Vol. 24 New Series April, 1962 No. 2
JAMES AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

When in our October, 1952, issue (Vol. 14, pp. 229-239) I wrote about the verb dikaioO, I was particularly well aware that I had not said the last word on the subject. Therefore, although what I did say I said quite positively, there was a great deal that I was careful to leave unsaid. Now, I am beginning to wonder whether, even so, I did not say a little too much in view of the better understanding that has come in the succeeding years.

We are faced with the fact that dikaioO cannot be translated concordantly in all its occurrences, though these can be arranged into several groups, according to the kind of context, in which a concordant rendering can be allotted to each occurrence of the verb right though the group. This is illustrated by the first group I picked out, in which the verb applies to God. Where this happens, as in Luke 7:29; Rom. 3:4 and 1. Tim. 3:16, the only reasonable concordant rendering is "declare righteous" or perhaps "acknowledge to be righteous." In the last of the three, this is so as well even if those texts are correct that read "who" instead of "God"; so here we have one distinct group of concordant renderings.

The next group is met with where the word is self-applied. Certain persons want to make themselves out to be righteous. This is plainly the meaning in Luke 10:29, 16:15; so in the first "make himself out to be righteous" and in the second "making yourselves out to be righteous" are the only ways to render the word both accurately and concordantly.

There is a small group of occurrences in the Passive Voice, where "shown to be righteous" seems to be the only possible rendering (see Vol. 14, pp. 230, 231). These are in Matt. 11:19; 12:37; Luke 7:35.

The next is where the verb occurs in the Middle Voice. This form is very common in Greek and is by no means unknown in English whenever the action remains with the person in question. There is even an English verb-form which is purely Middle, though, unfortunately, it is falling out of use, such as: "I made me a bandage," "I builded me a house," "I bethought me of an engagement I had made." We can get the sense of the Middle form of dikaioO by rendering it achieve righteousness. This I went into at considerable length in Vol. 14, pp.23l-236. The rendering is emphatically not the same as "make righteous." The action remains with the person in question; but this does not mean that the credit: for it is his in any way at all. This is apparent from the two occurrences in Rom. 3:21-28: "achieving righteousness gratuitously by His grace" and "achieving righteousness by faith apart from works of law." This point comes out most plainly in Gal. 2:15, 16: "Having yet perceived that a human being is not achieving righteousness out of works of law, if so be not through faith of Christ Jesus."

This is not all that has to be said, and the point will be enlarged on later; but I would like to suggest parenthetically that a double Concordant Version would in matters like this be a great help: a literal version on one page with dikaioO consistently rendered "justify" (in inverted commas to indicate that as an equivalent of the Greek it is very faulty); and a paraphrase opposite using such unavoidable variants as we have been discussing. This would draw a reader's attention to the importance of the problem.

Anyone who goes through all occurrences of dikaioO with care will perceive clearly two things; that righteousness cannot be achieved, obtained, attained or won in any way at all by works of law; and that something has to be done if one would become righteous, and that is, believe God. Nowhere and by no means is righteousness possible apart from faith.

This brings us sharply to what James has to say about this, matter. He uses the verb dikaioO three times (James 2:21, 24, 25). The only way to understand this chapter is to note carefully how it uses the words faith, law, the Law and works, as well as these three just mentioned. The best plan, I think, is to mark each word, using a different coloured pencil for each. The first thing one notices is that this divides the chapter into two contrasted sections. The former (vv. 1-13) has faith twice, law three times and the Law twice. The latter (vv. 14-26) says nothing about law or the Law, but is all about faith (11 times) and works (12 times). In it faith is followed by works no less than eight times. From this, two deductions stand out with the greatest distinctness: James has nothing whatever to say about "works of law"; his subject here is works and faith. His summing-up in v. 26 is masterly: "For even as the body apart from spirit is dead, thus also the faith apart from works is dead."

The Concordant Version spoils the parallelism here by inserting the before spirit and two unnecessary commas. Others follow certain texts by inserting the before works, but, as we shall presently perceive, this is unacceptable. Here the reader will do well to insert a dot in red ink through this chapter where the occurs and is not indicated in the version he is using. Each time it occurs before faith or works he will discover that the reference is back to an earlier occurrence. Both words are without article in their first occurrence together, in v. 14 and also in vv. 18 and 24. Works also has no article in vv. 17,21,25. In v. 26 there is no reference back: it is simply the statement of the conclusion of James' argument, so plainly the would be out of place.

Now we are ready to consider the three occurrences of dikaioO in this chapter, and in order to avoid prejudging the issue it will be best, at first only, to render it by "justify" in inverted commas and, when we are ready to do so, to discuss what this word means. So we translate vv. 20-22 very literally thus:

Now, first, what are meant by "the faith apart from the works"? Obviously, the previous occurrences without the article, in v. 18: "But someone will be declaring, 'Thou hast faith, and I have works.' Show me the faith of thine apart from the works; and I to thee shall be showing, out of the works of mine, the faith of mine." At first sight this declaration appears to be the wrong way round. Surely, it should have been: 'Thou hast works and I have faith," in line with the opening words in v. 14? This question, however, would indicate failure to appreciate the point made by James in vv. 14-17. These four verses deal with the man who claims "faith" alone and pretends that such "faith" is sufficient even though it is alone and is not accompanied by works. Foiled in such a claim, the hypothetical objector now shifts, his ground, in v. 18, with the "But" and its following assertion, thinking that thereby he might turn the point made by James in vv. 14-17. It does not succeed. You cannot have works apart from faith any more than you can have faith apart from works. If it is to come to a display of one or the other—in modern speech, a showdown—neither can stand by itself. Works cannot avail without faith. Faith cannot exist without works. The works Abraham actually did demonstrated that he was righteous. The faith that he actually had enabled God to reckon him to be righteous. The faith worked together with the works that he did. Out of the works the faith was matured.

If we could leave it at that, there would be nothing what ever in it that in any way seems to conflict with Paul's doctrine. In Romans 3, all three references to "works" are about "works of law"; so are right outside what James is writing about, for he never mentions them. Rom. 4:2 specifically repudiates any idea that Abraham was "justified" by works; but v. 3 makes it perfectly plain that the "works" he is thinking of are works apart from faith, for Paul immediately adds: "Now Abraham believes God and it is reckoned to him for righteousness." This is an exact quotation from the LXX. of Gen. 15:6 except that Paul (and James too) substitutes de, yet for kai, and and abraam for abram. Neither changes the sense of the quotation.

What those who complain of James fail to perceive is that neither Paul in Romans 4 nor James in James 2 have anything at all to say about works of law. These are completely out of view. Moreover, there is nothing in the least degree surprising about them being out of view, considering that they were out of view when Abraham believed God! No law existed, so no works of law could exist either. Therefore we have to regard works of law as a subsequent complication. There is also some danger, when studying this matter of righteousness, of supposing that the idea of works of law is one of the dominating notions in it. "Out of works of law" occurs in Rom. 3:20; 9:32; Gal. 2:16 (thrice); 3:2, 5, 10; "apart from works of law" in Rom. 3:28; "through what law, of the works?" in Rom. 3:27 and "the work of the Law" in Rom. 2:15. Nothing whatever is said about "works of the Law." These occupy remarkably little space by comparison with what has been written about them; so, important though they are, we ought not to get them out of proportion in our thinking. Galatians 2 and 3 deal with attempts to win righteousness by works of law—an entirely different subject from those under consideration in Romans 4 or in James 2. No wonder there is so much confusion, when people insist on reading it into these contexts.

Looking at these two chapters as they are, free from the complications induced by forcing in ideas about law, we find they are very much simpler than we have previously been allowed to suppose. The difference separating them, which has disturbed and dismayed so many from Luther to the present day, is simply a matter of point of view. James insists that faith is of no avail without works, Paul that works are of no avail without faith. Both quote Gen. 15:6; so it is beyond dispute that both give priority to Abraham's faith. Paul's presentation ignores the "works" side, for his concern is with the essential importance of grace. He emphasizes what is "of faith" in order to be "according to grace" (Rom. 4:16). James also emphasizes faith; but in order to keep in view that "works" cannot be divorced from "faith" or "faith" from "works." So, even when he places the "works" of Abraham in the foreground (James 2:21), he hastens to point out: "Thou art observing that the faith worked together with the works of him, and out of the works the faith was matured" (v. 22). So with Rahab: she, too, was "justified" by works; but a reference to the recorded history of her "works" shows with the utmost plainness that they were actuated by faith, as the writer of Hebrews, as well, is so careful to make plain beyond any possibility of doubt (Heb. 11:31)—and Hebrews is classed by those who hold James in relatively little esteem as a "Circumcision Epistle" also. Verily, such expositors do love to "have it both ways"!

Those who hold James' Epistle to be of minor importance make much of the fact that James 2:21, 22 refer to Genesis 22, whereas Paul in Rom. 4:16-22 refers to Genesis 15. That is true so far as it goes, but it is not the whole truth; for the fact remains that both quote Gen. 15:6. And there is another fact: the faith of Abraham and the works of Abraham are inseparable. Before Gen. 15:6 comes Gen. 15:1 with its words about reward, which imply works; and before Gen. 15:1 is an account of Abraham's works, in Gen. 14:13-24. Why struggle to separate them? Why, why? Simply to prop up a dispensational theory? We are nowhere commanded in the Scriptures to do any such thing. Moreover, we must ask: "Where in the Scriptures are we told that Abraham did good works and they were accounted to him for righteousness? Nowhere at all, and certainly not by James. In James 2:22 "the faith" comes first, as it must do where all matters of God's righteousness are in view.

The Epistles to Hebrews and of James are, as already noted, classed by some as "Circumcision Epistles," even though neither mentions circumcision. Those who think in this manner also disparage the kind of faith James writes about: "Even faith is different in quality in James from that found in Paul's writings," and "James looks at faith entirely from the human side, Paul from the divine." No proof of these confident assertions is supplied, which is most disappointing; for it is difficult to imagine how it could be done. The facts are that James speaks of faith some sixteen times and Hebrews thirty-two times, to eighteen times in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians together. Other extraordinary rash and, needless to say, unproven assertions are: "The" salvation to which James refers does not include justification "hence there is not the necessity for grace," and "James is dealing with a nation in covenant relationship with God." How strange that he omits to mention these things!

Three times is Gen. 15:6 quoted in the Greek Scriptures. The first, in Rom. 4:3 is about faith being reckoned for righteousness, and this idea permeates the whole chapter. The second, in Gal. 3:6, is about the blessing of Abraham and sonship of Abraham. Again, the theme is permeated by faith ("Those out of faith, these are sons of Abraham" and "those out of faith are being blessed together with believing Abraham"). The third, in James 2:23, is about the linkage of faith with works and the maturing of faith by them. The third, alone of the three, states that the Scripture it quotes is fulfilled. Paul does not go so far as that. Why not? James' own words supply the answer: "by the works was the faith matured." Yet a glance at the concordance will show that James' idea is in no way foreign to Paul's teaching, e.g., Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:10; 1. Thess. 1:3; 2. Thess. 1:11; 1. Tim. 2:10, 5:25, 6:18; 2. Tim. 2:21, 3:17, etc.

The reason for the difference between the three is quite clear. It lies in the different approaches to the idea of righteousness. Paul is concerned to demonstrate the paramount importance of faith, and he is demonstrating to, those who are essentially Gentiles. For them the acquiring of righteousness by works is, relatively, a minor issue. The Gentiles, as such, are not in the position to do righteous works, at all, in the sense James has in mind in James 2:18-26. In the two examples James cites to prove his point, Rahab had thrown in her lot with God's Covenant People and Abraham had become a covenant man; but no such situations can arise with those whom Paul was addressing. So in Romans 3; Paul has nothing whatever to say about works, but about works of law; and this idea is in no way invalidated by the only reference to works apart from law in Romans 1 to 3, in Rom. 2:6. And for Gentiles there is no contact of righteousness and works in Romans 4 or anywhere else subsequently in the epistle. It is the same in Gal. 2:14—3:14, which says nothing about "works" alone but refers to "works of law" six times. The first three are part of an appeal to "Jews by nature," the second a warning to those of Gentile origin against having anything to do with them. For Gentiles these—works of law—are the enemy, not "works" as such. This does not mean that "justification" by works apart from faith is possible for us, or for anyone else. What it does mean is that the issue raised by James in James 2:14-26 is irrelevant to Paul's argument; but that does not imply that it is irrelevant to our situation; for apart from Romans and Galatians Paul refers to work or works no less than forty-five times. James, however, is addressing himself to those who should be faithful Israelites, even though, instead, they are only "in the dispersion." Always in the background of his mind is the memory of covenant and the knowledge that they ought to be the Covenant People and some day will be. So he has to set up for them works as a standard of righteousness as well as faith. Yet we must remember that though we can never be God's Covenant People, we are God's People now; so, as God's People, works are obligatory on us, for nowhere does Paul ever declare that we are exempt from the duty to produce good works. Moreover, nothing of this is contradicted by Rom. 11:1-6. Here grace and works are irreconcilably opposed—but only in the matter of the choice of the remnant of Israel. Let us refrain from dragging this out of its context to confuse the issue elsewhere.

This leads us to the problem implied a while back when we decided, for the time being, to render dikaioO by "justify." What does "justify" mean in these and similar contexts?

By far the best thing that has been written for a very long time, perhaps centuries, about James' Epistle is Mr. Alexander Thomson's paper, "Paul versus James" in The Differentiator, Vol. 15, No.1, p. 39 (February, 1953). The germ, at least, and sometimes much more than that, of everything sound that has been produced since about James is to be found in it; and it has persuaded me to reconsider in this present paper of mine the translation of dikaioO. The problem at this point is whether in certain passages it is best rendered by "make righteous," or by "declare righteous," as Mr. Thomson favours in James 2.

In addition to the groups already discussed at the start of this paper, there are several places where the verb occurs in the Active or Passive Voices. The former are Rom. 3:26, 30; 4:5; 8:30, 33; Gal. 3:8. The second of these, Rom. 3:30, was discussed at some length in Vol. 14, pp. 161-163. It speaks of God as One Who "will be 'justifying' circumcision-out-of-faith and uncircumcision through the faith." I interpreted this as meaning that through the faith spoken of in v. 26 God will be making uncircumcision righteous, and He will also be making circumcision which is out of faith, in its turn, righteous. Is this view of the matter correct; or are we to declare that in the Evangel of the uncircumcision this state of uncircumcision will only be accounted righteous, or declared righteous, and not made righteous? And will the same idea apply under the future Evangel of the circumcision? If so, why; and what authority have we for such assumptions? Actually, they go right against the facts. At present, covenant is wholly inoperative; so circumcision is not, and cannot be, righteous. When the New Covenant is concluded, covenant will be operative and so must its sign, so circumcision will have become righteous—and this can only be if meanwhile it has been made righteous. Similarly, before Pentecost uncircumcision shut a man out of all God's blessing; yet, since, it has been made righteous, so righteous that it is the only way to blessing now.

Let us consider the remaining occurrences in the Active Voice, listed above, and the Passives in Rom. 2:13; 4:2; 5:1, 9; 1. Cor. 6:11; Gal. 3:24; Titus 3:7; James 2:21, 25. These are crucial. Do they mean account righteous, declare righteous, or make righteous; bearing in mind that in all of these, people are the objects in view, not acts as in Rom. 3:30. When we come to analyse our ideas as to this, it is difficult to see how a person who is unrighteous can possibly be made righteous. On the other hand, how can it be proper to account or to declare persons righteous unless, somehow, they have been made righteous? This is a genuine difficulty, and nothing is to be gained by trying to overlook it. It is not so acute with the suggested Middle form, which leaves the problem open: somehow, something has occurred to the individual leaving him in a righteous state; he has in fact achieved righteousness.

What can such a process be? What happens to the individual to put him right, so that he can be at peace with God? When this form of the question first presented itself, a hazy recollection came of a suggestion seen somewhere that right or put right might be a satisfactory rendering of the forms listed above: "the One putting right the one out of faith of Jesus" (Rom. 3:26), "Who will be righting circumcision out of faith" (3:30); "for if Abraham out of works was righted" (4: 2), "Him Who is righting the irreverent" (4:5); "being, then, righted out of faith" (5:1), "whom He calls, these He puts right also" (8:30).

One further question presents itself: when Scripture says: "Now Abraham believes God and it is reckoned to him unto righteousness," just why is it put that way, instead of, simply, "he was declared righteous" or "made righteous" or "righted" or "put right"? Why use instead the verb logizomai?

Much remains to be learnt about the verb dikaioO; but in straightening out our ideas about James we have at least made a substantial forward step. Here is food for thought, and earnest, prayerful consideration.

R.B.W. Last updated 27.4.2006