Ya'akov Jewish New Testament and comment David H. Stern

chapter 2
1. My brothers, practice the faith of our Lord Yeshua, the glorious Messiah, without showing favoritism.
The faith of our Lord Yeshua. Or "the faithfulness of our Lord Yeshua," according to Ro 3:22N, Ga 2:16cN.
Favoritism. Compare Deuteronomy 1:17, Job 34:19, Ac 10:34. 

2. Suppose a man comes into your synagogue wearing gold rings and fancy clothes, and also a poor man comes in dressed in rags.
3. If you show more respect to the man wearing the fancy clothes and say to him, “Have this good seat here,” while to the poor man you say, “You, stand over there,” or, “Sit down on the floor by my feet,”
Your synagogue. This is a Messianic synagogue, a congregation of believers in Yeshua, predominantly Jewish, expressing their New Covenant faith in a way retaining most or all of the prayers, customs and style of non-Messianic synagogues. The word in Greek is "sunagoge"; it appears 57 times in the New Testament. Fifty-six times it refers to a Jewish place of congregational assembly and is translated "synagogue" in virtually all English versions. Yet in the present verse KJV and the Revised Standard Version render it "assembly," and other versions translate it by "church," "meeting," "place of worship" and other avoidances of the word "synagogue." This reflects the translators' unwillingness to acknowledge the Jewishness of New Covenant faith and the overall antisemitic bias that has infected Christianity over the centuries (see Ro 10:4&N). The New Jerusalem Bible prepared by Roman Catholics does use the word "synagogue," but adds in a note. "James is writing to Jewish Christians; it is possible that they may even have still been attending Jewish synagogues, or it may be his word for the Christian 'assembly' for liturgical services." "Even... still... attending Jewish synagogues" — how backward of them! And how backward of Sha'ul. who made it his "usual practice" to do so (Ac 17:2)!

Ya'akov is talking neither about a Christian church service nor a gathering of Jewish nonbelievers but a Messianic synagogue. He would not refer to "your synagogue" and assume his readers were in charge of seating visitors if the synagogue was not controlled by the Messianic Jews. There is no reason why "synagogue," with its unmistakably Jewish connotation, should have been "his word for the Christian 'assembly'" in general, since the term the New Testament uses 112 times for that is "ekklesia" (usually rendered "church" in other versions; see Mt 16:18N); Ya'akov himself employs it at 5:14. The idea that this synagogue was Messianic simply did not occur to the Jerusalem Bible note-writer. Rendering sunaxoge "assembly" or "church" instead of "synagogue" robs Messianic Jews of their identity.

This verse establishes a solid New Testament basis for modern-day Messianic synagogues, provided they do not exclude Gentile believers. To do so would "raise the middle wall of partition" once again, in violation of Ep 2:11-I6&NN. A Messianic synagogue, while committed to preserving and developing a Jewish rather than a Gentile mode of expressing New Covenant faith, must be open to participation by believing Jews and Gentiles alike. 

4. then aren’t you creating distinctions among yourselves, and haven’t you made yourselves into judges with evil motives?
5. Listen, my dear brothers, hasn’t God chosen the poor of the world to be rich in faith and to receive the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him?
God has chosen the poor to be rich, as Yeshua himself said (Mt 5:3).
Kingdom. The Kingdom of God (see Mt 4:1N), in which "Kingdom Torah" (v. 8) prevails. 

6. But you despise the poor! Aren’t the rich the ones who oppress you and drag you into court?
7. Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name of Him to whom you belong?
Why treat the rich nonbelieving Jews in some special way when they are the ones who oppress you and drag you possibly into a beit-din, a Jewish religious court, and insult the good name of him to whom you belong, namely, "our Lord Yeshua, the glorious Messiah" (v. 1)? Alternatively, these verses speak of any rich person. Jewish or Gentile, and any court. 

8. If you truly attain the goal of Kingdom Torah, in conformity with the passage that says, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), you are doing well.
Kingdom Torah, usually rendered "the royal law" (but "law of the Kingdom" in Today's English Version), since Greek basilikos, like English "royal," means "of or pertaining to the king." The Torah of and pertaining to King Yeshua is precisely thai which holds in the "Kingdom" of God mentioned in v. 5.

