Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Epistle of James

Some, following Luther, have questioned whether James is part of Scripture.

I take the view that it is part of Scripture, as do virtually all the Reformers after Luther and all the Reformers before Luther.

An objector asserted various points against James.

1) That it contradicts Paul's epistles and can only be reconciled by mental gymanstics.

2) That it was not relied upon for the first 400 years of the church.

3) That James was notoriously anti-Pauline, citing the proceedings of the council of Jerusalem.

I disagree with each of these contentions.

In terms of early use of James' epistle in the church, Irenaeus (died 202), "Against Heresies" Book IV, Chapter XVI quotes James 2:23.

In terms of reconciling James and Paul, James speaks of justifying oneself in the eyes of men ("show me thy faith") whereas Paul speaks of justification before God ("... by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight..." ... "if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God." ... "no man is justified by the law in the sight of God,"). Thus, Paul explains the importance of faith in salvation, and James explains a way to identify whether we and others have faith (and therefore have been saved), teaching what the Lord taught: "by their fruits ye shall know them." After all, the engrafted word will bear fruit in us.

As it is written "... the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

I'm not sure if the objector views that as gymnastics - but I don't think it is.

As for the council of Jerusalem, we see James' instruction in Acts 15:20 of what to write. We see it being written in Acts 14:29 (with an assertion that it is inspired in verse 28), and we see confirmation that it was written in Acts 21:25 and we see Paul confirming by deed his submission to the Holy Spirit in Acts 21:24-26.

In fact, while Paul was not afraid to oppose Peter and to record his opposition in Scripture, there is no record of Paul and/or Barnabus opposing the council. Instead, we see that they were sent out by the council (headed by James) and they came back and reported back to the council.

So, I do respectifully disagree with the objections, and I do not believe that they are factually supported.

Nevertheless, I welcome any comments.

May the God of peace bless all of us,

-Turretinfan

P.S. Today, James Swan has posted an interesting article that touches somewhat on this issue, and is worth reading:

http://www.aomin.org/index.php?itemid=1892

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do not understand objection #3. You might explain a little.

Turretinfan said...

I'm not sure I understand objection 3, either. The objector has been invited to participate here. If he chooses to do so, we may receive an explanation.

-Turretinfan

John said...

I'm going to address Turretinfan's objections piecemeal since I don't have a large block of time to properly handle all his points. I'll start with his first objection, which is my second original point, that the Pre-Nicene Church leaders never quoted James. In http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-62.htm#P8259_2297672 (which I got to by first going to http://www.ntcanon.org, a wonderful site), Irenaeus is cited as quoting James 2:23. Here is the quotation, from "Against Heresies" Book IV, Chapter XVI, (I include the whole previous paragraph to illustrate a later point):
"1. Moreover, we learn from the Scripture itself, that God gave circumcision, not as the completer of righteousness, but as a sign, that the race of Abraham might continue recognisable. For it declares: "God said unto Abraham, Every male among you shall be circumcised; and ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, as a token of the covenant between Me and you."186 This same does Ezekiel the prophet say with regard to the Sabbaths: "Also I gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord, that sanctify them."187 And in Exodus, God says to Moses: "And ye shall observe My Sabbaths; for it shall be a sign between Me and you for your generations."188 These things, then, were given for a sign; but the signs were not unsymbolical, that is, neither unmeaning nor to no purpose, inasmuch as they were given by a wise Artist; but the circumcision after the flesh typified that after the Spirit. For "we," says the apostle, "have been circumcised with the circumcision made without hands."189 And the prophet declares, "Circumcise the hardness of your heart."190 But the Sabbaths taught that we should continue day by day in God's service.191 "For we have been counted," says the Apostle Paul, "all the day long as sheep for the slaughter; "192 that is, consecrated [to God], and ministering continually to our faith, and persevering in it, and abstaining from all avarice, and not acquiring or possessing treasures upon earth.193 Moreover, the Sabbath of God (requietio Dei), that is, the kingdom, was, as it were, indicated by created things; in which [kingdom], the man who shall have persevered in serving God (Deo assistere) shall, in a state of rest, partake of God's table.

2. And that man was not justified by these things, but that they were given as a sign to the people, this fact shows,-that Abraham himself, without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths, "believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God."194"

Footnote 194 in the above citation says, "Jas. 2:23." However, I disagree with the notion that Irenaeus is actually quoting the Letter of James, for the following reasons. 1. Abraham is called God's friend twice in the Old Testament, One place is in 2 Chronicles 20:7 (I quote vv 5-7): "5 And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, 6 and said, O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. 7 Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?" The other place is Isaiah 41:8: "But you, Israel, my servant,Jacob, whom I have chosen,the offspring of Abraham, my friend;" Thus there is already a precedent for this term for Irenaeus or James to draw upon. It need not be concluded that Irenaeus was quoting James, but rather the OT, as was James.

What is the point James is trying to make in chapter 2, v. 23? Here is James 2:14-23: "14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 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." James contests that mere belief is nothing: there have to be works for the faith to be real. James says his friendship with God was predicated on the works completing his faith, or at least something close to this.

But what is the point Irenaeus is trying to make in the passage that supposedly quotes James 2:23? As seen above, most succinctly in paragraph 2, a man is not justified by these things (circumcision and Sabbath-observing), but it is upon Abraham's faith that righteousness was imputed to him and he was called friend of God. Totally the opposite point to what James was saying.

There is another place in "Against Heresies" Book IV, this time in Chapter XIII paragraph 4, part of which I quote:
"For in that which He says, 'I will not now call you servants,' He indicates in the most marked manner that it was Himself who did originally appoint for men that bondage with respect to God through the law, and then afterwards conferred upon them freedom. And in that He says, 'For the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth,' He points out, by means of His own advent, the ignorance of a people in a servile condition. But when He terms His disciples 'the friends of God,' He plainly declares Himself to be the Word of God, whom Abraham also followed voluntarily and under no compulsion (sine vinculis), because of the noble nature of his faith, and so became 'the friend of God.'161" (Footnote 161 says, "Jas. 2:23.") This context is talking about God's great plan in keeping people in bondage under the law for a time, after which He frees us and calls us His friends. And again, this passage accentuates Abraham's faith.

In both passages, Irenaeus, most likely has in mind simultaneously the Gospel in which Jesus calls his disciples friends, and the 2 OT passages where Abraham is called God's friend.

There is another pertinent passage in Irenaeus "Against Heresies", this time in Book V, Chapter, I Paragraph 1, part of which I quote:
"1. For in no other way could we have learned the things of God, unless our Master, existing as the Word, had become man. For no other being had the power of revealing to us the things of the Father, except His own proper Word. For what other person 'knew the mind of the Lord,' or who else 'has become His counsellor?' (footnote 2) Again, we could have learned in no other way than by seeing our Teacher, and hearing His voice with our own ears, that, having become imitators of His works as well as doers of His words, we may have communion with Him, receiving increase from the perfect One, and from Him who is prior to all creation. We-who were but lately created by the only best and good Being, by Him also who has the gift of immortality, having been formed after His likeness (predestinated, according to the prescience of the Father, that we, who had as yet no existence, might come into being), and made the first-fruits of creation (footnote 3) -have received, in the times known beforehand, [the blessings of salvation] according to the ministration of the Word, who is perfect in all things, as the mighty Word, and very man, who, redeeming us by His own blood in a manner consonant to reason, gave Himself as a redemption for those who had been led into captivity."
Footnote 3 says, "'Initium facturae,' which Grabe thinks should be thus translated with reference to Jas. i. 18." I don't know who Grabe is (no doubt an important scholar).

I don't have a way to definitively slay this potential reference, other than that it's a little weak. (However, a closer look at 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 may be in order here.)

According to http://ntcanon.org/table.shtml, James is only "possibly" quoted by Irenaeus (in the places above), and by no one else until the Codex Sinaiticus (4th century). This site says that Eusebius and Origen claimed it was "dubious; disputed; or useful for inspiration". It was not quoted by Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, or the Muratorian Canon. It's attestation is weak if not nil, until the Sinaiticus, Athanasius, Vulgate, and on. No other NT book is so weakly attested by the pre-Nicenes (but III John comes close).

Regarding my point 3: I would put it more like "James and Paul got along like Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley" (sorry, Irish joke), as evidenced by not just Paul's behavior post Acts 15, but James's cold reception of Paul in Acts 21: 18-25. I say it's cold, because James immediately goes into a praise of Law-abiding Jewish Christians, as though he's diverting attention from Paul's wildly successful missionary journey.

More on my other points later.

I enjoy this immensely, and may God bless us all. Cheers,

John

Turretinfan said...

Just to be clear, the objections (1-3) are not my objections. I fully accept James' epistle as Holy Scripture.

John,
I may post some of your comments into the body of the post in order to respond to them. Also, I may be slow in responding for the next few days.

In terms of quotation of James, I have cited Irenaeus, AH(IV)(XVI). I recognize that there are other potential citations of James in Irenaeus' works, but that one seemed the clearest.

Your response seems to be that the Old Testament provides an adequate basis for the quotation. I agree that both the imputation of righteousness and the "friend of God" statements are available in the Old Testament. I certainly agree that they were. However, those passages are not particularly proximate in the OT, and no other NT writer makes such a connection.

I could add that the Shepherd of Hermas appears to rely heavily on James.

-Turretinfan

John said...

Now I address Point 1, that it contradicts Paul and can only be reconciled by mental gymnastics:
Let’s start with Paul, in Romans 3: 19-31:
“19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty F14 before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth F15 to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. 29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: 30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”.

v. 20: by the ergwn nomou, works of the law, speaking of the Law, which generates (hence the genitive) a kind of works that are necessary for salvation, that is if you’re trying to be saved by the Law, which is one of the two ways God offers to be saved, and which, by the way, is impossible for everyone (except Christ). ‘justified’ or ‘dikaiothesetai’ should really be translated ‘righteousified’, since it means more than a forensic statement of righteous, regardless of what Strong says. It means the actual making righteous (more and more, over time, and never completely done until death). Here is what Kittel (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) says about ‘dikaiosune’, or ‘justification’, or ‘righteousness’, the noun form of ‘dikaiothesetai’: “Righteousness, then, is not merely found in the beginning; it sustains the whole course. The believer is drawn by it into the movement of the rule of God. Hence the statements concerning justification should not be separated from the lifegiving dominion of Christ (5:21: dia `Iesou Xristou), from the vivifying of the community.” Why is this important? Because the righteousness-ification (commonly translated justification) spoken of in vv. 20, 24, 26, 28, 30, is more than forensic: God actually makes us righteous, by Grace through Faith. Your position is that Paul is talking only about justification before God, and James is talking epistemologically about how we might know someone is saved. If that were the case, I would agree and have no problem with James, since, as you (and Jesus) say, “by their fruits shall you know them.” But I don’t believe that is a proper usage of the Greek word dikaioo. dikaioo is all about our relationship with the deity, our keeping covenant with Him, what terms we need to abide by in order to be right with Him, and it is all about what kind of people we need to be in order to be right with Him.

