James 1:22 (KJV)

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

Romans 2:13 (KJV)

13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

It appears that these two verses are connected, ie James seems to quote Paul but changes the word “law” to “word”. So, are these verses antithetical?


4 Answers 4


The two verses are not exactly antithetical. Taken together they confirm that the logos ("word") is the New Law, taking the place of the Old.

The connection between the two verses was observed and explained by the late Eastern Orthodox hierarch, Archbishop Dmitri (Royster) of Dallas, in his book, St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: A Pastoral Commentary. He writes:

For not the hearers of the law [are] just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

St. James teaches the same thing (James 1:22-25), although he is speaking to and of Christians in that instead of "the Law" it is "the Word," of which each must be a "doer." This makes sense in that the Word (logos) has replaced the Law. Both Apostles use the same word for "hearers" and "doers" (akroatai and poietai).

The Lord Himself had indicted the scribes and Pharisees not only as hearers of the Law but also as its teachers. He instructs His disciples: "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do; but do no ye after their works: for they say, and do not ... ye [Pharisees and Scribes] also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23:3,28)

Regarding the relationship between "doing" and justification, Archbishop Dmitri writes:

It is a fundamental tenet of the faith that any righteousness or justification of man is the fruit of God's grace poured out on him by the work of Jesus Christ, which culminates in the sacrifice of the Cross and Resurrection (2 Corinthians 1:9-10; Philippians 3:9-10). The granting of grace is the work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:9). Misunderstanding seems to arise from opposing God's act of justifying or "rendering a man righteous" to the attainment of righteousness (1 John 3:7) by the man of faith. A man or a woman is not a passive recipient of God's grace: his or her response to God's gift is the "doing" of good works. As the Apostle points out to the Ephesians (2:8), we have been saved (His part) by faith (our part); we have become a new creation (2:10) specifically for good works (see John Chrysostom's 4th century commentary on this verse, On Ephesians, Homily IV).

  • Great job, good answer; we're getting there! You very correctly point out the hearer/doer connection and the purposeful replacement of "law" with "word" (logos). Also, (and respectfully) it appears the reason that you say the two verses are not completely antithetical is due to your bottom quote. So, I would take it that you are coming from an Orthodox or Roman Catholic tradition. I respect the quote but would disagree with Dmitri. I have a more Protestant viewpoint. So, nice job! +1
    – alb
    May 7, 2018 at 23:41

In Romans 2:13, Paul addressed justification through Jewish law. Note his conclusions:

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Ro 3:20, ESV)

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Ro 3:23< ESV)

James is addressing Christians. While many of them were probably Jewish Christians, the issue is following Jesus Christ and doing his message rather than keeping the Jewish law. Note John 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Jn 1:1–5, ESV).

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:14, ESV)

There is a similar principle in James 1:22 and Romans 2:13, but a different context; thus law versus word.

James may have been familiar with Paul's letter to the Romans before his letter. However, the date of James's letter is less certain than Romans.

The account of the journey from Corinth to Jerusalem is given in Acts 20:3–21:17. It was in the spring between passover at Philippi (Acts 20:6) and pentecost in Jerusalem (20:16; 21:17). The precise year is not quite so certain, but we may suggest A.D. 57 or 58 with reasonable confidence.

Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

Robertson dated James's letter at A.D. 48. Anyone who accepts the author as the brother of Jesus will date the book before A.D 62 when James was put to death.

James 1:25 does have the word law νόμον in it.

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (Jas 1:25, ESV)

However, James describes this law as complete (τέλειον) compared to the Law of Moses. He describes it as a law that sets people free (τῆς ἐλευθερίας).

