James 2:14-26

We are slowly working our way through James. This week we will be discussing James 2 on James’ warning against partiality (vv.1-13) and James’ teaching that Faith without Works is dead (vv.14-26).  This latter teaching has often been contrasted with Paul’s teaching of justification by faith alone in Galatians and Romans. Most famously, this purported conflict caused Martin Luther to be hesitant to even include James in his translation of the Bible. However, even prior to the Reformation, this alleged conflict was well-known. I have attached an excerpt from Ben Witherington’s book Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians (pp.466-70) which looks at how Chrysostom (349-407), Augustine (354-430), Bede (672-735), and others resolved the James/Paul conflict and read the two apostles in harmony.

When we read through James’ teaching in vv.14-26, we’ll see similar rhetorical characteristics to his teaching in vv.1-13.  As before, the teaching begins by addressing his audience as “brothers” thus signaling both the beginning of a new teaching and that the teaching is directed at the entire community in which James sees himself as merely an equal.  And, as before, James uses a series of questions that necessarily evoke an affirmative response. James uses these questions to allow his audience to buy into and adopt his argument. Finally, James’ is not arguing against a particular person or a particular situation, but is giving us a general teaching about what it means to be a Christian.

Substantively, James is telling us that if we say we have faith, then that faith should be demonstrated in our actions and particularly in how we treat the poor. Jesus taught the same thing. For example, in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus says that when the Son of Man returns he will separate the sheep from the goats. This separation is based solely upon the treatment a person gives to the least in society (hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, imprisoned). For in doing unto the least of these, the sheep did unto Jesus. James (and Jesus) isn’t telling us that there are certain activities we have to do to get into heaven, rather his argument is that if we truly have faith in Jesus Christ, then we will necessarily take care of those in need. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, a good tree bears good fruit, and simply because we profess faith in Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean we actually have a faith that saves. Matt. 7:15-23.  

In making his point, James uses two examples: Abraham and Rahab. Hebrews also uses these two people as faithful examples (Heb. 11:8-19, 31) and gives more context to these examples than does James. James says that Abraham demonstrates his faith in his willingness to sacrifice Isaac (v.21, Gen. 22). As we looked in our study of Romans and Galatians, Abraham is seen as the quintessential righteous person; therefore, we should expect James to use Abraham to make his point. However, James’ other example is Rahab (v.25, Joshua 2, 6). Rahab was a prostitute in the town of Jericho who protected men sent by Joshua to spy on the city. When Jericho fell to Joshua, Rahab was saved. James most likely uses Rahab to forestall any objection from those in his audience who will say that they could never measure up to Abraham’s faith. Therefore, James gives us the example of a foreign, pagan, woman, harlot to tell us that even if we cannot have the faith of the great patriarch Abraham, we can at least have the faith of Rahab.  

Dinner at 6. Discussion at 6:45. Hope to see you here. Please bring a friend or neighbor.

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’”

Luke 13:6-7

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