James 2:14-26 (NIV)

14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead.

18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder.

20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.


Problem of James' Argument

Issue: Does James contradict Paul on the relationship of faith and works?

  • Paul: "For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Rom 3:28).
  • James: "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone" (Jas 2:24).

Problematic Answers

Example #1

  • Martin Luther believed that James does, in fact, contradict Paul and he rejected canonical status of James.
  • "It [letter of James] is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works."
  • Luther believed it impossible to reconcile James with Paul, claiming that if anyone could, "I'll put my professor's hat on him and let him call me a fool!"

Example #2

  • Some modern scholars echo Luther on the impossibility of reconciling James with Paul on subject of faith and works.
  • Josef B. Soucek (1902-1972): "The statements of James cannot be brought into harmony with the authentic Paul and what we confront is not only a tension but an antithesis" ("Zu den Problemen des Jakobusbriefes," Evangelische Theologie 18 [1958] 467)

Example #3

  • Other modern scholars see in James 2:14-26 evidence of a split within the early church.
  • James D. G. Dunn: "It is obvious then that what is reflected here is a controversy within Christianity--between that stream of Jewish Christianity which was represented by James at Jerusalem on the one hand, and the Gentile churches or Hellenistic Jewish Christians who had been decisively influenced by Paul's teaching on the other" (Unity and Diversity in the New Testament [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977] 251-252)

Example #4

  • "Lordship Salvation Debate" within the Evangelical wing of the church
    Issue: Is Jesus our Savior or our Lord?
    James 2:14-26 played a key role in this debate.
  • Position #1: Jesus is our Savior!
    • To be saved one must simply and only believe in Jesus.
    • Emphasis on free nature of grace obtained through faith.
    • Charge against "Lordship" proponents: they are guilty of legalism, works-righteousness.
  • Position #2: Jesus is our Lord!
    • To be saved one must not only believe in Jesus but also submit one's life to the lordship of Christ Emphasis on transforming character of grace which shows itself in good works or holy living.
    • Charge against "Savior" proponents: they are guilty of cheap grace, easy believism.


Verse 14a: "What good is it?"

  • Greek phrase τί  τὸ  ὄφελος (ti to ophelos) literally means "What [is] the benefit?"
  • A fixed expression of that day that always expected a negative answer (1 Cor 15:32; Sir 20:30; 41:14; Philo, On the Posterity of Cain 86; Epictetus, Discourses 1.4.16; 1.6.33; 3.7.30; 3.24.51)
  • Not a real question with an unknown answer but an assertion that faith without works is worth nothing!

Verse 14b: "Can such faith save him?"

  • Instead of referring to faith generically as "faith," James uses the definite article "the faith."
    • James is thus not speaking about faith in general or in the abstract but the specific kind of faith described in the first half of the verse, namely, the kind of faith where someone claims to have faith but no works.
    • Some translations are misleading when they translate verse 14b as "Can faith save you?" (KJV; NRSV)
    • NIV interprets this correctly by translating it with the adjective "such faith"--thereby pointing the reader back to the specific kind of faith described in the immediately preceding clause ("that faith": NASB; NJB; ESV; "faith like that": NCV; "that kind of faith": NLB)
  • Yet the NIV (and all other translations) lose something else in translation: What kind of question is verse 14b?
    • Three ways to ask a question in Greek:
      • A neutral question where speaker does not know the answer
      • A "loaded" question where the speaker asserts the answer:
        • "Yes!": question is introduced with the negative οὐ, ou
        • "No!”: question is introduced with negative μὴ,
  • Verse 14b is a loaded question where the James asserts the answer to be "No!"
    • Best translation: "Such faith is not able to save him, is it?"
    • James, as with the opening question "What good is it?," is not raising a real question but rather asserting something.

Verse 15: "Suppose a brother or sister ..."

  • Greek literally reads: "If a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food ..."
    • 3rd Class Condition: some scholars view this type of condition as describing a hypothetical situation (thus NIV "Suppose ...").
      Better to view 3rd class condition as describing a general or common situation
    • James is thus dealing not with a rare problem but a wide-spread, common problem among the Jewish churches.
  • James does not use his standard gender-inclusive "brother" but intentionally has fuller phrase "brother or sister."
    • This fact can be lost in most gender-inclusive translations that regularly render the simple "brother." as "brother or sister."
    • James highlights the plight of a needy "sister" likely because women were often overlooked in a patriarchal society, especially when they lost the provisional and protective help of either a father or husband.

Verse 15: "... lacking daily food"

  • Greek participle "lacking" (λειπόμενοι, leipomenoi) is given in the present tense.
  • This emphasizes that the poverty described in this verse is an ongoing or enduring situation.
  • Grammar thus stresses the seriousness of the historical context where the church is neglecting the significant and ongoing needs of fellow brothers or sisters.

Verse 16: "Keep warm and well fed!"
     (θερμαίνεσθε  καὶ  χορτάζεσθε)
     Middle or Passive voice?

  • Passive voice
    • Subject receives the action
    • "Be warm and be well fed!"
    • Unspoken agent of the action of being warmed and well fed is not stated--either God (so-called "divine passive") or another person.
    • Speaker is blind to the fact that he or she is in a position to help the poor believer be warm or be well fed.
  • Middle voice:
    • Subject does the action (as also in active voice), often with reflexive emphasis:
    • "Warm yourselves and feed yourselves!"
    • Insult to poor believers is even greater here, since they are told to take care of their needs themselves with no outside help from others.
    • Ralph P. Martin: "Probably the middle is better here for both verbs, though either voice points to the fact that some professed believers are failing to meet the needs of other church members" (James. Waco, Texas: Word, 1988, p. 85).

Verse 19: "... and they (the demons) shudder"

  • Greek verb φρίσσῶ (phrissô) is a hapax legomenon--word occurring only one time in NT.
  • Verb often used with hair of either people ("to have one's hairs stand on end”) and animals ("to bristle") in context of fear (LSJ 1955).
    • Strong verb meaning more than slight shuddering; refers to uncontrollable, uncontainable, violent shaking from extreme fear and terror.
    • Cognate noun φρικῆ, (phrikê) is where we get English word "fright."
    • Verb occurs frequently in magical papyri of demons reaction to exorcism spells.
  • Demons' faith in the existence and oneness of God elicits response of terror.
  • See also response of demons to Jesus in Mark 1:23-28 ("the evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek") and 5:1-20

Verse 20b: "... is useless"

  • Full verse reads: "You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without works is useless?"
  • Greek word for "useless" (ἀργή, argê) is a compound word made up of two parts (α + ἔργον) meaning "without work."
  • Occurs immediately after noun "works."
  • James thus makes a clever pun or word-play that in English might be rendered: "Faith without works does not work!"
  • Rhetorical function of the pun
    • 1st function: Makes the reader favorably disposed to the author and what the author is saying.
    • 2nd function: Draws attention to the statement being made, namely, that the kind of faith that is not accompanied by works is useless. ("Faith without works does not work!")

Verse 21: What kind of question is it?

  • Here, as in v 14b, we meet not a neutral question but a loaded question.
  • This time, however, the expected answer to the question is "Yes!"
  • "Yes--our father Abraham was indeed considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar!"

Verse 22: "...his actions were working"

  • Note 1st the plural "actions" (ergois).
  • Note 2nd the unique form of the verb "were working" (synêrgei) which uses the rarer imperfect tense that highlights the ongoing and continuous nature of the action.
  • James does not have in view only the one act of Abraham offering up Isaac but the actions (plural!) which throughout Abraham's life were part of his faith.

Verse 24: Significance of word order

  • Word order in verse 24: "You see that out of works is justified a person and not out of faith alone."
  • Prepositional phrase "out of works" is pushed by James to the front of the sentence for emphasis (see also questions of vv 21, 25), thereby stressing his argument that "works" or "deeds" are the means by which believers prove that they have true, saving faith in contrast to "faith alone"--that is, a false, non-saving faith that is devoid of works

Verse 25: What kind of question is it?

  • Here again we meet not a neutral question but a loaded question.
  • This time, as with question about Abraham in verse 21, the expected answer to the question is "Yes!"
  • "Yes"--in the same way Rahab the prostitute was indeed considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction!


1. What type of literature is James 2:14-26?

  • James 2:14-26 clearly is part of a letter or an epistle.
  • Thus, knowledge of epistolary formulas or fixed expressions typically used in ancient letters important for proper interpretation of this passage.
  • However, there are other non-epistolary, broader literary devices used as well: e.g., inclusio, chiasmus, word-pair, etc.

2. Evidence that 2:14-16 is a unit.

 Evidence for start of new passage at 2:14.

