James 1:23
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
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(23) He is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass.—The Apostle points grimly to an example of this self-deception. He (literally, this) is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror. Not a “glass,” but a mirror of polished steel, such as are still used in the East. “His natural face,” or the face of his birth—the real appearance, that is, which the reflection of the Word of God, properly looked into, will afford the inquirer.

James 1:23-24. If any be a hearer of the word merely, and not a doer — If he do not comply with its design, do not so consider and believe it as to lay it to heart, and be influenced by its doctrines, obey its precepts, embrace and rely on its promises, revere and stand in awe of its threatenings, guarding against what would expose him to them; he is like a man beholding — From custom or by accident; his natural face in a glass — Without any intention to discover, and wash or wipe off, the spots that may be on it. For he beholdeth himself — Without taking particular notice of what renders his visage disagreeable; and goeth his way — To other business; and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was — What renders his countenance uncomely, and requires to be removed. Here the word of God is represented as a mirror, in which, if a man will look with attention and care, he will see the face of his soul, and discover in what state he is, and what character he bears in the sight of God. It will manifest to him those principles and practices, those thoughts and imaginations, those affections, intentions, dispositions, words, and actions, which are contrary to truth and grace, to wisdom, piety, and virtue. But frequently those who discover all this through the word heard or read, go away, and so occupy themselves in secular affairs, as immediately to forget what manner of persons they were, and continue the same in their temper and conduct as before. Reader, is this thy case?

1:22-25 If we heard a sermon every day of the week, and an angel from heaven were the preacher, yet, if we rested in hearing only, it would never bring us to heaven. Mere hearers are self-deceivers; and self-deceit will be found the worst deceit at last. If we flatter ourselves, it is our own fault; the truth, as it is in Jesus, flatters no man. Let the word of truth be carefully attended to, and it will set before us the corruption of our nature, the disorders of our hearts and lives; and it will tell us plainly what we are. Our sins are the spots the law discovers: Christ's blood is the laver the gospel shows. But in vain do we hear God's word, and look into the gospel glass, if we go away, and forget our spots, instead of washing them off; and forget our remedy, instead of applying to it. This is the case with those who do not hear the word as they ought. In hearing the word, we look into it for counsel and direction, and when we study it, it turns to our spiritual life. Those who keep in the law and word of God, are, and shall be, blessed in all their ways. His gracious recompence hereafter, would be connected with his present peace and comfort. Every part of Divine revelation has its use, in bringing the sinner to Christ for salvation, and in directing and encouraging him to walk at liberty, by the Spirit of adoption, according to the holy commands of God. And mark the distinctness, it is not for his deeds, that any man is blessed, but in his deed. It is not talking, but walking, that will bring us to heaven. Christ will become more precious to the believer's soul, which by his grace will become more fitted for the inheritance of the saints in light.For if any be ... - The ground of the comparison in these verses is obvious. The apostle refers to what all persons experience, the fact that we do not retain a distinct impression of ourselves after we have looked in a mirror. While actually looking in the mirror, we see all our features, and can trace them distinctly; when we turn away, the image and the impression both vanish. When looking in the mirror, we can see all the defects and blemishes of our person; if there is a scar, a deformity, a feature of ugliness, it is distinctly before the mind; but when we turn away, that is "out of sight and out of mind." When unseen it gives no uneasiness, and, even if capable of correction, we take no pains to remove it. So when we hear the word of God. It is like a mirror held up before us. In the perfect precepts of the law, and the perfect requirements of the gospel, we see our own short-comings and defects, and perhaps think that we will correct them. But we turn away immediately, and forget it all. If, however, we were doers of the word," we should endeavor to remove all those defects and blemishes in our moral character, and to bring our whole souls into conformity with what the law and the gospel require. The phrase "natural face" (Greek: face of birth), means, the face or appearance which we have in virtue of our natural birth. The word glass here means mirror. Glass was not commonly used for mirrors among the ancients, but they were made of polished plates of metal. See the Isaiah 3:24 note, and Job 37:18 note.23. For—the logical self-deceit (Jas 1:22) illustrated.

not a doer—more literally, "a notdoer" [Alford]. The true disciple, say the rabbis, learns in order that he may do, not in order that he may merely know or teach.

his natural face—literally, "the countenance of his birth": the face he was born with. As a man may behold his natural face in a mirror, so the hearer may perceive his moral visage in God's Word. This faithful portraiture of man's soul in Scripture, is the strongest proof of the truth of the latter. In it, too, we see mirrored God's glory, as well as our natural vileness.

