Author: Ron Graham
Does Paul Contradict James?
—Justified by Faith Versus Justified by Works
The chart below is provided to help clear up the feeling that some people have, that Paul contradicts James over how we are justified. Statements by Paul and James are complementary not contradictory.
There are two views on faith and works
- James gives his view in James 2. James claims we are justified by works, and that "faith without works" is useless (James 2:17,24).
- Paul gives his view in Romans 3 and 4. Paul claims we are justified by "faith without works" (Romans 3:28).
These views at first sight may seem contradictory, but they are not contradictory at all. They are not even different doctrines. Paul and James held the same doctrine but were defending it against two different errors. Each error can be described as "faith without works" but not in the same sense.
Compare James’s Teaching with Paul’s
1 Use of the term “without works”
Paul means that, although doing our best to do good works, we lack the perfect record of obedience which God requires. We have broken the law, therefore we cannot be saved on the basis of our own righteous in keeping in the law. We are "without works" in that sense, and must rely instead upon faith (Romans 4:28).
James means that if not doing our best to do good works, we lack the diligent attempt at obedience which God requires. James is talking about faith which fails to make a dedicated effort to obey Jesus Christ. When a person is "without works" in that sense, then their faith is not genuine, and such faith is useless (James 2:17,20).
2 What is Necessary to Salvation?
Paul asserts that faith is necessary to salvation (Romans 5:1, Philippians 2:12-13).
James asserts that works are necessary to salvation (James 2:24).
While these are two different statements, there is no a contradiction, any more than if one person says a positive attitude is necessary to wellbeing and another says exercise is necessary to wellbeing. The simple fact is that both faith and works are necessary to salvation. When Paul tells us we need to have faith, we accept that. When James tells us we need to have works, we accept that too. Both are necessary and there is no contradiction.
3 Faith Alone and Works Alone
Paul teaches you cannot be saved by works alone without faith (Romans 3:20,23).
James teaches you cannot be saved by faith alone without works (James 2:22,24).
This is the simplest way to understand the teaching of James and Paul. There is no contradiction between Paul and James because they both support the need to put faith and works together. Its like saying that I cannot see through my glasses alone without my eyes, and I cannot see through my eyes alone without my glasses. No contradiction at all.