In November 1995, my mom presented me with a King James Study Bible. I had come to faith only a few months before, around June.
I found the Bible in storage and was leafing through it, in preparation for writing the first draft of a Free Grace Study Bible.
The contributing editors include, among others, Jerry Falwell. Of the thirteen contributing editors, five attended Dallas Seminary. Most of the others went to Bob Jones, Tennessee Temple, Talbot, or Grace Theological Seminary—all conservative, Dispensational schools at the time.
I was disappointed to read the comment on James 2:14-17:
James, however, sees two kinds of faith: saving faith and professing faith (much like the usage today). For Paul, justification is by faith (Rom 4:5). For James, justification is by a faith that works—by a genuine faith that manifests itself in post-conversion works. Before salvation, these Jews had believed in the efficacy of works. Now some were reacting at the opposite extreme, imagining that works play no part in the salvation experience. James retorts that the kind of faith that does not produce works is not saving faith. As Calvin said: “Faith alone saves, but a faith that saves is never alone.” Thus, James’s question is not simply “Can faith save?” as the Greek text may suggest, “Can that faith save him?” Can merely professed but undemonstrated faith save? (see vv 21-24 for further discussion). The Greek grammar expects a negative answer to the question that ends verse 14. Hence it can be rendered, “That faith [i.e., the one mentioned in verse 14a which is without works] cannot save.”
This note teaches several faulty views of faith, such as:
- there are two kinds of faith (i.e., professing faith vs saving faith).
I agree. There are two kinds of faith. Not every instance of faith is saving faith. For example, I believe that Canada is north of Mexico, that David was king over Israel, and that I need more books (no matter what my wife says). None of those beliefs will get me to heaven. Saving faith is different, but how? The King James Study Bible answers:
- the difference between saving faith and non-saving faith depends on how you believe (i.e., you need a faith that works).
- Faith needs works to be saving.
These are serious errors. Think about what they mean. Imagine there are two people, John and Jane. Both believe that John 3:16 is true. But do they both get eternal life? Not in this view. In this view, something more is required. Jane believes that John 3:16 is true, but unfortunately, she didn’t do enough good works to have a living faith, so Jane is merely a professor who goes to the Lake of Fire. John, on the other hand, both believes in Jesus for eternal life and does enough good works to be saved. Good for John. Except, John has some problems, too. How many good works does it take to have a living faith? And how can John know if he’s done enough to be saved? And how can an unbeliever do enough good works to have a “living” faith before he’s regenerated at the point of salvation? And what happens if you fail to have enough good works later in life—do you lose your salvation, or prove that you were never saved to begin with?
The King James Study Bible view leads to some serious problems.
So what’s the right answer?
I would emphasize that the difference between non-saving faith and saving faith depends on what you believe (i.e., are you believe the saving message?), not how you believe. In my view, if John and Jane believe in Jesus for eternal life—that is, if they are persuaded that His promise is true—then they have that life, because that’s what Jesus promised. The power is not in their faith, but in Jesus’ power to keep the promise.
As one Facebook commentator said, “Interpreting James like this brings so much bondage to people’s lives. Sad.”