“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. –– James 1:23-25

There has been much discussion among commenters when it comes to interpreting this passage. Does James mean to contrast the face in the mirror with the law? Or is the face inconsequential, the mirror being the rightful object of investigation? Some have thought of this passage in rather negative terms; the man’s blemished face is contrasted with the perfect law. Moreover, some have argued that the long look in the mirror at oneself, lengthy as it may be, cannot stand up to even a cursory glance at that perfect law.

Whatever the right interpretation, I want to bring out a significant truth about this passage that cannot be denied by any commenter, and that is James’ distinction between word and law.

Now, the two words are distinct in the Greek but are often interchangeable in the biblical text. Not many would disagree that the law is the Word of God. However, James switches from his normal use of logos or word (λόγου) to nomos or law (νόμον) in v. 25. Here, James is turning from the the Word in general (v. 23) to the prescriptive aspects of it. In chapter 1, James focuses largely on a praxis or practical theology. We receive the Word (vv. 19-21), consider the Word (vv. 22-25), and finally, we do the Word (vv. 26, 27).

It is the perfect law of liberty which teaches us how to do the Word. We must know the Word in order to do the Word.

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