The Bible in Its Traditions

James 2:21–24

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21  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?

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22  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by means of his works faith was made perfect?

22  Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect;

22  You can see, how his faith helped his works, and how by works his faith was made perfect.

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23  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."And he was called a friend of God.

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24  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

24  Do you see that a man is justified by means of works, and not by faith alone?

Suggestions for Reading

1–26 Appraisal of Faith-inspired Action This chapter presents James' demonstration of the integral relationship between genuine faith and actions. It falls into two basic sections:

  • Jas 2:1–13: The faith of Jesus Christ is incompatible with actions showing favoritism towards the rich. This section is a chiselled rhetorical argument (Literary Devices Jas 2:1–13).
  • Jas 2:14–26: Verbal acceptance of the faith of Jesus Christ is not a true faith unless it is expressed through concrete actions, especially actions that assist the poor.


Literary Genre

1–26 Deliberative Rhetoric The whole of chapter 2 is a fine example of deliberative (sumbouleutikon) rhetoric (see Aristotle Rhet. 1.3.3), where the speaker seeks to dissuade his audience from a certain action or exhort them to it. Here James attempts to dissuade his readers from showing favoritism to the rich (Jas 2:1–13) and to exhort them to live out their faith through actions (Jas 2:14–26). The diatribe style is used frequently in deliberative rhetoric.


23a the scripture was fulfilled Meaning of “fulfill”  The verb plêroô can be used as a fulfillment of a prophecy, as in Mt 1:22–23 wherein Jesus' birth "fulfills" the prophecy of Is 7:14. James does not seem to take it in this sense, however, since Gn 15:6 says that Abraham was justified by his belief in God before he offered his son.

James' main point Jas 2:14–26 is that faith and works cannot be separated. Faith is not complete unless it is combined with actions (2:22). Abraham's paradigmatic work, the offering of Isaac, completes his faith. Thus the verse "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" is not complete (fulfilled) until it is clear that Abraham's faith is not merely a verbal faith.

One should, however, probably not press the temporal gap between Gn 15 and Gn 21 too much. James is making a general, atemporal point about the necessary connection between faith and actions. 


Biblical Intertextuality

23b Abraham Believed God A Key Text for Early Christians James quotes the G text of Gn 15:6 (adding only the particle de). Paul had quoted this same scripture in his analysis of Abraham's faith (Gal 3:6, Rom 4:3,9); cf. 1Mc 2:52.


Literary Devices

24 You see that one is justified by works Conclusion from Scriptural Example James draws a general conclusion from the scriptural exemplum of Abraham. James marks this as a general conclusion by switching from the 2nd person singular address (used in diatribe style in addressing the imaginary interlocutor [Jas 2:20–23]) to the 2nd person plural to address the whole community, "You (pl.) see..."

14–26 Can this faith save him? Diatribe: Rhetorical Questions In this section (see vv. 14, 16, 20, 21), James continues the diatribal technique, used in the previous section (Jas 2:1–7), of asking rhetorical questions (Literary Devices Jas 2:4–7). In that section, the questions functioned to remind his hearers of facts they should have known ("do not the rich oppress you?"); here, James attempts to get his hearers to grasp his unexpected point that faith without action is useless (v. 14: "What good is it...).

22a You see that faith was working together with his works Assumption of Previous Knowledge: Abraham as Model of Faith and Works Although he has only mentioned Abraham's action of offering Isaac (v. 21), James' abrupt conclusion: "You see that faith was working together with his works" presupposes that his hearers understand Abraham as a model of both faith and righteous actions. In fact, Abraham as a model of faith, and specifically as a model of faith witnessed in action, is well attested in Second Temple and early Christian literature (Biblical Intertextuality Jas 2:21–24; Peritestamental Literature Jas 2:21ff; Christian Tradition Jas 2:22a).

14–26 Rhetorical Structure Watson 1993a analyzes the rhetorical structure of James' deliberative argument as follows (cf. Ps.-Cicero Rhet. Her. 2.18.28 for the categories): 

Propositio (the Proposition to be Proven)

  • Jas 2:14: faith without actions cannot save. 

Ratio (the Causal Basis for the Proposition)

Jas 2:15–17

  • 2:15–16: Hypothetical scenario (exemplum) showing that verbal statements without actions are useless. 
  • 2:17: restatement of proposition. 

Confirmatio (Further Confirmation of the Ratio)

Jas 2:18–19

  • 2:18: Hypothetical dialogue showing that faith cannot be demonstrated apart from action.
  • 2:19: Ironic exemplum showing that verbal faith is inadequate.

Exornatio (Embellishment and Enrichment of the Argument, Once the Propositio is Established)

Jas 2:20–25:

  • 2:20: Restatement of proposition.
  • 2:21–23: Proof from scriptural exemplum (Abraham) including scriptural quotation (2:23).
  • 2:24: Restatement of proposition.
  • 2:25: Proof from scriptural exemplum (Rahab).

Conplexio (a Brief Conclusion Summarizing the Argument)

22a faith was working together with is works Rhetorical Techniques

Chiastic Structure

James employs a chiastic structure in this phrase:

a. faith was working together

b. with his works

b. by works

a. faith was completed


The current translation reflects a play on words in the Greek between the verb "to work together with" (sunergeô) and actions (erga): "faith works together with works."


Peritestamental Literature

21ff Abraham’s Testing and Faith

 Abraham a Model of Faith and Wisdom

In Second Temple literature, Abraham is regularly portrayed as a model of steadfast faith:

  • Abraham is the first to reject polytheism and believe in God alone (James may allude to this tradition in 2:19): Jub. 11–12; Josephus A.J. 1.154–55; Philo Virt. 216
  • Gn 15:6 is often quoted as an example of Abraham's faith (Philo Leg. 3.228; Philo Mut. 175-77; Philo Abr. 262)
  • For Philo Abr. 275–76, Abraham is also the epitome of the wise man (cf. Jas 3:13) who fulfilled the law (cf. Gn 26:5) not by following the written Torah, rather, "unwritten nature (agraphôᵢ phusei) gave him the zeal to follow where wholesome and untainted impulse led him." Abraham was "himself a law and an unwritten statute" (nomos autos ôn kai thesmos agraphos; Colson 1935, 134–35).

