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The NSRV translates this verse correctly as

… if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? James 2:14

A variety of Christian translations render the verse a different way and insert "such" or "that" without textual support:

... if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? (NIV)

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? (NLT)

if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (ESV)

if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (NASB)

Why do these translators choose to make this insertion?

2 Answers 2

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Translators who insert modifiers like "such" or "this kind of" before "faith" have apparently decided to clarify the text so that it cannot be read to contradict the Pauline doctrine of salvation/justification by faith alone. So the question becomes: does the need for clarification support inserting words that are not there in the original?

The answer is a matter of opinion. Those who believe it is important to render the text in such a way as to avoid theological confusion will answer that it is justified. Those who believe it is more important to stick to the literal meaning of the original will say it is not necessary. So will those who disagree with Pauline soteriology, seeing such changes as covering up a clear contradiction of Paul by James.

Personally, in this case I prefer keeping the text close to the original and dealing with theological clarifications, if editors think them necessary, in footnotes.

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  • I’m not sure why this was downvoted, it seems less than ideal to “correct” the text Commented Mar 28 at 12:42
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    @AviAvraham, down voted because this answer is pure opinion and speculation and is not at all helpful.
    – Austin
    Commented Mar 29 at 1:49
  • @Austin I appreciate knowing the reason for the downvote. Commented Mar 29 at 13:23
  • @DanFefferman, you're welcome. I do agree with your over all preference, "keeping the text close to the original and dealing with theological clarifications, if editors think them necessary, in footnotes." This seems best in general.
    – Austin
    Commented Mar 29 at 14:47
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In Jam. 2:14, the noun “faith” occurs twice: first, «πίστιν», which is indefinite or anarthrous, and then «ἡ πίστις», which is definite.

The author is discussing faith which does not have works:

14 My brothers, what is the advantage if someone says that he has faith, but he does not have works? Can that faith save him?

ΙΔʹ Τί τὸ ὄφελος ἀδελφοί μου ἐὰν πίστιν λέγῃ τις ἔχειν ἔργα δὲ μὴ ἔχῃ μὴ δύναται ἡ πίστις σῶσαι αὐτόν

A few verses later in Jam. 2:17, the author states, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”.

17 Likewise, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

ΙΖʹ οὕτως καὶ ἡ πίστις ἐὰν μὴ ἔργα ἔχῃ νεκρά ἐστιν καθ᾽ ἑαυτήν

Therefore, in Jam. 2:14, the faith to which the author refers is dead faith, a faith which is not proven to be genuine by works (cf. Jam. 2:18).

What is the justification for translating James 2:14b as "Can such faith save them?"?

Because the «ἡ πίστις» in Jam. 2:14 is referring by anaphora to the previous «πίστιν» in the same verse, it is appropriate to use the demonstrative adjective “that” (or something similar) when translating «ἡ πίστις» to indicate such a reference.

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Most translations that do so usually include a footnote alerting the reader of the literal translation (which the NASB, at least, does).

David Alan Black writes,1

The so-called anaphoric use of the article has an even more particularizing function. Anaphora...is the reference back to what is known or assumed to be known... Any noun, once it has been used, can be so defined. Additional examples include:...

μὴ δύναται ἡ πίστις σῶσαι αὐτόν; can the [aforementioned] faith save him? (James 2:14). The rendering “Can faith save him?” (KJV and others) implies that a person is not saved by faith. But in the first part of the verse James inquires, “What is the benefit, my brothers, if someone says he has faith [πίστιν, anarthrous] but does not have works?” Then he asks, “Such faith [ἡ πίστις, arthrous] is not able to save him, is it?” The article with the second use of πίστις designates the particular kind of faith James has in mind—non-works-producing faith. James’s point is that genuine faith must express itself in works.

Daniel Wallace writes,2

  1. Anaphoric (Previous Reference)

    a) Definition

    The anaphoric article is the article denoting previous reference... The first mention of the substantive is usually anathrous because it is merely being introduced. But subsequent mentions of it use the article, for the article is now pointing back to the substantive previously mentioned. The anaphoric article has, by nature, then, a pointing force to it, reminding the reader of who or what was mentioned previously. It is the most common use of the article and the easiest usage to identify.

    Jas. 2:14 Τί τὸ ὄφελος ἀδελφοί μου ἐὰν πίστιν λέγῃ τις ἔχειν ἔργα δὲ μὴ ἔχῃ μὴ δύναται ἡ πίστις σῶσαι αὐτόν

    What is the benefit, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? This [kind of] faith is not able to save him, is it?

    The author introduces his topic: faith without works. He then follows it with a question, asking whether this kind of faith is able to save. The use of the article both points back to a certain kind of faith as defined by the author and is used to particularize an abstract noun.

Footnotes
1 Black, pp. 77–78
2 Wallace, pp. 217–219
References
Black, David Alan. It’s Still Greek to Me: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to Intermediate Greek. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar, Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
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  • +1 This answer is very helpful. Thank you.
    – Austin
    Commented Mar 29 at 2:51

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