  • I'll give you a +1 but I was hoping for more contextual breakdown of the text, ie "doer of the word" vs "doer of the law".
    – alb
    May 6, 2018 at 0:45
  • 1
    The only common words in the two verses are the nouns ποιηταὶ and ἀκροαταὶ. Paul has articles in front of these nouns. James does not. Paul has law νόμου with both nouns. James has word λόγου only with doers. James starts with an imperative Γίνεσθε while Paul wrote a statement about who is righteous before God δίκαιοι παρὰ [τῷ] θεῷ.
    – Perry Webb
    May 6, 2018 at 12:41


I doubt whether James is quoting Paul. It is far more likely his words were inspired by the encounter recorded in Luke, when he and his mother and brothers were trying to make their way through the crowds to see Jesus:

19Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. 20And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. 21And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.
-- Luke 8:19-21 (KJV)

It is unlikely Jesus' words didn't make it back to James and his brothers, which would have caused them to seriously reflect on whether they were doers of the word, or hearers only.

The crowd they encountered had just heard Jesus relating the parable of the Sower in which Jesus depicts the word of God as a seed that will produce fruit only if it manages to find its way to the good ground at the core of one's being. "The Law", written on scrolls and parchment, only becomes "the Word" when it speaks to the heart of the one who hears/reads it.

If one were to do a search for "the word of God", it will be shown to be predominantly a Greek expression. The equivalent OT Hebrew expression is "the word of the LORD". Looking through all these search hits, it becomes obvious that "the word of God" or "the word of the LORD" is not something written on a scroll or a parchment, but something that "came unto" the one who received it from God himself, i.e. it was "planted in his heart" just like the seed in Jesus' parable, and it moved him to live it and preach it.

Both James and Paul use the word ποιηταὶ, given in the KJV as "doers", which comes from the Greek ποιητής (Strong's G4163 - poiētēs) and relates to the arts, i.e. to be a performer, one whose actions are governed by the words of the script he has learned.

This sense of the word led to an investigation of the history of acting, which it seems was well developed in Roman culture by the first century AD, having started some centuries earlier with a Greek, Thespis of Icaria:

Before Thespis, the chorus narrated (for example, "Dionysus did this, Dionysus said that"). When Thespis stepped out from the chorus, he spoke as if he was the character (for example, "I am Dionysus. I did this").
-- The History of Acting (Wikipedia)

So, James and Paul would have their listeners be Thespians, i.e. those who "want to" step out of the chorus and "become" what is written.

Additional Comments

I get this from the Greek of James 1:21-22,

21 Therefore, being divested of all depravity and profusion of malice, with meekness receive the infused word (that which is able to save your souls) 22and become doers of the word and not self-deluded hearers only.

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It should be noted that the KJV translators have not given the word James uses (γίνεσθε) any differently than they would, say, είμαι ("to be"). But, James is using strong language here: having put off the vestments of depravity and malice and with meekness taken hold of the infused word of God, BECOME DOERS of the word (something that previously YOU WERE NOT), and not just SELF-DELUDED1 hearers.


"The word of God" is that which is spoken directly to the heart of a person and it comes by means of the words of God read or heard. So, a "doer of the word" is one who acts out the script as he has received it from God. A "doer of the Law" is no different, and a "doer of the word" will become a "doer of the Law" since the Spirit of God will move him to want to learn from all the words God spoke to the fathers and to Moses and to the Prophets, to Jesus and the Apostles.

Jesus says this:

He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.
-- Matthew 12:30 (KJV)

Everyone takes a role in the drama. James and Paul would have their listeners learn their script from Jesus. Jesus is saying the part one is to play is that of a gatherer, just like him. All other parts are variations on the role of scatterer.

Paul's words in Romans 2:13 suggest that he is taking a James-like look at the word, rather than the other way around, i.e. James taking a Gospel-of-Grace-like look. Perhaps one might find such a thing in some other part of James' letter, but it doesn't appear so here.


  1. ἑαυτούς is person-less, i.e. it refers to "selves", be it "yourselves", "ourselves", "themselves". So, παραλογιζόμενοι ἑαυτούς stands here as an additional adjective ("self-deluded") modifying the noun ἀκροαταὶ ("hearers").
  • Nice answer, I'll give you +1. Really nice job on Poietes, I think that is significant. However, I'm still waiting for someone to attack the immediate context of each verse to draw out (in my opinion) the classic law/grace context to demonstrate that James supports Paul's "Gospel of the Grace of God." (Acts 20:24)
    – alb
    May 7, 2018 at 23:12

James 1:22 and Romans 2:13 are directly connected via the theme of partiality (respect of persons).

