Grace Theological Jouma1 12.1 (1992) 69-97

          Copyright © 1992 by Grace Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

        THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14

 

 

                                           GALE Z. HEIDE

 

 

 

            In the contemporary debate concerning salvific essentials, James

2:14 has served as a focal point for discussion. In the following study,

the endeavor is made to allow the context of James to provide the key

indicators on how saving faith should here be understood. The eternal

ramifications of James 2:14 are most evident when the intent of James

is discussed as it relates to the audience he has in mind. James is not

merely concerned with some type of temporal blessing in 2:14. In-

stead, he is burdened over the very eternal existence of some people

who are in his pastoral care.

                                                            *     *     *

 

In times past, the book of James has become the subject of signifi-

cant debate (such as in the time of Martin Luther), but by and large,

it has been passed 'over in favor of "more theological" or "more impor-

tant" books with respect to the Christian faith. This is an unfortunate

thing to say of any book, and especially of one so close to the pulse of

the early church. There has, however, been an awakening of sorts

lately as to the vitality of the book of James. Unfortunately, this awak-

ening is largely due to a theological debate in contemporary evangeli-

cal circles that centers in part around the interpretation of one

particular passage in James, namely James 2:14. This debate is often

called, among other things, the "Lordship salvation" controversy. It

relates directly to the understanding of the relationship between salva-

tion and sanctification. Within this debate, there are often appeals

made to a given understanding of how James views the relationship, or

defines the substance, of salvation and sanctification. Underlying many

of these appeals are varying assumptions as to the interpretation of cer-

tain passages.

            Amidst the many references made to the book of James in the

debate, specific exegetical explanation is seldom given for the under-

standing espoused. Instead, the reader is presumed upon to accept the

assumptions that underlie the interpretation being set forth. In light of

this, the question must be raised whether the assumptions being made

in relation to James 2:14 are in fact valid. It is the intention of this

 



70                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

paper to expose such assumptions and critique them in an endeavor to

come to a clearer understanding of just what is the author's intended

meaning in this text.

 

I. IDENTIFICATION OF THE PROBLEM

 

The specific issue to be addressed here centers around the

intended meaning of the verb sw<zw--"to save"--in 2:14. The first half

of this study will endeavor to develop a clear understanding of James

2:14. We will first discuss the various options of meaning for the verb

sw<zw by itself, and next discuss the context that surrounds 2:14. Fol-

lowing this, we shall undertake to relate the meaning of the word

within the surrounding context. Much of this process has clearly been

done for us and is available in various commentaries and journal

articles.l However, the theological dynamic in James' use of sw<zw is

regularly given little more attention than a brief definition, if men-

tioned at all, in most contemporary studies.2 The intention of this sec-

tion in the study is to build upon and draw together what has been

written, and at the same time develop a logically coherent understand-

ing of 2:14 that agrees exegetically with the thought of James in the

 

1 There is a long-standing tradition, which this study delineates in further detail in

the paragraphs below, concerning the interpretation of this passage as is best represented

by the following authors: James B. Adamson, James: The Man and His Message (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles: James

(trans. and ed. John Owen; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), Peter H. Davids, Commen-

tary on James (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), John P. Lange, Commentary on

the Holy Scriptures: James-Revelation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960), R. C. H. Len-

ski, Interpretation of Hebrews and James (Columbus: Wartburg, 1946), Thomas Manton,

An Exposition of the Epistle of James (Evansville: Sovereign Grace, 1962), Ralph P.

Martin, James (WBC; Waco: Word Books, 1988), James B. Mayor, The Epistle of St.

James (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale New Testament Com-

mentaries: The Letter of James (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), and James H. Ropes,

Epistle of St. James (ICC; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916).

There are also various journal articles worth mentioning that have developed the

salvation theme of James 2: 14 in some fashion. They are best represented by the follow-

ing authors: Christoph Burchard, "Zu Jakobus 2:14-26," Zeitschrift furdie Neutesta-

mentliche Wissenschaft 71/1/2 (1980) 27-45, William Dyrness, "Mercy triumphs over

justice: James 2:13 and the theology of faith and works," Themelios 6/3 (April, 1981)

11-16, Simon J. Kistemaker, "The Theological Message of James," JETS 29/1 (March,

1986) 55-61, John F. MacArthur, Jr., "Faith According to the Apostle James," JETS 33/

1 (March, 1990) 13-34, John Polhill, "Prejudice, Partiality, and Faith: James 2," RevExp

83/3 (Summer, 1986) 395-404, Robert V. Rakestraw, "James 2:14-26: Does James con-

tradict Pauline Soteriology?" Criswell Theological Review 1/1 (Fall, 1986) 31-50, and

Michael J. Townsend, "Christ, Community, and Salvation in the Epistle of James," EvQ

53/2 (April-June, 1981) 115-23.

2 While not true of every study, many relied on generally accepted definitions and

rarely made any attempt to support the definitions in detail. There were a number of ref-

erences given in support, but unfortunately, the studies often simply referred to each other.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14                              71

 

context of the book. This seems to be an especially urgent task in light

of the recent debate concerning the understanding of this passage.3

The latter half of the study will deal directly with those who are

opposed to the traditional interpretation of James 2:14, which under-

stands James to be speaking of eternal salvation, by answering some of

the objections they have made to this author's understanding of the

text. Such a response has not been given any legitimate consideration

in previous studies dealing with the theological development of James

2:14. In the past, the articles attempting to deal with this issue have

given, at best, brief mention of the variant view, which understands

James to be speaking of a very temporal salvation. That is, there seems

to have been little effort given to deal with the variant interpretation in

full4 This author's study is intended to fill the ever widening gap. The

discussion set forth in this latter section will provide the reader with

the much needed construction of a response to the variant view causing

such great contention regarding the book of James.

Some of the questions that ultimately need to be answered in such

a study are these: What is the meaning of sw<zw? From what is the per-

son in question to be saved? How are works related to this salvation?

How is faith related to this salvation? What type of faith is in view?

All these and more will be answered or given reasonable consideration

in the following discussion, while focusing attention primarily on the

meaning of sw<zw within its context in James 2:14.

 

3 It may be worthwhile to note that there is relatively small representation of those

who have objected in written form to the view of James as it is understood in this study,

The only major interpretive statements available are sections in Zane Hodges' The Gos-

pel Under Siege (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1981) and Absolutely Free (Dallas: Redencion

Viva, 1989), and the brief booklet 'Dead Faith' What is It? A Study on James 2:14-26

(Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1987) by the same author, Earl D. Radmacher seems to be ad-

vocating the same position in his brief article "First Response to 'Faith According to the

Apostle James' by John F, MacArthur, Jr.," JETS 33/1 (March, 1990) 35-41. There is

also a brief outline of a view similar to Hodges' in R. T. Kendall's Once Saved, Always

Saved (Chicago: Moody, 1985) 207-17. However, there are many who would agree with

the objections at, a, more popular level., For these reasons it is crucial that we answer all

the objections arising to the view of this study, but it is nonetheless unfortunate that they

are not represented by more substantial documentation,

4 Most major works on James have not attempted a response. This is somewhat un-

derstandable since the few articles that do attend to the issue are mainly book reviews

which mention the view only in passing. The most complete of these is William G.

Bjork, "A Critique of Zane Hodges' The Gospel Under Siege, A review Article," JETS

30/4 (December, 1987),457-60. Others that also mention the issue are Johnny V. Miller,

"Book Reviews," Trinity Joumal 4 NS/1 (Spring, 1983) 94, and R, F. White, Book Re-

views," WTJ 46/2 (Fall, 1984) 428. The one possible exception is the response of Mac-

Arthur, who does give a brief rebuttal of Hodges (MacArthur, "Faith" 28-32), However,

he does not deal with Hodges' viewpoint in the depth that is necessary for a definitive

response.



72                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

II. ASSUMPTIONS

 

In a study of this nature and scope, there are necessarily some

assumptions that will be made. Let us briefly describe these assump-

tions before we address the task at hand. James was written by the

half-brother of Jesus who was also an authoritative leader in the Jeru-

salem church. It was most likely written before the Jerusalem council,

probably around 45-47 A.D. This is best supported by the lack of ref-

erences to the council and the early death of the author. It is also

assumed that the letter is written to Christian Jews that are scattered

abroad. This is argued by the use of the word "brother" when address-

ing the audience and by the reference to the "twelve tribes of the

diaspora." With these assumptions in mind, we shall begin our study.

 

III. LEXICAL ANALYSIS

 

The first portion of our discussion will entail outlining the pos-

sible options of meaning that the verb sw<zw may take in any given ,

context. The various lexica representing the relevant periods of history

surrounding the time in which the letter of James was written provide

us with a veritable gamut of possibilities for meaning. We shall begin

with an analysis of them and their respective definitions, then mention

briefly other possible influences.