Kingdom Torah is not a new Torah given by the Messiah (see 1:25N and references there). It does not make the Mosaic Law obsolete, even though, as Ga 5:14&N puts it (compare Ro 13:8-10), "the whole of the Torah is summed up in this one sentence: Love your neighbor as yourself." Rather, Ya'akov means that Kingdom Tonth is in essence nothing other than the Torah of Moses carried out. by the power of the Holy Spirit, in conformity with its own passage that says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Yeshua was pointing in this direction when he said thai this is one of the two mitzvai ("principles," Mt 22:36&N) on which all of the Torah and the Prophets depend (Mt 22:40). Here the principle says that the poor, including the "widows and orphans" of 1:26. as well as the rich are counted as "neighbors" to be loved as oneself; Yeshua meant the same at Lk 10:25-37 in the parable of the man from Shomron.

If you... attain the goal of Kingdom Torah. This is usually understood to mean, "If you fulfill it, if you observe it and obey it." But Greek teleite also allows the translation, "If you complete Kingdom Torah" if you bring it to its goal (see Ro 10:4N, MJ 7:1 IN). That would mean that the believers would accomplish the purpose of Kingdom Torah by obeying the Torah of Moses, interpreted in conformity with the passage that says, "Love your neighbor as yourself," that is, in such a way as to take into account the coming of Yeshua the Messiah and the New Covenant. If, as many think, Ya'akov's letter was the first book of the New Testament to be written, then one could say that the other New Testament characters and writers in effect followed his recommendation and completed Kingdom Torah (or reported its completion) in such passages as Ac 10:28,34-35; 15:19-29; Ro 3:19-31; 11:16-22; Ga 2:11-16; 3:28; MJ 7:12-15; 8:6; 10:14-18 (see notes there and at Ac 21:21). And this would be in keeping with Yeshua's commission to his talmidim at Mt 18:18, "Whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven," a commission first given to Kefa along with "the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven," which is the same Kingdom as mentioned here and in v. 5 (Mt 16:19&N).

Although obeying and interpreting Torah are thought of in Judaism as quite distinct, since the rabbinical authorities are the only authorized interpreters who may establish halakhah. it is nevertheless clear that there is a sense in which any obedience at all requires a measure of interpretation, at least the measure necessary to understand what it is that must be obeyed. Moreover, a Messianic believer attempting to "attain the goal of Kingdom Torah" is not given free rein to do what is right in his own eyes; the proviso that the Torah is to be accomplished according to the principle of neighborly love sets boundaries. But this canon of interpretation might lead to a different halakhah from that of non-Messianic Judaism. The issues that might be raised in the resulting machlokei ("dispute") are beyond the scope of this commentary. 

9. But if you show favoritism, your actions constitute sin, since you are convicted under the Torah as transgressors.
Your actions constitute. Greek ergazesthe, related to "erga" ("actions"), which appears twelve times in vv. 14-26. Thus If you show favoritism, then, no matter how much faith you claim to have, your actions constitute sin. It is this theme, what sort of actions must accompany genuine faith, which is picked up and given detailed treatment in vv. 14-26. Your actions constitute sin, since you are convicted under the Torah as transgressors. The Torah condemns favoritism in another context with these words: "Do not respect persons in judgment, but hear the small as well as the great; do not be afraid of the face of any man, for the judgment is God's" (Deuteronomy 1:17). Sha'ul too relates sin to transgression of the Torah (see Ro 4:15, 7:7-12), as does Yochanan ("sin is violation of Torah," 1 Yn 3:4; or, in KJV, "sin is the transgression of the law").

This section is concerned with how believers, specifically Messianic Jews, are to treat non-Messianic Jews inquiring about New Covenant faith. 

10. For a person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all.
11. For the One who said, "Don’t commit adultery" (Exodus 20:13(14); Deuteronomy 5:17(18)), also said, "Don’t murder" (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). Now, if you don’t commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Torah.
A person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all, that is, of breaking all the points of the Torah, thus, breaking all of the Torah — as illustrated by v. II.

