sun, or like smoke blown away by the wind. The metaphor you are a mist is best rendered in some languages as a simile; for example, “you are like a mist” or “you are like a puff of smoke” (Good News Translation). Observe a play on words here; in the Greek appears and vanishes are both participles, literally “appearing” and “disappearing.” Life appears just for a little while, but like a mist or a puff of smoke it disappears quickly before anyone notices it. No one can be certain when death will come.

Quoted with permission from Loh, I-Jin and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Letter from James. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on James 2:5

As in 1.16 and 19, an imperative verb is used with the phrase my beloved brethren. In this case the imperative is Listen, directing the readers’ attention to further discussion of the point the author is making, starting at 2.1. So it may be rendered as “notice” (Phillips) or “pay attention” (Contemporary English Version). In certain languages a more formal and polite expression will be used; for example, “Please listen to what I have to say.” The tone of the imperative sounds a bit stern, but it is softened by the familiar address my beloved brethren. Here again the term “brothers” refers obviously to “fellow believers,” including women (compare 1.2, 2.15), and it therefore may be rendered “my beloved brothers and sisters” (New Revised Standard Version). We may also render it in a more general way as “my dear friends” (so New English Bible, Revised English Bible, Good News Translation).

Has not God chosen those who are poor…?: James adds an additional argument as to why his readers should not flatter the rich and despise the poor. This is a rhetorical question that anticipates an affirmative answer, and therefore it may be more natural in some languages to express the sentence as a positive statement; for example, “God chose the poor people…” (Good News Translation; so also Biblia Dios Habla Hoy, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch). The Greek form of the verb rendered Has … chosen by Revised Standard Version indicates that James may be using it to refer to the special choice or election of the poor by God. Possibly because of this, many translations choose to render it as a simple past tense: “did not God choose…?” (so King James Version, Translator’s New Testament, New American Bible) or “God chose” (Good News Translation; so also Phillips). This verb “to choose” is often used in the New Testament to refer to God’s initiative in saving his people (Rom 8.33, “God’s elect”; Eph 1.4; 2 Thes 2.13). The term selected by a translator should not have the negative sense that God is picking out or selecting the good from among the bad, and that he will throw away the bad.

God chose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith. The two expressions poor in the world and rich in faith can be understood in various ways. There is some difficulty understanding what poor in the world, literally “poor to the world,” means, and this is reflected in the different Greek texts that attempt to smooth this out; for example, “in the world,” “of the world,” “of this world,” and so on. The dative in can be understood as a locative indicating the place, “in the world” (so Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, Luther 1984). It can also be taken as a dative of respect, referring to “those poor in worldly goods.” This appears to be the meaning reflected in Good News Translation when it renders the phrase as “the poor people of this world” (similar also Goodspeed, Moffatt, Bible en français courant). It is probably best, however, to take it as a dative of advantage, meaning “poor in the eyes of the world” (so Traduction œcuménique de la Bible, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, Revised English Bible) or “poor before the world,” “poor by the world’s standard,” or “persons whom the people of the world consider poor [or, needy].” In this case the word world means nonbelievers. This interpretation is reflected also in other translations; for example, “those who by the world’s standards are poor” (Barclay) or “those whom the world regards as poor” (Translator’s New Testament).

When God “picks out” poor people, he makes them to be rich in faith or “to become rich in faith,” not rich according to the worldly standards. It is possible to understand rich in faith to mean “rich in having an abundance of faith.” The phrase may also be understood in the sense of “rich by reason of faith.” In this case it may be rendered as “to become spiritually rich because of their faith.” However, it is probably best to take it as contrasting with “in the eyes of the world” or “by the world’s standard,” and having the sense of being “rich in the realm of faith,” that is, spiritually wealthy when judged by God’s standards.

