The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:19,26

Byz S TR

19  So then, my beloved brothers, let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

19  Ye know [this], my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath

19  You know this, my most beloved brothers. So let every man be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to anger.

19 slow to speak Prv 29:20; Eccl 5:1
Byz Nes TR

26  If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceiving his heart, the religion of this [man ]is useless.

26  But if anyone considers himself to be religious, but he does not restrain his tongue, but instead seduces his own heart: such a one’s religion is vanity.

26  If any man thinks that he ministers to God, and does not control his tongue, he deceives his own heart, and this manÆs ministry is in vain.

26 controlling one’s speech Jas 1:19; 3:1-12


Comparison of Versions

19c slow to speak Parallelism V adds the word autem ("however")  after "slow" to parallel the autem of the previous phrase (19b). 


Literary Genre

19 Maxim The verse takes the form of a three part maxim (G= gnômê; L = sententia); parallels to it can be found in ancient Jewish wisdom literature, Christian literature, and Greco-Roman moral literature. 



17–27 Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 17, Year B

17–21 Use in Lectionary RML (1570) : 4th Sunday after Easter


Literary Devices

19a beloved brothers A More Gentle Appeal This is one of only three times (with Jas 1:16 and Jas 2:5) that James uses the intimate agapêtos to qualify his address to his "brothers" in the faith (Literary Devices Jas 1:2). This together with his use of indirect third-person imperatives ("Let everyone"), instead of direct, second-person imperatives ("Do;" "Do not"), shows James wants to exhort his audience with a gentler tone.



19–27 Use in Lectionary

22–27 Use in Lectionary RML (1570) : 5th Sunday after Easter


Biblical Intertextuality

26; 3:14 heart Anthroplogy In biblical anthropology, the heart (kardia) is the source of a person's inner life: his thinking, feeling, and will (cf. Gen 6:5; Ex 4:21; Mt 6:21; Jas 3:14; 4:8; 5:5; 5:8).



19a know Indicative or Imperative The Greek verb  iste may either be an indicative, "you know [this]," or an imperative, "Know [this]!" Cf. Textual Criticism Jas 1:19a and Literary Devices Jas 1:19a.

Literary Devices

19a You know Paraenetic Discourse: Appeal to Shared Knowledge James assumes that his readers already know his following admonition: he is simply reminding them (cf. Jas 1:3; 3:1). In this case, the reminder is of traditional moral wisdom, not necessarily a particular Christian teaching.

26b bridling the tongue Topos: Passion as a Horse The Greek chalinagôgeô refers literally to bridling and thus controlling a horse. The image of the charioteer who can control strong horses is widespread in Hellenistic literature and philosophy (Ancient Texts Jas 1:26b).


Comparison of Versions

26f Clarifying the Relationship between Jas 1:22–25 and 1:26–27

  • V adds "however"  (autem) following textual variants that add de.


Textual Criticism

19a Therefore, my beloved brothers Unclear Relationship with Previous Verse

  • The likely original reading iste ("you know") is read by  א, A, B (followed by V).
  • hôste ("therefore") is read by P and ψ (followed by Byz and TR).
  • S simply reads "and."

The alternative readings are likely scribal attempts to avoid the ambiguous original reading iste (it is not obvious what the author expects his readers to know; Grammar Jas 1:19a) and connect this verse more smoothly with the previous verse.


19b let everyone be quick Semiticism? The construction "let every man" (estô pas anthrôpos) is not a typical Greek expression. It may be a Semiticism; cf. the rabbinic yh’ kl ’ḥd (e.g., in b. B. Meṣ. 42a).


Biblical Intertextuality

19c slow to anger General Biblical and Jesus' Teaching on Anger

Biblical Parallels

The wisdom tradition teaches the need to control anger:

  • G-Prv 16:32: “A man who is slow to anger (makrothumos) is better than the mighty; and he who controls his temper (ho kratôn orgês) better than one who captures a city.” 

  • Prv 12:16: “Fools immediately show their anger.” 

  • Prv 29:8: “Pestilent men set a city aflame, but the wise turn away wrath” (hoi sophoi apestrepsan orgên). 