Abraham as a Model of Faith and Action

The 2nd c. BC Book of Jubilees recounts how Abraham remained faithful despite a series of tests:

  • →Jub. 17:17–18: "Now the Lord was aware that Abraham was faithful in every difficulty which he had told him. For he had tested him through his land and the famine; he had tested him through the wealth of kings; he had tested him again though his wife when she was taken forcibly; and through circumcision; and he had tested him through Ishmael and his servant girl Hagar when he sent them away." In everything through which he tested him he was found faithful. He himself did not grow impatient, nor was he slow to act; for he was faithful and one who loved the Lord" (VanderKam 1989, 2:105; Ethiopic: ibid., 1:101–2); cf. →Jub. 19:8–9.

Philo also mirrors James' concern with the connection between faith and action, linked with Gn 15:6:


Literary Devices

21a Abraham our father Rhetorical Functions of References to Abraham

Rhetorical Appeal to the Common Tradition of Israel

James' characterization of Abraham as "our father," evokes the common heritage of Israel that James and his hearers share. It is a further indication of the strongly Jewish-Christian character of the letter (cf. Mt 3:9; Acts 7:2; Rom 4:1).

A Monotheistic Echo

The use of Abraham, known in Jewish and Christian tradition as a model of monotheistic belief, as an example of true faith connects with the confession of v 19: "God is one."

22b by works faith is completed Echo: Theme of Wholeness "Is completed" translates the verb teleioô; evoking again James' central theme of perfection and wholeness (→James: Perfection / Wholeness in James). In particular, James' phrase here echoes Jas 1:4, "But let perseverance have [its] complete result, so that you might be complete and whole, lacking in nothing."

21–25 Abraham our father Scriptural Exempla James presents the scriptural examples (G: paradeigma; L: exemplum) of Abraham and Rahab to establish his point that faith apart from actions cannot save a person. In addition to their function as evidence for James' argument, the exempla provide a model of how James' hearers should act—in this case, Abraham and Rahab model how the true person of faith lives out faith in action (cf. James' use of negative exempla in Jas 2:2–3 and Jas 2:15–16; examples of actions to be avoided).

Compare other uses of scriptural exempla in James: the prophets (Jas 5:10), Job (Jas 5:11), and Elijah (Jas 5:17–18). 

Exempla in Classical Rhetoric

Rhetorically, an exemplum is a type of proof (pistis), though it is not as persuasive as an enthymeme (Aristotle Rhet. 2.20.1–9; cf. Literary Devices Jas 2:9f). For Jews and Christians, of course, exempla from Scripture carry the added persuasive weight of Scripture's authority. Exempla are frequently employed in deliberative (sumbouleutikon) rhetoric (e.g. Aristotle Rhet. 1.9.40; Anaximenes Rhet. Alex. 32 [1438b]).

Second Temple Exempla Lists Including Abraham

In Second Temple literature, exempla lists often serve the deliberative function of providing models for the reader's imitation. Several such lists exhort the readers with examples of faithfulness under adversity: 1Mc 2:51–60 (including Abraham); 3 Macc. 6:6–9; 4 Macc. 16:20–22 (including Abraham's offering of Isaac); 4 Macc. 18:11–14 (referencing the offering of Isaac, though in this case Isaac's courage is the example). See also Sir 44–50.

Christian Exempla Lists Including Abraham and Rahab

 Several Christian exempla lists mirror James' inclusion of Abraham and Rahab:

  • The list in Hb 11 (functioning to prove the thesis that "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen") includes Abraham (Hb 11:8–12; 17–19, including a reference to the offering of Isaac) and Rahab (Hb 11:31).
  • The list in 1 Clem. 9:3–12:8 of those who proved to be faithful and hospitable includes Abraham, "the friend," (10:1) and Rahab.
  • The list of Pachomius Instr. 25 (cf. 2), includes Rahab ("behold Rahab was in prostitution, and was numbered among the saints"), and Abraham "the friend" who offered Isaac (Veilleux 1982, 3:23–24; Lefort 1956, 10).


Biblical Intertextuality

21–24 Faith and Works: Comparison of James and Paul

Did James Know Paul? 

There are several close parallels between the thought of James and that of Paul on the topic of faith, justification, and "works" (actions):

  • close similarity of language and argument, especially the phrase "justified by faith" and discussion of the role of "works" in justification;
  • the common use of Abraham as an example: Paul argues that Abraham was justified and received God's promises by faith prior to cirumcision and the law (Rom 4; Gal 3), while James argues that Abraham was justified by both faith and works;
  • the common citation of Gn 15:6 (Paul in Rom 4:3 and Gal 3:6).

Commentators offer various explanations for these similarities:

  • James and Paul wrote on similar issues independently;
  • a minority of scholars suggest that Paul knew James, and sought to correct him or to prevent a misinterpretation of his teaching;
  • more common is the view that James knows Paul, and wrote either to correct his teaching directly or to correct a misinterpretation of his teaching (cf. 2Pt 3:15–16). Some scholars argue that James is a second-century pseudepigraphon written partly to prevent misinterpretations of Paul's letters (cf. Nienhuis 2009). See also →James: Traditional comparisons of James and Paul on faith, works, and justification.

Does James Contradict Paul? 

There is clearly a tension between James' position in Jas 2:14–24 (especially 2:24) and Paul's views (esp. Rom 3:21–31; 4:1–12; Gal 2:15–21; Gal 3; Eph 2:8–9) on the relationship between faith and works. 

