James 2:17
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
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(17) Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.—Better, like the margin, is dead in its own self. If to be childless among women were a curse in Israel, so to be barren among God’s graces is the condemnation of faith in Christendom. And St. Paul, in substantial harmony with this assertion of his brother Apostle, declares (Romans 2:13) “Not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified.” There had been no lack of charity under the earlier Jewish teaching; in fact, “righteousness” in many passages of Holy Writ, and in the paraphrases for the unlearned, called the Targums, was explained to be “almsgiving.” But the whole system of Rabbinism seems gradually to have destroyed the spiritual life of its scholars; and amongst them now was fast spreading the doctrine of a sterile faith. In the revival of Monotheism under the sword of the prophet of Mecca, the faith of Abraham once more shone in the creed of his descendants; though, alas! the sons of Ishmael, and not Isaac the chosen: and the Muhammedans tell us still that if fasting and prayer bring the believer to the gates of Paradise, alms will let him in.

2:14-26 Those are wrong who put a mere notional belief of the gospel for the whole of evangelical religion, as many now do. No doubt, true faith alone, whereby men have part in Christ's righteousness, atonement, and grace, saves their souls; but it produces holy fruits, and is shown to be real by its effect on their works; while mere assent to any form of doctrine, or mere historical belief of any facts, wholly differs from this saving faith. A bare profession may gain the good opinion of pious people; and it may procure, in some cases, worldly good things; but what profit will it be, for any to gain the whole world, and to lose their souls? Can this faith save him? All things should be accounted profitable or unprofitable to us, as they tend to forward or hinder the salvation of our souls. This place of Scripture plainly shows that an opinion, or assent to the gospel, without works, is not faith. There is no way to show we really believe in Christ, but by being diligent in good works, from gospel motives, and for gospel purposes. Men may boast to others, and be conceited of that which they really have not. There is not only to be assent in faith, but consent; not only an assent to the truth of the word, but a consent to take Christ. True believing is not an act of the understanding only, but a work of the whole heart. That a justifying faith cannot be without works, is shown from two examples, Abraham and Rahab. Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Faith, producing such works, advanced him to peculiar favours. We see then, ver. 24, how that by works a man is justified, not by a bare opinion or profession, or believing without obeying; but by having such faith as produces good works. And to have to deny his own reason, affections, and interests, is an action fit to try a believer. Observe here, the wonderful power of faith in changing sinners. Rahab's conduct proved her faith to be living, or having power; it showed that she believed with her heart, not merely by an assent of the understanding. Let us then take heed, for the best works, without faith, are dead; they want root and principle. By faith any thing we do is really good; as done in obedience to God, and aiming at his acceptance: the root is as though it were dead, when there is no fruit. Faith is the root, good works are the fruits; and we must see to it that we have both. This is the grace of God wherein we stand, and we should stand to it. There is no middle state. Every one must either live God's friend, or God's enemy. Living to God, as it is the consequence of faith, which justifies and will save, obliges us to do nothing against him, but every thing for him and to him.If a brother or sister be naked ... - The comparison in these verses is very obvious and striking. The sense is, that faith in itself, without the acts that correspond to it, and to which it would prompt, is as cold, and heartless, and unmeaning, and useless, as it would be to say to one who was destitute of the necessaries of life, depart in peace." In itself considered, it might seem to have something that was good; but it would answer none of the purposes of faith unless it should prompt to action. In the case of one who was hungry or naked, what he wanted was not good wishes or kind words merely, but the acts to which good wishes and kind words prompt. And so in religion, what is wanted is not merely the abstract state of mind which would be indicated by faith, but the life of goodness to which it ought to lead. Good wishes and kind words, in order to make them what they should be for the welfare of the world, should be accompanied with corresponding action. So it is with faith. It is not enough for salvation without the benevolent and holy acts to which it would prompt, any more than the good wishes and kind words of the benevolent are enough to satisfy the wants of the hungry, and to clothe the naked, without correspondent action. Faith is not and cannot be shown to be genuine, unless it is accompanied with corresponding acts; as our good wishes for the poor and needy can be shown to be genuine, when we have the means of aiding them, only by actually ministering to their necessities. In the one case, our wishes would be shown to be unmeaning and heartless; in the other, our faith would be equally so. In regard to this passage, therefore, it may be observed:

(1) That in fact faith is of no more value, and has no more evidence of genuineness when it is unaccompanied with good works, than such empty wishes for the welfare of the poor would be when unaccompanied with the means of relieving their wants. Faith is designed to lead to good works. It is intended to produce a holy life; a life of activity in the service of the Saviour. This is its very essence; it is what it always produces when it is genuine. Religion is not designed to be a cold abstraction; it is to be a living and vivifying principle.

(2) there is a great deal of that kindness and charity in the world which is expressed by mere good wishes. If we really have not the means of relieving the poor and the needy, then the expression of a kind wish may be in itself an alleviation to their sorrows, for even sympathy in such a case is of value, and it is much to us to know that others feel for us; but if we have the means, and the object is a worthy one, then such expressions are mere mockery, and aggravate rather than soothe the feelings of the sufferer. Such wishes will neither clothe nor feed them; and they will only make deeper the sorrows which we ought to heal. But how much of this is there in the world, when the sufferer cannot but feel that all these wishes, however kindly expressed, are hollow and false, and when he cannot but feel that relief would be easy!

(3) in like manner there is much of this same kind of worthless faith in the world - faith that is dead; faith that produces no good works; faith that exerts no practical influence whatever on the life. The individual professes indeed to believe the truths of the gospel; he may be in the church of Christ; he would esteem it a gross calumny to be spoken of as an infidel; but as to any influence which his faith exerts over him, his life would be the same if he had never heard of the gospel. There is not one of the truths of religion which is bodied forth in his life; not a deed to which he is prompted by religion; not an act which could not be accounted for on the supposition that he has no true piety. In such a case, faith may with propriety be said to be dead.

Being alone - Margin, "by itself." The sense is, "being by itself:" that is, destitute of any accompanying fruits or results, it shows that it is dead. That which is alive bodies itself forth, produces effects, makes itself visible; that which is dead produces no effect, and is as if it were not.

17. faith … being alone—Alford joins "is dead in itself." So Bengel, "If the works which living faith produces have no existence, it is a proof that faith itself (literally, 'in respect to itself') has no existence; that is, that what one boasts of as faith, is dead." "Faith" is said to be "dead in itself," because when it has works it is alive, and it is discerned to be so, not in respect to its works, but in respect to itself. English Version, if retained, must not be understood to mean that faith can exist "alone" (that is, severed from works), but thus: Even so presumed faith, if it have not works, is dead, being by itself "alone," that is, severed from works of charity; just as the body would be "dead" if alone, that is, severed from the spirit (Jas 2:26). So Estius. Even so faith; that which they boasted of, and called faith.

Is dead; void of that life, in which the very essence of faith consists, and which always discovers itself in vital actings and good fruits, where it is not hindered by some forcible impediment; in allusion to a corpse, which plainly appears to have no vital principle in it, all vital operations being ceased. It resembles a man’s body, and is called so, but in reality is not so, but a dead carcass.

Being alone; margin, by itself, or in itself; be it what it will, it is but dead: or, as we render it, being alone, i.e. not in conjunction with works, which always it should be.

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. It is like a lifeless carcass, a body without a soul, James 2:26 for as works, without faith, are dead works, so faith, without works, is a dead faith, and not like the lively hope and faith of regenerated persons: and indeed, such who have no other faith than this are dead in trespasses and sins; not that works are the life of faith, or that the life of faith lies in, and flows from works; but, as Dr. Ames observes (b), good works are second acts, necessarily flowing from the life of faith; to which may be added, and by these faith appears to be living, lively and active, or such who perform them appear to be true and living believers.

(b) Medulla Theolog. l. 2. c. 7. sect. 35.

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Jam 2:17. Application of the similitude. The verse forms one sentence, of which ἡ πίστις is the subject and νεκρὰ ἐστίν is the predicate; neither after πίστις (Pott) nor after ἔργα (Michaelis) is a colon to be put. After ἔχῃ the idea continually (Baumgarten) is not to be supplied. πίστις has here the same meaning as in Jam 2:14.

From the fact that James calls faith dead if it has not works, it is evident that by these works is not meant something which must be added to faith, but something which grows out of faith; the ἔργα here treated of are works of faith, in which are the germs of faith. νεκρά is here not to be explained by operibus destituta, but = inanima, equivalent to a dead body;[134] correctly, de Wette: “dead, that is, without the power of life; thus not primarily to be referred to its effects, but to be understood as its internal nature;” however, James thus designates a faith without works to prove that it οὐ δύναται σῶσαι and ΟὐΔῈΝ ὨΦΕΛΕῖΤΑΙ.

The more precise statement ΚΑΘʼ ἙΑΥΤΉΝ has been variously understood. Grotius considers it as simply pleonastic; some critics separate it from ΝΕΚΡΆ and take ΚΑΤΆ = against (Möller = ΚΑΘʼ ἙΑΥΤῆς, i.e. sibimet ipsi repugnat; Augusti: contra semet ipsam); others unite it with πίστις (Knapp = fides sola; Baumgarten: “in so far as faith is alone”). But ΚΑΘʼ ἙΑΥΤῆς belongs evidently, as its position shows, to ΝΕΚΡΆ (de Wette, Schneckenburger, Wiesinger, Lange). It is thus emphatically stated that a faith without works is not only dead in reference to something else, but dead in reference to itself. It serves for the intensification of the idea ΝΕΚΡΆ, yet not so that by it the existence of a ΠΊΣΤΙς without works was denied (against Schneckenburger).

[134] The comparison of faith without works to a dead body is found among the old interpreters in such a manner that it formed a controversy between Catholic and Protestant interpreters; whilst Lorinus says: mortnum corpus verum corpus est, nt sine operibus et charitate fides, Laurentius remarks: sicut homo mortuus non est verus homo, ita nee fides mortua vera fides.

Jam 2:17. οὕτως καὶ ἡ πίστις …: just as faith without works is dead, so this spurious, quiescent charity, which is content to leave all to God without any attempt at individual effort, is worthless.—καθʼ ἑαυτήν: the Vulgate in semetipsa brings out the force of this; such faith is, in its very essence, dead; cf. the Peshiṭtâ.

17. Even so faith, if it hath not works …] This then is St James’s objection to the faith of which he speaks. It is, while alone (literally, by itself), with no promise or potency of life, and it is, therefore, dead, and being so, as we scarcely call a corpse a man, is unworthy of the name of faith. The assent to a dogma, beginning and ending in itself, has no power to justify or save. St Paul’s language in Romans 2:13 shews that he was in substantial agreement with St James.

Jam 2:17. Ἐὰν μὴ ἔργα ἔχῃ, if it hath not works) If the works which living faith produces in other cases have no existence, it is a proof that faith itself (this is the meaning of καθʼ ἑαυτὴν) has no existence, or that that, which any one boasts of as faith, is dead.—νεκρά ἐστι, is dead) As the mere saying, Take food and drink and a garment, is not meat and drink that satisfies, nor a garment that warms, so the saying, I have faith, is not real faith, which profits his neighbour, and is salutary to the speaker himself. The title dead strikes us with horror. Though the abstract word is used, the concrete is meant. Faith is dead; that is, the man who says that he has faith, has not that life, which is faith itself. A similar[23] change in the attribution of words occurs, ch. Jam 3:4. See the note.—ΚΑΘʼ ἙΑΥΤῊΝ, in respect to [by] itself) And when it has works it is alive, and is discerned to be so, not in respect to [by] the works, but in respect to [by] itself. It does not derive its life from works.

[23] See Append. on HYPALLAGE.

Verse 17. - Being alone (καθ ἑαυτήν); R.V., in itself. But the rendering of the A.V. appears to be justified by the LXX. in Genesis 43:31, Παρέθηκαν αὐτῷ μόνῳ καὶ αὐτοῖς καθ ἑαυτούς κ.τ.λ.. James 2:17Being alone (καθ' ἑαυτήν)

Wrong. Rev., correctly, in itself. The phrase belongs to dead. It is dead, not merely in reference to something else, but absolutely.

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