He is like unto a man: the Greek word here used, properly signifies the sex, not the species, but is indifferently used by this apostle with the other, as Jam 1:12,20, so that by a man looking at his face in a glass, is meant any man or woman.

Beholding his natural face; or, the face of his nativity, by a Hebraism, for natural face, as we translate it; i.e. his own face, that which nature gave him, or he was born with.

In a glass; the word is here compared to a looking-glass: as the glass represents to us the features and complexions of our faces, whether beautiful or deformed; so the word shows us the true face of our souls, the beauty of God’s image when restored to them, and the spots of sin which so greatly disfigure them.

But if any man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer,.... The Arabic version here again reads, "a hearer of the law", and so some copies; not hearing, but practice, is the main thing; not theory, but action: hence, says R. Simeon, not the word, or the searching into it, and the explanation of it, is the root, or principal thing, , "but the work" (p): and if a man is only a preacher, or a hearer, and not a doer,

he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass; or, "the face of his generation"; the face with which he was born; his true, genuine, native face; in distinction from any counterfeit one, or from the face of his mind: it means his own corporeal face. The Ethiopic version renders it, "the lineaments of his face".

(p) Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 17.

{17} For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his {u} natural face in a glass:

(17) Secondly: because they lose the most important use of God's word, if they do not use it to correct the faults that they know.

(u) He alludes to that natural stain, which is contrary to the purity that we are born again into, the living image which we see in the law.

Jam 1:23. This exhortation is confirmed by a comparison. Therefore: ὅτι, which is not superfluous (Pott). This verse expresses the similitude; Jam 1:24 the tertium comparationis. A hearer, who is not a doer, is to be compared to a man who contemplates his bodily form in a glass. Hornejus, Rosenmüller, Semler, Pott, and others, attach to the word κατανοεῖν the additional meaning of a transitory observation, against the etymology and the linguistic use of the word (comp. Luke 12:24; Luke 12:37; Acts 7:31-32; Acts 11:6). The point of transitoriness, or, more correctly, of transitory contemplation, is contained not in the verb, but in the situation, which in Jam 1:24 is prominently brought forward by καὶ ἀπελήλυθεν. On the rhetorical usage of again resuming the foregoing subject (which is here expressed by εἴ τις κ.τ.λ.) by οὗτος, see Winer, p. 144 [E. T. 199]; A. Buttmann, p. 262 [E. T. 347]; on ἔοικε, see Jam 1:6; ἀνδρί, as in Jam 1:8, and frequently with James.[99]

τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ] By πόρσωπον is here meant not the whole form (Baumgarten, Hensler, Pott, Schneckenburger), but the face. By τῆς γενέσεως is “more plainly indicated the sphere of mere material perception, from which the comparison is taken, as distinguished from the ethical sphere of ἀκροᾶσθαι” (Wiesinger). γένεσις denotes not so much the natural life as the natural birth, so that the phrase is to be interpreted: the countenance which one possesses by his natural birth. See Eustathius in Od. ix. p. 663, 25.[100]

Whether ΑὐΤΟῦ belongs to the whole idea, or only to the genitive, is uncertain. Winer, p. 212, leaves it undecided; Wiesinger is for the first rendering; but the union here (as well as in Colossians 1:13) with the genitive appears to be more natural.

[99] The remark of Paes, approved of by Lange, is curious: viri obiter tantum solent specula intueri, muliebre autem est, curiose se ad speculum componere.

[100] Lange argues against this explanation, whilst, mingling in a most confused manner the image employed with the thing itself, he explains πρόσωπον as “the image of the inner man’s appearance according to his sinful condition.”

