James 2: Faith and Works

About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Jack Painter at Simpson University during my junior year in a class on Greek Readings.

 

What is it about the book of James that arouses controversy? For example, is faith all that is needed for salvation or are works necessary too? At the surface level it seems that James believes it is only works that justify and faith is not a part of justification. However, a critical and exegetical look into James 2:20-26 (probably the most problematic portion of James to this particular controversy) will identify what James believes and understands regarding faith and works, that faith and works are co-workers in justification. It is also important, as we debate about biblical texts, that we gain a small understanding of the biblical context that the portion of Scripture being studied was written in.

When studying a passage in the Bible, it is important to recognize who wrote the passage, why he wrote it, whom he wrote it to, and how the biblical audience would have understood the text. In the case of the book of James, it is generally accepted by most scholars that James the Just, the brother of Jesus is the author of this book (Johnson 1995, 93). James was writing to the 12 tribes being dispersed. This is a figurative way of saying that he is writing to the people who live according to the spiritual kingdom and not according to the earthly kingdom; hence those who live according to the spiritual are dispersed from the earthly (Johnson 1995, 171). James is writing his epistle to tell this Diaspora how to live in light of being a Christian. In other words, as Ray Johnson put it in his sermon introducing this book, James is a manual on how to become a mature Christian. In this manual, James contains three important themes: perfection, in which e!rgon, sofi&a, pi&stij, and no&moj are developed as part of perfection (Martin 1988, lxxix-lxxxii); wisdom (Martin 1988, lxxxii-iv); and the religious practices and beliefs of the poor (Martin 1988, lxxxiv-vi). James 2:20-26 should be read in light of the perfection theme, specifically on e!rgon and pi&stij.

James also has notable background to his epistle. Specifically, for 2:20-26, James refers to two examples: the great patristic father, the righteous Abraham (v. 21); and a prostitute, the sinner Rahab (v. 25). With the first example, “James unequivocally claims the heritage of Judaism that comes from Abraham” (Johnson 1995, 242). James does so by referring to the Akedah that was, for Abraham, “not a replacement of faith by deeds but was itself a deed worked by faith” (Johnson 1995, 247). For James, Abraham’s faith in God in Genesis 12 and 15 is made complete in his obedience by offering his son (Johnson 1995, 248). James’ treatment of Rahab is noteworthy, for she was a female, and she was quite different from Abraham (Johnson 1995, 245). Douglas J. Moo says it well in his commentary on the book of James. Moo writes, “If it might be objected that Abraham’s works were no more than what might be expected from one who had so rightly experienced God’s grace, the same is certainly not true of Rahab” (1986, 116). Interestingly enough, Rahab was a prostitute. Moo raises this question in light of Rahab’s profession: “Why has James chosen Rahab as an example of justification by works?” (1986, 116). Moo, in answer to his own question, suggests that James has been influenced by 1 Clement 10 and 12, which praise both Abraham and Rahab for their ‘faith and hospitality’ (1986, 116). Abraham demonstrated his hospitality to the three men in Genesis 18 (Moo 1986, 116), and Rahab hers to the messengers in Joshua 2. Therefore, this is why James brings forth Abraham and Rahab: “the ‘works’ they did are precisely those which people with a sham faith do not have (vv. 15-16)” (Moo 1986, 116-17). Or perhaps James mentions both Abraham and Rahab because they were both recognized as converts who worked out their faith in the one true God (Moo 1986, 117). The point to be seen here, however, is that “Abraham, the widely heralded hero and ‘father’ of Israel, is juxtaposed with the pagan woman of loose reputation. But both the patriarch and the prostitute are declared righteous on the basis of works that issued from their faith” (Moo 1986, 117). James 2:20-26 should be read with this background information in mind regarding these two champions of faith, as seen in Hebrews 11, because they are James’ essential proof of his argument. Having in mind the cultural context of the book of James, we can now turn to the literary context of James 2:20-26.

