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.

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Conditional Security – Introduction

Conditional Security of Christian Believersif-150x150

SECURITY: the quality or state of being secure: freedom from danger, fear or anxiety

I have been a believer for over 35 years, having been saved at the ripe ol’ age of 21. One of the first teachings I received was the eternal security, “once saved always saved” (OSAS) doctrine. This doctrine teaches that once a person has placed faith in Christ (asked Jesus into his/her heart?), that person is eternally and irrevocably destined to heaven. It was, in my thinking, a contract I signed with God, a business transaction. Please understand, I am in no way reducing the covenantal promise He has provided to all who will trust in Him, but I suppose I question the duration of trust required.

Although I was never explicitly taught that sin could not break the contract I “signed” with God through faith, there was no fear to indulge in some peripheral sin. I was secure – I was going to be just fine! For close to 25 years I belonged to an eternal security denomination. I would only read eternal security books, eternal security pamphlets, and listen to teachers who taught eternal security. Every few sermons seemed to emphasize the eternal security of the believer, sometimes even using certain Scriptures to support the teaching. I vowed to never entertain that heresy of the “dark side”.

I just couldn’t risk the conflict in my mind.

I thought the OSAS logic was air tight. Certain Scriptures seemed to only teach the eternal security position. I would simply avoid the odd “bothersome” passages, (which began to pile up after a while), or find some way to explain the passage away.

It was a very comfortable place to be.

A Loss of Security

Then the church I was (heavily) involved in found sin in us and told us to leave. We were shocked and disoriented.

Just a few days previously, I had lost my job. We were living in a small Texas town with no possibility for work.

The security we found in our local church and our cushy job fell down around us.

I eventually found a position approx. 3 hours away. During my 3 hour commutes Monday morning and Friday afternoon, I began to listen to a Bible teacher who held different views than I. Initially I was drawn to this teacher’s eschatology, since my faith in dispensational teachings was slipping. He is a methodical and thorough Bible teacher who is not afraid to consider alternate viable interpretations of the Scriptural text.

I found him to be very challenging. Only one weakness – he had a “dark” side – he didn’t teach OSAS!

Another Security

As I listened to his teaching on Israel, the church and the end times, I would occasionally catch a reference to his “dark” side teaching and at first easily rebuffed his argument in my mind. That is until the passages became too numerous. It seemed that all I was doing was excusing, avoiding or rearranging Bible passages.

I started to study the passages and other authors from the dark side, until I found a book by Robert Shank, called “Life in the Son”. If you desire to continue in the OSAS camp, do not read this book. The exposition of numerous passages became too much for me.

So what is true security?

So far, I think true security is found in a consistent, direct relationship with the Savior. A desire to please Him and to do as He directs.

Although I have learned much since I began to consider conditional security, two thoughts come to mind.

  • The new covenant is an agreement between two parties.
    • He is faithful in all His activities and promises.
    • I am asking for help to become like Him.
  • If the nation of Israel, God’s covenant nation, was cut off and destroyed, how could I be so proud to think my relationship with the Living God could be ignored and not suffer?

No matter which camp you may fall into, we need to be motivated to please Him in all our ways.

Bible 2000x700As I publish on this blog, I will occasionally write on this topic, based on a Bible passage or topic.  I look forward to all comments and remarks.

I hope you will join me in “Considering the Bible”

2 Timothy 2:19

Howbeit the firm foundation of God standeth, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his: and, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.

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