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has been a source of more theological firestorms than almost any other chapter or book of the Bible. Evangelicals have generally recognized the need to avoid saying that faith plus works yields eternal justification before God. Nevertheless, most efforts to reconcile the seeming contradiction between the writings of Paul and James have introduced an inconsistent and conflicting theology into the book of James. Numerous passages from Paul indicate that works have nothing to do with eternal justification: Compare the following Scriptures from Paul and James. The apostle Paul writes:
Romans 3:20, 28: Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. . . . Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Galatians 2:16: . . . knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
This paper was originally presented before the National Teaching Pastors’ Conference, Kansas City, MO, May 15–18, 2000. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV), 1982.
the apostle James writes: 3 James 2:21–22: Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works. . . rather than alone. and not only by faith only. You see then that a man is justified by works. See CTS Journal 7 (January–March 2001) forthcoming. And yet. However.Faith Without Works: A Definition However. 4.2 From the above evidence a superficial case might be made that James contradicts Paul. my brethren. the efforts of many theologians to avoid a seeming contradiction between these two apostles have created a far more devastating quagmire. 2. In order to avoid many of the presuppositions common to most commentaries. and by works faith was made perfect? James 2:14 and 2:24: What does it profit. 3. it needs to move only from the adjectival position into the adverbial position (as above). How should one outline this book? To whom was it written? What is the message of salvation in James? What does faith without works mean? How Should One Outline James? When commentators fail to provide a coherent outline. A Fresh Perspective Sorting out this confusion requires taking a fresh look at James. 2 . do they not become the blind leading the blind into a scholarly The NKJV properly renders it as only. it is necessary to start at the beginning and answer four fundamental questions: 1. if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? .
cxxxi. James: The Greek Text with Introduction. . James. vol.”5 Joseph B. wisdom. The Epistle of St. too. Williams. in the paraenetic sections of his letters is more interested in transmission than originality. Faith. ed. This. 1954). religion—all alike are spurious if they fail to produce the fruit of good works. Often enough a continuity of thought cannot be demonstrated in the abovementioned paraenetic literature of varied origins: chapters in the book of Tobit. Classic Commentary Library (N. Hermeneia. Notes. despite admitting that he sees no coherent logical outline to the Epistle of James. James. yet it is easy to distinguish certain leading principles on which the whole depends. 4 Martin Dibelius. “Paul. trans.: Macmillan. .4 According to Dibelius. . the paraenetic sections of Paul’s letters. Helmut Koester. 6. is explained by the literary character of paraenesis [a form characterized by exhortation]. 5. often noted characteristic of Ja[me]s is the lack of continuity. Pseudo-Isocrates.” A second. Mayor. Martin Dibelius finds no logical plan and substitutes vague notions of “paraenetic literature. 1913. rev. Ad Demonicum. Heinrich Greeven.” Ja[me]s is no different. Michael A. reprint.3 Thus.. Though the letter flows on from point to point without pretending to strict logical sequence. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 3d ed. 1975). love.4 CTS Journal. 3 . too. #2 (April–June 2000) bewilderment? The following citations illustrate this point. Joseph Mayor asserts a conclusion. Mayor’s outline is merely a pretense for his theology and not a serious attempt at understanding James’ own outline. and the “Two Ways. ed. Comments and Further Studies in the Epistle of St. Helmut Koester (Philadelphia: Fortress. 5 Ibid.p.
ed. Outlines of the Epistle of James are plentiful and varied. He summarizes: Its basic elements are as follows: a preface. Surely even a string of pearls must be held together! Among contemporary exegetes Zane Hodges stands alone in making sense of the whole book of James. 21. With this ground plan in mind. Arthur L. however. 1986). followed by a thematic statement (1:19–20). most expositors see James as lacking an extended linear development of thought with little or no clear relationship between paragraphs. Farstad and Robert N. commentators differ on the exact divisions of the text. 15–16. For this reason. Simon J. enables one to discover the coherent and logical outline that James intended. Grace New Testament Commentary. rather than theological impositions.7 In other words. The outline below seeks to clarify this structure. and an epilogue (5:7–20). Simon J. Exposition of the Epistle of James and the Epistles of John. Hodges. 7 Zane C. presents numerous themes that are interwoven and often repeated. . The Epistle of James: Proven Character through Testing.6 Not unlike viewing a string of pearls. TX: Grace Evangelical Society. Wilkin (Irving. Kistemaker. called by the Greek rhetoricians the kephalaia. focusing on internal evidences within the epistle.Faith Without Works: A Definition 5 Likewise. the thematic material in 1:19– 20 permits us to see the purpose of James. He also foregoes an outline and merely attached a chapter title to each of the five chapters of the book. He notes that commentaries have difficulty outlining James. New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker. He utilizes recent work by rhetorical critics (specialists in ancient Greek rhetoricians) to surface a coherent outline for the Epistle of James. . or prologue (1:2–18). a body. 1994). The epistle. 6 . . or “headings” (1:21–5:6). Kistemaker makes no real contribution.
