The Case Against James Part 5 of 7

1. Paul’s Gospel.
2. The Book of Acts; Division in the Church.
3 . Epistles to A Church Divided.
4. Galatians: Justification by Faith.
5. The Epistle of James.
6. Summary and Overview.
7. Peter and John: Food for Thought.
8. Return to Index (Intro)
9. Return to Top

At long last, here we are, ready for a new perspective on the epistle of James. Before we look at how James’ epistle compares with Paul’s gospel and the rest of the New Testament, let’s take a moment to consider who James was, to whom his epistle was written, and when.

Who was James?

James was one of Jesus Christ’s half-brothers. After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary had several children, one of whom was James who eventually came to be the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He is referred to as one of the other apostles in Galatians 1:19. If James was actually an apostle, he is the only apostle mentioned in the bible whose ordination is never recorded. He was not among the apostles chosen by Jesus Christ.

Rather when Jesus Christ was ministering in Israel, James and his siblings, along with Mary herself, distanced themselves from him.

Matt. 12:46-50. Jesus was still speaking to the people when behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak to Him. Some one said to Him, Listen! Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You. But He replied to the man who told Him, Who is My mother, and who are My brothers? And stretching out His hand toward [not only the twelve disciples but all] His adherents, He said, Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother!

His mother and his brethren –including James – weren’t with Jesus and his disciples inside the house where Jesus was teaching. Jesus’ response to the information that his mother and brethren were outside indicates that they did not obey the word of God that he spoke. If you think this is not clearly stated in the Word, read John 7:3-5. James did not even believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

John 7:3-5. So His brothers said to Him, leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples [there] may also see the works that You do. [This is no place for You.] For no one does anything in secret, when he wishes to be conspicuous and secure publicity. If You [must] do these things – if You must act like this – show Yourself openly and make Yourself known to the world! For His brothers did not believe in or trust in or rely on Him either.

Well now we know why James wasn’t one of Jesus’ apostles. He failed the basic prerequisite of faith. After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared unto James. Some have said that this is proof that James was given a ministry in the church. Perhaps. But Jesus also appeared unto Judas Iscariot and promised him holy spirit and the new birth if he would tarry in Jerusalem with the other apostles. The fact that James saw his brother as the resurrected Messiah was just as likely a sign of forgiveness as it was a time of ordination.

Surely the book of Acts has something to say about the spiritual qualities of the man who presided over the council on circumcision. Actually it doesn’t. Barnabus, Phillip, and Stephen are all called men full of faith and/or holy spirit. Even Cornelius the Centurion is called “…A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house”. James is just called “James.” God in his Holy Word does not utter one word that indicates that James rose to his position at the head of the Church in Jerusalem because of faith or merit of any kind. He is the ONLY significant figure in the Church to carry such a distinction. So according to the scripture, all we know about James is that he was one of Jesus’ half-brothers, he did not believe that Jesus was God’s Son, and he was never called by God to any ministry in the church. He was never even recognized in God’s word as a good Christian, yet he rose to be the most powerful man in the hierarchy of the Jerusalem church. And he wrote the epistle that bears his name.

To Whom and When was James’ epistle written?

James l:1. James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (among the Gentiles, in the dispersion): Greeting – rejoice!

There is little debate as to whom James was written. It’s quite plainly addressed to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”. Most scholars place the time of the writing of James early in the history of the first century church. However, it is of paramount importance to realize that one of the primary reasons for this theory is because of the content of James’ epistle. Bullinger, for example wrote “The distinctly Jewish character of the teaching marks off the epistle as having been written at an early period of the Acts history…”

I believe this tendency to date the epistle of James as an early writing is due to the fact that most scholars do not consider it likely or even possible that James could have written an epistle that seems so out of step with the Pauline epistles (and makes no mention of the Gentile believers) during the same time that Paul was ministering. The traditional concept of the apostles and elders being nearly infallible prohibits them from seeing this as an epistle that was written in opposition to Paul’s gospel. So rather than deal with the apparent conflicts, the date of the epistle is moved forward to sidestep the obvious conflicts with the Pauline epistles and the elements of the Great Mystery and Paul’s gospel.

However, just as James is out of sync with the seven church epistles, it is also out of sync with the record in Acts that describes the character and concerns of the early church. A comparison of Acts and James leads me to believe that it’s illogical to think that God had this epistle written to the same church that’s described in the Acts chapters one through nine. Consider the following;

* Acts 5:28 says the apostles filled Jerusalem with their doctrine.
* James never mentions witnessing.
* Acts 4:2 says the Sadducees were grieved that the apostles preached the
resurrection of Christ. (See also 1:22, 2:24, 29, 31, 32, 3:15,26, 4:33) * James never mentions the resurrection.

* Acts says the apostles did signs, miracles, and wonders.
* James never mentions signs, miracles, or wonders.
* Acts says all that believed were together and had all things common.
* James makes no mention of sharing, but does mention rich and poor believers. There is no admonition for the rich to share of their abundance as was done in the early church. * Acts says the church continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine; that with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection; that the Apostles confronted the High Priest, were beaten, jailed, miraculously released from prison, and confronted the Sanhedrin again. that the Apostles oversaw all the functions of the early church. * James never even mentions the Apostles!
It just doesn’t make any sense to teach that this book was inspired by God to send to the same church that’s described in the early chapters of the book of Acts. However, if we look at the church that existed in the latter chapters of the book of Acts; the church that was divided over the role of the Law and the intrusion of the Gentiles, it makes a great deal of sense. James was written to the Jews who were scattered abroad in an attempt to counter the effect of Paul’s ministry.

* Acts 15:5 says that the drive to circumcise the “Gentile” believers came from “the sect of the Pharisees.”
* James’ stringent emphasis on works and caustic condemnation of material wealth echoes Pharisaic values
* Acts 13-20 declares again and again that the Jews refused to share grace with Gentiles. The idea of being brethren with the “heathen” drove them to envy and blasphemy. They wanted to discount the grace of God extended to Gentiles.
* James makes no mention of Gentiles. His epistle discounts them entirely.
* Acts 15 records that James presided at the first meeting regarding the circumcision of the Gentiles, despite the presence of Peter, Barnabus, and Paul, all recognized Apostles. And at the second meeting with Paul, there were no Apostles present. James not only presided, he did so with no input from the Apostles or elders, who were by this time either irrelevant or absent.
* James is written as one who has authority over the Synagogues. There is no mention of the Apostles or any other authority figure in his epistle.
* Acts 21 shows clearly that James did not understand the gospel of Christ. He believed they were still under the law.
* James epistle expands on this theme and asserts that we can be “convinced under the law” as transgressors and that Abraham was justified, not by faith, but by works and even asserts that faith, without works, is dead. All of these statements reflect the thinking behind his statements to Paul recorded in Acts 21:18-24.
Remember Paul’s manner was to go first to the synagogues and preach there. Galatians

2 told us that, after the Acts 15 council, men sent from James struck fear in the heart of

Peter and caused division and dissimulation in Antioch. James was working against

Paul’s gospel at that time, and the record in Acts 21:24 clearly indicates that not only did James not believe Paul’s gospel of grace, he didn’t even believe Paul was actually preaching it! After he found out the horrible truth, he certainly wouldn’t have just changed his mind and assumed Paul knew more than he did. The reason for the Jewish tone of James and the absence of any reference to the Gentiles is because James was written to the Jewish faction of a divided church. And its purpose was to reinforce their zeal for the law.

So without further ado, let’s take a good look at what’s written. I hope that when we have gone through the epistle, you will see it in a very different light. You will see it as the tares sown among the wheat of God’s Word. Let’s begin in Chapter 1 verse 5.

James l:1. James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (among the Gentiles, in the dispersion): Greeting – rejoice!

The salutation of James addresses the epistle to the Diaspora Jews, the Jews of the dispersion. The fact that the epistle is not addressed to the entire Church is the first indicator that it picks up where Acts left off. James is written to the Judaean half of a divided church. There are no Gentiles mentioned anywhere in the epistle. Indeed, affinity with Gentiles is expressly discouraged in chapter four. James exclusion of the Gentiles and calls for levitical purity not only conflict with Paul’s gospel of the mystery of the One body of Christ, they defy the Great Commission given by his big brother, sibling Jesus Christ.

The exclusive salutation of James is the first of many indicators that its intent is to roll back the clock to the time before the revelation of the mystery and to close the doors on the invasion of the Gentiles and the age of grace.

James 1:2. Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort, or fall into various temptations.

The epistle is off to an inauspicious beginning. The first thing students of the Pauline epistles will notice is not what’s here, but what’s missing.

Rom. 1:7. To [you then,] all God’s beloved ones in Rome, called to be saints and designated for a consecrated life: Grace and spiritual blessing and peace be yours from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

I Cor.1:3. Grace (favor and spiritual blessing) be to you and (heart [mind <BG>]) peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
II Cor. 1:2. Grace (favor and spiritual blessing) to you and (heart [mind <BG>]) peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One.
Every one of the Seven Church Epistles begins with Paul’s blessing of grace and peace to the churches. Since Paul’s knowledge of the mystery defines the dispensation of the grace of God, this is appropriate that each epistle begins with a blessing of grace and peace. James epistle begins with no blessing at all. He identifies himself and his intended audience and launches into a passage about temptation. The absence of grace and peace are not merely the signature of a different author, but the indication of an author with a very different mindset.

James 1:3-4. Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience. But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed (with no defects), lacking in nothing.

We begin with an admonition to works and a drive to personal perfection, both of which are Pharisaic concepts that will be echoed throughout this epistle. A comparison to a similar passage in Romans reveals the first hint at the differences between the epistle of James and the gospel of grace.

Rom. 5:3-5. Moreover – let us also be full of joy now! Let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character – that is, approved faith and tried integrity. And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.

Both epistles declare that believers will undergo temptations and that we should do so with joy, knowing that enduring tribulation will produce patience. But where Paul’s epistle starts on the earthly plane where tribulations dwell and uses the figure of speech climax to build upward unto the heavenly realm from whence come hope, the love of God and the gift of holy spirit, James stays firmly in the earthly. Where Paul uses physical trials to point out spiritual blessings received by God’s love, James emphasizes human perfection and introduces us to one of his favorite words; work. Patience is said to produce perfect work.

The word “perfect” used twice in verse 4, is the Greek word teleios, meaning fully mature, or complete. James is saying that a man can be made completely mature by patiently enduring temptation. How does this statement compare with the standard of the Pauline epistles? According to Paul’s gospel, perfection comes by understanding the glory and grace given to mankind in the revelation of the Mystery.

I Cor. 2:6-7. Yet when we are among the full grown – spiritually mature children of God who are ripe in understanding – we do impart a (higher) wisdom [that is, the knowledge of the divine plan previously hidden]; but it is indeed not a wisdom of this present age nor of this world or of the leaders and rulers of this age, who are being brought to nothing and are doomed to pass away. But rather what we are setting forth is a wisdom of God once hidden [from the human understanding] and now revealed to us by God; [that wisdom] which God devised and decreed before the ages for our glorification [that is, to lift us into the glory of His presence].

Col. 1:26-28. The Mystery of which was hidden for ages and generations (from angels and men). but is now revealed to His holy people (the saints), to whom God was pleased to make known how great for the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this Mystery, which is, Christ within and among you the hope of [realizing] the glory. Him [the Word] we preach and proclaim, warning and admonishing everyone and instructing everyone in all wisdom, [in comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God], that we may present every person mature – full-grown, fully initiated, complete and perfect – in Christ, the Anointed One.

According to the gospel of the mystery, perfection comes by understanding the grace of

Christ in you the hope of glory and justification by faith in the accomplished work of

Christ and the unity of the one Body of Christ. As was the case in the comparison of James’ and Paul’s words on the benefit of patience, James’ standard of perfection is decidedly lower. According to James, a man need not know of the unity of New Man Jesus Christ made out of Jews and Gentiles. He need not see himself as a recipient of previously unheard of grace and glory. All he needs to do is be patient in temptation; and, according to James 3:2, watch his language.

The phrase “perfect work” is a foreshadowing of the theme of James’ epistle. His goal is to guide the reader toward a belief and trust in perfection by works. He begins his effort toward “perfect work” in the absence of grace and along the way, will do his best to kill faith so that the works of the law will rule once again in the minds and lives of his readers.

James 1:5. If any of you is deficient in wisdom, let him ask of the giving God [Who gives] to every one liberally and ungrudgingly, without reproaching or faultfinding, and it will be given him.

Well, that sounds good and right, doesn’t it. This James fellow seems to know what he’s talking about. There is a pattern to this epistle that begins here. By pattern, I mean method, not structure. The method of James presentation of his beliefs is not direct. He often begins by stating a premise that is easily accepted by the reader. Sometimes he will open a paragraph with a question that challenges an opposing idea, but not directly. After having begun in such a benign manner, he will quickly draw a conclusion that is questionable if not downright false.

