JOHN F. HART
Professor of Bible
Moody Bible Institute
Informed Christians are aware of the ongoing debate in modern evangelicalism concerning the content of the Gospel and the nature of faith. In the heat of the discussion, it’s inevitable that the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith alone will not be allowed to rest without a hurried disclaimer: “True faith will inevitably evidence itself in a life of consistent good works.” An appeal is made to James 2 as final confirmation that genuine saving faith must produce consistent good works, otherwise such a “faith” is obviously spurious. While other passages are cited as confirming this theology, James 2 is given preeminence. This seems a little surprising when some scholars see the Epistle of James as practically oriented rather than theologically oriented. Burdick even feels that, with the exception of Philemon, James “is without doubt the least theological of all NT books.”
A natural reading of the epistle fails to uncover hints that a genuine Christian faith will by its very nature produce ongoing good works. If it were not for the clear theological conflict with Pauline justification by faith, such verses as Jas 2:14 would simply be read as an exhortation to add works to one’s faith as a means of gaining salvation and not as a by-product of it.
The primary purpose of this article is to reexamine the issues in Jas 2:14-26 in light of the Gospel debate. We contend that the Jacobean passage does not establish the traditional Reformed theological position that genuine faith always results in consistent, visible works. Instead, it reflects James’s exhortations to his readers to add works to their (genuine) faith for progressive sanctification. Our intention is not to examine each verse sequentially nor to present a detailed interpretation. Instead, we will exegetically investigate key points of contention according to their relative importance to the debate. A lengthy theological discussion to define genuine faith will be avoided. Instead, we will supply the exegetical evidence that eliminates this verse as a prooftext used to define genuine faith.
A few observations should be noted at the outset. It is not denied that genuine faith will result in some change in the believer. Those holding to the Free Grace teaching do not assert that faith can exist without any change whatsoever. Most, if not all Free Grace proponents, believe that good works will inevitably result from faith, but not necessarily as visibly as we desire them to appear and not necessarily as consistently as the Lord would desire them to appear. Hodges writes:
We must add that there is no need to quarrel with the Reformers’ view that where there is justifying faith, works will undoubtedly exist too [italics added]. This is a reasonable assumption for any Christian unless he has been converted on his death bed! But it is quite wrong to claim that a life of dedicated obedience is guaranteed by regeneration, or even that such works as there are must be visible to a human observer. God alone may be able to detect the fruits of regeneration in some of His children.
Charles Ryrie, a Free Grace theologian, views James 2 as explaining a false faith that has no works. On the other hand, he understands that works may not always be evident in a believer’s life. He comments, “Every Christian will bear spiritual fruit: somewhere, sometime, somehow.” Three further qualifications are added in his explanation: a believer may not always be fruitful; the fruit may not be outwardly evident; and the fruit may not be my “definition” of what fruit should be. So while the gospel debate centers on many concepts in James 2, the debate does not hang on coming to the identical conclusions in every point.
II. The Interlocutor of 2:18-19
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! (Jas 2:18-19)
Whenever it is argued that faith is more than a mere intellectual assent (i.e., that faith must also include surrender/commitment to the Lordship of Christ), reference is hastily made to the demons’ faith mentioned in v 19. It might even be said that Jas 2:19 forms the preeminent argument for the perspective that true faith comprises more than a superficial, intellectual “faith.” The appeal is so widespread that it is difficult to find an author holding to the viewpoint who does not employ 2:19 in this way. A few citations will be beneficial.
No more stunning illustration of dead faith has ever been presented [than James 2:19]. Yes, even the demons have faith. Will this “someone” . . . intimate that the demons are saved by their faith; that the Christian to whom he says, “Thou hast faith,” need, [sic] no better faith?
My question is, what kind of faith is it that permits a person, having affirmed Jesus Christ as Jehovah God, to continue in an unbroken pattern of sin and rebellion? Is that not demonic faith (James 2:19), orthodox but not efficacious?
