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Bible Commentaries
James 2

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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In this chapter James deals with two major themes: The first concerns the problem of showing partiality toward the rich (James 2:1-13). Although the gospel is for all, there is an inherent danger in preferential treatment of one class over another. Elevating one group above the rest will destroy the unity and fellowship of the body. This type of treatment makes a mockery of everything for which Christianity stands.

The second theme is faith and works, topics that James deals with in an extended discussion (James 2:14-26). These Christians stood in danger of being convinced that faith without works was pleasing to God. But James, through illustrations, analogies, questions, and logical statements, shows the weakness of the faith-only position.

Verse 1

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.

While the rendering of the KJV may be a little awkward, the meaning of the verse is obvious. It may be understood as follows: "In your practice of Christianity, make sure that you stop showing preferential treatment to certain people."

My brethren: The verse begins with the familiar "my brethren." Some fifteen times James refers to the recipients of the letter by these words or "my beloved brethren." That reference is no accident. He wants them to know that he is of the same spiritual family as they are. As an inspired man, he will continue to issue commands through his use of the imperative, yet it remains important to James to remind the readers that he remains one of them.

have not: This verb (me echete) is a present imperative with a negative, used here in the sense of a prohibition of an act already in progress. It can be translated with the sense of "stop having." They are not to continue in this habit of showing partiality to certain ones.

the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ: The faith we are to exercise is "of our Lord" (tou kuriou hemon), a phrase used as an objective genitive, indicating that it is the faith that comes from the Lord. It is our faith in the Lord that is produced by the word of God.

of glory: "Of glory" (tes doxes) is also in the genitive case, and the way it is used in the text determines how it is translated. The KJV translators have used it as a genitive of apposition, meaning that the word is identical with the word it modifies (see notes on "crown of life," James 1:12). Here it would be literally "Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory." Words in the genitive case also may be translated as descriptive, which attributes a quality or relationship to the word it is modifying. This view is seen in the way the NIV translates the verse, "My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism."

respect of persons: This expression (prosopolempsiais) is from the compound word prosopon, meaning face, and lambano, meaning to lift up, hence to "lift up the face" or to show favoritism and partiality. God has never condoned the showing of partiality. When Samuel, sent to anoint the young boy David to be king, sees and admires David’s brother Eliab because of his physical stature, God tells him, "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). God looks upon man’s heart because He is "no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9). Jesus shares the same belief, as seen in the remarks of the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians, "Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men" (Matthew 22:16). In His ministry, Jesus appealed to all men to obey the gospel, regardless of social, economic, or racial class. The invitation of God is open to "whosoever will" (Revelation 22:17).

We need to realize that the church is an "equal opportunity" organization. It is not some social fraternity for the privileged few. It is the body of Christ. All sinners--regardless of their social standing, economic status, or race--may become members of it. Jesus died for all. He did not discriminate, and neither should we (2 Corinthians 5:14-16). The gospel is to be preached to "every creature" (Mark 16:15-16).

James’ prohibition against showing partiality does not mean Christians are not to show respect to certain individuals. Christians are to respect their civil leaders (Romans 13:1-8) and their spiritual leaders (Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17). Younger Christians should respect those who are older (1 Peter 5:5). What James is condemning is the special treatment of the rich over the poor. This type of treatment occurs because of pride and selfishness and is illustrative of the spirit of the world.

Verse 2

For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;

For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring: At this point James introduces an hypothetical situation to illustrate how partiality works. We know that it is hypothetical because he uses a third class conditional sentence (ean with the subjunctive verb), which is the probable future condition. It expresses that which is not yet happening but will probably take place in the future (Summers 109). While the actual event may not have happened, the fact that they were showing preferential treatment to the rich indicates there is a good possibility this example will become reality.

come: "Come" (eiselthei) is an aorist subjunctive verb, with the aorist tense indicating this is a single occurrence and the subjunctive mood illustrating the action is possible but not yet a reality.

assembly: The word "assembly" (sunagogen) is a compound word from sun, meaning to gather with, and ago, meaning to lead, hence a coming together or a gathering. What is interesting about this word is that the majority of the time it is translated "synagogue." In the gospel accounts alone, it is found more than thirty times and is always translated synagogue. In Acts 10:43 it is translated "congregation." In fact, James 2:2 and Acts 10:43 are the only places in the New Testament where this word is not translated synagogue, thus indicating an early date for this epistle as Christians were still calling their practices by Jewish names. As time passed and more Gentiles were added to the church, the word they began to use in reference to the assembly of the church was the more familiar ekklesia.

in goodly apparel: James speaks of two men, probably not Christians, who visit the assembly. The first one is very rich, as evidenced by his outward appearance. He is a man with a "gold ring" (chrusodaktulios), literally meaning "gold-ringed, adorned with gold rings" (Thayer 674). Based on this definition, it appears this individual wears several gold rings, not just one. This passage is the only time this word is found in the New Testament. He is described in such a way as to give the air and appearance of wealth. The wearing of gold rings as a symbol of affluence was a common practice among the Romans and also the Jews. Hiebert adds, "There were even shops in Rome where rings could be rented for a special occasion. This ostentatious practice doubtless spread also to the provinces and would be known to James’ readers" (The Epistle of James 151). He is also described as wearing "goodly apparel" (estheti lamprai), which refers to that which is gorgeous, splendid, or bright. His clothes are the latest and most expensive fashions.

and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment: The second visitor to enter the assembly is described as being poor with "vile raiment." "Vile" (ruparai) is a word that indicates something filthy or dirty and is very similar to the word translated "filthiness" in James 1:21. This man does not give the air or appearance of having wealth; rather, he has the air of poverty. He is just a poor man with no external signs of affluence.

From their physical appearances, there could be no mistake regarding their economic status. A modern example of this contrast would be between a man wearing a tailored, expensive suit and a man wearing old, dirty work clothes.

Verse 3

And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:

And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing: This verse continues the conditional statement of verse 2. "Respect" in this passage is from a different Greek word than the "respect" of verse 1. It is epiblepsete, a compound verb with epi, meaning upon, and blepo, meaning to look or see. It has the meaning of regarding, or looking up to. They would show respect to the rich man and disrespect toward the poor.

and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place: The rich man who enters the assembly is told, "Sit thou here in a good place." The word "thou" is emphatic in the original and may be translated "You sit here in a good place." James uses the emphasis to show the contrast between the reception to the rich man and to the poor man. "Good place" literally means in honor and refers to a seat of honor. The picture that James is drawing is of a rich man, dressed impeccably, proudly entering the assembly and brethren almost tripping over themselves in their haste to bring him to the seat of honor. Their words cause on to remember the condemning words of Jesus to the pretentious Pharisees, "Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces" (Luke 11:43 NIV).

It is difficult to understand why brothers in Christ would behave in such a manner. Perhaps it is that these Christians wanted to overcome the stigma of poverty. Some may have thought that the opportunity to convert rich and influential people would give the church credibility and make them respectable in their towns. Others, as the text indicates, were simply guilty of partiality. Whatever the cause, this behavior is a very sad commentary on the evils of partiality.

and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: When the poor man entered the assembly, he was given two options as to where he could remain for the service. Both places seem to be pointed out with an air of contempt for this visitor. He could either "stand there," referring to some obscure, unimportant place, or he could "sit under my footstool," probably referring to sitting on the floor beside someone sitting in a chair. This expression is used often in the scriptures in reference to putting the enemies of the Lord in their place (Matthew 22:44; Hebrews 10:13). Here the individual is being reminded of his inferiority. The attitude displayed toward this poor man was inexcusable. The irony here is that with this mentality the people would have treated Jesus with disdain because He also was poor. The proper treatment of the poor was such an important issue in the early church that when Paul discusses with Peter, James, and John their respective places in the work of the church, they concluded, "that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do" (Galatians 2:10).

Verse 4

Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

Are ye not then partial in yourselves: In this conclusion to the previous conditional sentence, James points out the fruits of partiality. The use of the negative "not" (ou) in the Greek construction of this question indicates that an affirmative answer is expected. The thought is, "Yes, you are partial in yourselves, and you are judges of evil thoughts." To James the fruits of partiality are obvious.

partial: "Partial" (diekrithete) means "to be at variance with one’s self, hesitate, doubt" (Thayer 138). It is from the same word translated "wavereth" in James 1:6 where it refers to a doubter. There seem to be two possible interpretations coming from James’ use of this word. The first is that James is telling them that when they discriminate based on economic status (or any other status for that matter), they are showing partiality. Preferring the rich over the poor is highly inconsistent with the universal appeal of Christianity. Among themselves, these Christians would insist upon impartiality; yet when the rich enter the picture, this belief would quickly be dropped. The second interpretation involves the idea Christians are "doubting" the validity of Christ’s teaching against partiality. This belief is based on the primary meaning of "partial," which is to doubt. James earlier uses this word to refer to the doubting man who is double minded and does not receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-8). In making a distinction between the rich and poor, those whom James addresses were expressing a doubt about the faith they professed (Vincent 352). They were wavering between the teachings of Christ concerning wealth and social standing and their own desire to show favoritism to the rich. This wavering strongly indicated they did not really believe in Christ’s words. The second interpretation is probably correct because of the usage of the word as doubting.