These verses are sometimes taken as proof that if a person violates a single commandment of the Torah even once, he has placed himself permanently in the category of sinner and therefore has no hope of a restored relationship with God except by throwing himself on the grace of Yeshua. Moreover, it is sometimes inferred further that since everyone sins (Isaiah 53:5, Ro 3:23&N) and sooner or later must violate at least one commandment of Torah, it was inherently impossible under the Mosaic Law for anyone to be in a right relationship with God. This inference is wrong; it contradicts Lk 1:6 (see note there). It is true that no one can have a right relationship with God apart from Yeshua. But it is not true that once violating a commandment means that one has broken the Torah permanently and irremediably. That is not what this verse is saying. And it is certainly not true that the Mosaic Law as given was unfulfillable. Rather, these verses agree with the normal Jewish understanding, found in the writings of the rabbis, that if one withholds one's willingness to accept the authority of any part of the Torah, one has abrogated the authority of the whole Torah. It is useful to quote here from the commentary of Yechiel Lichtenstein (see MJ 3:13N) on v. 10 (my own expansion of what he wrote is in brackets):

'This refers to what is called by the Jews and the sages of Israel an avaryan ["transgressor, criminal": literally, "one who has passed beyond"]. It is as if he has offended in all points and is guilty of all. The opinion of Ya'akov is the same as that of Resh Lakisth [a fourth-century rabbi often quoted in the Talmud |, who said in Sanhedrin 1l1a, '"Sh'ol... has opened her mouth without measure"(Isaiah 5:14) for him who leaves undone even one statute.'" [The remark of Resh Lakish gains significance from a wordplay: the Hebrew words meaning "without measure" in Isaiah are "b'lichok" which would normally be translated, "lacking a statute."]

"See also Makkot 24a." [The passage, quoted at Ga 5:14N, tells how in Psalm 15 King David reduced the 613 commandments of the Torah toeleven and concluded, "He who does these things shall never be moved." The Talmud comments, "Whenever Rabban Gamli'el fsee Ac 5:34&N, 22:3&N) came to this passage he used to weep, saying, 'Only someone who practices all these (eleven virtues of Psalm 15] shall not be moved; but anyone falling short in any of them will be moved."']

"Also see Yalkut Shim'oni on Leviticus 4:2 ['If a soul shall sin by ignorance against any of the commandments. ,.*], where it says, 'One who transgresses one commandment is as if he had transgressed them all.'"[The relevant passage of the medieval midrash, Yalkut Shim 'oni, is this: "ZayiiRa 'anan says, 'Whosoever transgresses by ignorance any of the commandments is as if he had transgressed all of God's commandments." Why is this? Because one who sins consciously knows what sin he committed and what sin he did not commit, so thai he takes care not to sin; but one who sins in ignorance is as if he transgresses all the commandments, because he does not take care to keep them. Therefore it is written, 'If a soul shall sin in ignorance against any of the commandments...' (Leviticus 4:2) and, 'Who can understand his errors?' (Psalm 19:12) If it is true for unconscious sin, how much more so for conscious sin! The Holy One, blessed be he, says, 'You sin in this world because the yetzer [(evil) impulse] governs you; but in the world to come, I will take it away from you;' as it is said in Ezekiel 36:26, 'And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and 1 will give you a heart of flesh.' "(Commentary to the New Testament, ad loc.)

A representative non-Messianic Jewish teaching on this subject can also be found in the medieval work. Gates of Repentance, by Rabbi Yonah of Gerona:

"Listen to this and understand it, for it is an important principle: It is true that sometimes righteous people fail and commit sin, since 'There is no one on earth so righteous that he always does good and never sins' (Ecclesiastes 7:20). However, they subdue their yetzer [(evil) inclination] a hundred times. And if they do fall into sin once, they do not repeat it; rather, having become loathsome in their own eyes, they repent. But everyone who does not take care to avoid a known sin and does not take it upon himself to guard against it, then, even though it may be a relatively minor transgression, and even though he may take care to avoid all the other transgressions of the Torah, nevertheless the sages of Israel call him 'an apostate in respect to one thing' (Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 4b-5a). He is counted with the rebels, and his transgression is too great to forgive. For if a servant says to his master, 'I will do everything you tell me, except for one thing,' he has already broken off his master's yoke and is doing what is right in his own eyes. Concerning this, it is said, 'Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this Torah, to do them' (Deuteronomy 27:26); and the meaning of that verse is that whoever does not fulfill all the words of the Torah, from beginning to end." (Gate 1, Paragraph 6)