Is “faith” minus commitment a true biblical faith? We remember that the apostle James goes so far as to insist . . . that a faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 26). Such “faith” is useless (v. 20), worth nothing (v. 16). It is a claim to faith only (v. 14), not genuine faith, . . . no different from the assent of the demons who “believe . . . and shudder” (Jas 2:19).
James implies [in using 2:19] that demonic faith is greater than fraudulent faith of a false professor, for demonic faith produces fear, whereas unsaved men have “no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). If the demons believe, tremble, and are not saved, what does that say about those who profess to believe and don’t even tremble? (cf. Isa 66:2, 5).
1. A Genuine Crux Interpretum
In light of how frequently a “false faith” theology is bolstered by a reference to the faith of demons in Jas 2:19, one would think the passage would pose no exegetical difficulties. Surprisingly enough, the very opposite is the case. The problems are so complex that some scholars think 2:18-19 might be the most difficult passage in the entire NT! Hiebert remarks, “Efforts to establish the precise force of the verse  have taxed the ingenuity of the commentators.” Nevertheless, the confidence in using 2:19 to support a faith-works formula is enthusiastically maintained in spite of the ongoing confusion that arises with 2:18-19. Davids argues that the basic sense of the verses is clear despite the problems. But is it feasible to defend the dominant clarity of the passage when numerous details are so ambiguous? He himself remarks, “It is obvious, then, that none of the solutions to this passage is without its problems.”
Several others also cast their vote for the clarity of the basic elements regardless of the many obscurities. Chester and Martin believe the section “is notoriously obscure and difficult,” but add that the main point is clear: the inseparability of faith and works. Therefore, the preceding testimonies lead us to believe that the text under consideration may justly be called a crux interpretum, and those who seek an illustration for some form of “false faith” here should tread the ground more cautiously.
2. Exegetical Options
To the ordinary reader, options for the interpretation of 2:18-20 are almost too numerous and confusing to decipher. Perhaps the really crucial questions for exegetical consideration include: 1) How far do the words of this imaginary person extend through the end of v 18, or even into v 19?; and 2) Who is the one mentioned in the introductory statement of 2:18, “But someone may say…”? Is he an ally helping James respond to an opponent (or James himself), simply an opponent, or one who gives two viewpoints that somewhat agree with James but add qualifications to the apostle’s perspective? In the latter scenario, the respondent offers a plea for tolerance and pluralism. His suggestion is that both the one who has faith and the one who has works are acceptable before God.
To take the words of the person in 2:18a as an ally or in any way agreeing with James is strange. The only rationale for this sentiment is the fact that this imaginary “someone” claims to have works (2:18b, “and I have works”). But James has just lamented the absence of such works (2:14-16). How can an opponent make such a claim? Seemingly, his self-description has taken up the very position James defends. In addition, reading the verse this way gravely weakens the sense of the adversative alla (“but”) that begins the introductory formula, “But someone will say.”
But the most serious obstacle to overcome is the nature of the introductory formula itself. This interlocutory style resembles the dialogical Greek diatribe and everywhere the words that follow it contain the comments of an objector. According to McKnight,
Scholars are agreed that the introductory formula cannot without violence be taken in any other way than as relaying the view of an interlocutor. Evidence is abundant, including 1 Cor 15:35; Rom 9:19; 11:19; Luke 4:23; Jos. J. W. 2.365; 3.367; 4 Mac 2:24; Barn. 9:6; Xen. Cyr. 4.3.10.
The third approach above that the respondent offers a compromise position to James runs into equally insurmountable difficulties. For example, it must apply to the personal pronouns “you” and “I” (2:18) an obscure indefiniteness such as, “One has faith; another has works.” Handling the pronouns in such a manner is quite unnatural to NT grammar. And like the ally view, it must deny the logical connection between the “someone” of 2:18a with the “someone” of 2:14 and 2:16. Interpreting the words of 2:18a and following must involve perceiving them as the words of an opponent.