Let every man be: Swift to Hear 1:21–2:26 Slow to Speak 3:1–18 Slow to Wrath 4:1–5:6 Furthermore. 6. the church has ignored James’ three kephalaia (headings) to its own detriment. To Whom Did James Write? James 1:1 indicates that his audience was Jewish and scattered abroad: James. then divorcing the concepts of faith and salvation in 2:14–26 from 1:21–2:26 would have devastating consequences for any sound exegesis of the book as a whole. . expositors have often imposed their own outline onto James. While offering important information. Does James 2:14–26 belong to the Swift to Hear section (1:21–2:26)? If so. #2 (April–June 2000) Greek rhetoricians used thematic statements near the end of their prologues to indicate their overall outline. vol. the fact that James 1:19–20 is a symmetrical statement (that believers have often committed to memory) suggests that James wanted to call attention to it. this passage by itself does not answer the vital question of whether or not James is addressing born-again believers in Christ. Various New Testament epistles also evidence similar structure. To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. For example. To answer this question definitively the oft-repeated phrases my beloved brethren and my brethren require contextual definition. it should not be surprising that James would use this rhetorical device also. is not Ephesians often portrayed as the Believer’s Wealth and Walk? On the other hand.6 CTS Journal. Thus. As a result. Preachers through the ages have worked diligently to produce memorable outlines. a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. The thematic statement (James 1:19) gives the three headings of the book.
but because they are regenerate brethren in the Lord. The first two usages frame verse eighteen. The vocative my brethren occurs twelve times throughout the epistle. and vocatives indicates that both we and us include “you”: In other words.9 In these three verses. James’ use of pronouns. my beloved brethren. . and 19. James 1:16. with partiality (James 2:1). that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. 12.10 This usage in James 2:1 is followed in the same Even replacing the inferential conjunction with the Critical Text’s frozen imperative. 9. The “you” implied in the use of the second person plural imperative in both 1:16 and 1:19 is a subset of us or we in verse 1:18. do not be deceived. 10. 1:19.” 9 Do not be deceived means you. my beloved brethren. brought forth. . which in turn serves to define my beloved brethren. So then. my beloved brethren.Faith Without Works: A Definition 7 The phrase my beloved brethren appears three times. 3:1. 10 James 1:2. using a term commonly associated with procreation. 16 Do not be deceived. the imperative mood. my beloved brethren (believers). and 2:5. we (“you and I”) are beloved brethren. The first person plural we means “you and I”. verse 19 still has an inferential force. 4:11. 14. while the first person plural us means “you and me. the Lord of glory. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth. be swift to hear. let every man be swift to hear. . 10. because God. 12. 2:1. James 2:1–13. Let every man be swift to hear means Let every one of you. The third usage of the phrase my beloved brethren occurs in the midst of an exhortation against partiality. 8 . . James begins his exhortation: My brethren. our Father brought us (“you and me”) forth by the word of truth. .8 The vocative my beloved brethren specifically defines the implied uses of “you” in each verse. Likewise. James does not call the readers beloved brethren because they are fellow Jews. do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. 5:7. James 1:18 speaks of regeneration.
regeneration by God (1:18) underlies his exhortations to apply the doctrine that they (in fact) do believe. #2 (April–June 2000) context with the vocative my beloved brethren in 2:5: Listen. consider James 4:5. 6. The problems that James describes are problems that apply to his beloved brethren.8 CTS Journal. which contains a strong rebuke to believers who are not applying the word. Again. my beloved brethren. Putting these evidences together reveals a complete picture: Those that James addresses in his epistle are born-again Jews scattered abroad. So then and Therefore. that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. people with the indwelling Spirit of God. [You] do not be deceived. 17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. but his certainty that they possess the greatest of God’s good and perfect gifts (1:17). with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. It would seem that they have no works. who like James share the same Father. vol. and comes down from the Father of lights. but the Spirit indwells them. The apostle James not only wrote to eternally secure believers. 16 11 In case anyone needs more proof. . but also within the Epistle of James as a whole. demonstrate a continuation of the which verse 1:16 initiated. my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? Clearly.11 What Is the Message of Salvation in James? The inferential markers. rather than superimposing their theology onto the book. which begin verses 1:19 and 1:21 (respectively). the phrase my brethren is an equivalent to my beloved brethren not only within this specific exhortation. 18Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth. the various theological models of James need to come to grips with the text.