James addresses the treatment of the poor in 2:1-7. In this passage, he makes it clear that favoritism of the rich over the poor is unacceptable for those who declare faith in God, especially since it is the rich who oppress them (vv. 6, 7)! James also addresses the Law in the lives of the believers in 2:8-11. First, James states the law of love: love your neighbor as yourself (v. 8). Second, he addresses the fact that favoritism is a sin (v. 9) and those who show favoritism are condemned by the Law just as much as those who commit adultery and murder (v. 11), because if one breaks one part of the Law, that person is guilty of breaking the whole Law (v. 10). James 2:12-13, though brief it is packed with theology, states that we are to live (in all that we say and do) as if we are about to be judged by the law of freedom (v. 12), for God, the Judge, is merciless to all those who do not show mercy (v. 13). This sums up 2:1-11 and introduces what he is about to write in vv. 14-26.

James gets even more practical with respect to the poor: the poor are not only those lacking money, but those who are in need, period. James 2:14-17 shows how James viewed how we ought to carry out the law of love towards the poor. James asks a practical question, “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (v. 14). For example, what good is it if a person comes to another being naked and lacking or needing necessary, daily food, and someone says to him, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be fed,’ yet he does not give him the necessities of the body?” (vv. 15, 16). In this example that James gives, he shows that faith without works is dead according to itself (v. 17). James 2:18-19 involve diatribe, where tij is talking to an imaginary opponent. In v. 18, tij says to his opponent that he needs to be able to show his faith by his works (v. 18) because it is not enough to just believe, for even the demons believe yet they shudder (v. 19). This portion of James, 2:1-19, give forth the context leading up to vv. 20-26, but we should also take note of 3:1-12 to see how vv. 20-26 function in James as a whole.

James addresses the issue of the tongue in 3:1-12. Out of faith come our works, as James has argued in chapter two, and in chapter three, James argues that part of those works is bridling the tongue. This is because believers should not have both blessings and curses coming out from their mouths (vv. 9-10). One work that James addresses needs to be done is to take care that we not praise God but curse each other. James understands that the tongue, although it is small it is indeed very powerful, and the work regarding the tongue coming out of faith is to take care to bridal it. Therefore, the literary context of James 2:20-26 is set between the sin of favoritism and the sins of the tongue. Part of our works that must be evident to demonstrate the faith that we claim to have is to not show favoritism, show mercy, help those in need, and to watch our tongues. Keeping in mind this literary context along with the cultural context, we can now turn to the text. Before we look at the passage exegetically, we will need to examine the text critically in order to ensure that we are reading from what would most likely be James’ own words.

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A TEXTUAL-CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF JAMES 2:20-26

There are several textual variants in this passage, some of which are noteworthy and some are not. However, for the sake of consistency, all variants of the most recent edition of Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece, the 27th edition, the most recent edition available, will be looked at and worked through, although not ever variant will be given equal space or time.

In v. 20, we have a rather significant variant that is not exactly easy to come to grips with. Of all the variants in this passage, this is the one most disputed over. In the last clause of the sentence, a)rgh& (B C* 323. 945. 1739) is substituted out, and there are possibly two different options available to sub in: kenh& (P74 ff) or nekra& ( A C2 P Y 33 M). The substitution, nekra&, seems to be a harmonization of the surrounding context. Perhaps a scribe at some point attempted to make this reading fit with the rest of chapter two. The other substitution, kenh&, seems to be a harmonization of the sentence with which it lies. Perhaps a different scribe decided that he would polish the sentence by making it uniform since James refers to his opponent as a!nqrwpe kene&. However, the reading as found in the 27th ed. seems to be the best reading because it appears to be the more difficult reading in the role of a pun, e!rgwn a)rgh& [a) + e!rgh&] (Metzger 1994, 610), thus suiting this passage quite nicely.

The next variant is a substitution in v. 22 where a scribe changed sunh&rgei (* A 33. 630) to sune&rgei (c B C P Y 1739 M). In this case, it seems that a scribe, changing the verb from the imperfect (“was working together”), has attempted to fit this verb with the present tense (“is working together”) because of the preceding verb in the sentence, ble&peij, which is in the present tense. However, the former reading is in fact the more difficult reading and is not as smooth as the latter, therefore it is most likely the intended reading.