and are become judges of evil thoughts: These Christians had become "judges of evil thoughts," a phrase which carries the meaning of "evil thinking judges." They were "judges" in the sense that they had elevated their opinions to lofty positions of authority. In their estimation, they had the right to decide who was worthy of special treatment and who was not. They were "evil thinking" because their thoughts were dominated by sin. The practice of discrimination actually begins with the presumptuous judging by a Christian based upon appearance. Their thoughts had turned into practice, causing them to become judges of evil thoughts in showing partiality. A very important principle is taught here concerning our thoughts. Our thoughts often turn into action, so the Christian must guard his thoughts. The wise man says, "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). The simple truth is that we become what we think. If our thoughts turn to selfishness and the pleasure that comes from sin, then we will behave in sinful ways. Jesus warns, "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matthew 15:19). If we think upon that which is pure and right, however, those thoughts, too, will affect our behavior (Philippians 4:8). It is therefore very important for the Christian to work to control the thoughts of his mind. Paul declares, "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

During the infancy of the church, the apostles emphasized that all barriers of social status, financial status, racial status, and sex were to be broken down within the Lord’s body. Possessing wealth and social standing would not make the Christian any better, and not possessing them would not make him worse. Since Jesus died for all, all were to be admitted and equally accepted upon obedience to the gospel. As Paul says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). James, in this section, is working together with the other inspired writers of the New Testament to insure that the church remains an equal opportunity body. Such discrimination could have done great damage to the church if it had continued.

Verse 5

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

Hearken, my beloved brethren: James considers two promises that God gives to the poor. He begins with "hearken" (akousate), an imperative of command. The readers are to listen carefully to what he is about to say. He again presents his thoughts in the form of a question with an affirmative answer expected.

If the readers had stopped a moment to reflect on what they were in danger of doing with their partiality, then they would have seen they were doing just the opposite of what Christianity teaches. One of the attractive features of Christianity is its fairness and equality. They were in danger of removing this feature from the church and had to be warned against such.

Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith: "Chosen" (exelexato) is an aorist indicative, meaning "to pick or choose for one’s self" (Thayer 196). The word is sometimes used in the sense of selecting apostles or other faithful men to do certain works. The aorist tense shows God’s choice as a past fact. The ones that God chose in this context are the poor "of this world," those poor with reference to this world. They are "rich in faith"--that is, they are rich because of their faith. They are possessors of the true riches that are spiritual and not material. Paul describes these riches as the "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8).

The Lord mentions that these riches are "true riches" (Luke 16:11). Possessors of these are rich because they are children of God and members of the Lord’s church. This promise is God’s first to the poor.

and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him: The second promise to the poor is that they are heirs to the kingdom. "Heirs" (kleronomous) means "one who receives his allotted possession by right of sonship" (Thayer 349). The inheritance to be received is the "kingdom." It is not some millennial kingdom on earth but the eternal kingdom or heaven (2 Peter 1:11; Matthew 25:34). The future reward of the faithful is not earthly but heavenly. The construction of "which he hath promised to them that love him" is the same as that of the concluding words in James 1:12. "Hath promised" (epengeilato) is an aorist indicative, indicating a past choice made by God that is so true it does not have to keep on being repeated. "To them that love" (tois agaposin) is a present participle and indicates this love for God must be a continual duty, one that does not cease. God’s promise for eternal life was made in the past and remains valid. In James 1:12, James relates the promise of a crown of life for the faithful, while here he says that the faithful have the promise of the kingdom, both expressing the future reward of the saints.

When James says that God chose the poor, he does not mean every poor individual. Some who are poor are just as greedy and partial as the rich. Likewise, some among the rich are humble enough to have an interest in being Christians. But the poor, as a class, are more apt to accept the gospel than the rich. The rich, as a class, often have numerous interests outside things spiritual, and they often consider Christianity below their dignity. Paul says, "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called" (1 Corinthians 1:26).

Verse 6

But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?

But ye have despised the poor: The "ye" in this first sentence is emphatic. It is like James is saying that although God has chosen the poor, you have despised them. Such a thought is frightening. Those guilty of this practice have actually lined up against God rather than on His side. The last thing a Christian wants to do is stand in opposition to God, yet that is exactly what they were doing.

despised: "Despised" (etimasate) means to insult or dishonor, and the aorist tense seems to point to a definite act.

Do not rich men oppress you: James now considers the abuses brought upon the Christian by the rich. The "rich" probably has reference to rich Jews. The question in the Greek again expects an affirmative answer and is designed to make the reader reflect.

oppress: "Oppress" (katadunasteuousin) means "to exercise harsh control over one, to use one’s power against one" (Thayer 331). This word is found only twice in the New Testament, with the other occurrence in Acts 10:38 where it refers to being under the power of the devil. James pictures a powerful person dominating another and, in the process, exploiting and hurting him.

and draw you before the judgment seats: The rich men also "draw" (helkousin) them away, which means literally to drag. The word implies violence, so the picture is that of being forcefully dragged to another place. An example of this type of behavior is found in Saul’s dragging off men and women and putting them in jail (Acts 8:3). Both of these verbs "oppress" and "draw" are present tense, indicating this was the habitual treatment of the rich toward the poor. The poor were dragged before the judgment seats (kriteria), either a Jewish or Roman court. The Jews were allowed to have courts to settle their own problems (Acts 18:15). In the first century, the poor were often brought to trial and thrown in jail just because of their inability to pay debts (Matthew 18:28-30).

Verse 7

Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?

Do not they blaspheme that worthy name: James continues to describe the behavior of the rich. His question, just as the ones above, expects an affirmative answer. "Blaspheme" (blasphemousin) means "to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile" (Thayer 102). The verb is present tense and refers to their continual practice of maligning the "worthy name" of Christ. Maligning was a common practice of the Jews of that time because of their intense hatred of Christianity and of their desire to slander the name of Christ. Luke, in Acts 13:45, mentions, "But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming." Paul remembers that, at one time, he had blasphemed the worthy name, although he found forgiveness for it (1 Timothy 1:13). These words would cause the readers to recall immediately the savage attacks that these rich ones had brought upon the Lord.

by the which ye are called: "Are called" (epiklethen) is an aorist participle, meaning to be called by one’s name or to be dedicated to one. It is used in the sense of an individual belonging to the one whose name he carries. In our society the wife and the children generally wear the name of the husband and father because of his authority. Christians wear the name of Christ because they now belong to Him and are dedicated to Him. Since they carry His name, they respect His authority and His teachings. James’ words may be summarized in this way: "Since you belong to Christ and are honored with His name, you should not show partiality because that brings dishonor to that worthy name."

In effect, James is saying in these two verses, "As you consider your preferential treatment of the rich, remember their shameful treatment of the poor." He is not advocating that Christians become angry and mistreat the rich because that would be as wrong as their partiality. He does want them, though, to consider the cruel behavior of some of those shown preferential treatment.

Verse 8

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture: There is a word in the Greek text, not translated in the KJV, that has a bearing on the understanding of this verse. The word, mentoi, means, "but yet, nevertheless, howbeit" (Thayer 399). Other translations render it as follows: "If you really fulfill the royal law ..." (RSV) and "If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law ..." (NASB). There are two possible interpretations of this verse. First, James may be answering an objection that these Christians might raise regarding his accusation of partiality. They might reason, "When we show this type of special treatment to the rich, we are merely loving our neighbor as ourselves." The second interpretation is that James is adding to his previous statement and, in effect, is telling these people not to start mistreating the rich. If this interpretation is correct, there were some who were actually keeping this royal law; and James commends them for it. The fact that this is a conditional sentence that assumes the reality of a situation also points to the reality of some already keeping the royal law. This second inter- pretation is probably the correct one. This interpretation, which seems most fitting, helps explain his usage of a conditional sentence (first class condition), which assumes the reality of the situation.

fulfil: "Fulfill" (teleite) means to perform, keep, or execute. It is a present tense verb and refers to the continual duty of keeping this royal law. It is not a single obedience of this law but a regular practice of it. The word "royal" (basilikon) means "belonging to a king, kingly, royal, regal" (Thayer 98). The reference is to a law as given by the king and, thus, would have royal dignity, rather than being a pre-eminent law (Kittel 102). What law does James have reference to here? Is he referring to the supreme law of love, the law of Moses, or could it be the New Testament law of Christ.

This law, I believe, is the New Testament law of Christ, or, as he would call it, the "law of liberty" (James 1:25; James 2:12). The law of Christ has already been alluded to three times in the first chapter (verses 18, 21, 25).

If this royal law is the law of Christ, why does James appeal to an apparent quotation from the Old Testament? The answer is that while this principle of loving your neighbor as yourself was found in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18), it was not limited to just that period of time. It would also be true in the New Testament period since Jesus makes it clear that this principle would also be a part of His law. He teaches this principle to those around Him (Mark 12:31), and Paul repeats it to his readers (Romans 13:8-9; Galatians 5:14). Roberts adds, "What was morally right under the law is an expression of God’s will and is the object of the gospel (Romans 7:1-25; Romans 8:3; Romans 13:10). There is little difference between the morality of the law and gospel, though there is a difference in application" (96). Many of the moral principles of the Old Testament have been carried over into the law of Christ. Thus the Christian observes them, not because they are in the law, but because they are in the gospel. If someone asks, "Which moral principles from the Old Testament are binding upon the Christian today?" the answer is that only those principles found in the New Testament are applicable.

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: "Thou shalt love" (agapeseis) is a future tense verb used to express a command. It is singular in number, indicating that the act of love is an individual responsibility and must be practiced by all Christians. This type of love is not self-serving nor is it based on emotions only; rather, it seeks the best for its object. Love gives everything it has to help and please, and it is not motivated by what it will receive in return. The object of this love is your "neighbor." The Jews had a very limited view as to who their neighbor actually was. A fellow Jew was a neighbor, but anyone beyond that was not to be trusted. When the embarrassed lawyer poses this question to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" it gives the Lord the opportunity to teach that any person could be a neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). Christians are not to love only those they actually prefer but even their enemies. Jesus says, "For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?" (Matthew 5:46-47). This neighbor is be loved "as thyself," meaning the Christian must have the proper respect for his own life. The Christian should accept himself for who he is, value himself as a part of God’s creation, respect himself because of his relationship with God, forgive himself as he forgives others, and be patient with himself. He does not, however, have the right to love himself more than he loves others.

ye do well: "Ye do well" (poieite) describes the result of the conditional clause. It is present tense and indicates a continuous sense of doing well. When an individual continually fulfills the royal law, he is doing right and will find his reward at the judgment.

Verse 9

But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

But if ye have respect to persons: While there were those who practiced the royal law, there still remained those who did not; and they continued in their partiality. This sentence is another conditional one, also assuming the events described are true. "Ye have respect to persons" (prosopolempteite) is found only one time in the New Testament. It is present tense, indicating this is not an isolated problem but a continual one.

ye commit sin: The result of partiality is laid out in very simple and unmistakable words: "ye commit sin." There is no hesitating in his condemning of this evil practice. "Commit" (ergazesthe) is a present tense verb meaning to work or produce. They were working or producing sin in their lives, and such is no trivial matter. Showing preferential treatment to the rich is not just a weakness on the part of the Christian; it is an open violation of the law of God and must be stopped.

and are convinced of the law as transgressors: The law is personified here in the sense that it is the agent that convicts these brethren of their wrongdoing. It stands as a witness whose testimony exposes them each time they practice partiality (Hiebert, The Epistle of James 165). They are exposed as "transgressors" (parabatai), carrying with it the idea of stepping over or beyond a boundary. The law points out the correct path to take; and these individuals stepped beyond it, hence becoming lawbreakers.

Verse 10

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

For whosoever shall keep the whole law: Does James mean that if an individual breaks the law in one point he is guilty of breaking every law? No, he means that if an individual keeps the law faithfully in every point, yet he disobeys in one point, he is a lawbreaker and will receive punishment just as any other sinner would. The murderer may not be guilty of any other crime, but he is still guilty of breaking the law. The Jews divided their laws into some that were more important than others; as long as one kept their perceived important laws, it did not matter if he kept the lesser ones. That viewpoint, however, is not a correct understanding of the law of Christ. James is telling the readers that while they may be obeying Christ perfectly in every other area, partiality makes them guilty as lawbreakers.

whosoever: The "whosoever" (hostis) is from an indefinite relative Greek pronoun that means "anyone who." These words serve up a warning to every Christian. The two verbs "keep" and "offend" are aorist subjunctives, meaning that while James is presenting this situation as a hypothetical case rather than an actual one, it is implied that it is a possibility. "Keep" (teresei) means to guard, observe, or protect. The picture is of one who zealously protects the whole law by guarding it against desecration.

and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all: "Offend" (ptaisei) means to slip, stumble, or make a mistake. This individual stumbles over one point of the law that gets in his way. While he may take great pains to observe the whole law, he carelessly stumbles in one point. The result is that "he is guilty of all." "Is" (gegonen) is a perfect tense verb referring to the fact he was and even remains guilty of all.

These words tell us that as Christians we are not free to pick and choose the laws of God we prefer. It is easy to obey those commands that appeal to our logic, but it can be difficult to obey those commands we do not like. To ignore purposely or refuse to comply with God’s laws shows rebellion on our part. Those who minimize the importance of obedience to all of God’s laws should heed the sobering words of James. Jesus tells the story of those on judgment day who point out to the Lord the good works they accomplished only to be informed they had not obeyed the will of God (Matthew 7:21-23).

How can the Christian protect himself from unconsciously ignoring some of the commandments of God?

First, he must have an all-consuming desire to be righteous (Matthew 5:6). This desire cannot be an occasional wish but must be constant like a passion.

Second, the Christian must develop a love for obeying all of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). It is human nature to desire to be close to what we love. When we develop an unselfish love for the truth, we will want to be obedient regardless of our own interests.

Third, the Christian must be honest in his treatment of God’s word. He must not force his preconceived ideas into the word. May we never be like those Jesus described as having their heart, eyes, and ears closed to the truth (Matthew 13:15).

Fourth, we must respect God’s word. This word is a sharp and powerful sword (Hebrews 4:12) that will judge the Christian at judgment (John 12:48).

When the Christian conscientiously practices these principles, he will protect himself from ignoring God’s commands.

Verse 11

For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

While no Christian is sinless (1 John 1:8), he, nevertheless, must strive for consistency in his obeying all of the laws of Christ. This verse is an illustration of the principle in the preceding verse concerning the need for keeping all of the law without neglecting certain parts of it. Both laws came from the same God. Because of this principle, the Christian cannot keep one and reject the other. One cannot claim to love and obey God if he accepts part of His will and rejects other parts of it.

In his prohibition against adultery (me moicheuseis) and killing (me phoneuseis), James uses two aorist subjunctive verbs with the negative "not" (me). This combination of the aorist subjunctive with the negative (me) prohibits even the very beginning of the act (Brooks and Winberry 108). It may be translated with the thought of "don’t ever." How can one refuse to commit adultery yet kill? Is not the inconsistency of such behavior obvious?

thou art become a transgressor of the law: The result of inconsistency in obeying God’s law is that one becomes "a transgressor of the law." The transgressor (parabates), just as it is used in verse 9, refers to the individual who steps over the boundary. James makes this wrong far more personal this time by saying "thou" are the transgressor, rather than the impersonal "he" is guilty of all (verse 10). It is easy to suppose the speaker to be referring to others when he speaks in very general terms. When he becomes specific, though, and speaks directly to the hearer, it is much easier to make it personally applicable. "Art become" (gegonas) is again in the perfect tense, indicating they had been lawbreakers and even remained that way. James is pointing out that while they may be trying to please God in every way, their partiality continues to make them lawbreakers.

Verse 12

So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

So speak ye, and so do: "So" is an adverb of manner and means "in this manner." "Speak" (laleite) and "do" (poieite) are both imperatives, indicating that James is setting forth a command and is not merely making a suggestion. They are also present tense, pointing out that this is the habitual duty of the Christian and not just an occasional practice. Christians are to be consistent in their behavior. They are not just to say what is right; they also are to do it. Some of the greatest damage that comes upon the church is from Christians who say one thing and do just the opposite. The world takes special delight in pointing out hypocrisy in the church. John points out the need for consistency when he says, "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). Later in this chapter, James points out the error of speaking the truth but not performing it (James 2:18).

as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty: The "law of liberty," as mentioned previously, is the New Testament law of Christ. It is the law that brings liberty or freedom (see James 1:25). It is not the law of Moses because Peter describes that law as a "yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear" (Acts 15:10). It is important not to misunderstand James and have him teaching that the law of Moses is still applicable to the Christian. It is equally important to understand that, as Christians, we will be judged by the words of Christ. The Lord says, "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). John also writes about the books that will be opened at the judgment (Revelation 20:12). The Christian who is motivated by this law wants to obey all of the laws of Christ, not just because he feels that he will be lost if he does not but because he realizes true freedom comes from God’s ways.

Verse 13

For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

The scene being described is that of the judgment day and the consequential treatment of the unmerciful. James points out that God will deal with us in the same way we have dealt with our fellow man. If we have shown mercy, we will receive it; but if we have not shown mercy, we will not receive it from God.

For he shall have judgment without mercy: "Mercy" (eleos) refers to the exhibition of pity and compassion upon those who need it. One of the most important characteristics the Lord exhibited while here was that of mercy. The gospel writers constantly tell us of the Lord’s looking upon the sick, the hurting, and the "down and out" with feelings of compassion for them. The Hebrew writer tells us that we have a merciful high priest (Hebrews 2:17). As Christians, we are to make every effort to imitate the behavior of Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 2:5). The Lord says, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7).

that hath shewed no mercy: "Shewed" (poiesanti) is an aorist participle indicating that the entire life of this individual is characterized by the lack of mercy. James is simply pointing out the consequences of being unmerciful. Such an individual should expect no mercy. This principle is no better illustrated than in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:23-35). After being released by a merciful king from a debt that was impossible to repay, that servant finds an individual who owes him a small amount and cruelly has him thrown into prison. He refuses to listen to the man’s pleas for mercy. The king soon hears of the deeds of this unmerciful man and tells him, "Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" Matthew adds, "In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed" (verses 33-34 NIV). That parable, along with James’ warning in this verse, shows the danger we will be in on the judgment day if we have shown no mercy in our lives.

and mercy rejoiceth against judgment: In the phrase "mercy rejoiceth against judgment," the term "rejoiceth" (katakauchatai) means "to glory against, to exult over, to boast one’s self to the injury of" (Thayer 331). The meaning of this verse is similar to that of 1 John 4:18 that indicates that perfect love casts out fear of the judgment. When a Christian has lived faithfully and has shown mercy, he has nothing to fear from judgment. It is only when a Christian has lived unfaithfully and has not shown mercy that he must fear the judgment. Mercy rejoices or boasts against the threat of judgment because it leaves the judgment with nothing to condemn (Roberts 100-101).

