Faith Without Works is Dead: Exegetical Look at James 2:18-26 – The Analysis of the Text

Author’s Note: This is the second post in a series on James 2:18-26. You can read the first post (Introduction) here and the second post (The Context) here.

IMG_8792Analysis of Text

In James 2:18 he writes, “But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” By this he jumps right into the argument between faith and works. The word used for faith throughout this passage is πίστις (pistis) and it means to have faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; the promised Messiah. In the Louw Nida the sense of meaning is to have complete trust and reliance upon someone.[1] In the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon we find the same sense of meaning.[2]

The word that he uses for works is ἔργον (ergon), which means works in both the Louw Nida and the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon.[3] What James is saying is that he has works because of his faith. In other words, he lives his life according to God’s will, because he has been saved because of his faith. We will unpack this in the following verses.

In verses 19 and 20, we see the foolishness of someone who thinks contrary to what James is arguing. James writes, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” James says that a person who believes that there is one God is on an even level as the demons who believe there is a God and shudder. Then he asks the foolish person if they want to be shown that faith without works is dead. The word that he uses for foolish is κενός (kenos). This word actually means empty. The sense of the word in the Louw Nida is that this person is empty of all understanding.[4] In the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon it means being devoid of truth.[5] In other words, James is saying that the person who says that all that they need is faith to be saved without any evidence of their salvation showing through by their works is empty of understanding and devoid of the truth of the Word of God.

Next James gives an example of faith completed by works in verses 21 through 23. He writes, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God.”

James uses three words here that deserve a closer look. The first is justified. In the original Greek language justified is δικαιόω (dikaioo). This word means to be morally right; morally right with God.[6] The second word is active. This word in the original Greek language is συνεργέω (sunergeo). This word means to work together with something or someone.[7] The third and last word is completed. This word in the original Greek is τελειόω (teleioo). This word means to carry through completely; to finish.[8]

What James is saying here is that Abraham was morally right before God, because by obeying God in offering up his son Isaac, his faith was working together with his works (or deeds) to complete his faith. By this the Scripture was fulfilled and Abraham was called “a friend of God.”

The next example that James gives comes from Rahab the prostitute. In this example he proves the point that “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” In verses 24 and 25 he writes, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”

Again James uses the words faith, works, and justified. There is no need to define these words here as they have already been defined in the previous verses. However, he is saying that because Rahab had faith in the one true God of the nation of Israel, she “received the messengers and sent them out by another way” so that they would not be captured and be put to death by the soldiers of her nation. Rahab showed her faith by her works, which was helping the messengers escape.

James concludes with verse 26. He writes, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” In this verse the word apart in the original Greek language is χωρίς (choris). This word means “without, not with, no relationship to, apart from, independent of.”[9] What James is saying here is that apart from works, faith is dead just like the body cannot be alive without the spirit. This is a strong statement as we know that death results in decay. The implication for application to our lives as believers becomes very clear and that will be the topic in the next post.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

[2] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.


About Peter van Brussel

Peter is the Director of For His Glory Prison Ministry. Peter holds a BA in Pastoral Studies from Southwestern College, a MA in Theological Studies, and a M.Div. from Liberty University. Peter is married to Niki, and has two children. He has been saved by grace and seeks to share the Gospel with those who have been forgotten.
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3 Responses to Faith Without Works is Dead: Exegetical Look at James 2:18-26 – The Analysis of the Text

  1. cleanmo2016 says:

    Yeah, His works, not ours. And His Faith, given to us. Not ours.

  2. Very good. We are indeed saved by faith alone, but that faith is more than mere belief. Merely believing is not following. We are not saved by our works, but if we do not work, then we are not saved because, as you said, that sort of faith is dead. Brings to mind the “lukewarm” Christians spewed from the mouth in Revelations. Thanks for your post.

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