Verse 22 has another variant: the addition of au)tou~ (614. 630. 1505. 1852 al vgmss), thus yielding the reading, “and faith was perfected from his works.” However, this reading seems to be a harmonization with the surrounding context, and because the weight that it carries in manuscript support is minimal, it is not likely the correct reading. The true reading is most likely to be without this addition.

There is an omission of de_ in v. 23 (P20 L Y 614. 623. 630. 1241. 1505 al). The text, as seen in the 27th ed., reads with de_ ( A B C P 049. 33. 1739 M vgmss). The omission seems to be a haplography. Because the omission seems to be a scribal decision and since the omission does not bear weighted manuscript support, the latter reading is most likely the correct reading.

The word, dou~loj, is substituted for fi&loj in the latter part of v. 23. This substitution is not supported well, having a rather lightweight foundation in manuscript witnesses (429. 614. 630. 1505. 1852. al syh). It is hard to make light of this substitution as well. Was a scribe trying to rid the text of the noun, fi&loj, and use a term that better fits James and his vocabulary as well as his theology? Or was the scribe trying to rid the text of fi&loj in order to use dou~loj, a term the scribe personally thought was better for the overall context and flow of the Scripture? Perhaps we might not ever know; however, due to the light support for the reading containing dou~loj, the overall manuscript support goes to the reading of fi&loj, and is therefore the better reading of the two variants.

An addition to v. 24, toi&nun, on the basis of M and Pelagius, tries to find its way into the text. However, the weightiest manuscripts carrying their heavyweight championship belts over their shoulders support the text without the addition of toi&nun (P54.vid A B C P Y 33. 81. 614. 630. 945. 1505. 1739 pc latt sy co). It can almost be certain that the addition is a simple explanatory supplement and is not the likely reading. Furthermore, because of the heavyweight titles that the text of the 27th ed. holds and due to the fact that it is the more difficult reading, the text simply knocks out its opponent, thus revealing it to be the most likely reading.

Verse 25 begins with a variant reading right from the start. The text reads o(moi&wj de_, but apparently a few scribes along the way did not agree with this reading and at one instance changed it to a simple ou{twj (C), and at another time they decided the text should read, simply, o(moi&wj (623 al ff vgcl.ww). With the exception of C 623 al ff vgcl.ww, the rest of the manuscript witnesses align with the text, o(moi&wj de_. With the weight of most of the manuscript support and with the more difficult reading, the text is most likely to be the intended reading.

Verse 25 has a second and rather important variant. Here, a)gge&louj is substituted out and either katasko&pouj (C Kmg L 945. 1241. 1739. 2298. 2464 al) or a)gge&louj tou~ I)srah&l (61 pc) can be substituted in. One variant reads “spies” while the other reads “messengers of Israel.” Either variant is an attempt to clarify without a shadow of a doubt who it was that Rahab helped in Joshua 2, that the a)gge&louj were not “angels” but were “spies” (Metzger 1994, 610). The text, a)gge&louj, holds the rest of the manuscript witnesses, therefore holding its own weight, and it also accounts for the other variants. It is for this reason that the best reading is most likely to be the shorter, a)gge&louj.

A substitution opens up the reading of v. 26. On behalf of ff and Origen, ga&r is taken out and de_ is inserted for ga&r. This seems to be an instance when a scribe attempted to harmonize the passage. Another variant simply omits ga&r altogether (B 1243 pc syp), an apparent instance of haplography. However, the text as seen in the 27th ed., ga&r, has the majority of the best manuscripts and also renders the more difficult reading while accounting for the other variants. Therefore, on this basis it seems that the text is the best reading of these variants.

