James 3:4 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

James 3:4, NIV: "Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go."

James 3:4, ESV: "Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs."

James 3:4, KJV: "Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth."

James 3:4, NASB: "Look at the ships too: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are nevertheless directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot determines."

James 3:4, NLT: "And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong."

James 3:4, CSB: "And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs."

What does James 3:4 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

James continues to illustrate the point about how difficult our words are to control. In verse 2, he wrote that if a person could perfectly control his words, he would be perfect. He would be able to "bridle" or flawlessly control his entire body. But, while this is a noble goal, humans are fallible and sinful. All of us—including James himself—continue to stumble in many ways (James 3:2).

James is making the point that just because the tongue is small does not mean it is weak. In fact, he brings three analogies to show how something small can be powerful. Another layer of James's teaching is that learning to control certain aspects of our lives will, by necessity, lead to control over all others. His first example, from verse 3, was how horses can be controlled a tiny bit in their mouths.

Here in verse 4, James points to huge ships at sea. The power behind those ships in James's era was the mighty wind, but nobody can control the wind. Wooden sailing ships full of cargo could weigh thousands of pounds. And yet, a pilot could alter the movement of the most massive boat using just a relatively small piece of wood: the rudder. A rudder is the paddle-like plank used to steer a ship.

James will write in the next verse that if we learn to control our tongues—meaning the words we say—we could control what we do with our entire bodies. The one who controls a bit controls the entire horse. The one who controls the rudder steers the entire ship. The man who learns to control his tongue is one who has gained control over his entire self.

This, of course, is neither easy (James 3:8), nor something we can expect to do with perfection (James 3:2).