Martin Luther & James
Martin Luther did not like the book of Ya’acov (Jacob; trans. as “James”). In fact, he thought it should be thrown out of the New Testament. Why? He did not believe Ya’acov’s (James’) statement: “Faith without works is dead.” Instead, he believed that our relationship with God was based on faith – and faith alone, as stated by Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) in the book of Romans:
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:28)
Not only did Martin Luther see a contradiction here, but I have heard different Christian ministers say the same thing. However, what apparently all these people do not see is that there isn’t any contradiction here at all.
Paul & James – “Are They Really Different Views?”
But Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) and Ya’acov (James) both go back to Avraham (trans. “Abraham”) as their example to prove their point. But have you ever wondered how Avraham (Abraham) could be used to prove two contradictory views? What Martin Luther and these ministers don’t seem to note is that Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) and Ya’acov (James) are looking at two different points in Avraham’s (Abraham’s) life. Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is looking at Avraham’s (Abraham’s) life before the birth of Yitzchak (Isaac), when he was having to believe that God was going to give him and Sarah a son, and Ya’acov (James) is looking at Avraham’s (Abraham’s) life AFTER Yitzchak (Isaac) was born and God was wanting to see who Avraham (Abraham) loved more: God or Yitzchak (Isaac), his son?
Avram’s Life – Before Isaac
Obviously, these two points in his life required different things in the life of Avraham (Abraham). Before Yitzchak (Isaac) was born, Avraham (Abraham) was having to trust God that He was going to keep His Word to him to give Sarah and him a son. In fact, it seems by Genesis 15, he had pretty much extinguished his trust in God’s Word. Because when the LORD spoke to Avraham (Abraham) in a vision, saying,
Fear not Abram: I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward. (Genesis 15:1)
In response to this, Avram (Abram) says,
Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward (manager) of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, to me You have not given me a child: and, lo, one born in my house (Eliezer) is mine heir. (Genesis 15:2-3)
You can almost hear in Avram’s voice the accusation, “You promised me a son, but You have not given me any, and now the only person I have in my house to inherit what You have promised me is my steward, Eliezer.” Have you ever trusted God to give you something, and it has been years and years, and you have just gotten to the point where you believe that God had either changed His mind, or for whatever reason, you were not going to get that thing He promised?
In response to Avram’s (Abram’s) wavering trust here, God decides to help him by giving him a visual he could look at each and every night to remind him:
And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, “This shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth out of your own bowels shall be your heir.” And he brought him forth abroad, and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to number them:” and he said to him, “So shall your seed be.” (Genesis 15:4-5)
And what was Avram’s (Abram’s) response to this visual?
And he believed in the LORD; and He counted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
This verse, Genesis 15:6, is quoted three times in the New Testament: Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; and James 2:23. It is also referenced in Romans 4:5c, 9, 22. But what does it mean “he believed in the LORD”? Does it mean that “he believes that it is possible that a God exists?” Does it mean that he believes an afterlife is possible? Does it mean that he believes in the existence of God? What does this clause mean, “he believed in the LORD”? Several years ago, I came across a Greek-English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and in it I read, “he TRUSTED the LORD…,” and this is really a much better translation than what we usually find in most English Bibles.
Believe versus Trust
When people ask me what the difference is between “believe” and “trust,” I tell them about this experience I have had in the classroom. I asked a class if they believed that I would never do anything to purposely harm them? They all raised their hand, indicating that they believed that. Then I asked, “Who will allow me to borrow their credit card?” No one moved. You see our “belief” in something does not cost us anything, but “trust” is different. It costs, and most people may say “they believe in God,” but they do not TRUST Him. And so, in this verse, “TRUSTED” is a much better translation of the Hebrew word ‘aman than “believed.”
Moses and ‘Emunah
The Hebrew word ’emunah appears for the first time in its full form in Exodus 17. When Israel is battling Amalek, Mosheh (Moses), Aaron and Hur are on the hill overlooking the battle. As long as Mosheh (Moses) holds up his hand holding the staff, Israel is winning, but if he lets his hand down, Israel begins losing. So Aaron and Hur have Mosheh (Moses) sit down on a rock, and each of them help Mosheh (Moses) hold up one of his arms (Exodus 17:10-12), so then it says, “his hands were STEADY (Heb. ’emunah)” (Exodus 17:12). The Hebrew word ’emunah is translated as “steady,” “faithful,” “faithfulness,” and “faith.” His arms weren’t going up and down, but they were remaining “firm,” “unchanging.”
Habakkuk and ‘Emunah
It is translated as “faith” in the book of Habakkuk.
Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: But the just shall live by his FAITH (Heb. ’emunah) (Habakkuk 2:4; emphasis added).
In this verse, the word ’emunah (“faith”) is set up to be in contrast to being “lifted up” or “puffed up” and “not upright in him.” Some synonyms to being “lifted up” or “puffed up” would be “self-centered,” “self-absorbed,” and “self-involved.” These synonyms describe the mindset of people in the “last days.” But the opposite would be “humble,” “humility,” or “being servant-minded” or “being focused on others,” rather than focusing on your own needs and wants.