  • Sir 27:30: “Anger and wrath, these also are abominations, yet a sinner holds on to them.” 

Several aspects may be noted in the NT:

  • It appears in NT vice lists: Col 3:8 and Eph 4:31 include both orgê and thumos in their lists. These lists parallel the Stoic view that sees anger (orgê) as a wholly negative vice. 1Tm 2:8 admonishes believers to be “without anger or argument” (dialogismos), suggesting the connection between uncontrolled anger and disputes in the community). See also Ancient Texts Jas 1:19c

  • Eph 4:26, however, suggests that anger is not sinful in itself, but only if it is uncontrolled: “Be angry but do not sin (orgizesthe kai mê hamartanete); do not let the sun set on your anger” (epi parorgismôᵢ humôn). 

  • Anger, in the sense of punishing a wrongdoing, is only proper to God (“the wrath of God”); see Jn 3:36; Rom 1:18; Rom 5:9; 1Thes 1:10. Thus Rom 12:19, “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord,’” but cf. Rom 13:4: governing powers are “the servant of God to inflict wrath.” 

Jesus’ Teaching

Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount singles out anger as a serious sin: “whoever is angry (orgizomenos) with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ [i.e., rêqâ / rêq’ā – “fool, worthless person”] will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna” (Mt 5:22). 

With James’ admonition to be slow to anger, he seems to accept the view that anger should be controlled as opposed to being completely eradicated.


Christian Tradition

19f quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger Drawing on the Greco-Roman Tradition Commentatators add similar quotations and examples from the Greco-Roman writers, showing their conviction that James' advice is not narrowly Jewish or Christian, but draws on a wider tradition.

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. cites the example of the Pythagoreans—“endowed with the capacity to reach natural knowledge” (naturalis scientiae magisterio praediti)—who insisted that their listeners keep silence for five years before they were allowed to preach (Hurst 1983, 190; Hurst 1985, 18).  See also Ancient Texts Jas 1:19c.
  • Lapide Comm. ad loc.: After insisting that "all ancient wise men (omnes prisci sapientes), both pagan and Christian, taught this type of wisdom" (hunc sapientiae modum) Lapide quotes relevant sayings from Apollodorus, Zeno, Theocritus, Demosthenes, Isocrates, Nicostratus, Xenocrates, Plutarch, and Martial (20:74–75).
  • Gloss. Ord. quotes Seneca's lengthy description of an angry man (Seneca Ira 3.1.3-4 [col. 1271]).

19b quick to hear, slow to speak Interpretations of Listening and Speaking

Advice for Teachers and Bishops

The tradition often connects James' admonitions with advice for teachers, and especially for bishops in their role as teachers. 

Augustine of Hippo preached a sermon on Jas 1:19,22, applying the admonition to himself and his fellow preachers. He admits that he himself prefers listening, because when he preaches he is in danger of self-conceit. Cf. his application of the passage in Augustine of Hippo Ep. 193:13: "For I prefer…to learn rather than to teach" (Teske 1923, 2: 286).

  •  Augustine of Hippo Serm.  179.2 "when we listen, we are humble; but when we preach, even if we are not in danger (periclitamur) of pride, assuredly we are at least restrained" (certe vel frenamur; Boodts 2016, 620; cf. Hill 1997, 3: 299).

He further reflects on Mary of Bethany, who sat and listened to Jesus' words (Lk 10:38–42). Hearing the words of the Lord is beneficial in this world and will continue into eternity. See the similar application to his work as a preacher in Augustine of Hippo Retract. Prol. 2; Augustine of Hippo Tract Ev. Jo. 57.3.

Lapide Comm. ad loc. gives the example of Thomas Aquinas, who listened attentively to his teacher Albert the Great and was so silent that he earned the nickname "the Dumb Ox" (bos mutus). Albert defended him saying that "the dumb ox would soon send forth such bellowings that the whole world would hear them" (20:73).