Jam 1:23. οὗτος ἔοικεν ἀνδρὶ. ἐν ἐσόπτρῳ: With the thought here contained, cf. Pseudo-Cyprian in De duobus mont., chap. 13: “Ita me in vobis videte, quomodo quis vestrum se videt in aquam aut in speculum” (Resch., op. cit., P. 35), cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 Corinthians 3:18.—τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ: Cf. Jud. 12:18, πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς γενέσεως, “all the days of the natural life,” γεν. being used of unenduring existence; if this is the meaning here, it is used “to contrast the reflexion in the mirror of the face which belongs to this transitory life, with the reflexion, as seen in the Word, of the character which is being here moulded for eternity” (Mayor). In Jam 1:24, “forgetteth what manner of man he was” makes it improbable that the reference is to the “natural face,” because a man would probably have some idea as to what his features were like. If πρόσωπον is here used in the sense of “personality” (as in Sir 4:22; Sir 4:27; Sir 7:6; Sir 10:5; Sir 42:1, etc.) then the reference would perhaps be to a man looking into his conscience, i.e., “the personality at its birth,” before he had become sin-stained; this being what he was originally meant to be. The Peshiṭtâ simplifies the matter by omitting τῆς γενέσεως, and is followed in this by some minor authorities.—ἐσόπτρῳ: Cf. Sir 12:11καὶ ἔσῃ αὐτῷ ὡς ἐκμεμαχὼς ἔσοπτρον; and Wis 7:26.

23. he is like unto a man …] The instance is chosen to illustrate the nature of the paralogism or fallacy by which the man deceived himself. It lies, as said above, in forgetting the self-knowledge which should form a premiss in his argument, and reasoning as if it did not exist.

beholding his natural face] Literally, the face of his birth, that which he was born with. The latter word might seem at first almost superfluous, but it serves to point the spiritual interpretation. That which the man sees in the mirror of the Divine Word, is the revelation of himself, as he is by nature (comp. 1 Corinthians 14:24-25), weak, sinful, “double-minded.” That revelation is meant to lead him to seek for supernatural strength to rise to the higher life. The word for “beholding” implies more than a passing glance, the man contemplates the reflection of his face (see Matthew 7:3; Luke 12:24).

in a glass] Better, in a mirror. The word is the same as in 1 Corinthians 13:12. The mirrors in use among the Jews, Greeks, and Romans were of polished metal, and as these presented a less perfect image than our modern mirrors, to see through, i. e. by means of, a mirror had become among the later Rabbis, as well as with St Paul, a proverbial phrase for man’s imperfect knowledge of divine things. Here, however, stress is laid on the fact that the mirror does supply, in some measure, the self-knowledge which the man could not attain without it. The sapiential books of the Apocrypha present two interesting illustrations drawn from the same source (Wis 7:26; Sir 12:11). It is possible, though it can hardly be insisted on, that there is an emphasis on a man’s casual way of looking at a mirror, and the more careful gaze supposed to be characteristic of a woman.

Jam 1:23. Ὅτι, because) The false reasoning, self-deceit, of careless hearers is explained.—γενέσεως, of nature) Comp. ch. Jam 3:6.—ἐν ἐσόπτρῳ, in a mirror) The truth of Scripture is proved from this, that it presents to a man a most accurate portrait of his soul.

Verses 23, 24. - Illustration from life, showing the folly of being led astray. His natural face (τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ); literally, the face of his birth. The expression is an unusual one, but there is no doubt of its meaning. In a glass; rather, in a mirror, ἐν ἐσόπτρῳ: cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12, Δἰ ἐσόπτρου. The mirror of burnished brass. James 1:23Beholding (κατανοοῦντι)

With the notion of attentively considering (κατά, down into, or through; compare εἰς, into, James 1:25). Compare Luke 12:24, Luke 12:27; Hebrews 3:1. So that the contrast is not between a hasty look and a careful contemplation (James 1:25, looketh). It is not mere careless hearing of the word which James rebukes, but the neglect to carry into practice what is heard. One may be an attentive and critical hearer of the word, yet not a doer.

His natural face (τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως)

Lit., the countenance of his birth; the face he was born with.

In a glass (ἐν ἐσόπτρῳ)

Better, Rev., a mirror; a metallic mirror. The word occurs only here and 1 Corinthians 13:12.

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