James 2:21–24 And The Justification Of Abraham -- By: R. Bruce Compton
DBSJ 2 (Fall 1997) p. 19
James 2:21–24 And The Justification Of Abraham
* Dr. Compton is Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition at the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Allen Park, MI.
Who of us has not wondered about the striking differences between what Paul says regarding Abraham’s justification in Romans 4:1–3 and what James says regarding Abraham’s justification in James 2:21–24? Paul declares that Abraham, like all true believers, was justified by faith apart from works.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.… What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has reason to boast—but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom 3:28, 4:1–3).1
It is commonly argued from these verses that Abraham’s justification was sola fide, or by faith alone.2 James, on the other hand, appears to argue for just the opposite. In fact, on the basis of the Old Testament
DBSJ 2 (Fall 1997) p. 20
testimony concerning Abraham, James concludes that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.3
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered Isaac his son on the altar: You see that his faith was working together with his works, and by his works his faith was perfected. And the Scripture was fulfilled which said, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (Jas 2:21–24, emphasis added).
The purpose of this article is to examine James 2:21–24 in order to offer an interpretation which is both true to the context and consistent with Paul’s principle of sola fide.4 Without minimizing the tensions involved or glossing over the obvious differences, it is assumed that there can be no real discrepancy between what James teaches and what Paul teaches.5 The Bible is the written Word of God and, con...
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