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James 3:3

ESV If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.
NIV When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.
NASB Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their whole body as well.
CSB Now if we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we direct their whole bodies.
NLT We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.
KJV Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
NKJV Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.

What does James 3:3 mean?

James now begins to illustrate the idea he introduced in verse 2. The tongue is the most difficult aspect of our lives to truly control. James goes so far as to say anyone who could perfectly control his words would be perfect and in full control of every part of himself. This ability to control the tongue is described in verse 2 as the means to "bridle" our bodies.

Here in verse 3, James points to horses as a natural example. Horses are large, powerful animals. And yet, they can be controlled with a small piece of metal and a few leather straps. This is called a bit: a bar which is placed behind the horse's teeth, resting against the soft tissues in the back of the mouth. This gives the rider the ability to create pressure on the animal, and even pain, if used roughly. With a bit in a horse's mouth, a rider is able to control the whole animal, to make it obey, to steer it wherever the rider wants to go.

James's point in referring to a horse's bit is that a large, powerful animal can be overcome and controlled by something very small. The power of the bit is not in its size, but in its effectiveness. James will quickly reveal that we don't have the same control over our own words that we do over horses. And, in the next verses, he will continue to show that the power of the tongue is not related to its size.
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