This was a seminar held at 3:15pm Saturday.
Thomas began by praying, then reading James 2:14-22. (When he read "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" [v. 22], Thomas quipped, "It's right there in the Bible.") Then he read Romans 3:28, which seems to say the opposite. Then Thomas added Romans 2:13, that the doers of God are justified, and said it's worse than Paul against James. It is in fact Paul against Paul!
His point: the issue can't be resolved by taking Liberal Scissors and just slicing off James from Paul. There is in fact a strand of teaching in the NT that we will be judged according to our works. This is shocking to some; many of his students answer wrongly, when asked whether there will be, on the last day, a judgment according toworks. How to fit it into the whole?
Passages such as Colossians 3:24-25, and 1 Peter 1:17, and many others suggest an important relation of works to our Christian lives, and to God's judgment of us.
Thomas says Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, in his commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:10, suggests the key to understanding this teaching. Paul is addressing Christians; and Hughes says that it is important to see that the purpose of this tribunal is retributive, not penal. The judgment is not a declaration of doom, but an assessment of worth, with an assignment of works to those who, by reason of their faithfulness, deserve them.
This is not an unusual teaching in the history of Reformed teaching, but it has virtually disappeared in the last 25-30 years, to be replaced by an odd sort of egalitarianism.
Three ways of harmonizing have been proposed.
- James is hear using dikaioō (justify) different than Paul uses it, in the sense of vindication - to be in the right. His works prove his salvation.
- Both that and pistis (faith) are being used differently in James and Paul. James has in view professing faith, and the vindication of true faith. John Owen propounds this in volume 5 of his Works.
- James has in view a different kind of faith (nominal), and a different kind of works (works of faith, not of flesh or the law). Galatians 5:6 is the key to harmonizing: faith always works by love. So the faith that James condemns is different than the faith Paul commends, and the works Paul condemns are different than the works James commends.
He told the tale of a girl he knew long ago, who was always witnessing, one of the most vibrant Christians he'd ever known. But then her father said that, if she'd give up on Christianity, he'd buy her a house when she graduated. She did, and he did. Godly, earnest - and she fell, and has remained in that state for 35 years.
So, Faith A and Faith B both think they have genuine faith. See Faith A in v. 14: a faith that does not have works (vv. 14, 20), apart from works (v. 18), unacompanied by action (v. 17), isolated from deeds (v. 24). It is "faith alone" in the sense that it is isolated from works.
Faith B is shown by what it does, or consummated in actions (v. 23).
So James asks whether Faith A can save (v. 14), and he clearly expects the answer, "No." Why? Because Faith A does not work. On what presupposition does he reach that conclusion? On the premise that saving faith always works - which Reformers have always confirmed.
He is using "Faith" in two quite different senses himself, then. So the example of Abraham shows that Abraham's works showed his right relationship with God through genuine faith. The key is in verse 18: what a man does is the touchstone of faith. Faith without works is dead, and thus is no faith at all. Faith is not an abstraction; it is a way of describing a man who is united with Christ.
Then Thomas spoke about Norman Shepherd, who begins his work with James, thus going contrary to the accepted Reformed practice of starting with the clear when approaching the unclear. Shepherd then argued that James used "justify" in the same sense as Paul, and inevitably ended up with justification by works.
In summary: the more important question is reconciling James with James. He is using the words in two different senses. It is a claim to faith that James is testing.