Amplified: Was not our forefather Abraham [shown to be] justified (made acceptable to God) by [his] works when he brought to the altar as an offering his [own] son Isaac? (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
Hiebert: Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
KJV: Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
NLT: Don't you remember that our ancestor Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? (NLT - Tyndale House)
Phillips: Think of Abraham, our ancestor. Wasn't it his action which really justified him in God's sight when his faith led him to offer his son Isaac on the altar? (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: Was not our father Abraham vindicated by works in that he offered his son Isaac on the altar of sacrifice? (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: Abraham our father--was not he declared righteous out of works, having brought up Isaac his son upon the altar?
|WAS NOT ABRAHAM OUR FATHER JUSTIFIED BY WORKS: Abraam o pater emon ouk ex ergon edikaiothe, (3SAPI): (Joshua 24:3; Isaiah 51:2; Matthew 3:9; Luke 1:73; 16:24,30; John 8:39,53; Acts 7:2; Romans 4:1,12,16) (Jas 2:18,24; Psalms 143:2; Matthew 12:37; 25:31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40; Romans 3:20)
Stephen Nichols explains (Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought) that Martin Luther…
Now we encounter what to many observers including Martin Luther is the major difficulty in interpretation of this section, for it has more serious ramifications than the difficulties encountered in the interpretation of James 2:18.
Steven Cole writes that…
James 2:14-20 described a dead faith but now James 2:21-26 shifts to a saving faith providing examples that it manifests itself in the production of works.
James takes these two examples of a dynamic faith that present a contrast between Abraham, the father of the Jews and Rahab, a Gentile, woman who was a harlot. Their common denominator was a faith that proved itself as genuine by their works. What they believed determined how they behaved. Both behaviors were far from easy for in Abraham's case God asked him to sacrifice his only son and the other a woman was ask to put her own life on the line to save two Hebrew spies. Abraham would be an example of the best of men to these Jewish readers with Rahab an example of the worst. And yet they are both justified by works. The reference to each example is introduced with a rhetorical question which invites an affirmative response.
Although Abraham would have been the supreme example of faith to any believing Jews (cp James' target audience in James 1:1), Paul clearly presents Abraham as "the father of all who believe" (Ro 4:11-note), and in Galatians declares that "it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham" (Gal 3:7) and "if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Gal 3:29). It follows that "father Abraham" is the prototype of genuine faith for both Jews and Gentiles who would follow his example of saving faith.
By works (ex ergon) - Literally out of works.
Justified (see discussion of dikaioo in Js 2:24-note)
Was not Abraham our father justified by works - Now compare Paul's statement in Romans 4…
Or Romans 3…
A simple reading would lead one to conclude that these James and Paul are in direct contradiction regarding the manner in which one is justified. But now let's reason through this thorny passage. First, remember that in inductive Bible study, context is king in interpretation. So the question arises,
Specifically, does James teach anything about salvation in other passages?
(1) JAMES BELIEVED ABRAHAM
First, note that closest teaching on salvation (justification) follows in James 2:23, where James quotes the Old Testament passage from Genesis 15 that tells us how Abraham was saved. Paul uses this identical passage in Romans 4:3 explaining that salvation is by faith alone and not by works. So clearly James appears to agree with Paul by quoting the identical passage in James 2:23. Furthermore in James 2:21, note that James alludes to an event that took place in Genesis 22, some 30 plus years after Abraham exercised faith that resulted in God's crediting righteousness to his spiritual bank account! Was Abraham saved in Genesis 15:6 or wasn't he? The answer is clearly that he was declared righteous by faith (salvation). So even from this immediate context and a comparison of the chronology of the events in Abraham's life, it is clear James affirms justification by faith.
(2) JAMES TAUGHT GOD BROUGHT US FORTH BY THE WORD OF TRUTH
Second, note that earlier in James' epistle, he spoke of salvation writing that…
In the context of the Father of lights giving perfect gifts, James 1:18 describes the most perfect gift a sinner could ever receive from above - salvation. Is James teaching that this salvation is the result of man's works or merit? Clearly not, for James says that God beget or birthed us as it were by the Word of Truth (which is similar to Peter's explanation of our salvation…
Although, James does not use the specific word justified, the clear implication in the context of good gifts from above (Gk = anothen also in John 3:3,7 "born again" or "from above") is that this bringing forth was the result of God's amazing grace, His unmerited favor, independent of man's works.
(3) JAMES OPPOSED THE JUDAIZERS AT THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL
Third, James stood with Paul and Barnabas against the Jews who were saying one needed to add "works" (circumcision) to faith in order to assure salvation.