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. "And properly he first advises (ammonet) each to lend his ear rather quickly to someone teaching, but only later to open his mouth to teach, because it is foolish (stultum) for anyone to wish to preach to others what he himself had not learned. Let anyone who loves wisdom, therefore, first beg this from God, as he advised above (Jas 1:5), then let the humble hearer (humilis auditor) seek out a teacher of truth, and all the while let him not only most carefully restrain his tongue from idle conversations (otiotis sermonibus) but also hold back from preaching the very truth which he has recently learned" ( Hurst 1983, 190; Hurst 1985, 17–18). Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. also connects Jas 1:19 and the warning to teachers in Jas 3:1.
  • Gloss. Ord. thus glosses "slow to speak": "do not presume to teach before the right time" (ne ante tempus praesumat docere); i.e., make sure that one is properly prepared before beginning to teach. (col. 1272).

Eager to Hear Beneficial Words

  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. : James refers to listening to divine words and profitable stories (Sedlacek 1910, 91; Syriac – ibid., 119).
  •  Gloss. Ord.: The words "quick to listen" are glossed with "to the teachers of truth" (doctoribus veritatis; col 1272).

Guard against Idle Words

  • Gregory the Great  Reg. Past. 3.14 quotes several passage from James in his discussion on how the pastor should admonish talkative people: Jas 1:26; 1:19; 3:8.  Gregory connects these passages with Jesus' saying, "on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak" (Mt 12:36): "For indeed every word is idle (otiosum) that lacks either a reason of just necessity or an intention of pious usefulness" (Barmby 1895, 38; Judic, Rommel and Morel 1992, 348).


Biblical Intertextuality

26b bridling his tongue Guarding One's Speech

Exhortations to Control Speech

One finds exhortations to guard the tongue often in the biblical wisdom tradition:

  • Prv 13:3: "Those who guard their mouths preserve themselves; those who open wide their lips bring ruin";
  • Prv 21:23: "Those who guard mouth and tongue guard themselves from trouble."

Jesus' Teaching on Guarding One's Speech

  • Mt 12:36–37: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word (rhêma agron) they speak. By your words you will be  acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." See also Biblical Intertextuality Jas 1:19bc.


Christian Tradition

26 thinks he is religious while not bridling his tongue Words Must Be Consistent with Actions

  • Gloss. Ord. ad loc. the interlinear gloss to "religious" reads: "Not only should you be doers of the word, but also bridle the tongue"; the interlinear gloss to "bridling" reads, "through faith which one has through works of faith" (per fidem quam habet per opera fidei; cols. 1273–74).


Ancient Texts

26b bridling his tongue Classical Image of Bridling the Passions

Reason Bridling the Passions in the Soul

  • Plato Phaedr. 246AB applies this image to his tripartite division of the soul (see Plato Resp. 4 [439d–441c] for the three divisions). The charioteer, representing the reasoning faculty (to logistikon) of the soul, must control his two horses, who represent the part dominated by desire and other passions (to epithumêtikon) and the "spirited" part (to thumoeides) of the soul. See also Ancient Texts Jas 4:1.

The Bridling Image Applied to Controlling One's Speech

  • Plato Leg. 701C "I must, every time, rein in my discourse (logos), like a horse, and not let it run away with me as though it had no bridle" (achalinon; Bury 1926, 1:249).
  •  Plutarch Adol. poet. Aud. 12 [Mor. 33f] "just as a horseman uses a bridle, or a helmsman uses a rudder, since virtue has no instrument so humane or so akin to itself as speech" (Babbit 1927, 1:177).
  • Philostratus Vit. Apoll. 4.26.1 "an unbridled tongue" (chalinos ouk ên epi têᵢ glôttêᵢ; Jones 2005, 1:376–77).
  • Euripides Bacch. 386 "tongues that know no bridle" (achalinos; Kovacs 2003, 44); cf. Plutarch Garr. 3.

See further Ancient Texts Jas 3:2bLiterary Devices Jas 3:2f.

Biblical Intertextuality

18–21 Drawing on a Common Christian Baptismal Exhortation?

