James and Paul

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

(source 1)
(source 2)

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.

Two Paradigms

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”
Bainton 259 

6 thoughts on “James and Paul

  1. Another important point emphasized by James is to avoid favoritism in the church. Favoritism is one of the big problems in UBF. To quote James:

    “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”

    “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, *impartial* and sincere.”

    I think the word “submissive” is not a good translation here. It does not mean that people are submissive to autocratic leaders, but it rather addresses the leaders, that they should listen to what people say. Better English Bible translations have here: “reasonable”, “willing to yield”, “willing to yield to reason”, “easy to be intreated”. Luther translates as “lässt sich etwas sagen” = “willing to listen”. This is exactly the opposite of what I experienced from the UBF leadership.

    One statement from James 1 should be also remarkable for UBFers: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” If you ask UBF leaders what pure religion is, then they will start talking about preaching, evangelizing, making Bible study, writing testimonies, sharing testimonies, recruiting members, raising shepherds, training disciples etc. But practical help like visiting orphans and widows? Never heard of in UBF.

    • Very good points, Chris. I can live with the word “submissive”, as long as I unbind the meaning UBF gave this word.

      Helping the poor and needy in some way is not an “optional add-on” for a Christian ministry. It is the main point.

      James 3:1 comes to mind for me… “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

  2. Nice post, Brian, especially the 5 bullet points.

    If I may modify the 1st, it would be: Paul exhorts against legalism; James exhorts against antinomianism.

    “Liberal” churches need to listen to James. “Legalistic” churches need to listen to Paul.

    • Excellent point, Ben, thanks. I was looking for a better word than “laxity” or “idleness”…antinomianism fits well.

      Personally, I think the list (which comes from Rick Warren’s study guide) is helpful, but doesn’t do justice to the full measure of what each wrote about. Warren does not intend the list to minimalize the grand truth of Paul or James; only to create a starting point for understanding that their writings are complimentary. In this sense, the list is very helpful to me.

      I see God’s wisdom in this too. I see that God knew the big problem of Christians would be legalism (hence Paul’s prolific writings). Antinomianism is a problem too, but only on a much smaller scale.

      The problem is that I find the legalists feel they have to fend off grace, thinking they are fighting antinomianism when they are not. Grace is between the two extremes, and grace is a solid footing!

  3. Thanks, Brian. Rick Warren’s contrast is nice.

    Legalists tend to (over) emphasize the Law and that we are sinners. Legalists commonly are traditional conservative Christians who incline toward being Pharisee-like. Their expression of genuine warmth and God’s love is weak, because of their critical mindedness.

    Liberals, on the other hand, tend to (over) emphasize God’s unconditional love and acceptance of all sinners. Their favorite word might be tolerance. In contrast to legalists, they have a low view of sin and the Law.

    Because we Christians are sinners, we incline either toward legalism or liberalism, or we flip flop between the two, depending on our sentiment, our situation, or the people we are dealing with. For instance, I can easily become legalistic towards those who are legalistic, and at the same time liberal and loose toward those who I do not want to offend.

    Only the gospel of God’s grace takes the Law/sin and God’s love most seriously simultaneously. God took Law/sin so seriously that he had to destroy His Son. God took love most deeply that he would love sinners at the greatest cost to Himself by the sacrifice of His Son.