These two verses are considered by some to be the most difficult verses in the whole Bible to interpret. Questions abound for all. Here’s the NIV translation of James 2:18-19:
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder.
The problems begin with the “you” saying what one would think James does not hold for himself and the “I” saying what one would think James holds. In fact, the “I have deeds” is what James has been arguing for and the opponents of James, or those who are being inconsistent, have the claim of faith but have no works.
Round and round scholars have gone, and every commentary trots out the options. I will tell you what I think the text is saying:
1. The opening lines — “you have faith; I have works” — means “there are two options; take your pick; there are plural options to God.
2. The opponent can also be seen in 18b but it is easier to see James now giving his viewpoint: “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” This is James’ viewpoint because now faith is present with works or faith is (claimed to be) present without works.
3. V. 19 is James again, now showing that “faith” means confession of monotheism: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder.” I suspect the demons comment is strong on “Even.” That is, the demons know there is one God but they at least shudder in God’s presence. James means — you folks who claim to have faith but don’t have works ought at least to shudder before God.
Well, it’s a tough text. This is one way to read it. No view compels everyone.