James and 1 Peter

Jas 1:18–21 and 1Pt 1:23–2:2 have several parallels: 

  • 1Pt 1:23: “You have been born anew” (anagegennêmenoi) || Jas 1:18: “Of his own will, He gave us birth by the word of truth.” 
  • 1Pt 1:23: “through the living and abiding word of God” (dia logou zôntos theou) || Jas 1:18,21: “gave us birth by the word of truth (logôᵢ alêtheias)…receive the implanted word” (emphuton logon).
  • 1Pt 2:1: “Rid yourselves (apothemenoi) of all malice” || Jas 1:21: “put away (apothemenoi) all sordidness”; cf. 1Pt 3:21: “not a removal of dirt (apothesis rhupou) from the body.” 
  • 1Pt 2:2: reference to salvation (sôteria) || Jas 1:21: reference to saving (sôsai) your souls.

Some scholars explain these parallels by suggesting that Peter and James draw on a common Christian teaching associated with the spiritual renewal of life at baptism. Other posit some literary relationship between Peter and James.

Other Parallel Uses of "Putting Away"

One should also note other NT uses of the verb "to put away" (apotithêmi) which may originally have been baptismal exhortations. All passages refer to "putting away" one's old sinful life; many specify sinful vices (e.g., anger, slanderous speech) that James also warns against. Several also parallel James' use of "all" and "every", emphasizing the exhortation to make a complete change of life.

  • Rom 13:12: "let us then throw off the works (erga) of darkness."
  • Eph 4:22: "that you should put away the old self of your former way of life."
  • Eph 4:25: "Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another."
  • Col 3:8: "But now you must put them all away: anger (orgê), fury, malice (kakia), slander, obscene language."
  • Heb 12:1:  "let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us."



19,22 Liturgical Reading from Augustine Augustine of Hippo Serm. 179 is based on a liturgical reading from Jas 1:19 and 1:22.

Suggestions for Reading

18–27 Exhortation to Doing the Word

Thematic Structure 

Although some interpreters see Jas 1:19 as a thematic statement developed in Jas 1:20–27, the following thematic flow of thought is evident:

  • Vv. 18–21: An example of God's good gift: "the word of truth." God implants (Jas 1:21)  a "word of truth" (Jas 1:18), the natural law of right and wrong, within each person. This law exhorts one to bridle his speech and his passions (such as anger). 
  • Vv. 22–27: One must not only hear this law, but act on it. Bridling one's tongue (Jas 1:19; 26) and caring for widows and orphans (Jas 1:27) are two specific ways of living out this law.

Interpretive Issues


Textual Criticism

26a If anyone Pluses The precise relationship between James's well-structured admonition to "do the word" in Jas 1:22–25, and the teaching on "true religion" in Jas 1:26–27 is unclear. Textual variants attempt to make the transition clearer:

  • C P and some minuscules add the adversative de to "If anyone": "but if anyone" (de is not a strong adversative, however, and is often left untranslated); cf. also V.
  • Manuscripts of Byz add "among you" (en humin) to qualify "anyone," thus clarifying that James's teaching applies directly to the church community (Comparison of Versions Jas 1:26f).


26f religious Semantics of "religion" The adjective thrêskos ("religious") is found only here in the whole NT; the adjective is not found in G. The cognate noun form used later in the verse, thrêskeia, is well attested.

Thrêskeia emphasizes the public cultus (see its use in Col 2:18 for the worship of angels; Ws 14:27: the worship of idols). It is often paired with eusebeia ("piety").  Eusebeia (adjective: eusebês) is generally understood as the state of being pious (corresponding to Latin pietas), while thrêskeia concerns outward acts of piety (corresponding to Latin religio):

  • Josephus A.J. 6.90: "grant thrêskeia and eusebeia";
  • Josephus A.J. 13.244: Antiochus, "because of his exaggerated devotion (thrêskeia) was by all men called Eusebes."

The word can thus be used for religion as a whole as in Acts 26:5 and 4 Macc. 5:7 for the Jewish religion (cf. V's translation: religiosus = thrêskos; religio = thrêskeia).  

26c worthless Religious Connotations


The adjective mataios elsewhere in the NT characterizes activities as useless or unprofitable. For example, see  Tt 3:9: "avoid foolish speculations, and those genealogies, and the quibbles and disputes about the Law—they are useless and futile (mataios)." 