In v. 26, particularly in the analogy, tou~ is added on the basis of 33. 69. 945. 1241. 1739. 2298 al. This variant yields, “the body without the spirit is dead.” The text, without the addition, simply reads, “the body without spirit is dead.” It seems, therefore, that a scribe inserted the article in order to make the noun definite rather than indefinite. On the basis that this seems to be an explanatory supplement, this variant is already not looking like the best reading available, and with the support of the text as is by all the rest of the major manuscripts ad witnesses, the addition of the article simply does not measure up to its opposition and is not the best reading.

In the same way that the article was inserted in the first part of the analogy in v. 26, so it is also inserted into the second part of the analogy in the same verse. The addition, tw_n (A C P 1739 M), reads like this: “faith without the works is dead.” The text as seen in the 27th ed., supported by the strength of P20.74vid B Y 81. 614. 630. 1505 al, reads without the article: “faith without works is dead.” Again, the insertion of the article appears to be an explanatory supplement. The strength alone in the manuscript witnesses is enough to defeat the addition, but because the addition itself is simply a scribe’s attempt at harmonizing or smoothing the passage, it is not likely to be the intended reading.

After having looked at the text critically and understanding the certain issues regarding some of the variants while keeping in check the Nestle-Aland text, we can now move on to the grammatical and syntactical analysis of the text.

GRAMMATICAL-SYNTACTICAL ANALYSIS OF JAMES 2:20-26

Verse 20

Qe&leij de_ gnw~nai, w} a!nqrwpe kene&; But do you desire to know, oh empty man. The word, de_, shows that James is now contrasting what he has just said in vv. 18 and 19. In this sense, James is about to contrast the thought of his opponent as seen in v. 18. The first few words, qe&leij de_ gnw~nai, in what appears to be James’ topic sentence for this section mark that James is still in diatribe form (Johnson 1995, 241). Actually, the diatribe form was employed as early as v. 18, and James continues to utilize this rhetorical feature in vv. 20-23. The vocative words, w} a!nqrwpe kene&, an apostrophe according to Luke-Timothy Johnson serving as a tool of the diatribe (1995, 241), describe the imaginary opponent which James is arguing with. The use of w} raises a question if emotion is involved in these words. On the one hand, J.H. Moulton and Nigel Turner say that no emotion is involved here (1963, 33). On the other, Blass and Debrunner say that some emotion is involved here, as seen in the context of the verse (1961, 81). And as Rienecker notes, the use of a!nqrwpoj here is used in a derogatory sense (1980, 730). Thus, James seems to be getting somewhat emotional in this portion, being quite harsh against his opponent. The opponent is described with the word in the vocative, kene&, literally meaning “empty, deficient. The word is used of a man who cannot be depended upon, whose deeds do not correspond to his words; hence, of boasters and imposters” (Rienecker 1980, 730-31). James is, therefore, addressing his opponent who is an imposter of the faith.

o{ti h( pi&stij xwri_j tw~n e@rgwn a)rgh& e)stin; that faith without works is barren? The conjunction, o{ti, introduces a particular subject, in this case it clarifies the content of gnw~nai, which is that faith without works is barren. The word, xwri_j, should be translated as “apart from/without” according to Johnson (1995, 242). Robertson also notes that the word xwri_j takes a genitive noun; this is why tw~n e!rgwn is in the genitive case, for it is hard to identify its syntactical function in the sentence apart from this reason (1934, 273). A)rgh&, here, means “inactive, barren, unprofitable, unproductive of salvation” (Rienecker 1980, 731). Additionally, Johnson argues this word should be translated as “to be without profit, idle, giving no yield,” because a)rgh& literally means “without deed” (a + e)rga&; 1995, 242). Alexander Ross notes that this word indicates the person who is “producing nothing of any importance” (1954, 53). James is addressing the fact that the faith that has no works is useless, in other words it is of no importance or it is unprofitable and gives no yield of salvation’s work.

Verse 20, therefore, reveals that the man whom James is in diatribe with is a Christian imposter because he does not perform deeds that correspond to his words (“I have faith”). James also introduces his main point, that faith without works is unprofitable and useless.