Verse 14

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

James now begins a discussion of the theme of faith and works, which has proved to be the most controversial part of his book. This text has been a battleground for centuries. As mentioned in the Introduction, this part of the epistle is what Martin Luther had trouble accepting because of his perceived contradiction between James and Paul. Many have followed in the footsteps of Luther and have tried to explain away what James says.

It is very important to understand the different types of faith and works that are found in the Bible. The word faith may be used in at least four different senses in the word of God. It may refer to:

1. a firm persuasion or a conviction based upon evidence (Hebrews 11:1; Hebrews 11:6),

2. trust (Mark 5:36; Romans 4:18),

3. the gospel, by metonymy (Acts 6:7; Judges 1:3)

4. the plan of salvation, by synecdoche (a part for a whole) (Acts 16:31-34).

The context, of course, determines the way the word is used. Faith, in the New Testament, is pictured as being either dead or alive. Dead faith (James 2:17) is that which has no works and is considered vain or idle. Dead faith may have a mental acceptance of certain facts but no action is taken with it. That type of faith (faith only) has never pleased God (Hebrews 11). The acceptable form of faith is that which Paul describes in Galatians 5:6, "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." It is significant that in the book of Romans, which so many appeal to for their "faith only" beliefs, Paul begins with the phrase "for obedience to the faith" (Romans 1:5) and ends the book with the similar phrase "for the obedience of faith" (Romans 16:26). Paul also mentions to the Thessalonians their "work of faith" (1 Thessalonians 1:3). The scriptures provide abundant evidence of a faith that saves: it is working, active, and obedient. This is the case for both the alien sinner and the Christian.

The Bible also records different types of works, many of which are not able to save. Paul explains that the works of the law of Moses are ineffective in regard to salvation.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:16; see also Romans 3:28).

In addition to the law of Moses, Paul also shows that works of human merit likewise cannot save. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5). So an individual is not saved based upon his own good works or the works of the law of Moses. The Bible, however, does say that we are justified by works (James 2:24). Is that statement a contradiction? No, these works are those that accompany faith and are not those of human merit or the law. Peter describes these works in his conversation with Cornelius: "But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:35). John describes these works by saying, "Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous" (1 John 3:7). Paul even refers to these works when he says that we will be judged according to works (Romans 2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Both belief (John 6:29) and repentance (Jonah 3:10) are called works, and both are necessary for salvation. So when James talks about true faith, he is referring to obedient faith; and when he talks about works, he is referring to works of true righteousness and not works of the law or human merit. An understanding of the different kinds of works will make the reading and understanding of this section easier (James 2:14-26).

The problem that one has with salvation is when he goes to one extreme (such as faith only, works only, or grace only) and states that salvation can occur in no other way. It is interesting that there are a number of things to which salvation is attributed, and these all include the other. A partial list would include: by faith (Romans 10:10), by the name of the Lord (Acts 4:12), by grace (Ephesians 2:8), by obedience (Romans 6:16-18), by love of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10), by baptism (1 Peter 3:21), by hope (Romans 8:24), by childbearing in the sense of fulfilling Christian duties (1 Timothy 2:15), by the gospel (Romans 1:16), and by works (James 2:24). All of these are necessary for salvation, and the mention of one by the scriptures does not exclude the others.

What doth it profit, my brethren: "Profit" (ophelos) means "advantage," and so the question of James in this verse is, "What advantage is there to faith without works?" As he points out, there is no advantage. We should remember that James is writing to those who are Christians and are in danger of having the wrong kind of faith.

though a man may say he hath faith: "Though a man say" introduces another conditional sentence, with this one being a third class condition (ean plus a subjunctive verb), indicating a probable future condition. It is hypothetical but will probably happen. "Man" (tis) is from the Greek indefinite pronoun having the meaning of "anyone." "Say" (legei) is a present subjunctive verb, meaning "if one keeps on saying." It is as if the individual feels he must keep on proving that he has faith, and the only way he can do so is to repeat the saying continually.

and have not works: "Have not works" clarifies the type of faith that is under consideration in this verse. It is "faith only"--that is, faith without proper works. "Have" (echei) is another present subjunctive verb with the meaning of "keeps on not having." "Works" is from erga and refers to those acts of obedience that accompany faith. Again, James is not referring to works of human merit or the law of Moses.

can faith save him: "Can faith save him?" is constructed to expect a negative answer. The question is not, "Is faith able to save him?" because certainly faith does save us; rather, the question is "can that faith alone save him?" The answer to that question is no.

faith: "Faith" (he pistis) uses the article he to refer to a specific faith, the one just mentioned without works. James is not saying that faith will not save. What he is saying is that faith alone will not save. There is a vast difference between the two ideas. Every time that "faith" appears in this section, it must be properly understood or else a misinterpretation will occur.

Verse 15

If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

If a brother or sister: This phrase begins an illustration that will portray how faith operates without works. James presents the phrase in another third class conditional sentence, showing that it is hypothetical. The fact that these poor and needy people are Christians makes the illustration even more powerful.

be naked: "Be naked" refers to one aspect of their poverty. The word "naked" is from gumnoi that means ill-clad or poorly dressed. It does not refer to one literally naked but simply to one without sufficient clothing. The Greeks used two words that could be translated "be." The first is eivai, which states the present fact of being. The second word is huparcho, which has a backward look to a past condition that has been extended to the present. This latter word (huparchosin) is the one James uses in describing these poor Christians. It may be paraphrased as, "if a brother or sister, having been in a destitute condition, be found by you in that condition" (Vincent 354). It is present tense, indicating they were continually ill-clad.

and destitute of daily food: "Destitute" (leipomenoi) is a present participle meaning to lack or be without. The destitute do not enjoy the basic necessities of life such as their daily meals. It is also present tense, portraying these Christians as continually being without proper food. The picture that James is painting is that of fellow Christians being cold and hungry. The question he is leading to is, "How does our faith act toward them?"

The poverty that James describes was a common sight in the first century. There was no middle class since the population was divided between the rich, who lived luxurious lives, and the poor, who struggled to survive. Along with this poverty, famines often contributed to the suffering of the poor (Acts 11:28).

Verse 16

And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

And one of you say unto them: James presents more conditions of the hypothetical situation here. "One" (tis) is again the indefinite pronoun and means "anyone." It is not limited to a certain individual but could include any Christian. This type of individual wishes good upon the needy but does not personally want to become involved with them. Instead of filling them with "needful things," he fills them with empty words.

Depart in peace: "Depart in peace" was the common Jewish manner of saying farewell. Eli uses these words when he dismisses Hannah (1 Samuel 1:17), and Jonathan speaks them to David (1 Samuel 20:42). The Lord uses them when He addresses the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:34) and the sinful woman (Luke 7:50). They are words that express a warmth and concern to the hearer. They are spoken here in the sense of one who wants to leave as quickly as he can so he will not be burdened by their problems.

be ye warmed and filled: "Be ye warmed and filled" comes from two present imperatives. The present tense indicates the speaker wishes their needs to be met continually, especially if someone else will see to their needs. "Be ye warmed" is from thermainesthe and may be either passive or middle in voice. If it is passive, it may be translated "be ye warmed"; but if it is middle, it may be translated "warm yourselves." The passive sense suggests the speaker wishes for a third party to take care of the needy one, while the middle sense suggests the poor person take care of himself.

It is probably used here in the passive sense as this individual speaking the words wants to pass his responsibility to someone else. "Filled" is from chortazesthe, a very strong and graphic word that originally applied to feeding and fattening animals in their stalls (Vincent 30). It also may be taken either in a passive sense or middle. If passive, it may be translated "be ye filled"; and if middle, it may be rendered "fill yourselves." As with "Be ye warmed," the passive sense is probably meant here.

notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body: Even the most irreligious can see the hypocrisy in this Christian who refuses to help his needy brother. His hypocrisy is seen in the phrase "ye give them not those things which are needful to the body." He had just pronounced a blessing upon them but then refused to help. "Give" (dote) is an aorist subjunctive, introducing another condition in the hypothetical situation. "Things which are needful" (epitedeia) refers to the necessities of life and not the luxuries.

Religious hypocrisy is one area in which the credibility of the church can be greatly damaged. When Christians fail to live up to their duties, many in the world are quick to point an accusing finger at their inconsistency. The Lord rebukes the Pharisees for their religious hypocrisy when he says, "Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23:28). When Christians pretend to the world they are disciples of Jesus yet purposely ignore their responsibilities, they are no better off than the Pharisees. Not only does hypocrisy threaten the spiritual welfare of the individual Christian, but it also injures the reputation of the church.

what doth it profit: "What doth it profit" describes the result of the conditional sentence. There is no advantage or gain to this type of faith. The illustration that James has presented is a classic case of "passing the buck." As Christians, we have certain responsibilities toward the needy that we cannot close our eyes and ignore or transfer to others. Paul says, "As we have therefore opportunity, Let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10). As Jesus pointed out, one of the areas in which we will be judged deals with our treatment of the needy (Matthew 25:34-36).