  • G-Is 29:13 uses the cognate adverb matên to refer to an outward worship of God that is merely verbal: "they honor me with their lips, while their heart is far from me, and in vain (matên) do they worship me, teaching human precepts and teachings";  Mk 7:6–7 / Mt 15:8–9 reports that Jesus quoted this passage against Pharisees and scribes.
  • Mataios and its cognates are regularly used to describe the "vain" worship of pagan gods:  G-Lv 17:7; Jer 2:5; 8:19; Ez 8:10; Am 2:4; Ep. Arist. 134; Sib. Or. 3.547; 5.85. With its widespread application to worship of idols, James may well imply that the religious observance of a person who commits sins of speech is no better than idol worship.


26a thinks that he is religious What is the Subject? The 3rd person sing. verb dokei ("to seem") can be understood as either having a subject or being impersonal. So here there are two possibilities.

  • It is interpreted as having a subject, tis: "someone thinks that he is religious"; cf. Lk 8:18.
  • Or it is understood impersonally, "it appears that someone is religious" (cf.  Calvin Comm. Iac.).

The first possibility is more likely, given James' focus on correct understanding (cf. Jas 1:26c: "deceives his heart"; →James: Emphasis on Correct Knowledge in James ).


Peritestamental Literature

26b bridling his tongue The Image of Bridling One's Speech Philo often applies the image of a bridle to controlling one's tongue (Ancient Texts Jas 1:26b).

  • Philo Det. 44: Those proficient in rhetoric but not in wisdom often have an unbridled tongue (achalina glôtta) (Colson 1929, 2:230–31).
  • Philo Det. 174: achalinos glôtta (Colson 1929, 2:316–17).
  • Philo Somn. 2.132: unbridled mouths (achalina stomata; Colson 1934, 5:500–501).
  • Philo Somn. 2.165: among some, wine causes an unbridled tongue (achalinôtos glôtta; Colson 1934, 5:516–17).
  • Philo Abr. 29: the unbridled mouth (achalinon stoma) perpetually speaks when silence is due (Colson 1935, 6:18–19).
  • Philo Mos. 2.198: unbridled mouth (achalinon stoma; Colson 1935, 6:546–47).
  • Philo Legat. 163: the Alexandrians have unbridled mouths (achalinon stoma; Colson 1962, 10:163–64).

The image can also be used in a positive sense for unrestrained praise:

  • Philo Her. 110: an unbridled mouth (achalinon stoma) used in a positive sense for praising God (Colson 1932, 4:336–37).
  • Philo Ios. 246: unbridled mouths (achalina stomata; Colson 1935, 6:258–59).

As is apparent from the following passage, the image of bridling the tongue draws on the more general image of the rational powers reining in the passions.

  • Philo Sacr. 49: Rule over oneself is greater than the rule over others: "the strength to rule (ischusai), as a king in a city or country, over the body and the senses and the belly, and the pleasures (hêdonai) whose seat is below the belly, and the other passions (pathê) and the tongue and in general all our compound being.…For like the charioteer (hêniochos) he must sometimes give the rein to his team; sometimes pull them in and draw them back, when they rush too wildly in unreined career towards the world of external things (Colson 1929, 2:130–31; Ancient Texts Jas 1:26b).
  • Philo Spec. 1.79: a person must use a bridle (chalinos) on his passions, or disaster will result. In this context, Philo explicitly quotes  Stoic definitions of the passions (Colson 1937, 7:56–57; Peritestamental Literature Jas 3:3f).


Comparison of Versions

26f religious ...religion: Religion as Serving God S translates the adjective thrêskos (Vocabulary Jas 1:26f) with the Pa‘el participle of the verb šmš, literally meaning "to serve." S uses this same verb at the following places:

  • Lk 22:27: "For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves?"
  • 1Pt 4:11: " whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies" (both verses translate the Greek diakoneô).

S uses the same root šmš for the noun at the end of the verse: "the service (tšmšth) of that person is worthless."

Christian Tradition

26b bridling his tongue James Refers Especially to Hypocrites The commentary tradition often attempts to specify what type of speech James means to control; identifying especially the hypocritical speech of one who appears to be religious outwardly, but uses his tongue for evil purposes.

