Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

A Brother’s Wisdom 45

JesusJames*.jpgThere is nothing difficult to understand in some passages in James. The problem with James is that (1) he sometimes chafes against our theology and (2) he sometimes chafes even more against our theology. In other words, he says this his way and we’d sometimes prefer him to say things our way. One thing is clear: James is clear and he sounds like Jesus more often than not.

Notice these words from James 2:14-17:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If
one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,”
but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.


James’ opening question, related as it is to the problem of kow-towing to the rich and despising the poor, is much like other expressions and verses in James — think of 1:22-27 or even of 4:13-5:6. It is integrally related to what follows in 2:20-26.

“What good is it?” and “Can that faith save him?” are two sides of the same question with one rhetorical intent: James wants the messianists to think it through and turn from their inconsistency and walk the way of Jesus. A faith without works is no good and it cannot save a person.

One may not be saved by works but one cannot be saved without works. This isn’t works righteousness; it is the inevitable manifestation and accompaniment of genuine faith in Jesus, the Glorious One.

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posted May 4, 2009 at 2:51 pm
To talk about these issues, I think we need to use a vocabulary that distinguishes the multiple meanings of the word “faith”:
One kind is “dead faith” (James 2:17), which can also be called “credence faith” or “words only faith. Or even “shuddering-demon faith”! (James 2:19)
That is distinguished from “trust faith” or “saving faith” or “genuine faith.” Or to contrast with James’ “dead faith” perhaps we should call it “living faith.”

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posted May 4, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Faith and fruit go together just as fire and heat.
James is not saying that we are saved by faith or by works. Nor is James saying we are justified by faith and by works. Rather, James is saying that we are justified by faith that manifests, or results in, or produces works. Works are the fulfillment of faith, just as follow-through is the fulfillment of a promise. Anyone can make promises, but keeping promises is what counts.

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posted May 5, 2009 at 10:37 am

A question I think this is important to understanding this passage:
NIV: Can such faith save him?
ESV: Can that faith save him?
NKJ: Can faith save him?
HCSB: Can his faith save him?
If “such faith” or “that faith” are accurate, the suggestion is that he has a false or insufficient faith. If it is supposed to be simply “faith,” then are James appears to be contrasting works and faith, not just “dead” faith.
So what is the best translation?

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posted May 5, 2009 at 11:44 am
Chris B.-
The Greek is simply “he pistis.” I think in the context of the whole passage, “such faith” or “that faith” is best. Later, James talks of faith and works working together (v.22).
In looking at verse 14, the translators seem to leave out the “me” negative. Seems like the following translation might also work: “Such faith cannot save him.”
Curious to know what Scot or other Greek experts would say.

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