James 3:16

Keith Yoder » August 27th, 2013, 4:32 am

Do we not have a word play on the name Παῦλος (“Paul”) in the final phrase of James 3:16?
πᾶν φαῦλον πρᾶγμα (“every worthless thing”)
=> πᾶν Παῦλον πρᾶγμα (“every Paul-ish thing”)If the name “Paul” appeared within close textual context of James 3:16, a word play would be apparent. Obviously that is not the case, but if James 2:14-26 is reacting against a text or reputed teachings of Paul, then “Paul” would be in the echo chamber of James’ performance arena.In this alliterative phrase, the initial “ph” sound of φαῦλον could be naturally attracted to the “p” sound of the initial consonant of the preceding and following words. Further, the first syllable of all three contain the same “ah” vowel sound (using the historical Koine pronounciation), which might further encourage attraction to an initial “p” sound for the middle word. See the last three words of James 1:2, πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις, for a similar alliterative triplet using initial “p” as well as other consonance/assonance features – James uses many rhythmic and alliterative word doublets and triplets.

There are actually very few Greek words of the form -αυλο-, where “-” is any single character. Out of a list of all 34,345 lemmas I downloaded in 2010 from the Perseus Greek database, only 6 fit this template. The other 5 besides φαῦλος are: γαυλός (milk-pail), γαῦλος (Phoenician merchant vessel), καυλός (shaft), ναῦλος (passage-fare), σαῦλος (swaggering = “Saul”). Not much to choose from in the entire Greek language for words that rhyme with φαῦλος. Very interesting that the only extant GNT options matching the pattern would be Παῦλος (“Paul”) and his alias Σαῦλος (“Saul”).

The adjective φαῦλος is used 5 other times in the GNT: Jn 3:20, Jn 5:29, Ro 9:11, 2Cor 5:10, and Titus 2:8. None of these are in a noun phrase with πρᾶγμα, although both John references coordinate φαῦλος with a form of the cognate verb πράσσω (“practice” or “do”). The name Παῦλος itself is declinable, the form Παῦλον is used 30 times in the GNT, all in Acts. The form I suggest above (“Paul-ish”) would be nominative neuter, not technically grammatical, but word plays are usually “pragmatic” anyway.

There are no other GNT or LXX combinations of φαῦλος and πρᾶγμα together. φαῦλος occurs 10 times in the LXX, 9 times in Proverbs, Job, and Sirach, mostly in the sense of “worthless”. I did locate 6 classical references for φαῦλον πρᾶγμα on Perseus, where the phrase is glossed with something like “trifling matter/affair”, “light task”, “small/easy thing”, “unimportant business”: Aristophanes, Lysistrata, line 14; Isocrates, Evangoras, 59; Plato, Republic, 2.374e; Plato, Phaedo, 95e; Plato, Symposium, 213c; Xenophon, Anabasis, 6.6.

Keith Yoder
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst


Is Paul ever mentioned in James? Is there any reason to believe that James would be referring to him at all, or that he would refer to him in a catty, disrespectful way if he did? I don’t think the similarity in sound of two phrases is much evidence for this view.

Also, have you found phrases like πᾶν Παῦλον πρᾶγμα, substituting any name you want for Paul’s? Is that a common kind of phrase?


Stephen Hughes » August 27th, 2013, 10:20 am

Keith Yoder wrote:πᾶν φαῦλον πρᾶγμα (“every worthless thing”)=>πᾶν Παῦλον πρᾶγμα (“every Paul-ish thing”)

This is an interesting proposition.

Let’s consider it in reverse; “Paul” of course is a foreign name in Greek. So if someone who heard the Greek was unfamiliar with Latin names, they may have mistakenly heard it as the next closest Greek word. Close-sonding words that you have suggested may have been substituted by various speakers. (One that you have not mentioned is the null case, αὐλός flute.)

Those sort of mishearings according to what is already known do happen from time to time, but what you (Keith) are implicitly suggesting is something altogether different; that people who were used to listening to Greek would substitute a foreign name for a Greek word. While it is theoretically possible, it would be less likely than the case of subsituting a Greek word for a foreign one.

Your suggestion seems to have a little bit of the “pushing the cart uphill” about it. Perhaps if you could argue that James’ audience were first language Latin (or even first foreign language Latin) and second language Greek (or second foreign language Greek), then the argument in support of mis-hearing would seem more plausible.

Keith Yoder wrote:Παῦλον … Paul-ish

There is a little problem in your logic here. Although Paul comes from the Latin adjective paulus “small”. You are taking it with an adjectival force refering the the Apostle Paul (or another Paul) which (concrete and tangible) person Παῦλος (capital Π) is no longer an adjective, but is now a noun. To do that, you would have to add an adjectival ending to the (now) nominal Paul – perhaps Pauline. Without that extra adjectival ending you might like to consider arguing that paulus as a cognate of φαῦλος was being thought of as a linguistically similar and therefore alternative form of the common Greek adjective φαῦλος. But this too requires you to argue successfully the assumption of a high level of competency in Latin by both James and his audience – higher than their competency in Greek.

Perhaps you could improve your case for a word play be considering the directionality of (intentional) mis-hearing (aka “word play”) and by explaining away the grammatical anomaly of using a masculine noun as a neuter adjective. :o

Keith Yoder » August 28th, 2013, 7:49 am

Thank you Jonathan, Stephen, and Barry for your comments. I will respond in turn:

Of course we all know that James never singles out any contemporary individual by name or otherwise. Yes, there would be very good reason for James to reference Paul if the discussion of 2:14-26 is in part a reaction to Paul’s preaching or letter writing activity. “Catty and disrepectful” depends on your point of view; I suppose some of the people whom are anathematized in Galatians and Corinthians had the same opinion of Paul. As to searching for more phrases, only φαῦλον πρᾶγμα which I listed already, but not πᾶν ? πρᾶγμα.

Thank you for a serious reply. Another colleague suggested the Latin link, which you confirm. However I do not follow your objection about Greek speakers unlikely to “substitute a foreign name for a Greek word”. Names are the very first part of “foreign” people that we are aware of, especially names of foreigners who exercise political power or who attract attention for whatever reason. Look around in the Western English language cultures, the common people naturally make jokes about “foreign” names especially if it sounds like a word or phrase of our own language. Joking and punning on “foreign” names is universally practiced and is to be expected. “Paulus/Paulos” was not an unknown name in the Mediterranean, either in Latin or Greek form. And are we to suppose that James and his audience were completely unaware of “Paul” the apostle and preacher? Hardly.

I take your grammatical objection as a non-issue. Puns and word plays often “work” just because they are not grammatically correct. I probably should not have even brought this up.

As to Moises Silva, on a good day I could beat both him and Ray Dillard at the ping pong table when were all at WTS in the late 60’s – just to show you I am too old to worry about being “clever”.

Keith Yoder
Warring States Project
UMass Amherst

Keith Yoder wrote:Of course we all know that James never singles out any contemporary individual by name or otherwise. …
Names are the very first part of “foreign” people that we are aware of, especially names of foreigners who exercise political power or who attract attention for whatever reason. …
And are we to suppose that James and his audience were completely unaware of “Paul” the apostle and preacher? Hardly.

Paul of course does signal out Peter by name. I personally think that the discussions about “those of the circumsiscion” and “foreskins” have something of a distainful character like, “is your only claim to (religious) fame when you go to the public washroom”, which wouldn’t have been evident if a phrase like, “the Jews”, “the descendants of Abraham” had been used.

“Completely unaware” is perhaps too strong a reading of my sentiments, they may just have not been thinking about him at that time. I think, however, that arguments between leaders and groups could have been more robust than discussing things over tea and scones. You would have to argue for the nature of strife and examples of it in the NT Church, and the frequency of ad hominem attacks (even implicit ones), to give your idea a better chance of acceptance.

The most obvious gap in the argument is that the name Paul is not mentioned in the immediate context. To really sure up your argument you will also have to work with the question about whether the suggested anti-Pauline sentiment was noticed before the reformation or not.

People who read this article also liked:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.