Calvin’s comments on James 2:14

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?

Comments from John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles:

He proceeds to commend mercy. And as he had threatened that God would be a severe Judge to us, and at the same time very dreadful, except we be kind and merciful towards our neighbors, and as on the other hand hypocrites objected and said, that faith is sufficient to us, in which the salvation of men consists, he now condemns this vain boasting. The sum, then, of what is said is, that faith without love avails nothing, and that it is therefore wholly dead.

… it appears from the first words, that he speaks of false profession of faith: for he does not begin thus, “If any one has faith;” but, “If any says that he has faith;” by which he certainly intimates that hypocrites boast of the empty name of faith, which really does not belong to them.

James then, as he was satisfied that it was a false pretext by which hypocrites covered themselves, was not disposed to raise a dispute about a word or an expression. Let us, however, remember that he does not speak according to the impression of his own mind when he mentions faith, but that on the contrary he disputes against those who made a false pretense as to faith, of which they were wholly destitute.

Can faith save him? This is the same as though he had said, that we do not attain salvation by a frigid and bare knowledge of God, which all confess to be most true; for salvation comes to us by faith for this reason, because it joins us to God. And this comes not in any other way than by being united to the body of Christ, so that, living through his Spirit, we are also governed by him.

(15) If a brother, or, For if a brother. He takes an example from what was connected with his subject; for he had been exhorting them to exercise the duties of love. If any one, on the contrary, boasted that he was satisfied with faith without works, he compares this shadowy faith to the saying of one who bids a famished man to be filled without supplying him with the food of which he is destitute. As, then, he who sends away a poor man with words, and offers him no help, treats him with mockery, so they who devise for themselves faith without works, and without any of the duties of religion, trifle with God.


Can such faith save him?

James 2:14

JP: In my study for this Sunday I found this interesting from James 2:14.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (ESV)

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (NASB)

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (NIV)

JP: The following quote from Homer Kent’s Studies in the Epistle of James (p 79) is helpful.

Confusion has been created in the understanding of this verse because of a poor translation in the King James Version. The translators ignored the presence of the Greek article with faith (η πιστις) and rendered the clause as “Can faith save him?” Inasmuch as the implied answer is no, the interpreter is immediately confronted with a contradiction, for the Scripture is abundantly clear that salvation is received by faith. Hence James is sometimes pitted against Paul, and they are alleged to be advocating divergent means of salvation.
James, however, was quite careful in his wording. By using the article with faith, he was making his reference very specific. He was not talking about faith in general but about the faith which the person in his illustration was claiming to possess. Such translations as “Can that faith save him?” (NASB) or “Can such a faith save him?” (NIV) are far better and represent the function of the article as particularizing the noun, perhaps pointing back to the contextual reference of the claim to faith mentioned in the previous clause.

I also found this note in the ESV Study Bible helpful:

The form of the question indicates that a negative answer (i.e., “no good”) is expected. The Greek particle mē (μή) at the beginning of the next question (Can that faith save him?) shows that James again expects a negative answer. If someone says he has faith but lacks the resulting evidential works, one must doubt that he has been saved. James is not implying that even genuine faith is the basis of salvation; rather, it is the means and instrument by which one is saved (see Eph. 2:8–9)

Faith without works is dead

JP: Our lesson for Sunday April 18th is from James 2:14-26. Study notes are available here:

Faith Is Respectful of Others

JP: Our lesson for Sunday April 11th will be from James 2:1-13

My notes for those interested