Call to Refrain from Dishonest and Foolish Speech

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. "even if someone appears to carry out in actions the commandments of God which he has learned, if he has not also bridled his tongue from slanders (detractionibus), lies (mendaciis), blasphemies, foolish conversations (stultiloquiis), even from the very act of speaking too much (multiloquium), and from the other things in which he is accustomed to sin, in vain does he boast of the righteousness of his works, as Paul, showing his approval of the thought of a pagan poet, says, 'Evil conversations corrupt good morals'" (1Cor 15:33; Hurst 1983, 192; Hurst 1985, 20–21).

Call to Refrain from Hypocrisy 

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. "'If anyone,' he says, 'seems to be religious,' that is, who has a show of sanctity (speciem habet sanctimoniae), but in the meantime flatters himself by speaking evil of others, it is hence evident that he does not truly serve God" (hinc convincitur non vere Deum colere; Owen 1849, 299; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 396).

Connection with Jesus' Teaching

Many commentators connect James' admonition with Jesus' teaching in Mt 12:36–37:

Application to Monks

Caesarius of Arles alludes to this passage in an admonition to monks to avoid murmuring and disobedience to their superiors:

  • Caesarius of Arles Serm. 233.7 "If we do not bridle (non refrenamus) our tongue, our religion is not true but false (non est vera sed falsa; Mueller 1973, 3:198; Morin 1953, 2:931).

Jewish Tradition

19bc quick to hear …slow to anger: Controlling Speech and Anger The Mishnah has similar admonitions and teachings:

  •  m. 'Abot  5.11 "There are four kinds of student: (1) swift to hear and swift to lose [i.e., to forget: ’bd]—his gain is cancelled by his loss; (2) slow to hear and slow to lose [to forget: ’bd]—his loss is cancelled by his gain (3) swift to hear and slow to lose [forget: ’bd]this is a happy lot; (4) slow to hear and swift to lose [forget: ’bd]—this is an evil lot" (Danby 1933, 457).
  • m. 'Abot  2.10 "Be not easily provoked" (Danby 1933, 449).


Literary Devices

26f to look after orphans and widows in their affliction A Central Theme: Concern for the Poor In his definition of "religion," James returns to a central theme of his letter: concern for the poor and vulnerable of society:

  • Jas 1:9: the humble person (closely associated with the poor) is actually exalted;
  • Jas 1:27: true religion is caring for widows and orphans;
  • Jas 2:2–7: christians should not show favoritism to the rich and dishonor the poor in their communities;
  • Jas 2:15–16: true faith is expressed in meeting the needs of those who are poorly dressed and lack daily food;
  • Jas 5:4: the just wages of harvesters have been withheld (→James: Rich and Poor).

26 thinks that he is religious while not bridling his tongue but rather deceiving his heart Emphasis on Correct Knowledge As is typical, James criticizes incorrect knowledge: here an incorrect, self-deceptive understanding of religion; cf. James's criticism of those who deceive themselves (Jas 1:22; →James: Emphasis on Correct Knowledge in James).


Ancient Texts

26b bridling his tongue Greco-Roman Tradition on Brevity of Speech

Brevity in Speech Associated with Wisdom and the Philosophical Life

  • Plutarch Garr. 1 [Mor. 502b]: logos is the remedy (pharmakon) for talkativeness (adoleschia).
  • Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 1.35 quotes Thales: "Many words do not declare an understanding heart / Seek one sole wisdom / Choose one sole good / For you will check the tongue of chatterers prating without end" (Hicks 1925, 1:36–37).
  • Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 1.69–70, cites Chilon, who was a man of few words (brachulogos): "Control the tongue (glôttês kratein), especially at a banquet";  "Let not your tongue outrun your thought" (tên glôttan mê protrechein tou nou; Hicks 1925, 1:70–71).
  • Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 9.7 commends Heraclitus is for his brevity (brachutês).

Brevity in Speech and Strength of Character

Brevity in speech is associated with strength of character; talkativeness with weakness and lack of self-control.

  • Demetrius Eloc. 7: Short clauses have "a greater force and vehemence when a lot of meaning is packed into a few words. So it is because of this forcefulness (deinotêtos) that the Spartans are brief in speech (brachulogoi)…Old men too speak at length, because they are weak" (dia tên astheneian; Innes and Roberts 1995, 348–49).
  • Plutarch Garr. 17 [Mor. 510e–511a] notes that short and pithy speeches are more admired than long, uncontrolled discourses, giving the speech of the Spartans as an example.

