The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:23

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23  Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, this [one] is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;

23  For if anyone is a listener of the Word, but not also a doer, he is comparable to a man gazing into a mirror upon the face that he was born with;

23  For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like a man who sees his face in a mirror;

Reception

Liturgies

17–27 Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 17, Year B

19–27 Use in Lectionary

22–27 Use in Lectionary RML (1570) : 5th Sunday after Easter

Christian Tradition

23ff like a man who observes the appearance of his birth Kierkegaard: How to Read Scripture as in a Mirror Kierkegaard Mirror., in a reflection on Jas 1:22–27, exhorts his readers :

  • Do not look at the mirror, but look at yourself in the mirror. People of this age spends much time and effort in translating and puzzling over obscure passages in Scripture, but not allowing God’s Word to address them personally. To truly read the Word, one must be ready to follow Scripture's commandments.
  • One must read God’s word as if it were addressed to oneself personally. Kierkegaard criticizes the tendency of his age to cultivate objective views about the Bible but to avoid a personal encounter with its message. When one reads, in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, of the priest who ignored the beaten and robbed man lying in the road, he should say, “It is I.”
  • One must not hear the word and immediately forget. Rather than making rash promises to never forget, one should start with a short-term goal, such as reading aloud the epistle for the day. One should learn to avoid the noise of the world and remember the word in silence.

Text

Vocabulary

22–25 doers of the word Semiticism The phrase "doers of the word" (poiêtai logou) most likely has a Semitic background. The most obvious referent of this phrase in Greek would be to poets: "makers of words"  (e.g., Thucydides Hist. 1.11.2: poiêtai logou). It is thus most likely influenced by the corresponding Hebrew "to do the word" ( ‘śh dbr), which often has the sense of performing words such as commandments (e.g., Ps 148:8: "Lightning and hail, snow and thick clouds…that fulfills his command").

Since for James "word" is equivalent with law (cf. the parallel in Jas 4:11: poiêtês nomou), James is here likely imitating the Scripture passages that refer to the "doing of the law (Torah)" (Jewish Tradition 1:22).

  • Dt 27:26: "Cursed be anyone whose actions do not uphold the words of this law!"; lit: "cursed be anyone who does not remain in the words of this Torah to do them" (cf. Dt 17:19; Jo 1:7).

Literary Devices

22–25 be doers of the word Theme of Living out Faith in Works This passage introduces James' characteristic focus on action and living out one's faith:

22–25 doers of the word Rhetorical Jewel

Elocutio: Key Words

James gives literary coherence to this section with the repetition of the key nouns akroatês ("hearer") and poiêtês ("doer"):

  • Jas 1:22: "doers of the word and not only hearers;"
  • Jas 1:23: "hearer of the word and not a doer;"
  • Jas 1:25: "not a hearer who forgets but a doer of works."

Dispositio: Finely Carved Contrast

v 22: Thesis: Be doers of the word, and not only hearers
v. 23–24 Comparison elaborating on those who hear only
  • a. v 23b: he is like one who observes his own face in a mirror;
  • b. v 24: he observes himself and goes away;
  • c. v 24: and immediately forgets what he looked like.
v. 25: Comparison elaborating on those who hear and do
  • v 25a: the one who looks into the perfect law;
  • v 25a: and remains;
  • v 25b: becomes a doer of works.

v 25c: Conclusion: the doer of works is blessed.

Cf. Allison 2013, 322.

Context

Ancient Cultures

23b mirror Greco-Roman Mirrors In Hellenistic times, the typical mirror was hand-held and used mainly for personal adornment. Usually made of polished metal, its reflection was imperfect (cf. 1Cor 13:12: "we see indistinctly, as in a mirror;" Ancient Cultures 1:23b).

Reception

Christian Tradition

23ff mirror Interpretations of the Mirror

The Mirror is the Law and the Scripture

As James moves from gazing into a mirror to speaking of looking into" the perfect law of liberty (Jas 1:25), the tradition naturally associates the mirror with the law and thus with Scripture (both Old and New Testaments).

  •  Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. "Mirror" represents the law: "For there are two mirrors, i.e., small and large. In a small mirror small things are seen; in a large one, large things. Thus truly there are two laws: the small is the old, which led no one to perfection. The large is the new law of the Gospel (lex nova Evangellii), because the fullness of perfection (plenitudo perfectionis) is observed in it" (col. 68).

The Mirror Reveals the True Self

  •  Erasmus Iac. Par. "The mirror of evangelical teaching (evangelica doctrina) displays not the warts and bumps on the body, but puts all the diseases of your soul (omneis animi tui morbos) before your eyes. Not only does it reveal them, it also cures them" (verum etiam medetur; Bateman 1993, 144–45; Bateman 1997, 131). 
  • Gloss. Ord. (V), quoting Bernard of Clairvaux: "Let us observe, brothers, ourselves in that [mirror] which we have heard in the reading of the sacred Gospel, so that we might profit (proficiamus) from it, and correct ourselves, if we discover anything in ourselves that should be corrected" (corrigamus si qua in nobis deprehendimus corrigenda; col. 1272). See above Ancient Texts 1:23.

Context

Ancient Texts

23 mirror Mirror as a Metaphor for Self-Reflection In Greco-Roman cultures, looking into a mirror was often understood as a metaphor for self-reflection. Although physical mirrors can lead to a vain obsession with one's beauty and appearance, gazing upon onself can also inspire self-awareness and virtuous action.

  • Seneca Nat. 1.17.4 asserts that originally "mirrors were invented (inventa sunt, i.e., discovered) in order that man may know himself (ut homo ipse se nosset), destined to attain many benefits from this: first, knowledge of himself; next, in certain directions, wisdom. The handsome man, to avoid infamy. The homely man, to understand that what he lacks in physical appearance must be compensated for by virtue. The young man, to be reminded by his youth that it is a time of learning and of daring brave deeds. The old man, to set aside actions dishonourable to his grey hair, to think some thoughts about death" (Corcoran 1972, 1:90–91).
  • Seneca Ira 2.36.1–3: If an angry man would see in a mirror how passion distorts his face, he might be motivated to control his anger.
  • Plutarch Rect. rat. aud. 8 [Mor. 42b]: Just as a young man examines the cut of his hair in a mirror after a visit to the barber shop, so too he should examine himself after attending a lecture for signs of moral improvement. 

Suggestions for Reading

18–27 Exhortation to Doing the Word

Thematic Structure 

Although some interpreters see Jas 1:19 as a thematic statement developed in Jas 1:20–27, the following thematic flow of thought is evident:

  • Vv. 18–21: An example of God's good gift: "the word of truth." God implants (Jas 1:21)  a "word of truth" (Jas 1:18), the natural law of right and wrong, within each person. This law exhorts one to bridle his speech and his passions (such as anger). 
  • Vv. 22–27: One must not only hear this law, but act on it. Bridling one's tongue (Jas 1:19; 26) and caring for widows and orphans (Jas 1:27) are two specific ways of living out this law.

Interpretive Issues

  • Jas 1:18–21: One interpretive crux is clarifying the identity of the "word of truth" and the "first-fruits of his creatures" (Jas 1:18) together with the "implanted word" (Jas 1:21). One strand takes the "first fruits" as Christians, and thus the "the word of truth" and the "implanted word" as the gospel message of salvation through Jesus. Another strand, in contrast, takes the "word" to be God's word at creation, and thus the "first-fruits" to be humanity in its pre-eminence over the rest of creation (Christian Tradition 1:18b; Christian Tradition 1:21a).
  • Jas 1:19: James' advice on controlling anger renewed a classical ethical debate on whether anger should be rooted out as a wholly negative vice, or whether controlled anger has a place in the struggle to attain justice and the good (Ancient Texts 1:19c ; Christian Tradition 1:19–20). 
  • Jas 1:23–25: The word of truth is identified with the Torah. Comparing the "word of truth" to a mirror in which a human can see a reflection of his original, God-given nature (Jas 1:23–24, James then identifies the mirror with the "perfect law of freedom," the Torah as interpreted by Jesus (Jas 1:25). 
  • Jas 1:26: James' advice to bridle the tongue is situated within a rich Greco-Roman ethical tradition that valued brevity of speech and self-control; many biblical parallels are also apparent (Ancient Texts 1:26bLiterary Devices 1:26b; Biblical Intertextuality 1:26b).
  • Jas 1:27:  James' admonition to care for orphans and widows develops a common scriptural topos (Biblical Intertextuality 1:27). The tradition understood James' admonition both literally and as referring to the care of the poor and vulnerable in general (Christian Tradition 1:27; Christian Tradition 1:27b).

Text

Textual Criticism

23a hearer of the word Identity of Word and Law The second corrector of C, several minuscules, and lectionaries read "of the law" (nomou) instead of "of the word" (logou). The scribes correctly assume that James identifies the two terms (Jas 1:23–25: looking into the mirror of the word || looking into the perfect law of freedom).

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

22–25 that one will be blessed in his doing Rhetorical Elaboration of Jesus' Beatitude with an Example Jas 1:22–25 can be understood as a rhetorical elaboration of Jesus' saying, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe (phulassô) it" (Lk 11:28; cf. Lk 8:21) or the version in  Mt 7:24 (cf. Lk 6:47), "Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts (poieiô) on them…" Just as Matthew and Luke elaborate the saying with the parable of a house built on rock or sand (Mt 7:24–27; Lk 6:47–49) so too James elaborates the saying with his example (Greek: parabolê; Latin: similitudo) of the forgetful person who looks into a mirror. Albert Sup. Matt. ad 7:26 notes the similarity between James and Jesus' teaching (Schmidt 1987, 271).

Peritestamental Literature

23f mirror Philo on the Image of a Mirror Philo uses the image of a mirror to signify contemplation, either of scripture or of one's own self.

