James 4:5 is often translated: "Or do you suppose that the Law speaks in vain when it says that the Spirit, whom God has caused to live in us, longs for us even to the point of jealousy?" The Jewish Bible (David H. Stern) and its commentary point out that scholars have often had a problem with the fact the there are no scriptures in the Law that actually say this. This passage might be better rendered "there is a spirit in us that longs to envy," referring to our tendency to long for the world, and this envious, evil(?) spirit causing us to fight each other. According to the commentary, the Law does speak directly of this spirit, the yetzer'ra in Genesis 6:5, 8:21, although in NIV the word spirit is not translated. The meaning would be that, although we have a spirit in us that longs to envy, he gives us more grace. Do you think there is any legitimacy to this interpretation? -- Matthew Lim (Singapore)

Let's consider a few of the more popular translations:
* Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? {Or that God jealously longs for the spirit that he made to live in us or that the Spirit he caused to live in us longs jealously.} --NIV
* Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? --NAS
* What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful?' --NLT

As you can see, each team of translators has a slightly different take on James 4:5. Some believe James claims to be quoting, or half-quoting, an Old Testament passage. Others believe he is putting an implicit O.T. doctrine into words. (I myself think this is more likely.)

As for the actual meaning of the text, the Greek says simply, "Or do you think that the scripture says in vain, 'The spirit dwelling in us desires to the point of envy.' " And yet this is not the only possible translation. Another would be, "He desires the Spirit living in us to the point of envy." Is my Greek better than the translation committees'? (Not likely, even though I use this language every day in my personal study.)

The context suggests that the envy is not on our part (envying the world), but on God's part. If we pursue worldly desires (4:4), we are committing a form of spiritual adultery. This would naturally evoke God's jealousy. So I think the suggestion in the note of the Jewish Bible is off track. The NIV and NAS are close to the mark. Even the NLT, which paraphrases here, has captured the general idea: we are to keep a healthy distance from the world.

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