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has faith and does not have works?"

James 2:14 is the verse in question. James does not pose the first question, but the second one. Various translations put it:

“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” A.V.

“What [is] the profit, my brethren, if faith, any one may speak of having, and works he may not have? is that faith able to save him?” Y.L.T.

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” N.I.V.

“Of what benefit is it, my brothers, if a certain one says he has faith, but he does not have works? That faith cannot save him, can it?” N.W.T.

“My brothers, what good is it for someone to say that he has faith if his actions do not prove it? Can that faith save him?” G.N.B.

Now, I’m not aware of any translations that say, “What will it profit a man to have faith without works?” though if there are any, I would dearly like to know which ones do. I doubt if such a question can be found in any translation, given that James, knowing that to be impossible, expressed himself with great care.

However, if the text could lend itself to such a question, I would like to have that explained.

Further, if there is any translation that puts verse 14 as “What will it profit a man to have faith without works?” could that be detailed?

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  • there is no difference.
    – Michael16
    Apr 9, 2022 at 12:35
  • The original Greek word λέγω G3004 - legō is used over a thousand times in scripture, and clearly means to say or affirm. I can see that it could be interpreted as referring to someone that sincerely believes in their own faith, but not as referring to someone that actually has true faith. Apr 9, 2022 at 14:02
  • @Hold to the Rod I removed your edit to my Q because the first posed Q is hypothetical while the second posed Q is how James puts it in the text. As one answer has shown, there appears to be no translation of the text using the hypothetical Q. A point worth exploring is whether James could have put it the first way, or whether he never could have, given what he wrote in his letter about faith and works.
    – Anne
    Apr 10, 2022 at 9:24
  • 1
    @Anne sure thing - I was just trying to find a creative way to fit the whole question in the title =) Apr 10, 2022 at 12:31

5 Answers 5

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The wording of verse 20 suggests that the text of verse 14 does lend itself to being rephrased in the way the OP suggests.

14 What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? (NASB)

20 But are you willing to acknowledge, you foolish person, that faith without works is useless?

According to the text, faith by itself without works is useless, is dead. Works are the visible manifestation of the invisible action of faith.

18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

James offers the example of Abraham whose works, when he offered to sacrifice his son on the altar, testified to his faith. In turn his faith was perfected, not by the works themselves, but by the result of his works, which is the revealing of faith (cf 1 Jn 2:5, Mt 12:33) and the fulfillment of Scripture. The text lays out the importance of works, but the language is carefully and consistently crafted to keep the focus and priority on faith. The two work together, but faith is first.

22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God.

Can a faith without works, a faith which is considered dead, still be called faith? The passage does not explicitly address this question. The analogy from the text leads me to consider another question: What is the body without the spirit? It may still be a body, but there is no life in it.

26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

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The Greek text uses the noun form ὄφελος (ophelos) not the verb ωφελεω (ōpheleō), so the most literal translation will be something like "What is the profit ..." and not "What profits ...".

Of the 25 translations from the Greek shown on biblehub, none phrase the verse as you suggest.

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As the argument James was making is that you cannot have faith without works because to have faith requires the work of faith. Thus the distancing of "says" to suggest that someone, from an intellectual point of view can discuss faith without any work at all, but that is theorizing about faith, not having faith.

The example James gives of the work of faith is Abraham's offering up of Isaac, who was Abraham's hope and in whom Abraham trusted. To sacrifice that legacy required real risk.

If you do not risk, then your faith is not lived. You have to leap in order for God to catch you. But if you remain always secure but never leap, you will never see God catch you. The faith will be an intellectual opinion that is only talked about.

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  • Valid points; the only comment I make is that faith is a gift from God (Eph.2:8), not a work that we do. We exercise faith, yes, but faith is a gift of grace given to us in the first place. Just as athletes and body-builders have a 'work-out' to improve the tone of their muscles, yet their muscles were 'gifted' to them - not produced by themselves! They just exercised them.
    – Anne
    Aug 16, 2022 at 16:34
  • Yes, this is hairsplitting about the definition of works. E.g. there is a fine line here, but we must put ourselves in risk in order to live our faith - Jesus called some to sell their possessions and follow him, or we put ourselves at risk when we speak out, etc. That putting at risk is the work of faith. The ability to do this work comes from God's grace, so it is all from Him one way or another.
    – Robert
    Aug 16, 2022 at 16:53
  • Absolutely, yes. There's no question about taking risks due to exercising faith; indeed, we risk all for Christ and are given grace to endure to the end, in faith. We are agreed. Apologies if I appeared to be hairsplitting.
    – Anne
    Aug 16, 2022 at 17:08
  • No, LOL, I was saying that I was doing the hairsplitting, not you :) Thank you for your thoughtful comment.
    – Robert
    Aug 16, 2022 at 17:17
  • Smiles! That must have been my conscience at work, for I know I can be prone to that myself.
    – Anne
    Aug 16, 2022 at 17:24
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I would argue that the root cause of the FAITH-WORK dichotomy is the narrow perception (definition) of the ‘law’ in the priestly seed/strand of the Biblical material. Though the term ‘law’ itself is not a right term. For now, let’s replace it with the term ‘rule’ like the rules of a game. The general formula would be something like this:

Every player who plays the game of being a human must be faithful to the created features of the humankind.

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  • My Q is not asking about Paul’s statements on faith and works, as I’m not asking about a general topic. This is a specific Q on a particular verse Peter wrote, to examine why he did not ask, ‘What will it profit a man to have faith without works?’ The point is to examine the claim of a person saying he has faith but has no works to substantiate that claim. If you feel able to address my actual Q, just go into this answer of yours and click ‘Edit’ to add more points.
    – Anne
    Apr 15, 2022 at 10:26
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Paul tries to do a bypass surgery for the purpose of inclusion. However, his effort is kind of messy: assemblage of a lot of unrelated, and in some cases strange, concepts and ideas. James, who had first-hand knowledge of Jesus’s teachings, had every right to react. For James, Paul’s surgery is not a necessity since the natural way, in the midst of Pharisees darkness, needed clarification that was already provided by Jesus. Jesus himself knew that he would not have much time to go through every Priestly stuff one by one. His strategy though was to politely archive them and instead introduce a new discourse (not necessarily new stuff)!

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    Apr 14, 2022 at 22:37
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