I don't mean by my question that I'm looking to identify a particular individual. I'm just confused by the statement made there. James begins this section in verse 14: "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?" (James 2:14 NIV)

And then in verse 18 it seems to get flipped around: "But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.'"

This "someone" doesn't seem like the man in verse 14 claiming faith but having no deeds; this man claims to have deeds. Is this a new opponent of James? James seems to immediately go back to attacking the idea that one can have faith without deeds. So is this man raising a new objection that isn't dealt with?

  • I just posted an answer on a related question: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/1864/367
    – swasheck
    May 31, 2012 at 16:33
  • It is a person from the same group. That group is directly addressed in 2:18 and the example person from that group is first referenced in 2:14 while addressing James' brothers. Between 2:14 and 2:18 James turns from his brothers to face his adversaries. Literally. Picture them all at the temple together, sitting in like-minded groups, and James turning to face those whom he has most recently addressed. Out of 108 verses in James, there are at least 28 phrases which directly address some group or individual. Expect the audience James is facing to change each time he says so. Sep 17, 2013 at 18:08

2 Answers 2


It's a good question.

Unfortunately the answer appears to be that it's just really unclear. We know what James is arguing, but exactly how is a little more problematic. Leading people to look at different ways of handling the "quote" James gives.

Moo gives a nice little section in "James: An Introduction and Commentary" in Tyndale. But I think his conclusion sits well with what Burdick gives:

The problem of identifying the persons referred to by the pronouns “you” and “I” is not easily resolved. Perhaps it is best to paraphrase the quotation as follows: “One person has faith; another has deeds.” The statement then becomes an assertion that faith and works are not necessarily related to each other and that it is possible to have either one without the other (Tasker, pp. 64–66). To this assertion James responds with a challenge: “Show me your faith without deeds.”

(Gaebelein, F. E., Morris, L., Burdick, D. W., Blum, E. A., Barker, G. W., & Johnson, A. F. (1981). The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews Through Revelation (183). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)


Where does the diatribe with the imaginary interlocutor that begins in v. 18 end?

An imaginary “someone” (τις) addresses James in v. 18. In doing this James has introduced a dialog with a straw man (an interlocutor) as his chosen form of diatribe. We can assume that at some point James responds to this interlocutor with a rebuttal otherwise it would be a failed attempt to “demolish an opposing argument” (Dowd, “Faith” in Expositor, 198). We can also assume that at some point James ends this “back-and-forth” with this interlocutor since v. 26 is clearly a summary and Jas. 3:1 represents a significant shift in thought.

The first interpretive method takes vv. 18-25 as a unit that represents one argument between James and the interlocutor. This is Burdick’s chosen method of interpretation as he sees Rahab’s example of faith as complementary to Abraham’s and therefore subsumed into the argument with the interlocutor (Burdick, James, 185). Blue also seems to endorse this interpretation though it may be that he finds the end of the diatribe exegetically insignificant and instead chooses to focus on the examples (Blue, James, 826).

While taking the two examples as a single unit seems to be the logical decision there is a significant clue in the Greek text that helps determine the end of the diatribe. Whereas, beginning in v. 18, the verbs of direct address are all singular, James shifts his attention to the audience with “You see …” (ὁρᾶτε). Many commentators are quick to pick up on this transition and point to the shift in attention (Moo, James, 114; Adamson, James, 132; Davids, James, 78).

Thus it seems that James’ intent was to address an anticipated objection with this diatribe and used Abraham’s example to rebuff the objection and derive the theological principle found in vv. 22-23. But why would the example of Abraham’s faith adequately rebuff the objection of the interlocutor but not that of the very real audience? Perhaps James anticipated objections that Abraham is a difficult example to follow and used the example of Rahab to give the congregation no excuse to not act on faith.

(taken from my answer here)

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