TRINITY SCHOOL FOR MINISTRY
THE PROBLEM WITH AND RESOLUTIONS TO THE PERCEIVED DISCREPANCIES OF FAITH IN GALATIANS TWO AND JAMES TWO
SUBMITTED TO DR. WESLEY HILL IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF NT 500: INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
BY SAMSON COVATCH
May 8, 2018
What could be called the crown jewel of the Sola’s of the Reformation is Sola Fide. The wording for the concepts of justification by faith alone and salvation by faith alone has led to misunderstandings as well as misapplications. At the center of this tension are the biblical chapters of Galatians two, where it is normally understood that our faith is not considered a work that we do for our justification, and James two, where our faith is said to be a work. There are four different articulations within this discussion, but we first need understand the perceived textual tension.
Galatians 2:16 gets to the heart of this issue for “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:16 ESV). The understanding of the phrase “works of the law” is generally understood as something you do that is pleasing to God or better stated, a form of merit. Therefore, any effort on your behalf to motivate God to look favorably upon you is seen to be part of this equation. So, faith cannot be a work, or have any type of works associated with it, least it fall into this category, and that is considered to be an undeniable truth.
We then come to James chapter two which states that faith is a work which aides us within salvation and needs to be exercised or it ceases to be faith as stated “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:4 ESV) “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:7). “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (2:26). It is therefore impossible for an inactive force to have a positive active outcome. This is a work that we can do because faith is a gift from God to be used for such a purpose as intended.
The first view is that faith is a work to be exercised for justification. The question that arises is, do your works bring saving grace or does grace produce works that save? When we look to other passages such as Roman 3:20 we see that the impetus cannot be on us and therefore must come from outside of us. God initiates this through the Church and thereby enabling the believer to become justified. Justification is used in the past tense and should be understood as a completed act. When the process is still ongoing it cannot be said that justification has occurred and therefore more work needs to be done through faith which is merited by works that have been enabled through grace infused by God as stated by the Council of Trent.
For though no one can be just except he to whom the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet this takes place in that justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who are justified and inheres in them; whence man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope and charity.
Furthermore, chapter IX makes it clear on what faith within justification is not.
Moreover, it must not be maintained, that they who are truly justified must needs, without any doubt whatever, convince themselves that they are justified, and that no one is absolved from sins and justified except he that believes with certainty that he is absolved and justified, and that absolution and justification are effected by this faith alone, as if he who does not believe this, doubts the promises of God and the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ.
Therefore faith is in fact a work needed to merit the fulness of the one being justified.
The second view is more commonly accepted by Christians from the Reformed traditions which states that faith is not a work for justification, but the passive agreement cognitively adhered to and apprehended through trusting in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. The Westminster Confession articulates the doctrine as, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.” God’s grace is understood as the favor dei rather than a gratia infusia which emphasizes the action is located within God and not within the believer. Article IV of the Augsburg Confession states, “Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.” Notice that faith has a passive role in both confessions leading to the understanding that the type of faith in which James is referring to is in a pastoral sense within sanctification due to the action being located within the believer, whereas Paul’s use of faith is necessarily passive with regards to justification.
According to Millard Erickson, “the type of faith necessary for salvation involves both believing that and believing in, or assenting to facts and trusting in a person. It is vital to keep these two together.” This is true when discussing salvation as a whole without differentiating between the three accepted parts of past, present, and future or justification, sanctification, and glorification. When contemplating justification, Erickson could be read either way in regards to faith and works. Although, his focus on faith as more than a cognitive ascension in the Old Testament is to be understood as our faithfulness as we see in Habakkuk 2:4, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Faith, in regards to our faith, is used in verb forms and “does not connote intellectual belief as much as it suggests trust and a committing of oneself.”
The third view picks up on this variation between the notions of salvation by faith and justification by faith as it relates to God’s faithfulness. N. T. Wright understands Gal. 2:16 in this way, “We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah; so we came to believe in the Messiah, Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faithfulness of the Messiah, and not by works of the law…” Wright further states “in response to ‘the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah’, Paul declares (2.16b) that ‘this is why we too believed in the Messiah, Jesus; so that we might be declared “righteous” [sic] on the basis of the Messiah’s faithfulness, and not on the basis of works of the Jewish law.’” The implications drive a hard wedge into the common understanding of justification as put forth by the Augsburg and Westminster confessions as well as the reactionary polemic from Trent. The translation as “faithfulness” then renders the tension between Paul and James null and void because they are clearly talking about two different concepts.
The question arises to why the translational differences have not been resolved to clarify this distinction within the text? Why is πίστις [᾿Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ translated as “faith of Christ” or “faith in Christ” rather than “faithfulness of Christ”? Dan Wallace’s work on the NET bible decided in favor of “faithfulness” writing to the SBL Annual Meeting in November 2000,
In the first instance, the most significant departure in the NET from other English translations is undoubtedly the translation of the Pauline expression, πίστις [᾿Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ. A neutral rendering in, say, Rom 3.22—“by faith of Jesus Christ” (the KJV wording)—is virtually nonsensical. Because of this, modern English translations could not be ambivalent here; a choice had to be made. Should the genitive Χριστοῦ be regarded as objective or subjective? Virtually all modern English translations regard it as an objective genitive, both in Rom 3.22 and the other Pauline texts: “faith in Jesus Christ.” This is so in spite of an increasing number of scholars who, in the past few decades, have argued for a subjective genitive— “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”
This construction, and its use in Rom 3.22, illustrates the need of both a completely new English translation and one that does not hide the tensions of biblical scholarship from the lay reader. In 1975, when C. E. B. Cranfield’s first volume of his ICC commentary on Romans was published, he could speak of the subjective genitive view of πίστις Χριστοῦ in Rom 3.22 as “altogether unconvincing” without giving much support for this conclusion, and citing only an early articulation of the subjective view written in 1891. The NIV NT had appeared two years earlier than Cranfield’s commentary. But in recent years, the subjective view has gained a greater hearing, although it still finds almost no place either in English translations or alternate renderings in the margin (italics mine).
I recently contacted Dan Wallace about this translation and he informed me that he would still argue that this is indeed the meaning. As for the other translations, I can’t tell if the resistance to the changing of πίστις [᾿Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ is because of tradition or not? In one sense it strengthens the argument for the supremacy of Christ alone in our justification, and would remove the tension from the faith vs. works debate, but it would also cause a re-evaluating of creeds, literature, and confessions that have stood for almost five hundred years.
The fourth view is also my conclusion of how we are to understand the relationship between faith and works in salvation. The Bible states that faith is more than just an intellectual assent, but that isn’t to say there is no cognition on our part. Faith as a work is what merits justification, but only a particular type of faith can achieve this. Our misunderstanding when defining terms is what leads to the wrong inferences in regards to a discussion of faith and works. Therefore, it is by Christ’s faith (as a work) that leads to our justification being forensically declared (Rom. 4:5) in order for us to have received faith (passively) that we express (as a work) demonstrating we have been justified by Christ through his faith (as a work) thereby producing good works by our faith (James 2) which shows we have a faith consisting of knowledge, assent, trust, and works as is the reality of our salvation manifested. It is by faith and works in which we are justified although it is neither our faith nor our works by which this transpires. The faith that we have received is the same as the faith that we had been justified by prior to our having received it. A faith that can justify by working for the benefit of others. All of this by the creative and declarative power of God’s word, through the working of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of Christ’s faithfulness alone. Works Cited
Augsburg Confession, http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article4
Council of Trent, http://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/TRENT6.HTM
Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2013.
Wallace, Daniel B. http://netbible.com/innovations-text-and-translation-net-bible-new-testament
Westminster Confession, http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/
Wright, N. T. Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013.
---Justification, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.