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James 2:18-21 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:57 mins 53 secs

Doctrine Plus Application
James 2:18-21

The gospel is simply that Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitute for our sins. That is the gospel. Do you believe that? Believe, PISTEUO [pisteuw] in the Greek, means to trust, to entrust yourself to something, to accept something to be true, and therein lies a particular rub in the Christian life. Some people will say, "Do you have a head belief, brother, or do you have a heart belief." The Bible does not see a distinction between the head and the heart. By that silly little phrase, people seem to be drawing a distinction between have an intellectual apprehension of the fact that Jesus came as a historical personage, that the Bible says that he died on the cross for my sons, but that they do not believe that He died on the cross for their sins. There is a world of difference between saying, "I believe the Bible says that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins," and "I believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins." Faith is a form of mental perception. It is primarily intellectual, you do not believe with emotions, you believe with the cognitive part of the soul, the mind. So that when you say, "I believe X," X = is a statement that is a proposition. A proposition is a statement that has a noun or subject and a verb or a compliment that is falsifiable or verifiable. A question is not a proposition, an imperative or command is not a proposition; a proposition is a declarative sentence that can be falsified or verified. So we are believing something to be true, that Christ died as a substitute for my sins.

As we have seen in John 20:31 NASB "but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." So one of the issues that we have to clarify is believing the right proposition. The problem is that there are many people who think that if you reach point X in your life where you say, 'I believe Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins,' that that necessitates works. The problem with that is, how are you going to define works? Is it possible for an unbeliever to come along and, at point X and trust Christ as savior, and then he never hears any more doctrine, doesn't know anything else, and he goes back to living his life just as he did before he was saved, under the complete control of the sin nature, living in rampant carnality for the rest of his life, producing zero fruit? One of the central passages at the focal point of this whole argument is James chapter two. As we have seen it is normally interpreted as being a reference to justification salvation. James says in 2:14, "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" The implication is no, faith without works cannot save him. So there appears to be a contradiction but it simply turns on our interpretation of the word "saved," SOZO [swzw]. But we have seen that there is a contrast between saving the life, i.e. advancing to spiritual maturity where we experience the abundant life in phase two, and temporal death which is the result of living in carnality. So James 1:22 emphasizes the result of that, that we are to become doers, appliers of the Word, and not merely hearers who are self-delusional.

James 1:25 NASB "But one who looks intently" implying diligent examination, "at the perfect law, the {law} of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer," the Greek word POIETES [poihthj], referring to application of doctrine, plus the adjective, the genitive of ERGOS [e)rgoj], works. So we are to do works—production. So this verse shows the connection between hearing which leads to application/production.

In 2:14 we have to understand the word "faith." The first time it is used it is minus the article, it is anartharous. The next time it is used it has the article. In Greek when that article is used the second time it is referring back to the previous noun. So James is saying, "What applicational value is it, my brethren, if a man claims to have doctrine but he has no application? Can that doctrine bring him to spiritual maturity?"

Conclusion, 2:17: "Even so doctrine, if it has no application, is dead, {being} by itself." The "dead" faith doesn't mean a non-existent faith, it means a non-functioning faith. It implies that where there is now death there once was life.

James 2:18 NASB "But someone may {well} say, 'You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.'" That is, 'My works give evidence of my faith.' James argument is that there is a necessary connection between faith and works, but he is not talking about saving faith, he is talking about doctrine. If you have EPIGNOSIS [e)pignwsij] doctrine it needs to be applied.

Textual criticism is the science of analysing various texts. There are thousands of texts of the Greek New Testament but there are points of disagreement. Most of them have very little relevance or significance. Textual criticism means that we have a passage where there are two different readings in the textual history of this document. One reading uses the word CHORUS [xwrij] which means "without." That is the reading that is used in the KJV, NASB and NIV. But there is another reading which uses the Greek preposition EK [e)k] and it is not found in any English translation whatsoever.

In about 1509 to 1515 a Greek scholar by the name of Erasmus published the first Greek New Testament. That Greek New Testament was based on eight or nine Greek MSS, the oldest of which was the 12th century. That New Testament went through several editions but by 1611 that was knows as the Textus Receptus [TR], also called the received text. That became the basis for the translation into English of the King James version. We are just talking about the New Testament here, not the Old Testament. The TR is based on eight or nine MSS, not of which are very old, and none of them are in really great shape. Then in the 19th century a number of new MSS were discovered. For example, one which goes by the symbol of the Hebrew letter Aleph, called Codex Sinaiticus because it was discovered at St. Catherine's monastery on Mount Sinai by a Prussian aristocrat scholar who a vast number languages by the name of Konstantin von Tischendorf. This manuscript dates from about the fourth century. Then there was Codex D, also known as Vaticanus. About 1846-7 Samuel Tregelles finally had permission from the Vatican to go and look at this Codex that had been kept under wraps for a while. Later Tischendorf saw it and memorized it, writing down what he had memorized. It was so close to the original that the Vatican finally published a copy. Another manuscript, Codex A, was from the fifth century, and then Codex C, also called Ephraim, which dated from the fifth century also. These four MSS all represent a text type, and this is called the Alexandrian text type. There are several other text types-Syrian, Thesarian, and Byzantine. The TR is very close but it has a lot of differences to the Byzantine text type. The majority of MSS are Byzantine. When the four of the Alexandrian text type were discovered there were two English scholars, evangelicals, by the name of Westcott and Hort who were textual critics, and they developed an intricate theory of how to figure out what the original reading was by putting all the MSS together and comparing them. The basic assumption was that them oldest is the best—a super simplification but basically it in a nutshell. The Byzantine was viewed as being a later text type so that the scholarly world almost dismissed it completely.

Starting in the 1940s-50s a number of scholars realized that even though the Alexandrian documents go back to about the 4th century, maybe even the 3rd century, the Byzantine text, even though the MSS were older, they reflected a second to third century reading. So now they couldn't just say that older is better. Therefore now the majority of readings are reflected in the Byzantine text type versus four or five uncials, plus a number of papyrus documents that have been found which represent the Alexandrian text type. This is a major battle in textual criticism. Westcott and Hort has now been generally debunked for what most people will says is that they have an eclectic view, but the eclectic view is basically is if three of these MSS agree versus the majority, then you always go with these three.

The majority of documents, the Byzantine text type, universally says that the reading is James 2 here is the preposition EK. It is only the Alexandrian text type that has the reading CHORIS. That is still not a definitive solution, so we have to come back and look at this and ask what makes the most sense inside the text. Obviously sarcasm is being used, and it is an objector so whatever he is saying is not what James is saying. The "without" would make him agree with James but that goes against the literary line-up. So on the basis of the internal evidence it seems like EK is the superior reading; it makes more sense. In this case the objector is saying to James that it is not possible to show your doctrine, or show what you believe, by appealing to application any more than a person can show his doctrine without the application. It is what s called a redcutio absurdum argument. It would read like this: "You have faith and I have works, show me your faith from your works [which you can't do], and I will show you from my works my faith [which I can't do]." James is arguing that there is a connection between doctrine and application, and if you want to have life you are going to have application. His objector is saying, "That is absurd, you don't need to apply it, all you need to do is learn it." James is saying you have to apply it, that is what counts.

So the objector is saying that it is absurd to say that there is a close connection between doctrine and application. For the sake of argument he is saying, "Let's say that you have faith and I have works. You can no more start with your doctrine, what you believe, and show to me the doctrine you believe by what you do than I can start with what I do and demonstrate from that what I believe." The objector is saying that it is impossible to show a connection, i.e. James, you can't start with your doctrine and show me what you do as a result of it any more than I can start with my application, my life style, and show you what my doctrine is.

James 2:19 NASB "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder." This is the objector speaking—"you have a doctrinal position, and you do well. That leads you one way in your life, but the demons also believe, and shudder. The demons have the same doctrine but they tremble. You see, James, there is no connection between doctrine and application. You say there is an inherent connection between doctrine and application but I am telling you that you both have the same doctrine but two different applications, so you can't make a point to me and tell me I have to go out and apply this stuff." Verse 19 is not a doctrinal point, it is the words of an objector who is offering an oppositional view to James. Okay James, you claim to have a certain lifestyle. You show me your doctrine from your works and I'll show you from my works my doctrine. This is sarcasm. His point is, you can't do it, you can't show these things. His point is that there is no connection and the illustration is: You believe that God is one and that affects you one way, the demons believe it and they shudder, it affects them in a different way. See, doctrine and application do not have an inherent connection.

James responds in verse 20 by saying, "But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith [doctrine] without works is useless?" He is offering his rebuttal to the objector. The word for "useless" is the Greek word ARGE [a)rgh] which means idle—Matthew 20:3, "idle workers." Idle workers are workers who don't produce anything, don't accomplish anything. Therefore when we translate this we would translated it: "Are you willing to admit, you foolish fellow, that doctrine without application accomplishes nothing?" The point is that there has to be application for there to be any growth or production in the spiritual life.