Ya'akov in vv. 10-11 is teaching along similar lines, as is clear from the Greek verb tenses: If you don't commit adultery, that is, if you make it your ongoing practice (present tense) to obey the command not to commit adultery, but do murder, making it your ongoing practice and continuing mindset to disobey this command, then you have become (perfect tense) — you have once and for all put yourself in the category of being — a transgressor of the Torah, what Lichtenstein in his commentary referred to as an avaryan and the Talmud as "an apostate in respect to one thing." The Tanakh calls such rejection of the authority of the Torah "sinning with a high hand." Moreover, any society regards acceptance of some of its laws and rejection of others as tantamount to rejection of its whole legal system. Compare 4:11-12 below.

Concerning whether the Mosaic Law can be fulfilled, note that the Torah itself prescribed sacrifices coupled with repentance as the means whereby sinners could be reconciled with God. Such reconciliation was not "permanent" (this is the point of the entire book of Messianic Jews; see especially Chapters 9 and 10) but was effectual "temporarily." It is just not true that under the Mosaic Law a person who failed to obey a single commandment had destroyed any possibility of getting right with God — as some Christian theologies teach. See Ro 9:30-10:10&NN. 

12. Keep speaking and acting like people who will be judged by a Torah which gives freedom.
13. For judgment will be without mercy toward one who doesn’t show mercy; but mercy wins out over judgment.
Torah which gives freedom. See 1:25N.
Love, the fruit of the Spirit (Ga 5:22), does freely what God's Torah requires (v. 8&N, Ro 13:8-10). This is what Jeremiah 31:30-33(31-34) meant in promising that under the New Covenant, the Torah would be written on the hearts of God's people (see MJ 8:6b-13&NN). But there is always the risk that such freedom will be perverted into license; see Ga 5:13-14.

In these two verses Ya'akov reminds his readers that even though under the New Covenant the Torah gives freedom, nevertheless, the Torah still sets the standard for judgment, and God's people will be judged by it (see Ro 2:12-13). Oversimple comparisons between Christianity and Judaism assume that the Old Testament portrays God as stem and unremittingly judgmental, with the New Testament offering a God of mercy. Actually the Tanakh's God is merciful too (Exodus 34:6-7, Psalm 62:12), while under the New Covenant judgment will be without mercy toward one who doesn't show mercy himself. Ya'akov relieves the stark severity by stating that the mercy (or love, v. 8) which a person shows toward others wins out over, that is, prevents, God's adverse judgment toward him. The same idea is found in Yeshua's words at Mt 6:14, 18:21-35, and in the Talmud:

"Whoever shows mercy toward others. Heaven will show mercy toward him; but whoever shows no mercy toward others. Heaven will show no mercy toward him." (Shabbat 151a)

Another way to understand the problematic Greek at the end of v. 13 is: "God's mercy wins out over his judgment." Certainly for believers in Yeshua God's mercy wins out over his judgment: while there will be a judgment on believers' works, their salvation is assured entirely because of Yeshua's atoning death, which is the ultimate expression of God's mercy. While the overall biblical picture makes it impossible to say that God's attribute of mercy is more important or stronger than his attribute of justice, the present verse corresponds to individual passages in the Tanakh such as Hosea 11:8-9, where God is quoted in the first person:

"My heart is turned within me. all my compassion is kindled. I will not execute the fierceness of my anger, I will not turn to destroy Efrayim; for I am God and not a man. the Holy One in the midst of you, so 1 will not come as an enemy."

But this interpretation seems less relevant to the context of Chapter 2, in which Ya'akov is not teaching about God's nature but urging his readers to be merciful themselves. 