3. The Content of the Faith in 2:19
It is generally thought that the faith of the demons forms a challenge to the objector of 2:18 “to recognize the true nature of an orthodox faith that is inoperative.” Three primary objections can be raised against the supposition that Jas 2:19 proves that true faith involves commitment, works, or some element beyond mental assent (i.e., faith in propositional truth).
First, the content of faith in the passage is not soteriological. It is regularly identified that the statement “You believe that God is one; the demons also believe . . .” is monotheist and thoroughly Jewish. But no evangelical theologian purports that any individual is ever redeemed by any kind of faith in the oneness of God. What is clear is the fact that “precisely the unique content of the Christian faith is not represented here.” Gordon Clark’s question is appropriate: “The text says the devils believed in monotheism. Why cannot the difference between the devils and Christians be the different propositions believed, rather than a psychological element in belief?” In other words, the text does not say that the demons believe in Christ as Savior, or even that they believe in Christ as Savior and Lord. Those who use the illustration of the demons’ faith to prove the existence of a false intellectual faith that does not redeem, are “comparing apples with oranges.” Therefore, it is pressing the case too far to find in this passage an example of the kind of false faith that is inadequate to regenerate because it fails to produce consistent works. This argument has no clear value.
4. Demons and People: An Illogical Comparison
A second major objection to the traditional prooftexting of 2:19 is this: No faith the demons have can be compared with faith that people have. Even if the text read, “You believe that Jesus is the Christ [cf. John 20:31]; . . . The demons also believe . . . ,” an inadequacy in comparison would still be evident. Although the words for “faith” are never used elsewhere for the response of demons, it is true that in the Gospels the demons know that Jesus is the Son of God (Matt 8:29). They even yield to his Lordship (Mark 1:24; 5:7; Matt 8:29-30).
Nevertheless, if demons had faith in Christ, i.e., if they trusted in His sacrifice for their redemption, they would not be born again. It would not matter whether the faith was intellectual assent or full surrender. There simply is no redemption for demons (Heb 2:14). On the other hand, whenever a person trusts in Christ solely as his sinbearer, he is forensically justified. In regard to eternal salvation, demons and people cannot be compared. Evangelicals should abandon their use of Jas 2:19 if for no other reason than this: The faith of demons cannot and should not be compared with the faith of human beings.
5. The Opponent Speaks in 2:19
Yet a third consideration demands our attention in 2:19. We have in the words all’ erei tis (“But someone will say”) the obvious introduction of an objector. But what follows seems to be a reversal of what we might expect: James is said to have faith while the objector claims to have works. Dibelius comes to the conclusion that the text has suffered corruption, making the passage impervious. But the solution may be found by discovering how far the objector’s words extend. Hodges perceptively asks, “Is it possible that the exegetical difficulties involved here are actually due to a failure to read all the objector’s words?” [italics original].
Once again the options are sundry. A survey of the placement of quotation marks in various translations of Jas 2:18-20 shows that as many as four possibilities exist. They are arranged below with a representative translation, starting from the shortest suggested words of the objector down to the longest. The underlined portion reflects the placement of the quotation marks in each version.
Option #1: Moffatt
18Someone will object, “And you claim to have faith!” Yes, and I claim to have deeds as well; you show me your faith without any deeds, and I will show you by my deeds what faith is! 19You believe in one God? Well and good. So do the devils, and they shudder. 20But will you understand, you senseless fellow, that faith without deeds is dead?
Option #2: NIV
18But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder. 20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
Option #3: NASB
18But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
Option #4: Weymouth
18Nay, someone will say, “You have faith, I have actions; prove to me your faith from corresponding actions and I will prove mine to you by my actions. 19You believe that God is one, and you are quite right: evil spirits also believe this, and shudder.” 20But, idle boaster, are you willing to be taught how it is that faith apart from obedience is worthless?
As is obvious from these options, the Greek text does not contain some form of inspired punctuation to help decide the case. So how are these options to be settled? While the literature complicates the decisions, insight is available. As we have already concluded, the phrase, “But someone will say,” undoubtedly contains a standard formula for introducing an objection. Hodges expresses the opinion that o anthrope kene (“You foolish man”) can be best understood as James’s response to the objector, whose words carry through two verses (2:18-19), not one. This is the pattern taken by the Weymouth version in the fourth option above. Convincing support for this conception is found in the similar biblical parallels in 1 Cor 15:36 and Rom 9:19 where the rebuttals commence with a rebuking appellative strikingly parallel to Jas 2:20. For consistency, the NASB is used without its quotation marks for all the verses in the following chart:
1 Cor 15:35-36
|Introductory Formula||But someone may well say,||But someone will say,||You will say to me then,|
|Objector’s Words||You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith with-out the works, and I will show you my faith by works. You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe and shudder.||How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?||Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?|
|Apostle’s Response||But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?||You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies …||On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?|
As can be seen in the chart, in both of the Pauline texts the rejoinder to the imaginary objector begins with a pronouncement of the man’s foolishness. But in James, the remark about the objector’s folly comes at the beginning of verse 20, not in verse 18 or 19. If this is accepted, the counterproposal to James encompasses all of 2:18-19. These parallel stylistic structures make it nearly impossible to take the text in any other way than that 2:18-19 is a complete unit the entire words of an opponent to James. Although secular literature can also be cited with the same stylistic blueprint, the biblical pattern is convincing in and of itself.
McKnight, attempting to confirm the unity of 2:18b-19 (but as the response from James), really gives evidence of the unity of all of 2:18-19 (apart from the introductory formula, of course). In a footnote he observes:
Observe the neat structure of 2:14-26: (1) 2:14 and 2:17 form an inclusio, both verbally (cf. erga de me eche [“and he does not have works”] and me eche erga [“it does not have works”]) and rhetorically (question/conclusion); (2) 2:20 forms an inclusio with 2:26 both rhetorically (question/conclusion) and materially (cf. arge [“useless”] with nekra [“dead”]).
Martin, citing R. W. Wall’s unpublished article on the passage, lists two other supports for extending the objector’s statement through the end of 2:19: 1) a chiastic structure is found in 2:18-19; and 2) the rebuke in verse 20 is so severe that it necessitates more than a briefly stated objection. But added to that is the salient affinity between sy pistin echeis (“you [yourself] have faith”) in 2:18 and sy pisteueis (“you [yourself] believe”) in 2:19, making it all the more likely that both verses come from the mouth of the same person.
What then is the meaning intended by the zealous antagonist? Only a brief answer can be offered here. With the help of textual criticism, the choris (“without”) of 18b is best replaced by the superior reading of ek (“by”) found in the Majority Text and the Textus Receptus (but omitted from the KJV). The resultant meaning is a challenge by the objector for faith to be demonstrated by works (2:18). His challenge is reflected in the words deixon moi (“Show me”) and soi deixo (“I will show you”). The point of the demonstration lies in the supposed impossibility of displaying any works that can prove the existence of faith since two disparate “works” arise from the same affirmation of faith. The demons believe there is one God and tremble; James believes the same thing but does good works.
In modern terms, the imaginary objector might have said, “James, you start with a doctrinal point, and show me what good work proves you believe this. If you can do that, I’ll do the reverse. I’ll name a good work and show what doctrine must be behind it. It’s impossible! For example, James, you believe that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. And you have a monogamous marriage. But the Mormons believe that too, and some of them are polygamous. So works can’t show us anything about a person’s faith. No one can see faith.”
By so arguing, the objector hopes to salvage some value for a verbalized faith. James had stated that both speaking and acting on our faith in the Lord Jesus (2:12 with 2:1) were required of the believer, and that works show us that one’s faith is living and vital (2:17). Therefore, works can demonstrate one’s faith. The opponent disagrees, speculating that no one can see the vitality of faith by works. The following rebuttal by James is designed to prove that faith was surely visible through the works of Abraham. The only way to see faith is through works; to merely talk our faith is useless to meet practical needs (cf. 2:15-16 where someone speaks but doesn’t act). The blepeis (“you [singular] see”) in 2:22 is then directed toward the challenge of deixon moi (“Show me,” 2:18) by the objector. The horate (“you see”), now moving to the plural, draws the readership back into the truth that James is stressing.
Perhaps the following analysis will assist us to understand this interpretation of the opponent’s words. The text reveals an internal chiastic format underlying the challenge to James. The translation follows the Majority Text and should be read from the top down, and from left to right. The chiastic format is incomplete (the bottom right) because: 1) the imaginary opponent has supplied James’s response for him, and 2) the opponent does not hold that a further reply by James is possible.
The Starting Point
|Works Do Not Show One’s Faith||James Has Faith and Good Works||Demons Have Faith and No Good Works|
|James||A1 Faith||You have faith||Show me your faith||You believe that God is one||The demons also believe|
|by your works||
You do well!
|and I have works||and I will show you by my works|
|A2 Faith||my faith|
This study has attempted to establish numerous precautions against using Jas 2:19 as a prooftext for the concept and theology of a “false faith.” First, any passage that is fraught with such comprehensive exegetical challenges should not be a primary (and perhaps not even a secondary) foundation for a theological superstructure. But this is exactly how Jas 2:19 has been employed by many evangelicals. Those using the verse to promote the existence of a supposed “head faith” over against genuine faith should be more circumspect in their handling of the passage on this ground alone.
Further serious caveats have been highlighted. Two factors render the application of demonic faith to earthly living fully inappropriate: 1) The content of faith that the demons are said to possess is not the content of faith for eternal life; and 2) Any possible faith that demons can possess whether it is intellectual assent or full and complete surrender to the Lordship of Christ cannot gain eternal life for them. There is no redemption for the evil angels. It is illogical to compare faith of the spirit world with faith in the human realm.
Finally, it has been demonstrated that the words of Jas 2:19 are not spoken by James himself. Instead, Jas 2:18-19 as a whole comes from the mouth of the imaginary objector introduced in 2:18a. It should be obvious that if this is the case, evangelicals will need to abandon the use of this verse to establish orthodox definitions of faith. Should we teach as truth that which comes from the mouth of an objector to the apostle James?
1We list only a short sample: John F. MacArthur, Jr., Faith Works, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), 139-55; Edmond D. Hiebert, The Epistle of James (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 43-45; James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James, in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 120-24; Peter Davids, The Epistle of James, in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), 49-51, 120-21; Robert V. Rakestraw, “James 2:14-26: Does James Contradict Pauline Soteriology?” Criswell Theological Review 1 (Fall 1986): 31-50; John Polhill, “Prejudice, Partiality, and Faith: James 2,” Review and Expositor 83 (Summer 1986): 395-404; R. E. Glaze, Jr., “The Relationship of Faith to Works,” The Theological Educator 34 (Fall 1986): 35-42.
2This seems to be witnessed by the series of papers presented before the Evangelical Theological Society and printed in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33 (March 1990): John F. MacArthur, Jr., “Faith According to the Apostle James,” 13-34; Earl D. Radmacher, “First Response to ‘Faith According to the Apostle James,’ by John F. MacArthur, Jr.,” 35-41; Robert L. Saucy, “Second Response to ‘Faith According to the Apostle James’ by John F. MacArthur, Jr.,” 43-47.
3Donald W. Burdick, “James,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 12:164.
4John MacArthur voices the opinion that Zane Hodges, a Free Grace scholar, never specifically defines what faith is in his writings. Shortly after his objection, he writes, ‘Hodges presupposes something of a description of faith, though not really a full definition: ‘What faith really is, in biblical language, is receiving the testimony of God. It is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the gospel is true’” [italics in both Hodges and MacArthur] (MacArthur, “James,” 15). The real problem seems to be a dissatisfaction with the way Free Grace authors define faith. MacArthur elsewhere uses a similar description, drawing from Heb 11:1: In other words, real faith implicitly takes God at His word. Faith is a supernatural confidence in—and therefore reliance on—the One who made the promises…It is a trust that brings absolute here-and-now certainty to ‘things hoped for’” (MacArthur, Faith Works, 40). I know of no Free Grace advocate who would object to this definition as it stands.
5Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation (Dallas: Redencin Viva, 1989), 215. Unfortunately, this is in the endnotes of the book rather than in the main text.
6Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 45. See pages 132-33 for his discussion of James 2.
8Saucy, “Second Response,” 46. Having said this, however, we must add that according to MacArthur, “The single factor that distinguishes counterfeit faith from the real thing is the righteous behavior inevitably produced in those who have authentic faith” (MacArthur, “James,” 16).
9Although this article cannot discuss it, there are more possibilities for defining genuine faith than just two: “Mere intellectual assent” vis–vis commitment to the Lordship of Christ. Some Free Grace theologians, such as Ryrie, reject both of these options (Ryrie, Salvation, 118-23).
10R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 585.
11John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus: What Does Jesus Mean When He Says, ‘Follow Me’? revised and expanded ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 74, n. 1; see also page 29, n. 3; pages 38, 186, 235. No less than five different appeals are made to this verse to support the claim that faith without works does not redeem.
In this viewpoint, the problem of unbroken sin and rebellion in a “Christian” is traced to an initial “faith” that was less than a full surrender to the Lordship of Christ. This, of course, does not solve the dilemma. We might just as logically ask, “What kind of faith is it that permits a person, having surrendered fully to the Lordship of Christ (and to all outward appearances lived obediently to Him for years), to fall into and continue in an unbroken pattern of sin and rebellion?”
12James Montgomery Boice, Christ’s Call to Discipleship (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 17.
13MacArthur, Faith Works, 151.
14Martin Dibelius, James, ed. Helmut Koester, translated by Michael A. William, revised by Heinrich Greeven (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 154; Ralph P. Martin, James, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988), 87.
15Hiebert, James, 182; cf. also Adamson, James, 135.
16Davids, James, 123; also, “However one reads it [v 18], the essential point James is making is clear” (MacArthur, “James,” 24-25).
17Davids, James, 124.
18Andrew Chester and Ralph P. Martin, The Theology of the Letters of James, Peter, and Jude (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 22.
19Cf. Scott McKnight, “James 2:12a: The Unidentifiable Interlocutor,” Westminster Theological Journal (Fall 1990): 355, who calls 18a “this crux interpretum,” over against Davids, James, 123, who challenges such an idea with, “This is not a crux interpretum, for…the general sense of the verse is clear enough in its context.”
20Cf. for example, Saucy’s opinion: “Surely the demonic faith is used to illustrate a nonsaving faith in the spiritual, eternal sense [emphasis added]…” (Saucy, “Second Response,” 45).
21Lenski, James, 583; Adamson, James, 124-25; J. B. Mayor, The Epistle of St. James, The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes and Comments, reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954), 99-100.
22Davids, James, 124; Glaze, “Relationship of Faith to Works,” 40.
23Mayor, James, 99-101; Polhill, “James,” 400; Burdick, “James,” 183; Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Epistles of James and John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 91; Lorin L. Cranford, “An Exposition of James 2,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 29 (Fall 1986): 27; Douglas J. Moo, James, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. Leon Morris (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), 105-106. This view is reflected in the Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) and NEB translations.
Moo suggests the interlocutor defends a position where one person who has just faith is considered equally acceptable to another who has works. But James declares that the two are inseparable. This interpretation is similar to Erasmus’s conception of the passage as a debate between one side that promoted faith without works and another side that supported works without faith, with James taking a mediating position; Timothy George, “‘A Right Strawy Epistle’: Reformation Perspectives on James,” Review and Expositor 83 (Summer 1986): 375.
For a good overview of these alternatives and others, see McKnight, “Interlocutor,” 355-59; Martin, James, 86-89.
24Cranford, “James 2,” 27; McKnight, “Interlocutor,” 355.
25Martin, James, 86.
27McKnight, “Interlocutor,” 356. Davids, James, 124, also agrees that the formula introduces an objector since Greek literature has never revealed a common stylistic pattern other than that of introducing a dissenting voice.
28Martin, James, 87; Davids, James, 123-23.
29N. B., Cranford, “James,” 27, who denies that the objection of 2:18a is similar to the objection of 2:14 and 2:16. Yet he seems to concede that this understanding of 2:18a seems unnatural. He states: “Quite probable is the view that the objector here is not to be seen in detailed parallel to the tis [“someone”] either in verse fourteen or sixteen. Rather it is an objection which James sets up somewhat strangely as a way to call attention to the inseparableness of faith and works.”
30Hiebert, James, 186.
31Dibelius, James, 158.
32Gordon H. Clark, The Johannine Logos (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.), 81; see also Ryrie, Salvation, 121-22. At this point, the popular distinction between a head belief and a heart belief naturally comes to mind, the former involving merely an “intellectual assent” and the latter involving some additional element of commitment or reliance. That man can be so truncated as to be able to sincerely believe with his mind (i.e., a false faith) yet not believe with his heart is theologically suspect. If the head represents the intellect while the heart represents the will, what place do the emotions have in the faith process? Could a person have an insufficient faith because he has believed with his mind (head) and submitted his will (heart) but has not believed with his emotions? Even Clark, who is a Reformed theologian, expresses strong sentiments against the head-heart division. He has evinced from the use of pistis (“faith”) in the Gospel of John that genuine faith can certainly be an intellectual assent, i.e., that the fundamental meaning of pistis is belief in a proposition (cf. the very purpose statement of the Gospel, John 20;31). “There is no antithesis between believing Jesus as a person and believing what he says” (Clark, Logos, 71). There are not three options: false faith, true faith, and no faith. Only two options present themselves on the pages of Scripture: faith and no faith.
Rakestraw points out that in Jas 2:19 the text says that the demons “believe that…” (pisteuo + hoti), not “believe in…” Therefore, the faith under discussion is intellectual and lacks the commitment necessary for true faith (Rakestraw, ‘James 2:12-26,” 36). But the very same construction is used no less than twelve times in the Gospel of John alone to connote genuine faith, including the purpose statement in John 20:31. Other references include 6:69; 8:24; 11:27, 42; 13:19; 14:10-11; 16:27, 30; 17:8, 21.
33Wilkin holds that the fear exhibited by the demons is evidence that they really do believe in monotheism (Robert N. Wilkin, “An Exegetical Evaluation of the Reformed Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints” [Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1982], 11). Polhill’s comment is interesting: “More than mere intellectual assent is involved in the demonic acknowledgment of God,” in that they fully recognized who Jesus was and understood that their very existence was in his control [italics added] (Polhill, “James 2,” 404, n 28). Despite this admission, he uses 2:19 to establish that James’s concern is an intellectual-assent-only faith (page 400).
34James is in agreement with all of the NT in making Christ the object of faith (2:1).
35Dibelius, James, 157-58.
36“The first investigation incumbent upon the interpreter is to determine how far the opponent’s objection extends and where the author’s words begin again” (Ibid., 154). On the other hand, McKnight holds that the beginning of James’s response in 2:18b is one of the “elements of exegesis which, if not certain, [is] unquestionably on the side of probability.” He spends only one sentence to decide the case (McKnight, ‘Interlocutor,’ 359-60).
37Zane C. Hodges, “Light on James Two From Textual Criticism,” Bibliotheca Sacra 120 (October 1963):343.
38James Moffatt, The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments (New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc., 1926).
39Cf. also RSV, NRSV, NKJV, NAB, GNB, (Today’s English Version), Berkeley, NEB (loosely).
