James 3:5 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

James 3:5, NIV: "Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark."

James 3:5, ESV: "So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!"

James 3:5, KJV: "Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"

James 3:5, NASB: "So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!"

James 3:5, NLT: "In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire."

James 3:5, CSB: "So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how a small fire sets ablaze a large forest."

What does James 3:5 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

James continues to draw comparisons between the tongue—the words we say—and other relatively small things which possess great power. First, he pointed to the tiny bits in the mouths of horses which control those mighty animals. Then he talked about the relatively small rudder on a ship, which can turn a great vessel wherever the pilot wants to go.

The tongue is similar, James writes. It is a very small organ in the body that boasts of great things. In this particular case, James isn't referring specifically to the way we can use our words to brag. Instead, he means that our tiny tongues have the capacity to effect massive results. The one who controls the bit controls the whole horse. The one who masters the rudder steers the whole ship. A man who learns to control his tongue will have gained self-control over his entire body.

The fact that the tongue is powerful doesn't mean everything it does is positive. To drive home this point, James uses a dramatic example. A tiny spark can set a whole forest ablaze. In this analogy, the spark is not something used to bring control. Instead, it's a small thing which impacts others around it. This leads to great chaos and destruction. Like the tongue, the spark can boast of great things. And yet, in the case of the spark in a forest, the "great things" are often overwhelmingly negative.