Justification According To James: A Comparison With Paul -- By: Timo Laato

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 18:1 (Spring 1997)
Article: Justification According To James: A Comparison With Paul
Author: Timo Laato


Justification According To James:
A Comparison With Paul

Timo Laato*

I. Introduction

As is well-known, critical scholarship commonly assumes that a stark opposition exists between James and Paul with respect to their presentations of “justification.” Naturally the consensus which has been reached is not due in the first place to modern exegesis with its historical-critical methods. Already the church fathers arrived at the same result. In their case, however, there was no lack of attempts at harmonization.1

In the tradition of Protestant theology, Martin Luther’s position has had a particularly powerful influence up to the present day. He displayed a considerable distrust of James’ teaching on justification.2 In his general introduction to the “Septembertestament” (published on Sept. 21, 1522), he wrote: “Therefore the epistle of James is a right strawy epistle in comparison with them [i.e., John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter], since indeed it has no evangelical nature to it.”3 A judgment of this sort should not be misunderstood

* Timo Laato is a Pastor in the Church of Finland. He writes, “There are many strong and old spiritual movements in our Church. Actually, I am leading one of them, the so-called ‘prayer’-movement.”

as an absolute rejection of James.4 In his preface to the letters of James and Jude, Luther expresses himself very positively right from the start:

The epistle of St. James, even though it is rejected by the ancient fathers, I praise and estimate indeed as good for this reason: it sets forth no human doctrine and drives hard the Law of God. But if I should express my opinion on the matter, while I do not wish to hurt anyone, I regard it as no apostolic writing.5

Luther required that an apostolic writing fulfill two criteria. He insisted that it teach justification without works through faith and that it clearly present this teaching according to the principle of “Christum predigen und treyben” (“proclaiming and driving at Christ”). James fails in both points. He teaches justification by works and is completely silent about the suffering and resurrection of Christ.6

Because of worthwhile content, James justifiably belongs to the canon of the “Septembertestament.” Nevertheless its place was shifted from the beginning to the end of ...

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