DAILY DEVOTIONAL, WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2021

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And the tongue is a fire, the world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body,  setting on fire the course of life,  and is set on fire by Gehenna. (James 3:6)

James now makes a comparison of a forest being set aflame by a small fire stating the tongue is a fire. “In this sense, that it produces a ‘blaze,’ or a great conflagration. It produces a disturbance and an agitation that may be compared with the conflagration often produced by a spark.”[1]

The world of unrighteousness: A little world of evil in itself. This is a very expressive phrase similar to one we often employ, as when we speak of a town as a miniature world. We mean by it that it is the epitome of the world. That all that there is in the world is represented there on a small scale. So when the tongue is spoken of as being ‘the world of unrighteousness,’ it is meant that all kinds of evil in the world are exhibited there in miniature. It seems to concentrate all sorts of unrighteousness that exist on the earth. And what evil is there which may not be originated or fomented by the tongue? What else is there that might, with so much correctness, be represented as a little world of unrighteousness? With all the good which it does, who can estimate the amount of evil which it causes? Who can measure the evils which arise from scandal, and slander, and profaneness, and perjury, and falsehood, and blasphemy, and obscenity, and inculcation of error, by the tongue? Who can gauge the amount of physical violence, and contentions, and strifes, and wars, and suspicions, and enmities, and alienations among friends and neighbors, which it produces? Who can number the evils produced by the ‘sweet sounding’ words of the seducer;[2] or by the tongue of the eloquent in the maintenance of error, and the defense of wrong? If all men were unable or unwilling to speak, what a portion of the crimes of the world would soon cease! If all men spoke only that which ought to be spoken, what a change would come over the face of human affairs!”[3]

Jesus Paul THE EVANGELISM HANDBOOK

The tongue is set among our members: The tongue can actually set one’s life on fire in the way it is used and can destroy families, marriages, children, and friendships. The tongue can destroy everything and everyone around if not controlled. James also describes the tongue as being full of iniquity, and it can bring about a lot of sin and havoc into one’s life and the life of others. The tongue is full of evil through gossip, slander, lies, and manipulations. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 16:27, “A worthless man digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire.” He also wrote in Proverbs 26:20-21, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down. Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife.” Albert Barnes writes, “It stains or pollutes the whole body. It occupies a position and relation so important in respect to every part of our moral frame. That there is no portion which is not affected by it. Of the truth of this, no one can have any doubt. There is nothing else about us as moral and intellectual beings, which influences us as the tongue. A man of pure conversation is understood and felt to be pure in every respect, but who has any confidence in the virtue of the blasphemer, or the man of obscene lips, or the calumniator and slanderer? We always regard such a man as corrupt to the core.”[4]

In the original Greek, the expression “the course of our life” is, literally, “the wheel of birth.”[5] The Greek word also (τροχός trochos) means a wheel, or anything made for revolving and running. Then it means the course run by a wheel, a circular course or circuit. The word rendered of life (γένεσις genesis), means procreation, birth, life, nativity; and therefore, again, the phrase means, literally, the wheel of birth—that is, the wheel which is set in motion at birth, and which runs on through life. It may be a matter of doubt whether this refers to successive generations or to the course of individual life. The more literal sense would be that which refers to an individual; but perhaps the apostle meant to speak in a popular sense and thought of the affairs of the world as they roll on from age to age, as all enkindled by the tongue, keeping the world in a constant blaze of excitement. Whether applied to an individual life, or to the world at large, everyone can see the justice of the comparison. When this expression is used, one naturally thinks of a chariot driven on with so much speed that its wheels by their rapid motion, become self-ignited, and the chariot moves on amidst flames.”[6]

The unbridled tongue can set afire the entire course of our lives, making the cycle of life a brutal circle, even to the point of ending in destruction as if by fire. (Eccl. 10:12, 13) It can also affect our neighbor as Proverbs 11:9 informs us, “With his mouth, the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge, the righteous are delivered.” If one misuses his tongue throughout his life, he gives off destructiveness and may do much harm to those who encounter him. (Prov. 16:28; 6:12) In some cases, one person with an uncontrollable tongue has defiled an entire Christian congregation or even an entire denomination. (Heb. 12:15; Gal. 5:9; compare Ecclesiastes 9:18) What about Gehenna? How are we to understand it?

And is set on fire by Gehenna: Gehenna Hebrew Ge’ Hinnom, literally, Valley of Hinnom, appears 12 times in the Greek New Testament books, and many translators render it by the word “hell.” Most translations have chosen poorly not to use a transliteration, Gehenna or Geenna, as opposed to the English hell, ASV, AT, RSV, ESV, LEB, HCSB, and NASB. There is little doubt that the New Testament writers and Jesus used “Gehenna” to speak of the place of final punishment. What was Gehenna?

Gehenna (γέεννα geenna) occurs 12 times and is the Greek name for the valley of Hinnom, southwest of Jerusalem (Jer. 7:31), where the horrendous worship of Moloch took place. It was prophetically said that where dead bodies would be thrown. (Jer. 7:32; 19:6) It was an incinerator where trash and dead bodies were destroyed, not a place to be burned alive or tormented. Jesus and his disciples used Gehenna to symbolize eternal destruction, annihilation, or the “second death,” an eternal punishment of death.

According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 632), Gehenna or the Valley of Hinnom was “the valley south of Jerusalem now called the Wadi er-Rababi (Josh. 15:8; 18:16; 2 Chron. 33:6; Jer. 32:35) became the place of child sacrifice to foreign gods. The Jews later used the valley for the dumping of refuse, the dead bodies of animals, and executed criminals.”[7] We would disagree with the other comments by the Holman Illustrated Dictionary, “The continuing fires in the valley (to consume the refuse and dead bodies) apparently led the people to transfer the name to the place where the wicked dead suffer.” This just is not the case.

Young Christians

In the Old Testament, the Israelites did burn sons in the fires as part of a sacrifice to false gods, but not for the purpose of punishment or torture. By the time of the New Testament period, hundreds of years later, the only thing thrown in Gehenna was trash and the dead bodies of executed criminals. For what purpose were these thrown into Gehenna? It was used as an incinerator, a furnace for destroying things by burning them. Notice that any bodies thrown in Gehenna during the New Testament period were already dead. Thus, if anything, these people saw Gehenna as a place where they destroyed their trash and the bodies of dead criminals. Thus, if Jesus used this to illustrate as the place of the wicked, it would have represented destruction as the punishment.

When the tongue is misused, it can be destructive, just like Gehenna, to the degree that it can be converted into an instrument for destruction. The tongue is like a torch that one lights from a much larger fire, which can then be carried elsewhere, spreading destructive fire. And like a fire that burnt out of control and can consume the arsonist who may have set the first to start with, he can become a victim of his own fire. There is an unforgivable sin, namely, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is literally a sin of the tongue. (Matt. 12:31-32) Jesus Christ said: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever says to his brother, ‘You fool,’[8] will be brought before the Sanhedrin;[9] and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fire of Gehenna.” (Matt, 5:22) The Christian who improperly denounced his brother as “a fool,” that is, as being useless, meaningless, insignificant, would be in serious jeopardy of such a severe outcome himself. In other words, this brother would be viewing another brother as deserving eternal destruction, with no hope of a future resurrection. Imagine hoping for this outcome for another brother. Because this desire rests in this brother’s heart, he will, in fact, be the one receiving the punishment that he had wished on another.

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[1] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: James to Jude, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 57.

[2] A person’s words or tone of voice) soothing, soft, and intended to please or flatter.

[3] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: James to Jude, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 57.

[4] IBID, 57–58.

[5] Or the cycle of life

[6] IBID, 58.

[7] http://biblia.com/books/hlmnillbbldict/Page.p_632

[8] Gr Raca to, an Aramaic term of contempt

[9] The Jewish supreme court, which held life and death over the people in ancient Jerusalem before 70 C.E.

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