14. What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no actions to prove it? Is such “faith” able to save him?
15. Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food,
16. and someone says to him, “Shalom! Keep warm and eat hearty!” without giving him what he needs, what good does it do?
17. Thus, faith by itself, unaccompanied by actions, is dead.
18. But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Show me this faith of yours without the actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions!
But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Ya'akov introduces an imaginary third party, "someone," coming to defend an imaginary "you" who answers "Yes" to the questions of v. 14 and believes that intellectual faith without good works can save him: someone will say that you are the one who has genuine faith, and that /, Ya'akov, have only actions without faith and am trying to save myself by ray works (which would indeed contradict Sha'ul at Ro 3:28). My answer to "you" (and indirectly to "someone") is: Show me this faith of yours without the actions! You won't be able to, since genuine faith is perceived not through talk, but through the deeds that issue from it. However, for my part, I, Ya'akov, will show you my faith by my actions, and you will have to conclude that I am not trying to save myself by my works; rather, my works grow out of my faith and prove that it is genuine faith.

Introducing imaginary adversaries is a recognized strategy in Jewish pedagogy; see practically anywhere in the Talmud. For an extended example in Sha'ul's writing, see Ro 10:14-11:11 and Ro 10:14-15N. 

19. You believe that "God is one"? Good for you! The demons believe it too — the thought makes them shudder with fear!
You believe that "God is one"? Ya'akov's challenge to his imaginary adversary is: "You may affirm the Sh 'ma, the central creedal statement of Judaism, recited twice daily by every observant Jew. Good for you! — so what? The demons believe it too; for Satan and his minions are thoroughly familiar with Scripture and do not dispute its truth (see Mt 4:1-11&NN). But such intellectual affirmation is not saving faith, so the thought makes them shudder with fear. For unlike believers joyfully anticipating their eternal glorification with God, they know that an irremediable and dreadful fate in hell awaits them at the Last Judgment (Revelation 20). Also, unlike human skeptics, they know that this hell, with its lake of fire and brimstone, is real and not merely a scare tactic used to frighten the gullible." 

20. But, foolish fellow, do you want to be shown that such “faith” apart from actions is barren?
vv. Faith apart from actions is barren, etc. See vv. 14-26N. 

21. Wasn’t Avraham avinu declared righteous because of actions when he offered up his son Yitz’chak on the altar?
A vraham avinu... offered up his son Yitzchak, Genesis 22:1 -19. See MJ 11:17-19&NN. Abraham was declared righteous because of actions. On this Yechiel Lichtenstein writes (with my comments in brackets),

"It means that his faith was revealed through his actions, as is immediately explained in the following verse; and this corresponds to Genesis 22:12, 'Now I know that you fear God.' See the Ramban's commentary there. [The Ramban (/?abbi Л/oshe Ben-Nachman, Nachmanides, 12th century) wrote that God was already aware of Abraham's faith in potentiality, but his willingness to sacrifice Isaac made Abraham's faith concrete and brought him to full merit before God.] Paul said in Ro 4:2, 'For if Abraham came to be considered righteous by God because of works, then he has something to boast about. But this is not how it is before God.' The meaning is that Paul interprets the words, 'I know' in Genesis 22:12 as Rashi does, that God can now glorify himself with Abraham before mankind. [Rashi commented, ' "Now I know" — henceforth I have something to answer Satan and the nations who wonder what is my love towards you. Now I have a point of attack, for they see "that you fear God."'] But in any case, Paul admits that Abraham was declared righteous because of his actions — as written in Genesis 26:5, 'Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, commandments, statutes and laws.' This is what the Holy One, blessed be he, said to Isaac." (Commentary to the New Testament, ad loc.) 

22. You see that his faith worked with his actions; by the actions the faith was made complete;
23. and the passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled which says, "Avraham had faith in God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness(Genesis 15:6). He was even called God’s friend (Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7).
God's friend. A friend is not one who merely declares his loyalty but who proves it by his deeds. On the subject of friendship Yeshua told his talmidim, "No one has greater love than a person who lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you" (Yn 15:13-14). Abraham's offering his son Isaac resembles God's offering his son Yeshua (see Yn 3:16). 

24. You see that a person is declared righteous because of actions and not because of faith alone.
25. Likewise, wasn’t Rachav the prostitute also declared righteous because of actions when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another route?
Rachav the prostitute. See Joshua 2:8-21, 6:25. She is also mentioned at MJ 11:31 as one Of the heroines of faith; and her example is even more striking than that of Abraham, for her works prior to her "conversion" were unarguably wicked. Mekhilta to Exodus 18:1 reports that she had been a prostitute for forty years from age 10, but then she joined herself to the Jewish people and became a proselyte. Her faith was genuine, for she not only affirmed the God of Israel (Joshua 2:11), but did actions demonstrating her faith when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another route. This was the beginning of a complete change of lifestyle. Mattityahu 1:5 names her as an ancestor of Yeshua the Messiah. 