Verse 21

A)braa_m o( path_r h(mw~n ou)k e)c e!rgwn e)dikaiw&qh a)nene&gkaj I)saa_k to_n ui(o_n au)tou~ e)pi_ to_ qusiasth&rion; Was not our father, Abraham, justified from works after raising up his son Isaac onto the altar? Here, James argues with great force, using the great father of Jewish heritage, the father of all Jews, the father of the chosen people of God as an example. The form of the sentence is indeed a question. Note that the use of ou)k reveals that the answer to the question is inherently, “yes.” The word for “justified” should be translated, as argued by Johnson, as “shown to be righteous” (1995, 242). Rienecker says that this word means “to declare righteous, to pronounce to be in the right, to justify” (1980, 731). However, this word is in the passive form, showing that Abraham did not declare himself to be righteous, but was declared righteous by another party. The genitive, e)c e!rgwn, should be translated “on the basis of deeds” (Johnson 1995, 242). In other words, Abraham’s deeds “make his righteousness manifest” (Johnson 1995, 242). And e)c e!rgwn is a genitive of source, meaning that Abraham was justified, shown or declared to be righteous out of or from the source of his works. The participle, a)nene&gkaj, is an aorist temporal and should be translated as “after raising/offering.” Abraham was justified out of the source of his works after offering up his son, Isaac.

In this short verse, we find that James uses an effective rhetorical question expecting a “yes” answer while using the founding father as a prime example of his thesis, that because Abraham’s faith was not without works his faith was not useless. His justification was the result of his faith only after he committed the work.

Verse 22

ble&peij o#ti h( pi&stij sunh&rgei toi~j e!rgoij au)tou kai_ e)k tw~n e!rgwn h( pi&stij e)teleiw&qh; You are seeing that faith was working together with his works and faith was completed from works. The main verb, ble&peij, is second person singular; therefore, James is still in diatribe. In other words, James is still addressing his opponent. The conjunction, o#ti, serves as a content conjunction, thus showing or clarifying the content of ble&peij. Therefore, everything following o#ti serves as the content of which the opponent in the diatribe sees. This verse is built upon two clauses where faith (pi&stij) is the subject of both. This indicates that faith is the central theme of the verse. Here, faith was working together with Abraham’s works and faith was completed from the works. Johnson says “that it is faith that is the subject of both clauses…faith makes possible (co-works) the deeds, and the deeds bring the faith to its mature expression” (1995, 243). This is how pi&stij and e!rga work together: sunh&rgei. Rienecker suggests we should translate this verb as “to cooperate, to work together” (1980, 731). In the light of Johnson’s previous statement, faith and works were co-workers in Abraham’s situation. They both played a role in Abraham’s life. The words, toi~j e!rgoij, follow sunh&rgei and act as a dative of person or thing that is helped (BDAG 2000, 969). In this case, toi~j e!rgoij is the direct object and helper of h( pi&stij. Robertson labels toi~j e!rgoij as a dative of association, thus yielding “faith was working together in association with his works” (1934, 529). It is probably best to understand in terms of Robertson rather than BDAG, however BDAG does provide a helpful understanding of how James views faith and works together. Furthermore, e)k tw~n e!rgwn is a genitive of source: “faith was completed out of works (the source).” Rienecker says that e)teleiw&qh, coming from teleio&w which literally means, “to bring to completion, to bring to maturity, to perfect, to consummate. As the tree is perfected by its fruits, so faith by its works. Words do not animate faith; but faith produces works, and works perfect faith. Faith itself ‘is perfected,’ i.e., is shown to be true, by works” (1980, 731).

In verse 22, James continues his diatribe and makes a focus on faith being a co-worker of deeds, and deeds are the source which faith is completed, shown to be true or perfected in.

