James 1:23: The Right Reception of the Word, Part 5

Verse 23: For (Luke 6:47, etc.; see James 2:14, etc.) 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…[1]

[If any, etc., ὅτι εἴ τις, etc.] Ὅτι/for is missing in a Manuscript,[2] as also in the Syriac (Grotius). Others: For if any (Beza, Piscator, etc.).

[He shall be compared, etc., ἔοικεν—κατανοοῦντι τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως, etc.] He is like unto a man beholding (κατανοεῖν, to consider attentively, is used of the body, but more frequently of the soul, as in Matthew 7:3;[3] Luke 12:24,[4] 27[5] [Gataker]: Others: κατανοεῖν here is to observe: It answers to the Hebrew נָבַט, to look,[6] and רָאָה, to see,[7] and to the Syriac חוא: Thus also Matthew 7:3; Luke 6:41;[8] Acts 7:31, 32;[9] 11:6;[10] 27:39[11] [Grotius]) the face (or, countenance [Montanus, Arabic, etc.]) of the nativity (or, of his generation [Piscator], or, native [Illyricus, Pagnine, Beza, Piscator, Estius, Menochius]: It is an exceedingly common Hebraism [Gataker, thus Hammond], as soon ἀκροατὴς ἐπιλησμονῆς, a hearer of forgetfulness,[12] and the Mammon of unrighteousness[13] [Hammond]; that is, which sort was born [Beza], or with which he was born [Menochius, thus Piscator], which sort is of nature, or birth [Hammond]: Thus he speaks to the difference, either, 1. of a mask, or painted face [Estius]: or, 2. of the face internal, or of the soul, which is acquired by the effort of man and his voluntary actions, etc. [Hammond]) his own[14] (or rather, his own[15] [Gataker, Illyricus, Pagnine, Beza, Piscator], as in Psalm 2:6;[16] Colossians 2:13;[17] Hebrews 1:3[18] [Gataker]; for αὐτοῦ, of him, is not governed by the word γενέσεως/nativity, but by πρόσωπον/face [Piscator]: Γένεσις here and in James 3:6,[19] as also in Wisdom of Solomon 1:14;[20] 14:26,[21] signifies that which is natural to something: Τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως, the face of nature, Proclus[22] called τὸ ἀρχέτυπον, the archetype:[23] It is just as if he should see his own face, because that which is in the mirror completely corresponds to it: So we say, …Recently I saw myself on the shore[24] [Grotius]: In the word γενέσεως/nature, there is an allusion to that native stain, to which is opposed the purity unto which we are re-born [Beza]) in a mirror (Erasmus, Beza, Piscator). By mirror here he denotes the Gospel (Grotius, Hammond on verse 25), or the word of God (Hammond, Gomar, similarly Estius); and that in good style: for it shows to us what manner of men we are (Grotius on verse 25), exposes our blemishes, Romans 3:20, and the misery both of guilt and of punishment; and at the same time it indicates our duty (Gomar). Perhaps πρόσωπον may here be taken as in Matthew 16:3, the face of the sky,[25] that is, the appearance, and γένεσις in an Astronomical sense, so that πρόσωπον γενέσεως might be the form of nativity, which one looks at in a mirror, namely, of the artisan (Hammond). [But those that give attention to the consideration of that do not so easily forget that.]

He is like unto a man: the Greek word here used,[26] properly signifies the sex, not the species, but is indifferently used by this apostle with the other, as James 1:12,[27] 20,[28] 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.

[1] Greek:  ὅτι εἴ τις ἀκροατὴς λόγου ἐστὶ καὶ οὐ ποιητής, οὗτος ἔοικεν ἀνδρὶ κατανοοῦντι τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐσόπτρῳ·

[2] Thus Codex Alexandrinus.

[3] Matthew 7:3:  “And why beholdest thou (βλέπεις) the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest (κατανοεῖς) not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

[4] Luke 12:24a:  “Consider (κατανοήσατε) the ravens:  for they neither sow nor reap…”

[5] Luke 12:27a:  “Consider (κατανοήσατε) the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not…”

[6] For example, Psalm 22:17:  “I may tell all my bones:  they look (יַבִּיטוּ; κατενόησαν, in the Septuagint) and stare upon me.”

[7] For example, Genesis 42:9b:  “Ye are spies; to see (לִרְאוֹת; κατανοῆσαι, in the Septuagint) the nakedness of the land ye are come.”

[8] Same as Matthew 7:3.

[9] Acts 7:31, 32:  “When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight:  and as he drew near to behold (κατανοῆσαι) it, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold (κατανοῆσαι).”

[10] Acts 11:6:  “Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered (κατενόουν), and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.”

[11] Acts 27:39:  “And when it was day, they knew not the land:  but they discovered (κατενόουν) a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship.”

[12] Verse 25.

[13] Luke 16:9.

[14] That is, of his own nativity.  Greek:  τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ.

[15] That is, his own face.

[16] Psalm 2:6 in the Septuagint:  “But I have been made king by him on Zion his holy mountain (ἐπὶ Σιων ὄρος τὸ ἅγιον αὐτοῦ).”

[17] Colossians 2:13:  “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh (ἐν τοῖς παραπτώμασιν καὶ τῇ ἀκροβυστίᾳ τῆς σαρκὸς ὑμῶν), hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses…”

[18] Hebrews 1:3:  “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person (ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ), and upholding all things by the word of his power (τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ), when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high…”

[19] James 3:6b:  “…so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature (τῆς γενέσεως); and it is set on fire of hell.”

[20] Wisdom of Solomon 1:14:  “For he created all things, that they might have their being:  and the generations (αἱ γενέσεις) of the world were healthful; and there is no poison of destruction in them, nor the kingdom of death upon the earth…”

[21] Widsom of Solomon 14:26:  “Disquieting of good men, forgetfulness of good turns, defiling of souls, changing of kind (γενέσεως), disorder in marriages, adultery, and shameless uncleanness.”

[22] Proclus Lycæus (412-485) was one of the last major philosophers of the Classical period.  His Neoplatonic system was elaborate and sophisticated.  Proclus continued to exert influence throughout the Middle Ages in both the Christian West and the Islamic East.

[23] In Platonis Rempublicam 2:296.

[24] Virgil’s Eclogues 2:25.

[25] Matthew 16:3b:  “O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky (τὸ—πρόσωπον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ); but can ye not discern the signs of the times?”

[26] Greek:  ἀνδρὶ.

[27] James 1:12a:  “Blessed is the man (ἀνὴρ) that endureth temptation…”

[28] James 1:20:  “For the wrath of man (ἀνδρὸς) worketh not the righteousness of God.”

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