Romans 2:11-16

11For there is no respect of persons with God. 12For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; 13(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. 14For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) 16In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

In Romans 2, Paul starts out stating that God does not show partiality, ie He treats everyone the same with respect to righteousness, where “all have sinned” and “there is none righteous, no not one.” He states in verse 13 that all are guilty of breaking the Law of Moses since you need to keep the whole law in order to be declared righteous via the law. In short, Paul is stating that NO ONE can be a doer of the law supporting James 2:10 “offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

Paul then defines the term “hearer” as someone who just gives lip service to keeping the whole law and the term “doer” is someone who actually keeps the whole law; which no one can do since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

Paul then demonstrates that all have sinned and will be convicted by the law for even the Gentiles show the law which is written on their hearts. The evidence is partiality. The Gentiles were either “accusing” or “excusing” one another based on a biased application of justice; ie, showing partiality to those they favored. God however, is no respecter of persons.

James then picks up on Paul’s theme that no one can be a “doer” of the law. He purposefully changes the word “law” to “word” (an obvious reference to the gospel). He also uses the hearer/doer theme but applies them to living by faith and not by the law.

James 1:22-27

22But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23For 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: 24For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was. 25But whoso looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. 26If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is vain. 27Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

In this section, James states that a “hearer” of the “word” would be someone who lives by the works of the law. He uses the metaphor of someone looking into a mirror and forgets what manner of man he is. The person who lives by attempting to keep the law, since he can never attain righteousness via his own work, has to continue to “deny” his sin; thereby the law has the effect to make the person “forget” the he/she is a miserable sinner in need of a Savior.

The person who lives by faith however, demonstrates that he is a “doer of the word” and lives NOT by the Law of Moses but by the Law of Liberty. Since that person continues to live by faith and grace alone, they do not condemn people like the widow or fatherless, blaming them for their condition because of their sin (this was a practice of the Pharisees, eg. the man who was born blind – John 9). Instead, the “doer of the word” demonstrates they are not partial and hypocritical and will go and visit the widow and the fatherless in their affliction.

  • You say, In this section, James states that a “hearer” of the “word” would be someone who lives by the works of the law. You are imposing your model on the words of James. The one who looks into the perfect law of liberty is a "doer of the work". What work? Clearly the work he has been commanded to do, i.e. the things Jesus referred to as "*the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith" (Matthew 23:23).
    – enegue
    May 20, 2018 at 2:07
  • What work? Per Vines "as the effect of faith"; clearly this is a work of faith and not the law; for our righteousness is an imputed righteousness. See also 1 Thess 1:13 and 2 Thess 2:11 "work of faith". Also, the difference between righteousness by the works of the law and the works of faith can be seen in James 2:21-26, where James sites Abraham and Rahab as examples. How could these two be commended for the works if James meant the works of the law when Abraham contemplated murder and Rahab lied to save the spies. Clearly these are works of faith.
    – alb
    May 20, 2018 at 11:30
  • I don't think you understand what the Law is. It is the framework in which abundant life is to be apprehended. When Paul says, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thessalonians 5:21), what do you imagine he was suggesting we test things against? Our own opinions? The Law contains what God has declared to be good, and is thus the yardstick against which "all things" are to be tested. If you act outside the framework of the Law you are no different to a non-believer, and will never apprehend "life", be it temporal or eternal.
    – enegue
    May 20, 2018 at 12:31
  • Your last statement appears to be Calvinist via the 3rd purpose of the law. I see no such prescription in the New Testament. I would agree with Paul; the only spiritual function of the law is to be a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.
    – alb
    May 20, 2018 at 13:23

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