Faith and Works, James and Paul

(system) #1

The most highly visible passage in James involves the apparent tension between Paul and James on the question of faith and works. The most striking ���contradiction��� is between James 2:24 ��� ���You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone��� ��� and Romans 3:28: ���For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.���

As the author of this study guide, I must say that I wish every Sabbath School class could be exposed to the lively Good Word discussion on this lesson in which Pedrito Maynard-Reid played a key role. His Bible Amplifier volume on James (Pacific Press, 1996), reinforces the key points, but it was his tenacious verbal emphasis on the fact that James was emphasizing social concern, not theoretical theology, that made his point ��� and that of James ��� come clear.

In print, PMR (James, 114) calls James 1:27 the ���thesis statement��� of which chapter 2 is the natural expansion: ���Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress��� (1:27). Later, noting that chapter 2 opens and closes with hospitality illustrations, PMR argues: ���The positioning of these two hospitality illustrations is another strong evidence that the entire chapter 2 of James should be read as a unit��� (James, 122).

In the end, PMR makes this pointed statement about the relationship between Paul and James: ���To have Paul and James in opposition is to misunderstand each author. They are not engaging each other; they are not involved in a debate. They are combating quite opposite problems��� (James, 115).

It is also worth noting that James does not cite the same ���symptoms��� that Paul addresses in his discussion of salvation. Not even once does James mention circumcision or Jewish ritual practice. James is concerned about social issues, reaching out to those in desperate need. The two books might have been seen quite differently even today if it hadn���t been for Martin Luther���s intense concern with issues of personal salvation. Given his consuming passions, Luther found no help at all in James and thus called it an ���epistle of straw,��� virtually outside the canon.

Another way of approaching the issue is to note the diverse meanings of key words in the discussion. Crucial in that respect are 1) Justify, 2) Faith; and 3) Works. Note the following points about each.

1. Justify. The Greek verb meaning ���justify��� (dikaioo��) with its cluster of related words reveals a remarkable spectrum of meanings. The noun form rendered ���justification��� (dikaiosync��) is translated in Matthew 6:1 as ���piety���: ���Beware of practicing your dikaiosync�� before others��� (NRSV). The English word ���theodicy��� means ���justification of God��� (in the presence of evil). But in Germany where the Lutheran emphasis is strong, I discovered that many of the believers were reluctant to speak of ���justifying��� God; God justifies human beings, humans do not justify God! In that setting, the English word ���vindication��� is generally more acceptable.

In the broad sense, then, to justify is to show the rightness of the action. In James, by helping the poor, one is not finding ���justification��� in the sense of salvation, but is simply confirming the ���rightness��� of the deed.

2. Faith. As PMR notes, James never defines faith for us (James, 117). He suggests that in James, ���faith��� indicates ���one���s trust in God.��� James could also be said to move closer to the Old Testament concept of ���faithfulness.��� Interestingly enough, in the famous line from Habakkuk 2:4 which informs both Paul and Luther, the KJV translates: ���the just shall live by his faith.��� Modern translations, the NIV, for example (also the NRSV), read, ���the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.��� James is rooted in that earthier sense of a faithful life, not the sense of simple trust in God as is suggested by Paul���s use of the term.

3. Works. To break the theological stranglehold of Lutheran theology when reading James, it would be much more accurate to use the term ���deeds��� rather that ���works.��� James simply wants to see that the faithful life is marked by social outreach, by good deeds. Using the term ���works��� muddies the waters.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Faith/Works: Breaking the deadlock. What is the best way to develop the point that Paul and James are not arguing with each other? Can the reading of James 2 as a whole be effective in that respect?

2. Telling factors. Which of the following could carry some weight in letting the message of James be heard in its own right, not just as an argument with Paul:

A) James does not quote any other NT book and is not quoted elsewhere in the NT.

B) The book preserves the traditional, ethical concerns of early Jewish Christianity, but never mentions circumcision or dietary matters.

C) The phrase ���by faith alone��� comes from James (2:24), not from Paul. But it was Luther who borrowed the phrase from James, ���by faith alone,��� putting it to radically different use.

3. Diversity of perspectives. Could addressing the differences between James and Paul be a means of helping us to see other examples of diverse perspectives in Scripture? Ellen White argues that students need to learn from different teachers. And in that connection she argues for recognizing the diversity found among the New Testament writers: ���Why do we need a Matthew, a Mark, a Luke, a John, a Paul?��� she asks. ���It is because the minds of men differ. Not all comprehend things in exactly the same way. Certain Scripture truths appeal much more strongly to the minds of some than of others.��� ��� Counsels to Parents and Teachers, 432

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Yoyo7th) #2

James does include a few points on outreach but the general trend of the letter is to counter self-deception, hypocrisy , and worldliness/depravity.
In my estimation, this letter of James is the most relevant and needed material for this denomination than any of the other 65 books. So many SS class members will get cheated this quarter over cold doctrinal leftovers and word battles.

(George Tichy) #3

Why don’t YOU hurry and write a study guide on James that is not a mere “cold doctrinal leftover” but may be the only relevant material to be studied among all others produced so far.

It seems that YOIUR views are far above anyone else’s. The only disappointing issue is that you never reveal those ideas to us. Write an article and send it to Spectrum so that we can appreciate and discuss it. Criticism will certainly be part of the discussion. Go to work now!

@elmer_cupino @hopeful @ageis7

(Rohan Charlton) #4

Yes Yoyo! Show us just how doctrinally hot,articulate and wise you are. Step up yourself for a change!

BTW I had to laugh when I saw that SDA Topix forum members voted you the most annoying member! :D

(le vieux) #5

How does one find this poll? I searched on their site, but without success. Based on the little I observed there, being voted the most annoying might be a status symbol. :wink:

(Rohan Charlton) #6

Haha it was a while ago. Yoyo had two threads dedicated just to and about him actually! Many opinions and views colorfully expressed. Yoyo has quite the reputation in webland it seems.

(Sirje) #7

Paul sets the theology; and James shows us how that theology show up in the life of a Christian.

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #8

So the great disapproval is for SS as well as the preaching. Sabbaths must be torture for @yoyo7th. I’m not aware of any single denominational position that would give him control over all SSs & pulpits, so there’s really no chance of easing his frustration.

(George Tichy) #9

I am under the impression that we might be dealing with the first case of perfection. If he reached perfection, no wonder that (literally) nothing/nobody is acceptable to him.

But then, perfect people do not keep complaining that much, denouncing every sermon as faulty and every SS as poor.

What can we make from this attitude? Any help from the LGTers, to explain what went wrong?

(Elaine Nelson) #10

As both Peter and James were those in charge of the Jerusalem, or Jewish church and Paul was the missionary to the gentiles, were they each not addressing different audiences? There would have been no need for James to address circumcision as the Jews continued to practice this while the Holy Spirit instruction for the gentiles was that it was unnecessary to receive God’s grace.

Two different audiences with two distinctly different messages.

(Aage Rendalen) #11

It seems to me that when Paul says, The just shall live by faith, he really means “the sinner” shall live by faith. To him, faith is the IV that, to use RCC terminology, provides life-support. James, like Habbakuk, is talking about the “just”: how does a person in a covenant relationship with God live.

Paul, in my mind, misconstrues Habakkuk, and uses the phrase “the just shall live by faith” in a way that was never a part of the text’s ‘original intent.’

(Steve Mga) #12

Great thoughts and combining Paul and James with the same “line”.
We are resurrected by Baptism from Sin, are now a new creation by Faith.
James sees us, by Faith, developing a relationship with an Unseen God and
we do this by doing Good Works. We do the Works of God for Him.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #13

What James calls works, Paul call Fruits of the Spirit. Tom Z

(Tihomir Odorcic) #14

I once had a professor in physics who used to say that there are only about thirty (30) people in the world who can read and solve Schrödinger’s equations of quantum mechanics. When I today mentioned this fact to my brother, he said to me that in an equal way it can be said about “justification by faith”.

(Elaine Nelson) #15

Jesus was certainly not unlearned. When he was only 12 Luke records that He took up Scripture and then interpreted it and they were "astounded and his ability and asked: where did he learn these things?

The pioneers did not read Greek or Hebrew, the Biblical languages, and they only consulted among themselves without checking with trained theologians who read the Bible languages and they arrived at the doctrines with a very small consensus. Compare that today when a slight change in the FBs must be discussed for months and then reviewed by the trained theologians before even being formal changes are made. How many reviewed the belief of the IJ that was seen by ONE MAN before being a new doctrine, unrecognized by no other Christians then or today?

You can save your time on a Bible study on the IJ. I am a PK of 90 years and literally grew up in the tent revival campaigns, sawdust floor and wooden chairs; sitting on the front row listening to my dad explain all the SdA beliefs, including that one. It has not been changed since then and I have heard (and learned in in SdA schools) all my life and have concluded it has no relation to a Christian’s life or salvation.

None of the apostles taught it (yet it was there in Scripture for them to read); Jesus did not teach it; and until Newton introduced his own idea, it was never part of Christianity. Adventists introduced it by claiming it was their “unique” contribution to religious belief, They are are correct on that statement.

(jeremy) #16

i tend to agree…and matthew in matthew 2:15 totally reinvents hosea 11:1…but this is the way inspiration often interprets inspiration…there’s no accounting for it through normal exegetical channels…inspiration doesn’t appear to be concerned with exegesis - that is, with what the original text actually meant to its original audience…


Amen. I like this article. Thank you. And this SS lesson has been a great help and blessing for me.

It sure can. “Deeds” does seem like a better word. When I’ve spoken to other Protestant Christians and mentioned the word “works”, many tense up, because they see it as a negative thing. This seems to be one of those things left over from the Reformation which we cant seem to get over, or sort out (Protestant world that is). And Luther not wanting, at first, to add James to the NT (because of such words) helped to muddy the water even further. Please dont get me wrong, I have great respect for Luther.

And btw, does anyone else see all these little “���” throughout the article, or is it just me?

(Yoyo7th) #18

I would be interested in your bother’s definition of "justification by faith"
and…I approach it as innocent til proven guilty

BTW, did his agree with yours?

(Phillip Brantley) #19

This is a very good essay. Some relevant hermeneutics come to mind:

  1. The meaning of the biblical text is not what the author wrote but what the author intended to write.
  2. The biblical text does not have semantic autonomy. The biblical text does not mean something that the author did not intend it to mean.
  3. We should not superimpose upon the biblical text our notions of grammar and word usage that are not shared by the author.
  4. The biblical text’s meaning and “significance” are two different things. Significance concerns how we apply the biblical text to our lives. Whereas the meaning of the biblical text is fixed and unchangeable, the significance of the biblical text can vary from one person to the next.
  5. The hermeneutical circle is not a vicious circle if the part can be shown to cohere with the whole. The entire text of James helps us understand a specific verse of that text. And Paul’s texts help us understand James’ text, ironic as that may seem given the seeming contradiction discussed in the essay, because all of the texts were superintended by the same divine Author.

(George Tichy) #20

I would be interested in yours. Do you have one? If so, would you care to share it? (Short version please…)