The Great Paul vs. James Smackdown

This isn’t the kind of thing I usually post here on this blog, but for lack of a better place to share it, here goes…

Tonight I led a Bible study on the last half of James 2, where he talks about the role of faith and works in justification. It includes an apparent contradiction with Paul’s teachings on the subject. We went through a lot of material very quickly, so I just wanted to provide some basic  information in case anyone wanted to explore this more on their own.

The passage being explored was James 2: 14-26.

The corresponding passage by Paul is Romans 4–in particular the first twelve verses, but really the entire chapter is relevant to the subject.

Both passages reference an event in Abraham’s life, recorded in Genesis 15:1-6.

There are other Paul-authored passages that shed more light on Paul’s view of justification by faith and the role of works. Romans 10:5 and Philippians 3:9 both deal with righteousness from the law as opposed to righteousness through faith.

Even though Paul taught justification through faith, he still believed works are important. See, for example, Galatians 5:13-14 and Galatians 5: 19-26.

If you’d like more information about Paul’s positive statements about the law, here is a paper I wrote in seminary on the subject: Paul and the Law (It is a school research paper, so it’s written in a dry academic tone, but there is a lot of relevant information in there.)

There are more statements by James that can shed more light on his view. Acts 15:13-21 records a speech from James related to the role of the law in the lives of Gentiles. James 1:18 confirms James view that our relationship with God is based on God’s choice, not our actions.

In James 2:14, there is the Greek word “μή” before “faith” in the second sentence which is not translated in the King James, but is in many other translations. I have no training in Greek, so don’t rely too much on my exegesis, but here’s what my research revealed about this word. It is uses to “subjectively negate” the word it describes. It indicates that the word following does not mean everything that it could or should imply. In other words, this “faith” he is referring to is not everything that the word faith normally implies. (For more information on the word, look it up  in Strong’s Concordance under number 3361.)

Finally, there is debate as to what James meant by “justified” in 2:24. There are two definitions of the Greek word he uses for “justify” that would not conflict with other Biblical teaching on the subject. One is “to vindicate before people.” The word is used in this sense in Luke 7:29. Another possibility is “to vindicate at the Last Judgment” Matthew 12:37 is an example where the Greek word is used in this sense. (This information on Justify in verse 24 comes from Carson, D.A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.)

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