Many benefits come to those who help the poor and suffering. In the first century, this compassion helped unite the Gentile and Jewish segments of the church. When a great famine hit the churches of Judea, the Gentile churches unselfishly came to their aid (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). This generosity helped to break down the feelings of animosity each group felt for the other. Assisting the poor also helps the Christian to be more Christlike. Giving of himself to those who were needy was characteristic of the Lord’s life. Jesus even said, "It is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35). When Christians help the needy they are merely imitating the life of their Lord. Caring for the poor also helps the Christian to fulfill his duties toward God. Paul writes that Christians should be, "distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality" (Romans 12:13). He also commands the rich, "that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate" (1 Timothy 6:18). Aiding the poor is a wonderful opportunity to prove the sincerity of the Christian’s faith.

Verse 17

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

This verse describes in detail the point that is to be learned from the above illustration. Instead of having living and active faith, this individual had faith that was dead. The sentence is again a conditional one (third class condition), with the phrase "if it hath not works" being conditional and the result being "faith is dead."

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead: "Hath" (echei) is a present subjunctive verb, and in this case it means "if it keep on not having works." Dead faith is identified as that which does not have works. "Dead" (nekra) basically means lifeless. Just as it is possible for a widow to be "dead while she liveth" (1 Timothy 5:6), it is equally possible for a living Christian to have dead faith. In both cases, each is dead as far as any true relationship to God or hope of eternal life is concerned.

being alone: This dead faith is then described as "being alone" (kath heauten), which literally means "according to itself." This type of faith stands on its own without works. In verse 14, James asks the question, "can faith (without works) save him?" From this verse we learn the answer is, "No, for faith alone (without works) is dead."

"Faith only" does as much to save a man as "words only" will help the naked and poor. An illustration similar to this one in verses 15-17 is found in 1 John 3:17-18 where the apostle says, "But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth." Both James and John agree that actions must accompany our words.

Verse 18

Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

This verse presents some difficulties in trying to understand James. Normally James is very simple and easy to follow, but here we must try to determine where the man stops speaking and where James starts. We must also determine who is doing the speaking, and who is the "thou" and "I" in the statement "Thou hast faith, and I have works." The Greek does not contain quotation marks, so the length of the statement of the man must be determined from the context.

"Man" is from tis, which is again the indefinite pronoun indicating "anyone."

James is introducing an imaginary objector who will find fault with what he has just said about faith and works. "May say" (erei) is a future indicative verb pointing out that the objection will come after the individual hears the words of James. James is merely anticipating the objections to his position and dealing with them at this point. It was a common practice in the New Testament to answer imaginary objectors (Romans 9:19; 1 Corinthians 15:35).

The words of the objector seem to be limited to "Thou hast faith, and I have works"; then James resumes speaking with "shew me thy faith...." If that is true (the NIV and RSV render the passage that way), then the next problem to be solved is the identity of the one having faith and the one having works. Various possibilities have been suggested for the identity of the one claiming faith. Some consider it to be James; others consider it to be the faith only man of verse 14; still others suggest it may be a generic individual (Hiebert, The Epistle of James 182-184). Instead of speculating as to the identity of these individuals, it is easier to maintain that the objector is only emphasizing that some have faith and some have works, and each can exist apart from the other. In this objector’s eyes, there are some who are strong in faith and others who are strong in works; and the importance of neither should be discounted.

shew me thy faith without thy works: James immediately answers this objector with these words, "shew me thy faith without thy works." It is impossible to separate true faith from works. There are not two separate categories, ones who have faith and ones who have works. In fact, faith by itself is invisible, so it would be impossible for the objector to show his faith apart from his works. "Shew" (deixon) is an aorist imperative meaning "to give the evidence or proof of a thing" (Thayer 127). The imperative mood gives it the sense of urgency. So James is saying, "Demonstrate or prove your faith without works."

and I will shew thee my faith by my works: James continues by saying, "and I will shew thee my faith by my works." So faith is not merely something imagined or felt, but rather is something demonstrated or proved. The only way that faith can be observed is through works; and if there are no works evident, then that faith is dead, being alone.

This verse is well summarized by Barclay, who writes,

James is thinking of a possible objector who says, ’Faith is a fine thing; and works are fine things. They are both perfectly genuine manifestations of real religion. But the one man does not necessarily possess both. One man will have faith and another will have works. Well, then, you carry on with your works and I will carry on with my faith; and we are both being truly religious in our own way.’ The objector’s view is that faith and works are alternative expressions of the Christian religion. James will have none of it. It is not a case of either faith or works; it is necessarily a case of both faith and works (76-77).

Verse 19

Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

Thou believest that there is one God: These words sound as a warning to those who believe in faith only. "Thou believest" (su pisteueis) contains the pronoun suthat makes this emphatic as in "You believe." "Believest" is present tense indicating this is their continual belief. Their faith is built upon the fact "there is one God." This fact is the fundamental basis of faith for both the Jew and the Christian. The phrase "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD" (Deuteronomy 6:4) was spoken every morning and evening by devout Jews all over the world. It was repeated constantly in their synagogues every Sabbath. To the Jews the words of Jesus concerning His deity violated this principle and were blasphemous. The Christian maintains the belief that there is one God, yet he understands the reference is to the nature of God and not to the number of beings in the Godhead. There is one essence of God, one divine nature, which the Godhead possesses. The scriptures teach there are three beings in the Godhead: the Father (1 Peter 1:3), the Son (John 20:28), and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). While they are separate as individuals, they are one in purpose, plan, interest, nature, and work (John 10:30). This principle of three beings possessing the same nature and being one God should not be that difficult to comprehend; after all, we understand in marriage that the husband and wife become one, even though they are separate individuals (Matthew 19:5).

What about the passages that many claim teach there is only one person in the Godhead? In most cases, a simple reading of the context will reveal the purpose of such statements. For example, when Jesus makes the statement, "I and my Father are one," He is not stating that He is the same person as the Father but, rather, that He is of the same divine nature as the Father (John 10:30). He is one with the Father in purpose and plan. Likewise, when Jesus tells Phillip, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," the Lord is not claiming to be the Father but only of the same divine nature as the Father (John 14:9). When Isaiah quotes God saying, "Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of Hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no other God," He is contrasting the true God with idols (Isaiah 44:6). There is nothing in this passage that indicates there is only one member in the Godhead. When Paul writes concerning Jesus, "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," He is not saying that Jesus is the only one in the Godhead; rather he is contrasting the fulness that is in Christ with the emptiness of human philosophy (Colossians 2:9).

There are passages that become difficult to harmonize when trying to maintain the doctrine of one being in the Godhead. The Lord is pictured as being tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11; see also Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15), but James teaches that God cannot be tempted with evil (James 1:13). How can this statement be true if Jesus and the Father are the same individual? John quotes Jesus, "And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me" (John 8:16-18). If valid testimony depends upon two different witnesses, how could the testimony of Jesus and the Father be valid if They are the same being? In Hebrews 8:1, the writer says that Jesus "is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens." If Jesus and the Father are the same being, how can it be said that He sits on His right hand? Furthermore, Moses says, "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken" (Deuteronomy 18:15). This same prophecy is quoted in Acts and applied to the coming of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:22-26). If there is a distinction between the persons of God and Moses in the Deuteronomy passage, then there must also be a like distinction between God and Christ in the Acts passage. These are a few of the many passages that refute the doctrine of one being in the Godhead. Affirming that the two are the same being presents too many scriptural difficulties that cannot be reconciled.

thou doest well: "Thou doest well" indicates the importance of belief in the one God. James is not minimizing the importance of belief in God; rather, he is emphasizing it. An individual cannot be saved without this belief in God. But James is showing that there is more to salvation than just belief in the one God. "Well" is from the adverb kalos that carries the idea of beautiful, fine, or excellent.

He is saying, "What you are believing is very fine or excellent, but you must understand there is more to salvation than just belief."

the devils also believe, and tremble: The phrase "the devils also believe, and tremble" should horrify the faith only believer to the peril of his position. "Devils" (daimonia) is plural and should be rendered demons since there is only one Devil and that is Satan. Demons are the evil assistants of Satan who assist him in his effort to trouble mankind. The New Testament pictures demons as being real spiritual forces not to be confused with diseases (Matthew 4:24), possessing intelligence (Luke 4:34), and commanding great strength (Mark 5:3-4). The point that James is making is that no comfort should be taken in saying "I believe in the one God" because the demons believe the very same fact, and certainly they are not in a saved condition. The scriptures also teach that these demons not only believe in God but they also confessed Christ (Mark 1:24) and even worshipped Him (Mark 5:6-7). Yet, in spite of all of this, they are lost because belief alone does not save. While they believed in God, they did not love and obey Him; hence they were lost. "Tremble" (phrissousin) is a present tense verb used only once in the New Testament. It originally meant to bristle and was used of fields with corn and a battle line bristling with shields and spears. It describes that terrible horror which makes the hair stand on end (Vincent 354). These demons are so horrified about what their future will bring that in a sense their hair stands on its end. It is present tense indicating that it is a continual fear of these evil beings. They certainly indicated to Jesus that they knew their destiny when they said, "What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" (Matthew 8:29).