40Cf. also Phillips, New Century Version, The Webster Bible (1833), Douay Version.
41Richard F. Weymouth, The New Testament in Modern Speech (London: James Clark and Company, 1905); cf. also Williams version, The New Testament (1986 ed. only); Young’s Literal Translation (1898); and Martin, James, 76-77, 88-89, 90, who holds this option with reservations.
42Zane C. Hodges, The Epistle of James (Irving, TX; Grace Evangelical Society, 1994), 65; see also the same author’s work, Dead Faith: What Is It? (Dallas: Redencin Viva, 1987), 16-17.
43Others who take the two verses as a unit (but as an ally to James) include Mayor, James, 101; Robert Johnstone, A Commentary on James, revised ed. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 188-91.
44Lenski rejects these parallels, arguing that both the form of these biblical texts and the parallels in secular literature are different from James. Why he thinks so is not given. It is more likely that he is viewing the words in 2:18b from his inclination that they are the words of an ally. This influences his interpretation (Lenski, James, 583).
45For an overview of the parallels in secular literature, see Dibelius, James, 154, n. 29.
46McKnight, “Interlocutor,” 363, n. 38. The inclusion between 2:20 and 2:26 is strengthened if we read the nekra [“dead”] of the Majority Text in 2:20.
47R. W. Wall, “Interlocutor and James, James 2:18-20 Reconsidered,” unpublished article cited in Martin, James, 76-77. In the 1 Corinthians and Romans 9 parallels, the objector’s words carry for two sentences, not one. This backs up Wall’s observation about the rebuke necessitating more than a concise protest. Regrettably, the chiastic structure is not printed in Martin’s commentary.
48A defense of the meaning of the text is not crucial for our thesis. The point to be stressed is that the words of 2:19 are the opinions of an opponent of James, not the theology of James himself! Therefore, Heide seems to be missing the point in stating, “Whether James or some supposed debater is speaking in verse 19 is of little consequence to this debate…James ultimately agrees with what is being said” (Heide, “James 2:14,” 95). Heide’s thought is that 2:14-17 and 2:20-26 still teach that a dead faith is an intellectual faith that does not redeem, regardless of how we interpret 2:19. But it may also be that Jas 2:19 has been unconsciously applied to 2:14-26 to prove that a dead faith is a false faith. Once this theology has permeated the passage, there is no further need for Heide and others to use 2:19. The intellectual, false faith theology stands by itself throughout 2:14-26. Despite Heide’s disclaimer, the identity of the spokesperson in 2:19 has significant consequences for the debate, as was documented in the introduction to this article.
49Wall, “Interlocutor and James,” cited in Martin, James, 76-77. The Weymouth version appears to read the ek also. The reading of ek [“by”] is certainly the lectio difficilior. Internal evidence, such as the chiastic structure discussed below, helps confirm this reading. For a defense of this reading together with a fuller explanation of the meaning, see either work by Hodges, “Light on James Two,” 343-47 or Dead Faith, 16-17.
50That kalos poieis (“you do well” or “you do right”) can be rendered this way (= “you do good [works]”) is seen from its use in Luke 6:27 and Matt 5:24; 12:12; cf. also kalos poieite (“you are doing what is right/good”) in Jas 2:8 and kalon poiein (“to do what is right/good”) in Jas 4:17.
51The theme of an undisciplined tongue flows throughout the book of James, and begins as early as 1:13, “let no one say when he is tested…” Many among James’s readers were verbalizing this misconception of the nature of their trials. James 2:14 fits into this theme. As a Christian, to say that I have faith (2:14) but not involve myself in good deeds is a sin of my tongue as well as a sin of my life.
52“Dead faith” for James does not mean a false faith but a useless faith. A productive faith is his theme from the beginning. His directions are to count trials as joyful “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (NIV, 1:3-4). This productive-faith theme must be allowed to impact our thinking of James 2 (cf. 2:22).
53The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, ed. Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson publishers, 2nd ed., 1982).