Another View of Faith and Works in James 2 -- By: Robert N. Wilkin

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 15:2 (Autumn 2002)
Article: Another View of Faith and Works in James 2
Author: Robert N. Wilkin

Another View of Faith and Works in James 2

Robert N. Wilkin

Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Irving, Texas

I. Introduction

How one understands any given passage is dependent, at least in part, on his understanding of the book in which it is found. James 2:14–26 is a prime example.

E. D. Hirsch, in his book Validity in Interpretation suggests that the interpreter of any literature must make a series of genre guesses. Correct guesses, those that rightly understand what the author is saying, are called intrinsic genres. Incorrect guesses are extrinsic genres.1

Hirsch illustrates that extrinsic genre guesses result in a wrong understanding of the author’s point with Donne’s poem, “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.” When his students misinterpreted the poem, he attempted to correct them. They were unmoved, however, because they felt the particulars of the poem fit their genre conception. They were unwilling to see that Hirsch’s genre guess better fit the particulars.2

It is the contention of this article that something similar has occurred in the exegesis of Jas 2:14–26. The genre conception most often given somewhat fits the particulars of the passage; thus proponents of that view see no need to consider any other view. However, there is good reason to believe that another genre understanding better fits the particulars of the passage.

James 2:14–26 has long been recognized as a crux passage. A recent article in Bibliotheca Sacra by C. Ryan Jenkins laid out four interpretations:3

  • View A. In this view James 2 shows that works are instrumental in a sinner’s justification before God. Those who propose this view assert that James was arguing that a sinner’s acceptance with God depends on both faith and works.
  • View B. James was dealing with physical deliverance from the devastating affects of sin. James was not addressing unbelievers concerning [eternal] salvation…James then was referring to just-ification/vindication only before others in a nonsalvific context.4

  • View C. James was stating that a Christian’s justification before God depends not on faith alone but, on faith and works and...
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