c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: Paul and James Reconciled

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Paul and James Reconciled

The biggest problem with the Church in America today is antinomianism, believing that works are not required for salvation.  Antinomianism takes both liberal and evangelical forms born of misunderstanding.

Confusion results from the apparent conflict between Paul and James in the New Testament:

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. (Romans 4:2 ESV)
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.(James 2:24 ESV)
What is the explanation for these seemingly variant words?  How might these statements be reconciled?
The answer is quite simple.  The men are employing two different frames of reference.  Paul is thinking polemically, arguing against the circumcision party and Judaizing teachers that harassed him and his new converts among the Gentiles.  He uses Abraham as the exemplar for a class of people, the new Gentile Christians for whom he is the apostle and chief spokesman, justifying their access to covenant grace in terms of the big picture of God’s unfolding purpose in salvation history:
[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, (Romans 4:11 ESV)
Note the plural “to them” in Romans 4:11 just above.  Paul’s statements about justification by faith and not by works have a narrow and specific meaning within Paul’s polemical argument: Christianity, which includes believing Gentiles, supersedes Judaism as the new way of righteousness from God.
James uses the singular “a man” because he speaks to personal salvation.  James uses Abraham as the model and example of an individual whose saving faith must be completed by works.  His conclusion is clear: no works means a faith that cannot save.  The works required are found in the New Testament.  To believe in Jesus means to adopt his religion and obey his commands.  Therefore, one must be careful to do everything the New Testament says in order to be saved, all else being equal.


1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Amen Michael.


Great truth, well spoken.