Steeping in James – 2:14-21

This week’s passage in the Steeping  in James Series was James 2:14-21.  The pages from Moo’s TNTC Commentary on James for this section are pp 101-110.  The main thrust of this passage is a continuation of the previous session, namely that faith without works is dead.


  • From verse 14, it is clear to me from the text the difference in aim from Paul to James.
    • Moo summarizes this well by stating (p102): “Paul denies any efficacy to pre-conversion works, but James is pleading for the absolute necessity of post-conversion works.”
  • Verse 17 states that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
    • It isn’t just that the fact that that faith is useless towards others (failing to reach out to those around you, feed the hungry, clothe the poor), but also that it is useless internally – it is dead.
    • “Dead” here can also be translated “inert.”
    • This reminded me of Ephesians 2:1-10 where Paul talks about the pre-conversion state being one of deadness.
  • Verses 18-20 detail the fact that faith without works is simple not enough as James states that simply believing in God is not enough – even the demons believe in God.
    • Moo states (p104), “The contrast is not, then, between faith and works, but between a faith that ‘has works’ and a faith that ‘does not have works.'”
  • I was not initially helped that greatly by Moo’s treatment of 2:21 (“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” [ESV]).  This is most theologically debated verse in the letter.   I spent quite a bit of time contemplating and researching on this verse and so I’ll share my flow of thought here:
    • I agree that faith without works is dead on the basis that true, saving faith will manifest itself in works (in some measure); however, it is the further step in 2:21 that becomes most difficult due the fact that Paul, in Romans 4:1-3, argues that Abraham was justified by faith and not by works.
    • On this point, Moo talks about the word used here for justify (dikaioo).
      • At the top of p109, he states how I generally would have interpreted the verse – namely that Abraham “demonstrated his righteous status by performing good works.”
      • He even lists Gen. 44:16, Luke 7:29-35 as verses to back up this view.
      • Moo then goes on to say that this is not the best interpretation of dikaioo here because the question in James is not “how can righteousness be demonstrated?” but rather “what kind of faith secures righteousness?”
    • Moo then takes on a Wesleyan distinction between ‘initial judgment’ and ‘final judgment’ which drew me to ask questions about election/predestination and perseverance.
    • The Bible talks about being judged by our works (see Matthew 12:33-37, Revelation 20:11-15), so how does that fit for the saved?  Paul tells us in Romans 8:1 that at the moment we are saved, that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
      • At the final judgment, we will be judged by our works (Revelation 20:11-15); however if we are truly saved our life will have already been filled with good works (because, as I stated above, true, saving faith will manifest itself in works).
      • So in this sense, the final judgment of our works acts as a confirmation of us being truly saved to begin with.
    • So to try and tie this off, I see James 2:21 as a melding of:
      • James 2:17
      • Romans 8:1
      • Matthew 12:33-37
      • Revelation 20:11-15

Application Questions:

  • How would you explain to someone the combination of faith and works?
  • How does your response jive with Matthew 12:33-37 and Revelation 20:11-15 and the fact that there will be a final judgment of works?
  • How does all of this impact you personally?  Does it make you weary?  Does it give you hope?  Does it confuse you?  Does it help you?

~ by toddbumgarner on September 17, 2008 5:50 am.

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