 James famously insists that a person is "justified by works and not by faith alone (ex ergôn dikaioutai anthrôpos, kai ouk ek pisteôs monon; Jas 2:24). At first glance, this seems to contradict Paul's position that "a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (dikaiousthai pistei anthôpon chôris ergôn nomou; Rom 3:28). Two points, however, show that ascribing such a contradiction is overly hasty:

  • Paul refers specifically to the "works of the law," a phrase which for Paul includes practices such as circumcision. Paul's reflection is on the place of the Mosaic law in God's plan of salvation, and his point is that the Mosaic law alone is no longer adequate for salvation after Jesus' sacrifice on the cross; faith in Christ is now necessary. In James' view, "works" (or actions) are not limited to the Mosaic law, rather they refer to any good action. 
  • James' point is not to deny the importance of faith in becoming righteous before God, but to clarify what genuine faith is. James insists that genuine faith cannot be separated from action, otherwise it is merely verbal or notional agreement to a proposition.

In addition, one may note other passages that reveal a notable similarity between James and Paul's thought on the relationship of actions and faith; e.g., the similarity between Paul's  "faith working through love" (pistis di' agapês energoumenê; Gal 5:6) and James' "faith was working together with his actions" (hê pistis sunêrgei tois ergois; Jas 2:21). See also →James: Reformation and Counter-Reformation debate on James.

Peritestamental Literature

24 justified by works Both Faith and Works Lead to Salvation Several Second Temple texts explicitly speak of the role of righteous actions in salvation:

  • 4 Esd. 8:33 "For the righteous, who have many works laid up with you, shall receive their reward in consequence of their own deeds" (Iusti enim, quibus sunt operae multae repositae apud te, ex propriis operibus recipient mercedem; OTP 1:543; Weber and Gryson 1969, 1952).
  • 2 Bar. 51:7: "those who are saved because of their works" (b‘bdyhwn; OTP 2:638).

The concept of a "treasury of good works" stored up before God to aid one's salvation occurs in several texts: 4 Esd. 7:77; 2 Bar. 14:12; 24:1.

The book of Tobit likewise contains this theme:

  • Tb 4:9-10: "You will be storing up (thêsaurizeis) a goodly treasure (thema agathon) for yourself against the day of adversity. For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps one from entering into Darkness."

 At the same time, works like 4 Ezra do not sharply distinguish between the salvific power of  actions and of faith:

  • 4 Esd. 9:7–8 "And it shall be that everyone who will be saved and will be able to escape [sc. the eschatological woes] on account of his works (per opera sua), or on account of the faith by which he has believed (per fidem in qua credidit)...will see my salvation in my land and within my borders" (OTP 1:544; Weber and Gryson 1969, 1953).
  • 4 Esd. 6:5 "those who stored up treasuries of faith" (qui fidem thesaurizaverunt; OTP 1:534; Weber and Gryson 1969, 1941).


Christian Tradition

2:14–3:2a Divisio Textus

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena groups Jas 3:1–2 with Jas 2:14–26 under the heading: "That a person is justified (dikaioutai anthrôpos) not from faith alone (ouk ek pisteôs monon), but also from actions (alla kai ex ergôn);  and not from each one individually, but from both together" (ex amphoion hama; Cramer 1844, 8:14).

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.

21b faith Faith in Isaac’s Resurrection

  • Gloss. Ord. glosses "offered his son" by referring to Heb 11:19: "he believed (arbitratur) that God is able to raise even the dead" (cols 1281–82).
  • A marginal comment reads, "Great temptation (magna tentatio), when he was ordered to kill [his son]; great faith (magna fides) when even from one dead he believed it was possible to revive a descendant; great work (magnum opus), when he did not hesitate to offer his most beloved" (col. 1281). 

See a similar interpretation at Ps.-Andreas Catena (attr. to Cyril of Alexandria) ad 2:21; Bede Ep. cath. ad. loc). 

22a faith was working together with his works Abraham’s Synthesis of Faith and Works Like James, Clement of Rome links Abraham's faith with his actions, particularly his obedience to God's commands. 

  • 1 Clem. 10.1 "Abraham, who was called, 'the Friend,' was found to be faithful (pistos) when he became obedient to God's words."

1 Clement also relates how Abraham trusted God's promises regarding the land and descendants, before concluding:

  • 1 Clem. 10.7 "Because of his faith and hospitality (philoxenia), a son was given to him in his old age; and in obedience he offered him up as a sacrifice to God."

See also Biblical Intertextuality Jas 2:21f; Biblical Intertextuality Jas 2:23cPeritestamental Literature Jas 2:21ff; Jewish Tradition Jas 2:21–24.


Biblical Intertextuality

23c friend of God Abraham’s Special Intimacy with God and Other Biblical "Friends" of God

Abraham as God's Friend

Passages such as Gn 18:17–33 (Abraham's intercession with God regarding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah) doubtlessly contributed to the widespread tradition that Abraham had a special relationship with God. Other passages are closer to James' phrase:

Other Biblical Expressions of the Term "Friends of God"

  • Ex 33:11: "And the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as if one should speak to his friend" (M: r‘; G: philos). 
  • Ws 7:27: Wisdom is described as "passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God (philoi theou) and prophets" ; cf. Ws 7:14.

Also relevant are Jesus' words to his disciples:

  • Jn 15:14–15: "You are my friends (philoi) if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father."



21a justified Catholic and Orthodox Teaching on Justification, Faith, and Good Works Following are the main lines of the Council of Trent's teaching, together with references to the Catechism, on the relationship between justification, faith, and good works, especially in reference to James.

Justification at Baptism

  • The beginning of justification is attributed to God's prevenient grace (praeveniente gratia) in Christ. Awakened and assisted by that grace, humans can cooperate with and assent to God's grace, and be justified (CCC 1989, 1993; Conc. Trid. Just. 5, 7 = DzH 1525, 1528–31).
  • Justification is merited for humans by Jesus' atoning sacrifice on the cross, and is conferred in baptism, the sacrament of faith (CCC 1992).
  • Justification involves the Holy Spirit's power "to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us 'the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ' and through Baptism"  (CCC 1987).
  •  "Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man" (Conc. Trid. Just. 7 = DzH 1528; CCC 1989, 1995).
  • With justification, the Christian receives the gifts of faith, hope, and love (CCC 1991; Conc. Trid. Just. 7 = DzH 1530). 

Critique of Iustificatio Sola Fide

Acknowledging that justification is only possible through God's grace, Trent insists that human beings have the free will to cooperate with God's grace, and rejects the Protestant understanding of faith as confidence in God's grace.

  • Conc. Trid. Just. 9 "If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone in the sense that nothing else is required by way of cooperation in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not at all necessary that he should be prepared and disposed by the movement of his will (suae voluntatis motu praeparari atque disponi), let him be anathema" (DzH 1559). Cf. Conc. Trid. Just. 8 and 11 = DzH  1532, 1539).
  • Conc. Trid. Just. can. 12 "If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence (fiducia) in the divine mercy that remits sins on account of Christ, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathama" (DzH 1562); cf. Conc. Trid. Just. 9, "this confidence, vain and foreign to all piety, may exist among heretics and schismatics" (DzH 1533–34).
  • Conc. Trid. Just. 14 "If anyone says that man is absolved from his sins and justified because he believes with certainty (certo credita) that he is absolved and justified; or that no one is truly justified except he who believes that he is justified, and that absolution and justification are effected by faith alone, let him be anathama" (DzH 1564).
  • Conc. Trid. Just. 9 "whoever considers himself, his personal weakness, and his lack of disposition may fear and tremble about his own grace, since no one can know with a certitude of faith (certitudine fidei) that cannot be subject to error that he has obtained God's grace" (DzH  1533–34).

The Law and the Justified

Trent's Decree on Justification teaches that observing the commandments of the law continue to play a role in justification and salvation. 

  • Conc. Trid. Just. 11 "No one, however much he be justified, should consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments" (DzH 1536).
  • Conc. Trid. Just. 20 "If any one says that a justified man, however perfect he may be, is not bound to observe the commandments of God and the Church, but is bound only to believe...let him be anathema" (DzH 1570).
  • Conc. Trid. Just. 21 "If anyone says that Jesus Christ was given by God to men as a redeemer in whom they are to trust (cui fidant), but not also as a law-giver whom they are to obey (cui obediant), let him be anathema" (DzH 1571).

Inititial Justification and Later Increase in Justification

The Catholic tradition distinguishes between an initial justification (when a person first repents and is baptized and is justified), and a later increase in justification. Cf. →James: Interpretation of James in the Reformation.

  • Conc. Trid. Just. 10 connects Jas 2:22 ("faith was active along with his works") and Jas 2:24 ("a person is justified by works and not by faith alone") with the later "increase of justification" in the baptized. "When 'faith is active along with works' (cf. Jas 2:22), they increase in the very justice they have received through the grace of Christ and are further justified" (in ipsa iustitia per Christi gratiam accepta, cooperante fide bonis operibus crescunt atque magis iustificantur; cf. cann. 24 and 32).

The Catholic commentary tradition on James (e.g., Bellarmine, Lapide) refers to a "first" and "second" justification, but Trent does not use this specific language. See also Christian Tradition Jas 2:21a and →James: Interpretation of James in the Reformation.

The Role of Good Works

"Good works" play a role in this later increase in justification, since both God's grace and human actions are involved in justification.

  • Conc. Trid. Just. 16 "And eternal life should therefore be set before those who persevere in good works 'to the end' (Mt 10:22; 24:13) and who hope in God, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Jesus Christ, and 'as a reward' [referencing Augustine of Hippo Grat. 8.20] which, according to the promise of God himself, will faithfully be given them for their good words and merits" (bonis ipsorum operibus et meritis fideliter reddenda; DzH 1545, referencing cans. 26 and 32).
  • Good works, however, are only possible because Christ's strength is infused into members of his Body: "this strength always precedes, accompanies and follows their good works which, without it, could in no way be pleasing to God and meritorious" (quae virtus bona eorum opera semper antecedit, comitatur, et subsequitur, et sine qua nullo pacto Deo grata et meritoria esse possent; DzH 1546). 
  • Conc. Trid. Just. 24: Good works should not be considered, in a Lutheran or Calvinist sense, as only "the fruits and the signs of the justification obtained" (DzH 1574). Rather, good works preserve and increase justification. Cf. the reference to Jas 2:22 and Jas 2:24 in Conc. Trid. Just. 10.

Good works, while they cannot be done without God's grace, neverthless are truly to be attributed to the person himself, and are truly deserving of merit and reward.

  • Conc. Trid. Just. 32 "If anyone says that the good works of the justified man are the gifts of God in such a way that they are not also the good merits (bona merita) of the justified man himself; or that by the good works he performs through the grace of God and the merits of Jesus Christ—of whom he is a living member—the justified man does not truly merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and—provided he dies in the state of grace—the attainment of this eternal life, as well as an increase of glory (gloriae augmentum), let him be anathama" (DzH 1582).

Orthodox Teaching on Justification

The Confession of Dositheus, published at the 1672 Synod of Jerusalem, clarifies the Orthodox understanding of the relationship between faith, works, and justification over against Protestant views.

  • Dositheos Conf. Dos.   13 "We believe a man to be not simply justified through faith alone, but through faith which works through love (Gal 5:6), that is to say, through faith and works…we rather believe that it is not the correlative of faith, but the faith that is in us, which, through works, justifies us with Christ (tên ousan en humin pistin dia tôn ergôn dikaioun hêmas para Chritou). But we regard works not as witnesses certifying our calling, but as being fruits in themselves, through which faith becomes efficacious (di' hôn hê pistis lambanei to emprakton), and as in themselves meriting (kath heauta axia), through the divine promise, that each of the faithful may receive what is done through his own body, whether it be good or bad" (CCFCT 1:623; Karmirês 1986, 2:756).