During the Last Days
Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) describes the people who will be alive during the “last days” as the following:
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters (braggerts), proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent (lacking self-restraint or control), fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded (proud, arrogant, pretentious), lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:2-5)
This sounds like many people in the world today. As we can see, this list runs the exact opposite of those who are “righteous” or “the just.” So if ’emunah (faith) is the opposite of being “lifted up” or “puffed up,” then what would it mean? Consequently, by comparing Exodus 17:12 and Habakkuk 2:4, we can see that the same word ’emunah (faith) is translated both as “steady” and “faith.” Also, in Deuteronomy 7, ’emunah is translated as “faithful,”
Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful (Heb. ’emunah) God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness (Heb. chesed) to a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:9)
Here we can see that God is ’emunah (faithful and steady) in His actions towards us, but the question we must ask ourselves is, “Are we ’emunah (faithful and steady) in our actions, loyalty, and allegiance towards Him? Do we see “faith” as us being “steady” and “faithful” to God? Also, the last line of this verse is quoted by Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) in the book of Romans,
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH. (Romans 1:17; emphasis added)
Martin Luther and many ministers since then, even today, credit Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) for this statement, “The Just shall live by faith (Gk. pistis),” even though he is not the originator of it; He is quoting the prophet Habakkuk, and yet I have not heard any minister credit Habakkuk for it. It is also quoted by the writer of the book of Hebrews.
Now THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH (Gk. pistis): but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. (Hebrews 10: 38; emphasis added)
Consequently, then, trying to understand something from only the New Testament may provide some insight, but it does not give you the full meaning of the word. To gain the full meaning of the term, we need to see how it is defined and used throughout both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures, and how it is then translated into English.
The Greek Word for Faith
Biblically, the Greek word pistis (“faith”) assumes “action” or “good works.” Pistis means “persuasion; i.e., credence,” “assurance,” “trust,” “firm persuasion in the truth,” “the reality of any person or thing,” “a ground of confidence,” “reason for belief,” “proof.” How many of us see “reality,” “truth,” “confidence,” and “proof” as all the same thing? These are all meanings associated with the Greek word pistis, or what has been translated as “faith.” Obviously, it is not taking “a leap in the dark” or “believing in something when you have no reason to believe it,” as I heard college students define “faith.” That may be the American cultural definition, but it is not the biblical definition. Consequently, when we read the Bible, we need to realize there is a difference between the Hebrew meaning and the Greek meanings. To those that think “believing” is enough, Ya’acov (James) writes,
You believe that God is One. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2: 19)
So just think, when you believe that there is a God that exists, then you have obtained the same level of faith as the demons, and they are all still going to Hell. So obviously, then, we must do more than “believe” in the existence of God.
James – Abraham’s Life After Isaac’s Birth
James, on the other hand, is not looking at Avraham BEFORE Yizchak’s (Isaac) birth – like Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) – but he is looking at Avraham’s (Abraham’s) life as an example of how to respond when we are being tested by God. God tests each and every one of us at different points of our life. Avraham (Abraham) was tested, Yitzchak (Isaac) was tested, Ya’acov (Jacob) was tested, Yosef (Joseph) was tested, and even Mosheh (Moses) and the Israelites were tested while they were in the wilderness. In the book of Deuteronomy, Mosheh (Moses) writes,
And you shall remember all the way (Heb. derekh) which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, TESTING YOU, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. (Deuteronomy 8:2; emphasis added)
And God still TESTS us, just as God did them. He even TESTED Yeshua (Jesus), His own Son, so if God will TEST His own Son, then surely He will also TEST us at different points for the same reason – to know whether His Word is in our hearts.
Why We Are All Tested
When we are being “TESTED,” then God is waiting to see if we will obey His commandments or not. Consequently, He is waiting on an action from us during those times. Avraham (Abraham) was TESTED to see if he God came first in his life. God commanded him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering to him, so the action that God was waiting to see was whether Avraham was willing to obey him or not. As Ya’acov (James) writes,
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not be faith alone….For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:21-24, 26)
It wasn’t until Avraham (Abraham) made the three-day trip with Yitzchak (Isaac), built the altar there on the mountain, tied Yitzchak (Isaac) up and laid him down, and was ready to plunge the knife into him when God speaks and says that He knew at that point that Avraham (Abraham) truly loved him more than he did anything or anyone else. Obviously, if all Avraham (Abraham) would have done was “to believe,” then God would not have known that Avraham (Abraham) truly loved Him more than anything else.
What Would It Take For You To Be Willing To Sacrifice Your Son?
How sure must you be, not only of the reality of God, but also your conviction that He is going to keep His promise to you, that you would be willing at over 100 years of age to kill your one and only son? If Avraham defined “faith” the same way that people do today, he never would have made the three-day journey to Mt. Moriah. He would have just stayed home and believed in God and thought that he was good; after all, he believed that there was God, right? As we can see here, in this situation, “belief” or “faith” is not enough. There comes times when we need to put what we say we “believe” and demonstrate it with the appropriate actions. Otherwise, it just remains “words.”
A Balance Between Faith and Works
There is a balance here between “faith” and appropriate action, or “good works.” Even Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) tells us in 2 Timothy,
Therefore, if a man CLEANSES HIMSELF from these things [wickedness, 2 Timothy 3:19], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:21)
And again, in 2 Corinthians,
Do not be bound together [in affection] with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Messiah with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their GOD, and they shall be My people. (qtd. Exodus 25:8) Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord. (qtd. Isaiah 52:11) And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty. (2 Samuel 7:14; I Chronicles 17:13; Isaiah 43:6; Hosea 1:10)
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, LET US CLEANSE OURSELVES from all defilement of flesh and spirit, PERFECTING HOLINESS in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)
Obviously, when we compare verses from 2 Timothy 3:21 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, we can see that we have a role in our cleansing. This is in stark contrast who teach that all we have to do is “believe” and that if we do anything, including repentance, is “works righteousness,” and that we are only adding to what Yeshua (Jesus) did for us on the cross. Let us, therefore, not pick and choose from the Scriptures, but understand that the whole Bible – from Genesis to Revelation – is for all people for all time.