THE last word on faith and works in Paul and James!

Well, maybe not quite. But almost!


Discuss the relationship between faith and works as found in the Epistles of Paul and James, compared to the rest of the New Testament
The relationship between faith and works has been highly contested between Catholics and Protestants since the Reformation, at which time Luther infamously inserted the word “alone” in Rom. 3:28.[1]The writers of the New Testament who deal most explicitly with this question are Sts Paul and James, and the problem lies in how to reconcile their apparently conflicting views. This paper will attempt to show that no such conflict actually exists; rather, their views are complementary, and only appear to contradict each other because they use the same terms in different ways. It will then be demonstrated that this resolution is in harmony with the rest of the New Testament writings.
Faith is a key part of Paul’s theology, verified in the sheer number of his references to it, compared to the rest of the New Testament.[2] He defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.[3]When mentioned in connection with salvation or justification, faith seems to be used to mean a trusting acceptance of the promises God has made through His Son, Jesus Christ the Lord and Saviour; that is, the Gospel.[4]This faith, by necessity, includes assenting to a particular set of truths,[5] as revealed by God (the ultimate object of faith),[6]who can neither deceive not be deceived.[7] Christ’s identity and his teachings cannot be separated from each other, since he himself is the fullness of revelation, and “thetruth”, so any truth he teaches cannot be divided from who he is.[8] Once one has taken the step of assenting to the one faith,[9] if one is consistent, the rest follows of itself.[10] Paul doesn’t limit faith to mere intellectual acquiescence, but rather, it includes the complete response of the believer’s entire person, and their submission in accord with the “obedience of faith”[11]to Christ.[12] Hence, it is this kind of faith that he means when he says that “a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.”[13]
Understanding what Paul means by justification is essential for discerning his view of the connection between faith and works. It is his way of summarising God’s work of salvation,[14] and it describes “an effect worked in those who believe what God has done in Christ”,[15] and this effect has is referred to both as a past and a future experience.[16] The reality of what occurs in justification is so deep that Paul describes it from many different angles; those who have been justified are “heirs in hope of eternal life”,[17] made children of God[18] as they are given the spirit of sonship,[19]and they are at peace with God,[20]as a result of having been freed from sin.[21]While Paul is quite clear that faith is essential for salvation, he never claims that faith alone is sufficient.[22] He also makes clear that justification, which occurs by grace through faith,[23]is a gift freely bestowed on man by God,[24]and so cannot be earned,[25]nor boasted about because of one’s own efforts.[26]Thus, according to Paul, coming into and remaining in an intimate relationship with God occurs through the undeserved gift of justifying faith, and not through doing the works of the law.
Faith, as opposed to the law (a nuanced concept that Paul uses in multiple contexts),[27] as the means to justification is a major theme in Pauline literature; this is true most particularly in his letters to the Romans and Galatians. Using the word law in different contexts leads to some apparent contradictions in Paul’s theology. For example, in Rom. 2:13, he says that it is “the doers of the law who will be justified”, while on the other hand, in Rom. 2:28 he says “a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.”[28]This may be clarified by considering what exactly is meant by “works of the law”. The second time[29]Paul uses the word “works” in Romans, it is within the phrase “works of the law”, and thereafter, he simply refers to “works”. This suggests that throughout he is using shorthand for “works of the law”, which are types of work distinct from “good works” (the type of works James refers to),[30]as works of the law consist in obeying specific commands of God for how Israel are to live.[31] Therefore, returning to the example above, the first statement should be understood in the broader context of what Paul is saying about the law, and man’s inability to obey it. Since it is impossible for anyone to do everything which the law commands, no one can be justified by doing what the law commands and thus there is no contradiction.[32]In regard to good works, Paul writes that believers are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand.[33]He also says that they should live a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, part of which entails bearing fruit in every good work.[34]They should purify themselves and be immersed in the Sacred Scriptures, so as to be ready and equipped to be useful to the Master, by doing good works.[35]He advises the Hebrews to “stir each other up to love and good works”,[36]after encouraging them to be faithful to the confession of their hope,[37]in accord with his fundamental definition of faith mentioned previously.[38]
For St Paul, faith and love are inseparable. He consistently ties together faith, hope, and charity, and also mentions them in pairs, to show how they collaborate in their unity.[39]Of particular note is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, in his famous treatise on love: “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”, and, “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Paul also talks about the importance of faith working itself out in charity,[40]which requires good works, and yet good works without love are nothing.[41]
When St James speaks of faith in his epistle, he uses it in a different sense to Paul.[42]This is made clear when he says “even the demons believe- and shudder”.[43]The demons are undoubtedly not justified; hence, the type of faith James is referring to is not the faith that justifies. Rather, by “faith”, he means a response to God consisting of mere intellectual assent, lacking in repentance, and not an outpouring of trust, humble gratitude and acceptance, and obedience, which works itself out in love, which is Paul’s understanding. Thus, when James says “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”,[44]and “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”,[45]by speaking of the two concepts separately, he is spelling out the inner workings of faith more explicitly than Paul in Romans, who assumes this implicitly in his definition of faith. This is seen in the example that both writers give of Abraham’s faith- their different approaches colour their explanation of his justification, and complement each other, as “in Abraham, as in every Christian who acts consistently, faith and works totally imbue each other: works show forth faith, and faith inspires and performs works.”[46]
In the Synoptic Gospels, during his life, Jesus speaks of faith as trust in him, and belief that he is who he claims to be- the Son of God. After the ascension, those preaching the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ use faith to mean trust in the person of Jesus, and therefore in the work of his death and resurrection as having power to give the believer eternal life. Paul and James’ unification of faith and love seem to participate in a continuity of Jesus’ definition of faith, if we note these statements: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified”;[47]and “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”[48]There is a striking parallel between these ideas, and those expressed by Christ himself in Matthew 7: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock”;[49] “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”[50]In Acts Paul confirms the above discussion of his concept of faith as necessarily embracing obedience, as he says that those who repent should perform deeds worthy of their repentance.[51]
The Johannine literature focuses very much on the centrality of love. In John’s Gospel he records Jesus saying that the Father loves his disciples, because they have both believed in the Son and loved Him.[52]In his first epistle, John states that Christians have confidence before God if they keep His commandment[53]: that they believe in His Son Jesus Christ and love one another.[54] Loving one’s fellow believers follows naturally if one loves and believes in God.[55] John gives the central reason for the importance of love- God is love, and as such those who do not love do not know God, and therefore do not have faith in Him.[56] A summary of all that John considers to be tied together is found in Rev. 2:19: “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance”. Indeed, the necessity of endurance in faith until death, manifested in constant love through works, according to which each man will be judged, is a theme that appears repeatedly in Revelation,[57] as well as in the synoptic Gospels,[58]and Paul’s letters.[59]James also weighs in on this idea: “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.”[60] John uses the specific word “works” in his Gospel in a different sense to his other writings, and to Paul and James, as it usually refers to the signs or miracles Jesus performed, to elicit this faith in his disciples.[61]This is reiterated in the reason he gives for writing the Gospel, which is to record the great works that Jesus did to reveal who he was, that the readers “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” that they may have life in his name.[62]
Turning our attention to the Catholic Epistles, Jude makes the point that the contents of the faith are unchanging, which, given the unchanging and absolute nature and person and teachings of Jesus, the Truth, makes sense.[63]He reminds that the endurance of faith is only possible with God,[64]and of the importance of grounding oneself in the faith and remaining in God’s love.[65]Peter speaks of trails that test the genuineness of one’s faith,[66]implying that a type of faith exists that is not genuine. This could be identified with the “dead faith” spoken of by James. The outcome of genuine faith is the salvation of one’s soul.[67]He also speaks of faith as being in that which is not seen,[68] as Paul does.[69] Peter relates obedience[70]to faith and hope,[71]and says that obedience should look like being holy in all one’s conduct, for each will be judged according to their deeds.[72]He further instructs his audience to endeavour to supplement their faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, for if these are lacking then one is unfruitful, since they have forgotten that they have been cleansed from their sins.[73]He also makes mention of the seriousness of not enduring- for those continuing in sin after receiving the Gospel, it would have been better for them never to have known than to know and subsequently abandon the truth.[74]
In conclusion, the witness of the New Testament regarding the role of faith and works with regard to salvation is consistent. In particular, the notorious conflict between James and Paul does not, in fact, exist. The confusion is due primarily to their differing use of terminology, and they actually both espouse the idea that only a faith which commits the whole person to obedience of Christ, which involves living charitably, can justify a person. Their different presentations of the relationship between faith and works in fact complement each other, and contribute significantly to the rich framework of soteriology found in the New Testament.


REFERENCE LIST:
Brown, Raymond, An Introduction to the New Testament, (Doubleday: New York, 2007)
Casciaro, Jose Maria (ed.), The Navarre Bible Catholic Letters(Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005)
Catechism of the Catholic Church (Libreria Editrice Vaticana: Citta del Vaticano, 1993)
(Accessed 19 October 2012)
Hahn, Scott (ed.), Catholic Bible Dictionary(New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009)
Hawthorne, Gerald., Martin, Ralph., Reid, Daniel. (Eds.), Dictionary of Paul and His Letters(Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1993)
Leon- Dufour, Xavier, S.J. (Ed.), Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1969)
New Catholic Encyclopedia 2nd Edition Volume 8, Berard Marthaler (ed.) (Washington, D.C.: Thomson Gale, 2003)
The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)


BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Anchor- Yale Bible Dictionary Volume 2, David Noel Freedman (Ed.) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992)
Anchor- Yale Bible Dictionary Volume 3, David Noel Freedman (Ed.) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992)
Brown, Raymond, An Introduction to the New Testament, (Doubleday: New York, 2007)
Burtchaell, James., “A Theology of Faith and Works: The Epistle to the Galatians–A Catholic View”, Interpretation, Vol 17: Issue 1 (1963): pp. 39-47 ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. EBSCOhost (accessed October 19, 2012)
Casciaro, Jose Maria (ed.), The Navarre Bible Catholic Letters(Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005)
Catechism of the Catholic Church (Libreria Editrice Vaticana: Citta del Vaticano, 1993)
(Accessed 19 October 2012)
Hahn, Scott (ed.), Catholic Bible Dictionary(New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009)
Hawthorne, Gerald., Martin, Ralph., Reid, Daniel. (Eds.), Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1993)
Heen, Erik., & Krey, Philip. (Eds.), Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament X Hebrews (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2007)
Leon- Dufour, Xavier, S.J. (Ed.), Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1969)
New Catholic Encyclopedia 2nd Edition Volume 8, Berard Marthaler (ed.) (Washington, D.C.: Thomson Gale, 2003)
The Catholic Bible Concordance Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition C.W. Lyons and Thomas Deliduka (compilers) (Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2009)
The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)


[1] Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 732, footnote 22
[2] He uses the noun pistis 142 times, compared to 101 times in the rest of the New Testament- Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, p. 285
[3] Heb. 11:1. NB: Unless otherwise noted, all biblical references will be taken from RSV; furthermore, the letter to the Hebrews will be considered to be a Pauline Epistle in this paper, since it has been “long associated with Paul”- Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 410      
[4] New Catholic Encyclopaedia 2ndEdition Vol 8, p. 592; Rom. 1:16
[5] New Catholic Encyclopaedia 2ndEdition Vol 8, p. 592
[6] Ibid.
[7] CCC 156
[8]Jn. 14:6, emphasis added
[9] Eph. 4:5
[10] New Catholic Encyclopaedia 2ndEdition Vol 8, p. 592; Scott Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.498
[11] Rom.1:5, 16:26
[12] Scott Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.498
[13] Rom. 3:28
[14] Scott Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p. 497
[15] Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 577
[16] Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, p. 518; Rom. 2:13, 8:33; Gal. 5:4-5
[17] Tit. 3:7
[18] Rom. 8:16
[19] Rom. 8:15
[20] Rom. 5:1
[21] Rom. 6:7; Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.497-8
[22] Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.498
[23] Eph. 2:8
[24] Rom. 5:17
[25] Tit. 3:5; Rom.3:28
[26] Rom. 4:2; Eph. 2:8-9; Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.498
[27] Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, pp. 529- 542
[28]Similarly in Rom. 3:20; Rom. 4:5; Rom.11:6; Gal. 2:16; Gal. 3:2, 5, 10; Rom. 3:26
[29] Rom. 3:20
[30] This is further evidenced in that the first reference to “works” (Rom. 2:6), Paul is talking about human acts in general, whether good works or evil works.
[31] Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, p. 975
[32] This idea is reinforced in Gal. 2:16
[33] Eph. 2:10
[34] Col. 1:10
[35] 2 Tim. 2:21; 2 Tim. 3:17
[36] Heb. 10:24
[37] Heb. 10:22-23
[38] Heb. 11:1
[39] CCC 1812- 1813
[40] Gal. 5:6
[41] 1 Cor. 1:3
[42] Dictionary of Paul and His Letters p. 459
[43] Jas. 2:19
[44] Jas. 2:17
[45] Jas. 2:24
[46] Jose Maria Casciaro (ed.), The Navarre Bible Catholic Letters, p. 36
[47] Rom. 2:13
[48] Jas. 1:22
[49] Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 734, Mt. 7:24
[50] Mt. 7:21
[51] Acts 26:20
[52] Jn. 16:27
[53] Jn. 13:34
[54] 1 Jn. 3:21-23
[55] 1 Jn. 5:1-3; , Xavier Leon- Dufour, S.J. (Ed.), Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p.140
[56] 1 Jn. 4:8, 20
[57] Rev. 14:12-13; Rev. 2:2, 5, 23; Rev. 2:26; Rev. 3:2-3, 11, 15-16; Rev. 19:8;
[58] Mt. 10:22, 24:13; Mk. 13:13; Lk. 21:19
[59] Rom. 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Cor. 13:7; 2 Cor. 6:4; Col. 1:11; 2 Tim. 2:12; Heb. 6:15
[60] Jas. 1:12
[61] Jn. 5:20
[62] Jn. 20:31
[63] Jude 1.3
[64] Jude 1:24
[65] 1:20-21
[66] 1 Pet. 1:7
[67] 1 Pet. 1:9
[68] 1 Pet. 1:8
[69] Rom. 8:24; 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 11:1; cf. Jn. 20:29
[70] 1 Pet. 1:14, 22
[71] 1 Pet. 1:21
[72] 1 Pet. 1:15,17
[73] 2 Pet 1:5-9
[74] 2 Pet. 2:20-21

2 thoughts on “THE last word on faith and works in Paul and James!

  1. Couldn't agree more! (Surprise, surprise!) And so many bible verses make me happy too! 🙂

  2. Monica says:

    Wow, just opened this in internet explorer, it really doesn't like my footnoting. Oh well.Yay for the Bible!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s