Paul & James – What a Massive Contradiction!

How in the world does a fella deal with the following obvious contradiction in the New Testament?

ContradictionRomans 3:28

28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

James 2:24

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Extreme Solution

Some may take the stance that James is not worthy to be taken seriously, not even to be considered part of the canon.  I believe Martin Luther, the great reformer, called the book of James “a right strawy epistle”

One of Martin Luther’s quotes …

In a word St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’s epistle is really a right strawy epistle, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.

I assume the remark was Luther’s attempt to rid the canon of the epistle, and it may hearken back to Paul’s use of straw in the first letter to the Corinthians, where Paul noted that worthless works are “straw…”.

I have always leaned on the thinking that if God the Father sent His Son to die on a cross for the sins of the world, He would have a vested interest in maintaining the message He wants the world to hear.  So far it looks like the epistle of James has weathered 2 millennium of attacks and stands strong.

Another factoid that supports James epistle as worthy of acceptance is the echoing of Jesus teaching within the book.  Check out this table comparing Book of James with statements of Jesus.  Sixty seven verses in the book of James (total of 88 verses) contain allusions to or expound statements of the Lord.  That is 3 out of every 4 verses!

So, if the book of James is to be considered acceptable canon material, how do Christians resolve the apparent contradiction between James and Paul?

I would suggest context plays a role.  Let me explain.

Faith Only

Paul is laying out the method of salvation for all lost men to establish a relationship with God the Father, through God the Son.  It is widely accepted that faith in Christ and repentance of sins are the two components of salvation.  I think Paul is using faith, being understood by his audience, who heard the message of repentance and faith from others. Although the passage refers to faith only, many other passages include the concept of repentance, which Paul plainly taught in other contexts

Acts 17:30

30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,

Acts 26:20

20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

2 Corinthians 7:10

10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

2 Timothy 2:25

25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,

This faith in Romans 3:28 is the noun form of “belief, faith etc.”  It is not the verb in the text.  The action word in the passage is “justified” and the action is performed by God in response to the faith of the sinner.  God justifies the sinner when the sinner exercises faith in the Messiah’s sacrifice and resurrection.

Consider the Old Testament passage the apostle refers to.  Paul mentions Abraham’s faith in the next chapter (5 verses away) and uses Abraham to support his teaching of faith only to be justified.

Rom 4:1-5

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?
For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.
And to the one who does not work but believes in[fn] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness

abraham-isaac

Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  Paul is referring to Genesis 15:1-6

Genesis 15:1 – 6

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member

And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

In the Roman’s 4 passage, Abram’s faith was in the promise God gave to him of his future offspring.  It was Abrams belief in the promise of a son, in the bare Word of God.

Faith & Works

James. on the other hand is not referring to the Genesis 15 promise, but in Abraham’s continuing, fulfilling, outworking of that faith in the sacrificing of the very son God promised to Abraham.  James is referring to Abraham offering up his own son in verse 21.

James 2:21

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?

James says Abraham was justified by works, by some action he took. 
WHAT?

James 2:22 – 23

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;

and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.

Note that James uses the Genesis 15 passage (the promise of a son) in his teaching, but that the faith initiated in Genesis 15 (the promise of a son) was completed in Genesis 22, where Abraham proved his faith in the promise of God even if the son was to be put to death. 

His actions proved his faith in the promise.  (To God? or to men?)

James is telling us that true faith does not remain only faith.  To begin the Christian life, faith in the Son of God and His sacrifice is required.

To maintain the Christian walk, works will be evident.  If no works, James says there is no faith.

James 2:26

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. 

Summary

I’m thinking Paul is speaking of justification of the sinner in God’s presence, and that James is speaking of justification of the saint in men’s presence.  (James keeps saying – You see….)

There is no contradiction.

When each of us exercise faith in the risen One, challenges will come.  That initial faith, if real, will erupt in obedience to the One who supplied you life.  Not in any vain effort to add to your faith, or to improve your judicial standing before God.  It will be in response to the love and grace of the One you believed in.

How can we not obey, once we have tasted and seen that He is good.


If you read something in this discussion that concerns you, please take the time to send me your comments or reply within the post. I look forward to hearing from you.

Follow Considering the Bible on WordPress.com

 

3 thoughts on “Paul & James – What a Massive Contradiction!

    1. Thanks for your comment. I am a bit confused though.
      2 Timothy 2:15 speaks of Paul being abandoned
      Ephesians 1:13 speaks of believers being saved and sealed
      Galatians 2:7 speaks of two apostles having differing field of service, not different messages

      Like

      1. 2 Timothy 2:15 speaks of rightly dividing the word of truth
        Ephesians 1:13 tells you what the word of truth is
        Galatians 2:7-9 speaks of the gospel of the circumcision and the gospel of the UN circumcision.

        What Bible are you using?

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.