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James 2:17; Of faith and works

Updated: Apr 5

In James 2:17 is written (NRSV), “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”


Now, there are different ways to translate this verse, based on the Greek text and the proposed presence of punctuation (implied or real).  Based on the literal English translation possibilities, from my interpretation of the Bible Hub Interlinear reproduction, this verse actually says this:


“Thus  kai  belief  if not it has acts  subject to death he or she exists  relative to his or her soul  .


If one looks closely, the same message is stated, only now with more clarity.


The Greek word pistis has a way of morphing in Scripture, from “belief” one place, then “faith” in another, where this interchangeability makes it seem “belief” and “faith” are the same thing.


According to Strong’s Concordance, pistis is defined as “faith, faithfulness.”  When used in a sentence, it then can mean, “faith, belief, trust, confidence; fidelity, faithfulness.”


The word stems from peithô, which mean “persuade, be persuaded,” which then properly becomes “faith.” (HELPS Word-studies)  Still, “faith” is said to be, “always a gift from God, and never something that can be produced by people. In short, 4102/pistis ("faith") for the believer is "God's divine persuasion" – and therefore distinct from human belief (confidence), yet involving it.” (HELPS Word-studies)


This means a history teacher can tell one about some long ago event, with much evidence produced to elicit “belief” that the event taught actually happened.  However, the total reality of having lived that event keeps one from totally knowing what the importance of that event was to those who lived it.  This means “faith” is the experience that knows, whereas “belief” is “confidence” in the teacher and other records provided that truth exists.


What James is referring to is relative to the Jews, who were “believers” in God.  Their “belief” was based on being born of a Jewish woman (therefore born a Jew), raised to learn and memorize Hebrew and the Scripture of that language, while being taught to “believe” they were God’s chosen people.  James was asking, “Where is the proof of that special relationship with God?”


The Jews of the synagogues and the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and priests of the Temple of Jerusalem were living examples of those who professed “belief” in God … all the way to the ‘bank.’  Their “acts” were not those of “faith.”  “Thus,” the use of kai  signals the reader (as a marker word, not an “and”) to importantly determine the way pistis is being used.  Does it mean “belief”?  Or, does it mean “faith”?


Following a comma mark, which says, “Pause."  Reflect on that importance in pistis.” James then proposed the word was not as fixed as one might have thought.  He did this by using the word “if” (ean), which states a “conditional” connection to pistis.  The first condition of “if” is not.  “If” pistis is “not” clearly understood, then the definition (or clarity) of pistis can only be found by observation, determining “it has acts.”  Those "acts" then demonstrate if pistis means "faith" or the confidence of "belief." Here, the translation of erga as “works” can confuse some, because of the effort projected in that word.


The simple definition of erga (the plural of ergon) is “works.”  In usages, the same word can mean “work, task, employment; a deed, action; that which is wrought or made, a work.” [My underline.] (Strong’s Concordance)  All of this demands energy expended, while pistis is seen more as a philosophy of mind, requiring only thought muscles be exercised. "Belief" does not require sweat and foul body odors.


The proper meaning of ergon is: “a work or worker who accomplishes something” and “a deed (action) that carries out (completes) an inner desire (intension, purpose).” (HELPS Word-studies) When "employment" is caught, then "a worker" becomes a 'hired hand.' This means 'hired hands' are "believers," who are one brick short of a load of "faith." Something that is rewarding, based on accomplishment, is less like "work" and more like joy. There are those who say, "If you love what you're doing, then that's not "work."'


The problem that comes from James’ simple statement becomes confusing to the synagogue priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Temple elite, as they see the “works” of “faith” as that performed by those who have been trained to go to the offering box and count all the money, then deciding what new property or merchandise they should spend that money on, so everyone knows they are doing ‘good works.’  That then shows through fancy threads and an ornate crucifer to go with one's most-high hat. Everyone then knows that the “works” of a priest are only for those who went through some certification program that made them able to sell religious “beliefs” for fast cash.  That makes “faith” or “belief” (pistis) be what all Jews are born into (semantics, potaeto potahto); but “works” are an entirely different animal, one only ridden by those trained in Scripture memorization.


That exact same argument persists today, as many priests, pastors, ministers, and preachers see themselves as the “workers” allowed to make a buck on a holy day (the Sabbath now Sunday, or a real Shabbat, when rabbis go to “work”).  That argument by itself demonstrates how “not it has acts” that demonstrate “faith.”  Instead, to argue against a Saint (James was flesh with a soul joined with the soul of Jesus [his blood-relative brother, born of the same Jewish woman], reborn in his name, speaking the Word of the Father, because the Father was in him, through the Son) is argue philosophically with Yahweh. To do that is one of those “acts” that says, “I ain’t gots no faith.” When one is also a Saint or an Apostle of Jesus, then one knows where James was coming from.


Now, following another comma mark, which says, “Hold on there pardner and reflect on that little statement you just read,” James then wrote the word nekra, which is a feminine singular form of nekros, meaning “dead.”  This needs to be fully grasped, because what does that mean, when the subject matter is pistis and the “conditional” that proves it?  Does “dead” mean pistis is “dead” without “works”?


The word nekros can be found to mean in usage: “dead, lifeless, subject to death, mortal, (b) noun: a dead body, a corpse.”  [My underline again.] To better understand where James was coming from, “subject to death” makes more meaning in translation, following a comma mark.



Everyone – Jew or Gentile, Man or Woman – is a soul animating “dead” matter, giving that “dead” matter the illusion of life.  Thus, all souls born into this world are ”subject to death,” because at some point in time the body of “dead” matter will release the soul, returning the ‘dead” matter to its natural state of existence. The soul, being eternal, goes off to Judgment, where that soul will be Judged by its "acts of faith," or lack thereof.


When one understands the whole debate about pistis as being relative to saving a soul, beyond the time when it is known to be released from its corpse – being “subject to death” – religion is only to be “believed” as a means to reaching that end safely.  The specialty of being Jewish says the only true God (Yahweh) has chosen a people (among all “subject to death) to be His priests to lead those not Jews to eternal Salvation of their souls, after their bodies become “dead.” Yahweh sent His Son Jesus to let everyone know, "This is what acting by faith is." All else is "works of belief," which is a problem, come "death" time.


Put it this way: "Belief" got both Israel and Judah overrun by Assyrians and Babylonians. Yahweh sent His Son disguised as one Prophet and another Prophet to tell the leaders of those nations, "Belief without acts of faith is dead." Both died from "belief," not faith, with the Israelites blown to the four corners of the earth, leaving only the Samaritans behind to be hated by Jews. The Jews got marched to Babylon, where Daniel became Jesus reborn, who said, "Let me show you guys what faith means." It was faith that won the Jews a second chance with Yahweh [not their land], with the Persians even building them a new Temple to call their own in Jerusalem. However, the common theme in the history here is faith is not inherited by birth from a Jewish woman. "Belief" is inherited; but "belief" is what loses nations of people. Faith can only come from doing the "works" or "acts" of Jesus (himself, or resurrected within a soul married to Yahweh's Spirit). Thus, Jesus came, then James along with others came (Apostles-Saints), all making the same point. You show the world your lack of faith by being over-confident in your "beliefs."


Therefore, every living man or woman (he or she, in the third-person singular) “exists subject to death.”  It is this acknowledged state of “being” that makes understanding pistis so important; and, to avoid the condemnation of a soul, as a sentence of Judgment back into another prison of “dead” matter (reincarnation, versus rebirth from above), one needs to model after one who shows “acts” of true “faith.”  Everyone models after those whose “works” are to teach “beliefs,” but then everyone “dead he or she exists.”  That means “beliefs” won’t cut it.


This is where all the English translations run in circles, like mice with their tails cut off by an old woman wielding a carving knife.  James wrote, “kath’ heautēn,” which can simply translate to say, “by itself.”  Still, depending on the case of usage (genitive or accusative), kata means “against, down from, throughout, by; over against, among, daily, day-by-day, each day, according to, by way of.”


The true tricky word is heautēn, which simply says, “himself, herself, or itself,” in the third-person singular.  However, this aspect of being “subject to death” means the “he” or “she” part refers to the corpse that has reproductive genitalia (no longer useful when “dead”), while the “self” part means a “soul” within “dead” matter.


This way of understanding divine Scripture (like seeing kai as a marker word) then makes the last two words written in this verse by James say, “according to his or her soul.”  I amend that to say, “relative to his or her soul,” because the “conditional” of “if” makes it up to one’s “soul” (oneself) to come to the realization that “belief without acts (that demonstrate the faith of Jesus) is dead.” "Dead" means a soul just hanging around full of "beliefs," waiting to be overrun by someone and scattered to the winds of punishment, until the soul separates and trembles before Yahweh in Judgment.


If one reads James deeply, in this manner demonstrated here for just one verse, then one will see that James is saying “faith” is the personal experience of Jesus within one’s soul.  Without that presence known within, one is simply following the instructions of Pharisees, Sadducees, Temple elite, and pulpit workers, none of whom are leading one to submit one’s soul to Yahweh (in divine union) and be reborn from above (something Nicky Demonis couldn’t fathom).  When one is a soul resurrected with the soul of Jesus within, with his soul as one’s Lord, then one stops thinking what to “believe” (pistis) and one begins “acting” from “faith” (pistis).


It is that simple.


One either “acts” from “faith” as an Apostle or Saint (both the same thing), as Jesus reborn into ministry with a new body, so those demonstrated “acts” are not “works” but pleasures.  One “acts” to save other souls, which is the meaning of the name of Jeshua-Jesus-Yeshua (Yah Saves, Yah Will Save).  One saves other souls by explaining Scripture, so others can see the truth (the basic "gift" of the Spirit that all Saints are given.) Do a good job doing the "works of faith" and Yahweh might give you one of the other 'merit badges,' where casting out demon spirits and healing sick souls are possible too.


Here is a good time to realize why there is a Gospel book named “The Acts of the Apostles.”  It could just as easily be translated to say "The Works of the Apostles." That is not an optional book to read in Christian churches, simply because some pulpit preacher avoids preaching about such "works" by untrained common folk (those rubes from Galilee). "Believers" prefer to sit in an easy chair, puffing on a pipe, while discussing the philosophies of the common masses being led like beasts with rings in their noses (“beliefs”), by the ones chosen by God to do the holy day “works” of leading those beasts around, going nowhere good.

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