James: Speech in James

Explicit Exhortations to Proper Speech

The importance of proper speech is a central concern for James. Uncontrolled speech destroys relationships within the community of faith and one’s relationship with God.

  • Jas 1:19: Admonition to be careful in one’s speech, and especially to avoid speaking in anger. 
  • Jas 1:26: Admonition to control one’s speech. 
  • Jas 3:1–12: Admonition to avoid sin in one’s speech, with illustrations of the destructive results of uncontrolled speech.
  • Jas 4:11–12: Admonition against speaking badly about fellow Christians.
  • Jas 5:9: Admonition against complaining against fellow Christians.
  • Jas 5:12: Rejection of taking oaths, insisting that sincere speech that does not need the backing of an oath.

Indirect References to Proper Speech

At a less explicit level, concern with proper speech permeates the entire letter. James criticizes the flattering speech of those who try to influence the rich and powerful (Jas 2:3) and the empty speech of someone who says he has faith but does not prove it with actions (Jas 2:14–26, esp. Jas 2:15–16), the arrogant speech of one confident of his future plans (Jas 4:13–17).

Examples of Positive Speech

The major focus of the letter is an exhortation to avoid negative and destructive speech; the letter’s close, however, presents positive modes of speech: individual and communal prayer (Jas 5:13–18), mutual confession (Jas 5:16), and conversion of one going astray (Jas 5:20).