The Literary Tradition of Collecting Brief Wise Sayings

The Greek literary tradition was fond of collecting brief sayings or anecdotes to express the wisdom of various sages. The literary forms included (see, e.g., Hermogenes Progym. 3–4):

  • the maxim (gnômê): a saying, often unattributed;
  • the chreia: an attributed saying, often accompanied by a contextual action (Kennedy 2003, 76–78; Rabe 1913, 6–11);
  • the aphorism (aphorismos): a more general term for a brief saying, usually attributed to an individual.

Divine Wisdom and Brevity of Speech

Even the oracles of the gods were characterized by brevity of speech. This was especially true of the famed oracle of Pythian Apollo at Delphi:

See also Literary Devices Jas 1:26b; Ancient Texts Jas 1:19c; Literary Devices Jas 3:2f; →James: Speech in James.


Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.


Ancient Texts

19c slow to anger Differing Views on Anger Greco-Roman philosophical and ethical traditions were divided on the place of anger: for the Stoics and others such as Plutarch, it was a passion to be eradicated; Plato and Aristotle, by contrast, held that it was a important source of energy that one must harness and control.

Defintions of Anger

  • Aristotle Rhet. 2.2 [1378A] "Let us then define anger as a longing (orexis), accompanied by pain (lupê), for a real or apparent revenge for a real or apparent slight, affecting a man himself or one of his friends, when such a slight is undeserved" (mê prosêkontos; Freese 1926, 172–73).
  • The Stoics classify anger (orgê; Latin: ira) as a vice, a subcategory of "desire" (epithumia; Latin: libido; cf. Stobaeus Anth. 2.7 ; Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.113; Cicero Tusc. 4.7.16).
  • Likewise they say it is "a craving or desire (epithumia) to punish one who is thought to have done you an undeserved (ou prosêkontôs) injury" (Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.113;Hicks 1925, 218–19).

The terms orgê and thumos are both regularly used for the vice of anger (e.g., in Plutarch Cohib. Ira).

A Negative Passion Requiring Self-control

For the Stoics, anger is wholly negative and must entirely uprooted from a man if he wishes to be wise.

  • Seneca Ira 1.1–2: Anger is "the most hideous and frenzied (rabidum) of the emotions (affectus)…wholly violent…eager for revenge…a a temporary madness (brevis insania). Further, it is "devoid of self-control," "closed to reason," and "excited by trifling causes" (Basore 1928, 106–7).
  • Seneca Ira 2.36.6:  Anger is "the greatest of all evils…it brings into subjection all other passions." A greedy person forgets his greed due to anger; the ambitious man rejects an honor due to anger (Basore 1928,  250–51).
  • Seneca Ira 1.5.2: Anger is not in accord with nature (secundum naturam): Man is born for mutual help (homo in adiutorium mutuum genitus est); anger aims at mutual destruction (Basore 1928, 118–19). 
  • Seneca Ira 1.6.5 "Man's nature, then, does not crave vengeance; neither, therefore, does anger accord with man's nature, because anger craves vengeance (poena)…anger is contrary to nature" (non est naturalis;Basore 1928, 122–23).
  • Seneca Ira 1.9–10: Contrary to the opinion of Aristotle and others, controlled anger is not necessary to encourage action, e.g., in a dangerous situation. If anger can be controlled, then it is not truly anger, since the characteristic of anger is its lack of control. A virtue such as justice or courage should never depend upon a vice (Basore 1928, 128–33).
  • Seneca Ira 1.12–16: Criminals or wicked people should indeed be corrected or punished, but not with anger.
  • Seneca Ira 2.1–4: Anger is not an impulsive, automatic reaction to a wrong, but rather always involves a choice of the mind. After the initial reaction to being wronged, the mind determines whether to pursue revenge or punishment.

Even Plutarch, a Platonist and critic of Stoicism, agreed with the Stoic position that there is no positive use for anger, and one should work to get rid of it altogether.

  • Plutarch Cohib. Ira 5 [Mor. 455f]  calls it "the most hated and despised of the passions" (Helmbold 1939, 109).

Anger Closely Connected with the Inability to Control One's Tongue

  • Plutarch Cohib. Ira  7 [456e] "the tongue of angry men becomes rough and foul and breaks out in unseemly speeches" (Helmbold 1939, 114–15).

Plato and Aristotle: Anger Has its Place

  • Plato Leg. 5 [731b–d] insists,"Every man ought to be at once both passionate (thumoeidê) and gentle (praos = praus) in the highest degree (Bury 1926, 1:337; cf. also Resp. 2 [375]). In general, one should be gentle when dealing with wrongdoers, since no one does wrong willingly (hekôn; alluding to the Platonic teaching that sin is ignorance of the true good). Obstinately violent and wicked people, however, cannot be dealt with gently. One must summon up one's passionate anger in order to fight them when necessary (e.g., in self-defense).
  • For Aristotle Eth. Nic. 4.5.14 [1126b], being angry is not good or bad in itself—as with all passions, one must allow it in the right amount. "The middle diposition (mesê hexis) is praiseworthy, which leads us to be angry (orgizometha) with the right people for the right things in the right manner and so on, while the various forms of excess and and defect are blameworthy" (Rackham 1934, 234–35).

Biblical Intertextuality

19bc quick to hear, slow to speak Topos Common in Wisdom Literature Parallels to James' thought abound in biblical wisdom literature.

  • Sir 5:13 (G-Sir 5:11):  "Be swift (tachus) to hear, but slow (en makrothumiaᵢ) to answer."

Be Eager to Listen to the Words of the Wise and Learn

  • Sir 6:33–35: "If you are willing to listen, you can learn; if you pay attention, you can be instructed. Stand in the company of the elders; stay close to whoever is wise. Be eager to hear every discourse; let no insightful saying escape you."

One’s Speech Should not be Hasty

  • Prv 29:20: "Do you see someone who speaks in haste (G: tachus en logois)? There is more hope for a fool than for them. 
  • Eccl 5:1:  "Be not hasty in your utterance and let not your heart be quick to utter a promise in God's presence. God is in heaven and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few." See also Biblical Intertextuality Jas 1:26.

Peritestamental Literature

19c slow to anger Controlling One’s Tongue and Passions  James' admonitions to control one's tongue and passions such as anger are frequent in Jewish Hellenistic writing: 

Controlling One's Tongue

  • Ps.-Phoc. 20 "Take heed of your tongue, keep your word hidden in your heart" (van der Horst 1978, 88–89).
  • Philo Her. 10–12: Commenting on Dt 27:9: "Be silent and hear": "There are indeed some [e.g., the ignorant] whom it befits to hear but not to speak." Philo also sees here an admonition to listen to a speaker inwardly, not letting one's attention wander (Colson 1932, 4:288–89).

Controlling Anger

Some Hellenistic Jewish authors favor the Aristotelian view that passions such as anger should be controlled by reason, not completely eradicated (Ancient Texts Jas 1:19c).

  • 4 Macc. 1:29: "Each of these (i.e., the passions), reason (logismos), the master gardener, purges thoroughly and prunes and binds up and waters and irrigates all around, and so domesticates the wild undergrowth of inclinations and passions" (pathê). 
  • 4 Macc. 2:16: the temperate mind (sôphrôn nous) has mastery over anger (thumos) and the other passions.
  • Ps.-Phoc. 57 advises, "Be not rash with your hands, but bridle (chalinoô; cf. Jas 1:26; 3:2–3) your wild anger" (orgê; van den Horst 1978, 90–91).
  •  Ps.-Phoc. 59 "Let your emotions be moderate (estô koina pathê), neither great nor overwhelming" (Van der Horst 1978, 92–93).
  •  Ps.-Phoc. 69b "Moderation is the best of all (pantôn metron aristôn); excesses are grieveous" (Van der Horst 1978, 92–93). 

Link between Controlling Speech and Anger

  •  Pss. Sol. 16:10 "May I speak the truth (lit.: clothe my tongue and my lips, in words of truth); put fierce rage and anger (orgên kai thumon alogon) far from me" (OTP 2:142–43).