There are few verses in this epistle that directly attack Paul’s gospel and none that do so by name. The approach of James is much more subtle. Here, in the first such passage, James begins with a simple exhortation that cannot be denied. If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God who giveth liberally and upbraideth not. The word translated liberally here is haplos, meaning simply; or without ulterior motive or in this case without hesitation; without a second thought. God’s generous and benevolent nature are about to be forgotten in a blizzard of carnal qualifications.

James 1:6. Only it must be in faith that he asks, with no wavering – no hesitating, no doubting, for the one who wavers (hesitates, doubts) is like the billowing surge out at sea, that is blown hither and thither and tossed by the wind.

What happened to giving liberally? Already we have a qualification. And note that the problem is not on God’s end, it’s on ours. Now we have to ask in faith, nothing wavering. As you will see often in this epistle, James changes the focus of the discussion. We’ve gone quickly form God’s grace and goodness to man’s works. Don’t waver brother. If you waver, you might not get it!

James 1:7. For truly, let not such a person imagine that he will receive anything [he asks for] from the Lord.

How quickly we’ve gone from God giving liberally and upbraiding not to a man who can’t receive anything of the Lord. Having begun with a simple assertion of God’s grace, James changes the readers’ focus to man’s works. In so doing, we lose grace, fall into a law (no wavering allowed) and end in failure (“let not that man think he shall receive anything of the Lord”). Not only is this carnal and wicked, it’s not true.

Remember where we started. We began with a cure for a man who lacks wisdom. We’re not talking about praying for a house, or a ministry, or even better health. Just wisdom; simple direction from God. James asserts that a man whose faith wavers will not hear from God at all.

The word translated “receive” in verse seven is the word lambano, which means to receive into manifestation or to receive and utilize. James says a man who does not have unwavering faith cannot expect to receive into manifestation anything from the Lord. According to the scripture, this is a falsehood. Consider the example of the Apostle Paul.

I Tim. 1:15-16. The saying is sure and true and worthy of full and universal acceptance, that Christ Jesus, the Messiah, came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost. But I obtained mercy for the reason that in me, as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might show forth and display all His perfect long-suffering and patience for an example to [encourage] those who would thereafter believe [lean] on Him for [the gaining of] eternal life.

Note that Paul is a pattern for us exemplifying the grace of Jesus Christ in saving sinners. So since Paul was set forth by Christ as an example, we can look at what happened to him and conclude that the same principles apply to us. Did Paul have to “ask in faith nothing wavering” before he received the wisdom of God? Quite the contrary. I Timothy 1:13 says he was an ignorant, injurious unbeliever!

I Tim. 1:12-13. I give thanks to Him Who has granted me (the needed) strength and made me able [for this], Christ Jesus our Lord, because He has judged and counted me faithful and trustworthy, appointing me to [this stewardship of] the ministry. Though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and was shamefully and outrageously and aggressively insulting [to Him], nevertheless I obtained mercy because I had acted out of *ignorance in unbelief.

So we know from I Timothy that Paul was an ignorant unbeliever before he was saved. We also know that he is an example of God’s grace to all mankind. Now the operative question is, did Paul receive wisdom from God while he was in that state of ignorant unbelief. The answers can be found in Acts and Romans.

Acts 26:11-18. And frequently I punished them in all the synagogues to make them blaspheme; and in my bitter fury against them, I harassed (troubled, molested, persecuted) and pursued them even to foreign cities. Thus engaged I proceeded to Damascus with the authority and orders of the chief priests. When on the road at midday, O king, I saw a light from heaven surpassing the brightness of the sun, flashing about me and those who were traveling with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice in the Hebrew tongue saying to me, Saul, Saul, why do you continue to persecute Me – to harass and trouble and molest Me? It is dangerous and turns out badly for you to keep kicking against the goads – [that is,] to offer vain and perilous resistance. And I said, Who are You Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting. But arise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, that I might appoint you to serve as [My] minister and to bear witness both to what you have seen of Me and to that in which I will appear to you, choosing you out (selecting you for Myself) and delivering you from among this [Jewish] people and the Gentiles to whom I am sending you, [Ezek. 2:1, 3.] to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may thus receive forgiveness and release from their sins and a place and portion among those who are consecrated and purified by faith in Me.[Isa. 42:7, 16.]

Rom. 1:5. It is through Him that we have received (lambano) grace – God’s unmerited favor – and [our] apostleship to promote obedience to the faith and make disciples for His name’s sake among all the nations,

So according to Acts, Paul received wisdom from God by way of a dramatic personal appearance by Jesus Christ himself. He was not asking in unwavering faith, he was en route to Damascus to imprison those of the faith! He was an ignorant unbeliever, actively persecuting the Church. Yet Jesus Christ personally delivered to this man magnificent wisdom. Did Paul lambano grace that day? Most certainly he did. Of course, if James 1:5 and 6 are true, all of this regarding Paul must be false. Both cannot be true. Either God requires unwavering faith before his wisdom can be received, or Paul is a fraud and the books of Acts and I Timothy cannot be trusted. Conversely, if Acts and I Timothy are true accounts, given by inspiration of God, then the book of James is not. Before we jettison James, let’s look at the examples of others in the Bible who received wisdom from God.

Was it Moses’ unwavering faith that allowed God to give him wisdom? No. He just wanted to see why a burning bush wasn’t consumed. As he approached, God spoke to him.

Exodus 3:3-6. And Moses said, I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burned. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush and said, Moses, Moses! And he said, Here am I. God said, Do not come near; put your shoes off your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. Also He said, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Did the people of Nineveh ask in unwavering faith to receive wisdom from God? No. They were simply going about their idolatrous business when a man washed up on the shore and said, “Thus saith the Lord. Thirty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Yet they definitely received benefits from the Lord as they responded to the unsolicited warning and were spared wrath and calamity.

James uses the figure simile to describe the state of a person who doubts. He likens him to a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. The word translated “wave” is the Greek word kludon, meaning a raging wave; a violent agitation. It’s interesting that the only other use of this word in the New Testament is in Luke, in a passage that recounts an incident in which Jesus’ disciples found themselves literally driven by the wind and tossed. A comparison of the truths of that incident will be very enlightening.

Luke 8:23-25. But as they were sailing, He fell off to sleep. And a whirlwind revolving from below upwards swept down on the lake,and the boat was filling with water, and they were in great danger. And the disciples came and woke Him, saying, Master, Master, we are perishing! And He, being thoroughly awakened, censured and blamed and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there came a calm. And He said to them, (Why are you so fearful?) Where is your faith – your trust, your confidence in Me, [in My veracity and My integrity]? And they were seized with alarm and profound and reverent dread, and they marveled, saying to one another, Who then is this, that He commands even the wind and sea, and they obey Him?

Mark 4:40. He said to them, Why are you so timid and fearful? How is it that you have no faith – no firmly relying trust?

These men, Jesus’ disciples were literally driven by the wind. They were at sea in a lifethreatening storm. Did they respond with unwavering faith? No, they told Jesus they were about to die. Yet they awoke him to implore his help. But they were not asking in faith, they were pleading in fear. Just so that we will not miss it, God had it recorded exactly what state of mind the disciples were in. Luke’s account says Jesus asked “Where is your faith”. Mark’s is even more poignant and records Jesus’ question as “Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?” They did not ask in faith nothing wavering, they were faithless amid the waves. So, according to James, these men should not have received anything of the Lord. Yet they received nothing less than physical salvation as the Lord rebuked the storm with his word and a great calm ensued.

So James begins with a true statement; If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth liberally and upbraideth not. James immediately adds a law; [But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering], magnifies the frailties of the flesh [for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed] and then proceeds to exchange truth of God for a lie. James’ false doctrine condemns and oppresses God’s people by discouraging them and retarding their ability to receive God’s wisdom or any other blessing [let not that man think he shall receive anything of the lord].

Having discovered that James’ statement here is false, we must ask ourselves, why would the writer go to such lengths? What is the real message under all this error? What kind of wavering was on James’ mind when he penned or uttered these words? A close look at the next verse will help us get to the real issue. Here at the beginning of the epistle, it lurks under the surface. As we read on, we will see it bubble up and reveal itself fully.

Verse eight reiterates and reinforces the erroneous conclusion of verse seven with a perplexing statement.

James 1:8. [For being as he is] a man of two minds – hesitating, dubious, irresolute – [he is] unstable and unreliable and uncertain about everything (he thinks, feels, decides).

What is a “double-minded” man? The word translated double-minded here is a Greek word unique to this verse; dipsuchos, which literally means, ‘two-souled’. Since no one has two souls, it’s a figure of speech. But what is the intended meaning? The verse itself offers little clues, because the word “unstable” akatastatos is also unique to this verse. It means, ‘inconstant, not established; unsteady’. In the context, one immediately thinks of the reference to one who wavers, being driven by the wind and tossed. So the wavering is akin to being two-souled and inconstant. As we read, we will have to ask ourselves concerning what does James want us to be single-minded?

James 1:9. Let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his elevation [as a believer], called to the true riches and to be an heir of God;

Again, an agreeable sentiment is expressed.

James 1:10-11. And the rich [person ought to glory] in being humbled [by being shown his human frailty], because like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun comes up with a scorching heat and parches the grass; its flower falls off and its beauty fades away. Even so will the rich man wither and die in the midst of his pursuits. [Isa. 40:6, 7.]

Verse ten is the first of many perplexing passages in James regarding rich men. It is really not problematic when considered in the confines of the epistle itself. The problem is that all of James references to rich men is that they are completely inconsistent with the book of Acts and the Church epistles. The dissimilarities fall into two categories; practical and spiritual.

The practical difference between James and Acts and Paul is in the directions to rich men about the sharing of wealth. I touched on this briefly at the beginning of this chapter. Let’s take a closer look at what the apostles doctrine toward wealth was.

Acts 2:44-45. And all who believed – that is who adhered to and trusted in and relied on Jesus Christ – were united, and together they had everything in common. And they sold their possessions [both their landed property and their movable goods] and distributed the price among all, according as any had need.

The first thing we must note is there was no division between the rich believers and the poor. They had all things common. “Common” is translated from the Greek word koinos, meaning fully shared or shared equally. This is not the case in James. Rich and poor are segregated throughout the epistle, the poor for consolation and praise and the rich for condemnation and vilification.

The second thing we need to recognize is that Acts 2:45 records that the rich believers; those who had an abundance of “possessions and goods”, sold them and distributed the funds so that everyone had his needs met. In other words, the rich divested themselves of their riches so that there were no poor. This is a little known practice in the annals of Church history and certainly a rare one in 20th Century America, but it is the example set by the first century church. And it is established by a more detailed record in Acts chapter four.

Acts 4:32-35. Now the company of believers was of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything which he possessed was [exclusively] his own, but everything they had was in common and for the use of all. And with great strength and ability and power the apostles delivered their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace – loving kindness and favor and goodwill – rested richly upon them all. Nor was there a destitute or needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses proceeded to sell them, and one by one they brought (gave back) the amount received from the sales and laid it at the feet of the apostles. Then distribution was made according as any one had need.

Again, we see that there was a unified body of believers who “had all things common”. No good poor saints, no evil rich people. Verse 34 more clearly tells us that those who had more than they needed, sold the excess and gave the money to the apostles, and the apostles bought big houses and fancy chariots with “clergy” license plates. No, the apostles redistributed the funds to supply the needs of the poor, so that they were poor no more. My how things have changed.

One might say that the distinction between Acts and James is that the prosperous believers in Acts; that is to say, those in the early church that is of which Acts speaks, gave up their riches to eliminate poverty, and the rich men of James did not. This may be true. But the more important question is, with so much documentation that this was the apostles’ practice, why doesn’t James exhort the rich to do likewise? Despite repeated references to rich men and the folly of their ways, James never indicates that they should give to the poor. This contrast is one of the reason I don’t believe James was one of the first epistles written. Had it been written to the Church before the beginning of Paul’s ministry, as some have said, there should be more harmony between the precepts of James and the practices of Acts. In seeking a period in the Acts narrative in which James fits, one must take note that there are no references to the Church being so unified after the death of Stephen. The physical division of the Church that began with the scattering of the disciples foreshadowed the spiritual division that followed.

Could James have been written in the narrow window between the scattering of the disciples and the preaching of Paul’s gospel? Certainly. But if God were going to have an epistle written at such a crucial time in Church history, we should see some relevance to the issues of the day reflected in its words. James does not address the persecution that drove the disciples from Jerusalem, nor does he make any reference to the witnessing that characterized those who were scattered abroad (Acts 8:4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.) As I’ve said before, James fits best in the church described in Acts chapters 15 through 28. We will see more evidence of this as we make our way through his epistle.

Back to the question of giving. Such giving was not only the accepted practice in the early Jerusalem church, it was Paul’s charge to the Corinthian Church as well.

II Cor. 8:13-15. For it is not [intended] that other people be eased and relieved (of their responsibility) and you be burdened and suffer (unfairly), but to have equality – share and share alike; your surplus over necessity at the present time going to meet their want and to equalize the difference created by it, so that [at some other time] their surplus in turn may be given to supply your want. Thus there may be equality. As it is written, He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little did not lack. [Exod. 16:18.]

Paul’s direction to his charges is in agreement with the apostles’ doctrine. James is out of step with both. Rather than exhort the rich to help meet the needs of the poor, the poor are exhorted to be patient in their poverty and the rich are simply condemned. But that’s not the most perplexing or the most troubling aspect of James’ statements about riches. The most troublesome aspect of James’ condemnation of rich men is that he seems to be addressing unsaved sinners. This becomes more apparent later in the epistle, but can be seen in verses 10 and eleven.

James 1:10-11. And the rich [person ought to glory] in being humbled [by being shown his human frailty], because like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun comes up with a scorching heat and parches the grass; its flower falls off and its beauty fades away. Even so will the rich man wither and die in the midst of his pursuits. [Isa. 40:6, 7.]

Some have observed that James reads like the Sermon on the Mount. That similarity is most evident in his comments about rich and poor. Verses ten and eleven bring to mind Jesus’ remark about the difficulty of a rich man inheriting the Kingdom of heaven surpassing that of a camel passing through the eye of a needle. (Matthew 19:24). The trouble with this is that no other Post Pentecost Scriptures make such sweeping condemnations of wealth. It is assumed that all who believe on Christ are saved and given eternal life. Believers are exhorted not to lust after money, (I Timothy 6:10) but there is never any indication that those who hold it, are incapable of receiving eternal life. James must be talking about rich brethren because verse nine says “the brother of low degree”. The phrase “But the rich…” which begins verse 10 puts it in the same category, namely a brother. Then he says this rich brother shall pass away as a flower. Paul’s gospel asserts that everyone receives the same salvation and that it is eternal life.

Gal. 3:28. There is [now no distinction], neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Rom. 6:23. For the wages which Sin pays is death; but the [bountiful] free gift of God is eternal life through (in union with) Jesus Christ our Lord.

The mitigating phrase “in his ways” at the end of James 1:11 might seem to lessen the harshness of this verse. However, it’s rather ambiguous. The word translated “ways” here it the Greek word poreia. It’s only used in one other verse in the New Testament (Luke 13:22) where it’s translated “toward”. The problem of interpretation is compounded by the phrase “fade away” which is translated form another of the many Greek words that appear nowhere else in the Bible. The word maraino means to extinguish, as a flame. In verse eleven, James says a rich man shall expire as a flame in his ways. Is he referring to journeying, as a merchant? There is a specific reference to such activity later in the epistle that draws severe condemnation, (4:13-16) so it would be in keeping with the context of James to interpret it as “journeyings” or “travels”.

But what does it mean to say the rich man shall be extinguished in his travels? And how does that fit with the more plain statement of verse ten that the rich man “shall pass away” as a flower? The logical conclusion is that these men have lost themselves in the acquisition of wealth and therefore, have gained riches, but not eternal life. The disturbing conclusion that can be drawn from this is that James is teaching salvation by works. Apparently, one of the “works” that precludes salvation in the gospel according to James, is wealth. The startling thought that James did not believe in salvation by grace sounds absurd at first. How could he not have known the most basic element of the apostles’ doctrine? Yet, this passage referring to rich men’s lives being as the flower of the grass is only the first of many indications that James idea of grace was extremely limiting. And, remembering Paul’s warning to the Galatians about those who had perverted the gospel of Christ and had “bewitched” them, such extreme conclusions have support in God’s Word. And, as we shall see, James’ condemnation of rich men and his affirmation of salvation by works become clearer as his treatise unfolds.

James 1:12-13. Blessed, happy, to be envied is the man who is patient under trial and stands up under temptation, for when he has stood the test and been approved he will receive [the victor’s] crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted from God; for God is incapable of being tempted by [what is] evil and He Himself tempts no one.

Here we are again with an edifying and agreeable statement.

James 1:14. But every person is tempted when he is drawn away, enticed and baited by his own evil desire (lust, passions).

And again we see an immediate change from God’s goodness to mans’ wicked ways. James always shifts quickly from the spiritual to the carnal. Not only is this depressing, the statement he makes here is not actually true! To say every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust indicates that all temptation is at least partly the fault of the one being tempted. This is not true. Consider the following;

Matt. 22:18. But Jesus, aware of their malicious plot, asked, Why do you put Me to the test and try to entrap Me, you pretenders – hypocrites?

Matt. 4: 8-9. Again the Devil took Him up on a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory – the splendor, magnificence, preeminence and excellence – of them; and he said to Him, These things all taken together I will give You, if You will prostrate Yourself before me and do homage and worship me.

Luke 4:5-7. Then the Devil took Him up to a high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the habitable world in a moment of time – in the twinkling of an eye; and he said to Him, To You I will give all this power and authority and their glory, (that is, all their magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity and grace,) for it has been turned over to me, and I give it to whom I will; therefore if You will do homage to and worship me (just once), it shall all be Yours.

What lust or desire of Jesus’ drew the Sadducees to tempt him? Did Jesus have a lust for power that drew the devil to offer him the kingdoms of the world? If it was Jesus’ own lusts that initiated these temptations, he must have been one ugly man on the inside for Hebrews 4:15 says he was “…in all points tempted, like as we are, yet without sin.” I don’t think Jesus Christ was that lusty. Okay so what if we disqualify him and say that James statement is true of everyone else. Are all of our temptations brought on by our lusts?

Gal. 4:13-14. On the contrary, you know that it was on account of a bodily ailment that [I remained and] preached the Gospel to you the first time. And [yet], although my physical condition was [such] a trial to you, you did not regard it with contempt, or scorn and loathe and reject me; but you received me as an angel of God, [even] as Christ Jesus [Himself]!


Gal. 4:13-14. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

I Peter 4:12. Beloved, do not be amazed and bewildered at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test your quality, as though something strange – unusual and alien to you and your position – were befalling you. But in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, rejoice, so that when His glory (full of radiance and splendor) is revealed you may also rejoice with triumph – exultantly.

Paul’s temptation in Galatia was not lust, but physical infirmity. Likewise, Peter exhorts the believers to endure intense temptation that has nothing to do with lusts. The temptation in these situations came from Satan, who is called in I Thessalonians 3:5 “the tempter”. So here we have a church leader accusing the believers of being responsible for what their adversary does to them. This itself is the work of Satan, “the accuser of the brethren”. James is chock full of such accusation and condemnation as we will see. And speaking of the accuser, you might recall Paul’s admonition in II Corinthians 11:3 regarding the serpent’s beguiling of Eve. He did it through subtlety. He started with a simple question, and by the time the conversation was ended, he was boldly contradicting God’s Word. It was written to the Corinthian church not as esoteric knowledge, but because the false apostles –who were Hebrews – were using similar tactics in the church. We will see that in James as well.

James 1:17. Every good gift and every perfect (free, large, full) gift is from above; it comes down from the Father of all [that gives] light, in [the shining of] Whom there can be no variation [rising or setting] or shadow cast by His turning [as in an eclipse].


James 1:17. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

Verse seventeen is one of the few bright spots in James. A positive statement of truth seemingly without qualification. There is however, an interesting nuance to this passage that, I think, helps put the rest of the book in context. God is described as “the Father of Lights in whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning.” One gets an image of a star without any variance in its luminance caused by sunspots or changes in its corona. This is a wonderful description of the unqualified glory of God which reminds us that He is the creator of the heavens and the earth. The term “Father of Lights” is a term used nowhere else in the Bible. Neither are the words “variableness” (parallage) or “shadow of turning” (aposkiasma trope). This does not mean that the passage is necessarily in conflict with the rest of God’s Word, but it limits the connections we can make with the entire body of scripture. We can however, look at the whole of what’s communicated here and put it together with the book of James for added insight into James’ perspective on the relationship of God and His people.

The Greek word pater, translated “father” has many meanings. It can of course mean a biological father. It is frequently used of ancestors or patriarchs, as in Acts 3:13 and 22. It is also used figuratively with the preposition “of” as a title that describes a unique contribution or influence, either positive or negative. The first New Testament use of this idiom is in John 8:44, in which Jesus says that the devil is the father of lies. What this means is that the devil was the inventor and is the chief propagator of lies and lying. It doesn’t mean that everyone who lies is a child of the devil, but children of the devil will certainly be liars. That meaning is illustrated in the context. The statement was not meant as an abstract declaration of a spiritual matter, but an explanation of the conflict between Jesus himself and his accusers. By using that idiom at that time, Jesus not only refuted the Pharisees’ charges, but explained them.

Romans 4:11 calls Abraham the “father of all them that believe”. The next verse adds depth to the idiom by also calling him the Father of circumcision. Abraham was indeed the first man to circumcise himself, and since He obeyed God’s commandment to circumcise his children and all the males in his household, he is called “the father of circumcision.” This contribution was overshadowed by his faith because he was made righteous not by circumcision, but by believing God’s Promise, as Paul declares in both Romans and Galatians. It is by his example of faith that he became the father of many nations (4:17 & 18).

II Corinthians 1:3 calls God the “Father of mercies”. This idiom shows us that God is inherently merciful. The context of the verse shows us how the idiom defines an aspect of our relationship with God.

II Cor. 1:3-4. Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of sympathy (pity and mercies) and the God [Who is the Source] of every consolation and comfort and encouragement; Who consoles and comforts and encourages us in every trouble (calamity and affliction), so that we may also be able to console (comfort and encourage) those who are in any kind of trouble or distress, with the consolation (comfort and encouragement) with which we ourselves are consoled and comforted and encouraged by God.


II Cor. 1:3-4. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

Because God is the Father of mercies, He comforts us in all our troubles and temptations and enables us to comfort one another. Ephesians 1:17 calls God the “Father of glory.” Again, the context illustrates the figure.

Eph. 1:17-19. [For I always pray] the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, that He may grant you a spirit of wisdom and revelation – of insight into mysteries and secrets – in the [deep and intimate] knowledge of Him, By having the eyes of your heart [mind] flooded with light, so that you can know and understand the hope to which He has called you and how rich is His glorious inheritance in the saints – His set-apart ones. And [so that you can know and understand] what is the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power in and for us who believe [trust], as demonstrated in the working of His mighty strength,

As the Father of glory, God gives us spiritual light and wisdom, enlightens us to the riches of the glory of his inheritance in us, and gives us exceedingly great power! So the context illustrates the figure. So in what sense is God the Father of lights and what does the context of James 1:17 tell us about this idiom? Actually, very little.

James 1:18. And it was of His own [free] will that He gave us birth (as sons) by [His] Word of Truth, so that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures – [a sample] of what He created to be consecrated to Himself.

The only apparent connection between the “Father of lights” idiom in verse seventeen and the following verse is the use of the word “creatures.” The description of God in astronomical terms depicts his power as the Creator of Genesis 1:1. The word “creatures” is translated from ktisma, meaning a thing founded or created. It is used in three other verses (I Timothy 4:4, Revelation 5:13, and 8:9) and in all of these, it refers to animals! So James is relating us to the “Father of lights in whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning”, not as recipients of spiritual light, not as inhabitants of heaven, but as God’s number one animal. We’re king of the critters! Hallelujah! This is a far cry from being children of God and joint heirs with Christ, as Paul’s gospel declares.

Rom. 8:14-17. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For [the Spirit which] you have now received [is] not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption – the Spirit producing son-ship – in [the bliss of] which we cry, Abba! [That is,] Father! The Spirit Himself [thus] testifies together with our own spirit, [assuring us] that we are children of God. And if we are [His] children, then we are [His] heirs also: heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ – sharing His inheritance with Him; only we must share His suffering if we are to share His glory.

When Jesus publicly declared that God was his father, the Jews sought to kill him (John 5:18 10:30-36). The Jews considered it blasphemy for any man to claim such an intimate relationship with God Almighty. Apparently James didn’t learn from his brother’s example. His presentation of sonship is much more in line with the traditions of Israel than it is with the revolutionary ministry of Jesus Christ or the revelation of the mystery.

The principle of scripture harmony […line upon line, precept upon precept…] dictates that we understand God’s Word in such a way that its harmony is preserved. We are not to read meanings into the scripture that cause apparent contradictions with the rest of the Word, especially regarding the same topic. It is my belief that one cannot interpret the book of James in such a way that preserves its harmony with Paul’s gospel. We can however, see that there is an inner harmony to James itself. Statements that do not necessarily conflict with the rest of God’s Word can nevertheless reinforce and shed light on the rest of James’ treatise. The principle of contextual harmony is one of the most widely recognized and most important in Biblical interpretation. Those who seek to apologize for James’ apparent legalism must resort to wresting his words out of their context to manipulate them into something less offensive. If we interpret James in a manner consistent with itself, that is if we look at the individual statements in the context of the entire treatise, it becomes apparent that he is advocating righteousness by works, and moreover, is repudiating the gospel of salvation and righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ. With that in mind, let us read on.

James 1:21. So get rid of all uncleanness and the rampant outgrowth of wickedness, and in a humble (gentle, modest) spirit receive and welcome the Word [Christ] which implanted and rooted [in your hearts (minds, spirits <BG>)] contains the power to save your souls.

At first glance, this looks like a true and wise statement. But on more careful examination, the theme of salvation by works is revealed. Salvation by the Word is indeed available according to James. But note the emphasis. Salvation is not presented as the result of the grace of God, nor the work of Jesus Christ, but that of the individual purging himself from sin. Paul’s gospel places the credit for the miracle of salvation not on the recipients thereof, but on God, whose mercy and grace laid the plan and on Jesus Christ, whose obedience and love fulfilled it.

Eph. 2:1-5. And you [He made alive], when you were dead [slain] by [your] trespasses and sins in which at one time you walked habitually. (Gen 6:5.) You were following the course and fashion of this world – were under the sway of the tendency of the present age – following the Prince of the Power of the Air. (You were obedient to him and were under his control,) the [demon] spirit that still constantly works in the sons of disobedience – the careless, the rebellious and the unbelieving [untrusting], who go against the purposes of God. Among these we as well as you once lived and conducted ourselves in the passions of our flesh – our behavior governed by our corrupt and sensual nature [Satan in our flesh]; obeying the impulses of the flesh and the thoughts of the mind – our cravings dictated by our senses and our dark imaginings. We were then by nature children of [God’s] wrath and heirs of [His] indignation, like the rest of mankind. But God! So rich is He in His mercy! Because of and in order to satisfy the great and wonderful and intense love with which He loved us, even when we were dead [slain] by [our own] shortcomings and trespasses, He made us alive together in fellowship and in union with Christ. – He gave us the very Life of Christ Himself, the same new life with which He quickened Him. [For] it is by grace – by His favor and mercy which you did not deserve – that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation).

Dead men don’t work much. Ephesians makes it clear that we are dead in sin until we receive the riches of God’s mercy and grace of salvation. Therefore none of the credit for our salvation can be claimed by us. All of the “bragging rights” belong to God and Christ.

Rom. 5:6-9. While we were yet in weakness – powerless to help ourselves – at the fitting time Christ died for (in behalf of) the ungodly. Now it is an extraordinary thing for one to give his life even for an upright man, though perhaps for a noble and lovable and generous benefactor someone might even dare to die. But God shows and clearly proves His [own] love for us by the fact that while we were still sinners Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, died for us. Therefore, since we are now justified – acquitted, made righteous and brought into right relationship with God – by Christ’s blood, how much more [certain is it that] we shall be saved by Him from the indignation and wrath of God.

Here, in the context of salvation, man is depicted as “without strength”; spiritually impotent, and ungodly. Yet Christ sacrificed his might and righteousness for us. He didn’t do that after we had lain aside “all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness”, but before. Some would argue that, without receiving the indwelling and purifying power of holy spirit, one cannot lay aside sin because sin is the nature of man. The power of salvation enables us to become in Christ what we could not become on our own. This seems to be the message of Romans chapter six.

Rom. 6:1-4. What shall we say [to all this]? Are we to remain in Sin in order that God’s grace (favor and mercy) may multiply and overflow? Certainly not! How can we who died to Sin live in it any longer? Are you ignorant of the fact that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by the baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious [power] of the Father, so we too might habitually live and behave in newness of life

Before we move on, let’s take a look at the key words of this verse. “Filthiness” is, in the Greek text, rupharia, which Bullinger describes as “dirt, filth, in the worst sense.” It is only used here. One might conclude from its scarcity that there’s not much God wants us to know about the worst kind of filth.

“Naughtiness” is a unique translation of the Greek word, kakia, usually translated

“malice”. One of the meanings of kakia is intent to do harm. Bullinger defines it as “badness, (nom. of kakos, bad, generically including every form of evil, physical and moral.) Kakia is evil habit flowing from poneria, (the wicked act of the mind malignity) vice generally, in all its forms.” It is used in ten other NT verses. With the exception of its use in Matthew, all of the other uses of kakia depict it as something with which a natural man; an unsaved person, is filled (Romans 1:29 and Titus 3:3) and which a born again person puts as his mind is renewed (I Corinthians 5:8, 14:20, Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8, and I Peter 2:1 & 16). There is no other verse in the New Testament that presents kakia as something one can put off before he is saved, as James exhorts. The difference is clearly seen in the context of I Peter 2:1, which actually begins in chapter one.

I Peter 1:21-25; 2:1-2. Through Him you believe – adhere to, rely on – God, Who raised Him up from the dead and gave Him honor and glory, so that your faith and hope are [centered and rest] in God. Since by your obedience to the Truth through the [Holy] Spirit you have purified your hearts for the sincere affection of the brethren, [see that you] love one another fervently from a pure heart. You have been regenerated – born again – not from a mortal origin (seed, sperm) but from One that is immortal by the ever living and lasting Word of God. Because all flesh [mankind] is like grass and all its glory (honor) like [the] flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower drops off, but the Word of the Lord [divine instruction, the Gospel] endures forever. And this Word is the good news which was preached to you. [Isa. 40:6-9.] So be done with every trace of wickedness (depravity, malignity) and all deceit and insincerity (pretense, hypocrisy) and grudges (envy, jealousy) and slander and evil speaking of every kind. Like newborn babies you should crave – thirst for, earnestly desire – the pure (unadulterated) spiritual milk, that by it you may be nurtured and grow unto [completed] salvation;

Both I Peter and James talk of laying aside malice. In fact, the same Greek word apotithemi, is used. Both talk of receiving God’s Word. But Peter presents his exhortation in the context of the new birth as something that is done “through the Spirit”. James conversely neglects the new birth and the power of the holy spirit in the cleansing of a believer’s life and instead presents his exhortation as a work necessary to receive salvation itself. God doesn’t tell us to change so we can receive the Word of salvation, he gives us the word of salvation so we can change. By charging Israel to lay apart all filthiness before having received the word and salvation, James essentially puts the cart before the horse. This mindset lives today in the popular belief that we must first confess our sins in order to be saved. Perhaps it is no coincidence that James is the only New Testament writer who advises us to confess our sins to one another.

James 5:16. Confess to one another therefore your faults – your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins; and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored – to a spiritual tone of mind and heart. The earnest (heart-felt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available – dynamic in its working.

The overwhelming majority of the uses of the word “confess” in the New Testament, speak of confessing Christ. In fact the only other use of the word “confess” dealing with sin is in the epistle of I John, James legalistic cohort (see chapter six, Peter and John: Food for Thought”). Our confession is that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that he saved us from the futility of our dead works. Once we are saved by grace, we are fit to work for our Lord according to the glory of the new birth alluded to in Romans 6:4 We draw upon the inner glory born within us to work according to the standard of God’s grace, not our worth. This too, is part of Paul’s example. “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” “Yet not I” says Paul. The spiritual reality of the new birth is the driving force that colors all of Paul’s exhortations to good works. A disciple of James, on the other hand, is more selfdirected and self-reliant,

James 1:22-25. But – obey the message; be doers of the Word, and not merely listeners to it, betraying yourselves [into deception by reasoning contrary to the Truth]. For if any one only listens to the Word without obeying it and being a doer of it, he is like a man who looks carefully at his [own] natural face in a mirror; for he thoughtfully observes himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he was like. But he who looks carefully into the faultless Law, the [Law] of liberty, and is faithful to it and perseveres in looking into it, being not a heedless listener who forgets, but an active doer [who obeys], he shall be blessed in his doing – in his life of obedience.

This is a subtle rebuttal of the doctrine of justification by faith that is central to the epistle of Galatians, and is the bedrock of the gospel. I think it’s ironic that James uses the analogy of a man looking at his “natural face” in a mirror. This is yet another indication of the carnal focus of his epistle and is in sharp contrast to a similar analogy in II Corinthians.

II Cor. 3:18. And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

In the true gospel, when we ‘receive with meekness the engrafted word’, we behold, as in a mirror, “the glory of the Lord”. We see in God’s word the unveiling of the power and glory He has placed within us in Christ. In the false gospel, all we see in the mirror is flesh.


James 1:25. But whoso looketh into the perfect Law of liberty…


James 1:25. But he who looks carefully into the faultless law, the [law] of liberty…

Now, we’re getting down to the heart of the matter. The reason the focus shifted so quickly to works and carnal self-concern is clear. Now we see why the overriding emphasis on deeds keeps popping up. James is talking about the Law! Remember the admonitions against wavering and being “double-minded” at the beginning of the chapter. Here we see what it is James would have us to be single-minded and steadfast about. The word “looketh” is translated from parakupto, which means to stoop down to observe closely. It translated “stoop down” in its first three uses in the NT.


Luke 24:12. Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.


Luke 24:12. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, and stooping down and looking in, he saw the linen cloths alone by themselves, and he went away wondering about and marveling at what had happened.


John 20:5. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.

John 20:11. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping; and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,


John 20:5. And stooping down he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not enter.

John 20:11. But Mary remained standing outside the tomb sobbing. As she wept, she stooped down [and looked] into the tomb.

James exhorts us to ‘stoop down’ and take a good long look at the “perfect law of liberty.” He wants us to be single-minded in our focus on it. Don’t be distracted by that Paul fellow and his ideas about justification by faith, just keep looking at the law. But notice again, there’s a bit of deceit here. He doesn’t say, “the law of Moses”. Being a “deceitful worker” (II Corinthians 11:13), he gives it an attractive new name. It’s not the law of Moses, it’s the law of liberty! A crate full of rattlesnakes labeled “Medical Supplies” is just as deadly. There are some of you who are strenuously objecting even as you read this because you assume he’s not talking about the Old Testament law. As I’ve stated above, James’ intentions become clearer as we read on. As clear as this passage is, it is made unquestionably plain in 2:10-12 that James’ law of liberty is in fact the same law which Paul’s gospel describes as the law of sin and death.


James 2:10-12. For whosoever keeps the Law [as a whole, but stumbles and offends in one [single instance] has become guilty of [breaking] all of it. For He Who said, You shall not commit adultery, also said, You shall not kill. If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become guilty of transgressing the [whole] Law. [Exod. 20:13, 14; Deut. 5:17, 18.] So speak and so act as [people should] who are to be judged under the Law of liberty [the moral instruction given by Christ, especially about love].


James 2:10-12. For whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the Law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the Law of liberty.

Verse 10 should fairly scream to us that James is speaking of the Mosaic Law. What verse in the Pauline epistles indicates that if we offend in one point, we are “guilty of all”? Conversely, Paul preaches that we are saved from all, that all our offenses have been blotted out in the blood of Christ and his sacrifice.(Hebrews 9:11-26, Romans 5:8-

10) He sets himself as an example (I Timothy 1:13-16). A murderous, injurious, blasphemer was justified and forgiven of all by the grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ. His conversion and grace are set as an example to the Church of the breathtaking magnitude of God’s grace and the awesome completeness of the sacrificial and redemptive work of Christ. James’ statement here is the utter antithesis of Paul’s gospel.

Who was it that said “Do not commit adultery”? Moses. Where is it said, “Do not kill”? In the law of Moses. We’ve already noted that, according to Paul’s gospel, there is no transgression without the law (Romans 4:15 5:13). So James is unmistakably referring to the law of Moses and simply trying to take some of the sting out of it by calling it “the law of liberty”. This is of course in stark contrast to the references to the law in Acts and the church epistles.

Acts 15:10. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting a yoke on the necks of the disciples, such as neither our forefathers nor we [ourselves] were able to endure?

Can a yoke of bondage be called the law of liberty? Only by a deceitful worker.

II Cor. 3:6-7. [It is He] Who has qualified us (making us to be fit and worthy and sufficient) as ministers and dispensers of a new covenant [of salvation through Christ], not [ministers] of the letter – that is, of legally written code – but of the Spirit; for the code [of the Law] kills, but the (Holy) Spirit makes alive. [Jer. 31:31.] Now if (the ministration of the Law,) the dispensation of death engraved in letters on stone, was inaugurated with such glory and splendor that the Israelites were not able to look steadily at the face of Moses because of its brilliance, (a glory) that was to fade and pass away, [Exod. 34:29-35.]

The “ministration of death” is a familiar figure of speech called an oxymoron or contradiction in terms. Death is not a ministry. The point is, the Old Testament law was an extremely difficult period of time during which many a man lost his life for an infraction that we might consider menial. Yet James calls it “the perfect law of liberty”. Why the deceptive language? Well if the false gospel were bolder, it couldn’t have crept in unawares. Satan may be vicious; he may be relentless, but he’s not stupid. With that

in mind, let’s get back to 1:25.

James 1:25. But he who looks carefully into the faultless Law, the [Law] of liberty, and is faithful to it and perseveres in looking into it, being not a heedless listener who forgets, but an active doer [who obeys], he shall be blessed in his doing – in his life of obedience.

After adopting the deceptive new label, James uses the figure of speech polyptoton wherein two variations of the noun poiesis (doer/deed) are used. The effect is to make it unmistakably clear that James is advocating that his readers continue in the works of the law. The fact that James heard the great apostle Peter describe these works as a yoke of bondage doesn’t seem to have deterred his enthusiasm. On the contrary, James says a man who continues in the deeds of the law will be blessed! This is a blatant contradiction of everything written about the law in the Church epistles.

James 1:26. If any one thinks himself to be religious – piously observant of the external duties of his faith – and does not bridle his tongue, but deludes his own heart, this person’s religious service is worthless (futile, barren).

The basic premise here is that religion is a wonderful thing. It’s not presented as such in the church epistles, particularly in Galatians 1:13 & 14. But that’s a light thing compared to what follows that basic premise. James asserts that a man who doesn’t control his tongue is not really religious at all, but deceives himself. If we look at this as a godliness issue we must assume that he’s saying a man who seems godly, but doesn’t bridle his tongue isn’t really godly at all. So in effect, the standard according to James for true godliness is control of what you say. Again, this seems to be a good thing. But despite the fact that controlling one’s speech is a universally recognized virtue, I don’t think it can rightly be singled out as THE standard of godliness. What of faith, love, and service? According to James, none of these is as important as cleaning up your vocabulary.

The verse ends with the statement that the religion of a man who fails to control his tongue is vain. The word ‘vain’ is translated from mataios which means ‘foolish, idle, or useless’. So according to James, it’s not lack of spiritual power, lack of love, selfishness, or lack of faith that makes a man’s religion useless. It’s his foul language! The lowered standards of godliness continue in the next verse.

James 1:27. External religious worship (religion as it is expressed in outward acts) that is pure and unblemished in the sight of God the Father is this:

To preach the gospel? To minister the grace of God to your fellow man? To teach God’s Word to His people? “Pure religion” in a Christian sense would be to zealously and strictly follow the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, would it not? What did the Lord command?

Mark 16:15. And He said to them, Go into all the world and preach and publish openly the good news (the Gospel) to every creature (of the whole human race).

Acts 1:8. But you shall receive power – ability, efficiency and might – when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends – the very bounds – of the earth.

If we obey the commandments of the Lord, we will preach the gospel to every creature, witnessing of the resurrection of Christ unto the uttermost part of the earth. But James mentions neither being witnesses nor the Resurrection. Well what about just following the example, if not the express commandments of the Lord? What did Jesus do?

Matt. 11:4-5. And Jesus replied to them, Go and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed (by healing), and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news (the Gospel) preached to them. [Isa. 35:5-6; 61:1.]

Luke 4:18-19. The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; to send forth delivered (from the power of the Evil One) those who are oppressed – who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed and broken down by calamity; to proclaim the accepted and acceptable year of the Lord – the day when salvation and the free favors of God profusely abound. [Isa. 61:1, 2.]

If we follow the Lord’s example, our definition of “pure religion” would have to include healing the blind, preaching the gospel, delivering the captives, and setting at liberty them that are bruised. The work of the Lord is heralding and ministering deliverance (from the power of the Evil One)! What is James’ definition of “pure religion”?

James 1:27: …to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Pure religion according to James is to visit –not necessarily deliver, heal, or help, mind you, but visit–the afflicted. Jesus didn’t leave people in their suffering with an impotent ‘God bless you”! He helped people with the limitless love and power of God Almighty that flowed through him. Incidentally, so did Peter, and so did Paul. James’s standards are quite a bit lower. He merely exhorts his followers to “visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction”. And to keep oneself “unspotted” from the world. The use of the word unspotted in this context is in keeping with James’ exhortation to continue in the works of the law. The Levitical traditions being abandoned in Jerusalem by Paul, Peter, and their followers weren’t regarding idolatry, or incest, but simply eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:12) and relaxing their observation of the Sabbath (Romans 14:1-6). James and the saved Pharisees didn’t approve. They viewed this walk of faith as sin and Levitical impurity. Hence the exhortation here to keep oneself “unspotted” from the world.

The word “unspotted” is used in one other NT book. Paul himself uses this word in I

Timothy. As with the word “lay aside”, we can compare James’ use of this word with

Paul’s and see once again the difference in the perspectives of their writings and see that James is not in harmony with Paul, but his usage of words is consistent with the message of legalism.

I Tim. 6:11-14. But as for you, O man of God, flee from all these things; aim at and pursue righteousness – that is, right standing with God and true goodness; godliness

(which is the loving fear [revering] of God and Christlikeness), faith, love, steadfastness (patience) and gentle-heartedness. Fight the good fight of the faith; lay hold of the eternal life to which you were summoned, and confessed the good confession [of faith] before many witnesses. In the presence of God Who preserves alive all living things, and Christ Jesus Who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I [solemnly] charge you to keep all His precepts unsullied and flawless, irreproachable until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Anointed One.

Paul’s commandment to Timothy was that he keep himself unspotted in his carrying of the ministry of righteousness, faith, and love. He was charged to be unspotted in his efforts to see that the gospel was preserved. James, apparently less concerned with such matters, exhorts his followers to be unspotted from the world in visiting orphans and avoiding foul language. This focus on a much lower standard of Christian living is consistent throughout James. It’s not necessarily wrong. But it shows us that James mindset was decidedly more carnal than Paul’s. Where Paul is concerned with the preaching of the gospel, with justification by faith, with the believers being united in love, James directs his followers to be concerned about bad language, wealth, and doing good deeds.

Chapter Two

James 2:1. My brethren, pay no servile regard to people – show no prejudice, no partiality. Do not [attempt to] hold and practice the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ [the Lord] of glory together with – snobbery!

The great majority of Paul’s uses of the phrase “faith of Jesus Christ” deal with the contrast of the works of the law and justification by faith (Romans 3:22, Galatians 2:16 & 3:22, and Philippians 3:19). There is however, a passage in Romans which at first glance, seems similar in its context to James 2:1. A comparison of these passages will actually illuminate the depth of the contrast between James’s epistle and Paul’s gospel.

Rom. 12:3-10. For by the grace (unmerited favor of God) given to me I warn every one among you not to estimate and think of himself more highly than he ought – not to have an exaggerated opinion of his own importance; but to rate his ability with sober judgment, each according to the degree of *faith apportioned by God to him. For as in one physical body we have many parts (organs, members) and all of these parts do not have the same function or use, so we, numerous as we are, are one body in Christ, the Messiah, and individually we are parts one of another – mutually dependent on one another. Having gifts (faculties, talents, qualities) that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them: [He whose gift is] prophecy, [let him prophesy] according to the proportion of his faith; [he whose gift is] practical service, let him give himself to serving; he who teaches, to his teaching; [he who exhorts, encourages], to his exhortation; he who contributes, let him do it in simplicity and liberality; he who gives aid and superintends, with zeal and singleness of mind; he who does acts of mercy, with genuine cheerfulness and joyful eagerness. [Let your] love be sincere – a real thing; hate what is evil (loathe all ungodliness, turn in horror from wickedness), but hold fast to that which is good. Love one another with brotherly affection – as members of one family – giving precedence and showing honor to one another.

Paul presents the faith of Jesus Christ as the inner bond that brings the Church together. The Church is depicted as “one body in Christ” with every member equal in stature because he’s been given “the measure of faith”, the same measure of holy spirit by faith in Christ. On the surface, James seems to be singing from the same page, by admonishing his followers not to show preference for wealth. But where Romans presents a church that is one body in Christ, James not only eschews such terminology, he actually divides the Diaspora by unequivocally condemning rich people. In Romans, we are all members one of another; in James the poor are rich in faith (2:5) while the rich are oppressors, blasphemers (2:6 & 7), contemptible, fraudulent, miserly, and murderous (5:1-6). The faith of Jesus Christ in Romans unifies; in James, it’s merely a springboard to division.

The absence of the doctrine of the one body of Christ in James is no wonder, allowing that James, like most Pharisees, rejected the notion that saved Gentiles were fellowheirs with Israel. James’s church is divided from the start. According to this epistle, saved Gentiles don’t exist. What is even more intriguing is the division within the division; the singling out of rich Judaeans for contempt. David Anderson, in his book, The Two Ways of the First Century Church, wrote at length about the division in the early church between the Hebrews and the Grecians (Acts 6:1). Not much is known about the Grecians; they are only mentioned in three verses in the Bible; Acts 6:1, 9:29, and 11:20. They are referred to in the Greek NT as the “Hellenistes”. There is little scholastic information and even less consensus about who they were, but Mr. Anderson makes a very good argument in favor of the idea that the Hellenists were Judaeans who were Hebrews by birth, but who had adopted Greek lifestyles and attitudes; similar to “nonobservant Jews” of our time.

James strident legalism puts him in the camp of the Pharisees. Indeed, the record in Galatians 2:12 indicates that his followers were among those who were zealous for the law. James then, would have been on the side of the Hebrews against the Grecians. There is no evidence that the dispute between the Grecians and Hebrews was ever resolved. Quite the contrary, the most outspoken of the men appointed to settle the matter was publicly executed. As David Anderson argues, it is likely that the reason for Stephens’s murder was his eloquent witness of the substitution of the work of Christ for the law of Moses. It was after all, the law that separated the Hebrews from their less legalistic brethren. By recalling the Old Testament records of Joseph and Moses, Stephen tried to persuade them that Jesus Christ had set aside the reason for their enmity. What followed was murder and mayhem, persecution and peril. This strife between Grecians and Hebrews is perhaps the reason the Grecians tried to kill Paul shortly after his conversion. Perhaps they remembered that he had been a witness at Stephen’s murder and wanted to even the score. At any rate, it seems that James, in his subdividing of his faction of the one body of Christ into rich and poor, was mining an old vein.

James was not content to divide the Jews from the Gentiles. He further divided the rich Jews, probably Hellenists, from the poor Jews. The question is why? The most likely answer is pride. Pride is never satisfied. After having elevated himself above the Gentiles, James and his ilk elevated themselves above their wealthy brethren. Division resulting from carnal pride is like a malignant tumor in the body of Christ. Once it gets started, it continues until what began as a body of believers unified by love and faith becomes an elite inner circle within a faction within a sect within a denomination. This disease in the Church is nurtured by the words of James.

James 2:2. For if a person comes into your synagogue [congregation, assembly] whose hands are adorned with gold rings and who is wearing splendid apparel, and also a poor [man] in shabby clothes comes in,

Perhaps it’s just a linguistic coincidence, but the word sunagoge, here translated “assembly” makes its first appearance in the Post Pentecost New Testament in the record of the conflict between the Hebrews and the Grecians.

Acts 6:9. However, some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen [freed Jewish slaves], as it was called, and [of the synagogues] of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and the province of] Asia, arose [and undertook] to debate and dispute with Stephen.

Prior to this verse Acts speaks of the believers’ meeting places as houses. (2:46,5:42) This was during the time when the Church was unified. In the context of the contention between the Hebrews and the Grecians, synagogues are mentioned. Furthermore, they aren’t synagogues in Jerusalem which had been filled with the apostles’s doctrine, but rather synagogues from the surrounding area; beyond the impact of the witness and power of the apostles and the Church. The men from these synagogues raised the dispute with Stephen that eventually led to his execution.

Again, perhaps this seems to some to be an irrelevant connection, but noting James use of the phrases “goodly apparel” and “gay clothing” to describe the wealthy visitor adds credence to the idea that he was referring to Hellenists. The extremely caustic tones in which James presents them throughout his epistle certainly would have added to his stature and influence among the Pharisees and zealots who comprised his power base (Acts 21:20). Certainly this is an extremely cynical view, but I can think of no other reason for James judging them so harshly, even unto implying that they were doomed to hellfire and condemnation.

This passage also provides one of the contrasts with the character of the early Church that negates the idea that James was written before Paul’s ministry began. Despite his repeated condemnations of rich men, there is no notion anywhere in the epistle that wealthy believers are to share of their abundance so that the needs of the poor will be met. This was the practice of the early Church under the leadership of the apostles, who are also absent from James’s epistle.

James 2:5-6. Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and in their position as believers, and to inherit the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him? But you [in contrast] have insulted – humiliated, dishonored and shown your contempt for – the poor. Is it not the rich who domineer over you? Is it not they who drag you into the law courts?

James praises the poor, which sounds pious enough, but doesn’t go so far as to admonish the church elders or the affluent brethren to actually give them anything! He is in effect saying “God bless you, poor person.” But is doing nothing within his considerable influence to move the others to supply their needs. This is not what God instituted in the first century church.

Acts 2:44-45. And all who believed – that is, who adhered to and trusted in and relied on Jesus Christ – were united, and together they had everything in common; and they sold their possessions [both their landed property and their movable goods] and distributed the price among all, according as any had need.

II Cor. 8:13-15. For it is not [intended] that other people be eased and relieved (of their responsibility) and you be burdened and suffer (unfairly), but to have equality – share and share alike; your surplus over necessity at the present time going to meet their want and to equalize the difference created by it, so that [at some other time] their surplus in turn may be given to supply your want. Thus there may be equality. As it is written, He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little did not lack. [Exod. 16:18.]

So this is another aspect of the epistle of James that is at odds with both the early Church depicted in the book of Acts and the corresponding standards of Paul’s gospel. Continuing in James chapter two, we see in verse eight yet another phrase that is unique to this epistle. “The royal law” is a phrase coined in an attempt to lessen the impact of the legalism James is advocating.

James 2:8. If indeed you [really] fulfill the royal Law, in accordance with the Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as [you love] yourself, you do well. [Lev.


Most of us assume James’s phrase “the royal law” is a reference to Jesus’s statement recorded in Matthew 22:37 in which he condensed the Law to two Great

Commandments. So we make a distinction between “the royal law” and the Mosaic Law as if Jesus was saying that the need to keep the law of Moses had passed. Our Lord said no such thing. He was merely summarizing the 900 commandments contained in the Mosaic Law. He never said that the law had passed. In fact the opposite is true.

A review of some of Jesus’s statements to Israel reveals that while he ministered to the circumcision, the law of Moses was still in force. The Law didn’t pass until Jesus Christ fulfilled it HIMSELF, which fulfillment was completed on the cross when he became our Passover, the Lamb of God.

Jesus Christ told the people of Israel the way to eternal life was to keep the commandments Let us remember that Romans 15:8 clearly states that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision. As such, he ministered the Law while HE himself fulfilled it.

Matthew 5:17-22. Do not think that I have come to do away with or undo the Law and the prophets; I have come not to do away with or undo, but to complete and fulfill them. For truly, I tell you, until the sky and earth pass away and perish not one smallest letter nor one little hook [identifying certain Hebrew letters] will pass from the Law until all things [it foreshadows] have been accomplished. Whoever then breaks or does away with or relaxes one of the least important of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least important in the kingdom of heaven; but he who practices them and teaches others to do so shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness (your uprightness and your right standing with God) is more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the men of old, You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable so that he cannot escape the punishment imposed by the court. [Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17; 16:18.] But I say to you that every one who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice *[enmity of heart] against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! – You empty-headed idiot! shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire.

Matt. 7:12. So then whatever you desire that others would do to and for you, even so do you also to and for them, for this is [sums up,] the Law and the prophets.

Matt. 19:17-19. And He said to him, Why do you ask Me about the perfectly and essentially good? One only there is who is good – perfectly and essentially: God. If you would enter the Life, you must continually keep the commandments. He said to Him, What sort of commandments? – Or, which ones? And Jesus answered, You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, [Exod. 20:12-16; Deut. 5:16-20.] Honor your father and your mother, and, You shall Love your neighbor as yourself. [Lev. 19:18.]

Matt. 23:23. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders – hypocrites! for you give a tenth of your mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected and omitted the weightier (more important) matters of the Law, right and justice and mercy and fidelity. These you ought [particularly] to have done, without neglecting the others.

Luke 10:25-28. And then a certain lawyer arose to try (test, tempt) Him, saying, Teacher, what am I to do to inherit everlasting life – [that is,] to partake of eternal salvation in the Messiah’s kingdom? Jesus said to him, What is written in the Law? How do you read it? And he replied, You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. [Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18.] And Jesus said to him, You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live – enjoy active, blessed, endless life in the kingdom of God.

John 8:4-7. Teacher, they said, this woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. Now Moses in the Law commanded us that such [women, offenders] shall be stoned to death. But what do You say[to do with her]? – What is Your sentence? [Deut. 22:22-24.] This they said to try (test) Him, hoping they might find a charge for which to accuse Him. *But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger. However, when they persisted with their question, He raised Himself up and said, Let him who is without Sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.

This is a particularly significant passage. Not only for what Jesus said, but for what He did not say. He did not say that the law was passed. He did not say that the grace of God was here and that the woman should not be judged by the law of Moses. He invited execution according to the law, but merely stipulated that the executioners be innocent! Thus, by the wisdom of God in Christ, mercy prevailed over judgment. But if the law had already passed, surely this would have been the time for Jesus to announce it. A life was at stake. But he did not, because the law was still in effect; He was still in the process of fulfilling it, and therefore, the law still held sway over Israel.

So when we read in James about “the royal law”, we should not assume that this is a distinction from the Mosaic Law. No such distinction exists. They are one and the same. James’s use of the phrase “the royal law” is simply another attempt to present the law of Moses in a positive light. If he were doing this in today’s culture, we would call him a “spin doctor”. There’s nothing new under the sun.

James 2:9. But if you show servile regard (prejudice, favoritism) for people, you commit sin and are rebuked and convicted [of (KJV)] by [under] the Law as violators and offenders.

If we look at the Greek words from which this verse is translated, it becomes even more obvious that James in contradicting the gospel. The Greek word translated “of” is the word hupo. It is used here in the Genitive case and so should be translated “under”. James is literally saying if ye have respect of persons, ye commit (work) sin and are convinced (rebuked) under the law as transgressors.

Having eased into legalism with the new label of the royal law, James proceeds to serve up the resulting condemnation. For by the law is the knowledge of sin. Not only is the idea of a born again Judaean being convinced under the law as a transgressor a blatant contradiction of the gospel of the grace of Christ, the offense James cites is not found in the law of Moses. James is not only advocating a return to the law, he’s adding to it! Such is the nature of legalism. We can never find enough ways to pass judgment and accuse our brethren of sin. According to Paul’s gospel, it is abundantly clear that James’ reasoning is flawed, for we are no longer under the law!

Rom. 6:14. For Sin shall not [any longer] exert dominion over you, since now you are not under Law [as slaves], but under grace – as subjects of God’s favor and mercy.

Rom. 7:4-6. Likewise, my brethren, you have undergone death as to the Law through the [crucified] body of Christ, so that now you may belong to Another, to Him Who was raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. When we were living in the flesh (mere physical lives) the sinful passions that were awakened and aroused up by [what] the Law [makes sin] were constantly operating in our natural powers – in our bodily organs, in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh – so that we bore fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the Law and have terminated all intercourse with it, having died to what once restrained and held us captive. So now we serve not under [obedience to] the old code of written regulations, but [under obedience to the promptings] of the Spirit in newness [of Life].

Romans 8:2. For the Law of the Spirit of Life [which is] in Christ Jesus [the Law of our new being] has freed me from the Law of Sin and of Death.

Rom. 10:4. For Christ is the end of the Law – the limit at which it ceases to be, for the Law leads up to Him Who is the fulfillment of its types, and in Him the purpose which it was designed to accomplish is fulfilled. – That is, the purpose of the Law is fulfilled in Him – as the means of righteousness (right relationship to God) for everyone who trusts in and adheres to and relies on Him.

Romans 7:14 says clearly we are not under the law. James 2:9 says the opposite. Both cannot be true. Romans 7: 4 says we are become dead to the law. If we are dead to the law we cannot be ruled by it. Therefore, we are not under the law. Romans 7:6 says we are now delivered from the law. Therefore, we are not under the law. Romans 8:2 says we are freed from the law and Romans 10:4 tells us why; because Christ ended the law. Therefore, we are not under the law and cannot be convinced “under the law” as transgressors.

James 2:10-11. For whosoever keeps the Law [as a] whole, but stumbles and offends in one [single instance] has become guilty of [breaking] all of it. For He Who said, You shall not commit adultery, also said, You shall not kill. If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become guilty of transgressing the [whole] Law. [Exod. 20:13, 14; Deut. 5:17, 18.]

Here we have an ironic moment of agreement in the midst of conflict. This truth is echoed in Galatians 3:10 and 5:2-4

Gal. 3:10. And all who depend on the Law – who are seeking to be justified by obedience to the Law of rituals – are under a curse and doomed to disappointment and destruction; for it is written in the Scriptures, Cursed (accursed, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment) be everyone who does not continue to abide (live and remain) by ALL the precepts and commands written in the book of the Law, and practice them. [Deut. 27:26.]

Gal. 5:2-4. Notice, it is I, Paul, who tells you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no profit (advantage, avail) to you, [for if you distrust Him, you can gain nothing from Him]. I once more protest and testify to every man who receives circumcision that he is under obligation and bound to practice the whole of the Law and its ordinances. If you seek to be justified and declared righteous and to be given a right standing with God through the Law, you are brought to nothing and so separated (severed) from Christ. You have fallen away from grace – from God’s gracious favor and unmerited blessing.

This is a stringent warning to the Galatians whom James and his emissaries had deceived. Submitting to circumcision was not a little step backward, it was a giant leap backward into sin and death.

Of course, we should give ol’ James the benefit of the doubt shouldn’t we? (That is, if there’s any doubt left at this point) Maybe he’s really in full agreement with Paul and is doing his best to persuade the law zealots to abandon the law and walk in grace so as to avoid judgment.

James 2:12. So speak and so act as [people should] who are to be judged under the Law of liberty [the moral instruction given by Christ, especially about love].

No, he’s still pushing the law. Knowing full well that those who submitted to any part of the law had to keep the entire thing, James still advocates the law of Moses by deceptively referring to it as “the law of liberty. James had some pretty good marketing consultants in his day. Actually, this is an old tactic of the adversary. Changing the name of an evil practice gives it new life. It’s not an idol, it’s a “patron saint!” It’s not giving by compulsion, it’s “abundant sharing.” It’s not the ministration of death, it’s the “perfect law of liberty”.

James 2:14. What is the use (profit), my brethren, for any one to profess to have faith if he has no [good] works [to show for it]? Can [such] faith save [his soul]?

“Yea, hath God said ye shall not eat of every tree of the Garden”? James’ question here is every bit as deceitful as that of the serpent in the garden. Rather than directly attack the gospel, he slides in sideways and nonchalantly, but with obvious concern and sincerity, says, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith and have not works? Can faith save him?” Actually, there are several layers of subtlety here. The first is the deliberate mixing of carnal and spiritual. Paul’s gospel of justification by the faith of Jesus Christ is a matter of spiritual benefits to natural man. James begins his attack with a carnal concern. “What doth it profit…” The implication here is that if a man is not practically successful, he is not spiritually sound. This logic has wide appeal, but is flawed for putting the earthly above the heavenly. It’s like saying there are more Muslims than Christians in the world, therefore, Mohammed was right about Jesus.

The second layer of deceit lies in the subtle discrediting of the gospel of justification by faith. Do you see it? “…though a man say he have faith…” James reduces the gospel to human hearsay. Paul blasted this deceitful attack at the very outset of Galatians.

Gal. 1:11-12. For I want you to know, brethren, that the Gospel which was proclaimed and made known by me is not man’s gospel – a human invention, according to or patterned after any human standard. For indeed I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it; [it came to me] through a [direct] revelation [given] by Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

James statement though a man say he have faith is a sly attempt to discredit the doctrine of salvation by faith not works. The next is more obvious. Just as the serpent tempted and deceived Eve with a question, James attacks the gospel of justification by faith with a question. “Can faith save him?” Before we go any further, we must stop and consider this question carefully. These four words are the crux of the issue that divided James from Paul, Peter from John, and the Gentiles from the Judaeans. These four words are a figure of speech called heterois, which we call a rhetorical question; a question asked for which the answer is implied or obvious. The immediate context implies that the answer to James’ rhetorical question is “no”. With that in mind, carefully reread these four words.


The most important word of these four is “Can”. The word “can” is translated from dunamai, which Bullinger defines as “to be able, capable, strong enough.” This is a very significant question. James isn’t asking “might” faith save him. He’s not saying “Will” faith save him, but “CAN faith save him?”. The fact that these four words found their way into the canon of the New Testament is mind-boggling. The implication of this rhetorical question is that faith is not capable of saving. James is in effect saying that it is impossible for a man to be saved by faith. Consider the following verses and the meaning and usage of the word dunamai

Matt. 6:24. No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stand by and be devoted to the one and despise and be against the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [that is, deceitful riches, money, possessions or what is trusted in].

Matt. 6:27. And which of you by worrying and being anxious can add one unit of measure [cubit] to his stature or to the span of his life? [Ps. 39:5-7.]

Matt. 7:18. A good (healthy) tree cannot bear bad (worthless) fruit; nor can a bad (diseased) tree bear excellent fruit – worthy of admiration.

Matt. 8:2. And behold, a leper came up to Him and prostrating himself, worshipped Him, saying, Lord, if You will, You are able to cleanse me by curing me.

Matt. 12:29. Or how can a person go into a strong man’s house and carry off his goods – the entire equipment of his house – without first binding the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.

Matt. 12:34. You offspring of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil – wicked? For out of the fullness – the overflow, the superabundance – of the heart the mouth speaks.

You may have noticed that most of these uses are actually in the negative. That is, rather than stating what is possible, they state or imply what is not. It is perhaps fitting then that it is used in James to imply that faith cannot save a man who confesses it. “Can faith save him?” The answer is YES! Absolutely, unequivocally, undeniably, and irrevocably, Yes! We are saved by faith not works. On this point, God’s Word is crystal clear.

Eph. 2:8-9. For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved

(delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your (Holy Spirit given)] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves – of your own doing, it came not through your own striving – but it is the gift of God. Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast. – It is not the result of what any one can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.

Rom. 9:30-32. What shall we say then? That Gentiles who did not follow after righteousness – who did not seek salvation by right relationship to God – have attained it by faith (that is, righteousness imputed by God, based on and produced by (the) faith (of Jesus Christ, a Gift of the Holy Spirit). Whereas Israel, though ever in pursuit of a Law [for the securing] of righteousness (right standing with God), actually did not succeed in fulfilling the Law. For what reason? Because [they pursued it] not through faith – they did not depend on faith but on what they could do – relying on the merit of their works. They have stumbled over the Stumbling Stone. [Isa. 28:16, 8:14.]

II Tim. 1:9. [For it is He] Who delivered [Matt. 6:13; Luke 11:4.] and saved us

(from the Evil One) and called us with a calling in itself holy and leading to holiness – that is, to a Life of consecration, a vocation of holiness; [He did it] not because of anything of merit that we have done, but because of and to further His own purpose and grace (unmerited favor) which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began – eternal ages ago.

Rom. 4:3-7. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed (trusted in) God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness – right living and right standing with God. [Gen. 15:6.] Now to a laborer, his wages are not counted as a favor or a gift, but as an obligation – something owed to him. But to one who not working [by Law] trusts (believes fully) in Him Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited to him as righteousness – the standing acceptable to God. Thus David congratulates the man and pronounces a blessing on him to whom God credits righteousness apart from the works he does: Blessed and happy and to be envied are those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered up and completely buried.

Even under the law, the answer was YES! As Abraham was made righteous without works, and as David praised God for his mercy to those who recognized their inability to keep the law and relied on faith in his goodness, we today are saved by faith without works. The denial of this monumental truth is the heart of the epistle of James. James’ treatise against righteousness without works is central to his epistle, just as Paul’s declaration of justification by faith without the works of the law is central to Galatians.

One of the arguments in favor of James in this passage is that he’s not questioning salvation by faith. They say he’s not talking about getting born again. That observation is partially correct; the question about the possibility of salvation by faith is interjected slyly, but it’s not the real issue

The real issue at the heart of James’ question regarding a brother who says he has faith without works is the continued adherence to the confining standards of the law in the life of a Judaean believer. This is the subject of Paul’s reproof in Roman chapter 14.

Rom. 14:1-6. As for the man who is a weak believer, welcome him [into your fellowship], but not to criticize his opinions or pass judgment on his scruples or perplex him with discussions. One [man’s faith permits him] to believe he may eat anything, while a weaker one [limits his] eating to vegetables. Let not him who eats look down on or despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains criticize and pass judgment on him who eats; for God has accepted and welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on and censure another’s household servant? It is before his own Master that he stands or falls. And he shall stand and be upheld, for the Master – the Lord – is mighty to support him and make him stand. One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike [sacred]. Let every one be fully convinced (satisfied) in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Rom. 14:13-15. Then let us no more criticize and blame and pass judgment on one another, but rather decide and endeavor never to put a stumbling block or an obstacle or a hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am convinced (persuaded) as one in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is [forbidden as] essentially unclean – that is, defiled and unholy in itself. But [none the less] it is unclean (defiled and unholy) to any one who thinks it is unclean. But if your brother is being pained or his feelings hurt or if he is being injured by what you eat, [then] you are no longer walking in love. – That is, you have ceased to be living and conducting yourself by the standard of love toward him. Do not let what you eat hurt or cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died!

Rom. 14:22-23. Your personal convictions [on such matters] exercise as in God’s presence, keeping them to yourself – striving only to know the truth and obey His will. Blessed, happy, to be envied is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves – who does not convict himself by what he chooses to do. But the man who has doubts – misgivings, an uneasy conscience- about eating, and then eats [perhaps because of you], stands condemned [before God], because he is not true to his convictions and he does not act from faith. For whatever does not originate and proceed from faith is sin – that is, whatever is done without a conviction of its approval by God is sinful.

He that doubteth is damned if he eat. Why? Because he has transgressed the law? No. Because his motivation is not trust in the accomplished work of Christ on our behalf, but self-willed licentiousness. Volumes could be written about this issue, but it’s summarized by God Himself in I Samuel 16:7

I Samuel 16:7. But the Lord said to Samuel, Look not on his appearance or at the height of his stature, for I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

God looks on the heart. God knows if we are acting in faith and rejoicing in the accomplished work of Christ or acting in selfishness and rejoicing in ‘forbidden fruit’. A believer who walks in faith will not flaunt his freedom in Christ in the company of a brother who does not yet understand it. This is why verse 23 says whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Since the Judaeans were now justified by faith without the deeds of the law, they cannot be convinced under the law as sinners. But since the new standard of righteousness is faith, if one acted as if he had faith; that is, if he did things believers were suddenly free to do [such as eat pork or work on the sabbath] without actually believing in the justification of Christ, he was simply seizing formerly forbidden fruit. And to do so in the company of one who still believed himself to be under the law was a great offense that only made it more difficult for the weak believer to grow in grace.

Likewise if a Christian who believes he is free to drink wine in moderation is in the company of one who believes all alcohol is forbidden, he is obligated by love to eschew the fleeting pleasure of a glass of wine to preserve the the precious conscience and fellowship of his brother in Christ. So an act can be a demonstration of faith or it can be sin depending on the motivation and mindset behind it. Thus Paul wrote to the Judaean believers, “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Notice however, he did not use the word “transgression” as James does. A transgression can only occur under the law.

This chapter begins and ends with references to faith. The bolder Judaean believers received the gospel and its tenet of justification by faith by releasing themselves from the Law’s restrictions on diet and observance of the Sabbath. Others were not so comfortable in their newfound freedom and were in fact offended by the casting off of the works of the law. Paul dealt with this not by pushing people back to the law, but by encouraging them to add love to their newfound faith and walk “charitably” so as to edify their ‘weaker’ brethren. This was the heart of the faith without works issue and, as we saw in Galatians 2:11, it was a deadly serious issue. It was over this that Peter withdrew in fear when the emissaries of James went to Antioch and found him eating with the Gentiles. With this understanding, let’s see what else James has to say about the issue.

James 2:15-16. If a brother or sister is poorly clad and lacks food for each day, and one of you says to him, Goodbye! Keep [yourself] warm and well fed, without giving him the necessities for the body, what good does that do?

Not surprisingly, we see another immediate shift from spiritual matters to carnal. It’s also an attempt to change the subject. This is doubly deceitful because, the issue isn’t food to hungry people. Neither is it salvation, although salvation by faith was questioned in the previous verse. James never addresses the underlying issue head-on. The divisions in the church had nothing to do with food for hungry people. As we just saw, Romans devotes an entire chapter to the issue of faith and the works of the law, and the divisive chaos in Antioch that resulted in a face-to-face confrontation between Peter and Paul was not about feeding the hungry, but about justification by faith rather than by the works of

the law. When the people of that day spoke of these matters, these are the terms (actually, their Aramaic equivalents) they would have used. James broaches the subject and immediately confuses the issue by questioning salvation itself, which was not debated, then using a series of unrelated and irrelevant analogies to get to his point in a very deceitful and misleading manner.

I may be wrong, but I believe this type of reasoning is what Galatians 3:3 addresses when it says, “Who hath bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth..” So, having confused the issue of faith and works with salvation and starvation, where does he end up?

James 2:17. So also faith if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power – inoperative, dead.

This verse has the subject of some discussion Let’s take a close look at it for this is the crux of James. The word “faith” is pistis. The key words in this verse are works and dead. “Works” is translated from the Greek word ergon, and dead from nekros. Works is used many times in the New Testament and does not always refer to levitical commandments or works of the law. It can be translated “deeds” or actions.

Matt. 11:2. Now when John in prison heard about the activities (ergon) of Christ, he sent a message by his disciples.

Matt. 26:10. But Jesus, fully aware of this, said to them, Why do you bother the woman? She has done a noble (praiseworthy and beautiful) thing (ergon) to Me.

Luke 11:48. So you bear witness, and give your full approval and consent to the deeds (ergon) of your fathers; for they actually killed them, and you rebuild and repair monuments to them.

The word ‘dead’ is almost always used in reference to dead souls.

Matt. 10:8. Cure the sick; raise the dead (nekros); cleanse the lepers; drive out demons. Freely (without pay) you have received; freely (without charge) give.

Matt. 11:5. The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed (by healing), and the deaf hear, and the dead (nekros) are raised up, and the poor have good news (the Gospel) preached to them. [Isa. 35:5, 6; 61:1.]

Acts 17:3. Explaining [them] and [quoting passages] setting forth and proving that it was necessary for Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead (nekros), and saying, This Jesus, Whom I proclaim to you is the Christ, the Messiah.

Acts 17:32. Now when they had heard [that there had been] a resurrection from the dead (nekros), some scoffed; but others said, We will hear you again about this matter.

Rom. 6:4. We were buried therefore with Him by the baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead (nekros) by the glorious [power] of the Father, so we too might habitually live and behave in newness of life.

However, it is sometimes used figuratively to communicate separation or loss. This is the case in Luke chapter 15, in the parable of the prodigal son.

Luke 15:24. Because this my son was dead (nekros), and is alive again; he was lost, and is found! And they began to revel and feast and make merry.

Obviously, the prodigal son was not dead. He had been separated from his father who never expected to see him again. He was, for all practical purposes, dead. We have a similar idiom referring to sleep. If one is “dead to the world”, he is in a sound sleep or unconscious. So we could interpret the word nekros in James 2:17 as separated. This meaning is reinforced by the descriptive phrase, “being alone” which ends the verse. The meaning is that if faith and works are separated, faith is of absolutely no profit. Translating the word “works” as actions, we arrive at the meaning of James’s bold declaration; Faith, separated from action is barren and useless. If we understand this verse in this light, we remove the apparent contradiction between James and Paul regarding justification. But if we rest there, we will not see that James’s statement about faith being dead without deeds is at odds with the rest of the New Testament.

James’ assertion that “faith without works is dead, being alone” contradicts not only Paul’s gospel, but the book of Hebrews, and the gospel of Luke. In order to see this more fully, let us look again at what James says regarding faith and words.

James 2:15-16. If a brother or sister is poorly clad and lacks food for each day, and one of you says to him, Goodbye! Keep [yourself] warm and well fed, without giving him the necessities for the body, what good does that do?

James presents a hypothetical situation in which a believer says to a needy person, “be ye warmed and filled.” In other words, a blessing is spoken. James discounts the value of these words. This creed is reinforced in verse 18.

James 2:18. But some one will say [to you then], You [say you] have faith and I have [good] works. Now you show me your [alleged] faith apart from any [good] works [if you can], and I by [good] works [of obedience] will show you my faith.

In James’ equation, deeds, not words, are the proof of faith. This is certainly a popular credo. “Deeds, not Words!” is a familiar rallying cry. A famous Christian poem contains the line “We say that we are his and He is ours. Deeds are the proof of this, not words, and these are the proving hours!” This line of verse may even have been inspired by this very scripture. James assertion that faith is shown by deeds, not words is a well-known and readily accepted notion. But it is false.

The Word of God declares that Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and even Mary demonstrated faith without works, without deeds, without actions.

Heb. 11:11. Because of faith also Sarah herself received physical power to conceive a child, even when she was long past the age for it because she considered [God]

Who had given her the promise, reliable and trustworthy and true to His word [promise]. [Gen. 17:19; 18:11-14; 21:2.]

What did Sarah do that produced a child in a formerly dead womb? Nothing. The deed was performed by Abraham. The word “receive” is not an active but a passive verb. Sarah merely believed God’s promise and “received strength” to conceive. In fact, her works had been futile. She offered Abraham her maidservant Hagar in an attempt to work out God’s promise. That action was not the proof of faith, but of unbelief. When Sarah believed God’s promise, she stopped relying on her works and merely allowed God’s power to bear fruit within her. Rather than faith without works being dead, Sarah’s faith without works brought new life.

Likewise, her son Isaac demonstrated faith without works.

Heb. 11:20. [With eyes of] faith Isaac, looking far into the future, invoked blessings upon Jacob and Esau. [Gen. 27:27-29, 39, 40.]

Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau by faith. He merely spoke what God wanted him to speak. I wonder if he said, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled.” Just kidding. Isaac did nothing to bring to pass the blessings that God promised Jacob and Esau. He merely spoke the words. It was up to God to make it happen. But it took faith for Isaac to speak that blessing. Speaking God’s Word is a genuine result of faith. This truth is echoed in the next two verses in Hebrews.