23c friend of God Interpretations in Islam

  • Qur’an 4.125 "Who can be better in religion than one who submits his whole self to God, does good, and follows the way of Abraham the true in faith (ḥanif)? For Allah took Abraham for a friend" (khalil).
  • In the Shiite Muslim tradition, Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, considered by Shiites as the rightful successor to the Prophet, was given the title, "friend (wali) of God."

Jewish Tradition

21–24 offered Isaac his son on the altar Akedah

In later Jewish tradition, this incident, known as the Binding of Isaac, or Akedah, is the basis for a rich variety of theological reflection, seen particularly in liturgical prayers and art.


14–26 Use in Lectionary BL: Monday, 32nd Week after Pentecost.

14–24,26 Use in Lectionary RML : Friday, Week 6, Year 2.


Biblical Intertextuality

21f when he offered Isaac Paradigmatic Test of Abraham’s Faith James alludes to the famous account in Gn 22:1–19 when the Lord "tested" (peirazô) Abraham by commanding Abraham to offer Isaac, the son whom God had promised would be progenitor of the chosen people (Gn 12:1–3). Strikingly, James makes use of this passage despite his insistence (cf. Jas 1:13) that God tempts (peirazô) no one. 

Several other biblical accounts refer to Abraham's offering of Isaac as the ultimate test of his faith and, thereby, a paradigm of such testing. These accounts follow similar Second Temple traditions  (Peritestamental Literature Jas 2:21ff; Jewish Tradition Jas 2:21–24).

  • Sir 44:21: "when [Abraham was] tested (en peirasmôᵢ) he was found loyal" (pistos).
  • 1Mc 2:52 parallels James in connecting Gn 15:6 with an action that showed that Abraham remained faithful when tested: "Was not Abraham found faithful (pistos) when tested (en peirasmôᵢ), and it was reckoned to him as righteousness?"
  • The Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb 11:17–19) celebrates Abraham's faith as exemplified in his willingness to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice when he was tested; Abraham "reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead" (Heb 11:19).

Likewise the Vulgate's version of Judith posits a connection between Abraham's endurance of troubles and his faith.

G does not mention Abraham here, but does allude to his faith a few verses later:

  • Jdt 8:26 "Recall what things [God] did with Abraham and how He tested (epeirasen) Isaac…"

Peritestamental Literature

23c friend of God Friendship with God, A Reward for Abraham’s Faith

Special Intimacy with God. 

  • In quoting G-Gn 18:17 ("Shall I hide from Abraham my servant what I am about to do"), Philo Sobr. 56 changes "servant" to "friend" (philos; Colson 1930, 473–73).
  • 4 Esd. 3:14 "you loved him [Abraham] (dilexisti) and to him only you revealed the end of the times, secretly by night" (OTP 1:528).

Title Given for Abraham's Faith and Perseverance

Some accounts specificy that Abraham was designated "friend of God" after he remained faithful through his trials:

  • Jub. 19:8–9: After his ten trials, Abraham "was found to be faithful (and) patient in spirit.…he was found to be faithful and was recorded on the heavenly tablets as the friend of the Lord" (inventus est fidelis et scriptus est amicus Dei in tabulis caelis;VanderKam 1989 2:111; Ethiopic: ibid., 1:106–7; Latin: ibid., 1:275).
  • Philo Abr. 273 "That God, marvelling at Abraham's faith (pistis) in Him repaid him with faithfulness (pistin antididôsin autôᵢ) by confirming with an oath the gifts which He had promised, and here He no longer talked with him as God with man but as a friend with a familiar" (hôs philos gnôrimôᵢ; Colson 1935, 132–33).

Title Given for Abraham's Obedience

  • →CD 3.2 (=4Q269 2) "Abraham did not walk in it, and was counted as a friend (’whb) for keeping God's precepts and not following the desire of his spirit" (DSSSE 1:555).

See also the references to Abraham as God's friend in T. Ab. Rec. A 4.7; 8.2; 8.4; 9.7; 15.12–13 and as God's beloved in Apoc. Ab. 9:6, 28:2. See also Biblical Intertextuality Jas 2:23c.

Other Friends of God

  • Philo Her. 21 notes that Moses also received the title "friend of God" (philos theou); indeed "all the wise are friends of God" (sophoi pantes philoi theou; Colson 1932, 294–95). Moses' friendship with God allowed him to speak frankly with God: "Frankness of speech is akin to friendship" (Parrêsia de philias suggenes). See also Ancient Texts Jas 2:23c; Peritestamental Literature Jas 3:1a.


Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.



21a justified by works Being Made Righteous or Being Shown to be Righteous

A Legal Term

The Greek verb "to justify," dikaioô, is cognate with the adjective dikaios—"just" or "righteous." The terms are from the legal realm: the just person is one who follows human and divine law.

  • Aristotle Eth. Nic. 5.1.8 [1129b] "The 'just' (to dikaion) therefore means that which is lawful and that which is equal or fair" (to nomimon kai to ison; Rackham 1926, 256–57). The concerpt thus is comprehensive in meaning: Aristotle Eth. Nic. 5.1.19: "Justice (dikaiosunê) is not part of virtue but the whole of virtue" (aretê; Ibid., 258–59).

The biblical tradition, in both its Hebrew and Hellenistic aspects, also recognizes the political and legal aspects of justice:

  • 4QMMT [4Q398] 14-17 2.7: "And it shall be reckoned to you as justice (ṣdqh) when you do what is upright and good before him [i.e., properly follow Torah], for your good and that of Israel" (DSSSE 2:802–3).
  • Sir 45:26: "May he grant you wisdom of heart to govern his people in justice" (dikaiosunê).

Causative Sense: to be Made Righteous

The verb dikaiô can mean "to justify" or "to make righteous" in a causative sense: a person or other force vindicates or releases a person from the guilt or punishment incurred from breaking a law, thereby making  that person dikaios. This is Paul's usual understanding. Sinful human beings are justified through the redemption of Jesus Christ: "they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:24)…"since we are now justified by his blood" (Rom 5:9).

Be Shown to be Righteous

 Dikaiô can also mean to be shown or proven to be righteous (dikaios). Thus a person may be falsely thought to be unrighteous, and must be vindicated in order to demonstrate his righteousness. Thus, for example, Christ was vindicated in the Spirit" (1Tm 3:16). Paul applies this sense to God: "God must be true, though every human being is a liar, as it is written: 'That you may be justified in your words, and conquer when you are judged'" (Rom 3:4, quoting  Ps 51:6).

Meaning in James

Calvin Comm. Iac. understood James to be using the second sense of dikaiô—Abraham's act in offering his son Isaac was proof that he had already been justified. Calvin points out that Gn 15:6, "Abram put his faith in the Lord, who attributed it to him as an act of righteousness," appears long before God commanded Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice (Gn 22:1–2; Owen 1849, 314; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 398).

James, however, seems to take the word in its causative sense. In Jas 2:22, James affirms that Abraham's "faith was working together with his works" and that "faith is completed in his actions." The logic of James' argumentation to this point (Jas 2:14–21) is that faith is incomplete if it remains at the verbal stage only: it must be completed through works. Thus Abraham's actions cause him to be fully righteous.


Ancient Texts

23c friend of God Hellenistic Thought on Friendship and Friendship with the Gods The theme of friendship was a common topos in Hellenistic moral literature.

Only the Good Have True Friendship

Common values form the foundation of a strong friendship. 

  • Aristotle Eth. Nic. 8 distinguishes between different types of friendship (philia): friendships based on utility, on pleasure, and on the good (to agathon). At the lower level, people befriend one another because of common interests, but at the higher level, the friend is loved for his own sake. Perfect friendship, or friendship properly called, is only possible between those who are virtuous.

Likewise, the Stoics refused to dignify relations based on utility or pleasure with the name of "friendship." 

  • Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.124 "[The Stoics say that] friendship exists only between the wise and the good (tois spoudaiois), by reason of their likeness to one another" (Hicks 1925, 2:228).

To be a "friend of God," then, a person would need to be at the highest levels of virtue.

The Wise are Friends of God

  • Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 6.2.37 cites Diogenes of Sinope: "The wise (hoi sophoi) are friends (philoi) of the gods" (Hicks 1925, 2:38).
  • Epictetus Diatr. 4.3.10: Epictetus  calls himself a "friend of God," explaining that he seeks no worldly honor or office, and will not flatter or seek to impress the powerful, "for I am a free man, and a friend of God, so as to obey him of my own free will (hekôn). No other thing ought I to claim, not body, or property, or office, or reputation—nothing, in short; nor does He wish me to claim them. Had he so desired He would have made them good for me. But as it is, He has not so made them; therefore I cannot transgress any of his commands" (Oldfather 1928, 2:310–13).
  • Epictetus Diatr. 3.24.62: Socrates remembered that it was "his first duty to be a friend to the gods" (prôton dei theois einai philon; Oldfather 1928, 2:204–5).

The "friend of God," then, is the wise person who willingly obeys God's commandments (cf. Jn 15:14–15).


Christian Tradition

14–26 “You have faith, and I have works” Relationship of Faith and Works

Genuine Faith and Actions are Inseparable

Origen notes the inseparable relationship between faith and works in several passages

  • Origen Comm. Rom.   2.(9).13.23, referencing James: "For one without the other is condemned (reprobatur), seeing that faith without works is called 'dead'; and that no one is justified before God by works without faith…You see, then, that everywhere faith is joined with works (fidem cum operibus iungi) and works are united with faith" (referencing Mt 7:24 and Lk 6:46; Scheck 2002, 156; Hammond Bammel 1998, 1:165–66). 
  • Origen Comm. Rom. 3.(7)10.5 possibly alludes to Jas 2:22b, in commenting that faith is perfected through actions, just as actions are perfected through faith: "Those who are justified from faith, since the beginning was received from faith [i.e., Jews], need to be perfected through the fulfillment of good works (per adimpletionem bonorum operum consummantur); and those who are justified through faith, having begun with good works [i.e., Gentiles], receive the summit of perfection through faith (per fidem summam perfectionis accipiunt). Thus both elements, being rooted in one another, need to be brought to perfection" (Ita utrumque sibi adhaerens alterum ex altero consummatur; Scheck 2002, 233; Hammond Bammel 1998, 1:256).
  • Origen Dial. 8–9 "But we must keep in mind that we are judged at the divine tribunal not on our faith alone (ou peri pisteôs monês) as if we did not have to answer for our conduct, nor on our conduct alone (peri biou monou) as if our faith were not subject to examination. It is from the correctness of both that we are justified (dikaioumetha); it is from the noncorrectness of both that we are punished for both…If then we wish to be saved, let us not, in our commitment to the faith, be negligent of our practical conduct (peri tên praxin tou biou), nor, conversely, be overconfident of our conduct. It is from both that we know, understand, believe, and will have our reward and beatitude (makarion), or their opposite" (Daly 1992, 64; Scherer 1960, 72–74).
  • Origen Pasch. 31 offers an allegorical reading of the instructions for the preparation of the Passover lamb: "It is also possible that the head is faith and feet the works without which faith is dead" (Daly 1992, 44; Witte 1993, 122).
  • Leo the Great Serm. 10.2–3 (2) "While faith provides the basis (ratio) for works, the strength (fortitudo) of faith comes out only in works" (Freeland and Conway 1996, 121; Chavasse 1973, 1:43).
  • Ps.-Andreas Catena: The catena's heading for Jas 2:14–3:2 reads, "That a person is justified not by faith only, but also by actions, nor from each one separately, but from both together" (Cramer 1844, 8:14).
  • John Chrysostom Hom. Gen. 2.14 "After all, faith without works is dead, and works without faith are dead. For even if we have sound teachings (dogmata hugiê) but fail in living, the teachings benefit us nothing; likewise if we take pains with life but are careless about teaching, that will not be any good to us either. So it is necessary to shore up this spiritual edifice of ours in both directions" (Hill 1986, 37; PG 53:31).
  • Maximus the Confessor Myst. 5, explicating Ps.-Dionysius Cael. Hier., gives a philosophical analysis of the relationship between faith and action: "As for reason, it is analogously moved by prudence (phrônêsis) and arrives at action (praxis); through action it comes to virtue; through virtue it comes to faith (pistis), the genuinely solid and infallible certainty of divine realities. The reason possesses it at first in potency by prudence, and later demonstrates it in act by virtue through its manifestation in works (ep ergôn). Indeed, as Scripture has it, 'Faith without works is dead'" (Berthold 1985, 192–93; PG 92:677).
  • John of Damascus Fid. orth. 82 (4.9) writes of the necessity of good works after baptism, "It behooves us, then, with all our strength to steadfastly keep ourselves pure from filthy works, that we may not, like the dog returning to his vomit (2Pt 2:22) make ourselves again the slaves of sin. For faith apart from works is dead, and so likewise are works apart from faith. For the true faith is attested (dokimazetai) by works" (NPNF2, 9:78; Kotter 2011, 184).
  • Palamas Hom. 17.17 applies James' teaching to those Christians who neglect Sunday worship: "There exist not only thoughts and words of faith but also deeds and acts of faith (erga kai praxeis pisteôs)— 'Shew me,' it says, 'thy faith by thy works'—and if someone abandons these and is completely distanced from the Church of Christ and given over wholly to worthless pursuits, his faith is dead, or non-existent (mê ousan tên pistin), and he himself has become dead through sin" (Veniamin 2009, 141).

Relationship of Faith, Works, Pride and Humility

  • Fulgentius of Ruspe Ep. 3.27: Fulgentius sees a close relationship between pride and a merely verbal confession of Christianity, as opposed to humility and the combination of faith and works. Following his quotation of Jas 2:14, "The humility, therefore, which Christ taught in saying, 'learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart' (Mt 11:29) does not consist in faith alone (sola fide), but in faith at the same time as works (sed in fide simul et opere). For it is written thus, 'Even the demons believe and tremble' (Jas 2:19), who nevertheless for this reason are not humble" (Bachelet 2004, 188–89).

Faith without Works is not True Faith

  • Didymus the Blind Ep. can. ad 2:26 "when faith is dead without works, it is no longer faith (jam neque fides est); for neither is a dead person any longer a person" (Zoepfl 1914, 5).
  • Origen Comm. Jo. 19.23.152 "But he who dies in his sins, even if he says that he believes in the Christ, has not believed in him so far as truth is concerned (hôs pros to alêthes), and if faith is mentioned but it lacks works, such faith is dead, as we have read in the epistle that is in circulation as the work of James"  (Heine 1993, 202).
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad 2:15–17 "only he who truly believes who carries out in deed what he believes" (tantummodo vere credat qui exercet operando quod credit; Hurst 1985, 28; Hurst 1983, 197).
  • Caesarius of Arles Serm. 18.1 applies Jas 2:14–17 to Christians who do not strive to do good deeds of justice and almsgiving, but rather lead a life of pleasure-seeking and greed. He wonders if they truly believe that God will reward those who do good deeds and punish the wicked; cf. Serm. 12.2. See also Caesarius of Arles Serm. 209.2: the passage quoted with Jn 14:21–23 to show that "faith that is devoid of merits (nuda meritis fides) is useless and empty" (Mueller 1973, 3:90–91; Morin 1953, 2:835).
  • Symeon the New Theologian Hymn. 50.218–220 "For unbelieving (apistoi) are those who rest on faith alone apart from works. If not unbelieving, at least completely dead" (Koder 2003, 3:172).
  • Reformers such as Calvin and Zwingli held that in Jas 2:14–26, James refers to "faith" ironically. The Roman Catholic tradition, in contrast, held that James does indeed refer to faith, but to an inadequate, "unformed" faith that cannot save a person. Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 14. [quoting Jas 2:17]: "because [if] works do not follow the faith, it is a sure sign and testimony that faith is not present but a dead intellectualization and a dream" (Preus 2008, 2:1181; see also →Interpretation of James in the Reformation and Theology Jas 2:17).

  • Ris Menn. Art. 18.1 "true faith does not consist in a self-assumed favorable position and assurance, for this may be found apart from the heart-renewing and cleansing power, apart from true love and good works (zonder de waare Liefde en voortbrenginge van goede werken) without which true faith unto righteousness cannot exist" (citing, among numerous other texts Jas 2:17 and Gal 5:6;CCFCT 3:170; Ris 1766, 64).

Actions are Evidence of a Genuine Faith

  • Origen Comm. Rom. 4.1.6, alluding to James' teaching that Abraham was justified by works (Jas 2:21-24): "the proof of true faith is that sin is not being committed (Indicium igitur verae fidei est ubi non delinquitur).…it is also said of Abraham in another passage of Scripture that he was justified by the works of faith" (Scheck 2002, 239; Hammond Bammel 1998, 2:272–73).
  • Salvian Gub. Dei 4.2: [Commenting on Jas 2:18], "By this he points out that good works are, as it were, witnesses to the Christian faith (actus bonos Christianae fidei quasi testes esse), because, unless a Christian performs good works he absolutely cannot give proof of his faith (fidem suam penitus adprobare non possit). Since he cannot prove that he has faith, it must be considered as wholly non-existent (sic omnino habendum esse quasi non sit)." Salvian then quotes Jas 2:19 ("even the demons believe…") as an illustration of this non-existent faith (O'Sullivan 1947, 92; Pauly 1883, 65).
  • Symeon the New Theologian Hymn. 42.139–40; 44:296–97; 51:92–94 regularly pairs the phrases "those who believe" and "those who demonstrate their faith through their works" (deiknuontes tên pistin ek tôn ergôn).
  • Maximus the Confessor Quae. Thal. 54:21 "faith in Christ is manifested (diaphainetai) by the practice of the commandments (têᵢ praxei tôn entolôn), for 'faith without works is dead,' just as 'works are dead without faith" (Constas 2018, 344; Laga and Steel 1990, 1:461).
  • Aquinas ST 2-2.124.5 "But the truth of faith includes not only inward belief, but also outward profession (exterior protestatio), which is expressed not only by words, whereby one confesses the faith, but also by deeds (per facta), whereby a person shows that he has faith, according to Jas 2:18, 'I will show you, by my works, my faith'" (English Dominicans 1947, 3:1713).
  • Bernard of Clairvaux Serm. Cant. 24.7, just before citing Jas 2:20 writes: "I shall judge you to be righteous if your opinions are correct and your deeds do not contradict them (recte in omnibus sentias et factis non dissentias). For the state of your invisible soul is made known by one's belief and practice" (fides et actio; Walsh and Edmonds 1980, 3:38; Leclercq et al. 1977, 1:158).
  • Bernard of Clairvaux Serm. Cant. 30. (3).6 "Faith was there, but it was dead. Without good works (sine operibus) how could it be otherwise?" (Walsh and Edmonds 1980, 3:117; Leclercq et al. 1977, 1:214).

True Faith Demonstrated in Martyrdom

  • John Chrysostom Stat. 5.6, quoting Jas 2:18, notes that a fearless attitude towards death is proof of a genuine faith: "If you are a Christian, believe in Christ; if you believe in Christ, show me your faith by your works (dia tôn ergôn epideixon moi tên pistin). But how may you show this? By your contempt of death (kataphronêᵢs thanaton): for in this we differ from the unbelievers. They may well fear death; since they have no hope of a resurrection. But you, who are travelling toward better things, and have the opportunity of meditating on the hope of the future; what excuse have you, if while assured of a resurrection, you are yet at the same time as fearful of death, as those who believe not the resurrection?" (NPNF1, 9:373; PG 49:71).
  • Ps.-Andreas Catena ad 2:14–16 "Unless somone shows that he believes in God by [his] work, his title [i.e., of "Christian"] is meaningless (ean mê ergôᵢ deixêᵢ tis hoti pisteuei tôᵢ theôᵢ, perittê hê prosêgoria). For it is not the one who simply says that he is the Lord's who is a believer (ho pistos), but the one who so loves the Lord that he would boldly face even death (kai thanatou katatolman) because of his faith in him" (Cramer 1844, 8:14).

Both Faith and Works Needed for Salvation

Tradition often teaches that both faith and works are required for salvation with or without explicit reference to James:

  • Justin  1 Apol. 16.18 "And let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, (ta erga prattontas sôthêsesthai) according to His word" (reference to Jesus' teaching in Mt 7:21 et al. follow; ANF 1:168; Marcovich 1994, 57).
  • John Chrysostom Hom. Jo. 31.1 ad Jn 3:36 "'Is it then enough,' says one, 'to believe in the Son, that one may have eternal life?' By no means. And hear Christ Himself declaring this, and saying, [quotation of Mt 7:21].…Though a man believe rightly (orthôs pisteusêᵢ) in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, yet if he lead not a right life (bion de mê exhêᵢ orthon), his faith will avail nothing towards his salvation" (ouden autôᵢ kerdon tês pisteôs eis sôtêrion; NPNF1, 106; PG 59:175–76).
  • John Chrysostom Hom. Rom. 5 ad Rom 2:7 "[Paul] shows that it is not right to trust in faith only (ou chrê têᵢ pistêᵢ tharrein monon). For it is deeds (praxeis) also into which that tribunal will enquire" (NPNF1 11:362; PG 60:425).
  •  Moghila Orth. Conf. 1 "Q: What does it behoove a catholic and orthodox (orthodoxos kai katholikos) Christian to believe and do, that he may have eternal life?  A: "Right faith and good works (pistin orthên kai erga kala); for whoever holds these two, the same is a good Christian, and has certain hope (echei bebaian elpida) of eternal salvation, as the Scripture says: 'You see then how that by good works a man is justified, and not by faith only' [Jas 2:24]; and a little after, 'For as the body without the Spirit is dead; so faith without works is dead also.'" [Jas 2:26] (CCFCT 1:562; Karmirês 1986, 2:593). Moghila's Confession was approved by the Council of Jassy (1642) and by the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.


Literary Devices

18–23 You have faith, and I have works Diatribe: Who is James' Interlocutor?

Anticipating Counter-arguments

Rhetorically, James here uses anticipation (G: prolêpsis; L: praesumptio): anticipating his opponent's objections and forestalling them with answers (cf. Anaximenes Rhet. Alex. 36 [1443a]; Aristotle Rhet. 3.17 [1418b]). To this end, James employs the common diatribal technique of introducing an imaginary opponent to articulate the objection (cf. Ps.-Cicero Rhet. Her. 4.66 [54] discussion of this technique, which he calls "personificiation" [conformatio]; cf. Quintilian Inst. 9.2.29-30). 

Basic Interpretive Options

Commentators differ sharply on how to read 18a. Some proposed options:

  • The speaker is a proponent of James' view: "You [i.e., an imaginary opponent who belives that faith alone saves] have faith, and I have works."
  • The speaker is an opponent of James; the phrase could be a question, "Do you [James] have faith? I have works."
  • The phrase simply introduces the two rival positions: one camp emphasizes faith, the other camp emphasizes works.

The most persuasive solution is the third. The speaker here is clearly an opponent: "someone" (Greek: tis) picks up the "someone" who falsely claims to have faith in Jas 2:14; the introductory alla ("but") indicates a contrast with James' position presented in Jas 2:14–17).

James' imaginary opponent presents the two positions, and James responds, "Show me your faith apart from works." James' command is ironic: he believes that his interloculor cannot demonstrate sincere faith without the proof of actions, for consequent actions are essential to genuine faith.

James then concludes with his own position, "And I will show you my faith by my works."