New Defender's Study Bible Notes
4:5 scripture saith in vain. This is a difficult passage, and interpretations have varied widely. There is no single Old Testament Scripture from which James is quoting, and he could not be referring to any New Testament Scripture, because the other New Testament books had not yet been written. He must, therefore, be referring to the general prophetic sense of those passages in the Old Testament that speak of God’s Spirit as desiring the faithful love of His people and as opposed to any spirit of covetousness or adultery (whether spiritual or physical) in their hearts. See, for example, such Scriptures as Genesis 6:3; II Samuel 23:2; Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 63:10-11; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Micah 2:7: Zechariah 7:12; 12:10; and others of the same general import. The verse can probably be best paraphrased as follows: “Do ye think that the Scriptures are speaking in vain when they testify that God’s Holy Spirit [who is now actually dwelling in us] is longing for us to envy [that is, to covet after] God’s love and friendship, rather than that of the world?” This rather free paraphrase seems to fit the entire context best but, in view of the wide variety of translations and interpretations of this verse, it is not feasible to be dogmatic.