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)

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