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James 2:18

ESV But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
NIV But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
NASB But someone may well say, 'You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.'
CSB But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works.
NLT Now someone may argue, 'Some people have faith; others have good deeds.' But I say, 'How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.'
KJV Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

What does James 2:18 mean?

James continues making the point that genuine, living faith in Christ results in a believer beginning to participate in good works. That is, Christians begin to obey their Father and love other believers as they love themselves. Those who don't do so have a dead faith (James 2:17). In verses 14 through 17, James gave a very specific teaching that so-called-"faith" which does not result in good works is just that: phony. At no point does James require works to earn salvation, or to keep it. Rather, James points out that what we do is the result of what we truly believe. Simply claiming to have faith in Christ is meaningless; saving faith is a faith which results in action.

Not all Bible scholars agree on how we should read this verse. It's clear that James is quoting someone, but there are no quotation marks in the original Greek language. The problem this presents is knowing where exactly the quotation stops, and where James' response to it begins. There are many different options, with a tremendous amount of material which could be discussed. In short, all possible interpretations point to the same fundamental teaching: the works a person does are the proof of the nature of their faith. Saving faith produces works, and those without works fail to show evidence that they are saved.

The majority of scholars and Bible translations believe James means the quote to be from someone objecting to his teaching. In that view, the quotation would end after the first sentence, with the phrase "I have works" in this verse. This view presents someone objecting to James by claiming that faith and works are completely unrelated. This might be a claim that some believers have "faith" and some have "works." It might be the claim that not every Christian needs to have them both—that some Christians are "faith" Christians and some Christians are "works" Christians.

James's argument here is entirely practical: show me. Show me any evidence for your faith without any works. It can't be done. People who truly believe something act on what they claim to believe. Faith that doesn't cause a person to act is a dead faith, not a saving faith. On the contrary, James writes, I can show you what I believe by the good works that I do.

Again, it's important not to read the wrong message into James's words. At no point does James disconnect salvation from faith. On the contrary, this entire passage is about the fact that we are only saved by faith—but that this faith is more than simply agreement. Saving faith produces works. So, while works do not save, those who are saved will, naturally, demonstrate good works.
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