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The issue of 'faith without is works is dead' was covered in comments on this blog back on June 5, 2010 in the following post.
The Jeff was most helpful.
This celebrated passage was a stumbling block to Reformed Theologian Martin Luther. Carson (1986: 1541). And therefore one can acknowledge there is a level of sophistication involved with this subject. It continues to be a complex and controversial issue today.
For the Apostle Paul, faith in the New Testament has to do with legal justification before God, as in the texts of Romans and Galatians. Carson (1986: 1541-1543).
For James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, the meaning is somewhat different, as vindication is meant as in showing righteousness to God and humanity. Carson (1986: 1541-1543).
In Paul's writings, deeds of law are discussed, in regard to the topic of merit (and lack of). Carson (1986: 1541-1543).
In the Book of James, faith has to do with love and obedience. Carson (1986: 1541-1543).
James is concerned with the evidence for faith before God and persons. As in a public testimony. Carson (1986: 1541-1543).
Paul states human beings are not justified by works. Carson (1986: 1541-1543). This is of course very notable in Ephesians as in Chapter 2, in Romans 4, and in Galatians 2.
James does not contradict this in 2: 24. Carson (1986: 1541-1543).
Legal justification and therefore salvation is not in mind but rather justification and righteousness in works for one that already has saving faith. Carson (1986: 1541-1543).
Carson mentions Calvin's idea that faith alone justifies (saves) but faith alone should never be alone. Carson (1986: 1541-1543).
Barclay writes that it is only through deeds that faith can prove itself and only through faith that deeds with be attempted and done. Barclay (1975: 78).
Barclay reasons faith is bound to overflow into action. Barclay (1975: 78).
'Faith and deeds are the opposite sides of man's experience with God.' Barclay (1975: 79).
Barclay views no one's faith as genuine unless it moves his/her to action. Barclay (1975: 79).
Persons in 1 Corinthians 3, Hebrews 6, 2 Peter 3 and James 2 could all be considered to have dead or weak faith (James 2: 26, faith without works is dead).
Salvation, in agreement with Carson, and perhaps in disagreement with Barclay, or saving faith is not what is being discussed, rather works and lack of as a believer.
This makes sense and is theologically reasonable in light of 2 Corinthians 5: 10 where Christians that have their sin atoned for via Christ (Ephesians 2) are still judged for works.
outwV kai h pistiV ean mh ech erga nekra estin kaq eauthn
So indeed - faith if it has not works, dead/useless is by itself.
From the New Testament, Bauer views the term 'dead faith' in James, 2: 26, also 17 and 20 as useless faith. Dead works cannot bring about 'eternal life'. Bauer (1976: 534-535).
Carson too used the term useless faith as in dead faith. Carson (1986: 1542).
I am not convinced that a useless/dead faith belongs to unbelievers in the context of James 2, but rather to as Carson noted, basically those in Christ lacking deeds of righteousness.
In my mind those outside of Christ would possess no faith, not useless faith or dead faith which implies a faith, some faith, a saving faith, although very deficient. True, this deficient faith would feature non-works not worthy of everlasting life, but that does not mean that the person's involved do not have everlasting life in Christ.
BARCLAY, WILLIAM (1976) The Letters of James and Peter, Philadelphia, The Westminster Press.
BAUER, WALTER. (1979) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Translated by Eric H. Wahlstrom, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.
CARSON T. (1986) ‘James', in F.F. Bruce (ed.),The International Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, Zondervan.
MARSHALL, ALFRED (1975)(1996) The Interlinear KJV-NIV, Grand Rapids, Zondervan.