1. The Marks of a Wise Believer, 1:2-27

ii] Doers of the Word


James' second set of instructions / sayings is built around an introductory three part saying in 1:19: "be quick to listen (hear), slow to speak and slow to become angry (to anger)." Each of these three parts is developed in the passage, with particular focus on "quick to hear": i] quick to hear, v22-25, ; ii] slow to speak, v26 -27; iii] slow to anger, v20. The central thematic idea seems to be covered by the saying in v22, "be doers of the word, and not merely hearers", NRSV. James will later deal in more detail with the tongue in 3:1-12 and anger in 3:13-18.


i] Context: See 1:2-18.


ii] Background: 1:1.


iii] Structure: Be doers God's Word:

Being both hearers and doers of God's Word, v19-27.

#1. Hasty speech does not please God, v19;

#2. Justice is never promoted by anger, v20;

#3. All that defiles is cast away, v21;

#4. Christianity is neither sentimental nor unpractical, v22-25;

#5. Scrupulous piety is no substitute for a pure life, v26-27.


iv] Interpretation:

Ecclesiastes reminds us that words are many and can weary the mind, so we need to focus on God's "truthful words", words that encourage the fear of God and the keeping of his commandments, cf., Ecc.12:12-14. For James, these "truthful words", v18, are God's creative words for human redemption. At the eternal level they are the words that produce faith in Christ (= fear of God, cf., Jn.6:29) for the blessing of eternal life, while at the everyday level they are words of guidance (= commandments), God's manual for living in a broken world. The one compels the other; faith in Christ compels deeds of love, 1Jn.3:23, 4:20.

For the practical business of love lived out in a corrupt environment, James has encouraged us to listen carefully to God's "truthful words", and now he has something to say about human words. In chapter 3 James will explain how wisdom is closely related to how people speak, but here he just makes the point that rather than arguing and debating, believers are better off learning to listen, because anger (righteous indignation??) never made anything better, v19-20, particularly listen, and be cleansed, but God's word, v21. In v22-25, James touches on the link between a faith that listens and its deeds, how a person who has taken God's word (spiritually) to heart (they have found freedom in Christ) is inclined to live God's word out in their daily life and find blessing in the doing of it. In v26-27, James summarizes the business of saying and doing, describing the saying in negative terms (being a pietistic blabbermouth), and the doing in positive terms (humanity and purity), behavior that is a downpayment of God's redemptive plan for all creation, cf., Moo, p.79-80. "James calls believers to recognise in God's word the demand of obedience that comes to all who claim the blessings of the new birth", Moo.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 1:19a

The first half of this verse may conclude v18, cf., Moffatt, or serve to introduce the next batch of instructions / sayings.

adelfoi mou agaphtoi "my dear brothers" - my beloved brothers. Often used to introduce a new unit of teaching.

iste (oida) perf. ind./imp. "take note of this" - know this. Possibly read as indicative, so Mayor, RV. The variant wJste, "therefore", is sometimes followed, eg. AV, REB, NASB. "You must understand this my beloved", NRSV.


Being both hearers and doers of God's Word, v19-27:

Instruction #1: Hasty speech does not please God, v19b. "Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger." This opening instruction sets the direction of the rest of the sayings in the passage by encouraging the reader who is born of the word, v18, to take careful note of what they read / hear and then do it. A child of God, with one foot in heaven and one foot on earth, living as we do in interesting times, should be a ready listener. As we are reminded in Proverbs, "Even fools seem clever when they are quiet", Prov.17:28. As well as being a good listener, we do well to be slow to speak and slow to anger. A chattering mouth and a bad temper does not lead to a quiet life; "It makes a lot of sense to be a person of few words and to stay calm", Prov.17:27.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, which may serve to support the argument that v19a is attached to v18, but then it may just serve to introduce the saying v19b. Variant kai before the verb to-be is not read. Possibly "now let every person", Johnson.

paV anqrwpoV "everyone" - [let] all men [be]. Nominative subject of the verb to-be estw. An instruction for all believers.

tacuV adj. "quick" - swift, quick. Predicate adjective. Describing "ready listening", Laws.

eiV to akousai (akouw) aor. inf. "be [quick] to listen" - to heed, listen, obey. Ropes suggests that the preposition eiV with the articular infinitive is adverbial, expressing "with reference to hearing", a form not attested in secular Greek. Certainly the normal translation of this construction as a purpose / result clause does not work. Wallace suggests the infinitive is epexegetic, ie., explaining "quick". It does seem likely that the construction simply limits the adjective "quick", so Turner (cf. Phil.1:23). Listen to what? Commentators tend to agree that the injunction is that we listen to, take on board, God's word, "the word of truth", v18, so Martin, Adamson, Mitton. Some extend this to all truth, particularly wisdom, cf., Dibelius. General listening may be in mind, given that James is simply giving practical advice that enables a believer to survive through the vagaries of life with one foot in heaven and one on earth, ie., wisdom, cf., Proverbs 17:28, "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent and discerning if he holds his tongue". Moo, Johnson, Davids, Laws, ... all take this line. Moo argues for a similar approach to the other qualities; so "A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even tempered", Prov.17:27.

braduV adj. "slow" - slow [to speak]. Predicate adjective. "Think before you speak and count to ten before you react in anger."

eiV + acc. "to [become angry]" - [slow] to [anger]. As above, reference / respect


Instruction #2: Justice is never promoted by anger, v20. "What is right in God's eyes, what is fair and just to our fellowman, is never likely to be achieved by anger", Mitton. A bad temper does not match God's measure of righteousness.

gar "for" - Possibly expressing cause / reason, but more likely transitional, serving as a connective link to the third part of the first saying, "slow to anger". James often uses this conjunction to stitch separate independent sayings.

androV (hr droV) "man's" - [anger] of man. The genitive is adjectival, possibly possessive, but better attributive, "human wrath." The "man" is again a believer, but taken generally, so "human anger", Cassirer, or better, "your anger", TH.

orgh (h) "anger" - "Petty passion", Adamson; "a bad temper does not ....."

ouk ergazetai (ergazomai) pres. "does not bring about" - does not work, achieve. Usually taken to mean "produce / accomplish / achieve / bring about / ...", even though not the usual use of the word. Probably better understood in the sense of "do / work / practice", so Ropes.

dikaiosunhn (h) "the righteous life" - righteousness. Probably in a moral sense; "justice", "uprightness", Cassirer.

qeou (oV) "that God desires" - of god. The genitive here causes its usual problems and promotes numerous interpretations. i] As a subjective genitive where the genitive substantive, "God", produces the action of the verbal noun "righteousness"; "for men's temper is never the means of achieving God's true goodness (justice)", Phillips. ii] As an objective genitive where the genitive substantive, "God", receives the action of the verbal noun "righteousness", so NIV and most translations, cf., Dibelius. iii] As an ablative genitive, expressing source / origin; "the righteousness that comes from God", ie., his vindication, or his verdict of acquittal (justification). This option is very unlikely. iv] As an adjectival genitive, limiting "righteousness", either possessive or partitive; "human anger does not match God's measure of righteousness", cf., Johnson. This last option seems best and certainly aligns with the OT understanding of a key phrase which serves as a definitive description of God's person. He is a morally pure being, reliable and faithful to his covenant promises and this is exhibited in his righteous reign, in his setting all things right, cf., Moo. Thus, the being / character of God rightly serves as a gauge for human behavior and so James can confidently say that "human anger does not match God's measure of righteousness."


Instruction #3: All that defiles is cast away. Believers must "put away, as one would take off clothing, all filthiness, all that defiles, all sin", Hamann. "So, clear away all foul rank growth of malice and make a soil of humble modesty for the Word which roots itself inwardly with power to save your souls", Moffatt.

Again, it is likely that we have an independent saying which James has tied into the present context. Some commentators tie it with "anger" in v20, so "get rid of all moral filth" = "get rid of all nasty rancorous argumentation." This is probably pushing the contextual influence too far since the only obvious link is a grammatical gar, "therefore, ....", with the mention of humility / meekness serving as a contrast to anger. Others link it with v22 since it deals with hearing "the word" and doing it. Translations, therefore, have the paragraph division either before or after v21. James is probably using v21 as an independent saying which serves to introduce his instruction on hearing and doing, v22-25.

dio "therefore" - Inferential; establishing a logical connection, probably best not translated.

apoqemenoi (apotiqhmi) aor. mid. part. "get rid of" - having put away, put off, stripped off. The participle is adverbial, most likely imperatival, as NIV. Technically, participles that are obviously imperatival are usually attendant on an imperative verb, here possibly the imperative verb to-be, e[stw, "let [every man] be [quick ...], v19. Often of putting off clothing, but here metaphorically of casting off sin. "You must strip off everything that would soil life", Barclay.

rJuparian (a) "impurity" - dirtiness, filthiness. Here "impurity", Ropes.

kai "and" - The function of the particle here is unclear. Does it connect two distinctive ideas, or does it form a single compound idea, or does it introduce an explanation of the first idea. The first option is the one followed by most translations, but the point is simple enough; "you must stop doing anything immoral or evil", CEV.

kakiaV (a) gen. "the evil" - of evil, wickedness. The genitive is adjectival, probably epexegetic / appositional, specifying the abundance; "the abundance which consists of wickedness."

perisseian (a) "that is so prevalent" - abundance, profusion, overflowing / excess. The function of this noun is unclear. James may be referring to the remaining wickedness in a person's life, the "remnants of evil", NJB, although he is more likely referring to an abundance of wickedness, "wicked excess", REB.

en + dat. "[humbly]" - in [gentleness, gentleness, mildness, meekness]. The preposition is adverbial, expressing manner; "with humility / humbly". Possibly the antecedent is "get rid of"; "put away ...... with humility", but usually taken with "accept"; "receive with humility." The sense is not obvious, but probably "in a teachable spirit you must receive", Barclay.

dexasqe (decomai) aor. imp. "accept" - receive, accept. Possibly "obey", but better "accept".

ton emfuton logon "the word planted in you" - the implanted word. "Implanted" in the sense of "sown", "ingrafted", AV, although a more technical sense would be "inborn", RV margin. James is now adopting an agricultural metaphor, but what is "the word"? Often interpreted as "the preached word of the gospel", Laws. Yet, if we allow the context to dictate, it is likely that the word, as defined in v18, is intended, therefore, "the word of truth", "the message of God", Junkins. In simple terms the "word" entails the totality of God's instructions to believers; his manual for life: "And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us", 1Jn.3:23. The content of "love" is filled out in the ethical instructions throughout the Scriptures. Without the guidance of the context we could argue that James is speaking about an implanted moral dimension that is unique to a created human in God's image, although how this could "save" us is unclear (possibly "seen to be saved"). So, "the implanted word of God", not "the innate divine ethic".

ton dunamenon (dunami) pres. pas. part. "which can" - being able. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "word"; "the word which is able."

swsai (sozw) aor. inf. "save" - to save. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of "is able". "Save" in what sense. Many commentators see "save" in the terms of "eternal salvation", but the wisdom sense of "set free to live a full life" seems more likely. Such an interpretation does not imply that James is unaware of the gospel and of its promise of eternal life, just that James is addressing the practical business of living as a believer in a world now limited by sin.

uJmwn gen. pro. "you" - [the souls] of you. The genitive is adjectival, possessive. Again, James may have in mind "the sowing of the seed, that is, the gospel message, [which] will yield as its fruit salvation", TH. Yet, the more common sense for the word, "life / being / existence / inner self ....", linked with "save", probably means little more than living a full and happy life.


Instruction #4: Genuine Christianity is neither sentimental nor unpractical, v22-25. James now warns his readers "against sentimental and unpractical religion. There is a kind of religious person who can enjoy listening to a preacher, and being present at a public act of prayer, but who fails to translate their faith into effective action in daily life", Mitton. "Only faith which will serve (make a person blessed) is that which results in obedience to Christ's directives", Davids, so "embrace and practice the word", Vlachos. Unlike the NIV which reverses the wording, we are better served with the Gk. order; "be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves", NRSV. The wording and order of the NRSV is followed in this verse.

de "but" - but/and. Here transitional and so best untranslated as NIV. James sometimes uses a transitional de to introduce an imperative, as here.

ginesqe (ginomai) pres. imp. "be" - become. Here used instead of eimi, "be", and therefore properly used to commence the sentence. The present tense is durative expressing ongoing action, "make sure that you continue to be", TH.

poihtai (hV ou) "doers" - doers, makers. Predicate nominative. The issue here for James concerns the living out of faith, of practicing our profession. "Who live by the word [of God]", Knox.

logou (oV) gen. "of the word" - of word. This genitive is usually classified as verbal, objective. In Hebrew circles, it would be "makers of the Law" = "obedient to the Law", but James has a wider view of "the word" than just the law of Moses. "The gospel" is a possibility, but it seems more likely that James has in mind the totality of God's guidelines that properly apply to disciples of Christ. See below, "the perfect law that gives freedom."

mh monon akroatai "not merely hearers" - not only hearers. "Act on what you hear rather than letting it go in one ear and out the other", cf., Peterson.

paralogizomenoi (paralogizomai) pres. mid. part. "who deceive [themselves]" - deceiving / misjudging, miscalculating [yourselves]. Here "deceiving", of fooling ourselves that profession is enough, cf., Johnson. The participle may be adverbial, consecutive, expressing result, as NIV, "with the result that you deceive yourselves", or adjectival modifying "hearers", "hearers who deceive [delude] themselves", NRSV, although "themselves" is actually "yourselves", indicating that it modifies the subject "you" of "you be doers ...", so "you ...... who deceive yourselves", Dibelius.


The illustration (simile = "like a ..") in v23b-24 lends itself to a deeper spiritual meaning (so Adamson, Mitton, as against Blackman, Dibelius). James is saying that a person who hears the word, but fails to follow it through (in one ear and out the other), is like a person who views his face in a mirror, but then forgets what it look like, eg., they see they are a mess, but then wonder off forgetting that they look like a mess. "He is like a man who looks in a mirror and who sees the smuts which disfigure his face, the dishevelment of his hair, and who goes away and forgets what he looks like, and so omits to do anything about it", Barclay, James.

oJti "-" - for. More reason than cause, in the terms of introducing a supportive argument - missing in some manuscripts; "for whoever listens and does nothing ...", Moffatt.

ei + ind. "-" - if, as is the case, [a certain one is a hearer of word and not a doer, then this one is like a man]. Introducing a 1st class conditional clause where the proposed condition is assumed to be true. "If anyone is simply a hearer of the word of God and not a doer ....", Johnson.

eoiken (eoika) perf. "is like" - is like, resembles. "Then they (he) are like a person (man)"

katanoounti (katanoew) dat. pres. part. "who looks at" - [a man] observing. Dative agreeing with "man", dative of reference / respect. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "man". Nicely expressed as a glancing look, "like a person catching the reflection of their face in a mirror", cf., Phillips, although the present tense would imply "looking" rather than "glancing" (the aorist verbs in v24 would then be gnomic); "he is not unlike a man who examines" his own face in a mirror", Cassirer.

thV genesewV (iV ewV) gen. "[his face]" - the natural [face of him]. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "face", "his natural face", cf., Ropes. As of a family likeness, the visage that a person takes with them throughout life, so "natural face" = "face". "The face that nature gave him", Ropes; "his natural appearance", Dibelius.

en + dat. "in [a mirror]" - Local, expressing space. The mirror referred would be one of polished metal.


gar "and" - for. More reason than cause.

katenohsen (katanoew) aor. "after looking [at himself]" - he observed [himself]. The aorist is best treated as gnomic; "he looks at himself", Barclay.

apelhluqen (apercomai) perf. "goes away" - [and] has gone away.

epelaqeto (epilanqanomai) aor. "[immediately] forgets" - [and immediately] forgot [what he was like]. The aorist is gnomic, as above. "We touch here on a pervasive and important biblical theme. The Lord constantly warned the people of Israel not to 'forget' his mighty acts on their behalf but to 'remember' his mercies and his law", Moo.


James now describes the believer who takes in God's word and applies it. Such a person "is no distracted scatterbrain, but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action", Peterson.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrast; James contrasts the forgetful hearer with the work doer.

oJ ... parakuyaV (parakuptw) aor. part. "the man who looks intently" - the one having looked, looked closely, examined, peered. The participle serves as a substantive. The word is used of careful examination, eg., of the disciples bending over and looking intently into Jesus' tomb, Jn.20:5, 11.

eiV "into" - to, into. Spacial.

nomon teleion "the perfect law" - the complete, perfect law. What is this complete / whole / all-encompassing law? Some commentators argue that James still has in mind law in the terms of divine truth, that complete / perfect revelation that is ours in Christ and which sets us free, ie., "the word of truth" = the gospel. If, as seems likely, James is working in the wisdom tradition, the law is God's ground-rules for a successful life, the operating manual, the guidelines for discipleship. Such includes the Mosaic ethic, along with the whole of NT ethics, particularly the law of Christ - the law of love. The lack of an article doesn't prove much, although if it were present it would support the argument that "the law" = "Torah".

ton "that" - the one. The article serves as an adjectivizer turning the adjectival genitive "of freedom" into an attributive construction limiting "the perfect law", "which is freedom" = "that perfect law which is characterized by freedom."

thV eleuqeriaV (a) gen. "gives freedom" - of freedom, liberty. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting / describing "that perfect law, "a law of liberty", a "law characterized by freedom", Ropes. So, not any old law, but the law which produces freedom, it releases rather than enslaves, it makes for a happy life, a constructive life. Of course, again, if this "law" is the gospel, then "free" = spiritually free, but James' is writing within a Wisdom tradition, and not in the terms of a gospel tract.

parameinaV (paramenw) aor. part. "continues to do this" - [and] having remained, abided, continued. The participle serves as a substantive; "the one looking intently ...... and continuing". Describing a person who perseveres in his attention to God's instructions. The following participial clause defines "the one having continued." "Keep on paying attention to it", TEV.

ouk ... genomenoV aor. mid. part. "not" - not having become. The participle forms a substantival clause in apposition to "the one having continued", "namely, the one not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer."

epilhsmonhV (h) gen. "forgetting [what he has heard]" - [a hearer] of forgetful. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "hearer", the "forgetful" type of hearer, as described in the illustration, v23-24. "Forgetful listener", Moffatt, NET.

alla "but" - but/and. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not ....., but .....".

ergou (on) gen. "[doing] it" - [a doer] of work. Again the genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting by describing the believer who, having examined closely the ethics of the Scriptures, sets out to apply it in their life rather than put it aside for some more opportune time in the never-never. None-the-less, usually taken as verbal, objective, cf., Mayor; "one who does work". "An active agent", Moffatt.

makarioV adj. "[he will be] blessed" - [this one/man will be] blessed, happy. Predicate adjective. As with the use of this word in 1:12, we are unsure whether it is just "happy / contented", or whether James is referring to a "spiritual blessing / true happiness / God blessed", with the stress on a future divine blessing, eg., eternal life. There is certainly going to be a spiritual element to the blessing and such derives from God, but James is still working in the wisdom tradition and simply makes the point that on the whole, life will go well for us if we apply God's ground-rules for successful living.

en + dat. "in [what he does]" - in [the doing of him]. Expressing sphere / context - he is blessed within the sphere / context of his behavior. The believer is blessed, not because he does the law / word, so Moo, but in the actual doing of it; "will be blessed in every undertaking", NJB. Other possibilities are instrumental, expressing means, "by so acting", REB, or less likely, causal, "for doing it", NLT.


Instruction #5: Scrupulous religious practice is no substitute for a pure life, v26-27, cf., Mitton. The ethical failure identified by James picks up on "be slow to speak", v19, ie., an unwillingness to bridle the tongue. So, James' point is simple, a person may value their Christian walk ("religion"), but if all it produces is a nasty mouth and a self-indulgent life, then it is next to useless. The walk ("religion") that God values considers others and is not self-indulgent.

ei + ind. "if" - if. Introducing a conditional clause, 1st class, where the condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, .... then ..."

dokei (dokew) pres. "[anyone] considers" - [a certain man] thinks, supposes himself. "Seemeth to himself", Ropes. It could read "if anyone seems religious", ie., in the eyes of others; "if anyone appears to be religious", Phillips.

einai (eimi) inf. "-" - to be. The infinitive of the verb to-be forms an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what he considers; "considers [himself] to be religious."

qrhskoV adj. "religious" - Predicate adjective. Not just the scrupulous attention to religious observance in public worship, so Dibelius, but piety in general, so Mayor. The adj. appears only here in the NT (a hapax legomenon). Probably covering the totality of a person's "relationship with the divine", Johnson.

mh calinagwgwn (calinagwgew) pres. part. "does not keep a tight reign on" - not bridling [tongue of him]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying "considers", or adverbial, concessive, "although", even possibly adjectival, attributive, limiting tiV. As of leading with a bridle. Sometimes interpreted in terms of restricting intemperate preaching, but this is far too limiting. "Controls what he says", TH.

alla "-" - but. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction. We might have expected kai, "and", or no linking particle, such that the clause serves to introduce the apodosis of the conditional sentence, "if he does not control the tongue, then he deceives himself and his religion is vain", cf., Mayor. Johnson solves the problem in his translation of "deceives", such that "his religion is worthless" becomes the apodosis. See below.

apatwn (apataw) pres. part. "he deceives" - deceiving. The participle is adverbial, possibly temporal, or concessive, or as above, adjectival, attributive. Johnson notes that the word can also mean "give pleasure to", so his translation is: "if anyone considers himself religious without bridling his tongue and while indulging his heart [then] this person's religion is worthless." "If ..... doesn't bridle the tongue, but rather is self-indulgent, then ......."

kardian (a) "himself" - heart [of him]. Accusative direct object of the participle "deceiving". The "heart" being the seat of personality, rationality, being, so "himself", as NIV.

hJ qrhskeia (a) "[his] religion" - [this ones] religion, piety, religious worship. Nominative subject of an assumed verb to-be. In the sense of "piety", which word expresses the practice of a person's religion, but the word "religion" to the modern ear probably means just that.

mataioV adj. "[is] worthless" - worthless. Predicate adjective. In a wisdom context, foolish as opposed to wise, therefore of no practical value in the business of living with one foot in heaven and one on earth; "Futile", Barclay; "useless", Phillips.


tw/ qew/ kai patri "God our Father" - [religion pure and undefiled with] god and = even father. Another example of a hendiadys, ie., a single idea expressed by two separate ideas joined by "and". So, not "God and Father", but "God the Father", Cassirer, etc., or "God our Father", NJB, etc.

para + dat. "accepts as" - with [god]. Spacial, sphere, "beside God", "with God" = "in the judgment of God", Moffatt; "what God the Father considers (judges) to be pure and genuine religion", TEV.

kaqara kai amiantoV adj. "pure and faultless" - pure and undefiled. Predicate adjectives. These descriptors often stand together, "pure", positive, "undefiled", negative. They virtually means the same, and together probably serve to define the genuine article (mark the true and wise believer), rather than the "completely pure" (Phillips) article. "Real religion", Peterson.

episkeptesqai (episkeptomai) pres. inf. "to look after" - [is this] to visit, provide for, help. The infinitive, which introduces an infinitival clause, as with "to keep", is epexegetic, explaining / clarifying / specifying the substantive "religion", which noun is qualified by the adjectival clause "which is pure and undefiled with God and Father." "To provide for", TH.

en + dat. "in [their distress]" - [orphans and widows ]in [the distress, trouble, affliction of them]. Local, expressing sphere / context. In the ancient world widows and orphans faced extreme hardships, although in Western societies, certainly widows are usually very well off, so better "the homeless and loveless", Peterson. "In their hardships", NJB.

threin (threw) pres. inf. "to keep" - to keep, guard [oneself unspotted from the world]. The infinitive, as episkeptesqai above; "in keeping oneself from being contaminated by the world", Barclay.


James Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]