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21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
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.
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.
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?
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:
1–26 Deliberative Rhetoric The whole of chapter 2 is a fine example of deliberative (sumbouleutikon) rhetoric (see → 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 ( Rhet.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.
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).
22a faith was working together with is works Rhetorical Techniques
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."
21ff Abraham’s Testing and Faith
In Second Temple literature, Abraham is regularly portrayed as a model of steadfast faith:
The 2nd c. BC Book of Jubilees recounts how Abraham remained faithful despite a series of tests:
Philo also mirrors James' concern with the connection between faith and action, linked with Gn 15:6:
21a Abraham our father Rhetorical Functions of References to Abraham
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).
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).
Rhetorically, an exemplum is a type of proof (pistis), though it is not as persuasive as an enthymeme (→ 2.20.1–9; cf. Rhet.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. → 1.9.40; Rhet.→ 32 [1438b]). Rhet. Alex.
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.
Several Christian exempla lists mirror James' inclusion of Abraham and Rahab:
21–24 Faith and Works: Comparison of James and Paul
There are several close parallels between the thought of James and that of Paul on the topic of faith, justification, and "works" (actions):
Commentators offer various explanations for these similarities:
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:
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.
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:
The book of Tobit likewise contains this theme:
At the same time, works like 4 Ezra do not sharply distinguish between the salvific power of actions and of faith:
2:14–3:2a Divisio Textus
See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.
21b faith Faith in Isaac’s Resurrection
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 Clement also relates how Abraham trusted God's promises regarding the land and descendants, before concluding:
23c friend of God Abraham’s Special Intimacy with God and Other Biblical "Friends" of God
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:
Also relevant are Jesus' words to his disciples:
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.
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.
Trent's Decree on Justification teaches that observing the commandments of the law continue to play a role in justification and salvation.
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.
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.
"Good works" play a role in this later increase in justification, since both God's grace and human actions are involved in justification.
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.
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.
23c friend of God Interpretations in Islam
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.
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).
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:
23c friend of God Friendship with God, A Reward for Abraham’s Faith
Some accounts specificy that Abraham was designated "friend of God" after he remained faithful through his trials:
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 → 23 and Hist. eccl.→ 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also Vir. ill.→James: Introduction.
Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:
The following images are noteworthy:
James holds a club.
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.
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 → 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. Leg. aur.
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.
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
The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in → 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews). Vir. ill.
James holds a book and club.
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.
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.
21a justified by works Being Made Righteous or Being Shown to be Righteous
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.
The biblical tradition, in both its Hebrew and Hellenistic aspects, also recognizes the political and legal aspects of justice:
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).
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).
→ understood James to be using the second sense of Comm. Iac.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; 1849, 314; and 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.
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.
Common values form the foundation of a strong friendship.
Likewise, the Stoics refused to dignify relations based on utility or pleasure with the name of "friendship."
To be a "friend of God," then, a person would need to be at the highest levels of virtue.
The "friend of God," then, is the wise person who willingly obeys God's commandments (cf. Jn 15:14–15).
14–26 “You have faith, and I have works” Relationship of Faith and Works
Origen notes the inseparable relationship between faith and works in several passages
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. → 14. [quoting Loc. Theo.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" ( 2008, 2:1181; see also →Interpretation of James in the Reformation and Theology Jas 2:17).
Tradition often teaches that both faith and works are required for salvation with or without explicit reference to James:
18–23 You have faith, and I have works Diatribe: Who is James' Interlocutor?
Rhetorically, James here uses anticipation (G: prolêpsis; L: praesumptio): anticipating his opponent's objections and forestalling them with answers (cf. → 36 [1443a]; Rhet. Alex.→ 3.17 [1418b]). To this end, James employs the common diatribal technique of introducing an imaginary opponent to articulate the objection (cf. Rhet.→ 4.66  discussion of this technique, which he calls "personificiation" [ Rhet. Her.conformatio]; cf. → 9.2.29-30). Inst.
Commentators differ sharply on how to read 18a. Some proposed options:
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."