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In James 2:14-16,24 (NASB)

What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (...) You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

In Romans 3:28 (NASB)

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Is the writer of James attacking Paul's position specially in Romans? This would imply James' letter was written after Romans.

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  • I had almost finished my answer when it was closed so I placed it in the duplicate referenced above.
    – Dottard
    Jun 4 at 9:37
  • @Dottard ahh apologies on that... Jun 4 at 9:40
  • Roman's was written several years after James, so it would not be possible for James to be attacking Paul's position in Romans. Jun 5 at 20:12
  • @Michael16 nah. My first reaction after finding that one was also to close as duplicate and that's where Dottard eventually wrote his answer in. But then after careful consideration they are not the same and it was reopened. Jun 6 at 8:55
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As shared in a variety of answers to the related question, the overwhelming consensus on this site is that Paul & James are not in disagreement with each other. This is my view as well (It is of course fair to point out that there are those who have argued that Paul & James are irreconcilable--Luther, for much of his life, being the most prominent example).

How to reconcile James & Paul is not the subject of the OP and has been extensively covered by other posts--but I would like to share a few thoughts specifically on the idea that one author is attacking the views of the other, and what it means for chronology.


I am particularly impressed by Mark Ellison's summary of the circumstances here.

A few points worth noting:

  • Paul's focus is on countering the view that salvation comes through the works of the Law [of Moses]
  • Paul is not saying that it does not matter what we do. Jesus specifically taught that what we do does matter:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

My thoughts relevant to Matthew 7:21 are shared in greater detail in discussion here on the parable of the pearl.


Who misunderstood?

One of the points Ellison makes particularly well is that while James' & Paul's teachings are not in direct conflict, it is very possible, even probable, that some of the Christians familiar with their teachings were in conflict. The confusion among the Galatians almost demands such an explanation.

It would be simplest then to conclude that either James is responding to misrepresentations of Paul's teachings (but Paul told me it doesn't matter what I do! No, he didn't), or that Paul is responding to misrepresentations of James' teachings (But James said we're saved by the works of the Law. No, he didn't), or both.

Since Paul--in both Galatians & Romans--makes a much more extensive argument, I suggest that the epistle of James came prior to either of these Pauline epistles. I have no trouble seeing Paul's writings as a thorough critique of the misuse of James; I have a much harder time seeing the brief exegesis by James as a thorough response to the misuse of Paul--were it not so, we should expect an exegesis on grace to feature prominently in a rebuttal by James.

I see in James & Galatians much that reflects the debates of the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, and my own New Testament chronology puts both epistles in temporal proximity to the council.

Questions from the OP

Is the writer of James attacking Paul's position specially in Romans? I don't think so, but rather James is countering the misuse of Paul's teachings.

This would imply James' letter was written after Romans. We do not know with certainty, but I doubt it. Paul's dissertations on grace are written in response to Judaizers, and in Galatians he even speaks of disruption from "certain men who came from James" (Gal. 2:12), suggesting that James and his words were prominent before Paul was. Paul is writing in response to people who have misused James' words.

A plausible series of events

  • Paul preaches the doctrine of grace on his first missionary journey (~ AD 46-49)
  • Some take Paul out of context and use his teachings as a license for sin
  • James corrects this misuse of Christian teaching in his epistle (~49)
  • The Jerusalem Council addresses related issues in AD 49
  • Some of the Judaizers take James out of context and use his teachings to uphold the view that salvation comes by the observance of the Law of Moses
  • Paul corrects this misuse of Christian teaching in his epistle to the Galatians (~AD 49-50)
  • Paul introduces his teachings to the Christians in Rome--whom he has never visited--covering much of the same ground that is still causing divisions between Jew & Gentile--in his epistle to the Romans in AD 56 or 57
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Martin Luther initially thought that James contradicted not only Paul, but the entire essence of Christianity, that is to say, the necessity and crucial importance of grace and faith in Jesus Christ, through whom one can defeat the sin and is no more under the bond of Law as to do the same deeds that the Law prescribes those who are under it. Therefore, initially Luther even discarded James’ letter from the canon of the New Testament. Happily, later he realized his mistake and returned this letter to the canon.

The mistake is caused by the semantics of the word “deeds”, “works”, for one thing is a) works of the Law and other thing is b) the works of faith in grace; James does not speak that faith is dead without the first type of works, but that faith is dead without the second type of works. Paul also says that those who enter the life of faith should do good works of faith (Titus 3:8); and, in fact, does not Paul say that God will repay to all according to their deeds (ἔργα) (Romans 2:6), and if so, is not it fully unreasonable to think that he excludes the Christians from "ἑκάστῳ" ("to each")? Thus, even for Paul the works/deeds is necessary for Christians, but not deeds of the Law that is obsolete after the advent of Christ, but the deeds of faith. And Peter says the same as well (1 Peter 2:12), for Christ’s salvific grace which we got access to through faith does not work salvation in us, so to say, automatically, without our conscious free co-working, without us increasing through our efforts this grace in our lives, bearing many fruits. Does not Jesus Christ Himself say through the parable of sower that some faithful will fail to bear fruits due to their sluggishness and concerns of the worldly pursuits?

Thus all, the Lord Himself, Peter, Paul and James say one and the same thing: without deeds of faith, without conscious efforts to increase and intensify Christ’s presence in us through our synergy with His grace, we are in danger to lose this grace and then one can say that our faith is dead and barren, for it bears no fruits.

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