We all stumble in many ways + No man can tame his tongue? (James 3:2 NIV + James 3:8)
Some people who are searching through the Bible in order to find verses which support sinning sometimes try to use the half verse in James 3:2 to persuade themselves and others that no one can ever stop sinning and/or that it’s not that serious if we fall.
It’s interesting that many of them despise the NIV version and vehemently explain what a terrible translation it is and yet they prefer to use NIV in THIS particular case since they prefer the word “stumble” before “offend” which the KJV uses. The rest of the passage in James 3:2 offers a solution to the problem, that if any man offend NOT in word then he is also able to bridle his whole body – which seems like a good idea. James doesn’t say this is impossible but compares with other situations where man has successfully made horses and even large ships obey him.
James 3:2 For in many things we OFFEND all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. (KJV)
What does “offend all” mean? The transliteration is “ptaiomen”/”ptaió” which indeed means “to cause to stumble” or “stumble”. The only passages in the Bible where this word is used are in the following verses, apart from James 3:2:
- James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
- Romans 11:11 I ask then, did they stumble that they might fall? May it never be! But by their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy.
- 2 Peter 1:10 Therefore, brothers, be more diligent to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never stumble.
- James 3:2 For in many things we OFFEND all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. (KJV)
There are other Greek words that are translated as “sinning” and/or “falling away” such as “pipto” and “ekpipto” but they are not used here. Another significant word is “skandalizo”, which is often translated as “fall away” and “stumble” and this is used when Jesus tells his disciples “You will all fall away because of me this night” (Matthew 26:31 NAS). Skandalizo also is the word used in Mathew 24:10, where Jesus talks about a “falling away” in the end times maybe due to persecutions. “Skandalizo” is also used in Mark 4:17, where Jesus tells a parable about seed falling on rocky soil to describe believers who “fall away” in times of trials. In Luke’s parallel passage the Greek word behind “fall away” is “aphistemi” – the root from which the Greek word for apostasy is drawn. So there are words that contain a much more serious risk for a christian than the Greek word that is translated as “stumble” in James 3:2.
So let’s remember that when Jesus said “Sin no more” he uses a different Greek word than in James 3:2, and the same goes for other places in the Bible when we are told to avoid sinning such as when Paul said “Awake to righteousness and SIN NOT”. Stumbling doesn’t seem to be as serious as sinning or falling away.
Revelation 2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
Jude 1:24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,
No man can tame his tongue
Another verse that is often used to support sinning is “No man can tame his tongue” which is also mentioned by James. He explains that animals have indeed been tamed by man and man can even make horses obey and large ships, but when it comes to the tongue it seems generally impossible for man to tame it. But he doesn’t conclude that this is therefore normal behaviour and totally acceptable for a christian in any way. He says that the tongue boasts, that it can lit a fire, is a world of INIQUITY, DEFILES the body and it is set on fire of HELL. Would James ever claim that this is a totally acceptable for true christians? Of course not! He says “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, THESE THINGS OUGHT NOT TO BE“. Of course James would never say that something that causes INIQUITY and defiles the body is accepted and normal. Iniquities always separate us from God!
If “no man can tame his tongue” means that it’s never possible to avoid lies and slander, then James is in contradiction with himself. He says a few verses later:
“14But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and LIE NOT against the truth”
Lie not? Didn’t James know that no man can tame his tongue and must always lie? Obviously James is not saying that it’s acceptable to not tame his tongue even if it seems generally impossible. He is saying that we should, because these things should NOT be so, and he says departing from the truth (which lying and slandering is) is DEVILISH, and not taming a tongue would result in envying and strife which is in turn the foundation of EVERY EVIL WORK. There is a famous commandment which says “You shall not LIE”. Is James saying that we can just as well forget about this commandment because no man can tame his tongue? Of course not. James says:
1:26″If any man among you seem to be religious, and BRIDLETH NOT HIS TONGUE, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain”.
The entire context from James 3:
2For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. 3Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 4Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. 5Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 6And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. 7For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 8But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, THESE THINGS OUGHT NOT SO TO BE. 11Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. 13Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. 14But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and LIE NOT against the truth. 15This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, DEVILISH. 16For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and EVERY EVIL WORK. 17But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.