Can we believe both Paul and James when it comes to the subject of works? Are they at odds with one another? Is it possible that both James and Paul are not at odds, but using the word "works" in different ways?
Fr. Martin Luther saw the book of James as being at odds with his "faith alone" concept because James believed and I quote "not by faith alone" (Jm. 2:24). Fr. Luther referred to the book of James as “a book of straw.” For him Paul was at odds with James over the issue of good works. Many Christians today, following the lead of Fr. Luther, claim that there was an argument between James and Paul; and they align themselves with Paul while opposing James emphasis on good works.
PAUL, Justification by faith: For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from WORKS of the law... he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith (Rom. 3:28-30).
Context: works of the law, circumcision
JAMES, Justification by works: See how a person is justified by WORKS and not by faith alone (Jm. 2:24). Context: good works, feeding and clothing the hungry
And so now you see why Fr. Martin Luther yesterday, and many of his followers today, claim there is a disagreement between Paul's understanding of justification by faith and James understanding, justification by works. It would seemingly appear that they were at odds over the issue of works. Paul speaks for justification by faith apart from works of the law and James speaks for justification by works.
Both Paul and James speak for good works! Was James really speaking for good works and Paul speaking against good works? I would suggest to you that Paul and James were not at odds with each other, but in fact, they affirmed one another on the necessity of good works. Check it out for yourself.
Apostle Paul: “who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but rath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness” (Rom. 2:6-7).
Apostle James: What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, 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 (Jm. 2:14-26).
Please note that on the subject of good works, both Paul and James spoke of the necessity of good works.
The Apostle Paul speaks against and for works: How many of you realize this? Was Paul contradicting himself when he did so?
Paul against works: For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from WORKS of the law... he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith (Rom. 3:28-30). Context: The gentiles have no need for justification by that work of the law called circumcision. The uncircumcised are justified through their faith. Good works are not mentioned.
Paul for works: On the other hand, Paul speaks for and ties good “works” into eternal life. “who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good WORKS, but rath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness” (Rom 2:6-7). Context: Paul gives us a choice between wickedness which gives us rath and fury and good works which gives us immortality and eternal life with God in Heaven.
Paul was speaking against that work called circumcision and for good works. And so Paul is speaking about two different things and is not contradicting himself.
Often times a salvation question is asked: What must you or I do to inherit everlasting life with God in Heaven. When the person answers the question, if they mention anything about "good works," then it is explained that they are involved in salvation by works, which is contrary to the word of God. After all don't they know that a person is justified by faith apart from WORKS of the law (Rom. 3:28). They then try to convince the person that they are involved with salvation by works and that this is contrary to the Word of God in Romans. And so, the message that they are trying to put forth is to come out of that awful works based church and join a Bible believing church. They use this question and answer as a recruiting tool to get people to switch churches.
The presentation is intellectually dishonest because they are not including the real context. Romans 3:28-30 is not speaking against "good works;" it is speaking against "works of the law" circumcision. And so, to confuse "good works," with "works of the law" is an abuse of Scripture. This of course begs the question, does the person making the presentation actually know that they are using the Bible out of context? I believe that in most cases they don't know. It is just that they were taught in their tradition to use the Bible this way and they have no idea.
Yes, we are justified by faith as Paul says in Romans and according to James 2 we need good works to complete our faith. "You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works" and "so faith by itself if it has no works is dead." I once asked the person giving the salvation presentation if "dead faith" can save you? I was absolutely amazed; she said "yes dead faith can save me!" I wished her luck with her dead faith and suggested that a living faith would serve her much better. The Apostle James deals again with this issue, What does it profit, my brethren, If a man says he has faith but has not works, "can that faith save him?" When James asked this question, it is what is called a rhetorical question which is not a question but actually a statement, no that faith cannot save him!
With another individual, I quoted James again in regards to good works. "Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is barren?" This individual became so upset with me because by calling him a foolish fellow, I was involved with name calling. Really, I thought he was giving me way too much credit and so I begged to differ with him; I hadn't called him a name at all. I was quoting the Apostle James; he was the one who was calling him a foolish fellow. No wonder nobody likes James; he calls people names who refuse to follow the parts of the Bible that don't fit with their tradition.
On another occasion, in explaining the need for works to have a complete faith, I took this person too, yes that's right, the book of James! How did you know? There was a point where he just couldn't take it anymore. He, like everyone else, was trying to get me out of that book. He said "show me any place in Scripture where it speaks favorably about 'good works' other than in James." Wow, this guy is serious and so I took him to other places where the Bible speaks in favor of good works!
Isaiah speaks for good works (Is. 58:6-7). Paul spoke in favor of good works (Rm. 2:6:7). Jesus spoke in favor of works in (Mt. 25:34-35).
Why was Paul speaking against works of the law and specifically circumcision in Roman 28:3-5. The history of this issue begins in Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council. There were believers from Judea insisting that you must be circumcised in order to be saved “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic Law” (Acts 15:5).
Peter spoke against circumcision; it is not necessary to circumcise in order to be saved. “Why then are you putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10-11)? And so, the issue was settled once and for all and for all time; Peter had spoken. And this is why today, neither Protestants or Catholics require circumcision.
Even though this controversy was settled, there were still Jews who were insisting on circumcision for salvation. In fact, so large was the issue that Paul had Timothy circumcised to make it easier to work among the Jews; “On account of the Jews in that region Paul had him circumcised” (Acts 16:3).
We yawn when we hear the word the circumcision in a Bible reading because it doesn’t mean anything to us. Today, no one is insisting you must be circumcised in order to be saved. However, at the time of the apostles it was a huge issue and it would be a reason not to convert.
Paul in his extreme frustration says; “Beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision...“(Phil. 3:3). “Would that those who are upsetting you might also castrate themselves!" (Gal. 5:12). And so even though the issue of circumcision was settled at the Jerusalem council, the battle raged on and it took a long time for all the believers to accept the words of Peter regarding that particular work of the law called circumcision.
It is precisely in this setting where Paul in Roman's 3:28-30 is dealing with that 'work of the law" called circumcision.
For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from "works of the law"... he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith (Rom. 28-3-5).
When Paul speaks against works, it is not good works, but works of the law and circumcision is in the context. When James speaks for works he is talking about good works and lists among other things feeding and clothing the hungry.
Catholics don't know their Bibles! How many times have we heard this? Actually, this can be true. Sometimes they don't know their Bibles and one of these Catholics who didn't know his Bible is an Augustinian Catholic priest by the name of Fr. Martin Luther. He did not differentiate between the "good works" as spoken of in James 2 and the "works of the Law," circumcision as spoken of by Paul in Romans 28. If he had made the distinction he would not have been necessary for him to call James "a book of straw," because both James and Paul spoke for good works and there was no disagreement.
Fr. Luther, in order to reinforce his "faith verses good works" scenario, he added the work "alone" to his Bible. For we consider that a person is justified by faith [alone] apart from works of the law (Rom. 3:28). And this is why today millions of people believe in the non-Biblical concept of "faith alone." Fr Martin Luther gave us his reasoning for adding the word "alone."
"We hold that a man to be justified by faith without the works of the law by faith alone." His answer to Emser's exposition of his perversion of the text was: "If your Papist annoys you with the word alone, tell him straight away: Dr. Martin Luther will have it so: Papist and ass are one and the same thing." Whoever will not have my translation, let him give it the go by: the devil's thanks to him who censors it without my will and knowledge. Luther will have it so, and he is the doctor above all the doctors in Popedom" (Luther and the Bible, Ohare; Amic. Discussion, 1, 127).
Suffice it to say, Fr. Luther's strong point was not humility. The reason that he can put an extra word in the translation of his Bible is because "Luther will have it so!" It is interesting in that Fr. Luther claims to believe in faith alone as his ultimate authority and yet at the same time adds a word, not in the Bible, to come up with it. Not only did he put himself at odds with the Church; he was also at odds with the other reformers on many issues.
And so, this explains why many, but not all, non-Catholics believe in "faith alone." In fairness to Protestant Biblical societies today, they no longer have the word "alone" in Romans 3:28. And even though the word "alone" has been removed from non-Catholic Bibles, the concept stuck and so many non-Catholics today still believe in the concept of faith alone. Faith alone is in the Bible; however, it is preceded by two words, "NOT BY faith alone" (Jm. 2:24).
Those who claim "faith alone" are followers of Fr. Luther's tradition. Those who claim "not by faith alone" are followers of the Bible.