Verse 23

kai_ e)plhrw&qh h( grafh_ h( le&gousa: e)pi&steusen de_ A)braa_m tw~| qew|~, kai_ e)logi&sqh au)tw|~ ei)j dikaiosu&nhn kai_ fi&loj qeou~ e)klh&qh; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. The conjunction, kai_, is a connective conjunction, linking additional information to what James has already been discussing. The additional information he gives here is a direct quote from the LXX. James has been talking about faith being without works is useless, faith and works are co-workers, and faith is shown to be true faith out of its works. In addition, James states that the Scripture declaring Abraham to be righteous in Genesis 15:6 was fulfilled by the deed that Abraham performed by offering his son Isaac. Now James is adding to his previous statements that Abraham’s works proved his faith. The conjunction kai_ is used again to connect e)pi&steusen with e)logi&sqh, thus showing Abraham’s belief to be equal with his credit. But James uses the same conjunction in order to show that e)pi&steusen and e)logi&sqh are connected with e)klh&qh. James uses the word fi&loj to describe Abraham’s position with God. Johnson notes “Abraham stands for James as the supreme example of what it means to have ‘friendship with God’ rather than ‘friendship with the world'” (1995, 244). James is using Abraham to show his position with God out of his faith and his works.

Verse 23 functions as hard, concrete proof for James that faith and works are co-workers. He utilizes Genesis 15:6 to show that Abraham’s faith was made evident in his work. So now, James has developed his thesis that faith without works is useless to be that faith works with deeds, deeds perfect faith and deeds show or reveal faith.

Verse 24

o(ra~te o#ti e)c e!rgwn dikaiou~tai a!nqrwpoj kai_ ou)k e)k pi&stewj mo&non; you see that a man is justified out of works and not from faith only. Here we have a change in style. James is no longer talking to his opponent in diatribe form. James is now addressing the public because the verb, o(ra~te, is second person plural, and therefore he can no longer be talking to one particular person. The conjunction, o#ti, serves to mark the content of what the public sees. The rest of the sentence following o#ti is the content which the public which James is addressing sees. Rienecker says that the words, e)c e!rgwn, here show that the argument which James is fighting is not faith vs. works but it is faith minus works vs. works minus faith, for “Though neither ignored nor belittled, faith is regarded as complementing works, with which it must be combined” (1980, 731). Douglas J. Moo argues that dikai&ow is “the ultimate verdict of God over our lives” (1985, 115). James is lying out before the public whom he is writing to that justification—God’s ultimate verdict of our lives—is out of works and not from faith only. The word, mo&non, shows that faith is an integral part of salvation (Martin 1988, 96). It also shows that faith is not entirely rejected; however its absolute power for salvation is (Dibelius 1964, 166). In other words, James does not exclude faith in the process of justification. Again, e)c e!rgwn is a genitive of source, as in the previous verses, and it shows that justification has its source in works. But James adds the clause, kai_ ou)k e)k pi&stewj mo&non, showing that justification is sourced not only in works but also in faith. The words e)k pi&stewj are form a genitive of source as well, thus supporting the point that faith is not the only source for justification, nor are works the only source for justification. For James, works and faith are the source of justification.

James shifts his focus from his imaginary opponent to the Diaspora in v. 24. In this verse, he presents to the readers that a man is justified out of two sources, faith and works, and not one apart from the other nor one over the other.

Verse 25

o(moi&wj de_ kai_ R(aa_b h( po&rnh ou)k e)c e!rgwn e)dikaiw&qh u(podecame&nh tou_j a)gge&louj kai_ e(te&ra| o(dw~| e)kbalou~sa; And likewise also, was not the prostitute, Rahab, justified out of works after receiving the messengers and sent them out by another way? The connecting words, o(moi&wj de_ kai, are argued by Ralph Martin to be translated as, “To give another instance” (1988, 96). Martin further explains his view of these words: “This carries with it the force of a second example of equal weight to the first” (1988, 96). In other words, “It was if James feels his argument is still incomplete (Martin 1988, 96). The conjunction, de_, connects Abraham and Rahab as equal proofs for James, thus giving further weight to Martin’s view. The other conjunction, kai_, is an emphatic connective conjunction that gives emphasis to Rahab’s example being equal to that of Abraham’s. In other words, Rahab is “seen as parallel to Abraham” (Dibelius 1964, 166). James asks a rhetorical question here that expects a positive answer in the same way v. 21 does. Therefore, the answer to his question is, “Yes, Rahab was justified out of her works.” As in Abraham’s case in v. 21, e)c e!rgwn are a genitive of source, showing that Rahab’s justification was sourced in her works. According to this verse, there were two parts to her works: she received the messengers and she sent them out by another way. The aorist participle, u(podecame&nh, “denotes that she welcomed and entertained them as her guests” (Hiebert 1992, 177). The aorist participle, e)kbalou~sa, “indicates energetic action but not violence. She acted with urgency and personal concern for their safety” (Hiebert 1992, 178). Rienecker extends the idea of e)kbalou~sa denotes “The word is not used here in a bad sense, but it simply emphasizes the difficulties of escape” (1980, 731). James’ use of these two aorist temporal participles to specify the works that served as the source for God’s ultimate verdict (Moo 1985, 116).

Here, in v. 25, James is setting out to prove the same thing he already proved by way of Rahab instead of Abraham, that “there is no justification without works” (Dibelius 1976, 166). James uses Rahab, the exact opposite of Abraham in terms of lifestyle, to prove that they were both justified in the same way, by faith and works together.

Verse 26

w#sper ga_r to_ sw~ma xwri_j pneu&matoj nekro&n e)stin, ou#twj kai_ h( pi&stij xwri_j e!rgwn nekra& e)stin; For just as the body without spirit is dead, thus also faith without works is dead. The conjunction, ga_r, connects vv. 20-25 with v. 26; it is an explanatory conjunction indicating that an explanation of vv. 20-25 is about to be given. James’ thesis is faith without works is useless. In other words, James understands that faith and works are co-workers that work together in justification, that works perfect faith, and that works reveal one’s faith. In light of this, James explains vv. 20-25 in these words: “just as the body without spirit is dead, thus also faith without works is dead.” The conjunction, w#sper, inidicates that a comparison is about to be made. The other conjunction, ou#twj, is also a comparative conjunction, but this one specifically ties the body with faith and spirit with works. The word translated “spirit” is pneu&matoj, but it is thought to be rendered in rather different ways by a few different people. Rienecker suggests that pneu&matoj “refers to the ‘vital principle by which the body is animated.’ A dead faith is like a corpse and therefore cannot save” (1980, 731). Martin, however, understands pneu&matoj to mean “breath” for “As breath enables a body to live, likewise works produce a living faith” (1988, 97-8). Johnson also suggests that it should be rendered as “life-principle, that which animates the body” (1995, 245). However, it is probably best to view pneu&matoj as “animation of the body” because it directly relates to works that animate one’s faith. The point is not that works give life, but they illustrate that life is present, and “The obvious assumption is that whatever is living also acts” (Johnson 1995, 245). In other words, if one has faith, their works reveal that faith to be alive; without works, the faith is revealed to be lifeless and dead.

Verse 26 is an analogy of comparison that supports vv. 20-25. James writes this analogy: body is to spirit as faith is to works (body : spirit :: faith : works). The point of resemblance here is that A is dead without B, so just as the body is dead without spirit, so also faith is dead without works. This analogy is not an ‘either/or’ analogy; rather, it is a ‘both/and’ analogy (Hiebert 1992, 178). Here in v. 26, “James is concerned not that works be ‘added’ to faith, but that one possesses the right kind of faith, ‘faith that works'” (Moo 1985, 178).

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After looking at the text, it is evident that James does not say that works make a person righteous, nor does he say that faith make a person righteous. Rather, he says that faith and works make a person righteous. Faith, for James, is the heart of the believer, and works are the evidence of that heart. How does this act out in our lives, then?