The Classical period gives some insight into the original Greek

usage of the word crro~ro as authors such as Plato, Homer, Plutarch, and

others used it in varying contexts. The range of meaning derived from

a study of this period depicts references centered mainly around physi-

cal deliverance from a present reality with occasional reference to an

eternal salvation.5

The New Testament period is of course the most relevant to our

study at hand. The meanings represented by authors of this time,

prevalently the New Testament authors themselves, seem to divide

amongst three emphases. The first being mainly an eternal or eschato-

logical salvation, the second referring to a preservation from physical

 

5 The Classical period, as represented by Liddell and Scott, presents four options

that the verb sw<zw may mean in a given context (H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, The Greek .

English Lexicon [New York: Harper, 1882] 1748). The first definition relates to persons

being saved from death, kept alive, and escaping destruction. The second definition re-

lates to things being kept safe or preserved. The third relates to keeping, observing, or

maintaining something, such as a law. The fourth deals with keeping something in mind

or remembering. All these definitions appear to have present realities in mind and do not

refer specifically to an eternal perspective of salvation. This is not to say that such a con-

notation could not be inferred from the use of this verb, but it appears not to be a common

usage in Classical literature. Cf. also Colin Brown, The New International Dictionary of

New Testament Theology, Volume 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) 205-6, and

Werner Foerster, TDNT: Volume VII (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1971) 965-69.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14                              73

 

harm or destruction, and the third referring to a combination of the

two.6

The Patristics seemed to be narrowed to only two options. They

are the eternal and the physical used exclusive of each other.7

It may be helpful to this study to understand the Septuagintal

(LXX) usage of sw<zw as it represents various Hebrew texts. In the

LXX, sw<zw was used to translate many verbs, but two in particular

seem to stand out as most relevant. They are fwy, and Flm.8 Each verb

takes physical deliverance as its main referent, but can have a spiritual

sense included over and above physical deliverance. There are no

usages of these verbs referring exclusively to a spiritual state of salva-

tion, but they can at times express this as their main emphasis. Such an

emphasis is often found in prophetic passages.9

This can help us in establishing the etymological development of

sw<zw down through the time of the LXX and into the New Testament

usage where the LXX was still referenced extensively. There had been

adequate representation of the spiritual and eternal deliverance prior to

the New Testament, but much of the emphasis was on present physical

preservation as stated above. This understanding of LXX usage does

not dictate the meaning in James, but it does provide us with a context

of the development of the term during the writing of the New Testa-

ment, especially an early book-like James.

 

6 The New Testament period is best represented by W. Bauer, trans. by W. Arndt,

and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early

Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952) 798-99. This particu-

lar lexicon gives us three distinct definitional possibilities for sw<zw. These are the pres-

ervation from natural dangers, the preservation from eternal death, and a combination of

both categories. Preservation from natural dangers includes being saved from death,

brought out safely, freed from disease, preserved in good: condition, and a form of greet-

ing that wishes prosperity to the recipient. Preservation from eternal death was used in

both the active and passive voice. It was used in the active to denote the saving activity

of persons, especially God or Christ, and of qualities that lead to salvation. The use of

aro~co in the passive voice denoted being saved or the attainment of salvation. The com-

bination of these two areas had both the eternal and present perspective in mind. Much

evidence is given for the emphasis of the eternal nature of salvation, particularly in

James' use of the verb, by Colin Brown and J. Schneider, New International Dictionary

211-16, and Werner Foerster, TDNT 989-98.

7 The Patristic period, as represented by Lampe, seems to have been characterized

by only two definitional variants for sw<zw (G. W. H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon

[Oxford: Clarendon, 1961] 1361-62). The first is a general reference of being saved

from sickness or physical constraints. The second definition addressed the salvation that

is given by God, the objects of God's salvation, and the means of salvation.

sFor a brief lexical description of each, see Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and

Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew-English Lexicon with an Appendix Containing the Biblical

Aramaic (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1979) 446-47 (fwy), and 572 (Flm).

9 Fora full development of the meanings found in the LXX, see Brown, New Inter-

.national Dictionary, 206-11, and Georg Fohrer, TDNT 970-80.



74                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

We have viewed the various options in meaning for sw<zw and it

seems possible to narrow them down to just three fairly general

usages, namely, 1) with reference to salvation from some type of natu-

ral danger, 2) eternal salvation or some facet thereof, and 3) a combi-

nation of these two. Certainly all the usages would have been known

by James' readers. We must remember that this is not a grocery list

from which to choose; it only helps us to better understand our

options. The emphasis in determining meaning must be upon the usage

of the word in its context. With this in mind, we must now turn our

attention to the context in which 2:14 is set.

 

IV. CONTEXTUAL ANALYSIS

 

Verse 14 of chapter 2 may be translated as follows: "What is the

use, my brothers, if a certain one should say he has faith, but does not

have works? Is that faith able to save him?" (the expected answer

being no).10 Our task is to relate what meaning the word save, (sw<zw)

might take on in such a context. Is this salvation from some present

hazard or misfortune, or is it salvation from eternal damnation, or is it

possibly a combination of the two? The pattern that will be followed in

this section is to look first at the centerpoint of the passage and expand

to every point of reference that encircles the passage. The study begins

with an examination of 2:14 itself, then gradually moves outward into

the surrounding context of the book of James, and culminates with a

brief section related to the historical setting encompassing the situation

of James and the early church.

 

James 2: 14

What is James saying when he pens 2:l4? Obviously, he does not

see much use to faith that does not have accompanying works. But

what exactly does this faith entail? Does James see this faith being so

weak as to result in forfeiting one's salvation and losing the confidence

of eternal life with Christ? If we look at the form of argumentation that

James is using, loss of salvation does not seem to be the point that he

is making. What then is the point? As we examine James 2:14 more

closely, he seems to speak of this faith unto salvation as something

which one enters into initially. The emphasis he seems to make is an

appeal for the reader to begin to exercise faith that will be able to save,

not to continue to maintain a faith that could possibly be lost. Let us

observe how this is expressed in the verse.

 

10 The grammatical construction of this question includes the negative particle

mh, thereby expressing James' expectance of a negative answer to the question. Cf. H. E.

Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New

York: Macmillan, 1955) 265-66.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14                              75

 

James begins his argument by asking a pragmatic question, "What

is the use. . ." or "What is the advantage. . . ." We must first deter-

mine for whom the advantage is intended. Interestingly, there seems to

be both a primary and a secondary advantage evidenced in the passage.

The secondary advantage appears to be the benefit of others. This is

especially true if we look at the next two verses where the same phrase

is used to describe the profit that comes to the brother or sister who is

sent away without clothing and in need of food. This is a very immedi-

ate reflection of the benefits of faith, or the lack thereof. But also evi-

dent is the primary advantage that is to be gained by the "one saying

he has faith." This seems to agree best with the statement that directly

follows the qualification of "no works," "Is that faith able to save

him?"11 Ultimately, the primary usefulness that is in view is the advan-

tage to the man who says he has faith. The advantage that James points

out as the most prevalent is this man's salvation. The primary grounds

of benefit to be found in this faith must be in whether or not it can pre-

serve him in a future judgment.12

James now focuses his attention on the man in question. It is

important to remember that James is using a form of argumentation

that does not directly point toward the people to whom he wants to

convey this message. It is a form of rhetorical argument known as dia-

tribe that gets its point across without necessarily naming the ones in

question.13 This is best evidenced here when he uses the supposed

 "man who says he has faith" and distinguishes him from the brothers,

asking, "What use is it, my brothers, if a certain man. . . ?" This

method of argumentation also uses short questions that make a point

indirectly, as demonstrated in the question of usefulness, and in the

phrase "Is that faith able to save him?" However, it must be remem-

bered that James is intending this argument to be pointed toward cer-

tain ones amongst the brothers who are guilty of the problem. He

shows this later in verse 16 where he uses the words "one from among

 

11 Sophie Laws, Harper's New Testament Commentaries: The Epistle of James

(San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980) 119.

12 It is argued by Kendall that the au]to<n used in 2: 14 is necessarily referring to the

ptwxo<n who was mentioned in 2:6 (Kendall, Once Saved 207-17). This seems to strain

much of accepted Greek syntax when there is a much more likely referent found in the

immediate context of 2:14. To stretch the antecedent of this pronoun to 2:6 seems to be

an unwarranted presupposition, especially since James feels it necessary to refer to the

poor again in 2:15-16. It is also interesting to note that ai]to<n is masculine, accusative,

singular (movable v is unlikely). James illustrates his concept of the poor in 2:15 as in-

cluding both male and female. It seems awkward to say that James has changed his un-

derstandingof referents for au'tov between 2:14 and 2:15-16 when 2:15-16 is a direct

illustration of 2:14.

13 For a further discussion of 'diatribe' see Adamson, James 103-4, or Martin

Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James (rev. H. Greeven and ed. H. Koester;

Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976) 150ff.



76                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

you" and returns to addressing them directly as the guilty parties. The

argumentation of James does not make its point of reference someone

outside the group to which he is speaking, but rather finds its audience

within the group. The man that James states "says he has faith" must

be found within the intended audience of the letter. Could it be said

that James is simply drawing an analogy similar to what the believers

might be experiencing with someone outside of their fellowship? This

would allow for the possible translation of tij to be any man. If we

take the statement exclusive of the context, this is a plausible argu-

ment. However, James is not leaving the identity of the intended man

so obscure. He identifies the workless faith of "those from among you"

as equally useless and insufficient for salvation. This means that James

is associating the man with the group of believers. He is one who pro-

fesses faith in Christ, and in fact this is what James states, "If a man

says he has faith," ultimately referencing the same faith that is men-

tioned in 2:1, "faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ." This associa-

tion with the audience of believers makes tij seem more specific and is

better understood to refer to a certain man. James is not stating that the

man is a true believer; in fact the distinction between a believer and

this man is the intent of James' singling him out. But James does

understand him to be within the group of professing believers.

The syntactical construction of the phrase "If a certain man says

he has faith" is somewhat helpful in understanding the meaning here as

well. The third class conditional clause used with the subjunctive

mood would indicate that there is a probable future condition in the

mind of the author. James views this individual as one who will claim

to have faith. James uses the probable future condition to establish

what he believes to be the position of the "certain man," but he is not

willing to accept this claim at face value. He rejects the presence of

true faith by measuring it according to its lack of works. James' use of

the probable future condition sets up the position of a hypothetical

man whom he expects to be found within the intended audience of the

letter. James can then take issue with what he understands to be a fal-

lacious claim. James uses the third class conditional protasis and the

subjunctive mood to establish a position on which he then casts much

doubt.14

It may be quite appropriate to comment here on the doubt that

James is implying. He is not necessarily making a dogmatic claim as to

the profession of faith not being true, but he is also not taking this pro-

fession at face value. It would be quite proper for James to make some

allowance and even use hypothetical argumentation since he is evi-

 

14 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament: Volume VI (New York:

Harper & Brothers, 1933) 33-34.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14                              77

 

dently separated from most of the Christian Jews who will read this

letter. But it is also quite appropriate for him to convey a certain

amount of convictional.and even judgmental authority due to his posi-

tion in the church and the responsibilities that position would entail.

James is making every effort to define for his readers the type of faith

by which he expects them to be saved.

It may well be asked whether the faith in view is a faith in the

saving work of Christ or simply a faith that the man in question has in

his mind as a possible mere intellectual assent expressed in a lifeless

proclamation or creed. James has used the word faith four times in the

previous context: first, in relation to testing it through the endurance of

trials (1:2-4); second, he uses it in the context of asking in faith and

not having any doubt (1:6); third, he uses it in relation to how it is

viewed with respect to others (2: 1); and fourth, he uses it to describe

the poor whom God had chosen to be rich in faith and heirs of the

kingdom (2:5). All four of these usages seem to have the true faith that

is unto eternal salvation in mind, even though they may be used in a

very pragmatic sense.lS This is especially true of the second usage

which is qualified by the phrase "in our Lord Jesus Christ," and the

fourth usage which relates to those chosen by God to be the heirs of

the kingdom. James has assumed all of these usages to contain true

faith and he does not change his view of the essence of faith in 2: 14-

26. True faith is that which is expressed by Abraham and Rahab. These

are set in contrast with the man who "says" he has faith. The under-

standing that James has of saving faith does not change in this passage.

However, the man in question evidently has a different view of faith

than what James understands faith to be.16 There is not something

 

15 James H. Ropes, James 203.

16 This explains why James centers on this man's proclamation of faith as distinct

from his own definition of authentic faith. Cf. Calvin, James 309-10, and Polhill, "Prej-

udice" 400-401. James is not necessarily viewing this statement in 2:14 as a different

kind of faith, rather he sees it as true faith being misrepresented. The man in question

evidently has a view of faith that is not complete. Davids describes this use of James

phrasing as having a different definitional quality (Peter H. Davids, "Theological Per-

spectives on the Epistle of James" JETS 23/2 [June, 1980] 102-3). Later in the deve1op-

ment of this thought, he explains that James is using the definitional qualities to make

the distinction between true faith that acts and false faith that does not act. This would

certainly seem to fit with the way that the man's faith is granted for the sake of argument,

but James does not see it going any further than that when he states that it will not

"save" and in reality is non-existent, or "dead." Calvin also makes a distinction between

the two faiths when he speaks of Jesus not entrusting Himself to those who only believed

on His miracles in John 2:23 (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel according to

John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948] 100-10J). MacArthur also gives a description of

the distinctives made between various types of faith (MacArthur, "Faith" 22-23). Huther

gives a good development on the meaning of faith without making definitional distinc-

tions (J. E. Huther, Heinrich A. W. Meyer's Commentary on the New Testament: The



78                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

lacking in faith per se, but there is something lacking in this man's

understanding of it. This accounts for the doubtfulness that James has

in the man's claim of faith. The difference seems to be directly related

to the qualification James makes of the man having "no works."

James has made the statement that the man "says" he has faith,

however doubtful it may be. He now further explains that this man has

no works, providing the only possible reason within the immediate

context to doubt the faith of the man in question. For James, the pro-

fession did not seem to convince him of the reality of the faith. Now

we see the reasoning behind the doubt: the man has no works and so

his profession of faith is called into question.

Next James points to the lack of works in this man's faith and asks,

"Is that faith able to save him?" expecting a negative answer. This does

not mean that James is promoting works as a means to, or a condition

for, the salvation in question, he does not ask, "Is this lack/abundance

of works able to save him?" He focuses still on the faith in question and

makes it the determinant of the salvation he has in mind. The faith is

the ultimate test of this salvation. However, it must not be ignored that

he also makes the lack of works the reason for the doubtfulness of the

man's profession of faith. Works appear to be the test of the faith James

has in mind as the type of faith that will save. James says plainly that

the man who is claiming faith, but not doing works, does not have a

faith that can save.17 To some observers, this might seem to fly in the

face of free grace if eternal salvation is in view, but the argument does

not stop with only this evidence.

James has presented an analogy in the preceding context of 2:1-

13 concerning people who are exercising their "proclamation" of faith

by disobeying the law. Naturally the first objection that would come to

the mind of James' audience would be that obedience to the law does

not bring one to salvation. James is not claiming that it does, but he is

saying that the known, willful disobedience they are displaying causes

him to question their salvation.18

 

General Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude [New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1887]

86-88). These articles capture the essence of the definitional distinctions.' However, it

should be noted that the redefinition focuses on the proclamation of faith made by the

man in question, not the way in which faith itself can take on various meanings.

Those who wish to find the definition of faith remaining the same throughout the

entire argument of James have the right idea, but they push it too far when they presup-

pose a view of temporal salvation and eternal rewards being James' main concern; cf.

Radmacher, "First Response" 37-3S.

17 It is very likely that James is also condemning those who are not "willing" to do

works. This is established by the way James addresses the attitude of the "one who says"

in 2:15-16 when he opts not to help those who are in need, even though the need is

recognized.

18 Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation (Wheaton: Victor, 1989) 132-33.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14                              79

 

He goes even further to explain in the verses following 14 that

their blatant and sinful disregard for their brother or sister causes him

to pronounce their faith dead. What is a dead faith? It may be defined

as a faith .that is inactive, of which James has already explained will

not save (2:14).19 It is a faith that has separated the active pursuit of

works from the simple proclamation of creed. James is not willing to

accept the proclamation alone as sufficient evidence for salvation when

the one making it is denying the opportunity before him to do works.20

A dead faith may also be defined as that which the demons in verse 19

possess, a faith that does have knowledge and even belief in God, but

is not willing to expend any effort for God, and in fact may work in

opposition to God. James' view of faith does not change in this argu-

ment. He still has in mind the faith that is in "our glorious Lord Jesus

Christ," and the faith that is held by those who are heirs to the king-

dom. This is the faith that is somewhat in opposition to the "pro-

claimed" faith of the supposed man in verse 14 and to the "dead" faith

of the verses following. When he explains that faith without works is

dead, he is not saying that it has become weak and died. He is describ-

ing it as a faith that never was, non-existent in the eyes of James, and

ultimately in the eyes of God.

The appeal mentioned briefly above to a "proclamation" of faith

as the sole requirement for salvation seems to be just what James

expects his audience to make when presented with the law in 2:1-13,

and would explain why he introduces his argument in the immediately

following context of 2:14-26. This is where we need to turn our atten-

tion next, the context surrounding 2:14.

The Meaning of sw<zw in Surrounding Context

We must now focus our study on what the best understanding of the

word sw<zw  is in the larger context surrounding verse 14. We have

already shown that the faith that James has in mind as efficacious for sal-

vation and the faith the man in question has in mind are two very differ-

ent. understandings of faith. It is obvious that James would not affirm the

propagation of a faith that would not be able to save anyone in the sense

he has presented in 2:14. We have also seen that the man in question has

a faith that will not save. Our focus in this section will be to understand

the salvation as it is set in the whole of James intention.

 

19 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon 104, and Ropes, James 217.

20 This is a distinctively different situation from the thief on the cross whom Jesus

said would be with Him that day. Jesus knew the man's heart, James makes no claim to

know this objector's heart. Instead, James bases his exhortation on the opportunity for

works that he has seen this objector fail to carry out. James is not arguing for a works

foundation for salvation, rather he is imploring them toward a grace foundation for

living.



80                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Let us begin our study with the salvation that is presented in the

earlier portions of James' letter. One might see 2:14ff. to be connected

directly with 1:22, which is very true in regard to the same type of

thought, that being the active pursuit of works.21 This presents us with

an interesting determination of how to define the verb sw<zai in 1:21

and 2:14. They are both aorist, active, infinitives, and both follow the

verb du<namai--"to be able." There are in fact three occurrences of this

complementary construction in the book of James, the third being

found in 4:12. In this verse, it is substantial to note that God is estab-

lished as the One who is able to save and to destroy. This is given in

the context of the law and resultantly must carry some reference to

eternal salvation.22 It is likely that this is the main emphasis. This does

not provide that the other two examples necessarily carry the same

emphasis, but it does prove that James can in fact use this meaning.

Let us now turn our attention to the two usages earlier in James.

In 1:18, James has just pronounced their existence as Christians

being due to the means of the "word of truth" in the exercise of God's

will. This "word" is further made active in their lives by the receiving

of it implanted. This is where the description of the "word" is given as

"able to save your souls" or "able to save your lives." The salvation in

mind here may very well deal with a present salvation from death, or

even a prolonging or prosperity in physical life.23 This is well sup-

ported by the man's being blessed in what he does in 1:25, providing

that a necessarily corresponding relationship between the "doing" and

the "blessed" is present in the intended meaning. It also may very well

have in mind the eternal salvation that has just been mentioned. This

undoubtedly has some weight in James' mind since he substantiated

the "word" as the means of their eternal life (1:18) and continues to

promote this "word" as their sustenance for attaining some type of sal-

vation (1:21) and their authority for instruction (1:22-23).

There is likely a good deal of reference by James back to the pas-

sages that he has referred to earlier in the letter in 1 :9-11 (Psalm

103: 15-16, Isaiah 40:6-7). These Old Testament passages speak of the

 

21 Hodges, Dead Faith 12-13, and Gospel Under Siege 23-26.

22 Manton, James 385-86. Laws presents a viewpoint which limits the judgment in

4:12 strictly to a statement of character with no temporal reference to future judgment

(Laws, James 188). However, such a view does not seem to agree with her own develop-

ment of 4:10 on page 185 being a possible aphorism to the gospel parable that ultimately

relates to justification in the sight of the Son of Man, especially since 4:11-12 seems to

be an illustration of proper humility before God, or the lack thereof.

23 Hodges, Absolutely 120-22, and Dead Faith 12-13. Glaze sees this passage as

dealing only with eternal realities, but this seems to leave little room for the present re-

alities that are made so vivid in earlier portions of chapter 1 to take on the full shape of

their existence (R. E. Glaze, Jr., "The Relationship of Faith to Works," The Theological

Educator 34 [Fall, 1986] 35-38).



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2: 14                             81

 

fading and withering that takes place in grass and the things of the

earth. They also speak in the very next verses of the eternality of the

Lord. In Isaiah, it speaks of His word standing forever. In Psalm 103,

David says in the next verse that the loyal love of the Lord is from

everlasting to everlasting. These references would undoubtedly come

to the minds of the Jewish readers when they heard of the temporality

of men, especially rich men. It would seem quite likely that they would

also remember the eternal aspects of the Lord, and the impact of His

"word." The same "word" that brought them forth and saves their

souls is the "word" that stands forever, the "word" that is eternal. The

resultant meaning in this passage would then have a dual concept of

present and eternal realization in view.

If 2:14 is necessarily connected with this argument, it stands to

reason that it must also carry some of the same connotations with the

emphasis being to one usage or the other, either present or eternal sal-

vation. Those who would find this the best route to follow state that

James appears to be using 1:21 as the theme for 1:21-2:26. It is then

argued that throughout this passage, James is necessarily seen to be

reflecting back on this theme in every reference to works and salva-

tion. They state that James is loosely organized in his teachings, and

stretches from one line of thought to another without any real warn-

ing.24 As seen thus far in this study, this would give (sw<zw ) a resultant

meaning of both eternal and present salvation in 2:14. However, the

argument cannot end here in a speculative reorganization of the

thought of James.25

It has become increasingly clear to this observer that the teaching

of James relies on some unified thought and could be better understood

accordingly. If we look at the argument of James 2:1-26 as more of a

single unit, albeit with reminders back to chapter 1, there are several

things which stand out as rather distinct patterns in James' logic.

James begins in verse 1 with an appeal to them as Christians not

to hold their faith in a manner unbefitting the attitude of a Christian.

He follows this with an example of how this is taking place in their

assembly. This example closes by comparing them to judges with evil

motives.

James then points out that their association with the rich is actu-

ally association with the enemy, and their treatment of the poor is not

 

24 Hodges, Dead Faith 12-13, and Gospel Under Siege 23-24. Some even interpret

James as comprising completely separate teachings with very little, if any, connection

from one thought to the next; cf. Dibelius, James 1-11, 149.

25 Huther also argues that there is a direct connection between the two passages,

tot but sees the only referent to be eternal salvation (Huther, James 86). As was observed

earlier with respect to Glaze's article, such a position does not seem to allow for the full

expression of the intent in chapter 1.



82                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

in accord with the royal law since the poor are actually the ones who

are to be their brothers in Christ. This being established, James calls

their attention to the fact that they are transgressors of the whole law

and not just one part of it.

He continues by appealing to them to act as if they were to be

judged by the law of liberty, this is the same law that previously in

1:25 was the perfect law and by abiding according to it, a man shall

become blessed in all that he does. In the instance of 2:13, James is

referring to this law and the judgment that pertains to it, likely escha-

tological judgment.26 Whatever else may be included in this law, it

appears that there is at least some relation to the Decalogue and also

possibly to the commands of Christ. It is seen to be "merciless to one

who is not doing (showing) mercy."

From the standpoint of the recipients, James' audience is undoubt-

edly expecting him -to remember the statement that he has made in

verse 1 pertaining to their faith in Jesus Christ and not to present them

with any type of an appeal to the law, especially not judgment by any

law. With this judgment being presented to them as incentive, it seems

to be a direct affront to their freedom from the law that was accom-

plished by Christ and His salvation. The natural response would be to

say, "What judgment could I possibly fall under? I have faith, faith has

set me free from any judgment. James, you must be mistaken to think

that my works are a necessity, I have faith!" This seems to be an espe-

cially probable response for the audience James has in view. Most of

his letter is devoted to showing them that they are lacking in discipline

in many areas of their spiritual and physical lives. This appeal by

James' readers is the direct link between 2:1-13 and 2:14-26.

The natural appeal to faith as the overriding bypass to works is

expected by James. He has written with reference to the law to inten-

tionally convict those who are not in obedience to its precepts. James

expects his readers to attempt to render impotent his exhortation to

avoid judgment. Their only hope to show judgment as having no

authority over them is to appeal to faith alone, which James answers in

his brief discussion with the objector in 2: 14-26. This explains the

necessity for James to include this section in his letter and fits well

with the context of both the passage and his readers..

An appeal to faith alone from his readers must be an appeal to the

faith unto eternal life since there could be little else in view when an

appeal of this nature is made. If reward or blessing were the only ref-

 

26 The Jewish mind would likely have referenced this judgment, or any other, to be

related to the final judgment that would come during the last times. Cf. Davids, James

119, Dymess, "Mercy triumphs" 12, and Lorin L. Cranford, "An Exposition of James 2,"

Southwestern Journal of Theology 29/1 (Fall, 1986) 12,26.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2: 14                 83

 

erents of the judgment, certainly James' audience does not expect to

gain them by an appeal to faith alone as the purchasing agent. James has

already shown that abiding is what makes a man blessed in what he does

(1:25), and that the reward of the crown of life is given to the one who

has shown himself to be approved by perseverance under trial. Eternal

salvation must be the referent in view. Certainly it does not have to be

limited to this since it was unlikely for the Christian Jew to think of the

two as necessarily separated, but this must be the main emphasis here.

As a result, this gives us the emphasis of meaning that the verb

sw<zw necessarily must employ in 2:14. It is not necessarily connected

to the salvation that is described in 1:21. The salvation that is described

there has both eternal and temporal ramifications as its primary mean-

ing. Instead, 2:14 must be understood as a response of James to the

obvious objection that his readers would make when confronted with

judgment according to the law. They appeal to faith alone to render this

judgment incapable of accusing them. This is done according to an

understanding that they have the purchasing agent out from under such

a judgment. The judgment that James is speaking of and that they are

attempting to avoid is one that appears to be optional. The only judg-

ment that is described as optional is the final judgment, not judgment

for rewards. Therefore, sw<zw must have eternal salvation as its main

referent with any other quality of meaning being rather smalp7

This being the understanding of sw<zw, let us examine, the entire

verse to see what James has in mind in it. "What is the use, my broth-

ers, if a certain one should say he has faith, but does not have works?

Is that faith able to save him?" The appeal to faith from James' audi-

ence does not carry any weight for their eternal salvation since they

cannot prove their faith to be a reality. This proof is ultimately not to

be found in their simple proclamation of faith, but rather in the accom-

panying works. If they were making this proclamation, but not living

like they were in fact part of the Christian family, works included,

James was not convinced of their eternal salvation and appealed to

them on that basis.28

 

Historical Context

James was a leader of the early church in one of its more difficult

periods. Persecution and ridicule by the public, and especially fellow

 

27 Davids, James 120, Foerster, TDNT 995, Martin, James 81, Moo, James 101, and

Schneider, New International Dictionary 216. For many others who concur, please refer-

ence many of the commentaries and related articles included in footnote 1 above.

28 Chafer takes this view in his understanding of the foundation for James' appeal

to works in light of true saving faith (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Salvation (Findlay: Dunham,

1917) 82-83.



84                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Jews, was to be expected. Being a leader, he would naturally be con-

cerned about the witness and impact of the church to those around it,

but even more importantly, he would be concerned about the welfare

of those that were "in his care," so to speak. When these that he was

directly or indirectly responsible for were not living up to the call, it

was natural for him to be concerned. When they were not paying heed

to the call, it was natural, and in fact quite proper, for him to doubt

their authenticity. The audience that James had in mind was not igno-

rant of the teachings of the church. They knew what their relationship

to Christ and His body should be. James was not trying to cause undue

concern in his congregation, but he was trying to bring them one step

closer in their relationship to Christ, even if that meant showing them

their need for a more true introduction to Christ.

When reading through these arguments written by James, it is

difficult not to be reminded of many passages that Jesus taught. Since

this was likely one of the first books of the New Testament in circula-

tion, it is improbable that there were many of the written gospel

accounts available. However, James evidently had many of Jesus' say-

ings in mind or in written form when he wrote much of this letter.

Luke records in the first few verses of his Gospel record that there

were various reports being transferred amongst the people (1:1ff.).

These may have been written or spoken accounts, which he then took

the time to compile into one "consecutive" account.

When reading in particular of the judgment that James speaks of

in chapter 2, the observer cannot help but think of Matthew 25:31ff.

where Jesus speaks of His separating the sheep and the goats according

to their works. Here deeds are the basis for inclusion or exclusion in

relation to the kingdom.29

Most vivid in its direct correlation is the relation between James

2:14-26 and Matthew 7:13-23. In this passage, consent and profession

are not the final determinants for acceptance into the kingdom. Rather,

it is the decisive activity in accord with the proclamation of faith and

devotion.30 Jesus' teaching seems to directly parallel that of James

which is true of much of the book of James and the Sermon on the

Mount.31

 

V. POSSIBLE OBJECTIONS

 

Finally, we turn to examine several possible objections to the

view supported here. These will be presented briefly, followed by

 

29 Davids, James 38-39.

30 Cranford, "Exposition of James 2" 25-26.

31 Peter H. Davids, James 47-51, D. Edmund Hiebert, The Epistle of James (Chi-

cago: Moody, 1979) 17, and Martin, James lxxiv-lxxvi.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14                              85

 

responses from the understanding that seems best to fit the intent of

James.

1. First, it is objected that sw<zw in other places in the book of

James means strictly or more emphatically the salvation from a present

concern. As a result, it should be understood accordingly in 2:14. It is

argued that James uses this more likely meaning in 5:15, 20 and it is

unlikely that he would change his meaning here.32

This is a valid objection to consider since James' intent is to clar-

ify, not to confuse, and to provide a unified understanding, not a dis-

connected group of words and phrases. However, the first observation

that needs to be made of such an objection is that there had to be some

indicator that led James' readers to believe that he was using this

specific meaning of sw<zw in those verses. That indicator, to be precise,

would have to come from the immediate context of the verses sur-

rounding the word or phrase in question. Good hermeneutics demands

that a word's meaning must ultimately be determined from the context

in which the author has presented it. With an understanding of the

author's intent being our final goal, each context must be the primary

consideration in interpreting specific statements. Other qualifications

and definitions, such as comparison of other contexts and passages

within the same book or other books, can certainly, and often do, have

an impact on the meaning of a given word in its context, but that

word's immediate context is the final authority. We have been shown

by the exegesis presented in this paper that the context of James 2:14

allows, and even requires, an eternal salvation emphasis in the manner

in which the verb sw<zw is used within that verse.

Those who make the objection that sw<zw has the same meaning in

all its usages in the letter of James are not willing to allow a passage's

immediate context to dictate what is the meaning of the author. The

same is true of those who say that the meaning of sw<zw in James 2:14

is necessarily a derivative of its usage in 1:21 without giving substan-

tial warrant to claim -this. The only warrant that is usually attached to

such a claim is that it is the same word and a very similar subject mat-

ter. These are helpful in enlightening possibilities of meaning, but

must not be the overarching guide in determining the final meaning.33

2. A second objection certainly comes to mind when speaking of

the eternal ramifications of the verb sw<zw in the question, "Why did

 

32 Hodges, Dead Faith 12-13, and Gospel Under Siege 26-27.

33 Radmacher, for example, recognizes that the problem of not dealing with the

context can, and does, occur with respect to the use of the term sw<zw, but apparently he

fails to carry his reasoning through in the application of his hermeneutic. He, like

Hodges, has already assumed a definition before coming to the context of James 2:14

.(Radmacher, "First Response" 39-40).



86                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

James not make any type of reference to the Gospel if he was con-

cerned about their salvation from eternal damnation?”34

This is a logical question since James does not make any mention

of them receiving Christ, per se. One must be careful, however, when

assigning any weight to an argument from silence. James does refer to

them receiving the word, this being the instrument by which they were

brought forth (1:18-21). But within this appeal there is no reference to

the death and resurrection of Christ. We need not look far for an

answer to the reason why there is no reference.

James was a leader of the church in Jerusalem and would certainly

be recognized by any that had contact with Christianity, especially by

any Jews, whether they be in Jerusalem or in the "diaspora," as James

calls it. This letter would be meaningless to anyone who was not

already familiar with Christianity and James could certainly assume

that any who would read it would already be familiar with the essen-

tials of the Gospel. Therefore, James can assume that they would

already have the foundational knowledge of what constituted the Gos-

pel message. His purpose was not to be redundant or to explain to

those in the congregation who weren't believers what was the common

creed. Instead, he wished to convict them of the areas in which they

were falling short. The result is that he found it necessary to give an

exhortation to them to receive more than simple knowledge, even to

believe, for the demons were capable of that. The need that he saw

amongst the dispersed Christians was to be pushed to live in accord

with the profession of faith in Christ, even if this meant that they had

to enter into true faith for the first time. James could count on them

knowing the essentials of the Gospel plan. He simply showed them the

full picture.

3. A related objection is that since James calls the readers "broth-

ers," they must all be saved Christians.35

This argument tends to take too much for granted in proving that

they are in fact Christians. It assumes that the term "brother" is used in

a very technical sense, similar to the way that Paul used the word in

many of his writings. This does not seem to be necessary in light of the

situation of James. He is a Jew, in a Jewish community, writing to

Jews. It was a common practice for a Jew to call a fellow Jew brother,

whether Christian or non-Christian. It was also certainly customary for

the Christian community to use the term brother when speaking to fel-

 

34 Hodges, Absolutely 124-25.

35 Ibid. 124-25; cf. also Hodges, Dead Faith 9-10, Dibelius, James 178, and Ryrie,

Great 74. Radmacher also appears to defend such a view (Radmacher, "First Response"

37). However, in accusing MacArthur of begging the question on this issue, Radmacher

does not seem to recognize that he follows the same hermeneutical procedure as Mac-

Arthur in supporting his own viewpoint.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14                              87

 

low Christians. But this does not necessitate that the term be used in a

theologically precise manner when applied to every one of James' read-

ers.36 The situation of a contemporary pastor makes a good illustration.

It is doubtful that any pastor of a church today assumes that every

person in his congregation is saved, especially if that congregation is

spread abroad like James'. Just because someone in a church today is

called "member" does not mean that they have received the gift of sal-

vation, even amongst a supposed regenerate membership. James gives

his readers the benefit of the doubt, like most pastors generally would,

but he also does not hesitate to explain various aspects of salvation in

relation to the "word" (2:18), and as we have shown earlier, the

"works" (2:14), for the sake of those he considers unsaved.

4. A fourth objection states that the judgment referred to by

James in 2:12-13 is not in any way related to the judgment unto hell

from which Christ has saved His followers. Instead, this must refer to

some other form of judgment.37 Such an objection must first call into

question the content of the law of liberty that James has in mind in

1:25 and 2:1-13. Those who make this objection are forced to say that

it does not necessarily have to be inclusive of all parts of the Mosaic

law since the only citations James makes are to the Decalogue and pos-

sibly a few teachings of Jesus. The result of such a limitation in the

law is then understood to limit the judgment as well, often understood

to be a judgment of rewards which will be considered in the next

objection.

It is true that only the Decalogue and possibly Christ's teaching

are referred to here, and the Decalogue may in fact be assimilated as

well into the teachings and commands of Christ, but let us first look at

the context in which Christ presented his teaching on the second great-

est commandment, which incidentally, is found in Leviticus 19.38

Christ Himself was certainly in favor of the keeping of the law in Mat-

thew 5:17-20. Later in the same book, 22:34ff., Jesus is asked which is

the greatest commandment, to which he answered "You shall love the

Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your

mind." He continued to give the second greatest, "You shall love your

neighbor as yourself. On these commandments depend the whole Law

and the Prophets." This second commandment is the same one that

 

36 MacArthur makes this same point; however, does not make mention of the evi-

dence of James' very strategic, and even precarious, Jewish/Christian position (Mac-

Arthur, "Faith" 29).

37 Hodges, Gospel Under Siege 26-27.

38 For a brief development of this correlation, see footnote #64 of Cranford's "Ex-

position of James 2," 24. For a more lengthy and complete study, see Luke T. Johnson,

"The Use of Leviticus 19 in the Letter of James," JBL 101/3 (September, 1982) 391-

401.



88                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

James has quoted for his audience. There were certainly distinctions to

be made between the purposes behind Moses' and Christ's use of the

law and intent in relating it to the people, such as the case of the sac-

rificial law, but there are also many similarities. In all of the passages

mentioned thus far, obedience is the expected outcome from the exhor-

tation. When James mentions the whole law, his readers would

undoubtedly remember how Christ had used the phrase "whole law"

in Matthew 22:34ff. It is also likely that they would remember the way

in which Christ had spoken of the completion of the law to take place

in Him, but not the abolition of the law. He still expected them to obey

the law given to Moses, the whole law, which also may be understood

as the moral precepts found within the law, until the kingdom is estab-

lished. The key to this argument is found in the fact that James, like

Christ, expects his readers to act in a manner that represents obedience

to the whole law. James explains that they should act as though they

were to be judged by the law. James' readers who are unwilling to

attempt keeping the precepts of the law will naturally try to find a way

out from under it. The appeal James expects them to make is to faith

alone. But James explains that their kind of faith is not the kind that

will save them or anyone, being only a belief that is no more than that

of the demons.

There can be no doubt that obedience to these commands, and in

fact the whole law would certainly come to the forefront of the minds

of James' readers, especially when the judgment in verse 13 appears to

give a reference to final judgment and since James has just explained

that the one who breaks a part of the law actually breaks the whole

law. This gives us a more vivid picture of exactly why the appeal to

faith would be their first recourse against such demands. However, it

must be remembered that James does not say that they will necessarily

be judged by the law he has referred to, but he does appeal to them to

act as though they were to be judged by it. This leads us to our next

objection.

5. As stated above, the fifth objection concerns the judgment in

view and the possibility of rewards. Those who are opposed to this

judgment being one which will convict lost sinners of sin and sentence

them to eternal damnation are forced to make this the judgment that

will take place when Christ judges the Christian's works and gives out

rewards based upon that judgment.39

This does not seem to align with the reasoning that James pre-

sents. To begin with, every Christian will pass through the judgment of

Christ that pertains to Christian rewards, all would agree to this. But

James does not seem to have such a required judgment in mind.

 

39 Hodges, Gospel Under Siege 26.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14                              89

 

Instead, he is thinking of judgment as something that can be escaped

through true faith. If such a judgment unto rewards were in view, why

would he appeal to it as optional (2:12-13) and even present deliver-

ance from it as essential for the Christian (2:14-"save" or "deliver")?

In 2:12-13, James has stated that there is a way to triumph over,

meaning to "exult over" or "boast against," judgment.40 This way is

found in showing mercy and acting in accord with the law of liberty. If

taken by itself this could be understood as a meritorious type of

accomplishing works to be brought through the judgment, such as that

in 1 Corinthians 3. When a believer is judged for rewards, this judg-

ment is based upon the accomplishments of that believer. This would

necessitate that the judgment James speaks of has the accomplishments

of those passing through as its main subject for scrutiny. However,

such an understanding is not borne out in the text. James speaks of a

judgment quite the opposite from that of rewards. The judgment he is

warning against is based upon sin (2:9-11), not upon the works of the

person. The judgment that he has in mind does not look at the accom-

plishments of the person, rather it inspects the person's sinful trans-

gression and judges upon that basis. This type of judgment is not with

a view to reward, but with a view to convict and punish.

When James appeals to the law, he expects his audience to appeal

to faith as the single agent to deliver them out from under the required

judgment by the law. One would expect James to appeal to them on the

basis of a forfeiture of reward if such a judgment unto rewards is in

view, but he does not. He appeals to their salvation and deliverance

from judgment, not a salvation which will prolong their temporal life

or add to their reward in heaven, but a salvation which is ultimately

unto eternal life.

6. A sixth objection takes issue with the traditional understanding

of the definition of a "dead faith." The objectors argue that James

could not possibly have had eternal salvation in mind since "the faith

that is now dead must once have been alive, just as a dead body must

once have had life.”41

This argument is supported mainly by an appeal to the fact that

dead faith is compared to a dead body in 2:26. This may seem like a

relatively literal way of thinking of this analogy, but it seems that in so

doing, it proves too much. Let us see how this would be understood if

taken completely in the literal sense: Faith without works is dead. The

body without the spirit is dead. The body cannot be made physically

 

40 For a representative definition of katakauxa<omai, see G. Abbott-Smith, A Man-

ual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1986) 234.

41 Much of the argument in Hodges' Dead Faith rests upon this assumption (cf. 7-

9). Cf. also Hodges, Absolutely 125-26, and Hodges Gospel Under Siege 19-20.



90                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

alive again (until the rapture). So also faith must be, according to this

view, lying in a state of dormancy, waiting to be revived. James does

seem to be assuming that faith can be brought into an active state, but

only by the decision willingly to do works by the one who has the

faith. Is James also saying that if one who has died decides he wants to

live again, he will in fact be raised from the dead due to his own deci-

sion, or is James saying that, since we on earth have the ability to

decide to revive our faith, we also have the power to decide who shall

be raised physically from the dead? This hardly seems likely.

James is not using this analogy to show that what was once alive

must be made alive again. His purpose behind using this illustration is

to show those who hold only to a dead belief that their faith is useless

and void. It is void for any usefulness to the poor who need help, and

even void for their own salvation. They have not lost their faith, as the

body has been separated from the soul. Neither is it lying in a state of

dormancy. Instead, they have never had true faith.

It seems more literal and understandable to see James' analogy in

a somewhat figurative sense. James is making an analogy of the body

without the spirit to show that faith without works is just as inactive

and just as useless. He has not assumed that the faith must have once

been alive or that it must, in essence, be raised from the dead. Such an

argument does not agree with the purpose James has in mind.42

7. Some objections that certainly have been made to the book of

James deal with the apparent discrepancy between the letter of James

and the letters of Paul. It is not within the scope of this paper to rem-

edy each and every apparent discrepancy between James and Paul.

Such discussions have been given ample consideration elsewhere.43

Instead, we shall look at the overriding intent of each author and see

why the divergence may appear.

Each author, James and Paul, was in a particular position and also

dealt with a specific occasion. As has been stated previously, James

 

42 MacArthur makes this distinction quite clearly as well by showing that it is not

works that keeps faith alive, but rather faith is made alive as an impartation of God.

From this MacArthur draws the conclusion that James "pictures works as the invigorat-

ing force and faith as the body" (MacArthur, "Faith" 31-32). Saucy explains that Mac-

Arthur may have misconstrued the point of the analogy. He rightly understands the main

point to be that works are evidential of living and useful faith. A dead faith is evidenced

by no works being present. Similarly a dead body is evidenced by no spirit being present

(Robert L. Saucy, "Second Response to 'Faith According to the Apostle James' by

John F. MacArthur, Jr.," JETS 33/1 (March, 1990) 44.

43For some remarks alluding to this view, see James Dunn, Unity and Diversity in

the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977) 251-52 and a brief study on the

subject by Thorwald Lorenzen, "Faith without Works does not count before God! James

2:14-26," ExpTim 89/8 (May, 1978) 233-34. For a development of the argument with

rebuttal, see Rakestraw, "James 2:14-26" 31-50, and G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Jus-

tification (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954) 131-40.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2: 14                 91

 

was a leader of the Jerusalem church and his concerns would mainly

have been with the ongoing preservation and building up of the believ-

ers within the Jerusalem church and those who would be in close con-

tact with the dispersed church and its teachings. This ultimately would

have made him very subjective when it comes to the faith and ongoing

works of the believers. James was concerned with developing the

beliefs and habits of those who had been Christians for a long time and

convicting those who thought they were, but really weren't. His main

interest would have been with the sanctification of the believers, their

practical justification.

Paul, on the other hand, was very evangelistically minded in his

teaching, and these teachings were targeted mainly for people outside

of familiarity with any proper type of works within a Jewish religious

perspective. His presentations to these people would naturally be from

a very objective viewpoint in the eyes of God. Paul was concerned

with bringing people to faith who had never heard the Gospel of

Christ. He did not neglect to demand changed lives, but he did not

emphasize such things, as forthrightly as does James, as a necessary

ingredient to the acceptance of the Gospel of Christ. This does not

make the emphasis unnecessary, it was simply not appropriate in the

timing of Paul to present this in his initial appeals to belief. Paul's

greatest concern at this point was with the justification, not the sanc-

tification, of the believer.

Each author had his own purposes and his own way of presenting

the truth he felt his audience needed to hear. If we understand them as

writing to very different groups of people, and from very different sit-

uations, it becomes much easier to understand why there is a sense of

diversity between them. They do not disagree. They simply have

different emphases within their teachings.44

8. The eighth objection relates to what constitutes the faith that is

mentioned in 2:14. The objectors state that James, in asking, "Is that

faith able to save him?," is not making an entreaty to the proclamation

of faith just mentioned, but rather to real saving faith in Christ. This

argument hinges upon the definite article that does not appear in 2:14

with the professed faith (first occurrence of pi<stij), but does occur

with the faith that is ultimately not able to save (second occurrence of

pi<stij). It is said that such divergence in the writing of the article is of

no significance and the faith in view is true faith.45

It is true that the article was certainly optIonal at tImes m the

mind of the Greek, but in a direct argument, such as the one presented

 

44 Moo, James 108-17. MacArthur also develops this understanding briefly; cf.

MacArthur, "Faith" 27-28.

45 Dibelius, James 152, and Hodges, Dead Faith 11, and Gospel Under Siege 22-

23. An interpretation that this position suggests is also assumed in Hodges' Absolutely

124-25.



92                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

here by James, it is highly unlikely that he is simply being careless in

his writing method. The use of the article in such a case as this is more

likely anaphoric. Since James has already referred to a certain faith in

the immediately preceding sentence, it seems most appropriate for him

to be specifying the kind of faith he has just mentioned. This would

allow for the interpretation of "that faith" or "such faith" in his second

usage. Usage of the article in other passages of James must be deter-

mined by their own context, and it must also be allowed for context to

determine the proper meaning here.46

Those who would like to understand the faith in 2:14 to be true

faith hope to force the issue with an appeal to works being understood

to be a condition for salvation if faith is taken to be other than true

faith. The purpose behind such an appeal is to push those who would

affirm salvation by grace into saying two contradictory things. First

that salvation is by grace through faith, as all would agree, and second

that works is a necessary condition for faith, which contradicts the first

statement. The objectors find a way out of this predicament by under-

standing this faith as true faith and the works being a condition for

rewards. However, as was shown above rewards is not what James had

in mind when he speaks of judgment and salvation. Therefore, faith if

must be understood to be something other than true faith.

The objectors seem to be showing too much of a bias in the

assumptions behind such an argument. Faith and works do not neces-

sarily have to be diametrically opposed to one another. It seems to fit

James' understanding best to find faith as the purchasing agent of sal-

vation, but not if it is only a statement of creed and not a way of life.

Works are the natural expression of that faith. They are not a condition

for faith and salvation, but rather an exemplification of it.47 If there be

any conditions placed upon the faith, they are conditions upon the One

in whom the faith is placed, not upon the one who holds the faith, but

James by no means places himself in a position to judge conditions,

only the observable results.

 

46 A. T. Robertson, Studies in the Epistle of James (Nashville: Broadman, n.d.) 94

n. 2, and Robertson, Word Pictures 34. Those who wish to deny this and rely on other

instances to prove the point are not dealing with the matter at hand in 2:14-2:17. James

uses this segment to show explicitly that that faith, the faith that is only a proclamation,

without works is dead. This fits well with James' use of the article in both 2: 14 and 2: 17.

After these verses, there is another segment of argumentation started and another objec-

tor introduced. Thus, these must be left to speak for themselves.

47 Perhaps the best illustration of this connectedness is developed by Ryrie. He

states that the faith spoken of in James 2:14-26 is " . . . like a two coupon train or bus

ticket. One coupon says, 'Not good if detached' and the other says, 'Not good for pas-

sage.' Works are not good for passage, but faith detached from works is not saving

faith!" (Charles C. Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine [Chicago: Moody, 1972] 133-34).



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14                  93

 

9. There is one final objection which is somewhat peripheral to

the issue at hand, but we will give a brief description and answer to it.

This objection deals with the use and interpretation of James 2:18-19.

The objection made is that these verses do not imply theological

import to the argument James is presenting. The reasons for such an

assertion by one interpreter are that the one who is speaking here is not

James and therefore the debate, when rightly interpreted, centers

around pragmatism. This approach is supported by the argument that

the word xwri<j--"without" is not included in "most",48 or "the major-

ity of”49 Greek manuscripts and in fact the word is replaced by the

preposition e]k--"by.”50 Much is also made by another interpreter of

where to punctuate the verses, resultantly attributing part of the argu-

ment to James and part to the supposed debater.51

Let us begin our discussion with the "most" Greek manuscripts

that do not contain the word xwri<j and replace it with e]k.52 It seems

disturbing that most contemporary textual critics have not seen any

substantial warrant for an appeal to the aforementioned "most" Greek

documents in this instance.53 Just how many there are is not mentioned

by the objectors in great detail. However, the qualitative referent in

this context seems to be "most," which is a dangerous tool to use when

evaluating literary texts. Quantity alone should not be preeminent as a

deciding factor.54

 

48 Hodges, Gospel Under Siege 27.

49 Hodges, Dead Faith 16.

50 Ibid. 16-17; also Hodges, Gospel Under Siege 27-28.

51 Dibe1ius, James 149-51, 154-58.

52 It is explained by Hodges that there are some extant "Byzantine" manuscripts

which contain the variant e]k in place of xwri<j; (Zane C. Hodges, "Light on James Two

from Textual Criticism," BibSac 120 [October-December, 1963] 344-47). However it

would hardly seem sufficient evidence for qualifying them as "many" while assuming ac-

curacy; see also Zane C. Hodges and Aurthur L. Farstad, Greek New Testament accord-

ing to the Majority Text (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982) introductory notes and the

critical apparatus on James 2:18.

53The variant e]k is considered by many scholars hardly worth including in the crit-

ical apparatus, and when it is represented, it is done so with little evidence to recom-

mend it as a preferred reading. This does not necessarily classify it as wrong, but it does

cause the variant to be quite suspect. Those who support the "Byzantine" text as the pre-

ferred text (also referred to by many proponents as the Majority text) would like to con-

vince critics of its credibility based upon external evidence, especially number of

documents. Number is the basis on which supporters of the Majority text rest for their

methodology. However, even in his article, Hodges apparently appeals to these texts

only to show that such an emendation is possible, not necessary. This is best illustrated

by his admission of stronger external evidence in favor of xwri<j, and his appeal to inter-

nal evidence as the ultimate criteria for a final decision; cf. Hodges, "Light on James

Two" 347.

54 For a generally accepted outline of principles used in textual criticism, see Kurt

and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987)



94                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

The interpretation derived by those who replace xwri<j with e]k in

2:18 is "You have faith, and I have works; show to me your faith from

(e]k) your works, and I will show to you, from my works, my faith.”55

Such a change in translation, as has been well observed by one of its

proponents, would reduce the argument of correlation between faith and

works to absurdity by the debater.56 In other words, there is an underly-

ing assumption made by the debater that neither of the persons involved

can in fact show faith through the resultant works. It is then posited that

the debater continues on to show James in 2:19 that James' simple creed

of "God is one" is not enough to inspire works, but is only a statement

of belief. Thus the simple statement of belief is shown to be sterile by

the debater who expects James to agree and see the point that faith and

works are in no way related. In 2:20ff., James makes his statement in the

debate and proves the debater wrong by stating that faith and works are

necessarily connected; being best illustrated by Abraham and Rahab.57

The problem with such an interpretation is that it greatly reduces

the impact of the argument James is using to enforce the relationship

between faith and works. The absurdity argument seems to be an appeal

to a general principle or simple statement of rebuttal, and an absurd one

at that. However, if we see James as the one who is behind the debater

asking "professing" believers to show their faith apart from their works,

this further convicts them of their false profession in 2:14. In this case,

the one who is professing belief is seen to be without a trace of proof

to back up the claim. This fits James' situation and intent much better,

and in fact makes the argument much more forceful within the context

of Jewish believers in the relatively new church community of Christ.

The Christian community's validity would often be questioned by those

outside it. The orthodox Jew, or anyone else outside Christianity, could

not help but wonder at a religion that did not live up to its claims.

 

275-76. As stated earlier, Hodges in fact admits that he does not wish to rely on this

alone when he appeals in his article to internal evidence as the compelling criteria

(Hodges, "Light on James Two" 347). For a good discussion of the methodology behind

the Majority text, see Zane C. Hodges, Defense of the Majority Text (unpublished article

available at Dallas Theological Seminary Book Room, no date), or a brief representation

of the methodology by the same author in Which Bible? (2d ed.; ed. David O. Fuller;

Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids International, 1971) 25-38. For an insightful critique of the

methodology, see Daniel B. Wallace, "Some Second Thoughts on the Majority Text,"

BibSac 146/583 (July-September, 1989) 270-90.

55 Hodges, "Light on James Two" 348.

56 Hodges, Gospel Under Siege 27, and more completely in "Light on James Two"

348.

57 This view does not seem to fit well into the surrounding logical context of James

2, nor does it appear to do justice to the argument that James is establishing. For a more

complete exposition of the view, see Hodges, "Light on James Two" 347-50.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14                              95

 

The interpretation of 2:19-20 in this view understands James to

be speaking again in 2:19. He is pointing to their simple profession

and comparing it to the worthless professions of the demons. James is

saying that the one who relies on such a simple proclamation and is not

willing to follow through has no more faith than a demon, which is

ultimately worthless for salvation.58

The second point that necessarily must be made is that no matter

how one punctuates the verse in question, the teaching is still one that

James refers to as support for "faith without works is dead." This

would mean that one must thereby interpret the passage as one that

teaches such a position. This is in fact easily seen no matter who is

speaking in the passage, James as the supposed arguer or someone else.

The argument still says essentially what James has said already and

continues to show by referring to the same conclusion "faith without

works is dead," and that a faith true to the professed affirmation is

observably active.

The third segment of concern for some with this passage is that it

is not introducing any theological appeal into the argument. Whether

James or some supposed debater is speaking in verse 19 is of little con-

sequence to this debate. The argument is cited as being in support of

what James is presenting, and James ultimately agrees with what is

being said. But if the reference is not a supportive theological statement

of what true faith must contain, then what else could it possibly be? Is

it just an explanation of the demons' monotheism, not relating to their

destiny?59 Certainly it cannot be only that when we see what the

response of the demons is to their belief. They are shuddering. This

seems to indicate their knowledge of what is confronting them when

they recognize God for who He is. Their ultimate fear is final judgment.

Could we possibly suppose that the appeal in this passage is sim-

ply a comparison of the present works of the demons here on earth,

naturally doing bad works or no works at all, to the good works that

are to be representative of the "believer's" life? This seems like an

unlikely proposition since the emphasis in verse 19 is not on works, it

is on belief. James makes an appeal to this to support his view of

works but that is not the object in question at this moment. Instead, the

belief that is ascribed to the "proclaiming" believer is being compared

to the belief of the demons. To ascribe works to the demons, bad as

they may be, could possibly be assumed, but to ascribe any kind of

works to the person who simply "believes that God is one" is not

something James is likely to do since he appeals to it as an example of

 

58 For a good discussion of this view with a brief explanation of the meaning and

impact of 2:19, see Adamson, James 293-97.

59 Hodges, Dead Faith 17, and Ryrie, Great 121-22.



96                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

"dead faith," "faith without works." Therefore, the level of compari-

son must be maintained on an intellectual level, over and above prag-

matism.60 Ultimately, theology is introduced when we bring the entire.

context of the previous few sentences to bear on this verse. Since the

argument about the belief of the demons is on an intellectual plane,

and not pragmatic, it also follows that what is in view is not any type

of possible rewards system or meritorious discussion of faith. This

adds credibility to our position on the salvation that James has in mind

in 2:14. What James has in view is not a type of meritorious faith, but

rather a faith that includes true belief and pragmatic development. In

like manner, the salvation that he is presenting here also must not be

dealing with the meritorious reward concept, but rather something else.

The only option open to us is one that pertains to the eternal salvation

of the believer, and resultantly the eternal damnation of the demons.

 

VI. CONCLUSION

 

In conclusion, we should review the understanding of salvation in

James 2:14 that was arrived at earlier in this study and suggest some

warnings in its use. James 2: 14 speaks of the eternal salvation that is

found in Christ and Christ alone as Lord and Savior. The acceptance of

Christ is borne out in the life of the believer not through a simple proc-

lamation of faith, but rather in the works that accompany such a state-

ment of belief. If a person is claiming to have saving faith, but is not

doing the works that result from the changed life, then that person is

not saved according to the teaching of James.

The teaching of James is in complete accord with that which is

found in other passages relating to the salvation/works relationship.

Jesus spoke of it explicitly when condemning those who only verbalize

his Lordship, but do not do the will of His Father (Matt 7:15-27, cf.

5:16). It can also be seen on numerous occasions that Paul speaks

strongly concerning the essential expression of faith being found in

works (Rom 1:5,2:6-8,6:17-18; 1 Cor 13:2,15:58; 2 Cor 10:5-6; Gal

6:4-8).

The understanding of James 2: 14 espoused in this study is based

upon the fact that the word sw<zw in this verse speaks of eternal salva-

tion, not a deliverance from a present crisis or an earning of rewards.

The aspect of eternal salvation was borne out in the differentiation that

J ames made between saving faith and proclaimed faith that has no

works. This proclamation of faith was the response James expected to

his presentation of the law and judgment. This judgment is not with a

view to a meritorious form of works, rather it is based upon transgres-

 

60 Adamson, James 294-96, and Davids, James 125-26.



THE SOTERIOLOGY OF JAMES 2:14                              97

 

sion of the law of liberty, which James explains to be sin. With a proc-

lamation of faith alone being the response that James expects his

readers to give as a bypass to this judgment, the judgment must conse-

quently have eternal ramifications. He has shown them in no uncertain

terms that such a simple proclamation was not enough to save if the

one making it did not have accompanying works.

It may be worthwhile to point out a few possible abuses that could

result from this study and others like it. It is best not to forget these

temptations when putting the teachings of James into practice.

First, James does not presume to be dogmatic about judging the

eternal security or damnation of the people in question, likewise nei-

ther should his interpreters pronounce such judgment. The argument of

James, however pointed it may be, is still intentionally exhortational

toward spurring on his audience to good works and the beginning of a

faith that is efficacious to salvation. We must be careful when we are

in a place of leadership; it is a great temptation for us to presume we

know more than we actually do simply because of what we have seen.

This should not deter us from being honest and straightforward in our

exhortations, but it should cause us to refrain from being overly dog-

matic about what we have observed. Only God can judge the heart.

This brings us to the second possible temptation a leader will

encounter when applying this. As discussed above, it is easy to over-

emphasize a passage such as this. However, it is also easy to ignore a

passage that seems to be so strong in its teaching. We must be faithful

to our brothers not to shy away when they become entrapped in some

type of false teaching that does not accord with the teaching of the

Bible. It is relatively easy to tell people to love one another m our

exhortations. It is another thing altogether to tell them they are in dan- i

ger of going to hell. We must not be afraid to proclaim the whole

counsel of God as is found in His Word.

Third, it is important to understand how we as interpreters

approach the Biblical text when we are confronted with an apparent

problem. The text must always be our authority, not our theology nor

our personal bias which may be drawn from past experience. When

approaching a problem, it is very easy to succumb to the first inclina-

tion that intrigues the mind and emotions. However, we should be

ready to give up our position if it is shown by the Word of God to be

faulty. Biblical interpreters must continually be on guard against them-

selves. As James said himself, "But each one is tempted when he is

carried away and enticed by his own lust."

Finally, as students of the Bible, we must continually recognize that

encounters such as these are not exercises in futility, but rather are a

blessing to our soul as we grow in Christian maturity and become more

familiar with the Word of God. We must continually approach the Bible

 


 

98                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

 

as our main sustenance, our “daily bread.”  We can only know our

God as well as we study and learn about Him in the Self-revelation

of his Word.

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Grace Theological Seminary

            200 Seminary Dr.

            Winona Lake,  IN   46590

www.grace.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu