The Book of James. Why was it included in the Canon of Scripture? Some have wished it were not. Many have had great difficulty in reconciling the message God gave through James and the message God gave through Paul. Some have asked, are we saved by faith or are we not? Even the Christian giants had problems with this.
For example, the great reformer, Martin Luther, nearly threw James out of the Bible.
“Therefore St James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.”
Luther’s Works 35, 362
“We should throw the epistle of James out of this school [i.e. Wittenburg], for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.”
Luther’s Works 54, 424
A Faith That Works
Today I share from what we learned in our men’s James Bible study. I am thankful for those who see the Bible purely, as a child, through the lens of grace!
I am finding that many of the “either/or” contradictions supposedly in the Bible are merely lack of understanding. The power of understanding the Bible comes from the Spirit Himself, from logic (such as the power of “and”), and from the lens of grace.
I contend that James and Paul are not contradictory, but complimentary. They are speaking about different issues and approaching faith from two different angles.
- Paul exhorts against legalism; James exhorts against idleness.
- Paul addresses works enslaved by the law; James addresses works after salvation.
- Paul looks at the root of salvation; James looks at the fruit of salvation.
- Paul asks, How do we come to have faith?; James asks, How do we know we have faith?
- Paul demonstrates how to become a Christian; James demonstrates how to behave as a Christian.
The two paradigms are thus not contradicting each other. The Scriptures compliment each other in this case. Apostle Paul’s great Epistles teach us the manifold nature of having faith in Jesus. The Book of James, though short in length, is a super-packed discourse on acceptable living for those who claim to have faith in Jesus.
I see this very similar to Jesus, who taught the Sermon on the Mount (much like Apostle Paul’s Epistles), but then immediately after, touched and healed a leper (much like what the Book of James teaches).
Faith Is Something We Do
To summarize what I’ve learned from the Book of James, I would say that faith is something we do. Faith is not just words (but includes words). Faith is not just feelings (but includes feelings). Faith is not just thoughts (but includes thoughts). Faith is not just belief (but includes belief). Faith is not only avoiding sin, but it is also doing good.
Luther Got It
Fortunately, the Christian giants were great because they eventually found rest in the grace and truth of God, letting God be true, and every man a liar (Romans 3:4). In the end, Luther did not reject the Book of James. God led Luther to this conclusion.
“Still, he [Luther] did not go so far as to reject the canonicity of James. Indeed, he himself at times attempted to reconcile Paul and James: “Faith is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith”