ALL Bible students know that there is a conflict between the teaching of James and
Paul in regard to salvation and justification, as to whether they are obtained by works
and faith, or faith alone. Note the following:
Now if these scriptures, do not flatly contradict each other, and
absolutely refuse to be reconciled or interpreted as meaning the same thing, then I fail
to understand the use of language. I am not seeking to raise a conflict between Paul and
James. The conflict is already there. I am seeking the true interpretation of each, for
both are Divinely inspired and are written under the Holy Spirit's direction. Both are
true, let us never doubt that. But why this great difference in that which is necessary to
It is useless waste of time to try to harmonize such directly opposite phrases as occur
above. James says faith is dead unless you have works with it. And to show how dead it is,
he says, "For as the body is dead without the spirit, just so is faith without
works." Of what use is a "dead body?" Faith is just as useless. This
admits of no other interpretation. To show the stability of his position, and how
earnestly he held to his belief that he was right he says, "If a man say he have
faith, can faith save him?" James would certainly say no!
There are many explanations brought out to explain or harmonize this passage, such as
"If a man just say he has faith, will that save him?" Implying that the man may
be lying, etc. I myself have heard this explanation offered. What did the eunuch say unto
Philip? "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Philip baptized him,
that was all. He just said I have faith. So then this sort of explanation will not stand
the test. James means something else.
James says, "Ye see brethren, how that by works a man is justified and not
by faith alone." According to this statement no man can ever stand justified
before God without he have some works, for he says, "A man is justified by works,
and not by faith alone." Then justification is attained by works rather
than by faith (for James). Notice the emphatic way he puts these statements. There is no
possibility of harmonizing those with Paul's "faith without works."
I know one great Bible teacher, who, in trying to harmonize these statements with
present truth, (salvation by faith alone), says: "James is speaking from man's stand
point, while Paul is speaking from God's standpoint." An explanation that fails to
explain anything. It is his own guess. We prefer to take God's own explanation of the
whole matter, for in such a difficulty as this, God does not allow any two of His inspired
apostles to flatly contradict each other without having ample explanation somewhere
revealed in His Word. This could not be, so let us go back and look for it.
God's Word is written to reveal Himself and the purpose which He purposed in Christ
(Eph.3:11) first to man, then the church, then through that to all celestial intelligences
in the universe (Cp Eph.3:10,11; 1:10; Rev.4:11).
Through His Word we learn that God has created the heavens and the earth (Gen.1:1), all
for the purpose of displaying to all created intelligences His manifold wisdom and purpose
in Christ (Eph.2:7; 3:10,11). Now consider these two, the earth and the heavens. God's
manifold purpose concerns all of these spheres, to establish, people, and inhabit all for
His eternal glory through Christ Jesus our Lord. Now the point I wish to make clear from
the foregoing is that, God has created these spheres for the final and eternal destiny of
man kind (so far as we can now judge), for in the final analogy according to His Word we
find man inhabiting each of these.
It is nowhere revealed that all mankind have their eternal destiny up in heaven.
Neither is it revealed that earth, even the new earth, is to be the final destiny of all
men. The farthest, most remote occurrence revealed in the Word of God, is brought to us by
Paul, and it is that final ultimate that, "God will (at some future time) be All
in all" (1 Cor.15:28). But this furnishes no location for the all. But all
is of God, and all is through God, and all is into God (Rom.11:36).
Now God has had, and still has, an earthly people, with an earthly inheritance
(Israel). This people has an earthly ministry, a commission fitted to them, so as to
reveal to them their earthly kingdom glories as promised them in the Scriptures of truth.
The Lord Himself said to one of their rulers, "If I have told you of earthly
things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly
things?" Heavenly things are still beyond the ken of that people of God. Let us
understand that they are bound up with the earth and its coming glories. It is not
given them to understand heavenly things. Therefore their teachers, leaders, and those
commissioned to minister to them, could not unfold to them the heavenly
"secret," the mystery of the church, the one body, which was hidden in God,
during the run of all past ages until announced through Paul, God's chosen vessel for that
purpose. Then why, I ask, shall we even expect James to agree with Paul? Especially, when
James is writing to the twelve tribes (James 1:1), who have their inheritance on earth
(Psa.37:29), and are the sheep of His pasture (pastures are in earth, not in heaven),
while Paul is writing to a people whose inheritance is up in heaven, and all in Christ
(Eph.1:3) not on earth at all? How could the same gospel possibly fit both of these
peoples? It seems folly to talk about the standpoint of James being from that of man, and
the standpoint of Paul being from God. All Scripture is a revelation from God to man. If
James was inspired to write that, "Faith without works is dead," then to
those to whom he wrote, faith is dead without works (to the twelve tribes).
This is what God said! Then too, when Paul says, "A man is justified by faith,
without the deeds of the law," (he is inspired also), then, to those to whom he
wrote (all who will believe his glad message of grace) a man is justified by
faith, without works. This is what God says also, and is true.
Let us now consider the two gospels, the two commissions, as proclaimed by the
God-appointed leaders of each of these peoples. Let us inquire, are they the same gospel
only (as some say) given to two classes of people? Let us see if, according to the
Scriptures, they are identical. This is the vital point at issue, for herein lies the
conflict between Paul and James. We know that there is a fundamental difference between
Israel and the church throughout the Word of God, and this difference is kept inviolate
and is maintained unto the end. Then when James unhesitatingly says that he is writing to
the twelve tribes he is saying nothing to the church which is the body of Christ.
Now, why not hold this truth just as the Holy Spirit has placed it, to and for
the people to whom it was written? How can God ever get a message through to the
Hebrews if the church grabs all, no matter to whom written, for itself? This is
just what they are doing regardless of their Divinely given commission to the contrary.
Without Scriptural authority for our assertions all are at sea. My guess is as good as
anyone's. But we want no guesswork when dealing with the Word of God. If He has not
outlined the way, then better await further revelation, but if He has, then follow until
death! We know definitely that there was a commission given to Paul to proclaim to the
gentiles. We know just as surely that a commission was given to Peter, James, and John
to proclaim to the Jews. And these were wrought out and given under Holy Spirit
power and direction (Gal.2:7-9). We know further that we have no record of the abrogation
of either of these two commissions in the Word of God. Let us not make the Word of God of
none effect by our traditions.
We read in Gal.2:7, of "the gospel of the Circumcision," and "the gospel
of the Uncircumcision." Are they the same gospel?" Let the Word answer. Paul
says, "I went up [to Jerusalem] by revelation and communicated unto them that
gospel which I preached among the gentiles..." (Gal.2:2). If this was the same gospel
Peter, James, and John were preaching, what need of explaining it to the elders at
Jerusalem? It was not the same. What was it that made it necessary for the Lord to reveal
to Paul that he was to go up to Jerusalem? "And certain men which came down from
Judea taught the brethren (Paul's converts), and said, Except ye be circumcised after the
manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small
dissension and disputation with them they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain
other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this
question" (Acts 15:1,2).
Now, what was "this question?" It was the same question as that at the
opening of this article. The same one that causes the conflict between Paul and James. Is
salvation by faith, or by faith and works combined? This church at Jerusalem knew nothing
of a salvation without works. So saturated with the keeping of the law of Moses were they,
that twenty years after Pentecost, they said to Paul, "Thou seest, brother, how many
thousands of Jews there are that believe, and they are all zealous of the law"
(Acts 21:20). Now anyone should be able to see that the church at Jerusalem, these elders,
Peter, James, and John were fighting bravely for a gospel of law-works and faith
combined. Nothing else can explain their position here. Why try to warp the
Scriptures out of all semblance of what they teach, and force upon them a meaning totally
foreign to their intent?
Now while this was going on, Paul was contending just as manfully for his gospel of
faith alone, without works, without any works as an aid to salvation or justification.
Just here lies the major difficulty, and it is fundamental. This is why it
brought on such a commotion that the Holy Spirit Himself came and laid His hand upon the
men most concerned in the matter at this conference, and gave unto each his special
commission (Gal.2:7-9). What was it? That Paul should go and minister to the gentiles,
while the elders, Peter, James, and John, should go and minister to the Jews. Notice, the
Holy Spirit is careful to say that there are two gospels here, "the gospel of
the Circumcision, and the gospel of the Uncircumcision." It is not the gospel to
each, that is, to carry the same gospel to each, but there is a gospel of the Circumcision
(which included faith and works), and there is a gospel of the Uncircumcision (salvation
by faith alone). Now Paul was to carry this latter to the gentiles, while the elders were
to proclaim the former to the Jews. And note this, never do we find a record where
this was ever changed, canceled, or fused into one gospel.
Note carefully another point. Paul says he went up to Jerusalem and explained "that
gospel" which he preached among the gentiles. Did the Holy Spirit at the
conference tell Paul that he must change "that" gospel of his so it would
"fit" into that of the elders? Did He? Did He tell the elders to change
their gospel to fit in with Paul's? Did He? There is not even a hint of it. If such a
change was ever to be made, here certainly is the place for it to appear, but there is
none. This arrangement then is of Divine origin. Let us not "make the Word of God of
none effect, by our traditions" (Mark 7:13).
Therefore henceforth we know James is proclaiming the inspired Word of God when he
says, "Faith without works is dead" (to the twelve tribes, to whom he is
writing, James 1:1), because he, and those to whom he writes, are still standing by their
Divinely given commission, or rather by their original doctrine of "faith and
works," as coming out into fuller kingdom truth as expressed also by Peter in his
sermon in Acts 3:19-20.
Now, the epistle of James was, in all probability, written some twenty years before
that conference at Jerusalem, and this only goes the more forcibly to prove that the
gospel of the elders of the church at Jerusalem held with James exactly, when they say
that thousands of Jews "believe but they are all zealous of the law." The
"faith and works" expressed in James' epistle is echoed in the church at
Jerusalem. They are at one in their teaching. Now this gospel held its
"right-of-way" among them just so long as God's special favor was held open
towards Israel. Peter, one of their elders, said unto them: "Repent and be
converted...and God shall send Jesus Christ, Who was before preached unto you" (Acts
3:19,20). But they would not (Acts 4:1-3). So this condition continued on to Acts 28:28,
where God's special favor towards this people ceased, and He closed the door against
Israel as such, and they sank down on a level with the nations or lower, for instead of
"the Jew first" today, it is nearer the truth to say the Jew last. They were
then, and are still set aside, as a nation, until the "times of the gentiles be
fulfilled" (Rom.11: 25). We know as a fact that Israel, as a nation, is set aside
today. Surely then, all that pertained to them alone, is as surely in abeyance also. It
could not be otherwise. Paul says, "...because we thus judge, that if One died for
all, then were all dead" (2 Cor.5:14). Upon the same basis we will say, because we
thus judge that if Israel, as such, is held in abeyance, in the purpose of God today, then
all that pertained to them, their king, their kingdom, their kingdom gospel, their gospel
of faith and works, the epistles written directly to them as such are all just as surely
held in abeyance together with them. This is why Paul and James do not agree.
One writer, who is well qualified to know, has this to say in regard to these epistles
to the Dispersion, "In days not far off these epistles will appeal to Israel when to
them the gospel of the kingdom is once more proclaimed. To the preachers will again be
committed the "powers" of Pentecostal days, to be exercised once more as
exemplified in James 5:14,15." This we believe to be God's plan and purpose.
Therefore we also judge that it is not a matter of "standpoint," either of James
or Paul, but a matter of "Thus saith the Lord." It is a matter of to whom
God is speaking.
Many shelve the whole subject by saying, "Well, were they not Christian Jews James
wrote to?" Judge for yourselves. They doubtless believed that Jesus was the Messiah,
but they believed that works constituted one righteous. If they sinned they offered
sacrifices according to Moses, kept up circumcision, and were zealous of the law. This is
the sort of Christians they were. This, we do not hesitate to say, is "unfinished
business," when salvation by grace through faith alone is reigning. We need no
law-works today to make us righteous in the sight of God. It would but tend to make the
perfect work of Christ inefficient!
If the epistle of James was written in A. D. 45, as many commentators believe, or the
year before the Jerusalem Council, which was held in about A. D. 45 or 46, then we see
that James and the great church at Jerusalem held the same doctrines, proclaimed the same
gospel, and held to circumcision and the keeping of the law of Moses to constitute them
righteous, or give them salvation. "For except ye be circumcised after the manner of
Moses, ye cannot be saved."
Paul's letter to the Galatians was written in A. D. 57, or early in 58. In the first
part of this epistle the apostle comes forward with the proof of his Divine authority, and
the Divine source of the gospel which he received, setting forth the fact that the gospel
"which he proclaimed was underived of man (not of the twelve or any other man), but
was a direct revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Gal.1:11,12). "For
I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not after
man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but (I received it) by
the revelation of Jesus Christ." What gospel was this? Was it the same as that
proclaimed by the church at Jerusalem? Was it the same as James had written? Was it the
same as Peter had proclaimed? If so, I ask, Why was it necessary for Paul to have to get
it by revelation from the Lord? The only possible answer is that it was not the same
gospel. Then why try to force the messages of those who are all zealous of the law, to
agree with Paul's new revelation which excludes law?
The teaching of the Bible, with the exception of Paul's epistles, which relate to the
Divine purpose in the heavens, follow one definite line of thought--the establishment of
the kingdom of God on earth. The culmination and climax is seen in Rev.11:15, "The
kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ."
What was the distinctive feature of Paul's gospel? There must have been some striking
differences or there never would have arisen the difficulties that we find in the Word. In
latter part of the 24th verse of Acts 20 we have this statement, "...so that I might
finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I received of the Lord Jesus, to
testify, or preach, the gospel of the grace of God." Let us place another
Scripture alongside of that. "That the gentiles should be joint-heirs, and of the
same joint-body, and joint-partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel whereof I (not
the twelve) was made a minister, according to the gift of His grace given unto me by the
effectual working of His power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this
grace given, that I (I alone, not Peter, James, nor John) should preach among the gentiles
the unsearchable riches of Christ; (unsearchable riches are riches that have never before
been searched out, or revealed. What are they? Listen) and to make all men see what is the
dispensation (not fellowship) of the "mystery" which from the beginning of
the ages hath been hid in God" (Eph.3:6-9). "Who now rejoice in my
sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my
flesh for His body's sake, which is the church: whereof I (myself alone) am made a
minister, according to the administration of God which was given to me for you, to fill
out the Word of God: Even the "mystery" which hath been hid from the ages and
from generations, but is now made manifest to His saints: To whom God would make known
what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the gentiles, which is Christ in
you, the hope of glory" (Col.1:24-27).
Wonderful Word of God! Are the unsearchable riches in Christ circumcision and
law-keeping? Is the "mystery" that was "hidden in God through all past
ages," seen in the epistles of James? Do you find it revealed in the church at
Jerusalem? Do Peter, James, or John have a single word to say or write concerning it? If
they do, then it was never "kept silent" until after Paul's conversion. Let me
say that the epistles of the elders of the church at Jerusalem have no place in the
dispensation of the mystery. Why should they? They are definitely written to and
concerning another people altogether, and their writers admit the same. God's Word teaches
us that Paul was God's chosen vessel to unfold the "mystery" unto the gentile
nations. Why should we struggle, fight, and fume to have all the other writers declare the
same thing, when from the very beginning it was held separate? What is the use of Paul's
writings, if Peter, James, and John wrote the same things to the same peoples?
What is the use of God having a people who were chosen from before the
foundation of the world, a people with a heavenly destiny (Eph.1:3,4), and also
having a people who have a kingdom prepared for them from (or since) the foundation
of the world (Matt.25:34), a people with an earthly destiny, if the church of today
is to absorb everything? James does not agree with Paul, and there is a reason. It
was never intended that he should.
Let us leave some of God's writings for those that shall come after the church is
caught away. It is the body of Christ, and will soon be with Him in glory. Praise His
name! But there will be many millions of people left in the earth. What Scriptures will
they look to in that dread era? God will write no new book for them, they must find their
solace in the one we now have. The Dispersion Epistles, the book of Hebrews, and
Revelation will then come in, will be revitalized by Holy Spirit power, and will fill up
the Word of God for them in deed and in truth.