There is on this site already a question and answer that take a pretty comprehensive look at the difficulties this verse presents. However they do not, to my mind, really focus on the word "jealously" as it occurs here in James 4:5.

There are two Greek words, zeloute and phthonon, which are commonly translated "envy". phthonon occurs nine times in the N.T.

  1. Mt 27:18 envy bad sense - wanting Jesus' power [?]

  2. Mk 15:10 envy bad sense -to glory before the people,not desiring to be like Jesus for His sake [?]

  3. Ro 1:29 envy bad sense associated with murder, strife and evil in many forms.

  4. Ga 5:21 associated with evil in many forms.

  5. Phl 1:15 a. with evil in many forms.

  6. 1 Tim 6:4 a. with evil.

  7. 3:3 Tit a. with evil.

  8. James 4:5 under consideration.

  9. 1 Peter 2:1 "put away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy" bad sense.

    However zelos 6 examples:

  10. Acts 17:5 bad envy, jealousy, "wicked men".

  11. 1 Cor 12:31 good envy, earnestly desire, want the higher gifts.

  12. 1 Cor 13:4 bad envy, love does not envy.

  13. 2 Cor 11:2 good divine jealously, a desire for the best.

  14. Ga 4:17 zelos, "for no good purpose" bad sense.

  15. Ga 4:18 zelos "for a good purpose" good sense.

    We see here that phthonon is never in a good sense, so far. But zelos is freely able to be in the good or bad sense.

    We can also note that James uses both of these words in close proximity to each other in Ch 4. 4:2 "You zeloute and cannot obtain".

I suggest that in ch 4 James has just used zelos [v2] but chooses not to use it again in v5 because he wants a word that is unambiguously only ever associated with envy in its evil sense.

The E.S.V. goes against what I have laid out here by saying, He, God, does do phthonon. "He yearns jealously/phthonon".

How might the E.S.V. justify such a position? In this sense what does "jealously" mean in James 4:5?

1 Answer 1


What does “jealously” mean in James 4:5? E.S.V. “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”

Please Note:

The E.S.V. and other translations that render the verse James 4:5 likewise ,I believe are incorrect, The KJV, Douay-Rheims and the Aramaic Bibles in context of James writings give a correct rendering of the verse and it is on these version that I will base my answer.

ΙΑΚΩΒΟΥ 4:5 1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament (WHNU)

5 η δοκειτε οτι κενως η γραφη λεγει προς φθονον επιποθει το πνευμα ο κατωκισεν εν ημιν

James 4:5 (KJV)

" Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?"

Douay-Rheims Bible

"Or do you think that the scripture saith in vain: To envy doth the spirit covet which dwelleth in you?"

James 4:5 Aramaic Bible in Plain English

"And perhaps you think the Scripture says in vain, “The spirit that dwells within us lusts with jealousy.”


James 4:4-6 (ESV)

4 "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

James after warning his fellow Christians against friendship with the world, (4:4 above) wrote:

James 4:5 Aramaic Bible in Plain English

"And perhaps you think the Scripture says in vain, “The spirit that dwells within us lusts with jealousy.”

Humans, including Christians, being imperfect have the tendency, to wrong thinking and to doing evil. Materialism for example can lead to coveting and being jealous of those who seem to enjoy better circumstances.

Genesis 8:21 (ESV)

21" And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse[a] the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done."

Romans 7:18-20 (ESV)

18 "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me."

Then, James continues and says we can combat this tendency, and writes :

6 "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

In other words if we humble ourselves, and admit our weaknesses and rely on God to overcome them , the grace that God gives by means of his holy spirit, is greater than our inborn tendency to jealousy or be envious of others.

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