  • Clear that the start of a new passage actually occurs not at 2:14 but earlier at 2:1.
    • Several verbal, thematic and literary links between opening half of chapter two (2:1-13) and its closing half (2:14-26)
    • This proves that the two sections of 2:1-13 and 2:14-26 are closely connected together.
    • Links between 2:1-13 & 2:14-26.
      • Both open with vocative "my brothers" (vv 1, 14).
      • Both have "faith" as key word in opening (vv 1, 14). (This key word hidden in NIV.)
      • Both deal with poor people who are in "shabby" or "poor" clothing (vv 2, 15).
      • Both conclude the description of the discrimination or neglect of the poor (vv 2, 15) with a rhetorical question (vv 4, 16).
      • Both have the expression "You do well" (v 8: kalôs poiete; v 19: kalôs poieis).
      • Both have the passive verb "called" (vv 7, 23).
    • Ralph Martin: "We still have to consider how 2:14-26 fits into the preceding section [of 2:1-13]. The links between the two paragraphs are too strong to be overlooked ... These parallels argue for a smooth and connected flow in the author's writing ... and the same situation lies in the background of the two units" (James. Waco, Texas: Word, 1988, pp. 78-79)
    • Luke Timothy Johnson: "The position taken here is that in chapter two James develops a single argument ... In this sense, the final part of the discussion in 2:14-26 only provides the broadest formal framework for the specifics argued in 2:1-13. Likewise, the point of the discussion in 2:14-26 is not to be found by way of engagement with a Pauline position, but rather by the specific points argued in 2:1-13" (The Letter of James. New York: Doubleday, 1995, p. 219)
  • Yet evidence for shift in argument at 2:14.
    • Vocative "my brothers": common epistolary device in not only James (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 3:1; 4:11; 5:7, 12, 19) but other letters of that day to mark transition; indicates either major or minor break in argument.
    • Asyndeton: there is no word (e.g., γὰρ, δὲ , ἀλλὰ, καὶ ) connecting 2:14 to the preceding material, thereby suggesting the start of a new section.
    • Word pair "faith/works": occurs 10x in vv 14-26, giving these verses "lexical coherence"; although "faith" occurs two times in preceding section (2:1-13), word pair "faith/works" occurs nowhere in surrounding material, either in the preceding (2:1-13) or following (3:1ff) verses.
 Evidence for end of new passage at 2:26.
  • Ending signaled by last use of word pair "faith/works" in v 26.
  • Use of vocative "my brothers" at 3:1 to signal start of new topic.
  • Shift in topic at 3:1 away from faith and works to new topic of controlling the tongue.
  • Conclusion: Compelling evidence for 2:14-26 as a legitimate preaching/teaching unit.

3. Structure ("Mapquest) of 2:14-26

  • Literary analysis also involves question of the internal structure of a given biblical passage.
  • James (like the other biblical authors) is a gifted writer who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, thinks carefully not just about the words that he will write but also the structure that his argument will follow.
  • James thinks not just about "what" he says (the Content) but also "how" he will say it (the Form in which that content is given).
  • How does James get from the opening in verse 14 to the conclusion in verse 26?
  • Passage consists of two rather clearly defined units and a concluding simile:

I. Non-saving Faith (vv 14-19)

Two negative examples of a "workless" faith that does not save

II. Saving Faith (vv 20-25)

Two positive examples (Abraham and Rahab) of a "working" faith that does save.

Conclusion (v 26)

I. Non-Saving Faith (vv 14-19)

  • Opens with vocative "My brothers" (v 14)
  • Two negative examples: 1st example involves faith of person with pious cliché to poor believer in need (vv 15-17); 2nd example involves faith of demons (vv 18-19)
  • Inclusio: Boundaries of 1st example marked by inclusio "What good is it?" (vv 14, 16)

II. Saving Faith (vv 20-25)

  • Opens with vocative "O foolish man" (v 20)
  • Disclosure formula: an epistolary formula which employs verb of "knowing" and functions as a transitional device (v 20 "Do you want to know ...")
  • Two positive examples: 1st example involves faith of Abraham (vv 21-24); 2nd example involves faith of Rahab (v 25)

  Conclusion (v 26)

Simile: Just as body/spirit ... so also faith/works: The two must not be separated!

I. Non-Saving Faith (vv 14-19)

    Intro: Opening question presenting thesis: faith & works must not be separated (v 14).

  1. Negative Example of a false, non-saving faith (vv 15-17)
  2. Negative Example of demons' faith (v 19)

II. Saving Faith (vv 20-25)

    Intro: Opening question restating thesis: faith and works must not be separated (v 20).

