Thirdmill Study Bible

Notes on James 2:18-26

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Show me your faith - James 2:18

With wise rhetorical form, James anticipates possible objections. One objection centers on the notion that since faith and works can be distinguished, they must be separated. James responds by asking his imaginary objector to show faith apart from works. But, even as Jesus argued, “a tree is only known by its fruit” (cf. Lk 6:43-45). Likewise, faith is only known by its deeds.

Response of covenant loyalty and practice - James 2:19

James’ anticipated respondent moves to win the debate by quoting the daily prayer and confession of Jewish Christians from Deut 6:4. While James agrees that believing God is one is necessary, he also points out that the demons believe and tremble. The confession of truth about God requires a response of covenant loyalty and practice: Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself (see note above on 2:8). Demons grasp truth cognitively, but their actions demonstrate rebellion against the God they believe in. True faith expresses itself in loyal love, which is articulated in the second half of the Shema in Deut 6:5.

You foolish man - James 2:20

In Proverbs, the opposite of a wise person is a foolish person. He or she may be ‘simple.’ More likely, however, they know what is right but refuse to practice it (cf. Prov 15:5; Matt 7:26). This is James’ assessment of his anticipated objector: a foolish man or woman is unrighteous and, therefore, unhelpful.

Considered righteous - James 2:21-23

What might seem like a contradiction of Paul’s soteriology is actually mirrored in James’ letter. Both apostles look to Abraham as an example of true, saving faith. Paul claims that Abraham was justified by faith apart from his works (Rom. 4:1-25; Gal 3:6-9). But, James writes, Abraham was justified by works. The key to understanding the relationship between James and Paul is defining the word “justify” in both contexts. Both use the same Greek word for “justify” (dikaioō), but in different contexts with different emphases. Writing to the churches at Rome and in Galatia about how to receive Gentile converts into the covenant community, Paul emphasizes the means and object of their justification, faith in Christ alone. Writing to established Christians about what a life of faith and wisdom looks like, James emphasizes the authenticity or fruit of faith. As an example, James cites Genesis 22:9-10, when Abraham offered up Isaac his son on the altar in obedience and faith. The proper fruit of true faith in obedience or ‘good deeds’ is also affirmed repeatedly in Paul’s writings (cf. Eph 2:8-10; Phil 2:12-16; Titus 2:11-14). See WCF 11; WLC 70-73; CD 5.6; BC 23.

Unfruitful faith, confronted - James 2:24

James used the word justified in a different context with a different emphasis from Paul (see note above on 2:21-23). Addressing the quality of true faith, James uses the definite article in 2:14 to mark “this kind of faith.” The kind of faith that James confronts is a dead, unfruitful faith without deeds (see notes above on 2:14-17). This kind of naked faith justifies no one because it is not a saving faith.

Rahab's deeds demonstrated her faith - James 2:25-26

James concludes this section with one more example. Rahab was also vindicated by deeds when she believed the God who sent messengers to her in Jericho and demonstrated her faith by aiding their mission (Josh. 2:1-15). James concludes this section with a proverb that compares faith apart from works to a human body without a spirit or breath. See WCF 11.2.

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