Steeping in James – 2:21-26

If my count is right, this is Week 5 of the Steeping in James study (although I haven’t posted anything with regard to the study for a couple of weeks).  If you haven’t been following along, you can click here to get to all of the Steeping in James posts.  You can also read the background and motivation for this study here.

Since the inception of this study, the way it is manifesting in our home has changed.  It started as a study between my wife and I but she has recently started up a wonderful, yet time-intense Bible study of her own with some friends via a blog (check it out here).  As such, her time to commit to this one has simply been minimized.  So while the study isn’t continuing the exact same purpose under which we originated it, I am still convinced that this method works well for us and I believe we will try it again in the future as a couple when her other Bible study wraps up.  Nevertheless, I press forward in my own study and share/discuss insights I’m gleaning with her as she does likewise from her study with me.

This week we’re looking at James 2:21-26 and tying up the “faith without works is dead” portion of the letter.  The corresponding pages from Douglas Moo’s TNTC Commentary on James are 110-117.


  • Verse 21 was treated last week – see prior post.
  • Verses 22-23 lead us to reflect on the story of Abraham, specifically Genesis 15:6 and Genesis 20.
    • The verb used for ‘completed’ (James 2:22) carries the meaning of ‘to perfect,’ or ‘to bring to maturity.’
    • The verb used for ‘fulfilled’ (v23) carries the meaning of ‘to fill’ or ‘to fill up’ and is used elsewhere in the NT to refer to fishing nets (see Matthew 13:48) or houses (see John 12:3).  It is also often used to designate the ‘culmination’ of the OT through Jesus.
    • Moo’s treatment at this point is superb and will be quoted here at great length (from pp 113-114):
      • “There is no need, then, to think that James views Genesis 15:6 as a prophecy that was ‘fulfilled’ later in Abraham’s career.  What he is suggesting, rather, is that this verse found its ultimate significance and meaning in Abraham’s life of obedience.  When Abraham ‘put faith in’ the Lord, God gave him, then and there, the status of a right relationship with him: before he had done works, before he was circumcised.  This Paul brings out forcefully (Romans 4:1-17).
      • But faith of Abraham and God’s verdict of acquittal were ‘filled up’, given their ultimate significance, when Abraham ‘perfected’ his faith with works and the angel of the Lord reasserted God’s verdict: ‘now I know that you fear God’ (Gn. 22:12).
      • James does not deny that Abraham was given a righteous standing with God on the basis of his faith, long before he offered Isaac in obedience to God.  But he wants to emphasize that Abraham’s faith was vital, active faith and that God’s verdict was reconfirmed on the basis of that activity.
      • The initial declaration of righteousness on the basis of faith is given its ultimate meaning and validity through the final declaration of righteousness on the basis of a ‘faith that works’.  Thus Paul focuses on the chronological placement of Genesis 15:6, and cites it as evidence of the initial declaration of righteousness that Abraham attained from God solely on the basis of faith.  James cites the same verse more as a ‘motto’, standing over all of Abraham’s life, and applies it to God’s ultimate declaration of Abraham’s righteousness.
  • Verse 24 serves as the climax of the tension between James and Paul should James not be treated thoroughly enough as it, at the surface, seems to be the exact contradiction to what Paul writes in Romans 3:38.
    • This week’s post and the prior two have aimed to take a more thorough look at James’ treatment of faith and works and have shown that, in fact, James and Paul do not contradict each other.
  • The inclusion of Rahab is used by James to show that true, saving faith does not just manifest itself in works in the religious elite (i.e. Abraham), but in all as exampled by Rahab, the Gentile prostitute from Joshua 2.
  • Verse 26 concludes with a summary statement bringing this portion of the letter to a close.  In commenting on this verse, Moo quoted Martin Luther (from his Preface to Romans) and due to the irony (Luther, of course, struggled with James because of the apparent contradiction with passages like Romans 3:28), I’ll pass along that helpful, challenging quote as well (from p 117 of Moo):
    • “O it is a living, busy active mighty thing, this faith.  It is impossible for it not to be doing good things incessantly.  It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done this, and is constantly doing them.  Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever.  He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are.  Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.”


  1. How has your understanding of faith and works been changed or deepened as the result of this study thus far?

~ by toddbumgarner on October 16, 2008 11:45 am.

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