  1. Positive Example of Abraham's faith (vv 21-24).
  2. Positive Example of Rahab's faith (v 25)

Conclusion (v 26)

   Simile: Just as body/spirit ... so also faith/works: The two must not be separated!


1. Problem addressed in 2:14-26

  • Issue: What is the trouble in the text?
  • James is not writing an abstract theological discourse on faith and works but addressing a very specific and real situation: What is that situation?

2. Real or Hypothetical Situation?

  • The conditional ("if") clauses that open not only 2:14-26 (vv 14, 15-16) but also 2:1-13 (v 2) have led many scholars to conclude that the situation being addressed in James 2 is hypothetical and does not address a real situation.
    • The NIV thus translates 2:15 not "If a brother or sister..." but "Suppose a brother or sister..." (so also 2:2)
    • Douglas Moo: "How realistic is this incident? ...the Greek construction James uses to describe the incident (ean with the subjunctive mood) suggests (though it does not require) that James is giving a hypothetical example. And the hypothetical nature of the situation is underscored by the indefiniteness of brother or sister" (The Letter of James. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000, p. 124).
  • Response #1: Grammatical argument
    • Better to view 3rd class condition as describing a general or common situation.
  • Response #2: Contextual argument
    • Emphasis expressed through addition of "or sister" and present tense of participle "lacking"
    • Blomberg & Kamell: "James could be presenting a hypothetical objection for the sake of his argument, but it seems likely that some in his congregation were making precisely this inquiry. Why else would vv. 14-26 rebut the viability of a lifeless orthodoxy so strenuously?" (James. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2008, p. 129)
  • Response #3: "from you" in v 16
    • Dan McCartney: "Two little words make it clear that this situation is not simply a parabolic analogy. James says, 'If someone from among you [ἐξ  ὑμῶν, ex hymôn] says' (2:16). If he were only making a comparison, he simply would have said, 'If someone says,' not specifying 'from among you'" (James. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009, p. 156)
  • Response #4: Rhetorical argument
    • Duane Watson: "Even if [the situation] is hypothetical, historical information can still be gleaned from the example because it was selected to address a specific rhetorical situation" ("James 2 and Greco-Roman Argumentation," New Testament Studies 39 [1993] p. 98)

3. Discrimination against the Poor

  • On a general level, the historical situation is clear: the church is showing favoritism to the rich and discriminating against (2:1-13) and neglecting (2:14-26) the poor.
    • 2:15: Church fails to help out "a brother or sister who is without clothes and daily food."
    • 2:2-4: Problem made clearer by previous verses in chapter 2 which explicitly refer to church showing special attention to the rich and discriminating against the poor.
  • On a specific level, the historical situation is less clear
    • Option #1: Worship context
      • Verse 2: "If a man comes into your meeting (synagôgê) ..."
      • Synagogue: one of the activities that took place at a synagogue is worship.
    • Option #2: Judicial context
      • Verse 2: "If a man comes into your meeting (synagôgê) ..."
      • Synagogue: another one of the activities that took place at a synagogue is the adjudication of legal matters.
      • Note verse 6: "Is it not the rich who oppress you and drag you into court?"
  • Conclusion: Although the specific historical context remains uncertain (a worship or juridical context?), the general context is clear: the Jewish Christian church's favoritism of the rich and discrimination and neglect of the poor.
  • Serious problem in light of the law's summary to love not only God but also one's neighbor (cited by James in verse 8: "If you really fulfill the royal law, according to the scriptures, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'...")
  • Significance:
    • James' discussion of faith and works in 2:14-26 needs to be heard in this particular historical context.
    • To a church community which is discriminating against and neglecting its poor members, James emphasizes "works"--not as a means to obtain righteousness but as a natural and essential element of true, saving faith.
    • James in 2:14-26 is not contrasting faith versus works but two kinds of faith: a false faith versus a true faith.

4. Explanation of 1st negative example

1st example (vv 15-16): Instead of giving a fellow believer in need clothes and food, the church gives only empty words: "Go in peace! Keep warm and well fed!"

