Monday, May 04, 2009

Rutherford: Why justification in James is not by works

The Puritan Samuel Rutherford has a very interesting argument on why James 2 cannot teach that we are justified by works:

How could the Scripture conclude from Abraham's being justified by works, whence he offered his Son [sic] Isaac, unless by works here we understand a working faith, the Apostle must mean the same by works, [James 2] verse 21, that he meant by faith, verse 23, for he cannot say in verse 23 the Scripture was fulfilled (in Abraham' being justified in the work of offering his son, verse 21) which said, Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness: Except it must be meant, that the work of offering his son Isaac was counted to him for righteousness. Now the letter of the Text expressively verse 23 saith that believing God was counted to Abraham for righteousness, then the work of offering his son must either be the believing declared by offering his son, and faith working by that act of offering, or if they be two sundry things, he must then say this in effect, Abraham was justified by the work of sacrificing, verse 21, causatively before God, Ergo, the Scripture is fulfilled, verse 23, and Abraham is justified by believing causatively before God, verse 23, which we cannot ascribe to the Apostle, according to their mind who make faith and works the two collateral and joint causes of Justification before God: as if one would say Peter wrought the miracle. So Abraham was justified by works, verse 21. Ergo, Abraham was justified by faith, verse 23.

— Samuel Rutherford, C. Matthew McMahon (Ed.), The Covenant of Life Opened (New Lenox, IL, USA: Puritan Publications, 2005, Original 1654), pp. 239-240

What Rutherford did here was to construct a reductio ad absurdum argument to prove that the justification in James is not the legal justification which Paul talks about. For if that were so, then according to verse 21, Justification would be because of works, while according to verse 23, justification would be because of believing, and this would lead to a contradiction. Since such is the case, the justification in James cannot be a legal justification, but the outward manifestation of true faith in a working faith.

22 comments:

Nick said...

If I may comment upon what you said:
"For if that were so, then according to verse 21, Justification would be because of works, while according to verse 23, justification would be because of believing, and this would lead to a contradiction. Since such is the case, the justification in James cannot be a legal justification, but the outward manifestation of true faith in a working faith."


I don't understand how this argument makes any sense, for justification by both faith and works is precisely James' thesis here. That's what he set out to prove in v14 when he asked if faith by itself would "save him" in the future tense. Since the subject is "save" in the future tense, the answer James gives must also be salvation/justification in the future tense, and that is what it is, culminating in 2:24.

Further, an even more important point is that the terms "righteousness" and "justified" are actually built from the same Greek root (dikai), and this is lost in English ("right" vs "just"). Given this truth, it is improper exegesis to say the dikai in v21 was not legal, the dikai in v23 is legal, then it switches back to non legal dikai in v24.
V23 is a passage on legal justification, so thats the context in which its used in 2:21-24.

Mark Farnon (Tartanarmy) said...

I don't think Nick understands that salvation and justification are not synonyms, and he is not quite understanding Reformed thought.

Nick, respectfully, if you desire to interact with Reformed Protestants it would be wise to gain an understanding of what and how they understand these matters.

Mark

PuritanReformed said...

Nick:

You do not understand Rutherford's argument. Rutherford is saying: IF justification is to be understood in a legal sense in James 2, THEN verse 21 and verse 23 would contradict each other. The Scriptures do not contradict each other. Ergo, James 2 is not talking about legal justification.

And we do know that "righteousness" and "justified" are built on the same root word (dikai-). But, as Mark rightly says, salvation and justification are not synonymous.

Nick said...

Mark: I don't think Nick understands that salvation and justification are not synonyms, and he is not quite understanding Reformed thought.
Nick, respectfully, if you desire to interact with Reformed Protestants it would be wise to gain an understanding of what and how they understand these matters.

Nick: I'm pretty confident that I understand the Reformed position. The fact is James uses the term "save" in the future tense, so it must certainly be salvation, and he answers his question using the term "justification." The terms would have to be synonymous here, though Reformed don't believe they are necessarily synonymous all the time.

If I'm wrong here, I'm open to correction. I'd simply ask you what then does "save" mean in James 2:14?

Nick said...

PuritanReformed: You do not understand Rutherford's argument. Rutherford is saying: IF justification is to be understood in a legal sense in James 2, THEN verse 21 and verse 23 would contradict each other. The Scriptures do not contradict each other. Ergo, James 2 is not talking about legal justification.

Nick: But that's just it though, 2:23 (Gn 15:6) is literally the epitome of legal justification. It has to be what the context is addressing, else James is equivocating mixing legal justification in a context which it doesn't belong. He's sandwiching legal justification between v21 and 24, which he claims are not legal. That's a red flag to me that that exegesis is probably incorrect. His only option is to make Gen 15:6 about non legal justification, but you can easily see the problem of making that claim.


