The Bible in Its Traditions

James 2:25

Byz S TR

25  Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by means of works, when she received the messengers and sent [them] out another way?

25  And in like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way?

25  Similarly also, Rahab, the harlot, was she not justified by works, by receiving the messengers and sending them out through another way?

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.


Biblical Intertextuality

25a Rahab Actions Inspired by Faith Lead to Salvation The story of how Rahab welcomed, hid, and cooperated with the Israelite spies sent by Joshua prior to the invasion of Jericho is told in Jo 2:1–21 (cf. Jo 6:22–25). When the king of Jericho's men inquired after the spies, Rahab misled them. Although a resident of the Canaanite city of Jericho and thus by definition a worshipper of other gods, Rahab confessed her faith in the God of Israel, "the Lord, your God, is God in heaven above and on earth below" (Jo 2:11). Her actions were rewarded when the Israelites spared her and her family from death when they conquered the city (Jo 2:13–14; cf. Jo 6:25).

Matthew's genealogical list remembers her as an ancestor of Jesus (Mt 1:5); the exempla list of scriptural heroes of faith in Hebrews includes Rahab: "By faith Rahab, the harlot, did not perish with the disobedient, for she had received the spies in peace" (Heb 11:31).


Jewish Tradition

25a Rahab Positive Nachleben In general, the rabbinic tradition sees Rahab in a positive light.

She confessed her sins and become a convert to Judaism; her faith in God (cf. Jo 2:11) is singled out for special praise ( Mek. Ish. 3).

The holy spirit rested on her so that she could prophesy (Sipre Deut. 22); she married Joshua and was the ancestor of 8 prophets, including Jeremiah ( b. Meg. 14b).


Literary Devices

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...).



25 Rahab Rahab in Dante’s Paradisio Dante Div. Comm. Par. 9.112-26 places Rahab in the third sphere of heaven. Dante understands Rahab to be the first soul taken here after Christ's death opened the heavenly gates: "first in Christ's triumph, she was taken up" (pria ch'altr' alma / del triunfo di Cristo fu assunta) (9:119-20). See also Jewish Tradition Jas 2:25a; Christian Tradition Jas 2:25a.


Literary Devices

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)

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).


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.


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

Christian Tradition

25a Rahab Interpretations of Rahab’s Story

A Model of Faith and Works

In a series of exempla of biblical heroes 1 Clement includes both Abraham (ch. 10) and Rahab (ch. 12) as models of both faith and hospitality:

  • 1 Clem. 10.7 "Because of his [Abraham's] faith and hospitality" (dia pistin kai  philonexian; Ehrman 2003, 1:53).
  • 1 Clem. 12.1 "Because of her faith and hospitality (dia pistin kai  philonexian) Rahab the prostitute was saved" (Ehrman 2003, 1:55).
  • Compare also: 1 Clem. 11.1: "Because of his hospitality (philonexia) and piety (eusebeia), Lot was saved out of Sodom" (Ehrman 2003, 1:53).

Early Christian tradition (Heb 11:31; 1 Clement), together with traditions recorded in later rabbinic materials (Jewish Tradition Jas 2:25a) thus remembers Rahab as an example of faith in God. As was the case in his reflection on Abraham, it is likely that James presupposes his hearer's understanding of Rahab as a model of faith (Literary Devices Jas 2:22a) and thus makes the implicit point that Rahab expressed her faith by protecting the Hebrew spies.

Allegorical and Moral Interpretations

  • Gloss. Ord. ad loc. "Rahab [is translated as] 'breadth' (latitudo), which signifies the Church spread out in faith (ecclesia fide dilatatam). This example teaches that, when one's homeland is passing away, to avoid destruction through works of mercy (opera misericordiae), to receive messengers of Christ (nuntios Christ suscipere), to serve them, and to send them back to Jesus, as it is said that the blessed Gamaliel did" (cf. Acts 5:34–39; col. 1282). Cf. Martin of León Exp. Jac. ad loc.

Prophecy of Christ

The Christian tradition also finds a hidden prophecy of Christ in Rahab's story. Rahab's sign to the spies, a scarlet cord tied in her window (Jo 2:18), is taken as a prophecy of the blood of Christ, "making it clear that it is through the blood of the Lord that redemption will come to all who believe and hope in God" (1 Clem. 12.7–8; for this interpretion, see also Justin Dial. 111.4; Irenaeus Haer. 4.20.12). 

Why does James pair Abraham and Rahab?

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. suggests that in case the example of Abraham's great deed of faith in offering his son as a sacrifice is too intimidating to emulate,  James offers his readers the more down-to-earth example of a foreign prostitute (Hurst 1985, 33–34; Hurst 1983, 201).
  • Gloss. Ord. offers an abbreviated version of Bede's comment: "Not only Abraham by a great work, but Rahab by a lesser work (per minora opera) was justified" (cols. 1281–82).
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. comments further that the example of Rahab was especially appropriate for a first-century Jewish-Christian audience. For just as Rahab listened to the messengers and left her people who were about to be destroyed, so Jewish Christians should have listened to the messengers of Jesus and left behind their own nation (Israel) which is about to be destroyed (alluding to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD) and join the church (Hurst 1985, 33–34; Hurst 1983, 201). 

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.

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.