Drinking Deeply

Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 12:59 AM

I have faith, but you have works?

James 2 contains a few interesting thoughts. Probably the first is the question of faith and works, but that's not really what this post is about.

James 2

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good [2] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
Look specifically at v.18. After James rebukes those who claim "faith" but lack the natural fruit of works, he poses a possible objection, "But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' " After posing the objection, it doesn't seem like James answers it!

Yeah, I really don't quite understand how James answers the objection. If anything, it seems like he is answering an objection that says, "I have faith and you have works," by rebuking the objector and saying, "prove it!" But as it stands (and the greek is emphatic, YOU have faith and I have works) this verse doesn't quite make sense to me.

One possibility is that the quotations actually extend further, but that doesn't actually help because there's no place where they could end for James' response to begin.

Let me put it another way, but actually imagining the conversation and highlighting where I don't understand:

James - What good is it if someone claims to have faith but actually does not have works? It's like a person who says to a homeless person, "go and be warm and fed" but doesn't actually do anything for that guy. Faith without works is dead.

Objector - But you have faith, and I have works.

James - Well then, show me your faith apart from your works, and I'll show you my faith by my works.

Objector - But I never claimed to have faith...I have works. I said that you have faith....

James - ...

::shrug:: I just don't understand. It's not a contradiction in Scripture, it's a contradiction in me.

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Blogger jefe said...

Hm, I'd never considered reading the "But someone will say" here as raising an objection. I've always read James as saying there, "If you have faith but no works, then somebody else will shame you, saying, 'You have faith, but I have works. You show faith without works; I show faith by my works." And then he slips back into his own voice, elaborating on this other person's argument. I guess James introduces this hypothetical person to avoid puffing himself up as the truly faithful one, but still getting the rhetorical punch of the "I" vs. "You".

That's the way I've generally read it, but maybe I'm off base. What do you think of this option?  

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Anonymous theocentric522 said...

I think the problem is resolved if we have James addressing more than one objector. I take the person in 2:18 as James’ hypothetical 3rd person objector. 'You' then refers to the person who claims to have faith in 2:14 while 'I' refers to James, himself. In other words, James is speaking about what this hypothetical objector would say about his response to the guy in 2:14.

Here's my rendition (James speaks to Jack and Jane):

Jack- I have faith.

James – Jack, Faith without works is dead.

Jane- James, you can have your works, but Jack has his faith. That’s far better than any kind of works.

James- Show me that it's really faith apart from works, I'll show you that I have real faith BY my works.
....

If we have the objector(s) saying James is the one who has "faith" that would be very strange. =)  

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