A lot of details stand out when you read the Bible in its original languages. I’ve been reading through James lately, which is a book that has suffered greatly at the hands of English translation (especially toward the end of chapter 2).
I came across a noticeable turning point in Jas 4:6b-7a this morning:
”God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (ESV)
It would be easy to breeze through this in English and take away something beneficial. But, if we take a look at the Greek, we might notice what we call a “chiastic” structure:
In English, there is not an etymological connection between the words, “proud” and “submit,” nor between the words, “opposes” and “resist,” but in the Greek, we see James playing with prefixes.
“Proud” is huperephanois and “submit” is hupotagete. The prefixes reflect each other: huper– means “over” (it actually comes from the same Indo-European root as our English word, “up”) and hupo– means “under” (that’s where we get the word, “hypodermic,” as in, the needle that goes under the skin [Gr. derma]). “Proud” in Greek literally means, “appearing above [others]” and “submit” literally means, “to assign under.”
The words, “oppose” and “resist” have similar meanings, and in the Greek, they both have an anti– prefix. “Opposes” is antitassetai and “resist” is antistete. “Opposes” (Gr. antiassetai) comes from the same word as “submit,” or hupotagete; it literally means, “to assign against.” “Resist” (Gr. antistete) repeats the anti– prefix and means, “to stand against.”
What difference does that make?
When we read ancient literature, like the Bible, we need to pay attention to this kind of repetition because the author could be using it to show us a shift in structure. James uses this repetition of prefixes and root words in 4:6-7 and then the following verses echo what he said in the previous verses.
This structure is called a chiasm, because it looks like the Greek letter, chi (X). The ideas of submission, pride, and resistance reflect each other in vs 6-7, the idea of God desiring fellowship with us is seen in vs 5 and 8, being an ‘enemy of God’ is contrasted to Him exalting us in vs 4 and 9-10.
That being said, let’s do like James said. Let’s be humble and draw near to God by submitting ourselves to Him.