The Bible, does James contradict Paul about faith and works?

Paul and James preach the same gospel

It is not uncommon to be confused about James views about faith and works when compared with Paul’s views, and it might be particularly hard to get the grip about this for the person who is brought up to believe that there is no greater sin than the teaching that you must DO something to remain saved. The same person might believe that sinning is a natural part in all people’s lives, including Christians, and therefore nothing that God would be upset about (+ “this is the reason Jesus died for us“). It is therefore ironic that the “sin” of having to be faithful to Jesus (the teaching of having to obey him in order to remain saved) would be classified as the greatest sin under the sun, and a teaching that you might go to hell for – and the only sin for which you could lose your salvation. 

The verses in James, chapter 2, is particularly troubling for those who believe that we are saved by faith alone, and the most troubling verse of all is this one:

Jas. 2:24 Ye see then how that BY WORKS a man is justified, and NOT by faith only.

It could not be more clear than that, so we are definitely not saved by faith alone without works. James continues to emphasize:

Jas. 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

There are numerous verses that show that Paul agrees with James wholeheartedly (along with Jesus himself, Peter, John, etc), and here are some examples. Notice below Paul suggestion that people can do the law “by nature”, without even having access to the written law. 

Rom. 2:6 Who will render to every man according to his DEEDS:7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath 13 For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

Rom. 6: 6 — HENCEFORTH WE SHOULD NOT SERVE SIN. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, THAT YE SHOULD OBEY IT IN THE LUSTS THEREOF. 16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of SIN UNTO DEATH, or of obedience unto righteousness?17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for THE END OF THOSE THINGS IS DEATH. 22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end EVERLASTING LIFE 23 For the wages of sin is DEATH; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rom. 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. —4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.— 13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall DIE: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall LIVE.14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

The below verse shows quite clearly that Paul differentiates between obeying the law of Moses (that includes loads of ceremonial laws) vs obeying the basic commandments (not murdering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, etc) which have always been in existence ever since the days of Adam and Eve. 

1 Cor. 7:19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, BUT KEEPING OF THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD.

Circumcision in the flesh is a requirement under the law of Moses. Paul is not contradicting himself by saying “obeying the law of God is nothing, but obeying the law of God”.

Paul suggests numerous times that living after the flesh (sinning) leads to death, but what is SIN?

1 John 3:44 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

The holy Ghost is given to those Christians who obey the Lord:

Acts 5:32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

Who are saved?

Hebr. 5:9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him

We must remember that God does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet. 3:9) and that Jesus came to the world to give light to everyone with the hope to save us (John 1:4, 9). We are not provided one single chance to obey him, but we are provided with the possibility to repent for our past sins. According to the Bible, the commandments given to us are NOT too hard to obey (1 John 5:3). 

John 17 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

Acts 17:26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us

 

12 thoughts on “The Bible, does James contradict Paul about faith and works?

  1. Många har missförstått jakob och kanske även du!

    Tro utan gärning är död, vad menar jakob, ja han beskriver ju Abrahams tro med gärning.
    Abraham hade fått en befallning av Gud som han sedemera åtlydde enda tills Gud stoppade honom. Tro är att göra det man tror och tro kommer av att man hört från Gud. Detta är inget konstigt, däremot blir vi frälsta av endast tro på kristus. Jesus sa till lärjungarna i Joh 6 detta är Guds gärning, att ni tror på den han sänt. frågan lärjungarna ställde var vilka gärningar de skulle göra…

    Joh 6:28  Då sade de till honom: “Vad skola vi göra för att utföra Guds gärningar?” 
    Joh 6:29  Jesus svarade och sade till dem: “Detta är Guds gärning, att I tron på den han har sänt.”

    Jesus menar att tro på den Gud sänt är Guds gärning, men tron på Jesus innefattar lydnad till det han säger.

    Björn

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    • Hej Björn!

      Rätt, “tro utan gärningar är död”, som du mycket riktigt skriver. Det kan tolkas som det står.

      Du säger “däremot blir vi frälsta av endast tro på kristus.”.

      I så fall är även demoner frälsta eftersom även de tror på Kristus och även att han är Guds son.

      Ja, att “tro” på Jesus är en Guds gärning som vi måste göra, men Jesus säger inte att “tro allena utan gärningar” frälser. Om vi tror och älskar Jesus så lyder vi honom. Så jag håller med dig när du skriver:

      “men tron på Jesus innefattar lydnad till det han säger.”

      Exakt så!

      Joh. 15: 10 Om ni håller mina bud, förblir ni i min kärlek, liksom jag har hållit min Faders bud och förblir i hans kärlek.

      Amen!

      Like

  2. Works of obedience are the outward evidence of a genuine inward faith which is why James wrote that faith without works is dead. Faith and works of obedience are inseparable like two sides of the same coin. That being said, the germane question is, to what are we supposed to be obedient to?

    The answer is the commandments of God; i.e. the law. And what commandments might that be? We are commanded to keep all of the law. Jesus stated that he came to fulfill the law; not abolish it or only to keep certain aspects of it (Matt. 5:17). For not one jot or tittle of the law shall disappear from the law until heaven and earth pass away and everything is accomplished. (Matt 5:18).

    Instead, we have been taught to divide the the law by keeping the moral aspects of the law such as the 10 Commandments but to ignore the ceremonial law and the civil law. Scripture does not allow for such a division. Keeping the civil law is not possible due the fact that we no longer live in a theocratic society as the Israelites once did. Aspects of the ceremonial cannot be applied today as there is no longer any functioning priesthood or temple.

    In terms of the rite of circumcision, 1 Cor 7:19 states that circumcision/uncircumcision is nothing but what is important is keeping the commandments of God. Does Paul contradict himself since circumcision is a commandment contained in the Mosaic law? A key word in v.18 is “kaleo” or called. Thus being in a state of circumcision or uncircumcision does not matter in order to become called/saved/elected. But doesn’t v.20 plainly state that each person should remain in the condition they were in when God called them. Yes, it does but notice in v.23, Paul goes on to write “do not becomes slaves of men.”

    The traditions of MEN tell us to become circumcised in order to be saved which is false. The traditions of MEN tell us that circumcision is no longer necessary since we live under grace which is equally false. What matters is keeping the commandments of GOD. We know that circumcision is a command, but it should be done out of a willing obedience to God and not out of a fearful obligation to the dictates of men which would make us slaves to men and not to the commands of God done out of a willing and obedient heart.

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    • Hey Evan!

      There are indeed two ditches to fall in, one where you must live according to the Jewish law to be saved, and one where Grace covers all your sin, leading to lawlessness. I’ve always understood Acts 15 as a clarification when it comes to the Law (which includes ceremonial laws, animal offerings, stoning, etc). Which laws out of the law of Moses could be required for the gentiles – apart from the basic laws which have applied ever since Adam? The initial problem and the solution according to Acts 15:

      “5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.””

      11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

      19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

      28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

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      • According to Acts 15:1, there were certain Jews who insisted that the rite of circumcision was a requirement IN ORDER to become saved. Nothing we do including circumcision causes us to be saved as solely trusting in the blood of Jesus saves. Curiously in v.20, James declared that the Gentiles should abstain from the pollution of idols, fornication, things strangled and from blood. These forbidden practices are described Leviticus 17. Thus one must ask, why are these 4 practices which are forbidden in the law, also required of the Gentiles, if the law no longer applies?

        My belief is that James is declaring that these sinful practices are the minimum that Gentiles should turn away from once they become saved (and the Gentiles need to realize that from the outset) which is why in v.28, it states “to lay upon you no greater burden’ than these NECESSARY THINGS.” In other words, in order come to saving faith, James ordered 4 things that Gentiles should abstain from upon becoming saved. While these prohibitions are necessary, they were minimized in order that they would not be a great burden and obstacle which would prevent the Gentiles from coming to faith in Christ. The BURDEN identified in Acts 15 is not the law. It is the rite of circumcision specifically. Acts 15:28 declares that they should not make it so hard for the Gentiles to come to saving faith “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you NO GREATER BURDEN [circumcision] than these NECESSARY things”…(pollution of idols, fornication, things strangled and from blood). ”

        A key verse to understanding this passage is v.21 which states: “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” The word “For” is a conjunction and indicates the reason for James’ declaration in v.20. As the newly converted gentiles attended synagogue as described throughout the book of Acts, they would come to learn the law, as Moses/Torah was preached every Sabbath. They would learn and understand the law and the impact of it upon their lives as they grew in the faith by following the law. They would also gradually come to understand that circumcision is required by the law and hopefully submit to that as they grew in obedience and sanctification to the whole law of God.
        Paul confirms this in Rom. 3:31 where he wrote: Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.

