Sunday Morning Greek Blog

November 27, 2011

Adulteresses (μοιχαλίδες) in James 4:4; Excursus on Authorship of Hebrews and James

Filed under: Authorship,Biblical Studies,Greek,Hebrews,Hosea,James,New Testament — Scott Stocking @ 9:15 pm

James is my next-favorite NT book/epistle, second only to Ephesians. James is often dubbed “The Proverbs of the New Testament,” and after having read through the first four chapters this week, it is easy to see why. Although it lacks the strict parallelism of most of the text of Proverbs in the OT, I have noticed a substantial number of word pairings in James. Some of them happen in the same verse or within one or two verses (e.g. 2:2–3), while others serve as inclusios for certain sections (e.g., 2:14–16). James is probably best known for its practical wisdom on controlling the tongue.


What caught my attention while reading this morning was James’s use of the feminine plural noun for “adulteresses,” μοιχαλίδες, in James 4:4. Throughout the letter, James addresses his readers as “my brothers,” which is intended to be a generic reference to all believers regardless of gender, as was customary in those days. So when he addresses his readers with a feminine noun, he is undoubtedly trying to get their attention. What may escape some here, though, is the implied Old Testament connection. (See Table 1 for the way this is translated in different versions.)

Table 1: Translations of μοιχαλίδες in Several Logos Versions, with Footnotes and Cross References


Translation of μοιχαλίδες

Footnotes and X-refs

KJV 1769

Ye adulterers and adulteresses (!)

Note that the translators didn’t exclude males in 1769!

ASV 1901

Ye adulteresses


RSV 1971

Unfaithful creatures!


NIV 1984

You adulterous people


NRSV 1989



NASB 1995

You adulteresses

Jer 2:2; Ezek 16:32

ESV 2001

You adulterous people!

Isa. 54:5; Jer. 2:2; Greek: “You adulteresses!”

TNIV 2005

You adulterous people

Isa 54:5; Jer 3:20; Hos 2:2–5; 3:1; 9:1

NLT 2007

You adulterers!

Greek: “You adulteresses!”

NIV 2011

You adulterous people

Isa 54:5; Jer 3:20; Hos 2:2–5; 3:1; 9:1; An allusion to covenant unfaithfulness; see Hosea 3:1.

Of course, if you have a good study Bible at hand, you may have seen some of these verses in the cross-reference apparatus (whatever study Bibles I have are still buried in my boxes). The imagery of Israel as an unfaithful wife or adulterous woman in the OT is certainly prominent. Ezekiel 23 has a graphic (dare I say X-rated) description of Oholah and Oholibah, the two adulterous sisters, who respectively were symbols for Samaria’s (northern kingdom) and Jerusalem’s (southern kingdom) religious promiscuity with other gods. Hosea lived the parable, so to speak, by marrying a woman whom he knew was a prostitute, and God told him to do it! (See specifically Hosea 3:1, which is the only time this word is used in the LXX text of Hosea.) By calling his readers “adulteresses,” James minces no words and makes no friends. He cuts to the chase and puts the fear of God into his hearers by comparing them to their faithless ancestors who were exiled.

Did James Write Hebrews?

Several years ago, I heard Larry Pechawer (at least, I recollect it was Pechawer) do a somewhat tongue-in-cheek paper on the authorship of Hebrews. Pechawer postulated that Hebrews had been written by Paul, because three of the first four words in Hebrews begin with a Paul-like sound (Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι). That’s not exactly an exegetically sound method of determining authorship, but to his credit, he did offer some other substantive evidence for Paul’s authorship, although it was admittedly weak.

The reason I mention this is that James, in 1:2, has three successive π-words: πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις. Now as with Pechawer’s theory on Hebrews, such alliteration may be just that: alliteration. In my college days, I had argued that Hebrews had been written by Luke, because the Greek is high quality, and the author claims to have written a short (βραχύς) letter, which is true when Hebrews is compared to Luke and Acts.

But perhaps there is something to the theory of James’s authorship of Hebrews. James, after all, was the half-brother of Jesus, so he certainly has the knowledge of the Jewish sacrificial system inherent in Hebrews in his favor. James also held a leadership position in the Jerusalem church, so he certainly would have known the individuals mentioned in the final greetings in Hebrews, including Timothy. “Those who come from Italy” could refer to visitors from Italy to Jerusalem, as opposed to the letter originating from Italy, as one might expect if it had been written by Luke or Paul. As the church father Origen said, only God knows who really wrote Hebrews, so my musings here won’t solve that eternal question, but it is an interesting conjecture to me nonetheless.

Hebrews 13:17–18: A Less-Authoritarian Translation

If you followed the posts when I was teaching the How to Understand the Bible class at the beginning of the fall, you may have seen the link to the word study on πείθω. Most translations render the word “obey” with respect to the leaders, but that is not a common translation for the word in the NT. More often than not, the word has the idea of “confidence.” That’s why I like the TNIV and NIV (2011) translation of the verse: “Have confidence in your leaders.” I believe this translation puts more responsibility on the leaders to be men and women of high character. This doesn’t mean that Christ-followers shouldn’t be obedient to leaders, but that obedience should come from a relationship based on trust, not just obligation. You want to follow leaders who have impeccable, reliable character.

The same word is used in vs. 18 and is usually translated “we are sure”, so translating it as “confidence” in vs. 17 is completely consistent with the context. For other occurrences of the word, click the link at the beginning of this section to open the PowerPoint presentation on the word study.

Peace to all this Christmas (with a capital C) season.

Scott Stocking

By the way, the new NIV (2011) Study Bibles are available now. If you are shopping for a study Bible and prefer the updated translation of the NIV (essentially the TNIV repackaged), make sure you look for the cover you see here. There are many study Bibles based on the NIV, but not all have adapted to the updated translation. If you’re in doubt, check the “front matter” and look for the copyright date of the Bible text (as opposed to the copyright date of the study Bible itself). If the study Bible uses the new NIV, it will show a copyright date of 2011 for the Bible text, and no earlier than 2011 for copyright date of the study Bible itself. The older NIV was copyrighted in 1984, so that would be the latest copyright date for the biblical text found on that page.


  1. Is James 5:10 a reference to Hebrews 11? Just another thing to consider whether James wrote Hebrews. And what did the church fathers know that they put Hebrews and James next to each other in the canon?

    Comment by Scott Stocking — November 28, 2011 @ 6:13 am | Reply

  2. In regards to James’ possible allusion to Ez 23, its nice to know I’m not crazy. Haha I’ve thought those two might have ties but no one else I talked to seemed to see the connection. Thanks Scott!

    Comment by Skip Roten — November 29, 2011 @ 6:08 pm | Reply

    • The word is found in Ezekiel 23:45(LXX) if anyone else should doubt you. Thank you for reading!


      Comment by Scott Stocking — November 29, 2011 @ 6:55 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by

%d bloggers like this: