Solving Problems That Aren’t Even There (Part 1)
Solving Problems That Aren’t Even There
I love riddles. One of my favorite riddles is the famous hotel bill riddle. Remember it?
Three people check into a hotel. The clerk tells them that the bill for their stay is $30, so each person pays the clerk $10. The clerk puts the money in the cash register.
Later that night, the clerk realizes that he made a mistake and should have only charged the three guests $25. He pulls $5 in one dollar bills out of the register and tells the bellhop to return the money to the guests.
On the way to the room, the bellhop realizes that he cannot split the money evenly between the three people. So, the bellhop decides to simply give them $1 each and pocket the extra $2 as a tip. Each guest gets $1 back, so they each paid $9 for their room, totaling $27. The bellhop kept $2, and $27 + $2 = $29.
But the guests originally paid $30. What happened to the missing dollar?
Doesn’t this just drive you crazy? Well, it’s actually easier than you think. Why? Because you’re trying to solve a problem that’s not even there. Read all about it here
Unfortunately, I think we do this with the Bible too
Especially with the Book of James (Is he really about to go there?). Obviously I can’t go into a full study of the Book of James here. And, many will not agree to all of these conclusions (and that’s ok!)…but maybe this will get us to thinking a bit. I believe many approach the Book of James trying to solve a problem that isn’t there when it comes to the “problem” verses (James 2:14-26). This probably started with Augustine’s struggle against Donatism and around the same time Christianity became a legal religion of Rome. It was during this time and in this setting that Augustine used James 2 as a weapon to defeat the Donatists (along with some other tactics…all you history nerds can check it out here). Anyway, this is believed to possibly be the beginning where “faith apart from works is dead” became “faith apart from works is fake (or not real or not genuine)”. That is how Augustine used James 2:14-26 to solve a problem. It’s how many today use James 2:14-26 to solve a problem. But is it a problem that James was trying to solve? Was James contending with people whose faith was fake?
Either way you say it…you’re saying the same thing, right? Slow down and think about this for a second. Does dead mean the same thing as fake? Do you or have you ever thought to use the word dead when you actually meant fake or not real or not genuine? That’s kinda silly if you think about it. We would never use the word dead if we were trying to describe something that wasn’t real. Guess what? Neither does the Bible. Do a quick word search and you’ll notice something. “The fake in Christ will rise first”…huh? Dead means dead. There are a lot of good definitions but one I have found the most helpful is “not functioning as intended”. For example: Sarah’s womb was considered dead – “the deadness of Sara’s womb”. When a car batter is “dead”…we don’t mean it’s fake. We mean it’s unproductive…it’s lost it’s power…it’s lost what energizes it…it’s lost the animating force…it’s not functioning properly or as intended. And according to James, that can happen to our faith too.
Solving a problem that IS there
There are a lot of reasons from the Book of James that has brought me to this conclusion (there might be a Part 2 that goes more in depth). However, below are just a few reasons I believe James if concerned about the quality and usefulness (James 1:3, 6, 12, 26; 2:1, 14, 16, 20; 5:15) of their faith and not the “reality” of their faith.
- There is every indication that the recipients of this letter are Christians. They were born from above (1:18), had faith in Christ (2:1), and called “brothers” multiple times (1:2, 19; 2:1, 14; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7,10, 12, 19). James even includes himself in the mix when he talks about judgement (3:1).
- The “someone” in verse 14 is the “one of you” in verse 16. This is the problem James is facing. Christians who have faith without works. For example, faith that perseveres in trials earns a reward from God (1:3-12). Rewards and prizes are not gifts. They are earned by being a “doer of the Word”. And faith that is merciful to others receives God’s mercy at the judgment seat of Christ (2:8-13).
- There’s no reason to assume this is a mixed audience or that James is trying to battle some lying and/or fake faith-ed Jews. It’s read into the text. This creates a totally different situation than the situation James and his readers were in.
- I find it strange that James never tells these fake Christians how to be “saved”. He never gives them the Gospel.
- The context is bracketed (this is a common literary device called an inclusio) by the theme of judgment (2:13; 3:1). The only judgment of Christians is the judgment seat of Christ, which is based on the a Christian’s works or lack of works (1 Cor. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:10). This fits James’ concern exactly. These Jewish Christians were showing favoritism to some of the wealthier members. The rich receive more attention and better seats than do the poor (James 2:1-13). After this, James continues to address how the poor and needy in the church are treated. James says that when it comes to helping the poor and needy in their community, faith doesn’t profit or isn’t useful to anyone…both here and in eternity.
- Non believers will not be at this judgement. Non believers don’t risk a loss at this judgement. It doesn’t make sense in the context that James is talking about going to heaven or hell. That’s a different judgement.
- “Saved” or Sozo isn’t a technical term for “go to heaven when you die”. Context tells us what the meaning is. Sozo simply means “delivered”. As R.C. Sproul put it…”Saved from WHAT?” Yes…delivered from what? Eternal condemnation? Physical deliverance? Temporal consequences? Delivered from something undesirable? The word sozo is often used of Christians who are delivered from some undesirable state or fate (1 Corinthians 5:5). In the context, James uses this word in 2:14-26 to refer to a Christian delivered from an undesirable fate at the judgment seat of Christ such as having his works burned (1 Cor. 3:12-15). James doesn’t say anything about gaining, keeping or proving you have eternal life (going to heaven when you die). James has everything to do with having a useful, active and energized faith.
- Remember – words only have the possibility of meanings. Context tells us what a word means. Think “trunk” or “rock” or “court”. All of those words find their meaning in the context in which they are used. Same goes for “saved”.
- We’re just bad readers lol. Especially when we read our theology INTO the Bible instead of getting our theology from the Bible. You’re going to have to read this slowly…take a sip of coffee and think. James uses a literary device called an Epistolary Diatribe or Greek Diatribe where an imaginary objector is brought in. It’s a way of arguing to make a point. We use it all the time too. Imagine you’re talking to a crowd and you’re trying to convince them of something. Let’s say you believe the Astros didn’t cheat during the 2017 season. As you’re building your case for the ‘Stros innocence…you might say “But someone will say…” and the next thing you say are the words of the “someone”. “But someone will say, “Yeah, but they had monitors in the hall!”. Then you would continue…”What? You’re crazy! Hinch broke those monitors numerous times”. Etc. See how it goes? Anytime James 2:18 is quoted, it is said (or thought) that James has the works (or real faith) and the objector has the faith (or fake faith). Now let’s read it again…slowly and I’ll put some people in there for us: 18 But someone (Objector) will say, You (James) have faith and I (Objector) have works. [[**Enter plot twist music** Us now – Wait…what? The objector is the one that has works? All along I thought in verse 18 that James had works?!?!? That’s why we can say that faith without works is fake…because the objector didn’t have works and that means his faith is fake!]]
- Also, you may or may not know this, but Koine Greek was written without punctuation. We use “quotation” marks to determine when we’re quoting or in this type of argument, we’ll use them to determine who is arguing. With that said, look at different translations of James 2:18-10. You’ll notice that different translations have different “end quotes” which try to determine where the objector stops talking. There’s a very natural way of reading this and the natural way of reading the Greek Diatribe makes sense in all of this context. There’s no reason to read James any differently when he uses this literary device than we would Paul or anyone else. (see Romans 9:19-20; 1 Corinthians 15:35-36). This helps us place the quotation marks correctly. The statement “even the demons believe, and tremble” is not from James, and is not in support of his argument, but is from someone who does not like what James is saying, and is objecting to the point James is making. When we quote James 2:19…we’re not siding with James. The objector is making a basic point…He is saying there is no connection between faith and works. James says the opposite. We should do something with our faith to live profitable and useful lives. Making the phrase “demon faith” the words of James really doesn’t make sense and is actually a bad example if James is trying to get them to heaven.
- Jesus didn’t die for demons, eternal life isn’t offered to demons…so why would James pull in “demon faith” to prove that they aren’t “saved”. Makes no sense.
- It’s a bad example because what the demons do believe doesn’t “save” anyone. Makes no sense to use them or what they believe to show what it takes to go to heaven.
- James never tells them how to get to heaven. Why? Because that’s not the issue he’s dealing with. It’s a faith that’s dead (inactive, not working properly, etc) and not a faith that’s fake or not there.
- James never says faith produces works. It’s just not in the text. What James does say though is works energize faith. Works invigorates faith. In 2:26 it is works which makes faith useful (energized, alive), just as the spirit makes the body useful.
So…Want to invigorate or energize your faith? Want a useful and profitable faith? Be a doer of the Word. Go do good stuff and stop doing dumb stuff.
Ephesians 2:10 – 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Titus 2:14 – 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.