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James; Faith and Works

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posted on Oct, 1 2012 @ 05:02 PM
In the second chapter of his New Testament letter, James asks the famous awkward question;
“What does it profit…if a man says he has Faith but has not works?” (ch2 v14)

We know from the rest of the letter that James values Faith highly- this was clear from the opening verses.
But this question is not addressed at the man who has Faith.
It is addressed at the man who says he has Faith, which is not the same thing.
So the following question, “Can his Faith save him?”, really means “Can this merely spokenFaith save him?”

In the previous chapter, James was explaining the need to be “doers” of the Word, not hearers only.
It seems to me that he’s making a similar point in this chapter, that we need to be “doers” of the Faith, not speakers only.
He illustrates the difference in the next two verses;
If you want someone to be warm and clothed, the “warming and clothing” which is merely said is completely ineffective- “does not profit”.
The intention isn’t fulfilled until the “warming and clothing” is actively done.
If we follow this analogy through, it leads to the conclusion that merely spoken Faith is ineffective, that Faith needs to be “done”.
So that must be the real meaning of the statement in v17; merely spoken Faith (“Faith by itself”) does not bring life (“is dead”). The only kind of Faith that brings life is the ”done” Faith, the activated Faith which James calls “works”.

V18. which begins with a “But”, is not an objection to the previous verse, but another answer to v14’s “man who says he has Faith”.
“You say that you have Faith, but you don’t have works…
But someone will say…”
There’s disagreement among scholars about the speakers in this verse.
In one theory, there are three different viewpoints on the table.
There is the original spokesman for Faith, the “someone” who advocates works, and the middle ground taken by James at the end of the verse.
That’s implied, for example, by the RSV translation, which punctuates the first part of the verse as a separate speech.

One objection to this approach is that the hypothetical spokesman for works doesn’t really get answered.
In any case, the viewpoint expressed by “someone” is not the logical opposite of v14; he is NOT saying “I have works without Faith”.
His argument really extends to the end of the verse, and it’s taking the form;
“You say that you have Faith-
But I have Faith as well.
The difference between us is that I can prove it, and you can’t”.
The contrast given is between showing Faith without [CHORIS] works, and showing Faith by means of [EK] works.
So the function of “works” here is to be the evidence for the existence of Faith, and what James is offering is another reason why “saying” should be followed by “doing”.

V19 attacks the merely spoken Faith from a different angle.
Merely believing in the one God is not enough; even the demons know that, and it doesn’t do them any good.
But merely “believing that God exists” would not be an adequate definition of saving Faith anywhere else in the New Testament, either.
Admittedly Hebrews ch11 v6 says “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists”, but even in Hebrews this is only the beginning.
The essential ingredient of the word Faith is trust, as that chapter of Hebrews is demonstrating, and this trust in God is what the demons cannot experience.

In the rest of the chapter, James claims to show that men are “justified by works”.
Yet the two episodes he quotes to illustrate this point are both cited in Hebrews ch11 as examples of Faith.

The first episode is Abraham’s obedient response to the command to sacrifice Isaac.
In Hebrews, this is an example of Faith, a because “he considered God was able to raise men even from the dead” (Hebrews ch11 v19).
He had received the promise of descendants through Isaac, and his obedience implied a confidence that the action would not nullify the promise.
For James, the point is that his Faith was “completed” by his works- that is, he did not just believe, but acted on his belief.

The second episode is Rahab of Jericho, assisting the scouts who had been sent out by Joshua.
In Hebrews (ch11 v31) this is another example of Faith.
For James, though, she was “justified by works”, presumably because she did not just believe in the God of Israel but acted on that belief.
He repeats the claim that “Faith without works” is dead (v26), and adds the very suggestive analogy that “works” animates Faith in the same way that the human spirit animates the body.
Perhaps the point is that the presence of life reveals itself by movement.

How can the same two episodes be examples of “Faith” in Hebrews, and examples of “works” in James?
I think we come back to the point that Faith hinges upon trust.
But “trust” is another quality which needs to be done, not merely said.
The man who walks across a bridge is showing a much more genuine trust than the man who says “I
believe that bridge will hold my weight”, and stays where he is.
These two episodes are examples of “trustful action”.
But Hebrews gives them a label (“Faith”) putting emphasis on the fact that “trust is acting”.
While the label used in James gives the emphasis that “trust is acting”.
“Works” is the action of trust, by which Faith is made real and “complete”.
Nevertheless, both writers are making the same point- that genuine trust involves walking across that bridge.

In the middle of his discussion on Abraham’s obedience, James claims (v23) that it fulfilled the scriptural declaration;
“Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Genesis ch15 v6).
Paul is using the same verse, of course, for his own teaching on Faith and works found in Romans and Galatians.
It’s noteworthy, and notorious, that Paul and James make opposite-sounding statements about this verse.
Paul relies upon it for his claim that Abraham was justified by his Faith.
Yet James is using the same verse as part of his argument that men are justified by their works

However, we mustn’t allow this verbal contradiction to prevent us noticing the extent of their agreement.
They both agree on the importance of that verse.
They both appreciate the significance of the fact that Abraham believed in the promise God made him.
In short, they agree on the starting-point of Abraham’s righteousness.

James is not going to accept that Abraham was justified “by Faith alone”.
Presumably this is because “Faith by itself”, in this discussion, has meant merely spoken Faith, which James has been condemning as insufficient, not the real thing.
His argument has been that genuine Faith needs to be carried forward into action.
But that’s exactly what Abraham has been doing, if we take these two Genesis chapters together.
In ch15, he believed God’s promise, which was the foundation of his righteousness.
In ch22, that belief was carried forward into obedience, in the matter of Isaac. That’s when he “crossed the bridge”.
That’s why James says that Abraham’s obedience “fulfilled” the scripture of the earlier chapter.
That’s when his Faith was actualised, “made complete”.
“Works” is not an alternative to Faith, in this teaching, but the active ingredient of genuine Faith.

I believe that Paul and James are really talking about the same thing, a full commitment of active trust in God.
Paul calls this “justified by Faith”, for fear that works will be made a substitute for Faith.
While James calls it “justified by works”, for fear that works will be left out altogether.

posted on Oct, 1 2012 @ 05:12 PM
Agreed - and nicely stated.
People often consider this to be a contradiction, but I think those who do haven't actually read the Scriptures involved. James is fairly clear on what he means:

The evidence of a living, active faith is works.
Man is saved by faith alone; faith in what Christ has done... but the evidence of that faith is works. He who claims to have faith, but has no works, is doing merely that: claiming. This is exactly what Jesus meant when He said "by their fruit you shall know them".

posted on Oct, 1 2012 @ 05:14 PM
reply to post by Awen24

That you for that encouraging response.
Yes, this is exactly what James is getting at.

posted on Oct, 1 2012 @ 06:10 PM
“The man who says he has Faith” is well described and criticised by that staunch evangelical, John Bunyan.
Once Christian, in Pilgrim’s Progress, has passed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, he catches up with the fellow-pilgrim Faithful, and they join forces.
Then they meet a third pilgrim called Talkative, and he is well-named;
“What thing is so pleasant and so profitable, as to talk of the things of God?…I will talk of things heavenly or things earthly; things moral or things evangelical; things sacred or things profane; things past or things to come; things foreign or things at home; things more essential or things circumstantial; provided that all be done to our profit”.
However, Christian knows Talkative already, and warns Faithful against him;
“Religion hath no place in his heart, or home, or conversation; all he hath is in his tongue, and his religion is to make a noise therewith”.
(The idea that a man can have religion in his tongue but not in his conversation seems contradictory to us, but evidently Bunyan is using “conversation” in a much broader sense)
Once Christian has described the contrast between the way Talkative speaks and the way he behaves at home, Faithful makes the very apposite comment;
“Well, I see that saying and doing are two things; and hereafter I shall better observe this distinction”.
So when we read this critique of the man who “says he has Faith”, I think we should be carrying a mental picture of friend Talkative of Prating-Row.

posted on Oct, 1 2012 @ 06:11 PM
Very good post.

I have been attacked here by some for teaching holiness standards. They do not understand the relationship between faith and works. It is not the standards alone that save us. It is our faith that causes us to live by the standards.

posted on Oct, 1 2012 @ 06:15 PM
reply to post by truejew

Thank you for the encouragement.
The problem is that when there are two approaches which are at opposite extremes- and this applies in many different kinds of topic- anyone who criticises one extreme comes under suspicion for favouring the other one.
In this case, the extremes being reliance upon personal goodness and completely ignoring the need to pursue it.

edit on 1-10-2012 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 1 2012 @ 06:48 PM
If I was to add anything I would suggest all a persons righteous works are done through the Holy Spirit, not in and of themselves.
Good read, nice links to the Old Testament I hadnt noticed.

posted on Oct, 1 2012 @ 06:56 PM

Originally posted by borntowatch
If I was to add anything I would suggest all a persons righteous works are done through the Holy Spirit, not in and of themselves.