James’ words, then, should be understood as an indictment against faith without works. For those who believe in faith without works, James simply says, "You had better open your eyes because your faith is no better than those of the demons."

Verse 20

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

But wilt thou know, O vain man: The objector is directly spoken to in this verse. He is called a "vain" (kene) man, which refers to being empty or deficient. Thayer comments that the word is used metaphorically of a man "destitute of spiritual wealth" (343). He is urged to know, here referring to recognize or realize, that faith without works is worthless.

that faith without works is dead: There is a textual problem with the word "dead" in this verse. In the KJV the word "dead" comes from nekra, which is found in the Greek text (Textus Receptus) used to translate this version. However, there is good evidence the word actually should be arge, which means "idle" (Metzger 681). Several of the newer translations render the passage "idle" instead of "dead" (ASV, NASB, RSV, NIV). This word means idle in the sense of money which yields no interest or land lying fallow (Vincent 354). While the land and money may be present, they are not bringing profit and are not living up to their potential. James wants this individual, and even those like him today, to know that faith without works is a waste, and it does not live up to its potential.

Verse 21

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

Was not Abraham our father justified by works: James asks this question with the negative (ouk), expecting an affirmative answer. The introduction of Abraham at this point is most appropriate because he was highly respected by both Jew and Christian. Both hold him in the highest esteem, both can identify with him, and so no more respectable illustration could have been chosen. The point that James wants his readers to consider is that even Abraham, their father, was not saved by faith alone but rather by faith that worked. He is called their "father" in the sense that he is "father of all who believe" (Romans 4:11). Even the objector could not disagree with this point.

The story of Abraham’s being told to sacrifice Isaac is one of the great "tests of faith" found in the Bible. Abraham was already a servant of God and had faithfully served Him for many years. As he pondered the sad news that God wanted him to sacrifice Isaac his beloved son, he was faced with an option. He could refuse to do what God had asked and rebel against Him. In the process he would have grown angry, bitter, and resentful. Or, he could obey. For Abraham that was the only real choice. While it is probable that he did not understand the logic behind such a request, he knew that somehow God would help him through this potential tragedy. Through this test he was justified by his works.

justified: "Justified" (edikaiothe) is an aorist verb pointing to a definite event. It is a common legal term, basically meaning "to pronounce righteous." The word originally meant "to reach a verdict" and was used in a court of law when a defendant was declared innocent and acquitted of the charges brought against him. In the New Testament, the term refers to God’s pronouncing man righteous because of the blood of Jesus Christ and man’s obedience to the gospel. God is the one who pronounces man righteous and not man himself.

The promise of justification is the good news of the gospel. Man becomes separated from God because of his sins (Isaiah 59:1-2; Romans 3:23), and no amount of works of human goodness can save him. Fortunately, God, in his mercy, provides the means by which man can be forgiven of his sins and return to fellowship with him. Justification involves a response from God and also a response from man.

God’s response to man in his fallen state is that of grace. Grace is unmerited favor, that which one does not deserve on his own merit. God’s grace centers around the coming of Jesus Christ. As early as in the Garden of Eden, God promises the coming of a Savior (Genesis 3:15). The Old Testament traces this promise through the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). The New Testament teaches the fulfillment of God’s plan of grace. John writes, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). John does not mean there was no grace under the law of Moses but that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s grace. The Lord’s role in being the fulfillment of God’s grace is summarized by the Hebrew writer:

Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:5-10).

This Hebrew passage teaches four principles about grace:

1. Jesus left heaven to live among men (2 Corinthians 8:9), proving He is not just a mental concept but that He actually lived among men at one time.

2. Although Jesus is God, He received a human body and lived among men so that He could experience the temptations and feelings of men (Hebrews 2:17-18).

3. Since he never sinned, Jesus was able to do God’s will perfectly, something no other has ever been able to accomplish. God never desired animal sacrifices; all He wanted was for man to do His will.

4. Jesus received the punishment for the curse of sin by offering his own body as a sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24), paying the supreme price and accomplishing that which man never could on his own: he is dependent upon God’s grace.

God’s part, then, in the scheme of justification is grace.

Man’s role in justification is that of faith. This faith is not a mere acceptance of certain facts but an humble obedience to God’s laws. As James says, it is a faith that works. While grace may be unmerited favor, it is not unconditional favor. God has conditions that must be met in order to obtain His grace. These conditions involve obedience to His precepts. When man obeys God’s conditions for grace, he is not earning his own salvation; nor can these works be classified as meritorious. If God’s part (grace) is unmerited, then His conditions to obtain grace, which involve obedient faith, must also be unmerited. Thus, man’s obedience to God’s laws does not contradict the doctrine of grace but, rather, is a major part of it. Hebrews 11 contains several examples of faithful men and women who obeyed the commands of God, each exhibiting a living, active, obedient faith.

Paul summarizes this concept of grace and faith when he writes, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). For Paul, salvation is not matter of "grace only" or "faith only." It is the combination of God’s providing the means and man’s accepting God’s conditions. Justification means that man is declared not guilty because his sins are forgiven through Christ’s blood and his obedient faith.

Whiteside adds these comments:

If people would quit arraying the commands of God against the grace of God, they would have a clearer vision of the scheme of redemption. God’s grace is in every command he gives. The sinner was lost; God prepared a way by which he could get out of that lost state. That was grace. But that was not enough. He needed to know how to find that way, and how to walk in it. It is as much a matter of grace to tell him how to find that way, and how to walk in it as it is to provide the way. But when the way is fully prepared, and full directions given as to how to find the way, and how to walk in it, the next move is man’s (97).

This understanding of justification helps to clarify the controversial subject of baptism. It is believed by many in the denominational world that salvation occurs at the point of "faith only" without works. It is assumed that baptism is a work and, therefore, not necessary for salvation. This belief, however, contradicts the teaching of the New Testament that says belief plus baptism brings salvation (Mark 16:16); baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38); baptism washes away sins (Acts 22:16); baptism puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27); and baptism saves us (1 Peter 3:21). Submitting to baptism is not a work of human righteousness: it is doing what God commands of every sinner. Baptism, then, plays an important role in the process of justification. Without being baptized into Christ, the sinner remains in his sins.

when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar: "When he had offered" comes from the aorist participle anenegkas. The aorist participle points to action which is antecedent or contemporaneous to that of the main verb. The main verb is "justified," so what James is saying is that Abraham’s justification did not occur until he had offered Isaac. There is no doubt that faith with works characterized the life of Abraham, and this event was the highlight of his trusting faith. The Hebrew writer describes this event with these words, "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (Hebrews 11:17-19).

The example of Abraham proves false two commonly held denominational doctrines. The first false doctrine is that justification involves a "once-saved, always-saved" system of salvation. This view teaches that once a man is saved, he can never sin so as to be lost. Abraham was a man of faith before he entered the land of Canaan (Hebrews 11:8). After he entered Canaan, he believed God’s promise; and his faith was counted for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). If he had rejected God’s promise, would he have been justified? Some thirty years later, Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice (James 2:21). If Abraham had refused to sacrifice Isaac, would he have been justified? Certainly Abraham was not living under a "once-saved, always-saved" arrangement with God. He was expected to be obedient to God’s commands. His failure to comply with these demands, no doubt, would have resulted in his condemnation. His salvation was conditional, based upon obedience. Abraham’s example points out that justification is a continual process. Justification depends on man’s continued obedience to God.

The New Testament contains many verses that also point out the error of the "once-saved, always-saved" doctrine. Paul writes that he must buffet his body and bring it into subjection so that he will not be a "castaway" (1 Corinthians 9:27). If he cannot be lost, why was Paul concerned with being a castaway? Again he says, "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). Why would Paul warn the Corinthians of "falling" when it was something they could not do? Paul points out to the Galatians, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4). Why sound such a warning if falling from grace is impossible? Peter even adds, "For if after they have escaped the pollution of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning" (2 Peter 2:20). If a sinner is lost before he comes to a knowledge of Christ and, after having that knowledge, returns to the world, how could this second state--which is worse than the first--not be a loss of his salvation?

"Faith only" is the second denominational doctrine proved false by the example of Abraham. This doctrine teaches that man is saved at the point of faith only, without any works. If the "faith only" doctrine is scriptural, why would James use a man like Abraham, whose life is characterized by an obedient faith, as his example? If salvation is by faith only, then Abraham was saved even before he entered the land of Canaan (Hebrews 11:8). Yet on two different occasions, Abraham was required to obey certain additional commands in order to remain in his state of righteousness (Genesis 15:6; James 2:21).

James clearly makes this point in his discourse on faith and works: "faith only" is not acceptable with God, regardless of whether one wants to become a Christian or already is a Christian. In verse 14, he asks, "Can faith without works save?" The obvious answer is no. Verse 17 repeats this conclusion by stating that faith without works is dead. As verse 19 indicates, even the demons have faith, but who would argue for their salvation? James also mentions in verse 20 that faith without works is idle.

