Martin Luther, initiator of the Protestant Reformation and founder of the Lutheran Church, described James’ letter as an “epistle of straw.” His characterization was far from accurate. On the contrary, James’ is an epistle of great depth.
Anyone who carefully studies James 2 can plainly see that James teaches that Christian faith is more than mere good thoughts. He demands that a Christian believer prove his faith by his actions.
Some scholars think Luther judged James’ letter inferior to Paul’s epistles because—in Luther’s view—Paul taught faith without works:”Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law”(Romans 3:28 Romans 3:28Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
American King James Version×).Luther’s misguided assumption was that Paul was enlightened on the subject of faith and saw no need for works while James was not enlightened because he advocated the need for works.
Luther failed to see that Paul never contradicted James. How could he? They both followed Jesus Christ’s teachings in exactly the same way, as we can see when we put together the scriptures on the topic to better understand it.
Let’s understand how Paul and James thought alike on the subject of faith and works. Paul understood that salvation is a gift from God and not something we can earn by our efforts.Yet he also knew that faith is proven—demonstrated to be genuine—by our works. Notice how he put it in Ephesians 2:8-10 Ephesians 2:8-10 8 For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
American King James Version×:”For by grace you have been saved through faith,and that not of yourselves;it is the gift of God, not of works,lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works ,which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them .”
In fact, Paul said almost the same thing as James when he wrote,”For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified” (Romans 2:13 Romans 2:13(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
American King James Version×; compare James 1:22-25 James 1:22-25 22 But be you doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like to a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was. 25 But whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
American King James Version×).
Paul was on the same page with James, especially on the vastly misunderstood subject of faith and works. Both apostles taught that a disciple’s faith is proven and perfected by his works. GN