Heirs of the kingdom: the materially poor people are pictured as spiritually rich (see 1.9-11) because, unlike the materially rich people, they have a place in the kingdom of God. That the poor are to receive the kingdom is a concept that appears often in Jesus’ teachings (compare Luke 6.20; Matt 5.3). Jesus also uses the expressions “to inherit the kingdom” (Matt 25.34) and “to inherit eternal life” (Mark 10.17); and Paul too writes about inheriting the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6.10; Gal 5.21). Heirs are persons who are appointed to receive an inheritance. To be heirs is therefore “to possess” or “to inherit” something from the father. This idea is brought out by a number of modern translations; for example, “to possess the Kingdom” (Good News Translation; so also Goodspeed, Revised English Bible), “to enter into possession of the kingdom” (Barclay), “to inherit the realm” (Moffatt), and “a share in the kingdom” (Contemporary English Version).

The word kingdom appears only here in James. The “kingdom of God” was the center of Jesus’ preaching. He presented himself as one through whom the kingly rule of God was being realized (Matt 12.8; Mark 1.15; Luke 17.21) and was to be realized in the future when the Son of Man comes in glory (Matt 25.31, 34). The kingdom is not an area or territory with designated boundaries. Rather it is the sovereign rule of God, a state of highest blessing where the divine will is in absolute control. To be heirs and therefore to inherit the kingdom (Matt 25.34) is equivalent to possessing eternal life (Matt 19.29; Mark 10.17; Luke 10.25; 18.18) and to receiving salvation (compare Luke 18.25 and 26). Any attempt to render this difficult concept is bound to be less than satisfactory, but one translation has rendered the phrase as “they shall be in the approaching New World” (Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch). In some languages the phrase to be … heirs of the kingdom will need to be radically restructured; for example, “and has allowed them to enjoy [or, share in] the blessings of his rule,” “has let them enjoy the blessings that come from his ruling over them,” or even beginning a new sentence, “He will rule over them and they will share in the blessings….”

Which he has promised: The one who has promised the kingdom is indicated by the pronoun he, obviously referring back to God. The fact that the kingdom is what he has promised suggests that the kingdom may already be a reality, but it still points to the future. The verb has promised is an aorist in Greek, but as it does not seem to refer to any particular moment in time or occasion, it is perhaps more natural in English to express it as a perfect (so among others New Revised Standard Version and Revised English Bible as well as Revised Standard Version). The kingdom is promised to those who love him, exactly the same expression as used in referring to the “crown” in 1.12 (see the comments there).

An alternative translation rendering for this verse may be:
• My dear fellow Christians! Please listen to what I have to say. God chose those whom the people of the world consider to be poor. He considered them to be spiritually wealthy. He will rule over them and they will share in the blessings that he has promised to give to all those who love him.

Quoted with permission from Loh, I-Jin and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Letter from James. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on James 3:11

James goes on to explain the evil of producing both good and bad talk at the same time by using three examples, all illustrations from nature. These are expressed in the form of two rhetorical questions, a favorite literary device used several times in this book. The answer expected to these questions is “No.”

Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish?: spring, also rendered as “fountain” (so King James Version, Revised English Bible), obviously refers to a natural spring. The verb pour forth appears only here in the New Testament. Referring to a natural spring, the most appropriate meaning is “gush forth” (New American Bible) or “gush out” (Barclay). The word opening occurs elsewhere only in Heb 11.38, where it is rendered as “caves” by Revised Standard Version and “holes” by Good News Translation. It refers to the split in the rock that the water gushes out of. The expression fresh water and brackish is literally “sweet and bitter.” There is no need to speculate what kinds of water these two terms refer to. Most likely it simply represents an idiomatic expression referring to water that is fit for drinking and water that is not. The point James tries to make here is that the two are incompatible, and that they cannot come from the same source. Normally we expect that a spring will pour out only one kind of water, namely fresh water fit for drinking; likewise the tongue is created to utter only one type of speech, namely good speech that blesses God.

In languages where special words exist to refer to two types of water, that which is fit for drinking and that which is not, these words may be used in the translation; for example, “good … bad,” “fresh … salty.” Rhetorical questions expecting a strong negative answer can in some languages be expressed as positive statements, as Good News Translation has done. In arid areas or small islands where springs do not exist, translators will need to use a descriptive phrase; for example, “a place where water flows out of the ground [or, rock].” And this first sentence may be expressed as:
• No place where water flows out of the rock [or, ground] will have both fresh water and bitter [or, salty] water pouring out of the same opening.