PuritanReformed: And we do know that "righteousness" and "justified" are built on the same root word (dikai-). But, as Mark rightly says, salvation and justification are not synonymous.

Nick: Two quick questions then-
1) What does "saved" mean in v14 if not a synonym for justification? (after all, James is asking a question and must be giving a consistent answer)

2) How can you say dikai- in v21 means one thing, dikai in v23 means something totally different, and then v24 switches back to the first dikai definition? If true, that's equivocation on James' part, as far as I can tell.


I look forward to your response.

PuritanReformed said...

Nick:

you have not even give evidence that you have understood Rutherford's argument. Do you know how a reductio ad absurdum argument works? Why don't you interact with the argument instead of proving the adage true: A Text without a Context is a Pretext?

Also, why can't the same passage (Gen. 15:6) be quoted two different times in Scripture in two different ways?

Nick said...

PuritanReformed: you have not even give evidence that you have understood Rutherford's argument. Do you know how a reductio ad absurdum argument works? Why don't you interact with the argument instead of proving the adage true: A Text without a Context is a Pretext?

Nick: I know what a reductio argument is, it's an argument that when taken to logical conclusions becomes so absurd that it must be false. Where am I giving text without context? Seriously, where?
I said Gen 15:6 is a proof text for legal justification, and if James 2:23 quotes that, the context is legal justification. If that's not true, then Paul could never mention Gen 15:6 and use it as justification text.


PuritanReformed: Also, why can't the same passage (Gen. 15:6) be quoted two different times in Scripture in two different ways?

Nick: Are you saying Gen 15:6 can have two very different meanings?... a justification meaning and a non-justification meaning?
If so, that seriously undermines it as a proof text in the first place. The term "credited as righteousness" then takes on two meanings, not to mention both in a "justification" context. Basic exegesis states you interpret the same phrase the same way, unless there is sufficient reason to suggest otherwise, including a coherent alternative interpretation. To proceed any other way risks involving an equivocation fallacy, where terms and phrases take on different meanings for the purpose of furthering an agenda.

PuritanReformed said...

Nick:

1) You do not seem to understand the gist of Rutherford's argument. So why don't we try this: You summarize Rutherford's argument first, then you can show us why you think it is wrong. If you cannot even summarize Rutherford's argument at all, then we know you do not know what you are talking about.

2) >Are you saying Gen 15:6 can have two very different meanings?

No, I am saying that Gen. 15:6 can have one meaning and an application which is different from its meaning.

Mark Farnon (Tartanarmy) said...

Nick says: If I'm wrong here, I'm open to correction. I'd simply ask you what then does "save" mean in James 2:14?

Lets back up a moment, as it could be so much more time consuming to get into reformed soteriology at this juncture. Not to mention the passages found in Paul's writings that would need to be understood with what is there in James.

Focus on the argument below Nick if you do not mind.

"You do not understand Rutherford's argument. Rutherford is saying: IF justification is to be understood in a legal sense in James 2, THEN verse 21 and verse 23 would contradict each other. The Scriptures do not contradict each other. Ergo, James 2 is not talking about legal justification."

Mark Farnon (Tartanarmy) said...

And this comment from Daniel is fair.

1) You do not seem to understand the gist of Rutherford's argument. So why don't we try this: You summarize Rutherford's argument first, then you can show us why you think it is wrong. If you cannot even summarize Rutherford's argument at all, then we know you do not know what you are talking about.

Mark

Mark Farnon (Tartanarmy) said...

Hey Daniel, that photo of me, do you think I should change it? My daughter liked it but I think I look kind of creepy! lol

But every time I look at it, it makes me laugh!

Mark

PuritanReformed said...

Mark:

eh well, to be frank, you look a bit like a mean Mark Driscoll =). I guess it is up to you whether you want to change it.

Mark Farnon (Tartanarmy) said...

A mean Mark Driscoll! That cannot do!
lol
Mark

PuritanReformed said...

Mark:

=)

Nick said...

Hi,

Here is Rutherfords argument summarized:
Verses 21 and 23 must mean the same thing, else there is no "fulfillment" of Gen 15:6. The sayings "offered up credited as righteosuness" and "faith credited as righteousness" cannot be simultaneously true, else there is a standing contradiction: X = ~X.
The only option is that they are saying the same thing, and because Gn 15:6 is clearly about faith, then "offered up" must be in the form of an act of faith as well. So there actually is no justification by "works" here, the term "works" merely refers to faith being displayed. The reductio ad absurdum is in that we cannot charge James with making such a fallacious argument, thus it cannot be true.


Rutherford commits a fallacy when he equates v21 to v23, because he's strictly equating Gen 15:6 to Gen 22, which is not James' point nor what James means by "fulfilled."
This situation was not "fulfilled" in the sense of a strict prophecy given 25 years prior which only came true in Gen 22. Rather, it is that his faith grew to maturity, from point A to point B, and 2:22 brings this out. Offering up Isaac was an act that helped his faith grow, but was in no way supplanting his faith. Again, verse 2:22 makes this clear as it provides the proper understanding between v21 and v23.


PuritanReformed: I am saying that Gen. 15:6 can have one meaning and an application which is different from its meaning.

Nick: What does this mean? If you are saying Gen 15:6 applies to Abraham in particular and us only in principle, then I don't think that warrants a new meaning of "credited as righteousness."


Mark,
I have answered PR's question, now can you tell me what "save" means in James 2:14?

PuritanReformed said...

Nick:

Nope, that is not Rutherford's argument. Hint: There is a temporal aspect in the argument.

>What does this mean? If you are saying Gen 15:6 applies to Abraham in particular and us only in principle, then I don't think that warrants a new meaning of "credited as righteousness."

I am saying that Paul can use Gen. 15:6 as teaching legal justification, while James talks about justification in the aspect of "fulfilling Scripture" in Gen. 15:6, thus his idea of justification is the manifestation of Abraham's status (fulfilling Scripture) as said in Gen. 15:6.

Nick said...

PuritanReformed: Nope, that is not Rutherford's argument. Hint: There is a temporal aspect in the argument.

Nick: I don't know what you mean by "temporal" here, because his time frame is fixed on Gen 22. The heart of the argument, as I see it, begins with "Except it must be meant" and ends with "which we cannot ascribe to the Apostle."

He is equating "faith counted as righteousness" with "work counted as righteousness" and giving two options:
Either
1) The terms "faith" and "work" mean the same thing, in which the "work" is actually an act of faith.
OR
2) They are two different things, in which "faith" is different from "work" but still equated, which is a plain contradiction.

Going by option 1, when Abraham was "justified by works," it is not taken in the strict sense because "work" here is outward manifestation of faith.


PuritanReformed: I am saying that Paul can use Gen. 15:6 as teaching legal justification, while James talks about justification in the aspect of "fulfilling Scripture" in Gen. 15:6, thus his idea of justification is the manifestation of Abraham's status (fulfilling Scripture) as said in Gen. 15:6.

Nick: Gen 15:6 must be teaching legal justification regardless of who is quoting it. So even when James quotes it, verse 23 must come off as saying, "And Scripture was fulfilled: Abraham was legally justified."
So the context of James 2 must legal justification.

Mark Farnon (Tartanarmy) said...

Nick, James is all about "faith" which proves to be genuine. It is not about "Faith" that is "Justified" upon works.

The Devils have a false faith and so too can professing believers as James tells us.
Jas 2:19 You believe that there is one God, you do well; even the demons believe and tremble.

The faith that "saves" is a faith that--- also--- has "works"...NOT BECAUSE "Works" saves/justifies, but because "Faith" without "works" is a false faith.

See Paul....

Rom 3:20 because by the works of the Law none of all flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law is the knowledge of sin.

Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the Law.

Rom 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

Rom 3:24 being--- justified freely by His grace--- through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;

AND AGAIN NICK,
Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man-- is justified-- by faith-- "without"-- the works of the Law.

Mark

Nick said...

Mark: James is all about "faith" which proves to be genuine. It is not about "Faith" that is "Justified" upon works.

Nick: I'm confused here, this seems to be a contradiction. The argument is that James uses 'justify' in the sense of 'vindicate'(ie prove true). So the Protestant argument very much is that faith was vindicated (justified) by works.

I believe you are reading the concept of "false faith" into this, for I see no such argument (believing in one God says nothing about fake faith). Further, the "body without a soul is dead" analogy makes no sense if fake faith is the issue.
Also, James would even be asking the absurd question: "Can false faith save?". James is talking to true believers as 2:1 shows.

As for your comments on Romans, the issue is "works of the Law," not any and all works.

Also, could you answer my question about what "save" in the future tense in 2:14 refers to if not justification?

PuritanReformed said...

Nick:

Rutherford utilizes the word "causatively". Try again.


>Gen 15:6 must be teaching legal justification regardless of who is quoting it. So even when James quotes it, verse 23 must come off as saying, "And Scripture was fulfilled: Abraham was legally justified."

Again, you are not listening. We are not talking about what Gen. 15:6 teaches, but about how it is applied in the context of James. James if you have not noticed already is a very practical epistle.

PuritanReformed said...

Nick:

I have posted a simplification of Rutherford's argument in my new post. If you are truly interested, please look at it.

Nick said...

Thank you, I will take a look at the new post.

I would just point out that the term "causatively" simply means "caused," at least that is how I read it.