lists a number of pertinent illustrative passages. 12 This in no way denies that man is a trichotomous being. since those passages (e.g. “All hands on deck!” the speaker wants bodies attached to the hands.12 By analogy. . when someone says. slow to speak. 13 Hodges. 20for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. why does James urge receiving the implanted word which is able to save (their) souls? The passage becomes even more theologically challenging. 21 Therefore [you brethren] lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness. Usually. In the face of such continuity. let every man be swift to hear.Faith Without Works: A Definition 19 9 So then. Obviously his brethren. soul in the Bible means life. even from the sin unto death). Instead he tells regenerate believers that they need salvation. 41–42. because neither did James say “receive the implanted word which saved your souls”. and [you brethren] receive with meekness the implanted word. 1 Thessalonians 5:23). my beloved brethren. it should be without controversy that James addresses regenerate believers with the commands in verse 21. which is able to save your souls. slow to wrath.. which separate man into parts. “deliver” would be an excellent rendering.13 In this passage. James. If so. nor “receive the implanted word which is able to save the souls of unbelievers”. however. Many passages in the Bible use a figure of speech called metonymy of the cause (through that figure. every time the word save appears in James. Two lines of evidence demonstrate this. require such an interpretation. Save your souls stands for saving the lives of wandering believers. (or beloved brethren) did not become unregenerate since verse 18: Could the salvation referred to in James 1:21–2:26 be the deliverance bornagain believers experience through ongoing obedience to God’s Word? Indeed. soul stands for the whole person). the meaning is to save the person’s life from physical death (ultimately.
. when it is full-grown. it gives birth to sin [feminine]. as in James 1:18. many have missed this. Genealogy of Death LUST SIN DEATH James warns that sin has deadly consequences. vol.. James 5:19–20. when desire [feminine] has conceived. Best time: …when desire has conceived. but one should not postpone confession and repentance.brings forth death (death) The following chart depicts a three-generation family tree.. #2 (April–June 2000) First. Confession and repentance are appropriate when believers sin. 6. henceforth known as the Genealogy of Death. let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will Unfortunately. We must not procrastinate. and sin [feminine]. The second line of evidence. is actually a practical illustration of 1:15: Brethren. James 1:15 portrays a family tree that highlights four distinct moments in time for dealing with sin in the believer’s life:14 Then.10 CTS Journal. 14 . because they fail to treat brings forth as a procreative term. sin when it is full-grown (lengthy carnality) Time when God must deal with sin: . Dealing with sin can occur at any of four points. brings forth death [masculine]. and someone turns him back. waiting for God to deal with it. Believers must not take it lightly. but instead must use the Word to prevent sin. (prevention) Next best time: …it gives birth to sin (immediate correction) Third best time: . Both 1:15 and 1:18 use this same Greek word which the New King James translates as bring forth with the same allusion to procreation in each.. if anyone among you wanders from the truth.
The next phrase. James 5:19 speaks of an anyone who left the truth that regenerated him. In light of the Genealogy of Death established in James 1:15. if he has never been to China. brethren are those who God has regenerated by the word of truth.Faith Without Works: A Definition 11 save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. Thus. decisively identifies the anyone of this verse as a fellow believer. According to James 1:18. The next pertinent phrase is anyone among you wanders from the truth. James 5:19 addresses believers. Indeed. James speaks of wandering from the truth and being returned to it. Equally clear. far away from God. Remember that James 1:18 says that God brought believers forth (regeneration) by the word of truth. Can an unbeliever wander away from that which he has never believed? In the context anyone must be a believer. if he has never set foot in China? A person can neither wander away from nor turn back to China. but not to the point that God has dealt with his sin through physical death. and someone turns him back. and is now turned back by a someone. Verse 19 tells his fellow believer (someone) who has turned him (anyone) back to the truth that he has saved a life (soul) from sin unto death (death) and has covered or prevented a multitude of sins. one of the brethren to whom James has now referred to three times as my beloved brethren and twelve times as my brethren. prior to someone turns him back. Within the immediate context both anyone and someone remain undefined except for their relationship to each other as regenerate brethren because they are children of God. how can he wander away from it? Likewise. for indeed someone turns him back. the believer called anyone has wandered to the far country. Mature believers should have such a restorative ministry . can a person be turned back to China. sin is maturing in the anyone. Can an unbeliever be turned back to that which he has never believed? The very absurdity of such a proposition is easily envisioned in geographic terms: Unless a person has been in China.
Acts 27:31). the Word’s phase-two life saving work is not automatic. phase-two speaks of temporal deliverance (e. it differs from phase-one salvation through faith alone in Christ alone.g. two widely divergent views are conceivable regarding the relationship between faith and works in James.12 CTS Journal. 6. it requires faith and works. but doing... In that sense.. It requires not only hearing. phase-three refers to deliverance into the presence of God through death or the rapture (e.g. 15 . God’s Word is the lifesaver for believers. Kistemaker expresses the most popular view: “A faith that is void of deeds is not genuine and is therefore completely Salvation has three phases: phase-one salvation refers to deliverance from eternal condemnation (e. However. What Does Faith without Works Mean? Surprisingly. vol. Left unchecked. this phasetwo deliverance15 does not come by faith alone in Christ alone. James 1:21 challenges regenerate believers to address the sin issue in their lives (putting aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness) in commanding them to humbly receive the implanted word. In James’ words. As an absolute puppet-master Satan would like nothing better than to walk brethren down a spiral leading to the sin unto death. If James’ epistle rings true. Believers need to submit to its commands.g. and its challenges. it is possible to synthesize two distinct models. because it is God’s Word. so too is the lifesaving Word to the born-again believer. It does not please God for James 1:15 to run its course. Its offspring is the sin unto death. Both believing doctrine and applying it are necessary. 1 Thessalonians 1:10). sin will reach childbearing age in believers who wander in sin and carnality. It alone can deliver the brethren’s lives from sin and from physical death as discipline. As certain as eternal life is to all who believe in Christ. its corrections. #2 (April–June 2000) for fellow believers who stray from the truth (Galatians 6:1). From these two views. Acts 16:31).
although wheels are essential for the operation of a bicycle.. Therefore logically. James and John. it regards faith without works as referring to something less than faith. . 90.Faith Without Works: A Definition 13 different from faith that is committed to Christ. even the sin unto 16 Kistemaker.”16 The logic yields what will henceforth be called the Subtraction Model. He would understand James to use the word faith to describe something that does not really qualify as faith. deliverance) from the deadly power of sin. Advocates of this approach might well contend. That is. It conceives of without as implying subtraction. However. why would James switch the meaning of salvation in the midst of his Swift to Hear Section (1:21–2:26) to mean salvation unto eternal life as opposed to salvation (i. The Subtraction Model Faith (A Bike) Minus Works (Minus the Frame) Something less than faith (Something less than a bike) For Kistemaker. faith without works is less than faith. “What is the profit in having a frameless bicycle? What is the profit of a type of faith that does not save?” Those who suppose that James 2:14–26 speaks of faith in Christ to receive eternal life imagine that this model is a logical construct explaining the relationship between faith and works.e. a cycle without a frame is not really a bicycle.
17 Wait a moment! The book of James is addressed to brethren. . . #2 (April–June 2000) death in the life of the brethren? Although many commentators embrace the subtraction model as a logical construct. Regarding the relationship between faith and works in James. The deliverance from the deadly power of sin in a Christian’s life comes by believing and applying God’s Word to life. but an essential expression of it. 90. The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text. He was not saying that some people had only arrived at the halfway point and now needed to add appropriate work to their faith [in order to receive eternal life]. it is grievously wrong! Many commentators mistake phase-two salvation (sparing one’s physical life) for phase-one salvation (receiving eternal life). Neither was he contradicting Paul. . James reminded those regenerate people that they needed to be saved from the deadly power of sin (James 1:21). 6. 18 Peter H. 1986). Peter Davids sums up the Subtraction Model perspective: “Works is not an ‘added extra’ to faith. . vol. Faith that Works: Studies in the Epistle of James. those who are already regenerated by God through the word of truth (James 1:18). Kent. It should be pointed out that James was not arguing for two [phase-one] salvation requirements: faith plus works.14 CTS Journal.”18 He misses the point: The salvation of 17 Homer A. The following commentator errs by confusing phase-one and phase-two salvation. Regeneration results from faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone. 1982). New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 121. Davids.. Jr. New Testament Studies (Grand Rapids: Baker. and James taught salvation by works [emphasis mine]. as though Paul taught salvation by faith.