John points out the futility of "faith only" when he says, "Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue" (John 12:42). Who would contend that these individuals were saved by their faith only when they would not even confess the Lord as Messiah? Jesus Himself declares that those who will not confess him before men will not have Him confess their names before God (Matthew 10:32-33). In view of these scriptures and the teaching of James, the Bible’s teaching regarding salvation does not coincide with the "faith only" belief.

Verse 22

Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

Seest thou how faith wrought with his works: James uses "seest" in a metaphorical sense here, as in seeing with the mind’s eye. It indicates the ability to discern mentally, perceive, or understand. His question, then, can be understood as follows, "Is it not obvious that his faith was working with his works; and, therefore, his faith was made perfect?"

wrought: "Wrought" (sunergei) is a compound word from sun, meaning with, and ergo, meaning to work. Thayer defines the word as "to put forth power together with and thereby to assist" (603). It is an imperfect verb in tense indicating continuous action in time past. Abraham’s life was not characterized by occasions of obedient faith; rather, it was an habitual practice of his. It is best translated "was working." The idea is that Abraham’s faith worked together with his deeds in preparing to offer up Isaac. In the same way, faith proves itself in our lives by our actions.

and by works was faith made perfect: "By works" (ek ton ergon) actually means "out of works". It is not by means of works but out of works that faith is made perfect. "Made perfect" (eteleiothe) means mature, complete, to carry to an end, or to bring to a goal. The thought is that with works faith is brought to its goal, to maturity. The opposite is true when works are not present--faith is imperfect. In Abraham’s case, his faith was perfected in the sense that this act proved that he was willing to place God first in every area of his life.

Woods comments on these words,

The tenses in this verse are highly significant. Faith was continually exercising itself (imperfect tense) with works (the command to offer up Isaac on the alter), and out of these works faith was perfected at once (aorist tense). Neither works nor faith operating alone can justify; each in cooperation with the other produces the status wherein God justifies (145).

James has previously described faith that is dead (James 2:17) and is idle (James 2:20), and has now pointed out the type of faith (perfect faith) Christians should strive to obtain.

Verse 23

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

The passage that is alluded to here is found in Genesis 15:6. It refers to the time when God made His covenant with Abraham and promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. While Abraham had no children at the time, he believed God and God credited it to him as righteousness. It is believed that this event took place about thirty years before he was asked to sacrifice Isaac. It must also be remembered that even before this time Abraham possessed obedient faith (Hebrews 11:8-10).

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith: "Was fulfilled" (eplerothe) is an aorist verb meaning "to bring to pass, ratify, accomplish" (Thayer 518). Why does James say this scripture was fulfilled in Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac when it appears to have been spoken some thirty years before this act? The faith that Abraham showed in believing that God could bless him with innumerable descendants was merely being repeated when he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. This faith was a trusting, obedient faith, a faith with works, and James is using this point to emphasize that this faith is the type that is expected of God’s people at all times. Abraham, at this time, had already been a believer for many years.

Yet it was still expected of him to have obedient faith if he expected to be justified. The same point is being made to the readers of James. They may have been Christians for many years, but they were still expected to have a working faith if they expected to be justified. The result of Abraham’s faith was the same in both instances--it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6; Genesis 22:1-18). Because of his faith, he was able to be considered righteous.

which saith: "Which saith" (he legousa) is a present participle, which carries the meaning of "the one which continues to say." As long as the world exists, this scripture will continue to point out the example of Abraham’s faith.

Abraham believed God: "Abraham believed God" is a simple expression of the complete trust that Abraham placed in God. His story is a timeless testimony to the trust and hope that God’s people must place in Him in spite of all obstacles. Abraham was willing to leave his home country, his family, and even his father because of his trust in God. He was able to believe that he would be blessed with innumerable descendants because of his confidence in God. He was able to continue this hope even as he grew older and it appeared that his body was too old to produce children. Even when his heart was broken with the news that he must sacrifice Isaac, he still trusted in God. Can we say that our trust in God is as strong as that of Abraham?

and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: "Imputed" (elogisthe) is another aorist verb meaning "to take into account, to make account of" (Thayer 379). It was a business term used to put to one’s account. The scripture is merely saying that God put Abraham’s faith on his account. Abraham had the proper faith and God credited that faith to him. It was credited to him "for righteousness." The word "for," from the preposition eis, points to a result. His faith was not credited because he already was righteous but in order that he might be considered righteous. God took into account Abraham’s faith, and Abraham was declared just. As a result of this declaration, Abraham was righteous.

The doctrine of faith being imputed for righteousness is not as complicated as it may seem. Man is declared righteous because of the death of Christ and of man’s faith. He is not declared righteous because of meritorious works. As God imputed Abraham’s faith to his account, so will He bestow this same blessing on all Christians based upon their active faith. Paul says, "And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, To whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead" (Romans 4:22-24).

Certain false doctrines have spread because of misunderstandings on this doctrine of "imputed righteousness." Many in the denominational world believe the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to all his descendants. While man may not have actually committed this sin, it is placed on his account, and all mankind shares the guilt and penalty of it. (This false doctrine, known as "Total Hereditary Depravity," is discussed in James 1:15.)

Many also believe that God imputes the righteous life of Christ to our account. This belief is based on the assumption that if Adam’s sin is imputed to us, then the perfect, sinless life of Christ must be imputed to us if we are to be saved. When God views man, then, he sees the sinless life of Christ. This belief, however, creates many scriptural problems. The logical conclusion to this type of reasoning is that of the impossibility of apostasy. In fact, this belief in the imputing of Christ’s sinless life is used to substantiate this particular aspect of Calvinism. If God views only the sinless life of Christ in the individual, then he is no longer accountable for his sins. The scriptures are clear in pointing out that each man is responsible for his own behavior (see notes on James 1:14). The Bible does not teach that the personal righteousness of Christ is imputed to the Christian. The phrase "The faith of Jesus Christ" is found several times in the New Testament (Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 3:22; Philippians 3:9). The phrase "of Jesus Christ" (objective genitive in the Greek) indicates that it is the faith that comes from the Lord. It is our faith in the Lord that is produced by the word of God, not His personal faith. Abraham’s personal faith was reckoned for righteousness. Likewise, our personal faith, not Christ’s sinless life, is imputed for righteousness.

and he was called the Friend of God: Abraham "was called the Friend of God" because of his intimate relationship with God. This honor is certainly one of the greatest that could ever be given to a man. "Was called" (eklethe) is an aorist passive verb, which indicates that Abraham did not give himself this title but that it was given by another, in this case God. Isaiah quotes God and refers to this relationship when he says, "But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend" (Isaiah 41:8). Jehoshaphat also calls Abraham God’s friend (2 Chronicles 20:7).

Friendship implies a relationship in which both parties are open and honest with each other. Individuals are able to come freely into the presence of friends and talk with them. Friends share their plans and desires with one another. Friends listen to one another and accept helpful advice. The discussion between God and Abraham concerning the punishment to come upon Sodom and Gomorrah illustrates this special relationship (Genesis 18:16-33). God shares His plans of destruction with Abraham and then listens as Abraham pleads for the safety of the cities.

Ralph Steury, in his article "Abraham, The Friend of God," lists seven characteristics of Abraham that contribute to his greatness and his consequent friendship with God.

1. Faith (Genesis 22:1-13; Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham has the faith to sacrifice Isaac, knowing that somehow God would help him during this time of potential tragedy.

2. Obedience (Genesis 12:1-4; Hebrews 11:8). Abraham humbly obeys God when told to leave country, kindred, and father and journey to a strange, new land.

3. Promptness (Hebrews 11:8). Abraham does not delay or postpone his journey in going to Canaan but is prompt in his departure.

4. Unselfishness (Genesis 13). Abraham and Lot’s herds soon outgrow their pasture land, causing their herdsmen to fight with each other. As the Patriarch, Abraham has the first choice in selection of which land to place his herds; but for the sake of peace, he unselfishly allows Lot to make the first choice.

5. A Good Father (Genesis 18:19). God has confidence in Abraham that he will faithfully teach his children to keep his ways.

6. A Forgiving Spirit (Genesis 14, 18, 19). Abraham overlooks the selfishness of Lot and rescues him from Chedorlaomer and later from Sodom.

7. A Willingness to Give (Genesis 14:18-20). After Abraham rescues Lot from Chedorlaomer, he gives a tithe of the spoils as an offering to Melchisedec (190-191).

Verse 24

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

The phrase "faith only," which is in this verse, occurs only one time in the KJV and, contrary to its popular usage, does not indicate that a person is saved by it. In fact, James teaches that "faith only" does not justify.

We should remember that he is dealing with some who think they are justified by faith without works, while actually they possess only dead faith.

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified: This verse is the conclusion to which James has been pointing in his discussion on faith and works. It was true for Abraham that he was justified by his works, and it is equally true that Christians will be justified by their works. James writes, "Ye see" (horate), indicating that this conclusion is obvious from the evidence presented so far. The honest mind will see the logic of his arguments. He has proved that works must accompany faith through illustration (verses 15-16), the example of demons (verse 19), statement (verse 20), and the example of Abraham (verses 21-23).

