Even the Demons Believe — and Shudder

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe– and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

–James 2:18-26 (NRSV)

Note that the NIV comes pretty close to the NRSV here but instead of works reads deeds. I actually think the word deeds comes closer to the sense of this passage. But by keeping works we retain the echoes of Paul. James I feel is railing against an overly simplified interpretation of Paul and keeping that active in our minds as we read can be helpful. The NIV readership, like my IVCF friend, is committed to justification by faith not works, even as they turn belief into another work. So NIV’s deeds helps make the lesson go down better for them.

Paul I think was a mixed blessing for our faith. He certainly was successful in his missionary activities. But the so-called catholic epistles are a bit testy about him. There’s James here. Then there’s 2 Peter:

So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability.

— II Peter 3:15a-17(NRSV)

So we’re stuck with the faith/works things again. Crystal’s link is helpful here. Just remember that even Paul agrees, the only thing that counts is faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).

Peace be with you, Friends.

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7 responses

  1. Interesting, the tension between Paul and Peter/James. Did you see the movie The Last Temptation of Christ? There’s a part, a sort of alternate reality in which Jesus kept a low profile, didn’t get arrested or crucified, but lives a “normal” lofe. He’s out with his family one day and they hear this guy giving a public speech – it’s Paul (played by Harry Dean Stanton, hehe). He is like a snake-oil salesman, telling how he was knocked from his donkey by the risen Lord, very smarmy. Jesus knows this can’t be true and confronts him. Anyway, it made me realize that, unfairly, I never really gave a lot of weight to his epistles becasue he hadn’t hung out with Jesus like the other guys :-).

  2. I can’t get past the feeling that faith vs. works is a distinction without a difference. Of sure, maybe there is some esoteric reasoning for it, but it seems like minutae to me. Where’s that Quaker simplicity I’ve been reading about?

  3. Forgot to mention – I can’t take credit for those James links. They’re from a really great link page at Spring Hill College.

  4. Marjorie: You are likely right — the distinction between faith and works is likeley a difference without a difference for folsk with a balanced faith life.Religion has a way of unbalancing some folks though. I think Quakerism in the meetings I’m familiar with is just coming out from under a period where any talk of your beliefs automatically labelled you closed minded and only works counted because we could agree to those.I see that changing. But there is a bit of that out there yet.

  5. Re Paul and the other guys: Modern scholars believe that Paul antedates anything else in the N.T. Further very few people believe that Peter, the disciple wrote the Epistle of Peter, or that James, the disciple (or presumably Jesus’ brother) was the author of the Epistle of James.The earliest writings about Jesus we have said virtually nothing about the life of Jesus.Re Theology of the Quakers: most of the ones I know just have nothing to say about theology. That’s one of the reasons I became very interested in theology at that point.

  6. Larry: I agree with your dating issues; although I heard the authorship on James is divided — there’s apparently a chance for him — but highly unlikely for Peter.I like James and Peter mostly as they are practical sorts. They give instruction about how to live the Chrsitian life in community. Which is itself evidence they are from a later period when churches started to become settled and ministers were local rather than/or as well as itinerant.

  7. David wrote: “I like James and Peter mostly as they are practical sorts. They give instruction about how to live the Chrsitian life in community. Which is itself evidence they are from a later period when churches started to become settled and ministers were local rather than/or as well as itinerant.” Ah, David, but another standard theory is that they predate the gospels and reflect the nature of the early church (like Thomas) without any of the (theological) statements about Jesus that show up in the gospels, which is exactly why so many people like Thomas and the “other disciples”.

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