There's language in the first chapter, which I was discussing in previous threads, which hints at the same kind of idea.
James does not use the phrase "Holy Spirit" (perhaps rather pointedly). However, he does use phrases which have a similar meaning and look like substitutes.
In ch3, he talks about "the Wisdom from above".
In ch1 he talks about the "Word of truth". We are "brought forth" by the Word (cf "born of the Spirit"). We are told to "receive the implanted Word" (cf "receive the Spirit"), and we are also told to "be doers of the Word" (cf "live by the Spirit").
So James might even agree with you, but would not say so using those words.

posted on Oct, 1 2012 @ 08:05 PM
I’ve discussed the different ways that James and the author of Hebrews treat the episodes of Abraham’s obedience and Rahab’s allegiance.
But how should we account for the fact that these two episodes are quoted by both writers?
The fact that they coincide in citing Rahab is particularly remarkable, since her name is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament, apart from the genealogy of Jesus.
It certainly looks as though one of them has been reading the other one’s work- but which way round?

If James was the first writer to use these two examples, then the author of Hebrews would have been noticing them and deciding they would be useful for his own list of examples of Faith.

If the long list of examples in Hebrews had come first, then James would have been picking out these two cases in order to promote a slight shift in emphasis; “Yes, of course these people had Faith, but they also expressed their Faith in their actions”.
The special interest of these two episodes could be that the behaviour of Abraham implies trust in a kind of “Resurrection” (of Isaac), while the behaviour of Rahab implies trust in a kind of “Return” (of the Israelites in greater strength).

I’ve observed that James also seems to make a rather dismissive allusion to another verse in the same chapter, the one about believing that God exists (Hebrews ch11 v6).
Therefore I’m inclined to favour the second option, that James was acquainted with Hebrews ch11 and offering a response.

posted on Oct, 1 2012 @ 09:18 PM
I’ve discussed the different ways that James and Paul treat the Genesis statement about Abraham believing God (Genesis ch15 v6).
But once again, how should we account for the fact that both writers base part of their teaching on the same verse?
Since one of them affirms, and the other one carefully denies, that Abraham was “justified by works” (in the same Greek wording), nobody is going to convince me that this was accidental.
The most natural explanation is that one of them has been reading the other one’s work- but which way round?

If James was the first writer, then the concept of “justified by works” would have been derived from a combination of two Genesis chapters, “justified” from ch.15, and Abraham’s obedience from ch22.
If Paul was responding to this, he would then be suppressing the second part of James’ formula- “You see that Faith was active along with his works”- in order to focus upon the first.
But nothing in what Paul writes suggests that he is even aware of any argument based on ch22.
And why would James have felt the need to affirm the importance of “works” if the point had not already been challenged?

If Paul was the first writer, the concept of “justified by Faith” would be a natural deduction from the wording of Genesis ch.15 - “accounted righteous…because he believed”.
Then, as in the case of the two Hebrews examples, James would be picking up the argument and promoting a slight shift in emphasis.
“Yes, of course Abraham had Faith, but he also expressed his Faith in his actions”
The very fact that this question occurs twice, because this passage (vv21-25) shares quotations with both Paul and Hebrews, may be helping us towards the right answer.
If the other two writers picked up the quotations from James, then they were, in effect, dividing up the passage between them. The author of Hebrews thinks that examples of Faith can be found in the two episodes which Paul ignores.
The alternative is that James was acquainted with with both Galatians and Hebrews ch11, and this passage weaves together his responses to both the other two writers.
I’m inclined to favour the second option, as the more natural way of explaining the development of the various passages.

posted on Oct, 2 2012 @ 05:02 PM
As James quotes the scripture(Genesis ch.15 v6) which declares how Abraham believed God. he throws in the information that Abraham was called “the friend of God”.
Where does he get this from, and how does it connect with the subject under discussion?
The answer to the first question is easy enough;
“But you, Israel my servant,
Jacob whom I have chosen,
The offspring of Abraham my friend”- Isaiah ch41 v8.
The connection apparently comes through the previous verse in Genesis ch15- “…so shall your descendants be”, suggesting a cross-reference to “offspring”.
Perhaps James was prompted to pick up that connection by the fact that Paul builds his own argument on “the descendants of Abraham”
“The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of Faith”- Romans ch.4 v13.
Whatever train of thought led James to the “friend of God” understanding of Abraham, he doesn’t, in fact, make anything out of it.
He does not suggest, though it might have been in the back of his mind, that we need to resemble Abraham if we want to be “friends of God” ourselves.
However, the “friend of God” concept is the implied background of the “enmity with God” theme found at the beginning of ch4, and the connection might have been made more explicitly in his pastoral teaching.

posted on Oct, 2 2012 @ 05:46 PM
In relation to which writers were picking up from the others - could both James and Paul have been writing in the context of a wider conversation going on in the early church, around these verses and the topic of faith and works, rather than one getting it directly from the other?

posted on Oct, 2 2012 @ 05:50 PM
reply to post by Anthony2

Yes, that's very possible, I suppose.
However, the contrast between "Abraham was justifed by Faith alone, not works" and "Abraham was justifed by works, not Faith alone" is so blunt that it feels easier to explain, for me, if one of them was conscious of it.

posted on Oct, 2 2012 @ 05:58 PM
reply to post by Anthony2

PS I've got another supplementary post somewhere, which I will add in a moment, discussing whether James might have been arguing with over-zealous interpreters of Paul rather than Paul himself.

posted on Oct, 2 2012 @ 06:01 PM
reply to post by Anthony2

Yep, here we are;

As already observed, the wording of James’ teaching, that Abraham was justified by his works, is diametrically opposed to the wording of Paul’s teaching, that Abraham was justified by his Faith.
On my previous assumption, based on the use of quotations, that James was the later writer, does this mean that James’ argument was consciously directed against Paul’s teaching?

