James 3:1-12 is a self-contained essay noted for its brevity.[1] In this way it is an ideal example of how speech should be: concise, packed with value, and full of information. The briefer the speech the less likely it’s going to waver in truth.[2]

What James promotes most of all is brevity (Greek: brachylogia) of speech. Demetrius is said to have thought brevity has three advantageous qualities. Firstly, it packs a punch and verboseness kills intensity of thought. Along with this power, much meaning is packed into succinctness. Secondly, it’s very appropriate in maxims and pithy sayings as its power is put to good use. Thirdly, succinct speech often allows the hearer opportunity to ask back questions for clarity due to a certain predictable ambiguity. This forces the hearer to think.

“Brevity represents youth and power.”[3] It cuts to the chase and addresses boredom and impatience in one foul swoop. It is also the sages of old — the “professedly virtuous, who would treasure brachylogia as the ideal form of speech.”

Johnson[4] identifies the links between James BONANZAJP 3:1-12 and Ecclesiastes 5:1-2, particularly “… Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few.”[5]

“Quintilian declares that the ‘praise awarded to perfect brevity is well deserved.'”[6] But in being so concise there is also a threat that one might come across as obscure. Seneca says that speech should be unadorned, plain, controlled.[7]

There is also the moral issue of self-control. Seneca states that “Speech that runs to fast or too elaborately reveals a loss of self-control and with it, the loss of modesty… [therefore] I bid you be slow of speech.”[8]

Silence, the ultimate in brevity, could take on a distinctly sacred flavour as Plutarch mentioned: “The solemn, holy, and mysterious character of silence.” He also said that “those who receive a royal and noble education ‘learn first to be silent, and then to speak.'”[9] The wise therefore take on and master silence. “Silence is better than speech, that hearing, not speaking, is the pathway to wisdom, that speech when necessary should be brief, that above all speech should be under control and never the expression of rage or envy.”[10] Sirach 5:13 says, “Honor and dishonour come from speaking, and the tongue of mortals may be their downfall.”

Taciturnity is more than a matter of self-control. James shows us this when framing either side of “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”[11] Exhortations of both creation and salvation book-end verses 1:19-20. James sees human anger and God’s justice diametrically opposed. He also sees self-control underpinning the spiritual allegiances we have.[12]


By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *