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James 3:12

ESV Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
NIV My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
NASB Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
CSB Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water.
NLT Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.
KJV Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

What does James 3:12 mean?

James continues making his case that our tongues are naturally out of control, contradictory, and evil. In the previous verses, he pointed out that we use our words both to praise God our Creator and to curse people, His creation. Should it be that way? Obviously not. But it's more than just "wrong," it's not spiritually natural, in the sense that it is not the way God originally made us. We have been corrupted by our sin.

To illustrate that contradiction, James wrote in the previous verse that a spring of water never pours out both salt water and fresh water. That's not how the created world works. Fresh water and salt water come from two completely different sources. Here, in this verse, he gives more examples: No fig tree produces olives. No olive tree grows figs. Neither would you expect to dip a cup into the ocean (or a "salt pond") and pull out fresh water.

It's interesting that James stops talking about the tongue after this verse. His change in subject seems somewhat abrupt, and he gives no explicit instructions about how to fix the problem. Rather, James expects his readers to catch his larger theme: Those who trust God begin to be changed, to make different choices in their lives. We are far from living as if we believe God fully; our faith is far from perfected. But as we grow in our trust in the Father, different works will begin to flow out of us, including the kinds of words we say.
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