He has a similarly mangled understanding of the Greek words pistis (noun) and pisteuo (verb). He thought they just mean belief and believe, respectively, as is evidenced by his erroneous statement, “19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (Jas. 2:19). If the demons really exercised faith, they would be saved. It is unfortunate that we don’t have a verb in English to convey the real meaning of pisteuo. Dr. Gene Scott has coined a verb—to faithe—by which he attempts to recover the full Greek meaning of the word. Pisteuo was the word used by the Septuagint translators to translate 3 Hebrew words: chawsa, batawk, and amen (pardon my use of Roman letters to depict Hebrew). Chawsa means to run to the shelter of a rock, batawk means to lean on a staff, amen means to have a solid inner settled witness, in which one immediately and automatically does the first two things. So faith involves action, of a certain kind. In Gene Scott’s words, it is action, based upon belief, supported by confidence. This is the word that the New Testament writers used all over the place, so critical to our salvation. James violates the word and relegates it to simple mental assent. He is correct to say that faith that has no result is no faith at all (or, we are correct to assert this). Works flow from faith.

James was simply confused about the terms pistis and dikaioo. Why would I trust a letter that is thus confused? If he didn't get these wrong, I wouldn't consider it mental gymnastics to try to reconcile them.

Yes, the engrafted word will bear fruit, and if we’re not bearing fruit, we should question whether we’re living by faith or just going through the motions, or worse.. Which is one of the reasons why John’s letters are so important. Expositors love the dynamic tension between faith and works they see between James and Paul, because it’s a generator of fruitful discussion, but there’s plenty of this tension between Paul and John. Or even between Paul and Paul, for that matter.

Turretinfan said...

John wrote: "Now I address Point 1, that it contradicts Paul and can only be reconciled by mental gymnastics:"

I respond: I should point out that John wrote this several weeks ago, but I have been less than diligent in getting back to him.

John wrote: Let's start with Paul, in Romans 3: 19-31:
"19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty F14 before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth F15 to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. 29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: 30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.".

John continued: v. 20: by the ergwn nomou, works of the law, speaking of the Law, which generates (hence the genitive) a kind of works that are necessary for salvation, that is if you're trying to be saved by the Law, which is one of the two ways God offers to be saved, and which, by the way, is impossible for everyone (except Christ).

I respond: Christ was justified by the works of the law, but Christ was not saved by the works of the law. Christ did not need to be saved, because He perfectly obeyed the law. Following the law is the way to avoid incurring guilt, not a way of salvation.

John continued:
"justified" or "dikaiothesetai" should really be translated "righteousified", since it means more than a forensic statement of righteous, regardless of what Strong says. It means the actual making righteous (more and more, over time, and never completely done until death). Here is what Kittel (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) says about "dikaiosune", or "justification", or "righteousness", the noun form of "dikaiothesetai": "Righteousness, then, is not merely found in the beginning; it sustains the whole course. The believer is drawn by it into the movement of the rule of God. Hence the statements concerning justification should not be separated from the lifegiving dominion of Christ (5:21: dia `Iesou Xristou), from the vivifying of the community."

I respond:But if the issue is accepting Kittel over Strong, why should I accept the former over the latter? Nevertheless, I don't really think that the issue is over what the word means. There is no English word "righteousfied." Furthermore, the fact is that the term does have a forensic sense: it does mean that person is accounted or considered righteous, not (or at least not primarily) that the person is made holy.

John continued: Why is this important? Because the righteousness-ification (commonly translated justification) spoken of in vv. 20, 24, 26, 28, 30, is more than forensic: God actually makes us righteous, by Grace through Faith.

I reply: God does in fact make us righteous by grace, and this is what we call (in theology) sanctification. There may be cases where "justified" can refer to the concept of sanctification, but I'm not sure why that makes a difference, unless you are suggesting that a separate idea of "justification" with a distinct meaning from "sanctification" is unwarranted.

John continued: Your position is that Paul is talking only about justification before God, and James is talking epistemologically about how we might know someone is saved. If that were the case, I would agree and have no problem with James, since, as you (and Jesus) say, "by their fruits shall you know them."

I respond: Well, then we have only a small issue of persuading you that James meant what we say he meant.

John continued: But I don't believe that is a proper usage of the Greek word dikaioo. dikaioo is all about our relationship with the deity, our keeping covenant with Him, what terms we need to abide by in order to be right with Him, and it is all about what kind of people we need to be in order to be right with Him.

I reply: I cannot agree with your narrow view of dikaioo. Consider Luke 16:15 "Ye are they which justify yourselves before men."
Or
1 Tim 3:16 "God was ... justified in the Spirit."
Or
Luke 7:29 "All the people ... justified God."


John wrote: He has a similarly mangled understanding of the Greek words pistis (noun) and pisteuo (verb). He thought they just mean belief and believe, respectively, as is evidenced by his erroneous statement, "19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder! (Jas. 2:19).

I reply: With all due respect, I think that his statement was quite correct, and that his usage of pistis was within the semantic range accorded that term in the Greek language. Shall I start quoting pagan writers to confirm that the term had that range? Or perhaps it is sufficient to quote Matthew 21:25 where the evangelist uses the term to describe believing what John the Baptist said. No, I think James properly understood the semantic range of the Greek word.

John continued: If the demons really exercised faith, they would be saved.

I reply:No, salvation is not the result of the exercise of faith. Faith is the result of regeneration, and is a means of justification. There is no promise for the devils to trust in. They believe that there is a God, but that is not saving faith. And that's James' point. James is comparing the "faith" of demons to the "faith" of those who live like demons.

John continued:It is unfortunate that we don't have a verb in English to convey the real meaning of pisteuo. Dr. Gene Scott has coined a verb "to faith" by which he attempts to recover the full Greek meaning of the word.

I reply: Again, this seems to ignore the evidence that we do have a pair of English words that convey a similar semantic range, namely "believe" and "trust."

John continued: Pisteuo was the word used by the Septuagint translators to translate 3 Hebrew words: chawsa, batawk, and amen (pardon my use of Roman letters to depict Hebrew). Chawsa means to run to the shelter of a rock, batawk means to lean on a staff, amen means to have a solid inner settled witness, in which one immediately and automatically does the first two things. So faith involves action, of a certain kind.

I reply:This the fallacy of etymology. The Hebrew word awman may come from a verbal root that suggests action, but the semantic range of the word, like pistis encompasses simple credulity.

John continued: In Gene Scott's words, it is action, based upon belief, supported by confidence. This is the word that the New Testament writers used all over the place, so critical to our salvation.

I respond:But it is not used that way in most of the instances it is used in the NT or the LXX. In most of those places it does not infer any particular action. Yes, it does convey an affirmative thought based on confidence or trust, but so does the word "believe."

John continued: James violates the word and relegates it to simple mental assent.

I replied: On the contrary, James explained the difference between a lively faith and a dead faith. The distinction between bare mental assent and a faith that leads to action is a teaching that is especially clear in James. James helps explicate the semantic range of the word pistis, and shows that simply assenting to the truth of God's existence is not saving faith.

John continued: He is correct to say that faith that has no result is no faith at all (or, we are correct to assert this). Works flow from faith.

I reply: He calls it a "dead faith," analogizing it to a body without a spirit.

John continued: James was simply confused about the terms pistis and dikaioo. Why would I trust a letter that is thus confused? If he didn't get these wrong, I wouldn't consider it mental gymnastics to try to reconcile them.

I reply:But far from confusing them, James actually explains them.

John continued: Yes, the engrafted word will bear fruit, and if we're not bearing fruit, we should question whether we're living by faith or just going through the motions, or worse.. Which is one of the reasons why John's letters are so important. Expositors love the dynamic tension between faith and works they see between James and Paul, because it's a generator of fruitful discussion, but there's plenty of this tension between Paul and John. Or even between Paul and Paul, for that matter.

I reply:That perceived tension (especially in view of your admission that a similar tension can be seen in other Scripture), however, just strengthens the affirmation of James as well within the same boundaries as John and Paul.

-Turretinfan