In Acts 15, Dr Luke records…
And so even though James appears on first observation to contradict Paul's teaching of salvation by grace though faith and not works, James clearly is compatible with Paul's doctrine of salvation in other passages such as Ephesians 2…
In short, simple observation of the preceding passages indicates that both James and Paul teach salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and both teach that genuine faith is associated with good works.
For more on justified by works see discussion notes on Jas 2:24-note.
WHEN HE OFFERED UP ISAAC HIS SON ON THE ALTAR: anenegkas (AAPMSN) Isaak ton huion autou epi to thusiasterion?: (Genesis 22:9, 10, 11, 12,16, 17, 18)
Related Resource - Jehovah Jireh - God our Provider (Abraham's Faith Demonstrated)
When he offered his son Isaac on the altar - This recounts the specific faith-prompted deed that called forth God's commendation. (Ray Pritchard asks What Is Your Isaac?)
Offered (399) (anaphero from ana = up, again, back + phero = bear, carry) literally means to carry, bring or bear up and so to to cause to move from a lower position to a higher position. It serves as a technical term for offering sacrifices offer up (to an altar).
For background the writer of Hebrews in the famous "hall of faith" of Hebrews 11 explains that…
Steven Cole explains that…
Jesus although speaking of one's words made a similar point as James and the writer of Hebrew when He declared…
Warren Wiersbe speaks of Abraham's obedience to God's request to offer his only son, reminding us that…
Note God's response to Abraham's act of obedience that came out of his great faith…
Hiebert has an interesting note that…
Wayne Grudem writes that when Paul speaks of Abraham being justified by faith (Romans 4), he…
Amplified: You see that [his] faith was cooperating with his works, and [his] faith was completed and reached its supreme expression [when he implemented it] by [good] works. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
Hiebert: You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
KJV: Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
NLT: You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. His faith was made complete by what he did—by his actions. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Phillips: Can't you see that his faith and his actions were, so to speak, partners - that his faith was implemented by his deed? (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: You see that the aforementioned faith was co-operating and working with his works, and by his works was this faith brought to completion in a well-rounded whole. (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: dost thou see that the faith was working with his works, and out of the works the faith was perfected?
|YOU SEE THAT FAITH WAS WORKING WITH HIS WORKS: blepeis (2SPAI) hoti e pistis sunergei (3SIAI) tois ergois autou: (James 2:18; Galatians 5:6; Hebrews 11:17, 18, 19 )
Notice that some of the translations render this verse as a question (KJV, Phillips, Young's Literal) while others render it as a declarative statement which follows from the preceding example of Abraham's faith being worked out.
Hiebert comments that…
Faith is literally "the faith" (it has the definite article "the" in Greek) and obviously refers to Abraham's faith which although not present in the previous verse was assumed present because without "the faith", the deed would not have transpired. And this makes the point that James has been trying to drive home, that Abraham's faith was living as seen by the obedient action that resulted therefrom.
Spurgeon explains that…
A W Tozer agrees writing that…
As Wiersbe asks…
Working with (4903) (sunergeo from sun = together with, speaks of an intimate relationship + érgon = work; English - synergy) means literally to work together, to be a partner in work, to co-labor, to engage in cooperative endeavor, to assist. Here James uses it to show that faith works together with works and so it achieves visibility and hence fulfilment in the works.
As John Boys put it…
The saints of God are sealed inwardly with faith, but outwardly with good works.
There are 5 uses of sunergeo in the NT…
Mark 16:20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.
Romans 8:28 (note) And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
1 Corinthians 16:16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.
2 Corinthians 6:1 And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain--
James 2:22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
Hiebert explains that …
It is noteworthy that although Martin Luther considered James a "right strawy epistle" because of this section of the book, Luther himself agreed with James as his preface to Romans demonstrates…
AND AS A RESULT OF THE WORKS, FAITH WAS PERFECTED: kai ek ton ergon e pistis eteleiothe, (3SAPI): (1John 2:5; 4:17,18)
Related Resource - Jehovah Jireh - God our Provider (Abraham's Faith Demonstrated)
Faith was perfected - Notice carefully that this statement implies that faith was already present and thus preceded the works mentioned. Obviously James is not saying Abraham's faith was perfect, for that is not possible for fallen men, even those who are saved by grace through faith. What he was saying is that Abraham's faith attained a reached its goal (see definition of verb below). James is not saying that it was a defective faith, for Genesis 15:6 clearly teaches that it resulted in complete (forensic) justification.
Perfected (5048) (telioo related to teleios from telos = an end, a purpose, an aim, a goal, consummate soundness, idea of being whole) means to accomplish or bring to an end or to the intended goal (telos). It means to be complete, mature, fully developed, full grown, brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness or in good working order. It does not mean simply to terminate something but to carry it out to the full finish which is picked up in the translation "perfected". Teleioo signifies the attainment of consummate soundness and includes the idea of being made whole.
Notice the use of the passive voice which indicates the perfecting was produced by an outside source, in this case God. When God saved Abraham in Genesis 15:6, He had a goal (a telos = an end, a purpose, an aim, a goal) in view.
Hiebert explains that goal this way…
D. L. Moody said that
Yes Moody had been a shoe salesman but that's not what he was referring to with this statement. He was basically agreeing with James who taught that a living faith obeys God and proves itself in daily life and works.
Wuest has this note on the NT word group (telos, teleioo, teleios, teleiosis, teleiotes)…
Walking Our Faith - Often we Christians are urged not just to "talk the talk" but to "walk the talk." The same advice may be expressed in these words: Don't let your behavior contradict your professed belief. At other times we are admonished to be sure that life and lip agree. If our conduct doesn't harmonize with our confession of faith, however, that discrepancy nullifies the testimony of the gospel which we proclaim.
As far as we can know, Mahatma Gandhi never became a Christian, but he made a statement that we who follow Jesus would do well to ponder. When asked to put his message into one short sentence, he replied, "My life is my message."
Certainly we should explain the gospel message as clearly as possible. Yet the clearest explanation isn't going to win hearts for our Lord unless His love is embodied in our lives. To quote the apostle Paul in 1Corinthians 11:1, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." And holding himself up as a pattern, he wrote in Philippians 4:9, "The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you."
Pray, then, that like Paul we may live out our saving faith before the watching world.— Vernon C. Grounds (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
Amplified: And [so] the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed in (adhered to, trusted in, and relied on) God, and this was accounted to him as righteousness (as conformity to God’s will in thought and deed), and he was called God’s friend. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
KJV: And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
NLT: And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: "Abraham believed God, so God declared him to be righteous." He was even called "the friend of God." (NLT - Tyndale House)
Phillips: That is what the scripture means when it says: 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God.' (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: And the scripture was actually and fully realized which said, And Abraham believed God, and it was put to his account for righteousness. And a friend of God he was called. (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: and fulfilled was the Writing that is saying, `And Abraham did believe God, and it was reckoned to him--to righteousness;' and, `Friend of God' he was called.
|AND THE SCRIPTURE WAS FULFILLED WHICH SAYS: kai eplerothe (3SAPI) e graphe e legousa, (PAPFSN): (Mark 12:10; 15:28; Luke 4:21; Acts 1:16; Romans 9:17; 11:2; Galatians 3:8, 9, 10,22; 2Ti 3:16; 1Pe 2:6)
And - This introduces a further result of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac.
The Scripture was fulfilled - This statement is somewhat nebulous and so it is not surprising that there is some disagreement among the commentators as to James' intended meaning. Some see it as a "fulfilled" prophecy, interpreting that Genesis 15:6 had a prophetic element, but that seems a bit far fetched to me. I agree with Moo who says there is no need to view Genesis 15:6 as
Fulfilled (4137) (pleroo) means to be filled (passive voice = acted on by outside force) to the brim (a net, Mt 13:48, a building, Jn 12:3, Acts 2:2, a city, Acts 5:28, needs Phil 4:19-note) but in other contexts such as here in James pleroo means to make complete in every particular.
Grudem explains the phrase "the Scripture was fulfilled" writing that…
AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS: Episteusen (3SAAI) de Abraam to theo, kai elogisthe (3SAPI) auto eis dikaiosunen: (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3, 4, 5, 6,10,11,22, 23, 24; Galatians 3:6)
Related Resource - Jehovah Jireh - God our Provider (Abraham's Faith Demonstrated)
Genesis 15:6 forms the basis for Paul's defense of justification by faith apart from works, especially in Romans 4…
This famous passage, one of the most important in all Scripture, marks Abraham's day of salvation. This is the day he was justified by faith apart from works of righteousness. This is how every sinner in the Old Testament became a saved saint. It was not be works, by keeping the law, by sacrificing animals, etc. Salvation has always been by grace through faith. Notice also that the events of Genesis 15:6 antedate the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai by more than 400 years. There is no way the Law could have saved Abraham. The Law was never given to save, but among other purposes was meant to drive men to understand their need for a Savior because of their inability to keep the Law. If you have not memorized Genesis 15:6 then you should do so immediately. Do not be surprised if God gives you many opportunities to recount the great truth of this verse to others including Jews who call Abraham their father but do not do what Abraham did (cp Jn 8:39b "If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham.").
Reckoned (3049) (logizomai from lógos = reason, word, account) means to reckon, compute, calculate, to take into account, to deliberate, and to weigh. Logizomai refers to a of careful study or reasoning which results in the arriving at a conclusion. Logizomai conveys the idea of calculating or estimating. Logizomai was a term frequently used in the business community of the NT era and meant to impute (put to one's account) or credit to one's account.
Reckoned then is a legal or financial term that means to place on one's account. The spiritual transfer that occurred was Abraham's spiritual bank account before God (who demands perfect righteousness) book was bankrupt as is every person born for we are all born into Adam's line and as such inherit his sin virus and as a result are spiritually dead. When Abraham trusted God, God placed perfect righteousness on Abraham's account as a gift not as something Abraham earned. Abraham was declared righteous by faith or justified by faith. As discussed more fully in James 2:24 (see notes), Abraham experienced justification which is the once-for-all time, immutable act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous on the basis of Christ's finished work on the cross. Please do not be confused. God did not make Abraham righteous, for that implies a process and justification is not a process but is an act. Justification is not something the sinner does but is a declaration which God makes regarding the sinner's standing before Him when he places his or her trust in Christ.
R C Sproul asks…
AND HE WAS CALLED THE FRIEND OF GOD: kai philos theou eklethe. (3SAPI): (Ex 33:11; 2Chr 20:7; Job 16:21; Isa 41:8; Jn 15:13, 14, 15)
The friend of God - Did you realize that Abraham is the only person in the Bible who is called a friend of God? It is also notable that friend of God is the distinctive title for Abraham among the Arabs today.
Friend (5384) (philos) speaks of one who is on intimate terms or close association with another.
Webster's 1828 dictionary defines friend as…
Here are some other passages that relate to Abraham's friendship with God…
Jesus explains how Abraham was a friend of God declaring to His disciples that…
In addition a friend loves for as Jesus declared to His disciples…
Bengel writes that Abraham…
Steven Cole explains that…
Our Unfailing Friend - As a young man, Joseph Scriven had been engaged to a woman he deeply love. But tragedy struck the night before their wedding when the boat she was in capsized and she drowned. In the hope of forgetting the shock, which he never did, Joseph left his home in Ireland and went to Canada.
There he taught school and served as a tutor. He chose to live very simply, spending his money and strength in generously providing for destitute people. At times he even gave away his own clothing. He was considered an eccentric by some, yet all he tried to do was obey God's Word as best he could understand it.
In his loneliness, Joseph Scriven needed a steadfast friend. Having found that friend in Jesus Christ, he wrote these simple words, which movingly express his experience:
Even if we have been blessed with deeply enriching friendships, we all need Joseph Scriven's Friend. But before we can know Jesus as our Friend, we must know Him as our Savior. Then, through all of our changing circumstances, He will be the One we can depend on -- our unfailing Friend. Vernon C. Grounds (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
The Best Friend - It’s an honor I cherish, and one I seek to live up to—but I don’t always do it. It’s the privilege of hearing my wife say, “You’re my best friend,” which she does often. As much as I love her, though, I occasionally do something that is not so “best friend-ish.”
In reality, no matter how hard we try, we cannot live up to the high standard of being a friend who never lets others down. We all fail from time to time—forgetting to do what we should or simply allowing selfishness to build a barrier between us.
As believers, we take comfort in knowing that we are called a friend of God, and He is a true friend who will never falter. Michael Gungor’s joyous song “Friend of God” captures the wonder of this relationship when it asks, “Who am I that You are mindful of me?”
Abraham was called “the friend of God,” and that friendship was related to his faith (2Chr 20:7; Jas 2:23). Jesus explained how we can receive that designation as well. He said to His disciples, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (Jn 15:14). There is no better friend, for we know that He will never leave us nor forsake us (He 13:5).
Looking for the best friend ever? You can’t do better than the Lord Himself. — Dave Branon (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
Lightning and Thunder - When we see lightning flash across the sky, we expect the roar of thunder to follow. If there were no lightning, there would be no thunder because one causes the other.
It's like that with faith. Just as thunder always follows lightning, good works always follow true faith.
The relationship between faith and works is explained in the New Testament writings of Paul to the Ephesians, and in a brief letter from James. At first glance, these authors seem to contradict each other. Paul insisted, "By grace you have been saved through faith, … not of works" (Eph. 2:8, 9). But James declared, "A man is justified [declared righteous] by works, and not by faith only" (Jas. 2:24).
In context though, James wasn't denying that we are saved by faith. He referred to Abraham, saying that he "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Jas 2:23). This belief occurred years before Abraham gave evidence of his faith by preparing to offer his son as a sacrifice (Jas 2:21). Nor was the apostle Paul denying the value of works, for right after stating that we are saved by faith alone he said that we are saved "for good works" (Eph. 2:10).
What about you? Has the "lightning" of personal faith in Christ been followed by the "thunder" of good works? — Haddon W. Robinson (Our Daily Bread)