This passage appears to contradict Paul’s teaching on faith and works. The latter states that one is justified only by faith and not by the works of the law, whilst James claims that justification is by works and not only by faith, 2. 24. When one analyses this more carefully, the problem really is in the form and not in the content, and, as with all apparent contradictions in Scripture, it illustrates the Biblical mixture of great variety with perfect unity. Thus, before going into this section in more detail, let us clear up this difficulty.
Firstly, we must define faith.
Again, the works which James commends are not synonymous with the works which Paul condemns. Paul writes about “works of the law”, i.e., works which seek salvation by fulfilling the law by human means. James does not refer to these works, but deals with works that emanate from faith, and that are the expression of faith. Paul demands these in his Epistles, and they are dependent on divine power.
As mercy has been shown to be an obvious result of love, so James now illustrates the point that, where practical love is not present, there is an undeniable proof that true faith is absent; cf. Gal. 5. 6 above. To make this clear, for fear anyone should attempt to seperate faith and love, he asks two rhetorical questions, the implied reply to both being “Most certainly not”. Note the wording of verse 14, “though a man say he hath faith”. “Faith” which is verbal and not practical is likened to an empty shell of religion, vv. 17, 26. The rendering “can faith save him?”, v. 14, is misleading and fails to bring out the force of the Greek definite article: we should use the r.v, “can faith save him?”.
In verses 15-16 he provides a hypothetical case, in which the sufferers are told to do what they cannot at all achieve. They may be male or female, here called “brother” or “sister”, for all believers are part of the family of God. “Naked” means ill-clad. In the phrase “notwithstanding ye give”, there is a change from the singular, “one of you” to the plural “ye”, for James puts the responsibility of practising the truth taught in these verses on all his readers, even if only one of them might raise the issue now discussed.
The difficulty in this verse is due to the absence of punctuation— the problems are outlined as follows:
If it is a friend representing James, then the rest of the statement should probably be regarded as a quotation aimed at the man who is rebuked in the earlier verses; the meaning could then be paraphrased, “We shall be inclined to say to him, ‘Thou hast faith, but I have deeds to show. Show me this faith of thine without any deeds to prove it, and I am prepared, by my deeds, to prove my own faith’”. Yet, why use the words “Yea, a man may say”, for they seem to be those of an objection? Furthermore, the impression could be given that James admits this person has faith, thereby denying what he, the author, has been stating previously.
We should take it, then, that it is an enemy who is speaking, and that what he is saying is, “Thou hast faith, and I have works”, claiming that some have the gift of faith and others of good works. So the sentence, “Show me thy faith without (or “apart from”, R.V.) thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works”, is James’ reply to him. He is, therefore, again demanding evidence of that faith.
James now deals once more with the professor of faith, and he distinguishes between the intellect of the head and faith of the heart. Demons had the former, and it produced only fear, as can be seen when Christ met the demoniac, “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?”, Matt. 8. 29. We, however, are to “come boldly unto the throne of grace”, Heb. 4. 16.
The phrase “wilt thou know?” begins a new section. James is going to bring out the Biblical evidence for the statement that “faith without works is dead”, or, barren. It is ineffective and so, in keeping with the argument, “unproductive of salvation”. The faith that James has been talking about may be tabulated in the following way:
In Abraham’s case, justification means a consideration that one is right. It is primarily and gratuitously by faith, consequently and evidentially by works. The difference between Paul and James may be presented thus:
This justification is
Romans 4 brings out Abraham as out father, whereas James 2 refers to him as God’s friend. Jehoshaphat, 2 Chron. 20. 7 and James, v. 23, use this latter term, but, most important of all, God Himself does, Isa. 41. 8. Indeed, we are Christ’s friends, John 15. 15, the reason being that God desires fellowship with us as He did with Adam in the beginning, unworthy as we are. To us now righteousness is “imputed”; during the millennium it shall “reign”; and in the eternal state it shall “dwell”.
In Rahab’s case, so as to indicate that the above teachings have a general application, James refers to one who is a Gentile, a woman and a prostitute. With Rahab he uses an example from the lower section of society, for the statement “also was not Rahab the harlot?” should probably be rendered “Was not even the harlot Rahab?”. Hebrews 11. 31 alludes to her treatment of the spies as an illustration of her faith and the consequences, “perished not”, when Jericho fell. James does not mention her faith, but assumes that his readers know of the incident when she confessed the sovereignty of Israel’s God and how this faith caused a response to further His purposes. Instead of “when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way”, we should read “in that she received….and sent them” R.V., the Greek aorist participle having the same force as in verse 21.
In conclusion, we see that spurious faith is likened to a corpse; indeed, James could hardly have put this over by a stronger or more conclusive simile. Thus, good works do not make a person a Christian, but a Christian is expected to do good works.
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