James 1:19 (KJV) reads:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath...

How would James' original audience have practices being "swift to hear and slow to speak, slow to wrath"?


3 Answers 3


James here is alluding in part to the Wisdom of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus), which I think helps in answering your question:

Sirach 5:9-14 (KJV)

9 Winnow not with every wind, and go not into every way: for so doth the sinner that hath a double tongue.

10 Be stedfast in thy understanding; and let thy word be the same.

11 Be swift to hear; and let thy life be sincere; and with patience give answer.

12 If thou hast understanding, answer thy neighbour; if not, lay thy hand upon thy mouth.

13 Honour and shame is in talk: and the tongue of man is his fall.

14 Be not called a whisperer, and lie not in wait with thy tongue: for a foul shame is upon the thief, and an evil condemnation upon the double tongue.

Other verses from the Wisdom literature that touch on what James addresses:

... slow to speak ...

Proverbs 10:19 (KJV)

In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: But he that refraineth his lips is wise.

Proverbs 17:27 LXX (Brenton)

He that forbears to utter a hard word is discreet, and a patient man is wise.

... slow to wrath ...

Proverbs 14:29

He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: But he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.


The answer above by user33515 (+1) should be helpful, as James 1:19 can be read as a digest of the Ecclesiasticus' verses listed above.

What I would add to this and hope to be of some help is to look around Greek philosophy, and on the other hand to see some rabbinical writings. Why that?

Such threefold groupings are found frequently in Jewish literature (see Pirke Aboth 1.2; 2.10ff.) The mnemonic assistance plays a role in this sort of reference. It is most probably that we are dealing here with the transmission of what is perhaps a Jewish idea, but still it was handed down in Greek. The rhetorical antithesis between “quick” and “slow” is not uncommon in Greek literature.

Greek philosophy was very present in the cultural background of the NT writings. See for instance:

  • a similar idea in Epictetus: "Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so that we could hear twice as much as we speak".

  • Also the story of Socrates and the young man coming to the Greek philosopher, to be instructed in oratory. The moment the young man was introduced, he began to talk, and there was an incessant stream for some time. When Socrates could get in a word, he said, "Young man, I will have to charge you a double fee." "A double fee? Why?" The old sage replied, "I will have to teach you two sciences. First, how to hold your tongue, and then how to use it."

As about rabbinical writings:

  • Pirke Aboth 5.12, where first of all there is mention of him who is quick to hear and quick to forget: his gain is cancelled by his loss; the converse is true of him who is slow to hear and slow to forget; and then the text says: whoever is quick to hear and slow to forget is a wise man; slow to hear and quick to forget - that is an evil lot.

  • Pirke Aboth 1.15 cites the saying of Shammai: “Say little, do much.” In the same way, our saying is self-explanatory and need not, because of some alleged connection, be restricted to the hearing of the word of God or to the hearing of instruction.

  • Pirke Aboth 2.10: “Be not quick to anger”

See more in: Dibelius, M.; Greeven, H., James : A commentary on the Epistle of James. Translated from Der Brief des Jakobus, 11th rev. ed. prepared by H. Greeven. Hermeneia--a critical and historical commentary on the Bible, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976, p. 109 sq.


Anytime we see in God's Word an introduction such as 'So then' or 'Wherefore' depending on your translation we need to especially look at the context of the previous verse or verses.

So looking back to v.18 we see this: '18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.'

The 3 characteristics are attributes of the Lord:
1-quick to hear 2-slow to speak 3-slow to wrath

We are admonished to be 'like Jesus' in scripture. In v.18 we see in action descriptive phrases of what the Lord works in us: a-Of his own will (his Sovereignty) b-he brought us forth (his sanctifying work) c-by the word of truth (the agent of his work)

And the result is the 'firstfruits of his creatures'. We are his representatives here on earth until His Kingdom of Righteousness destroys all evil in the Future.

For the audience in James as well today we can only have these characteristics like Jesus by the renewing of our minds by the Word and the Work of the Holy Spirit.


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