James 4:5 "The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy"
The King James Bible vindicated in James 4:5
There is a particular verse of Scripture in the book of James that has been the source of a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion. I believe the King James Bible, when properly understood, gives the correct reading in contrast to many other versions that miss the mark.
The King James reading perfectly fits the context of James chapter Four and is in agreement with the rest of Biblical truth.
Let's look at the context and examine the verse more carefully as we compare the KJB reading to that found in other bible versions.
James 4:1-6 King James Bible
4:1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your LUSTS that war in your members?
4:1 YE LUST, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon YOUR LUSTS.
4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
4:5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us LUSTETH TO ENVY ?
4:6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
The difficulty here is what does verse five mean when it tells us the Scripture says "The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy."
Some believe the spirit referred to is the fallen human spirit that dwells in each of us and lusts with envy toward others, and others think it refers to the Holy Spirit who longs after us for His affections. The various versions reflect this confusion and result in very different meanings; yet they all supposedly follow the same Greek texts. There are no variant readings in this passage that are of any consequence.
Let me state from the outset what I believe the correct meaning of this passage is as it stands in the King James Bible. There is no specific Scripture reference that says "the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy". Rather it is a reference to the general teaching of the whole Bible itself that reveals the fallen state of mankind. The combined testimony of the entire book of James and the whole Old Testament reveals the rebellious lust to envy of the fallen human spirit in opposition to the living God.
Webster's dictionary defines the word "envy" as meaning "a feeling of resentful discontent, begrudging admiration, or covetousness with regard to anothers advantages, possessions, or attainments joined with a desire to possess the same advantages."
Proverbs 14:30 "A sound heart is the life of the flesh; but envy the rottenness of the bones."
Proverbs 23:17 "Let not thine heart envy sinners; but be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long."
Psalm 37:1 exhorts the believer to not be "envious against the workers of iniquity"
In Psalm 73:3 David confesses that he "was envious at the foolish" when he saw the prosperity of the wicked. The children of Israel "envied Moses in the camp, and Aaron the saint of the LORD" - Psalm 106:16; Rachel envied her sister Leah when she bare children to Jacob - Genesis 30:1, and Joshua envied for Moses' sake when God began to use other men too - Numbers 11:29. Proverbs 27:4 asks: "Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?"
The Greek word used in the New Testament for envy is phthonos, with the noun occuring 9 times and the verb once, and every time in the King James Bible it is translated as "envy".
It is used in Matthew 27:18 and Mark 15:10 where Pilate knew that the chief priests had delivered up Jesus to be crucified "for envy".
Romans 1:29 describes natural man as "being filled with all unrighteousness...full of envy"
Galatians 5:21 lists among the works of the flesh "envyings, murders, drunkenness"
Galatians 5:26 exhorts Christians not to be "desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another."
Philippians 1:15 tells us that some preach Christ "even of envy and strife"
1 Timothy 6:4 speaks of false teachers whose words produce "envy, strife, railings"
Titus 3:3 tells us that we ourselves once were "living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another."
I Peter 2:1 tells the believers that we should lay aside "all envies, and all evil speakings" and desire the sincere milk of the word that we may grow thereby.
Most of the book of James is dedicated to rebuking the various sins of God's people to whom he is writing. They had already been begotten by God with the word of truth (James 1:18) and he continues to exhort them to receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save their souls. We are already "saved" and born again, but the apostle speaks of the progressive outworking of this salvation or deliverance from our sins and its effects in our lives.
See how the word "save" is used in James 5:15 and 20 where he addresses those who already are brethren in the faith. "The prayer of faith shall SAVE the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up". "Brethren, IF ANY OF YOU do err from the truth, and one convert him (turn him back), Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall SAVE a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."
Compare also the use of the word "save" in 1 Timothy 2:15 and 4:16. "Notwithstanding she shall be SAVED in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." Paul writes to Timothy saying: "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt SAVE both thyself, and them that hear thee." This speaks of the progressive nature of working out our salvation and deliverance from sin.
Also compare the use of the word "death" in James 1:15 where every man is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed, and sin brings forth death. "To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" - Romans 8:6. This "death" is not losing your redemption or the second death in the lake of fire, but rather is the loss of fellowship and lack of spiritual fruit we experience when engaged in open and deliberate sin. See Luke 15:24, 32 where the father says of his once errant son, "This my son was dead, and is alive again." The prodigal son never ceased being his father's son, but was out of fellowship in the far country. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." Proverbs 18:21.
These are some things to consider and they will greatly affect the way you understand the book of James, but for now, let's get back to looking at how various bible versions have translated James 4:5 and what it really means.
The King James Bible reads: "The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy." Notice the small s in the word spirit. The Bible frequently speaks of the spirit of man as being part of our makeup. We are body, soul and spirit.
Not only does the King James Bible say "the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy" but so also do the following Bible versions: Whiston's N.T. 1745, The Revised Translation 1815, Webster's 1833 translation, The Commonly Received Version 1851, The Clarke N.T. 1913, the KJV 21st Century 1994, Third Millennium Bible 1998, the Jubilee Bible 2010, The Hebrew Transliteration Bible 2010
Wycliffe 1395 - The spirit that dwelleth in you, coveteth to envy (Means the same as the KJB)
Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535 - The sprite that dwelleth in you lusteth even contrary to envie. (These both missed the true meaning)
Bishops' Bible 1568, Geneva Bible 1587, the Beza N.T. 1599 - The spirit that dwelleth in us, lusteth after envie (These are good translations of this verse and equal the sense of the KJB)
Whiston's New Testament 1745 - "Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?"
The Living Oracles 1835 - "And does the spirit, who dwells in us, strongly incline to envy?"
Murdock Translation 1851 - "The spirit dwelling in us lusteth with envy?"
The Resurrection Life New Testament 2005 - "Do you think the Scriptures teach in vain that the fallen nature within us drives us to lust, and to envy what others have?"
The Conservative Bible 2010 - "Do you think that the Scripture says for no reason, "The spirit that lives in us lusts toward envy?"
The NASB and the NIV both continue to change from one edition to the next, and both have altered the meaning from that found in the King James Bible.
The NASB from 1960 through 1972 (six different editions) read: "He jealously desires the spirit which He has made to dwell in us". Notice the small s in spirit.
Then in 1977 and again in 1995 the NASB changed this to read: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us" They changed from "the spirit" to "the Spirit".
The NIV likewise continues to change its meaning. In 1977 the NIV read: "The spirit he caused to live in us TENDS TOWARD ENVY, but he gives more grace?" Notice the small s in spirit and the question mark after the word "grace".
But then in 1984 the NIV changed this to now read: "the spirit he caused to live in us ENVIES INTENSELY? But he gives us more grace."
The NIV changed "tends toward envy" to "envies intensely" and changed the placement of the question mark. The NIV is interesting in that it seems to refer to the human spirit that envies, but it places the blame on God who caused this spirit to live in us.
The NIV 2011 has now come out and changed the meaning of the verse once again. The NIV 2011 now reads: "Or do you think the Scripture says without reason that HE JEALOUSLY LONGS FOR the the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace."
Now, instead of the spirit doing the envying (old NIV), the new, new NIV 2011 has God jealously longing after the spirit. Go figure.
NKJV - The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously (This doesn't match the meaning of the KJB, nor even that of the NASB, NIV 1984 or the NIV 2011, and the word is ENVY not "jealously")
The NKJV is quite different in meaning from the King James Bible. The NKJV takes the view that it is God's Spirit who yearns jealously over us. Yet, to twist it to so read, they have to change the meaning of the word "envy", as first done by the liberal RSV and now followed by several modern versions.
The Greek word used here is clearly the word for envy (pthonos), and envy is always portrayed as a sin in the Bible. The Greek word for "jealousy" (zeelos) is a very different word, and jealousy is never considered a sin in the Bible. In fact, one of the names of God is Jealous.
Green's Modern KJV - The spirit that dwells in us yearns to envy (Basically is like the KJB)
RSV, ESV - He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us (Notice the small "s". These are like the older NASB versions, but not like the newer NASBs)
Catholic Douay-Rheims - To envy doth the spirit covet which dwelleth in you (Awkward, but basically like the KJB)
Catholic The New Jerusalem bible 1985 - '"The longing of the spirit he sent to dwell in us is a jealous longing.'?" (Different meaning than the other Catholic bible.)
Catholic St. Joseph New American bible 1970 - "Do you suppose it is to no purpose that Scripture says, "The spirit he has implanted in us tends toward jealousy"?
Young's "literal" - To envy earnestly desireth the spirit that did dwell in us
Holman Christian Standard - the Spirit He has caused to live in us yearns jealously (This is like the NKJV, but not like the NASB, NIV, or the KJB)
1998 Complete Jewish Bible - there is a spirit in us which longs to envy (This matches the sense of the KJB)
Rotherham's 1902 Emphasized bible - Is it, for envying, that the spirit which hath taken an abode within us doth crave (This is very awkward, but it matches the sense of the KJB)
The modern change in the true meaning of this verse is exemplified by the extreme paraphrase called The Message.
The Message - And do you suppose God doesn't care? The proverb has it that "he's a fiercely jealous lover."
Commentators as well as conflicting versions give contrary meanings to this verse. Though I do not hold any commentator to be infallible, I will quote a few who see the passage as teaching it is the natural, sinful spirit of man that lusts to envy and is in need of the greater grace of God to overcome this tendency.
John Darby comments on James chapter Four: "In all that follows we have still the judgment of unbridled nature, of will in its different forms: contentions that arise from the lusts of the natural heart; the desires of the flesh and of the mind developing themselves and finding their sphere in the friendship of the world, which is thus enmity against God. The nature of man covets enviously; is full of envy with regard to others. But God gives more grace: there is counteracting power, if one is content to be little and humble, to be as nothing in the world."
Matthew Henry -
I believe Matthew Henry hits the nail on the head when he comments: "Do you think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?’’ The account given in the holy scriptures of the hearts of men by nature is that their imagination is evil, only evil, and that continually, Gen. 6:5. Natural corruption principally shows itself by envying, and there is a continual propensity to this. The spirit which naturally dwells in man is always producing one evil imagination or another... if we belong to God, he gives more grace than to live and act as the generality of the world do.
Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Whole Bible also agrees with the sense found in the KJB.
John Gill’s first explanation - “it seems best of all to conclude that the apostle has no regard to any one particular passage of Scripture, in which the following words are expressly had, since no such passage appears; but that his meaning is, the sense of the Scripture everywhere, where it speaks of this matter, is to this purpose:...- the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? - that is, the depraved spirit of man, the spirit of an unregenerate man; that as it is prone to every lust, and prompts to every sin, the imagination of the thought of man's heart being evil, and that continually, so it instigates to envy the happiness of others; see (Genesis 6:5) (8:21).”
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown even mention to erroneous translation found in some modern versions, and then sides with the meaning found in the King James Bible. Their commentary says: “ ALFORD attributes the epithet "with envy," in the unwarrantable sense of jealously, to the Holy Spirit: "The Spirit jealously desires us for His own." In English Version the sense is, "the (natural) spirit that hath its dwelling in us lusts with (literally, 'to,' or 'towards') envy." Ye lust, and because ye have not what ye lust after (Jas 4:1, 2), ye envy your neighbor who has, and so the spirit of envy leads you on to "fight." James also here refers to Jas 3:14, 16.”
John Trapp Complete Commentary (English Puritan) comments - “an evil and an envious spirit possesseth us (such a spirit as lusteth to have other men’s abilities eclipsed, that so our candle might shine alone”
Matthew Poole’s English Annotations - He discusses the various ways different men have interpreted this passage, and comments: “If spirit here be understood of the spirit of man, corrupt nature, the sense is plain, as the words lie; man’s spirit (especially by the instigation of the devil) lusts, or strongly inclines, to envy, and consequently to other wickednesses, but he (that is, God, James 4:4) gives more grace.”
All Bible versions obviously do not teach the same truths even when they translate the same underlying text. It is my firm belief that God has providentially preserved His infallible, complete and true words in the Bible He has honored and witnessed to far more than any other in print today - the Authorized King James Holy Bible. Read it to be wise; believe it to be sure.
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