“Many sweat to reconcile St. Paul and St. James as does Melanchthon in his Apology, butin vain,” spoke
the great reformer, Martin Luther, to his mealtime companions. He was clearly
frustrated over the troubling exegetical issue, ““Faith justifies” and “Faith does not justify”
contradict each other flatly. If anyone can harmonize them I will give him my
doctor‟s hood andlet him call me a fool.”
Dr. Luther is certainly not the only Christian who ever wrestled with theshort epistle of James and particularly with the somewhat uncouth presentation of justificationpresented in that letter. From the very outset James stood on shaky ground, struggling to gainfull acceptance by the believing community.
Even today the debate continues.A discussion of the full range of complaints against the letter goes well beyond the
present purpose; however, the shrill note of discord many hear in James‟ theology plays no small
part in the trouble. A quintessential representative passage, James 2:18-26, seems to overtlyteach justification by works
and denies the efficacy of simple faith for eternalsalvation.
“Even the demons believe,”
(2:19) pens James almost in ridicule of the notion of faith alone. If there is to be any fellowship then between James and Paul, if there is to be anyreconciliation between grace and works, the exegete must take up his many tools and mine this
The Life And Letters Of Martin Luther
, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911), p. 269.Luther made many other disparaging remarks about James as well. In his Preface to the New Testament (1522), heconcluded that compared with other parts of the NT, James
is really an epistle of straw
”, since, in his estima
tion, itlacks in strong Gospel content
. A note in the margin of Luther‟s Bible at James 1:6, reportedly read, “This is theonly good place in the whole epistle.” For all that however, the
reformer admitted that James should not beforbidden since there
otherwise many good sayings in him
Douglas J. Moo,
The Letter of James
(Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. EerdmansPublishing Co., Kindle Edition, 2000), Kindle Locations 133-42. Eusebius, for instance, could not bring himself togrant the epistle full endorsement, and thus awarded it only the status of a disputed book. In fact, it was not until thecusp of the fifth century that Jerome broke a church wide stalemate regarding its canonical place, by including it inhis Vulgate. When Augustine eventually followed suit the battle for James on the canonical level came to an end.
Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture quotations in this exegesis are taken from the New English Translation.