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James 1:26 states the following (NKJV):

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.

However, James 3:7-8 makes it sound like doing so is impossible (NKJV):

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

How can the statements be reconciled?

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There is nothing to reconcile here as if James is somehow confused.

With men nothing good is possible, but not so with God working within men.

But no man can tame the tongue.

The tongue is not for men to try to tame on their own, but in yielding to God's spirit working in and with them.

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:27

And so the challenge from James 1 becomes a testing point - If the tongue is not tamed, then the presence of God (aka religion) is not going to be apparent or of any value.

If anyone among you thinks he is religious...

We might all think this or that, but the evidence of, especially the tongue, is a notable feature of those in God or not. For 'out of the heart the mouth speaks'^, so the tongue is simply delivering the message of the heart - whether God is active there or not so much.

^ Matt 15:11, 18 loosely paraphrased.

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  • +1, excellent point. Also perhaps Luke 6:45 is directly relevant, in showing that a taming of the tongue can only happen with a change of heart, and finally 2 Cor 5:16, since it's impossible to tell from outward appearance how that change of heart is coming along, so someone that seems irredeemable might be close to a changed heart, etc.
    – Robert
    Aug 23, 2022 at 3:21
  • Good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Aug 23, 2022 at 12:12
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It is the same as to say, "nobody among living is able not to sin" (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:20), which is true, and "go and sin no more" (John 8:11), which is also true.

To reconcile such a dichotomy is that, yes, we sin, yes we often fall into empty or evil/slanderous speech, but we always should have a disposition of repenting and coming through a sincere repentance to the embraces of the all-loving and all-forgiving God. Such a life creates a dynamism of development and growth, fortification in and through Grace, for "it's good to fortify heart with grace" (Hebrews 13:9), and this dynamism will end eventually with a complete vanquishing in us of sin and death (Cf. Psalm 18:37) and our pressing into the Kingdom through such noble, graceful violence (Matthew 11:12).

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  • Another good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Aug 23, 2022 at 12:12
  • @Dottard Thanks for the encouragement! Aug 23, 2022 at 14:19
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Rather than being contradictory, the two verses complement one another. It is precisely because the tongue cannot be tamed that it can be used to gauge the true condition of the heart.

but no human being can tame the tongue. – Jam 3:8

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart. – Jam 1:26

It is important to distinguish between the words bridle (Strong's 5468) in Jam 1:26 and tame (Strong's 1150) in Jam 3:7-8. Whereas the word bridle means to curb or restrain , tame means to subdue. Though similar, they are not the same. While the goal may be to tame, the working principle should be to restrain.

It is helpful to draw a parallel with the idea of perfection (Jam 3:2). Though perfection may be unattainable, it should still be the goal and guiding principle. Similarly, though men cannot hope to tame the tongue, they should always strive to restrain it.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Jam 1:19

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There is no discrepancy. "But no man can tame the tongue... with it we curse men" contains a hyperbole.

Did the Apostoles or James curse man or couldn't they tame their tongues? Were their tongues a restless evil? I don't think so. James describes the situation that happens among Christians, but "these things ought not to be so" (3:10). He uses the word "we" not because he is a regular participant of the sin, but because he describes it as his own pain, and he stands with the brothers who struggle with the sin, avoiding the accusing word "you". But here again, he gives the hope that the tongue could be tamed (3:2):

If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body

In 3:11-18, James explains again that the tongue should and could be tamed.
Of course, taming the tongue is not possible without God's grace, but the emphasis here is on human effort.
James 3:8 contains hyperbole and shouldn't be used literally without context.


Consider another hyperbole example (John 3:31-34):

He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony... he who has received His testimony has certified that God is true

Is there any contradiction here? Did really no one accept Jesus' testimony? Andrew? Nathanael? John the Baptist? "His disciples believed in Him" (John 2:11). They did actually accept his testimony. Still, his teaching was so high for humans, that even his closest disciples had problems understanding it, and Jesus felt lonely and unaccepted.

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  • @Dottard Sorry, in my native language "hyperbola" and "hyperbole" are spelled the same; this was the first time I used the word in English, and I skipped to check it. You were the first to be so tolerant to point this out, thanks. Was it that letter that prevented people from the proper assessment of the thought? "The letter kills". I think this is the right hermeneutics of the excerpt and it shouldn't be neglected. If the answer could be corrected, I am ready.
    – HoRn
    Aug 25, 2022 at 2:28

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