Quoted with permission from Loh, I-Jin and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Letter from James. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on James 5:9

Some scholars have difficulty seeing any connection between this verse and the previous verse. However, there are some indications that the two verses are related. For one thing there is the thought about the coming of judgment. For another the call to refrain from complaining against each other (verse 9) can be taken as one aspect of the call to be patient (verse 7). The saying in verse 9, then, may be taken as a second plea for patience.

Do not grumble, brethren, against one another: the urgency of the appeal is seen in repeating the direct address brethren. Here again this is best rendered as “brothers and sisters,” “fellow believers,” “fellow Christians,” or just “friends” (Good News Translation). The primary meaning of the verb “to grumble” is “to groan.” This causes some problem in that, to some people, groaning seems to be out of place here. The problem is in the exact meaning of the verb in the present context. The verb is usually used absolutely without an object in the New Testament. It is used to refer to intensive feelings of groaning accompanying a prayer (Mark 7.34) and of the groaning of the whole creation, including human beings, waiting to be set free (Rom 8.23). But here in this context it is used with an object, against one another. Conditioned by the object the verb means more “to complain,” “to grumble,” or even “to blame.” We may therefore render the imperative as “Do not complain against one another” (Good News Translation) or “do not blame your troubles on one another” (Revised English Bible). The imperative is in the present tense, meaning that it may be referring to a habitual action, and so it may be rendered as “Do not keep complaining….”

The reason for not complaining is that you may not be judged. Complaining against others may be considered passing judgment on others. This is something forbidden by Christ in Matt 7.1. And in this passage we find the same expression used there, that you may not be judged. The subject of judgment is clearly God, and so we can render the clause as “so that God will not judge you” (Good News Translation). See 2.4; 4.11, for comments on the translation of judge.

Behold, the Judge is standing at the doors: to reinforce his prohibition James adds that God’s judgment is near. Here he uses the demonstrative particle behold to call the readers’ attention to his warning, and this may be rendered as “see” (New Revised Standard Version) or “look.” See 5.4 for a comment on the translation of behold. The identity of the Judge is debated. Because of the parallel thought with “the coming of the Lord” in verses 7-8, where the Lord is identified as Christ, some scholars suggest that the Judge refers to Christ. However, the reference is most likely to be to God. In the previous sentence the subject of judgment is already identified as God. Then in 4.12 there is a strong affirmation that there is one judge alone, and there the reference is to the coming judgment of God. This being the case, in some languages it will be more meaningful to translate the phrase the Judge as “God, the Judge,” or simply to use a pronoun, since the previous sentence identifies God as the Judge: for example, “… so that God will not judge you. He [God] is….” The expression at the doors is literally “before the doors” (American Standard Version). It is sometimes taken to refer to a place, namely the city gate, where judgment takes place. But it is more likely that it conveys a sense of nearness, giving a vivid picture that the Judge is about to arrive, indeed his foot is already on the doorstep. In cultures where standing at the doors will not be a meaningful metaphor, we may translate, for example, “He [God] is near, ready to appear” (compare Good News Translation).

Quoted with permission from Loh, I-Jin and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Letter from James. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on James 1:11

For the sun rises with its scorching heat: James continues to describe in more detail the disappearance of the wild flower. The connective For here has the force of “once” (so New English Bible, Revised English Bible) in the sense of “at the time when,” so the clause may be rendered as “For once [or, when] the sun rises….” It will be noted that all four verbs in this verse, rises, withers, falls, perishes, are in the aorist tense in Greek in a usage that normally indicates things that generally or customarily happen, so most translations in English render them in the present tense. The expression the sun rises refers most probably to the sun at its peak rather than just after coming up over the horizon. Some languages refer to the sun “coming out”; for example, “For when the sun comes out and is at its full height [or, is high in the sky] ….”

The word rendered scorching heat can refer to two things. It may mean the blistering east wind known as the sirocco. It is a phenomenon very common in the eastern Mediterranean region, referring to the burning east wind from the desert blowing day and night. When it blows it is like hot air blowing out of an oven, and it can dry up and kill flowers, herbs, and grass in a few hours. It comes with such devastating effect that it is used figuratively of judgment in Hos 13.15. This sense is adopted by some translations; for example, “scorching wind” (American Standard Version, Moffatt, Phillips), and “the sirocco blows” (Barclay). However, the sirocco has nothing to do with the rising of the sun; it blows continually for three to four days during the transition periods of spring and autumn, no matter whether the sun is out or not. For this reason most commentators and translators have taken the Greek word as having to do with “heat”; for example, “scorching heat” (New American Bible, New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, Revised English Bible), “blazing heat” (Good News Translation), or “burning heat” (Contemporary English Version). We may also translate the clause as “For when the sun rises high in the sky and sends out its scorching heat [or, heat that burns] ….”

The next three verbs describe the effect of the scorching sun; it withers the grass, makes its flower fall, and destroys its beauty. The word grass is the same as the one used in “the flower of the grass” in verse 10. It is only natural that the translations using “plant” there also use “plant” here (Good News Translation); those that have “field” there also have “field” here (Revised English Bible). The verb rendered withers can also mean “dries up” (so Goodspeed, Knox, New American Bible), describing the process of drying out. Since it follows words like “sun” and “scorching heat,” Good News Translation translates it as “burns,” and Revised English Bible “parches.” The verb rendered falls is sometimes translated as “withers” (Goodspeed, Revised English Bible) or “droops” (New American Bible), perhaps under the influence of the Hebrew word used in Isa 40.7. It basically means “falls out” or “falls off” (Good News Translation), describing the dropping of the petals (compare the New English Bible rendering, “its petals fall”). In some languages it is more natural to express withers the grass; its flower falls as “the grass dries up and the flower withers,” with “withers” suggesting the sense of eventual falling off.

The clause its beauty perishes, literally “the beauty of its face perishes,” is sometimes rendered as “what is lovely to look at” (New English Bible/Revised English Bible) or “the beauty of its appearance” (New American Bible). The addition of “its face” in the Greek text represents a Hebrew idiomatic expression meaning nothing more than “its beauty,” and these words are therefore left untranslated by most translations. The verb perishes can be rendered “is destroyed” (Good News Translation; so also New International Version), “is gone” (Goodspeed), or “vanishes” (New American Bible). It means that none of its beauty is left, and therefore it “is lost for ever” (Revised English Bible).

The point of the comparison with a flower is summed up this way: just as the flower goes quickly, So will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits, quickly and completely. So here means “in the same way” (Good News Translation, Traduction œcuménique de la Bible, New International Version), or “That is how…” (Contemporary English Version). However, picking up the force of the flower vanishing so suddenly and so certainly, it can also be rendered “just this quickly” (Dibelius) or “just as surely” (Phillips).

The rich is best taken here as an indefinite singular of class, referring to any rich person in general, irrespective of whether this person is a Christian or not. The verb fade away is very picturesque; it can be used of the withering or wasting away of plants as well as the death of people. It is safe to assume that here James has death in mind. Some translations have expressed this directly; for example, “fade and die” (Goodspeed), and “perish” (Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch). The word rendered pursuits is often used in the literal sense of “walking” or “journeying” (compare the rendering by Barclay, “a journey to decay”), but it is probably best to take it metaphorically as referring to daily conduct or activity, and it can be rendered as “enterprises” (La Sainte Bible: Nouvelle version Segond révisée, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, Traduction œcuménique de la Bible) or “business” (Good News Translation; also New International Version, Revised English Bible). This final clause, then, may also be expressed as “as he conducts his daily affairs,” or “as he does the things he is accustomed to doing every day.”

An alternative translation model for this verse may be:
• When the sun is at its height, its blazing heat burns [or, withers] the plant and its flower falls off, and its beauty is lost [or, destroyed]. In the same way the rich person will die [or, disappear] while he is conducting his daily affairs.

Quoted with permission from Loh, I-Jin and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Letter from James. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .