Paul & James On Justification By Faith

Over the past few days, I have been having discussions with a friend over Romans 2:13.  He was arguing that this is a contradiction to being saved by grace through faith – because in that verse, it appears you are justified by following the Law.

But, what I found is that Paul seems to be speaking to the Jews, and redefining their beliefs in what it means to be a Jew in terms of sin and salvation.  He keeps progressing with purpose as he writes.  He clarifies, starting in 3:9, that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin, that nobody is righteous.  He then clarifies 2:13 with 3:20:

“because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”

Then in 3:21 through the end of the chapter, he explains justification by grace through faith, not by works.  He puts that most clearly in verse 3:28:

“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

So we were both able to come to clear terms that Paul was not saying in 2:13 that anyone is saved by works, or doing the Law.

But then he found James 2:24 which says:

“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

With this verse alone, it appears to be a definite contradiction to Paul on justification.  But, like Romans 2:13, we must figure out the context.  James is definitely trying to tackle an issue of people thinking they can have faith without works.  James says that kind of faith is dead.  The argument is good, but it’s a challenge that he went so far as to say what he did in verse 24.  Paul says it’s faith alone.  James says it faith and works.

I did find an interesting article from the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary that seems well written.  I skimmed through it and found some interesting ideas.  One such thing was in a footnote, where it says that Martin Luther thought James to be an “epistle of straw” and that he wouldn’t have included it in the “chief books”, though he does say that James had some good things to say.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the article linked above, you’ll find a short conclusion.  It states that Paul and James were probably answering two different questions.  Paul was answering the question: “How can a sinner be justified before a holy God?”  James was answering the question: “What kind of faith saves, that is, what kind of faith justifies?”  The conclusion ends with the adage: “Faith alone saves, but not the faith that remains alone.”

So after discussing these things with my friend, he still isn’t convinced that James in complete contradiction with Paul.  I felt the article was helpful, but it still isn’t explicitly clear.  Perhaps James did disagree with Paul?  The Catholic church certainly does.  They seemed to really take hold of what James says much more than Paul on justification.

Do you have any further insight into this?  Please share if you do!

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