As believers, we must act out our faith. Just as Christ did good deeds while on earth, so must we do good deeds here on earth. As James said in 2:19, it is just not enough to believe in God, works must also be evident. This goes against all those who say that they believe and they do not need to do anything else. James is retorting this line of thinking: “I believe in God and that’s good enough for me. I am going to live however I want because I am saved thanks to my belief.” For them, they think they believe that there is a God, but that is all they have. On the one hand, they believe God. On the other, they live a life that does not reflect their belief: they live for their booze and are drunk 24/7; they live to gossip and spread rumors of co-workers; they live to be negative, never having anything positive to say; they live for their possessions, trying to find worth in their cars, money, houses and other things. This person probably says they are a Christian, but also says they are not religious. While they say they believe in God, they will not go to church. This just is not what true faith does. True faith yields good works. Real faith produces fruit of good works. If anyone says that he or she has faith but does not have the good works coming forth out of that faith, can that faith save them (2:14)? As believers, we should be demonstrating out faith through our actions.

There once was a minister’s wife, a very godly and religious Christian woman. She noticed over the course of many years that her husband, the minister, did not have any sort of daily devotion or time of prayer with the Lord. She thought that to be odd; surely a man of the Lord should have something of the sort, right? She asked her husband, “Why don’t you have any devotions or prayer with the Lord?” The minister retorted, “I do the work of the Lord, so I don’t have to.” For the minister, having the title, “minister,” was enough. For him, all he had to do was believe. From this mentality, the minister began to live however he pleased and in time, he was living a double-life. The minister began to have an affair, justifying it to himself that he was saved because of his belief, and so, God would forgive him. Over time, the affair consumed him—all the lies and deceit, dishonor and disrespect—and he attempted to murder his wife. This minister says he has faith, but his actions just simply do not align with his faith. Good works are the result of real faith; this man’s faith must be counterfeit because his works were far from anything being remotely good.

As Christians, we have the responsibility to respond to our faith and reveal it through our actions. We cannot rely on a title or a belief as the minister did. We need to act out our faith and by our deeds the world may know the faith that we have. If anyone is a Christian, he or she must not neglect fellowship with other believers. If anyone is a Christian, he or she must put off drunkenness, idolatry, licentiousness, or anything that goes against the Lord’s call to righteousness. To say, “All I need is faith,” is far from the truth. Allow good deeds to perfect faith, allow good deeds to reveal faith, and allow good deeds to co-work with faith. We can take it a step further: no more “Sunday Christian” attitude. As a believer, one must also demonstrate faith every day of the week, not just on Sunday. It is high time that Christians live out their faith to the world. And how might this be done? By loving the world in the same way that we love ourselves: helping the needy, providing for the poor, not being selfish, always being positive and uplifting to everyone, being hospitable, and the list goes on. Remember, the one who says, “I don’t have to do any of that, I believe God and that’s all it takes,” his faith is bunk, but the one who says, “I will do that without asking why,” his faith is real. Therefore, be real: have faith and act it out. If we are going to have a good testimony to the world, we need to act out our faith and how ourselves to be full of life. If we do not do so, the body of Christ will look lifeless like a corpse. Who would want to become a part of a rotting corpse? No one. We must have faith and do good works, thus showing Christ’s body to be full of life and attract the world to Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

Reference List

Bauer, Walter. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature

(BDAG). 3rd ed. Rev. and ed. by Frederick William Danker. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

 

Blass, F. and Debrunner, A. 1961. A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.

Rev. and trans. by Robert W. Funk. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

 

Dibelius, Martin. 1976. A Commentary on the Epistle of James. Rev. by Heinrich Greeven. Trans. by Michael A.

Williams. Ed. by Helmut Koester. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

 

Hiebert, D. Edmond. 1992. James. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute.

 

Johnson, Luke Timothy. 1995. The Letter of James: The Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday.

 

Martin, Ralph P. 1988. James: Word Biblical Commentary. Waco: Word Books.

 

Moo, Douglas J. 1985. James: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans

Publishing Company.

 

Moulton, James Hope, and Nigel Turner. 1963. Grammar of New Testament Greek: Syntax. Vol. 3. Edinburgh: T.

& T. Clark.

 

Nestle-Aland. 1993. Novum Testamentum Graece. 27th ed. Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.

 

Robertson, A. T. 1934. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. Nashville:

Broadman Press.

 

Ross, Alexander. 1954. The Epistles of James and John: The New International Commentary of the New

Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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