I’ve argued that the two teachings may be closer in essence than they look; I’m sure that the Paul who rebuked the sinful Corinthians and taught the Galatians about the need to “walk by the Spirit” would not really have objected to the demand for Christian Faith to be expressed in action.
But this does not preclude the possibility that James thought he was arguing with Paul.

Anyone who thinks that Paul would have been content with a merely verbal expression of Faith is misunderstanding Paul’s teaching.
One possibility is that James himself was making this mistake, and was conducting his argument accordingly.
Another is that Paul’s teaching was being distorted by over-enthusiastic disciples, who were taking Paul’s ideas in a much more antinomian direction than he would have intended.
That’s a very plausible conjecture, given the later history of these controversies.
James would then be arguing against this distorted teaching, and amending the language of Paul’s formula, because he thought that Paul’s terminology was encouraging the misunderstanding.

It seems to me that this argument continues into the following chapter.
In the first part of ch.3, James is rebuking habits of intemperate speech.
When I was considering that chapter, I came to the conclusion that this was mainly directed at the problem of intemperate theological controversy.
I suggested that the dogmatic “Faith-alone” teachers that he was criticising in ch2 were the same people who were teaching over-confidently and aggressively in ch3, and using violent language against their opponents to the extent of cursing them.
Once again, this seems only too plausible, given the history of later controversies on the subject.
The pattern of the middle of James letter would then be as follows;
In the second half of ch.2, he criticises the theory of the Faith-alone dogmatists.
The first half of ch.3 is diverted into a criticism of the verbal behaviour of the same people.
Then, at the end of ch3, he returns to putting them right on the theory. This takes the form of offering a better alternative to “verbal Faith”, namely the teaching about following the guidance of “the Wisdom from above”.

posted on Oct, 3 2012 @ 05:20 PM
Ever since Paul’s time, the language of Paul’s teaching has effectively controlled the language of theological discussion.
The concepts of the Christian Faith have become familiar to us under the names that Paul gave them, like “Grace” and “Faith” and “Holy Spirit”.
This makes James very conspicuous, as a Christian writer who is not using Paul’s terminology.

His divergence from Paul’s characteristic language is so nearly complete that it looks deliberate.
For example, he does not use the phrase “Holy Spirit”.
Where Paul would have talked about the Spirit, James talks about “the Wisdom from above”, or the Word”, telling his readers to be “doers of the Word”, instead of urging them to “walk by the Spirit”
This may be akin to the way that Matthew avoids the phrase “kingdom of God”.
He deals with Paul’s argument on “Faith and works” by taking the two words “Faith” and “works” and using them in his own way, with slightly different meanings.
On the one hand, he limits the meaning of “Faith”, or at least the phrase “Faith alone”. The phrase now means “merely verbal Faith, Faith that is not expressed in action”, which is not what Paul would have meant by “Faith alone”.
On the other hand, he’s also shifting the meaning of the word “works”. Paul condemns relying upon the works of the law, using them as a substitute for Faith (Galatians ch3. Vv0-14). James now uses the same word for what a Christian does to demonstrate his Faith, the kind of behaviour which Paul himself would have commended.
For that matter, the “law” which James commends does not seem to be the same thing as the detailed Mosaic Law which Paul was rejecting.

I believe his motivation was to restore balance to a teaching which was getting imbalanced, he thought, by misuse of the language which Paul had adopted.
The price he paid was to make himself an object of suspicion to evangelical Christians.
The case of Martin Luther is symptomatic.
Luther might have been inspired by Paul’s indictment of the Mosaic Law, yet he could be an unregenerate legalist himself in his approach to words, as the “HOC EST CORPUS MEUM” episode demonstrates.
Legalists like words to have stable meanings, so it’s hardly surprising that Luther felt uncomfortable with the different and unfamiliar ways in which James was using the language of theology.
Easier to take the “contradictions” at face value.
Hence the famous disparaging dismissal.
We cannot understand the real relationship between the teaching of James and the teaching of Paul unless we’re willing to cope with the fact that words can be used in different ways.

posted on Dec, 18 2012 @ 02:15 PM
Now that the series on James is complete, an Index of the various threads can be found at this location;

James; Teacher of Faith and Wisdom

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