Justification and the epistle of James 2:24, "man is justified by works, and not by faith only"

Discussion in 'Sacred Scripture' started by Stalwart, Feb 15, 2021.

  1. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    This has easily been one of the most controversial verses in all of church history, and even blood of hundreds (thousands?) of Christians was spilt between the two camps which interpreted this verse in their ways. Many Protestant martyrs were tortured because the Roman Catholics enforced their interpretation of justification by violence. But the question is, were the Protestants teaching Catholic doctrine (as in much else), and, were the Roman Catholics the ones enunciating a potentially heretical teaching, despite their violence.

    Let's go into this a bit.

    The text says, James 2:24, "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only"

    On the surface its meaning seems straightforward: works can be a contributing factor to a Christian's justification, namely his ability to be righteous in God's sight. This obviously goes against the entire corpus of the epistles of St. Paul which teach over and over again that "we are made righteous by faith, not by works", that "Abraham was faithful and it was imputed to him as righteousness, without any works". Interpreting the Pauline epistles only, a 'justification by faith' seems perfectly straightforward. And there are countless passages from the Church Fathers which seem to deploy justification in this Reformational (ie. catholic) way. There is not a single Church Father that says we may merit justification by a work.

    So without the verse in the epistle of James, the doctrine of Justification by Faith would seem to be secure.

    Then we bring in this one verse, and the entire doctrine could potentially unravel, not only internally, but even in its historical consequence, seemingly acquitting Roman Catholics of their doctrine of 'justification by works' and throwing doubt on one of the core causes of the Reformation.

    Did the Reformers have a response? Yes, basically this: in the epistles of Paul, 'justification' means 'man being right with God', whereas in the epistle of James, it means 'man being right with men' (ie., "Henry was sick and therefore justified in taking the day off from work"). The question is, is that 2nd understanding of Justification valid? The Roman Catholics would affirm no, denying that 'justification' had another meaning, and would insist that James 2:24 is prima facie evidence of Justification by Works.

    == The Church Fathers ==
    As Anglicans we of course understand that our teachers are not Aquinas or Calvin, but Augustine and Cyril. So I have been long curious: how did the Fathers understand James 2:24, since the New Testament was written in their own native language. Therefore, I present you all with my top finding for the day, my coup-de-grace, which should lay the question of James 2:24 entirely to bed. Feast your eyes on this:

    Michael Lofton (a conservative RC) held this roundtable on the question of Justification. His Eastern Orthodox guest made a powerful and grudging admission that the Reformers interpreted James 2:24 correctly, against the Roman church and the Orthodox:

    https://youtu.be/SdFdYkxbJQY (min40)
    -"In the ancient church, this verse [James 2:24] actually wasn't seen as contradicting Paul. We have to remember that the underlying Greek word has TWO meanings: one is 'to acquit', yes. But the second, is, 'to vindicate'. To show visibly one's justification, to justify in front of someone else. When you read the Commentary of James 2 by Cyril of Alexandria, he explicitly parses that term, saying, 'This is not when Abraham was justified, but when he was SHOWN to be justified.' The modern RCs and Orthodox are guilty of not reading Scripture according to the Fathers! The fathers did NOT read James 2 in that fashion. Also, First Clement actually parses James 2 in a few different chapters (which also shows it was considered canonical in the 1st century). And Clement ALSO has this reading of the greek."

    :idea:
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2021
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  2. AnglicanAgnostic

    AnglicanAgnostic Active Member

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    As an amateur theologian I have never had a great problem with Justification by faith.
    I fully get that justification is a free unearned gift from God. It is though slightly earnt as you must have faith to receive it, which is why I (I presume) don't have it.

    Now vs 26 says, For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
    I don't interpret this as meaning you must do works to be justified.

    I use the analogy of being Justified is like being an animal lover. I can accept Jesus as my saviour and be justified and I can accept that I should help animals and I am then an animal lover. If I then don't help an injured animal I never was an animal lover despite what I may have told every one. If I am an animal lover I just help animals without thinking. Someone who is justified does good works without thinking, and not in order to prove their faith. If they don't do good works then they never were justified.( it is dead)

    So when Stalwart and James mention "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only"
    I interpret that to mean, justification automatically leads to doing good works, and as the verse says you can see it.
    I don't know why the 16th century R.C.s got so uptight about it.

    Can you now put Phil of Upper Hutt alongside Cyril of Alexander, Clement of Rome and Augustine of Hippo?
     
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  3. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    It became a reformation issue, because the good work of providing funds for the rebuild of the basilica of St Peter and St Paul, on the site of Nero's Circus was conducted through the sale of indulgences. The Reformers argued that such good works were of no value as you can not buy salvation by cash or good works, but rather by faith that accepts the gift (grace) of God.

    James's argument is essentially that authentic faith results in good works.

    Luther was a little bit naughty when he tried to slip in an 'alone', which probably account for his description of James as 'a right epistle of straw'.
     
  4. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

    It has long seemed clear to me that that James is explaining what faith and works are and how they operate for the true believer. James is addressing this advice not to true believers but to 'shallow men'. By shallow he probably means those who superficially read and therefore have little depth of understanding of the scripture or the way to salvation.

    Clearly by the term 'works' James does not mean 'ritual observance'. He does not even merely mean 'good deeds'. He means a righteousness which naturally and unselfconsciously proceeds from faith.

    His argument proceeds first by citing Abraham as an example of this. Abraham, by faith in God's mercy and trusting God's Word, believed God when God had said that his son Isaac would marry and have children who would father an innumerable multitude. Isaac would be a Covenant head, though at the time Abraham was told to sacrifice him he was only yet a young lad. Abraham nevertheless was prepared to go ahead and sacrifice Isaac, believing that God could stop him or even raise his son from death to fulfil the promise God had made to Abraham. That was a 'work' of faith. It was this act that proved Abraham's faith, not just an idle 'belief', not tested or backed up by action.

    The second example is that of Rahab the prostitute, one of Jesus' ancestors, who saved the spies sent into Jericho by letting them climb out of her window in the walls of the city. By this deed she proved her allegiance, not merely claiming it in words alone but by faithfully following through on her 'belief' in God's cause.

    Not enough stress can be put upon the words 'apart from' in the sentences 'faith apart from works is barren?' and 'faith apart from works is dead'.

    Faith comes first and foremost, even for James, but if it is not followed through by righteous action, it is not faith, just intellectual assent, blind belief, feigned bravado or even hypocritical self deception. The kingdom of heaven is not obtained by any such 'dead' faith.

    Yet faith alone in Christ's achievement as he died upon a Roman Torture implement, ( "It is accomplished"! ) is required to obtain salvation because there would be no salvation for anyone at all without it having been accomplished and assurance of salvation is a mere vacuous presumption if one does not believe Christ's atoning self sacrifice to be all and sufficient for the forgiveness of all confessed sin of the whole world. Righteous living arising out of saving faith, in the power of The Holy Spirit, is an ongoing form of repentance, leading to sactification of the believing sinner.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2021
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  5. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    That's a nice find, Stalwart. :yes:

    To 'pile on' with what everyone else is saying, what we believe affects what we think, say, and do. We act upon our true beliefs. And our true beliefs (our faith) is seen... is made visible... by our deeds. "You see that a person is justified by works..." (James 2:24 ESV). Or, to make it more plain: You see by a person's works whether he is justified.
     
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  6. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Yep. To put it in Greek terms: "If he's justified, he'll be justified." It doesn't work for us only because we lack the Greek nuance. And the loss of this nuance has led to incalculable troubles, because the future generations did not know how to "divide the word of God rightly." It's also another instance of how the Roman church failed as a custodian of the deposit of faith.
     
  7. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Though this notion is acceptably true there remains the danger of some 'shallow men' thinking that it means that justified people are obliged to do righteous works in order that their 'justification', (which is a judicial decision by God alone, concerning the individual, not based upon merit or moral performance), may be seen by others and therefore recognised by men.

    Justification is in fact awarded by God and recognised by God, and what men think does not affect it.

    The penitant thief on the cross was justified, but there was no time or opportunity for much sanctification in his case. He was, according to scripture nevertheless justified based upon his appraisal of Christ's character and recognition of the injustice Christ had suffered in comparison to his own guilt.

    It is sanctification, (the process of becoming righteous in action and mode of life), which is the indicator of the indwelling of The Holy Spirit, which is the outward mark of sainthood, demonstrating that one is of the household of faith.

    So, "If he's justified, he'll be justified." just means that God will 'Know', but we, not necessarily so, depending of how well we know the mind of God.
    .
     
  8. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    No, I think you missed the entire point of this thread, namely that the original word in Greek ("δικαιουται") has two meanings, while the English translation ("justification") only has the one. That's why what I wrote doesn't actually work in English, and is bound to cause confusion (one that could last a thousand years, in fact).

    For this reason, it's incorrect to translate James 2:24 as, "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only". In the context, and leaning on the Church Fathers, the word "δικαιουται" indicates vindication before men, rather than standing before God.

    For this reason, in a future and more careful English translation, the verse should be translated as something like, "You see then that a man is proven by works, and not by faith only".
     
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  9. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    I must be, as you say, misunderstanding. I can't see why it is important to anyone that they should be seen by men to be justified, 'proven', or 'vindicated' or that men should find it important to be able to 'vindicate' or 'have proven' anyone's vindication.

    Since it is not men that should be sitting in judgment on sinners but God, surely it only matters whether we are justified, 'vindicated' or 'proven' by God, not men.

    I take the point though that this statement of James has been and still is, profoundly misunderstood by many devout believers.

    Strongs Definition
    [δικαιόω dikaioō; from 1342; to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent:
    — free, justify(-ier), be righteous.
    AV (40) - justify 37, be freed 1, be righteous 1, justifier 1;
    To render righteous or such he ought to be. To show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered. To declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be.]

    It is certainly true that we all ought to be righteous but are not as we ought to be, except in God eyes when we are in Christ.
    .
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2021
  10. AnglicanAgnostic

    AnglicanAgnostic Active Member

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    How then would you translate this verse? A "Good news for modern Man" type version might be useful so I can see what you're getting at. Thanks
     
  11. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    It is not so much how you translate the verse. We have enough reliable translations that make general concurrence as to how we translate the verse.

    James 2:24 (NRSV)
    You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.​

    The question is how do we expound this verse. The verse clearly does not mean to purport the theory that we might earn our own justification by works. The point that James is making, and the context in which he places it, means that faith cannot be empty, faith generates a response, and that response is actions or if you like works.

    James 2:14-17 (NRSV)
    What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.​

    The context gives meaning to the verse, and to expound the verse without this context is folly and also in breach of Article XX.
     
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  12. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    As I wrote just below the part that you quoted,

     
  13. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Ash Wednesday: The one day a year when Christians can be seen by the cross on their forehead.

    Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
    Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.


    God our Father,
    The strength of all who put their trust in you,
    mercifully accept our prayers;
    and because in our weakness,
    we can do nothing good without you,
    grant us the help of your grace,
    that in keeping your commndments
    we may please you, both in will and deed;
    through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    James 2.24 is well explained by line 6 and the penultimate line of this prayer, I think.
    Faith stimulates the will, grace enables the deed.
    .
     
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  14. Thomas Didymus

    Thomas Didymus New Member

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    Believe is an action word. It is more than just holding true to the Word of Jesus; not only having faith in Him, but also living the faith as exemplified by Him (the faith of Him, too). Let's look at this another way--what is a miracle? Being charitable, it can be understood as works of God. Miracles do more than accomplishing wonderful things, as it should. They also show Jesus' identity and highlight why the Gospel matters, why it is being proclaimed. Better than the miracle we seek is the miracle we demonstrate in aligning towards Jesus.

    As Fyodor Dostoevsky once put so sublimally:
    "Faith does not, in the realist, spring from miracles, but miracles from faith!"

    Being young in the Lord, this explanation has helped me approach this passage. Just wanted to chip in before introducing myself later, when able.

    Greetings everyone!
     
  15. AnglicanAgnostic

    AnglicanAgnostic Active Member

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    Forgive me Stalwart but I still can't get the gist of what the second meaning of Justified is.
    Using the word proven doesn't help me, does it mean?

    You see then that a man is (found correct by some sort of enquiry) by works, and not by faith only.
    or
    You see then that a man is (passing a test) by works, and not by faith only. I have swords that are proved.
    Or something else.
    Someone please tell me I'm not the only thick one who can't figure this out:blush:
     
  16. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    I would say that any other explanation of the meaning of James 2:24 than, "Faith is useless unless acted upon", is missing James's point completely and dissembling with words and meanings.
    .
     
  17. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Sorry if I haven't been clearer, so let me try it with another example. Imagine that I say the following:
    "Henry got sick, and therefore was justified in missing work on Monday."

    What do I mean by "justified" there? Clearly not the same thing as what Saint Paul means by it in his epistles, a righteous standing before God. So even in English we have a second meaning for the word "justified", although it gets lost in these theological discussions.

    What we mean in the Henry sentence above is, he was acquitted before his team, his boss and coworkers, that his absence was warranted. Another way we can write the sentence is,

    "Henry got sick, and therefore was warranted in missing work on Monday."
    or
    "Henry got sick, and therefore was proven right in missing work on Monday."

    In other words, his coworkers will understand. He is in the right. Makes sense? So "justified" even in the English (although this gets lost), could mean either,
    -good standing before God
    -good standing before men

    St. Paul is interested in establishing how we should understand our good standing before God. (By faith alone)
    St. James is interested in establishing how we should understand our good standing before men. (By necessary works)

    Therefore I recommend that in the 2nd instance, we use one of the other words like "proven" or "warranted" to avoid the confusion of thinking that St. James contradicts St. Paul on the doctrine of justification.
     
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  18. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Maybe "Henry got sick, and therefore had justification in missing work on Monday."

    In other words he had a valid excuse for his behaviour, before anyone who might object, who pulled him up over it later.

    That still does not 'put him in the right' though, it just explains his absence satisfactorily to all who believe him.

    Of course we could just explain James's explanation the way Peter did. 2 Pet.3:16. if it were not for the fact that so many of us, bible inerrancy believers, believe that that couldn't possibly be the explanation for it. :laugh:

    I just love the way scriptures confirm themselves on Peter's point.

    be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.

    OSAS 'believers' who may be tempted to use OSAS as an excuse for un-Christlike conduct be warned. Believing you are saved by your faith alone, apart from learning and obediently doing (Acts.10:38) the works of Him who saved you by his grace, (Rom.3:24) is a presumtion you may be twisting to your own destruction.
    .
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2021
  19. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Found a nit to pick yet again, eh? :p
     
  20. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Better than swallowing a OSAS camel or two. :laugh:

    I'm glad that Anglicans have consistently stressed the necessity of both doing and believing in the salvation Christ has won for us. OSAS when taken to extremes is a hell of a doctrine for camel swallowers.
    .
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2021