March 03, 2008

"Trust without works is dead"

I was listening to a sermon on James 2 last night, and I was thinking about how much clearer the passage would be if pistis and it's cognates were translated consistently by "trust" and its cognates rather than by "faith" in the noun form and "believe" or "have faith" in the verb. Let me demonstrate. Here is my translation of vv. 14-25:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters[1], if someone claims to trust, but does not perform [any] actions? Is that 'trust' able to save him? If there exists a brother or sister and they[2] are naked and lacking daily food and someone among you says to them: "Go in peace, be warm and filled," but does not give the necessary things to them what good is that?

But someone says: "you have trust, and I have actions: show me your 'trust' without action[3], and I will show you my trust by my actions." Do you 'trust' that God is one? Good job! The demons also 'trust' [in this way] - and tremble!

Do you want to know, senseless person, that 'trust' without action[3] does nothing? Wasn't Abraham our father judged to be on the right side of the law on account of [his] actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that trust was working together with his actions and that by action[3] trust is brought to completion, and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham trusted God and it was credited toward his being on the right side of the law" and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is judged to be on the right side of the law because of actions and not because of 'trust' only. Likewise, wasn't Rahab the prostitute judged to be on the right side of the law on account of her actions when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also 'trust' without action[3] is dead.

[1] I translate adelphoi, plural, as "brothers and sisters" as it does typically refer to a mixed group, but adelphos, singular, as "brother," as it does not typically refer to a female.
[2] Yes, this is the singular "they." The ESV uses singular "they" here too. Why? Because there's a switch from singular to plural in the Greek. James is not a native speaker.
[3] Lit. 'actions' (pl.)

Isn't that much clearer? The message is to "put your money where your mouth is." Just as in the example someone who doesn't provide for the needs of the poor is not serious in desiring them to "be warm and filled," so someone who claims to trust another person but is unwilling to actually rely on that person day to day is not serious about trusting. Trust does not simply involve intellectual assent. Rather it involves adopting an attitude toward another person, and that attitude is necessarily visible in action.

Posted by Kenny at March 3, 2008 08:12 AM
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