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      • I believe it’s a big difference between the minimum/necessary laws (out of the law of Moses) compared with other laws such as the law of circumcision. I can imagine that the Jews surrounding the apostles were a little bit confused in the beginning as new Christians. Even Peter was amazed over the idea that new types of food were suddenly allowed to eat.

        As you pointed out earlier, some of the laws are not even possible to obey any more because the temple is no longer there, etc.

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      • Some laws are harder to obey; circumcision being one of the hardest. If I were a uncircumcised
        Gentile male, seeking to become a convert to the faith, circumcision would certainly be a great burden to me as James explained. However, the “short list” of the law that James instructed as “necessary” would be much more acceptable to me and doable as I began to live out the Christian life.

        Regarding Peter’s vision, try to read that whole passage again. Most Christians including myself at one time, misread and misinterpret that passage to mean Christians no longer have to obey the law in terms of distinguishing between clean and unclean foods. As you know, a basic hermeneutical principle is that we allow the author to define what he is writing about before we can draw any inferences of our own. So the question is, did Peter who is the subject of this account, define for us what his vision meant?

        If you look at this passage, at first Peter thought the vision was about him now be allowed to eat unclean meat. Note that even though Jesus had already died on the cross, Peter was still Torah observant and continued to adhere to the dietary laws. Why did he do that if unclean foods are now fit for the Christian to consume?

        Most importantly, in Acts 10:28 it states: He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” Further on, in vs. 34-35 Peter states “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

        Thus from Peter’s own interpretation, we see that this passage does not allow for the idea that new types of food are now allowed. His vision had nothing to do with food but instead what he saw was God’s way of conveying to him that there is to be no separation and distinction between Jews and the Gentiles who are coming to faith.

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      • Hello Evan!

        Yes circumcision would be considered a hard law to obey, but worshipping in the Temple of Jerusalem would be impossible 🙂

        <<Why did he do that if unclean foods are now fit for the Christian to consume?

        Before his vision because he thought it was prohibited + his Jewish traditions, and after his vision because of his Jewish traditions. 🙂

        I don't see why food would be excluded as part of the explanation in Peter's famous Food Vision. Dietary laws are very much included in the Jewish law so I think this particular vision was spot on. Peter didn't limit the "clean vs unclean" based on food alone, as his own interpretation shows (and which you also say) but he uses the food as an example.

        The vision doesn't suggest it's a sin to continue maintaining various Jewish food habits (but it's certainly wrong to teach others that it's a salvational matter). I don't eat pork myself and I wouldn't want to change my food habits …

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      • I don’t know if we’re on the same page as your reply is not clear to me. So to clarify, Peter ate only clean meats before his vision. Initially, he thought his vision meant he was now allowed to eat unclean meats but he finally concluded that his vision did not pertain to food but instead to people. Thus I think it’s safe to conclude that Peter continued to distinguish between clean and unclean foods as being fit for consumption, per Torah.

        The Christian world has been taught that “nomos” i.e. law/Torah is not a salvational matter. That is incorrect. Just ask yourself, if that were true, why would James cite aspects of the law (food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood) which are to be obeyed in order for the Gentiles to be saved. James was simply pointing out that those activities are sin in God’s eyes (according to the law) and the Gentiles need to know that, repent of them and refrain from doing those things in order to persevere in the faith. Anything less results in disobedience. And we both know that chronic sin and disobedience results in spiritual death. So yes, it is a matter of salvation.
        Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you, that you may be no priest to me. Because you have forgotten your God’s law, I will also forget your children.

        Instead of embracing the totality of God’s law as applying to our lives, Christianity largely teaches us to minimize the law at best, or reject it at worst. The law cannot be divided since not one jot or tittle of the law has disappeared according to Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion. Instead, he build upon the foundation of the law which is why he did not come to abolish the law/prophets but instead fulfilled them. He taught us how to obey the law/prophets by not only observing the letter of the law but truly fulfill it by living according to the spirit of the law.

        We will all be judged by the law which the church largely ignores thinking that grace has replaced the law. Totally false. Grace was given so that the regenerate believer can now obey the law – something that was formerly impossible to do in the flesh (Titus 2:11-12).

        Sadly, the church teaches that the law makes us captives. James 2:12-13 indicates otherwise:
        12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. 13For judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

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      • Sorry for delay in my response, but I’m glad your comments are enabled at once (based on my blog settings) for the purpose of other readers 🙂

        Yes I too believe Peter likely continued with his Jewish food habits also after this vision because the vision certainly didn’t claim it was a sin to continue living by them. Only that people with other food habits (or other habits in relation to the ceremonial Jewish laws) could still be saved regardless of such ceremonial laws. But not regardless of all laws (lawlessness) or even all Jewish laws (James listed exceptions).

        <<—if that were true, why would James cite aspects of the law (food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood) which are to be obeyed in order for the Gentiles to be saved. James was simply pointing out that those activities are sin in God's eyes (according to the law) and the Gentiles need to know that, repent of them and refrain from doing those things in order to persevere in the faith. Anything less results in disobedience. And we both know that chronic sin and disobedience results in spiritual death. So yes, it is a matter of salvation.

        Yes those particular things listed by James are salvational. He distinguished them from other ceremonial laws.

        << Instead, he build upon the foundation of the law which is why he did not come to abolish the law/prophets but instead fulfilled them.

        Amen!

        <<We will all be judged by the law which the church largely ignores thinking that grace has replaced the law.

        That is so sad …

        <<Totally false. Grace was given so that the regenerate believer can now obey the law – something that was formerly impossible to do in the flesh (Titus 2:11-12).

        I believe it was possible to obey the law also before. Or else God gave us laws which were too difficult for human beings to obey, which would give us an excuse for some of our sins. The Bible gives us examples of individuals who were described as having obeyed him perfectly, and here are other examples about our ability:

        Gen. 4:7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, SIN lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and THOU SHALT RULE OVER HIM.

        Gen. 26:5 Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.

        Deut. 30:8 And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day.9 And the Lord thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good: for the Lord will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers:10 If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, TO KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou TURN UNTO THE LORD thy God WITH ALL THINE HEART, and with all thy soul.11 For THIS COMMANDMENT which I COMMAND thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, NEITHER IS IT FAR OFF.—14 But THE WORD is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and IN THY HEART, THAT THOU MAYEST DO IT.15 See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;16 In that I COMMAND THEE this day to love the Lord thy God, TO WALK IN HIS WAYS, AND TO KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

        Lev. 18:4 Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God.5 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.

        Ez. 20:11 And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.—13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.—19 I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them;—21 Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness.

        Deut. 15:4 Save when there shall be no poor among you; for the Lord shall greatly bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it:5 Only IF THOU CAREFULLY HEARKEN UNTO THE VOICE OF THE LORD THY GOD, TO OBSERVE TO DO ALL THESE COMMANDMENTS which I COMMAND thee this day.

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      • Thanks for your reply. You are correct. It was possible to obey the law as you cited Abraham’s example. The problem though was that Moses had to codify the law as the Israelites were a stiff-necked people. Even with that, they continually rebelled. We both agree that obedience to God (and belief/faith in Jesus) is required for salvation

        Christendom has muddied the waters by not defining what obedience is. If not obedience to the law, which defines what sin is (Rom 3:20), then what are we supposed to be obedient to? Without the law, there would be no knowledge of sin, no need to repent of sin and ultimately, no need for Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. The Church if anything, pays attention to keeping the moral part of the law but discards the other aspects of the law such as observing the feasts, Sabbath, etc. Yet, when one observes the Apostle Paul, he kept the feasts, Sabbaths and even undertook a Nazirite vow. He instructed the brethen to follow his example:
        “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by four letter.” (2 Thess 2:15).
        It appears that the church through the centuries has ignored apostolic tradition forgetting that we are grated on to Israel and not the other way around. For most of my Christian life, I was under the impression that Jesus started a new religion but instead he built upon the foundation of the old.

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      • <<<Even with that, they continually rebelled. We both agree that obedience to God (and belief/faith in Jesus) is required for salvation

        Yes and yes 🙂

        <<Without the law, there would be no knowledge of sin, no need to repent of sin and ultimately, no need for Jesus’ atoning sacrifice.

        Exactly!

        << Yet, when one observes the Apostle Paul, he kept the feasts, Sabbaths and even undertook a Nazirite vow. He instructed the brethen to follow his example:–

        Yes, because he was a Jew and decided to continue on with Jewish traditions.

        <<For most of my Christian life, I was under the impression that Jesus started a new religion but instead he built upon the foundation of the old.

        Right, and so many people still believe there is no way we can fully be faithful to Jesus (obeying his laws), and that it doesn't matter anyway because "that's why Jesus died for us" + "we are his adopted children and will remain as such no matter what" …

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