Reply to James White’s Exegesis of James 2 in His Book, “The God Who Justifies”

Reply to James White’s Exegesis of James 2 in His Book, “The God Who Justifies” October 9, 2013
Epistle of James 2:19-3:9 from Papyrus 20 (Gregory-Aland): 3rd century. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




I have recounted in a past post, White’s hit piece on his webcast, The Dividing Line. During his broadcast of 15 February 2008, in between endless mockery and calling me a liar and dishonest and an imbecile (etc., zzzzzzz), he commented about yours truly:

I don’t know how long I spent, writing the chapter on James 2 in The God Who Justifies. . . . I’ve never seen a meaningful refutation or even an attempted refutation of that chapter . . . and I’ll tell you one thing. Dave will call this mocking. This isn’t mocking; this is a simple fact. That man is not up to even trying. He doesn’t have the skills; he doesn’t have the background; he doesn’t have the training; . . .

Roman Catholic apologists . . . don’t keep up with what anyone else is saying, who’s providing a response to them . . . .

I dealt with the latter lie, documenting several examples of the opposite.
Now I shall reply to his chapter. How he will almost certainly behave after I do so was dealt with in the previous paper (citing many past instances of his unsavory behavior), and I need not revisit that.

White’s book, The God Who Justifies, was published in 2001 by Bethany House (Minneapolis). Chapter 20 is entitled, “James Attacks Empty Faith.” It runs from pages 329-354. The great bulk of it is devoted to notions and aspects where Catholics and Protestants fully agree:

1) A person is saved by God’s grace.

2) A person is saved by exercising faith (itself caused by God’s grace).

3) True faith will manifest itself in good works.

4) A person demonstrates his genuine faith by performance of works.

There is no need to deal with these aspects since there is no disagreement. The main disagreement Catholics would have here would be the attempted removal of sanctification and works from the equation of salvation altogether (formal separation of justification and sanctification and merely imputed, forensic, external justification) and the notion that salvation is an already attained past event, after which the saved person does good works in gratefulness to God for his salvation, thus proving or manifesting evidence that he is saved. Reformed Protestants take it further and claim that this salvation can never be lost, once attained. 

White asserts over and over in the chapter, that the person demonstrates or “shows” his faith (per James) by his works. That is true in most respects, but Catholics would argue that this is not the be-all and end-all of the purpose of James. We agree that a justified person can and does do works in gratefulness to God, but we deny that it is the only neat little “slot” that works can be placed in, as if they have nothing whatsoever to do with final salvation.
Moreover, we would quibble with White’s argument that James refers to justification and faith and works in a sense altogether distinct from St. Paul, so that portions of Paul’s writings about justification and faith cannot properly be cross-referenced with regard to James’ treatment; moreover, that justification is an entirely past event in the believer’s life (one who is doing good works), and is a one-time event.

White argues in very standard, garden-variety fundamentalist Protestant exegesis of James (especially chapter two) that it’s all about the outward show or “proof” of faith rather than the nature of faith in and of itself. Thus he starts the chapter with his “Synopsis,” writing:

The entire purpose of James 2:14-26 can be summarized by the words, “show me.” . . . This exhortation of Christians is not addressing how the ungodly are declared righteous before God, but how that declaration is shown outwardly in the Christian life. (p. 329)

This is the way that fundamentalist Protestants — exemplified in almost “self-parody” terms by White — try to escape the seemingly obvious “Catholic” thrust of the book, insofar as it ties faith and works more closely together than many Protestants through history have been comfortable with (the most famous case being Martin Luther, who came very close to tossing James out of the New Testament — as if he had any authority to do so in the first place).

White, in seeking to make his case that St. James is discussing issues vis-à-vis faith and works in a more or less completely different sense from St. Paul, then examines James 2:21 and especially the translation of same:

James 2:21 (RSV, as throughout, when I cite Scripture) Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?

Since “justified by works” sounds so “Catholic” and foreign to Reformed Protestant thinking, White wants to stress different translations, to “soften the blow” of the passage, so to speak, for Protestants. He even lists a Catholic in order to do this (on p. 345): Luke Timothy Johnson, who translates the verse [The Letter of James: A New Translation (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1995) , p. 239], as:

Was not our father Abraham shown to be righteous on the basis of deeds when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?

He offers the evangelical-biased NIV as a second rendering:

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? (p. 345)

The problem is that these are non-literal translations, that don’t even include the word or notion of “justification” in them (ostensibly, or speculatively, for fear of sounding “Catholic”). These are the translations what White chooses and highlights, with the utmost selectivity, for his polemical purposes. His aim is to demonstrate that the thrust is to “show” or outwardly manifest the interior faith and that this is solely what the justification by works spoken of in James is referring to: not that good works (enabled by God’s grace and flowing from the faith life of a regenerate person) are, or could ever be (in White’s mind) organically connected with justification.

Many other non-Catholic translations are very different from White’s “favored few”:

KJV / RSV / ASV / NASB / NRSV / NKJV . . . justified by works . . . 

NEB / REB Was it not by his action . . . that our father Abraham was justified?

Beck . . . get to be righteous on the basis of works . . .

Goodspeed . . . made upright for his good deeds . . .

Moffatt . . . justified by what he did?

Wuest . . . vindicated by works [justified as to his claim to a living faith] . . .

The following (less literal) translations even (rather delightfully for our argument) include an element of “in God‘s sight” that is directly contradictory to White’s overall interpretation of James 2 (in man‘s sight rather than God’s):

Barclay Was it not because of his actions that he was accepted by God as a good man? 

Phillips . . . his action which really justified him in God’s sight . . .

Some translations have the “take” that White prefers, but they are clearly out of the mainstream. Williams has “shown to be upright.” The Amplified Bible has “[shown to be] justified” but then it adds, “made acceptable to God — by [his] works”. Thus, the latter translation has one element that White favors (“shown”) but also has the other that he seeks to deny: justification in God’s eyes rather than merely outwardly in man’s sight. Even the NIV’s “considered righteous” doesn’t make it clear whether it is man or God who does the considering.

Ignoring all of this overwhelming consensus of translation of James 2:21, White special pleads (as if repetition were rational argument):

James’s use must be allowed to stand on its own. As a result, the translation . . . “shown to be righteous” or “considered righteous” (NIV) flows not from a precommitment to a theological perspective but from the context itself. (p. 346)

It’s interesting, then, that 14 non-Catholic translations that I have found  (to his two, plus Williams and Amplified) didn’t think it necessary to add this notion of “shown” to the passage: that White seems to think is essential to its meaning or emphasis. White then bolsters his argument that James and Paul are talking about two different things:

But we have already seen  that James is arguing against a use of the word “faith” (a deedless, dead, empty, useless faith that exists only in the realm of words and not of action) that is not paralleled in the Pauline passages that speak of how one is justified. Second, Paul speaks of justification “before God” (. . . Galatians 3:11) or “in His sight” (. . . Romans 3:20), while the context of James is . . . “show me.” (p. 346)

Earlier in the book, in discussing Romans 3, White had stated:

To be justified before men is something obviously very different than to be justified before God. . . . This is important in considering James 2:14-26 . . . (p. 181)

The problem with this is that it doesn’t accurately portray the totality of what St. Paul teaches about works. He, too, aligns them with faith, just as James does, and not simply in this “demonstration” sense for which White contends. For example:

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Paul is simultaneously discussing those who are justified or “righteous before God” and the relationship of works to that justification. A few verses earlier he had been discussing the final judgment (and eschatological salvation or justification), and presenting it in terms of good works or lack of same, rather than faith alone without works (he never mentions faith at all in the passage). For Paul, then, works are central in the equation in terms of God’s judgment of who is saved and who isn’t:

Romans 2:5-10 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. [6] For he will render to every man according to his works: [7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; [8] but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. [9] There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, [10] but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

It’s the “doers” who will be justified in Romans 2:13. This is backwards, according to White’s own soteriology. Paul needs to spend time reading more of Bishop White’s books (or his Internet and Dividing Line rantings), to get up to speed. What he should have written, getting the chronology and the main categories correct, was:

Romans 2:13 (RFV: Revised Fundamentalist Version) For it is not the doers of the law who are justified, but the hearers of the law who are declared righteous before God and then become doers in gratefulness for their justification.

Poor Paul. He just doesn’t get it. But thankfully for our sakes, James White does. Paul doesn’t just state his shocking conclusion of Romans 2:13 in isolation. He continues the supposedly exclusive theme of St. James in other passages:

Romans 6:22-23 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. [23] For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

St. Paul again gets it backwards (it’s frustrating and maddening how often he does this!). Somehow he mixes up justification and sanctification in a way that Catholics are notorious (in some circles) for doing.  Eternal life and salvation isn’t the end of sanctification, but of [imputed] justification. Thus, this passage is supposed to read (to make it consistent with White’s fundamentalist Reformed soteriology and non-troublesome):

Romans 6:22 (RFV) But now that you have been set free from sin and have attained eternal life as the end of justification alone, as slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, manifesting the proof of saving faith.

It’s clear that if White is right in correcting Paul’s soteriology, that he ought also to correct his epistles as well, so that the rest of us aren’t led astray so often by him. St. Paul continues in his “Catholic” folly in his epistle to the Romans:

Romans 8:15-17 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Huh?!  Here, Paul informs us that being “heirs of God” is conditional on a work that we must do in order to be glorified with Christ: suffering with Him. That’s not faith alone. It’s not imputed justification and merely being declared righteous in a forensic, external sense. It’s real action and real deeds: suffering, which is directly tied to being glorified with Christ (i.e., saved in the end, with heaven and glorified bodies as our reward). St. Peter echoes this theme of suffering with Christ as a condition of salvation:

1 Peter 4:12-13 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. [13] But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Alas, White decided to skip over Romans 6 altogether in his book about justification and soteriology; and also Romans 8:15-17 (starting with Romans 8:28 in his chapter 14) and 1 Peter 4:12-13: despite devoting five chapters and some 115 pages to various portions of Romans. Paul again ties works to ultimate salvation:

1 Timothy 6:18-19 They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, [19] thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

It is works which lay the “good foundation for the future, so that” a man may “take hold” of eternal life. This repeats what he wrote in 6:11-12, where he urges Timothy to “aim at righteousness, godliness” and “fight the good fight of the faith” so that he may “take hold of the eternal life” that he was called to when he confessed faith in Jesus. The confession is only the beginning. To “take hold” of the salvation requires works and strong perseverance. To reiterate how important works are in the overall equation of salvation, Paul states: “I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach” (6:14). This is another passage that White didn’t find time to exegete in his book. Perhaps in the sequel . . .

White moves along in James:

James 2:23 and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God.

He comments:

. . . Abraham’s confession of faith is recorded in Genesis 15:6. God justified Abraham upon the exercise of that faith. The reality of the faith Abraham had, upon which he was justified, is demonstrated in the offering of Isaac. (p. 349)

Here he will run into several serious difficulties, based on his assumption that justification is a one-time event only. White believes that for Abraham, that one-time event is described in Genesis 15:6; cited in James 2:23, and also by St. Paul in Romans 4:3. The conundrum for White and the false notion of one-time justification is seen in the book of Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:8-10 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. [9] By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. [10] For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

The entire chapter is devoted to faith and the heroes of faith, and is a great Protestant favorite, for that reason. It starts out:

Hebrews 11:1-2 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. [2] For by it the men of old received divine approval.

Now, the “faith” referred to here is clearly that which follows justification. It must be so — particularly in Reformed soteriology –, since for them, no man who is unregenerate of unjustified can exercise true faith. But — here’s the rub — Hebrews 11 is hearkening back to Genesis 12, not Genesis 15:

Genesis 12:1-4 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. [2] And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. [3] I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” [4] So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

The question then becomes: is this saving faith or justifying faith, that Abraham exercised at this juncture in his life? St. Paul seems to think so:

Galatians 3:8-14 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” [9] So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith. [10] For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.” [11] Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for “He who through faith is righteous shall live”; [12] but the law does not rest on faith, for “He who does them shall live by them.” [13] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree” — [14] that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

This implies either a notion that justification can occur more than once, or some sense of ongoing justification, rather than one-time only. White shows awareness of this “particularly appealing” counter-argument, and mocks it by referring to “the ingenuity of man who is constantly attempting to find a way around God’s way of justification” (p. 221). What is his response? Here it is:

The writer to the Hebrews says that Abraham acted in faith in responding to God’s call to leave Ur of the Chaldees. However, saving faith always has an object, and the object of saving faith in Abraham’s life was the promise given him in Genesis 15, not Genesis 12. (p. 222)

He digs in and ratchets up the polemics for effect:

Justification, then, must be a point-in-time declaration, not a process that is repeated, or else Romans 4:1-8 is not inspired Scripture. To say otherwise is to make a complete mockery of the entirety of Romans 4. (p. 223)

Unfortunately for White, there is a lot of disagreement with him, even from within his own Reformed camp. And the disagreement and exegesis contrary to White’s take is not, I submit, motivated by a disdain for St. Paul or desire to mock Romans chapter four. Phil Gons has a doctorate in theology (a real one; not a fake doctorate such as White possesses). He describes himself as “a theologically conservative evangelical Christian who is committed to the essence of Reformed Protestantism.” Phil wrote a heavily researched article, “When Was Abraham Justified?” He concluded:

. . . virtually all the commentators and theologians that I have come across who deal with the issue are in agreement that Abraham was justified by the events recorded at the beginning of Genesis 12. Luther, Calvin, Brakel, and Spurgeon defend a Genesis 12 justification, as do O. Palmer Robertson and Brian Vickers. . . .

The view that holds that Abraham was not saved until Genesis 15 finds virtually no support at all throughout church history (at least not that I have been able to find in hours of research in scores of commentaries and hundreds of journals) . . .

Very odd, isn’t it? Could James White possibly be wrong??!!! Such a momentous, unheard-of event would stop the presses, the movement of the earth, and swiftly bring about the Apocalypse, for sure. But there it is! In a 20-page Word document accompanying the article, Gons assembles an impressive array of supporting sources for his contention. Here are some highlights, with my own added emphases in blue color:

John Calvin

We must now notice the circumstance of time . Abram was justified by faith many years after he had been called by God; after he had left his country a voluntary exile, rendering himself a remarkable example of patience and of continence; after he had entirely dedicated himself to sanctity and after he had, by exercising himself in the spiritual and external service of God, aspired to a life almost angelical. It therefore follows, that even to the end of life, we are led towards the eternal kingdom of God by the righteousness of faith.

On which point many are too grossly deceived. For they grant, indeed, that the righteousness which is freely bestowed upon sinners and offered to the unworthy is received by faith alone; but they restrict this to a moment of time, so that he who at the first obtained justification by faith, may afterwards be justified by good works. By this method, faith is nothing else  than the beginning of righteousness, whereas righteousness itself consists in a continual course of works. But they who thus trifle must be altogether insane. For if the angelical uprightness of Abram faithfully cultivated through so many years, in one uniform course, did not prevent him from fleeing to faith, for the sake of obtaining righteousness; where upon earth besides will such perfection be found, as may stand in God’s sight?

Therefore, by a consideration of the time in which this was said to Abram, we certainly gather, that the righteousness of works is not to be substituted for the righteousness of faith, in any such way, that one should perfect what the other has begun; but that holy men are only justified by faith, as long as they live in the world. If any one object, that Abram previously believed God, when he followed Him at His call, and committed himself to His direction and guardianship, the solution is ready; that we are not here told when Abram first began to be justified, or to believe in God; but that in this one place it is declared, or related, how he had been justified through his whole life . For if Moses had spoken thus immediately on Abram’s first vocation, the cavil of which I have spoken would have been more specious; namely, that the righteousness of faith was only initial (so to speak) and not perpetual. But now since after such great progress, he is still said to be justified by faith, it thence easily appears that the saints are justified freely even unto death.

(Calvin’s Commentaries, Genesis 15:6)

The Lord, on the contrary, declares, that he imputed Abraham’s faith for righteousness (Rom. 4:3), not at the time when he was still a worshipper of idols, but after he had been many years distinguished for holiness. Abraham had long served God with a pure heart, and performed that obedience of the Law which a mortal man is able to perform: yet his righteousness still consisted in faith. Hence we infer, according to the reasoning of Paul, that it was not of works. In like manners when the prophet says, “The just shall live by his faith,” (Hab. 2:4), he is not speaking of the wicked and profane, whom the Lord justifies by converting them to the faith: his discourse is directed to believers, and life is promised to them by faith. Paul also removes every doubt, when in confirmation of this sentiment he quotes the words of David, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” (Ps. 32:1). It is certain that David is not speaking of the ungodly but of believers such as he himself was, because he was giving utterance to the feelings of his own mind. Therefore we must have this blessedness not once only, but must hold it fast during our whole lives.

(Institutes of the Christian Religion, III, 14:11)

Martin Luther

Therefore if you should ask whether Abraham was righteous before this time, my answer is: He was righteous because he believed God. But here the Holy Spirit wanted to attest this expressly, since the promise deals with a spiritual Seed. He did so in order that you might conclude on the basis of a correct inference that those who accept this Seed, or those who believe in Christ, are righteous. Abraham’s faith was extraordinary, since he left his country when commanded to do so and became an exile; but we are not all commanded to do the same thing. Therefore in that connection Moses does not add: “Abraham believed God, and this was reckoned to him as righteousness.” But in the passage before us he makes this addition when he is speaking about the heavenly Seed. He does so in order to comfort the church of all times. He is saying that those who, with Abraham, believe this promise are truly righteous. Here, in the most appropriate place, the Holy Spirit wanted to set forth expressly and clearly the statement that righteousness is nothing else than believing God when He makes a promise.

(“Genesis 15:6,” Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15–20, vol. 3, Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, trans. George V. Schick; Saint Louis: Concordia, 1961, 3:19–20)

New Bible Commentary

Abram accepted God’s reassurance, he believed the LORD (6). The verbal form suggests an ongoing activity, i.e. he kept believing the promise, he kept relying on the Lord. So God credited it to him as righteousness. Righteousness is that state of acceptance by God which comes from perfect obedience to the law. Abram’s failure to fulfil the law’s demands completely is obvious in Genesis, yet his faith in God’s promise of a child is here said to count as righteousness. For Paul, this shows that faith, not works, is the prerequisite to acceptance by God (Gal. 3:6–14). Jas. 2:18–24 and Heb. 11:8–9 point out that Abraham’s faith was proved genuine by his good works. This ‘faith that works’ is central to the Christian understanding of salvation and upright living.

(D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J . Wenham, eds., “15:1–21 The Covenant Promise,” New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition [Leicester, England; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994], Gen 15:1)

Allen P. Ross / Bible Knowledge Commentary

Genesis 15:6 provides an important note, but it does not pinpoint Abram’s conversion. That occurred years earlier when he left Ur. (The form of the Heb. word for “believed” shows that his faith did not begin after the events recorded in vv. 1–5.) Abram’s faith is recorded here because it is foundational for making the covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant did not give Abram redemption; it was a covenant made with Abram who had already believed and to whom righteousness had already been imputed.

(Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures , ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck [Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983–85], 1:55)

Gordon J. Wenham

The verbal form . . . “he believed” probably indicates repeated or continuing action. Faith was Abram’s normal response to the LORD’s words.

(Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 , vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary [Dallas: Word, 2002], 329; comment on Genesis 15:6)

Charles Spurgeon

When he was comforted, Abram received an open declaration of his justification. I take it, beloved friends, that our text does not intend to teach us that Abram was not justified before this time. Faith always justifies whenever it exists, and as soon as it is exercised; its result follows immediately, and is not an aftergrowth needing months of delay. The moment a man truly trusts his God he is justified.

(Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Justification by Faith—Illustrated by Abram’s Righteousness,” vol. 14, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons [Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998] )

Gons comments on Hebrews 11:

The author of Hebrews, in setting forth examples of faith to be followed, intentionally begins the story of Abraham with Genesis 12, when he “by faith” obeyed the Lord, believing His promises to him to be reliable. Had Abraham still been an idolater (cf. Joshua 24:2) and his faith something less than genuine, surely the author of Hebrews would have cited Genesis 15 or some point later in the narrative as the start of Abraham’s exemplary faith.

Ironically enough, White’s derisive comments against the Catholic view of ongoing or multiple instances of justification, also hit in large part the commentators above: Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon et al. They’re all trumped by the Interpreter of all Interpreters, and the Final WORD in biblical exegesis: Bishop James White. So much the worse for them. Here is White’s opinion of views other than one-time forensic justification:

. . . the argument carries weight for many who are seeking a way out of the biblical teaching on the subject.

The fundamental error of the argument thus presented is really quite simple: it is not an argument from Scripture; it is an argument against Scripture. . . . To argue against an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ only shows that one’s theology is in error fro its very inception.

. . . Paul’s entire point is based upon justification being a forensic declaration that takes place one time in the believer’s life. If, in fact, justification is ongoing, or repetitive, or iterative, then Paul’s entire point collapses . . . (p. 222)

White gets to James 2:24 on his page 350:

James 2:24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Once again, he wants to play the game of highly selective Bible translation, citing Luke Timothy Johnson, who translates, “shown to be righteous on the basis of deeds.” And once again, in the interest of “full disclosure” and attempted objectivity, I will provide the reader with a much wider array of Bible translations for James 2:24:

KJV / ASV / Wuest . . . by works a man is justified . . .

RSV / NASB / NRSV / NKJV . . . justified by works . . .

Phillips A man is justified before God by what he does as well as by what he believes.

NIV . . . justified by what he does . . .

NEB . . . justified by deeds . . .

Williams . . . shown to be upright by his good deeds . . .

Beck . . a man gets to be righteous on the basis of his works . . .

Goodspeed . . . made upright by his good deeds . . .

Amplified . . . justified (pronounced righteous before God) through what he does . . .

Moffatt . . . by what he does a man is justified . . .

REB You see then it is by action and not by faith alone that a man is justified.

Barclay . . . it is in consequence of his actions that God reckons a man to be a good man, and not only in consequence of faith.

We see in several translations the idea that this justification by works (as well as by faith) is in the eyes of God, not just man, as White wants to argue and eisegete, according to his false fundamentalist presuppositions: Phillips: “before God,” Amplified: “pronounced righteous before God,” Barclay: “that God reckons a man . . .”

It’s important to reiterate that Catholics do not believe in salvation by works. We deny salvation by faith alone and also by works alone. We assert salvation by grace alone through faith, expressed and “lived out” by the “obedience of faith” shown by faith- and grace-based good works. I wrote in the section of my book, Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths (2009), entitled, “Salvation is not by works alone” (pp. 166-167):

This “justification by works” is not by itself, any more than faith is operative by itself. James writes of Abraham being “justified by works” (2:21) but this can’t be ripped from context, so as to distort his meaning, since in the verse immediately before, he ties faith organically in with works, and he does the same in the verse immediately after, as he does in the larger context of 2:14, 17-18 and 2:26. They simply can’t be separated.
Likewise, when justification by works is asserted again in 2:24, it is qualified in 2:26, by connecting faith with it, and in the larger context before the statement, also in 2:14, 17-18, 20, 22. The works can’t possibly be interpreted as on their own, then, without doing massive violence to the contextual meaning and teaching.
The same applies to 2:25 and the statement about Rahab the harlot being “justified by works” — it is qualified in the same way in context, by the consideration of 2:14, 17-18, 20, 22, 26. Moreover, salvation by works alone is flatly and explicitly denied by St. Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 and 2 Timothy 1:9, and the same is strongly implied in Romans 11:5-6 (see the section “We are saved through grace”).
For the Catholic, justification is not the same thing as salvation or the attainment of eternal life. It can be lost or rejected by means of human free will and disobedience. So, to assert “justification by works,” even in a qualified sense, is not at all the same as asserting salvation by works. Therefore, it is scripturally improper to assert either salvation by works alone or salvation by faith alone. They are never taught in Holy Scripture, and are both denied more than once. Justification by faith or justification by works can be asserted in a limited sense, as Scripture does: always understood as hand-in-hand with the other two elements in the grace-faith-works triumvirate.

White takes note (p. 351) of the clause “you see.” He argues (garden-variety polemical stuff here) that this proves some big change of category, compared to Pauline utterances on justification. He had expressed this more clearly in his comment on James 2:22:

Ironically, James says, “you see that . . .,” showing the demonstrative element he is pushing into the forefront. . . . James wishes his hearers to see something from the example of Abraham’s obedience to God in the offering of Isaac. We are to see Abraham’s deeds . . . (p. 348)

This is equal parts silly and insubstantial. We need only go to St. Paul to show that there is no distinction here that White reads into the text for polemical purposes:

Galatians 3:6-7 Thus Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” [7] So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

That passage has to do with justification before God, as White himself agrees; yet it still contains the clause, “you see.” Therefore, the latter is no proof in and of itself that James is discussing a different notion altogether: merely justification “before men” — to be observed as the proof and fruit of genuine faith — rather than before God.

White then makes short work of Rahab’s stated “justification”:

James 2:25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?

He merely assumes and states what he needs to prove (which is no rational argument, but rather, essentially mere “preaching”):

The evidentiary nature of this justification is again clearly seen: no one would argue that God justifies prostitutes on the basis of hiding spies. Instead, the faith she had come to possess in the God of Israel manifested itself in her willingness to act in accordance with her confession found in these words: “the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11 NASB). (p. 352)

The obvious problem with this “exegesis” is that it is not exegesis at all; it is eisegesis: reading into Scripture what is not stated there. White is big on endlessly pointing this out if anyone else does it (and of course, according to him, Catholics always do). Earlier in his book he decried this sort of thing, noting:

. . . the presence of human traditions that influence and often determine the reading of the text. (p. 129)

The text doesn’t say she was justified based on her profession that he notes (though that is a quite reasonable supposition to hold; I’m just noting that the Bible doesn’t directly assert it). The text says she was “justified by works when she received the messengers”.

Thus, White has the choice of exegeting the text as it stands, or ignoring it. He chooses the latter, because his prior theological views disallow him to do any differently. He is doing exactly what he condemned in his statement above. It doesn’t matter what the Bible says: he’ll quickly discard that if it goes against his prior views, which lie external to the Bible, and in several places contradict it.

Catholics believe we are justified by faith and also by grace-based works done by the regenerate believer in conjunction with faith, as a co-laborer with God (1 Cor 3:9; 15:10; 2 Cor 6:1). White doesn’t like the “works” part of that biblical equation, so he has to construct several desperate “arguments” in order to undermine it or explain it away at every turn. There is a word for that: sophistry. The Bible elsewhere freely places Rahab’s faith and works together. They are of a piece: neither can or should be ignored:

Hebrews 11:31 By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies.

Notice the “because” in the verse? Moreover, it is not foreign Scripture, to expressly state that works are the cause of justification or even a central criterion for eternal life. We’ve already noted this in Paul, above. Here it is again (repetition being a good teaching device):

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Indeed, final judgment in Scripture is always — repeat, ALWAYS — associated with works (good and bad), and scarcely with faith at all. When we read Bible passages on the last judgment, it is works that are being discussed. I have collected fifty of these passages myself. So why are Protestants so reluctant to acknowledge this? Why can’t they “go” where the Bible freely, easily does, so often? Oftentimes the Bible discusses faith in isolation, in relation to justification and salvation. Other times, it discusses works in isolation, in the same way. Both are factors. So why does White feel the necessity of having to utterly ignore what James 2:25 plainly states, and skip over to another verse so he can preach his unbiblical, fundamentalist “faith alone” doctrine? How are Rahab or Abraham being “justified by works” in James fundamentally different from what the following five passages out of my collected fifty (four from Jesus Himself) assert?:

Matthew 25:31-46 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Luke 3:9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

John 5:29 . . .  those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

1 Peter 1:17 . . . who judges each one impartially according to his deeds . . .

Revelation 22:12 Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.

I’d like to agree with a statement of White’s in closing. Of course I’d apply it differently, but the statement itself remains true:

When Paul and James both address Christian behavior and Christian life, they speak as one . . . When we allow James to speak for himself . . . his intentions and purposes are clear. (p. 354)


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