Heb. 11:21-22. [Prompted] by faith Jacob, when he was dying blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and bowed in prayer over the top of his staff. [Gen. 48.] [Actuated] by faith Joseph, when nearing the end of his life, referred to [the promise of God for] the departure of the Israelites out of Egypt, and gave instructions concerning the burial of his own bones. [Gen. 50:24, 25; Exod. 13:19.]

By faith Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph. He did indeed rise from his bed and lean on his staff, but the emphasis in the verse, like the one before it, is on the blessing. Joseph did likewise and demonstrated faith by words, not deeds. He made mention of the departing of the children of Israel. He prophesied. Prophesy is most certainly a product of faith. Does the prophet have to carry out that which he speaks? No. He merely speaks that which God tells him to speak and God Himself sees to it that the prophecy is fulfilled. This characteristic of faith is mentioned in II Corinthians 4:13

II Cor. 4:13. Yet we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, I have believed, and therefore have I spoken. We too believe, and therefore we speak. [Ps.


Finally, let us consider what is perhaps the single most important instance of faith in human history. Mary became the mother of our Lord by faith. As you read this passage, ask yourself, what did Mary do?

Luke 1:26-38. Now in the sixth month [after that], the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a girl never having been married and a virgin, engaged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, Hail, O favored one (endued with grace), the Lord is with you! Blessed – favored of God – are you before all other women!. But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled and disturbed and confused at what he said, and kept revolving in her mind what such a greeting might mean. And the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace – free, spontaneous, absolute favor and loving kindness – with God. And listen! You will become pregnant and will give birth to a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great (eminent) and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His forefather David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob throughout the ages, and of His reign there will be no end. [Isa. 9:6, 7; Dan. 2:44.] And Mary said to the angel, How can this be, since I have no [intimacy with any man as a] husband? Then the angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you (as a shining cloud); and so the holy (pure, sinless) Thing which shall be born of you, will be called the Son of [out of] God. [Exod. 40:34; Isa. 7:14.] And listen! Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is now the sixth month with her who was called barren; For with God nothing is ever impossible, and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment. Then Mary said, Behold I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to what you have said. And the angel left her.

Did she believe? Absolutely. Elizabeth prophesied that she did.

Luke 1:42-45. And she cried out with a loud cry, then exclaimed, Blessed – favored of God – above all other women are you! And blessed – favored of God – is the Fruit of your womb! And how [have I deserved that this honor should] be granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For lo, the instant the sound of your salutation reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed – happy, to be envied – is she who believed [trusted] that there would be a fulfillment of the things that were spoken to her from the Lord.

And blessed is she that believed. What did Mary do? She said “Be it unto me according to thy word.” She believed, she spoke God’s Word, she received. Since this same Mary was also the mother of James, one wonders how he could have ignored her example when he took it upon himself to declare that faith without works is dead. Nevertheless, we must recognize that James’ doctrine of dead faith is at odds with the writings of both Paul and Luke. This is more than a difference in mannerisms. It’s not a disagreement on practical matters. This is a doctrinal conflict that can only be settled by assuming that God’s Word makes no sense or that James’ words, or those of both Paul and Luke are false.

Even if we give James the benefit of the doubt, and remove salvation and justification from the context, we cannot harmoniously merge this passage with the writing of the Apostle Paul. However, I believe removing salvation and justification by faith from our understanding of this passage is unwarranted and unwise. Look ahead at verse 23. James has used his hypothetical situation as the foundation of the doctrine of justification by works.

James 2:19. You believe that God is one; you do well. So do the demons believe, and shudder [in terror and horror such as make a man’s hair stand on end and contract the surface of his skin]!

This statement is completely irrelevant. This is what is known as a “straw man” argument, a deceptive tactic designed to misrepresent and ridicule an opposing point of view, rather than debate it honestly. No one in Jerusalem questioned that there was one God. None of the Diaspora Jews would have questioned that there was one God. Rather than explain WHY born again Judaeans needed to keep the law, he’s arguing a point that no one has challenged! In so doing, he demeans the argument in favor of justification by faith without law and equates it with something as simplistic as believing that there is one God. This is an insult that is compounded by associating it with devils! As I said, this is slippery stuff James is pushing. This is the method whereby the Galatians were bewitched and so quickly removed from the grace of Christ unto the other gospel. This sidestep sets up another direct attack on the truth as seen in verse 20.


James 2:20. Are you willing to be shown [proof], you foolish, unproductive, spiritually-deficient fellow, that faith apart from [good] works is inactive and ineffective and worthless?


But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

Just as emphatically as Galatians presents the truth of our justification by faith of Jesus Christ without the works of the law, James continues to attack the gospel by sneaking in sideways and then blatantly contradicting it.

This begs the question; why did God allow this to be included in the canon of the NT?

Perhaps what we see here is the fulfilling of Jesus; parable of the tares among the wheat. If we didn’t have these books in the New Testament, we might assume the conflicts in Acts were settled and therefore be less vigilant about the enemies of the gospel of grace.

Verse 21 starts the cycle again. A question is posed to which the correct answer is a resounding no. Before the reader realizes that he’s been suckered, James is contradicting the gospel yet again.

James 2:21. Was not our forefather Abraham [shown to be] justified – made acceptable to God – by [his] works when he brought to the altar as an offering his [own] son Isaac? [Gen. 22:1-14.]

The answer to this question is a resounding “NO”. According to Genesis 15:6, Romans

4:3, and Galatians 3:6, ” …Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” James reiterates the false premise in the form of another question before making a false statement in verse 23. He is trying to supply a doctrinal foundation to continue to keep born again Judaeans under the law, but doing so in a rather dishonest manner.

James 2:23. And [so] the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed – adhered to trusted in and relied on – God, and this was accounted to him as righteousness [as conformity to God’s will in thought and deed], and he was called God’s friend. [Gen. 15:6; Isa. 41:8; II Chron. 20:7; Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6.]

This statement is wrong on two levels. First, it says “the scripture was fulfilled”. If you read the 30 or so other verses in the New Testament in which the words “scripture” and “fulfilled (pleroo) ” are used together, you will find that ALL of the others refer to prophecy; foretelling, that is. The statement “Abraham believed God and it was accounted for righteousness” is not prophetic. It’s a plain statement of truth, a recounting of an established spiritual and historical fact. So to use the phrase “the scripture was fulfilled” in this context is deceitful and deliberately misleading.

Secondly, this misleading phrase implies that Abraham’s righteousness wasn’t complete until he offered Isaac thirty years later! This is in direct contradiction to Romans 4:9-11.

Rom. 4:9-11. Is this blessing (this happiness) then meant only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it credited [to him]? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the mark of circumcision as a token or an evidence or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised, [faith] that he was to be made the father of all who [truly] believe though without circumcision and who thus have righteousness (right standing with God) imputed to them and credited to their account,

WHEN was Abraham justified? Both Genesis and Romans declare that he was justified WHEN he believed God’s promise. Verse 11 says circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of the faith Abraham had. The word “seal” is the same word used of a letter that is sealed before mailing or a royal document that is sealed with the King’s signet ring to show it’s authenticity. A letter is not sealed until it’s finished. Likewise, the last thing a monarch does is to affix the seal to a document. Abraham’s righteousness could not have been sealed if it was yet incomplete. So James’ assertion that the righteousness that God imputed to Abraham for his believing wasn’t complete until thirty years later is simply false.

Since this section in chapter two is the central argument (if you can call it that) of James in favor of the law, most of what remains has been mentioned in some way already, so I will only briefly refer to the remainder of the epistle.

James 3:2. For we all often stumble and fall and offend in many things. And if any one does not offend in speech – never says the wrong things – he is a fully developed character and a perfect man, able to control his whole body and to curb his entire nature.

James goes back to setting tongue control as the principle standard for godliness. Here he says a man who can control his tongue is perfect, or completely mature. In the seven church epistles, maturity is associated with understanding the mystery, (Colossians 1:27 & 28), those who use the manifestations of holy spirit to edify the church (I Corinthians

14:20), and those who focus on the furtherance of the gospel and the return of Christ (Philippians 3:15). It seems to me that a man could be perfect according to James standard without knowing anything of the manifestations, the return of Christ, or the mystery.

James 3:6. And the tongue [is] a fire. [The tongue is a] world of wickedness set among our members, contaminating and depraving the whole body and setting on fire the wheel of birth – the cycle of man’s nature – being itself ignited by hell (Gehenna).

Sounds pretty wise doesn’t it? Here James restates the earlier premise about perfection coming by discretion by presenting the opposite; the dangers of indiscretion. I find it curious that the phrase set on fire is used twice here, and even more disturbing that he says the tongue “is set on fire of hell”. Is he saying a man who lacks discretion is going to burn in hell? The word “hell” here is indeed gehenna, a reference to the lake of fire. Keeping in mind to whom this is addressed makes this reference even more out of place. Needless to say, the only other New Testament books that use this word are the gospels and Revelation. This implication of hellfire and damnation to foul-mouthed believers is similar to his condemnation of rich men in chapter 5.

James 5:3. Your gold and silver are completely rusted through, and their rust will be testimony against you and it will devour your flesh as if it were fire. You have heaped together treasure for the last days.

How in the world does this fit with the hope of Christ’s return and the promise of a spiritual body like unto his glorious body? For brevity’s sake, I’ll wrap this up with a look at the end of chapter three.


James 3:13. Who is there among you who is wise and intelligent?…


James 3:13. Who [is] a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?…

Who is a wise man? Well, here we go again. This question is a pack of trouble. Answering this call immediately puts you in dubious company. Surprisingly, most of the uses of the word “wise” in the church epistles are negative. Rarely are we encouraged to claim to be wise. Just the opposite.

Rom. 1:22. Claiming to be wise, they became fools – professing to be smart, they made simpletons of themselves.

Rom. 11:25. Lest you be self-opinionated – wise in your own conceits – I do not want you to miss this hidden truth and mystery, brethren: a hardening (insensibility) has [temporarily] befallen a part of Israel [to last] until the full number of the ingathering of the Gentiles has come in,

Rom. 12:16. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty (snobbish, highminded, exclusive), but readily adjust yourself to [people, things] and give yourselves to humble tasks. Never overestimate yourself or be wise in your own conceits. [Prov. 3:7.]

I Cor. 1:20. Where is the wise man – the philosopher? Where is the scribe – the scholar? Where is the investigator – the logician, the debater – of this present time and age? Has not God shown up the nonsense and the folly of this world’s wisdom?

I Cor. 4:10. We are [looked upon as] fools on account of Christ and for His sake, but you are [supposedly] so amazingly wise and prudent in Christ! We are weak, but you are [so very] strong! You are highly esteemed, but we are in disrepute and contempt!

So James’ questions prompts, or rather tempts the reader to make an assertion that he’d probably be better off not making. To make matters worse, James proceeds by pointing the self-proclaimed wise man in the wrong direction!


James 3:13. Who is there among you who is wise and intelligent? Then let him by his noble living show forth his [good] works with the (unobtrusive) humility [which is the proper attribute] of true wisdom.


James 3:13. Who [is] a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

The word “shew” means to point out, as with one’s finger. The phrase “out of” is translated from the word ek, meaning out from within. A good way to remember the specific meaning of ek is that ‘ech’ is the sound one makes when his um…lunch comes out from within one’s rebellious tummy. Sorry.

So James’ advice to the self-proclaimed wise man is to point out from within a good conversation or lifestyle…the grace of God? No. Point out the way to Christ? No. He is encouraged to show out of a good conversation HIS WORKS.

By now, I trust I don’t have to ‘point out’ how different that is from the direction of the church epistles. Again we have James starting with a seemingly innocent question and immediately turning people in a carnal direction. Pointing out your works doesn’t do anyone else any good. It just inflates your ego. It is the opposite of walking by the spirit and being justified by faith.

This passage reminds me of the numerous civic organizations that encourage men to do good works for the community and heap praise on them for so doing. The Good Sam club, the Shriners, Elks, Moose, and Water Buffalo all follow James’ example. Jesus once told James and his other half-brothers “the world cannot hate you”. (John 7:7) Now we can see why. James was a worldly man entirely concerned with worldly matters. That he attained such prominence in the church is a great tragedy.

His influence lead the early Church away from the true gospel of the grace of Christ and justification by faith to the false gospel of works and self-righteousness. He rightly observed that there were tens of thousands of Jews who had believed, but were still zealous of the Law (Acts 21:20). But rather than leading them to the grace and power of

Christ, he established them in the law of sin and death. His leadership robbed the early Church of the fruit of the spirit and mired them in the works of the flesh. And the canonization of his epistle has insured that his bewitching influence reverberates through the ages unto this day. James is most certainly a tare among the wheat


1. Paul’s Gospel.
2. The Book of Acts; Division in the Church.
3 . Epistles to A Church Divided.
4. Galatians: Justification by Faith.
5. The Epistle of James.
6. Summary and Overview.
7. Peter and John: Food for Thought.
8. Return to Index (Intro)
9. Return to Top