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James 4:5 (ESV)
Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?

I don't know of an Old Testament passage similar to James's quote. What is he referring to?

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while I don't have enough data yet to answer fully, there is nothing that guarantees James is referring only to one passage, nor that it is necessarily in the Old Testament - Peter refers to Paul's writings as "scripture" – warren Sep 19 '11 at 21:43
@warren good points! No wonder the passage has seemed so strange, when I had wrong assumptions to begin with! – dancek Sep 19 '11 at 21:46
still don't havea full answer for you ... but those cross-referenced verses seem to be a good start (the cross-references from them!) :) – warren Sep 19 '11 at 22:02
Commentary in NABRE – Peter Turner Sep 20 '11 at 15:28
@warren and dancek, E.W. Bullinger and J.F. Dake report the same thing that warren has stated. I did a cursory search of the apocrypha today and found nothing either. Galatians 5:17 is also quite similar to the concept James is referencing. – Kairos Sep 11 '14 at 12:52
up vote 10 down vote accepted

This is, unfortunately, a passage where there are many options and no real consensus over a definitive translation. Perhaps the most popular assertion is that James is merely alluding to "Scripture" as a whole. There is, of course, no requirement to expect James to quote a specific verse having said that "the Scripture says" (See Motyer's commentary on James p148).

There are other scholars who see this "quotation" as evidence that some early Christian writers believed that not every inspired word from God had to be incorporated into the canon (See The Old Testament in Early Christianity, E. Ellis, p4-5). Personally, I find this explanation weak as New Testament writers are usually fairly conservative in what they quote - none ever quote the Apocrypha. There are a couple of quotes from other Jewish texts that were considered to have some "religious weight" (the most well-known being Jude's quote of 1 Enoch 1:9), but they are very rare (see Models for Scripture, J. Goldingay, p145.)

To conclude, I support Motyer's claim that James is referring to Scripture as a whole (or rather, numerous passages from the Old Testament concerning the jealousy of God), and that putting quotemarks after "the Scripture says" is somewhat unwise. Though other options are not to be entirely discounted.

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The book of Hebrews is contested by many to reference Maccabees (…). Related to this discussion is how to handle ancient quotations in scriptures that do not appear in our Bible. See here some quotations that Justin the Martyr accuses the Jews of removing from scripture (…). Notice how references 2219 and 2221 cannot be found in our contemporary scriptures. – Ian May 12 at 18:58
My point is that there is evidence that the ancient writers may have been quoting scripture that we are not familiar with nowadays. It is also worthwhile to note that one of Justin's quotes in question (The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation) is also quoted by Irenaeus (so says that page linked above). – Ian May 12 at 19:03

There is indeed no Old Testament passage that contains those words, but there are a number of theories regarding what James was referring to. From Precept Austin:

Ideas include (1) James quoted from some unknown apocryphal work (2) The quote is an unrecorded statement of James' half brother Jesus. (3) James quotes from some NT passage. (4) James was paraphrasing an OT passage. (5) James was not quoting a specific single passage, but is summarizing truths found in several OT passages. (6) Finally, some commentators (and Bible translations) do not treat the first half of verse 5 as a "formula" introducing a quotation but as a sentence which stands by itself. Several of the translations emphasize this latter view by dividing verse 5 into two separate sentences...

  • Or think ye that the scripture speaketh in vain? Doth the spirit which he made to dwell in us long unto envying? (ASV)

  • Think ye that the scripture speaks in vain? Does the Spirit which has taken his abode in us desire enviously? (Darby)

  • Do you think what the scriptures have to say about this is a mere formality? Or do you imagine that this spirit of passionate jealousy is the Spirit he has caused to live in us? (Phillips)

  • Or think ye that, in vain, the scripture speaketh? Is it, for envying, that the spirit which hath taken an abode within us doth crave? (Rotherdam)

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I have always understood James as referring to the "jealousy" of God as brought forward in many OT passages. For example;

Exodus 34:14 (RSV) 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God),

Deuteronomy 4:24 (RSV) 24 For the LORD your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.

Deuteronomy 6:15 (RSV) 15 for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

Joshua 24:19 (RSV) 19 But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD; for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.

Ezekiel 39:25 (RSV) 25 "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob, and have mercy upon the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for my holy name.

Joel 2:18 (RSV) 18 Then the LORD became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.

Nahum 1:2 (RSV) 2 The LORD is a jealous God and avenging, the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.

Zephaniah 1:18 (RSV) 18 Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealous wrath, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full, yea, sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

Zechariah 1:14 (RSV) 14 So the angel who talked with me said to me, `Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion.

When coupled with the verses about God putting His Spirit in His chosen/elect.

Isaiah 42:1 (RSV) 1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Isaiah 44:3 (RSV) 3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.

Isaiah 59:21 (RSV) 21 "And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: my spirit which is upon you, and my words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your children, or out of the mouth of your children's children, says the LORD, from this time forth and for evermore."

Ezekiel 36:27 (RSV) 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

Ezekiel 37:14 (RSV) 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done it, says the LORD."

Ezekiel 39:29 (RSV) 29 and I will not hide my face any more from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord GOD."

Joel 2:28 (RSV) 28 "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.

Joel 2:29 (RSV) 29 Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Haggai 2:5 (RSV) 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit abides among you; fear not.

Zechariah 4:6 (RSV) 6 Then he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerub'babel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.

Acts 2:17 (RSV) 17 `And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;

Acts 2:18 (RSV) 18 yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

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Some of the confusion appears to be root words vs derivatives. Envy #07068 from Heb. root #07065 is used 9x in OT. Zealous is this same Heb. root #07065. Jealousy #07067 is used 6x in OT but only used of God; but it, too, is from Heb. root #07065. Apparently envy and jealousy are very close in meaning; so close that one word is used for God alone, to separate it, and bind it to a holy meaning. Thus, James could be referring any one or all of the 6 #07067 "jealousy" passages attributed to God.

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All too often today, English speakers confuse the two terms (i.e., envy and jealousy), and the majority of times (from my observations) they use "jealousy" when they mean "envy". Jealousy rears its ugly head in human affairs (pun intended) when there is a third party involved. A jealous husband, for example, suspects every guy of flirting with his wife; subsequently, he acts out in unseemly ways. Envy, OTOH, doesn't require a third party. It pops up when I want something you have and resent you for having it. God is both jealous and envious; the former is obvious, but the latter not so much. – rhetorician Jan 25 '14 at 19:23
The "triangle" in God's jealousy consists of us, His children; our friendship with the world; and God, who gave us the command not to have any other gods before Him. God's jealousy is never petty, self-centered, or irrational; rather, it reveals His heart of love for us. He knows that our friendship with the world system will drag us down. As for envy, the thing God envies is something He has every RIGHT to desire passionately, and that is our absolute fidelity, love, and obedience. He has bought us with a price by His Son's blood, and He wants us--spirit, soul, and body--in return. – rhetorician Jan 25 '14 at 19:32
Welcome to the site! This next has nothing to do with the quality of your answer, it's just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": the help page and How we are different than other sites? – David Jan 26 '14 at 16:16
Adding quotes or links to those 6 passages would improve this answer immensely. – Mr. Bultitude Oct 15 '15 at 17:10

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