James 2:21 – If Abraham Was Saved by Works, Why Does the Bible Say He was Justified by Faith?

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James 2:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?

Here James says that Abraham, our father, was justified by works. However, Paul wrote, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified.” (Rom 3:20) How is it that these two were not contradicting one another? In Romans 4:2-3, Paul writes, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” Paul is here quoting that same exact verse from Genesis 15:6 that James refers to in verse 23 of chapter 2. This verse that both are using was about Abraham’s faith some 35 years before he ever attempted to offer up his son Isaac. This is the same event that James is referring to here in verse 21 of chapter 22. Thus, how are these two inspired New Testament authors in harmony?

Therefore, how is it that James can say that Abraham was justified by works? If we look at the context of Genesis 15:1-6, we find that Abraham was declared righteous because he trusted in God’s promise to make his offspring number like the stars of the heavens, even though Sarah was decades past being able to have a child. Abraham’s actions confirmed what God already knew was true of him. By Abraham’s actions, he proved, established, demonstrated beyond question that his faith in God for decades had been and was still real, i.e., genuine. Abraham evidenced that he had a living faith, not a dead one. It was not Abraham’s works in and of themselves that made Abraham righteous, but rather his works were a result of his genuine faith, which God confirmed by declaring him righteous by way of this pronouncement or verdict.

REASONABLE FAITH

Was God tempting or testing Abraham? God does not tempt us, but he does allow us to go through temptations. As we know from Abraham, God can test us but never tempt us with sin … The Greek word (Peirazo) can be rendered either as ‘tempted’ or ‘tested,’ and the context determines which word should be chosen. In the case of Satan with Jesus in the wilderness, it should be rendered ‘tempt.’ However, in reference to God, in some minimal cases in history, he has put some to the test, i.e., Abraham, even his Son.” – Hebrews 2:18.

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James now does something very significant to argue his point about faith and works by stating was not Abraham, our father. James makes his argument from the Old Testament Scriptures, using Abraham, whom the Jews considered the father of their nation and perhaps the most respected man in all Old Testament history. The Jews took pride in their ancestry and could trace their lineage back to Abraham as the Father of the Jewish nation, which is why James says, “Abraham, our father.” The Jewish nation of Israel was God’s chosen people, and that nation stemmed from the seed of Abraham, which God promised would happen. Now, Abraham was the ancestor of the Jewish people, of which James was a natural member. Nevertheless, James is not writing to the Jewish nation. Instead, he is referring to the scattered Christians, both Jewish and Gentile. Nonetheless, Abraham was “the father of all who believes,” referring to both Jews and Gentiles. – Romans 4: 11-12; 1 Peter 3:6.

The Jews highly esteemed their ethnicity and the father of their nation because they were God’s chosen that came through the lineage of Abraham. For this reason, the Jews looked at Abraham as the most prominent figure in their history since he was the father of their nation. Because of this, James would select Abraham to make his point that faith and works must exist together for it to be true saving faith. James purposely used one of the most significant men in Jewish history to make his point. This way, the Jewish audience he was writing to would be more apt to listen and heed what he was saying.

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Justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?

Here James says that Abraham, our father, was justified by works. However, Paul wrote, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified.” (Rom 3:20) How is it that these two were not contradicting one another? In Romans 4:2-3, Paul writes, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” Paul quotes that same exact verse from Genesis 15:6 that James refers to in verse 23 of chapter 2. This verse that both are using was about Abraham’s faith some 35 years before he ever attempted to offer up his son Isaac. This is the same event that James is referring to here in verse 21 of chapter 22. Thus, how are these two inspired New Testament authors in harmony?

HOW TO OVERCOME YOUR BAD HABITS-1 GOD WILL GET YOU THROUGH THIS

Therefore, how is it that James can say that Abraham was justified by works? If we look at the context of Genesis 15:1-6, we find that Abraham was declared righteous because he trusted in God’s promise to make his offspring number like the stars of the heavens, even though Sarah was decades past being able to have a child. Abraham’s actions confirmed what God already knew was true of him. By Abraham’s act, he proved, verified, demonstrated beyond question that his faith in God for decades had been and was still real, i.e., genuine. Abraham evidenced that he had a living faith, not a dead one. It was not Abraham’s works in and of themselves that made Abraham righteous, but rather his works were a result of his genuine faith, which God confirmed by declaring him righteous by way of this pronouncement or verdict.[1]

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[1] Was God tempting or testing Abraham? God does not tempt us, but he does allow us to go through temptations. As we know from Abraham, God can test us, but never tempt us with sin … The Greek word (Peirazo) can be rendered either as ‘tempted’ or ‘tested,’ and it is the context that determines which word should be chosen. In the case of Satan with Jesus in the wilderness, it should be rendered ‘tempt.’ However, in reference to God, in some very limited cases in history, he has put some to the test, i.e., Abraham, even his Son.” – Hebrews 2:18.

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