the Addition Model only applies to born-again believers (people possessing Christ’s + (0 x riders) . In this light.Faith Without Works: A Definition 15 which James writes is phase-two deliverance from the deadly power of sin. how would one correctly express the relationship between faith and works? If James addresses his epistle to born-again believers (and he does). This approach requires an Addition Model. The Addition Model Faith (A Parked Bicycle) Plus No Works (Plus No Rider) Still Equals Faith (Equals a Parked Bicycle) Just like the entire Epistle of James. not by faith alone in Christ alone for eternal life.g. Neither does he distinguish between genuine and spurious categories of faith: Instead he exhorts all believers to add works to their phasetwo faith in God’s Word (e. The brethren needing this deliverance are already regenerate believers! Current deliverance comes by believing and applying God's word. even the sin unto death. what kind of model accurately expresses the truth that eternally secure believers need to have faith-plus-works for phase-two deliverance from the death-dealing power of sin? James does not say that faith minus works is not faith. they need to apply what they believe).
even including the sin unto death.16 CTS Journal. . The apostle James urges his brethren (who have perfect assurance of their destiny) to get on the bicycle of faith and ride it so that they may experience an ongoing deliverance from sins deadly power! A parked faith goes nowhere in regard to spiritual victory. as communicators of God’s word. #2 (April–June 2000) perfect assurance of eternal life). rather than His rod. urge the brethren to get serious about learning and using God’s Word in their lives? Absolutely! Only by taking in and applying the Word could the beloved brethren (believers) be delivered from a wholesale experience of divine discipline. 6. Likewise. Scripture teaches eternal security. Should not pastors and teachers. it does! James warns these believers that they must apply the word (which they believe) to receive any phase-two deliverance from the deadly power of sin in their lives. James used a literary 19 Based upon James 1:17–18. This magnificent message of James 1:21–2:26 is consistent with the gospel of grace.19 Just like a bicycle without a rider is still a bicycle. pastors and teachers. the Reformed doctrine of final perseverance is a categorical denial of the very basis for James’ exhortation. Does the Addition Model of phase-two deliverance fit the passage? Yes. the perfect assurance of eternal life given to believers by our Lord. vol. Conclusion Untangling the knot of misunderstanding that so often encompasses James requires answering some fundamental questions: How should one outline James? To whom did James write? What is the message of salvation in James? What does faith without works mean? Fortunately. not final perseverance. as ones who know the joy of using God’s Word first hand. faith without works is still faith. ought to take every opportunity to encourage the flock to enjoy the good hand of God.
Lastly. After all. the Addition Model best reflects the meaning of faith without works. . phase-two salvation (deliverance from 20 Page 8 of this article expresses the relationship between James 1:17 and 18. regeneration is an even greater gift of pure grace. What the absence of works proves is that one is heading toward death. The basis of the exhortation is that our Lord’s promises (e. because James knew that his beloved brethren (redeemed saints in the Lord) were regenerated by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Verse 17 states the underlying principle. but as a gift. John 5:24) give perfect assurance of eternal life. The word salvation in James deals exclusively with the phase-two deliverance of the believer. he presented it as the greatest of God’s good and perfect gifts (James 1:17).20 James did not refer to regeneration as a good deal. However. The grace of God shines throughout His epistle. The book of James is a lifesaver. James taught that eternal life is a free gift.. not a balland-chain type of litmus test for ascertaining whether or not one has believed the gospel with the right kind of faith. when he spoke about regeneration (James 1:18). Just as physical birth is an unmerited gift. James urged his regenerate brethren to use the Word in order to save their lives from the deadly power of sin. James also exhorted eternally secure believers (my beloved brethren and my brethren). whereby a thematic statement near a prologue’s end gives a book’s overall outline.Faith Without Works: A Definition 17 device standard to the rhetoric of his day. Contrary to the Puritan or Reformed theology of many popular teachers.g. while verse 18 gives regeneration as the supreme illustration of a good and perfect gift from God. Is the absence of a rider the test of the genuineness of a bicycle? No! Neither does the absence of works prove that faith is not genuine. The new birth (phase-one salvation) is a gift through faith alone in Christ alone. In the same way as the apostle Paul addressed his epistles to born-again believers.
vol. .18 CTS Journal. and earned the Th. and Ph. —End— John Niemelä received a B. #2 (April–June 2000) the deadly power of sin) is not a gift. John is Professor of Hebrew and Greek at Chafer Theological Seminary.M.D. His email address is email@example.com. saying that one receives eternal life through a working-faith without works. degrees in New Testament Literature and Exegesis from Dallas Theological Seminary.A. (University of Minnesota). James would condemn such an interpretation of double-mindedness (James 1:8). 6. Modern theologians tend to engage in double-speak.