"Is justified" (dikaioutai) is a present passive verb, with the passive voice pointing out that a man does not justify himself; rather it is God who justifies or makes righteous. This thought of justification by works is where some become uncomfortable with the teachings of James, but we must keep his words within their context.

and not by faith only: James is not saying that works alone justify but, rather, that faith with works is what the Christian needs to be justified by God. In fact, justification is attributed to several causes in the Bible. We are "justified by faith" (Romans 5:1; Galatians 3:24), "justified freely by his grace" (Romans 3:24; Titus 3:7), "justified by his blood" (Romans 5:9), "justified by works" (James 2:24), "justified in the name of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 6:11), "justified by Christ" (Galatians 2:17), and "justified by knowledge" (Isaiah 53:11). Each cause works together to bring about the justification of man. When one understands how each cause is interrelated and cannot be separated, then he can properly understand the doctrine of justification. Confusion comes when one tries to attribute justification to only one cause, such as "faith only" or "works only." If one argues for "faith only" in justification, another could just as logically argue for "name only." Both, however, would be wrong because justification includes all of the listed causes.

In order to escape the force of his conclusion, some have tried to make a difference between what Paul says about justification and what James says about it. It is argued that Paul alludes to the justification of the sinner and James refers to the justification of the Christian. This distinction, though, cannot be made between sinner and Christian because when Paul refers to the justification of Abraham by faith (Romans 4:3), Abraham was already a servant of God exercising his faith (Hebrews 11:8; Genesis 12:7-8; Genesis 13:3-4). When Paul and James appeal to Abraham, both refer to a servant of God and not an alien sinner.

Paul does teach that a man cannot be saved by works when he writes, "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Romans 4:5). If, however, one understands Paul to be referring to all works (including works of faith), he misunderstands Paul’s teaching. This misunderstanding, in turn, causes many to maintain that the sinner can be saved by faith alone, without such works as baptism. Is there a contradiction between Paul’s statement that "justification is without works" and James’ statement that "justification is by works"? If so, which one is correct? This alleged contradiction occurs only when one misunderstands Paul or misapplies James. The answer to the problem is that both writers are stating truth because they are discussing different types of works. Paul and James are dealing with different types of problems. Paul is answering the claims of Judaizing teachers that new converts must continue to keep the law of Moses (Acts 15:1; Galatians 2:4). These false teachers were a source of trouble for the early church. Thus, Paul emphasizes that works (works of law) cannot justify. When Paul mentions that works do not save, he is not referring to works of faith. James is dealing with a different problem. As some of the early Christians came out of Judaism, they attempted to move away from the concept of works which was so prevalent under the law. They began to emphasize faith alone, apart from any type of works. James reminds these individuals that works of faith (obedience to God’s commands) are necessary for justification. Paul is discussing the works of the law of Moses, which do not justify, while James is discussing the works of obedience to God’s commands, which do justify. There is no contradiction between Paul and James.

Paul agrees with James in pointing out that works of faith are necessary for justification. He says in Romans 2:7, "To them who by patient well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life." Those who abide in a "patient continuance of well doing" are those who have works of faith, and their reward will be eternal life. He also writes, "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18). There Paul teaches that freedom from sin occurs when faith expresses itself in obedience to God. Therefore, James and Paul are in agreement on the necessity of a working faith. It should be noted, too, that both Paul (Romans 4:3) and James (James 2:23) use Abraham as an example of salvation, and both use Genesis 15:6 to establish their point.

The truth of the matter is that the type of faith necessary for salvation is the same for both the sinner and the Christian. While there are different commandments for each to fulfill, both are to have obedient faith. Faith alone is dead, whether it be practiced by the sinner or the Christian.

Verse 25

Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

James asks this question with the negative (ouk) that expects an affirmative answer as he does in verse 21. "Likewise" is from homoios, meaning "in this manner." As further proof of justification by works, James uses another familiar illustration from Jewish history. This individual had a completely different background than Abraham. She was both a Gentile and a harlot. The initial readers may have wondered why James uses her and not one of the many other faithful characters in the Old Testament. The answer is found in the fact that God is no respecter of persons. Even a person of low moral standards can find justification through an obedient faith because God wants all to be saved. It is significant that a harlot and a friend of God, each with different backgrounds, were both justified in the same way. Abraham had been a believer for thirty years when James says that he was justified by works (James 2:21), while Rahab was a pagan and a harlot when she was justified. Both, however, displayed working faith, and this is the type that James says justifies an individual. The point is that regardless of the type of life an individual may have lived, God is willing to justify him if he will turn to God.

Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works: The story of Rahab is found in the book of Joshua and is a wonderful example of how faith is often found in the most unusual places. Rahab was a citizen of Jericho and hid the two spies whom Joshua sent to scout out the city. No doubt she even risked her life in hiding them. Because of her courage and faith, she was rewarded with her household’s being saved from destruction when the Israelites with God’s help conquered the city. According to Matthew, she married Salmon, a Jewish man, and was an ancestor of both David and the Lord Jesus (Matthew 1:5-6). The fact that she is a Gentile and also one of four women mentioned in the Messianic line indicates that Jesus is the Messiah of all, regardless of nationality and sex.

when she had received the messengers: "When she had received" (hupodexamene) is an aorist participle meaning "to welcome." It is aorist because it is referring to an historical event. It is telling of her actions that led to her justification by works. "Messengers" (angelous) comes from the same word that we get our word "angel." It actually means "messenger," and can be used of heavenly messengers, angels, or earthly messengers, men. These words are describing the welcoming of the spies into Rahab’s house and her hiding them from the soldiers of the king.

and had sent them out another way: "Had sent" (ekbalousa) is also an aorist participle meaning "to command or cause one to depart in haste" (Thayer 193). It implies a sense of urgency and concern for the safety of these men. They were sent out "another way" with another coming from heterai, which means a different way. They entered her house through the door but left through the window to hide in the mountains for three days until it was safe to return back to the Israelites (Joshua 2:15-16).

While James does not say that Rahab possessed faith, the Hebrew writer does; in fact, he includes her in the honorable list of God’s faithful in chapter 11. He said, "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace" (Hebrews 11:31). Rahab’s story illustrates the importance that trust plays in saving faith. She had heard the reports of the great God who powerfully defeated Israel’s enemies while they were in the desert (Joshua 2:10-11). She knew that Israel’s God was greater than her pagan gods. This realization drove her to cast her dependence upon Him. She trusted in the words of the spies to remain in her house during the battle, even though they were complete strangers to her (Joshua 2:18-21). She trusted in God’s power to save her, even though her knowledge of God was limited and her morals were questionable. When the walls of Jericho crumbled and the soldiers destroyed the inhabitants, Rahab’s household was spared (Joshua 6:21-23). It cannot be forgotten, however, that Rahab’s trust included her obedience. If she had not acted upon her trust by entering and remaining in her room, she, too, would have perished. Her story was important enough that James used it as a parallel illustration with Abraham.

Verse 26

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

For as the body without the spirit is dead: James ends his discussion on faith and works with an analogy between the human body and faith. Death occurs to man when his spirit departs from his body.

So death is not annihilation but rather separation. The raising of those individuals who were dead was merely bringing the spirit back to the body (2 Kings 4:32-35; John 11:43-44). When the spirit is with the body there is life; when the spirit is separated from the body there is death.

so faith without works is dead also: What is true of the body can also be true of faith. When faith has works to accompany it, it is a living faith. However, when faith is not accompanied by works, it becomes dead faith. And James has convincingly pointed out that dead faith is unprofitable. Woods adds,

these words were penned especially to Christians; and are designed to impress believers with the fact that their faith must evidence itself in action to be a blessing to them. Members of the church whose faith does not prompt them to faithfulness in the Lord’s work, and to regular Christian activity such as consistent church attendance, liberality in giving, and personal work, are spiritual corpses, possessed of a faith which is destitute of all life (153).

Our success or failure in successfully developing as a Christian depends, to a large degree, upon our application of James’ words to our lives. The Christian who fails to possess a working faith invites spiritual disaster into his life. If our faith is without works, we will find ourselves growing weaker spiritually and more attracted to the world. The church that is composed of members who possess faith without works will find its light growing dimmer. On the other hand, when our faith is active and alive, we will find ourselves growing spiritually. This growth, in turn, helps the church to be stronger.

James concludes his teaching on the great doctrine of faith and works emphatically: "so faith without works is dead also." His teaching on this subject is in complete harmony with all other Bible writers. Through the examples of Rahab and Abraham, the Christians who read James’s words had to understand that the doctrine of salvation by "faith only" is false and that a working faith is necessary to please God. Contemporary Christians who ponder these words must make sure their faith is a "working" faith. They must strive for consistency in their service to Christ and make sure they "practice what they preach."

James poses seven questions in this chapter that, when considered logically, will lead one to the truth of his teaching:

1. What is the profit of faith without works (verse 14)?

2. Can faith without works save (verse 14)?

3. What is the profit in wishing the poor well but not helping them (verse 16)?

4. Do you want evidence that faith without works is useless (verse 20)?

5. Wasn’t Abraham justified by works when he offered Isaac (verse 21)?

6. Do you see that his faith was made perfect by works (verse 22)?

7. Wasn’t Rahab justified by works when she protected the spies (verse 25)?

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on James 2". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/james-2.html. 1993-2022.
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