  • 1st command: "Go in peace!" (Greek: hypagete en eirênê) is a common Hebrew expression of farewell: leku leshalom.
    • Thus words are an empty pious cliché (NAB: "Good-bye and good luck!").
  • 2nd Command: "Keep warm and well fed!"
    • These two commands correspond to the two needs identified in previous verse
      • Need #1: "naked" Pious cliché: "Keep warm!"
      • Need #2: "lacking daily food" Pious cliché: "Keep well fed!"
    • Luke Timothy Johnson: "The exhortations correspond to the conditions of nakedness and hunger, revealing that the speaker knows the needs but refuses to meet them" (The Letter of James. New York: Doubleday, 1995, p. 239).
  • Application:
    • The kind of faith that sees someone in need and then only utters a pious cliché is a faith that is "all talk and no action."
    • False or non-saving nature of this kind of faith is indicated by the apodosis: "What is the profit" (v 16b)--a rhetorical question that always expects a negative answer.
    • James spells this out in v 17: "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
    • Contrast in 1st example is not faith versus works but rather a false, non-saving faith (with no works) versus a true, saving faith (with works).
    • Douglas Moo: "It is absolutely vital to understand that the main point of this argument, expressed three times (in vv. 17, 20 and 26), is not that works must be added to faith but that genuine faith includes works. That is its very nature” (James. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985, 99).

5. Explanation of 2nd negative example
2nd example (v 19): The false or non-saving faith of the demons is defined as believing that "God is one."

  • Phrase "God is one" is clear reference to the "Shema": "Here, O Israel: The Lord, our God, the Lord is one."
    • Most important monotheistic confession of Jews (Deut 6:4; Josephus, Ant. 3.91; 4.201; 5.112; Ep. Arist. 132; Sib. Or. 3.629)
  • Application:
    • True, saving faith involves more than just knowing about God.
    • The demons know about God's existence and oneness ("Even the demons believe that ...") but their faith is clearly insufficient ("... and they shudder").
  • Reformers: Distinguished 3 aspects of faith
    • Knowledge (notitia): intellectual understanding of something.
    • Belief (assensus): belief that this something is true.
    • Trust (fiducia): commit yourself personally to this true thing.
  • Example of Marriage
    • It is one thing to intellectually understand the concept of marriage (notitia) and also to believe in it as a valid human institution (assensus); it is quite another thing to walk down the aisle and say, "I do!" (fiducia).
    • It is one thing to intellectually understand God's existence (notitia) and also to believe God's existence (assensus); it is quite another thing to personally commit yourself to God (fiducia).

6. Explanation of 1st positive example
1st example (vv 21-24): James illustrates true, saving faith by reminding his readers of the "binding of Isaac" story.

  • Story would have been well-known to his Jewish readers and there is no need for him to spell out all of the details of Abraham's life, including the offering of his son, Isaac, on the altar.
    • If the modern audience is not familiar with these details, the preacher must spell it out for them, since James assumes the knowledge of these things.
  • Explanation (v 22): James explains this example by stating: "You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did."
  • Plural "actions" and imperfect tense ("were working") are significant: James is not thinking of just this one action of offering up Isaac but the actions (plural!) throughout Abraham's life that testified to his true, saving faith.
  • Conclusion (v 24): James concludes this positive example of true, saving faith by stating, "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone."
    • James here sounds contradictory to Paul.
    • Key, however, is the last word in the sentence: "alone" (monon).
    • Faith alone for James is a false faith that has no works.

7. Explanation of 2nd positive example
2nd Example (v 25): James illustrates true, saving faith by reminding his readers of Rahab story (Joshua 2).

  • As with "binding of Isaac" story, the "Rahab" story would also have been well-known to his Jewish readers and there is no need for James to spell out all of the details.
  • Also no need to repeat explanation given already to the "binding of Isaac" story (vv 22-24).

8. Why pairing of Abraham & Rahab?

Issue: Why does James pair the example of Abraham with that of Rahab? Out of all the OT "heroes of faith" (Heb 11), why these two?

  • Option #1: Hospitality
    • Many commentators believe that Abraham and Rahab were paired because of their reputation for hospitality--Abraham to the three visitors (Genesis 18); Rahab to the two spies (Joshua 2).
    • Duane Watson: "The examples of Abraham, father of the faith, and Rahab, a harlot, are a strange combination, but one found in the tradition because both exemplified hospitality" ("James 2 and Greco-Roman Argumentation," New Testament Studies 39 [1993] 116).
    • Evaluation:
      • Strength: Fits the context well--need for church to provide clothes and food to needy members (vv 15-16).
        • Further support: Abraham (but not joined with Rahab!) highly praised in Rabbinic tradition for hospitality.
      • 1st (major) weakness: James does not cite story of three visitors (Gen 18) but story of Abraham offering up Isaac (Gen 22).
      • 2nd (major) weakness: Rahab is justified not just by her providing lodging for the spies but also by her "sending them out by another way."
      • 3rd (minor) weakness: Pairing of Abraham and Rahab not very common in Jewish or Christian tradition (only 1 Clem 10 and 12 which date after James).
  • Option #2: Extremes (Merismus)
    • I propose that James has paired Abraham and Rahab because they serve as two extremes: Abraham is the father and hero of the Jewish nation, whereas Rahab is a Gentile, a woman, and a prostitute.
    • Literary device in Hebrew poetry: Merismus--the use of two parts (usually the extremes) to describe the whole:
      • "morning and night" = whole day
      • "heaven and earth" = everywhere
      • "root and fruit" = everything
    • Blomberg & Kamell: "The two exemplars of James' principle of works completing or vindicating one's faith--Abraham and Rahab--contrast with each other in several respects, creating a powerful merismus, a figure of speech 'which makes equal the most extreme members of a whole and therefore all the other members who fall in between'” (James. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000, p. 125).
  • Application:
    • The call for demonstrating true, saving faith is the same for all of God's people--whether you are a patriarch or a prostitute.
    • Makes no difference whether you are the great hero of the Jewish faith, Abraham, or the Gentile, female, prostitute Rahab.
    • All believers are called upon to demonstrate the kind of true faith that manifests itself clearly in works of kindness and obedience.

9. Simile involving "body" and "spirit"
Verse 26: "Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without deeds is dead."

  • The "spirit" here is the life principle that causes the "body" to come to life (Gen 2:7; Ps 30:6; Ezek 37:10; Luke 8:55; 23:46).
    • No spirit = dead body
    • No works = dead faith
  • Conclusion: Faith and works cannot be separated!

Problem of James' Argument Revisited

  • Issue: Does James contradict Paul on the relationship of faith and works?
  • Response: No! The apparent problem stems from fact that both James and Paul use the language/vocabulary of "faith" to address quite different specific situations.

  • Context: James is facing a serious problem in the Jewish Christian churches of Jerusalem and surrounding area--the discrimination against the poor in either worship or matters of judgment (2:1-13) and the neglect of the poor (2:15-16).
  • Claim: James exhibits a positive view of "works"--not as a means to obtain righteousness but instead as a natural and essential element of true, saving faith; James is not contrasting works versus faith but a false faith versus a true faith.

  • Context: Paul in a few letters (Galatians, Romans) is facing a serious problem of legalism or works-righteousness--some who claimed special status before God based on their works of the law.
  • Claim: Paul in this context exhibits a negative view of "works", stressing instead that one is justified by faith, i.e., by belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ; in a different context, however, Paul agrees with James by speaking positively about "works" as acts of obedience in response to the gift of grace.
    • Paul's positive statements about "works"
      • Romans 8:4 "in order that the righteous requirement of the law may be fully filled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but the Spirit."
      • Galatians 5:6 "faith working through love"
      • 1 Thessalonians 1:2 "work of faith" = "work produced by faith" (NIV)

  • James, in his specific historical context, stresses the necessity of "post-conversion works"--works of love for one's neighbor, namely, care for those in need and not showing favoritism, all done as a natural response to God's gift of righteousness.
  • Paul, in his specific historical context, strongly denies "pre-conversion works"--works of the law such as circumcision, following food laws and the Jewish religious calendar, all done in order to obtain God's righteousness.
  • Frances Gench's medical metaphor: "Paul is dealing with obstetrics, with how new life begins; James, however, is dealing with pediatrics and geriatrics, with how Christian life grows and matures and ages” (Hebrews and James. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1996, p. 106).

  • Luther's comments about faith in the preface to his Romans commentary captures, somewhat ironically, the key message of James 2:14-26.
    "Oh, it is a living, busy, active thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good things incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done this, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about the faith and good works."

Saving Faith
James 2:14-26
Sermon Outline

 I. The Historical Context of James' Argument

II. The Interpretation of James' Argument

1. Two Negative Arguments (vv 15-19)

a. Illustration of false, non-saving faith (vv 15-17)

b. Illustration of demons' faith (vv 18-19)

2. Two Positive Arguments (vv 20-25)

a. Example of Abraham's faith (vv 20-24)

b. Example of Rahab's faith (v 25)


Last modified: Tuesday, August 7, 2018, 10:46 AM