It would be natural for James, as a Jew, to refer to the Old Testament Scriptures as "the word," since this is a designation found within the Old Testament itself. We also find him using some distinct phrases (royal law and the perfect law that gives freedom) to express a new meaning which the word of God has assumed for him as a Christian. Add to this the fact that we find his letter permeated with references to the teachings of Jesus, and it becomes likely that when James refers to God's word he has in mind not only the Old Testament but also (in fact, especially) the teachings of Jesus which form the heart of the New Testament. It is appropriate, then, for us as Christians to take this as teaching about the proper use of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.
For some people, reading the Bible is an unpleasant chore because their perception of the Bible's message is "Do this; do that; do this other. And do more of this and more of that and more of the other." The effect is only a building of stress and guilt. On the other hand, some people find Scripture to be indeed the perfect law that gives freedom. I recall a young man who was, by God's grace, taking some very large steps to walk more thoroughly according to Scripture. His humble acceptance of God's word was admirable to me; his resulting spiritual growth was exhilarating to him. One day in my office he said in amazement, "I am internalizing God's word so much more now; it makes me wonder how I could have called myself a Christian before. It's like it was all just head knowledge before."
It is that "internalizing" of Scripture that James describes now. As before, his style is to present two complementary images: do not be only hearers of the word; instead be doers of the word. To guide our inquiry here, we can ask three parallel questions of each image.
1. What is the pattern of the deception/blessedness?
2. What then is the nature of the word?
3. How would one be a hearer/doer of the word today?
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.