Contemplating Scripture

Philo compares the process of rationally (logikê psychê) discerning the inner, allegorical sense of Scripture with gazing into a mirror:

  • Philo Contempl. 78 "looking through the words as through a mirror (hôsper dia katoptrou tôn onomatôn) beholds the marvellous beauties of the concepts (Colson 1941, 9:160–61).

Critical Self-reflection

Philo Migr. 96–98 and Philo Mos. 2.136–39 refers to the tradition that women gave their mirrors to make the bronze basin in which the priests purified themselves. While purifying themselves, the priests should reflect, as in a mirror, on any sins they may have so they might be purified. Philo also parallels James' reference to remembering: the priest should remember that the basin is made from mirrors.

  • Philo Mos. 2.139 "he himself may behold his own mind as in a mirror" (hina kai autos hoia pros katoptron augazêᵢ ton idion noun; Colson 1935, 6:516–17).
  • Philo Mos  98: the priests, while washing in the laver, "may be helped to see themselves reflected by recollecting the mirrors (enoptrizôntai heautous kata mnêmên tôn esoptrôn) out of which the laver was fashioned" (Colson 1935, 4:186–89).

Reception

Comparison of Versions

23b the appearance of his birth : S his own face S lacks "of his origin."

Christian Tradition

23f the appearance of his birth What Is Reflected in the Mirror and then Forgotten? The tradition offers various suggestions as to what is reflected in the mirror, and then forgotten:

Forgetting One's Original Human Nature, Created in God's Image

  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc., "Thus also the one having observed, through the law of Moses, that he was created for the glory of God, and that he was made according to the image of the creating God. After observing, he put into practice nothing of what had been observed" (col. 468).

Forgetting One's Redeemed Nature in Baptism

  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath., following Ps.-Andreas Catena: "the face of his origin" means "to know oneself through the law".…For through the law we learn how we were made; we observe what we became when the spiritual law perfected us by the washing (loutros: baptism) of rebirth (paliggenesia). Thus if we do not remain in such a contemplation (thea) through our actions (dia praxeôs), we also forget our gift of grace (charisma). For the one giving himself up to evil works does not remember that he was benefitted by God. For if he would have remembered that he was adopted as a son (huiothêtê) , and justified, and sanctified (which are the spiritual gifts), he would not have given himself over to the works that cancel grace" (col. 468).

Forgetting One's Sinful Nature

  • Gloss. Ord. ad. loc. glosses "mirror" with: "the bodily [mirror], where only shadows are reflected" (umbra relucet; col. 1273).  Commenting on the allegorical sense (allegorice), the Glossa takes the contemplation of the face of his birth (vultum nativitatis) to refer to a person's reflection on how one is born (qualiter homo sit natus): how fragile he is, how brief his future life will be, in what miseries he is placed. This knowledge leads to compunction and penitence. Drawn away by temptation, however,  a person forgets his remorse and returns to his sins. So too is the one who willingly listens to the word but neglects to fulfill it (col. 1272).
  •  →GEN  ad loc. "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."

Forgetting the Hard Teachings of Scripture

  Erasmus Iac. Par. specifies some of the lessons the Christian has forgotten (Bateman 1993, 145; Bateman 1997, 131).

  • "You hear from Christ that the punishment of Gehenna awaits anyone who has said to his brother, 'Fool,' (cf. Mt 5:22) but you soon forget what you have heard and are up in arms over a trifling insult."
  • You hear that riches, subject as they are to moths and thieves, are to be disregarded and that true riches are to be stored in heaven (cf. Mt 6:19-21). But you depart from the preacher and go right on heaping up wealth rightly or wrongly (per fas nefasque) with might and main just as if you believed that there were not rewards for godliness after this life is over."

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. Vat.gr. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.

Text

Vocabulary

23b the appearance of his birth Contextual Meaning of the Expression The word genesis, "birth," in the expression to prosôpon tês geneseôs autou can refer to a remote origin (cf. the name of the first book of the Bible), or to one's own birth (e.g., Mt 1:18: the birth, genesis, of Jesus Christ). See also Christian Tradition 1:23-24. Here the phrase here may refer to:

  • the face of own his birth (i.e., the face he was born with), a way of emphasizing that it is his own face;
  • or a more remote or ultimate beginning or origin (i.e., the face or appearance given at creation).  James also uses the word at Jas 3:6: the wheel of birth (trochos tês geneseôs), where it is taken as the origin of one's life.

Reception

Liturgies

22–25 be doers of the word and not only hearers Echo in the Liturgy of St. James A priestly prayer in the Liturgy of St. James reflects this passage:

  • Lit. Jas. "enlighten the souls of us sinners to for the comprehension of the things which have been before spoken [read], so that we may not only be seen to be hearers (mê monon akroatai) of spiritual things, but also doers of good deeds (poiêtai praxeôn agathôn), striving after (meterchomai) guileless faith (pistis), blameless life, and pure conversation (politean anegklêton; ANF 7:539; Brightman-Hammond 1896, 1:38–39).