26. Indeed, just as the body without a spirit is dead, so too faith without actions is dead.
Opponents of New Testament faith claim that it offers "cheap grace" — salvation by merely affirming in one's mind certain facts or ideas about Yeshua, or through merely feeling good in one's heart toward God, without doing good deeds. This passage is the classic disproof of that allegation.

Its context is vv. 1-13. The topic of faith ("the faith of our Lord Yeshua") is introduced in v. I and mentioned again in v. 5. The first nine verses demonstrate that faith is inconsistent with showing favoritism, while vv. 12-13 imply that faith necessarily produces mercy. The present passage expands these ideas into the general principle that genuine faith proves itself by being expressed in good works. Thus mental or emotional faith by itself (v. 17) or faith alone (v. 24), unaccompanied by the right kinds of actions, is dead (vv. 17,26), barren (v. 20), no better than the so-called "faith" demons have (v. 19) because they know the reality of the spirit world. But only by actions is faith made complete (v. 22) and capable of giving God ground to declare a person righteous (v. 24).

The Greek word translated 'faith" in this passage is "pistis" usually rendered "trust" in the Jewish New Testament for reasons given in Ac 3:16N and Ga 2:16cN. The word "faith" is used here because Ya'akov is really speaking about not all of trust, but just a part of it, the confessional, intellectual part. Ya'akov brings this out by using restrictive modifiers: such faith (v. 14; literally, "the faith"), faith by itself (v. 17), faith without actions (v. 26; compare v. 20) and faith alone (v. 24); moreover, he points out specifically that actions must be added to this limited part of faith in order for faith to be made complete (or "made perfect," v. 22; see 1:23-25N).

Ya'akov is sometimes mistakenly thought to contradict Sha'ul, particularly Ep 2:8-9 and Ro 3:28. This is why Martin Luther regarded the book of Ya'akov as "a right strawy epistle." Nothing could be farther from the truth. Ya'akov is in full agreement with Sha'ul, once it is understood that the "faith alone" which Ya'akov decries as barren and dead is only part of the genuine faith or trust which Sha'ul authoritatively declares is sufficient. In Ephesians, after Sha'ul writes, "For you have been delivered by grace through trusting,... not... by your own actions" (Ep 2:8-9), he affirms the importance of good works by adding. "For we are of God's making, created in union with the Messiah Yeshua for a life of good actions already prepared by God for us to do" (Ep 2:10).

In Romans, the problem is largely one of translation. The KJV, which is typical, renders Ro 3:28, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Two false propositions are frequently inferred: (1) a person's good works are irrelevant and do not affect God's decision to count him righteous; and (2) faith alone, understood either as mental belief in a creed or as some inner emotional state in relation to God, is all that is needed for salvation. The Jewish New Testament, by bringing out clearly the true sense of Ro 3:28, makes it impossible to reach either of those conclusions: "Therefore, we hold the view that a person comes to be considered righteous by God on the ground of trusting, which has nothing to do with legalistic observance of Torah commands."

It is not without significance that Ya'akov in his argument that genuine faith must result in good works employs the identical verse about Abraham (Genesis 15:6, quoted in v. 23) that Sha'ul uses at Ro 4:3 to prove the complete sufficiency of faith without legalistic observances.

Ya'akov and Sha'ul are in complete harmony; both understand genuine faith as consisting of an inward acknowledgement of God's truth which is expressed and flows outward in the form of good works. Ya'akov's point is that if good works are subtracted from genuine faith, what is left is barren and dead. Sha'ul's point is that if legalistic observances are added to or substituted for genuine faith, that result too is barren and dead.

Not in Romans, Ephesians or anywhere else does Sha'ul demean the importance of works in the life of faith. On the contrary, such verses as Ga 5:6, 1 Ti 5:8 and Ti 3:2 express the importance of expressing one's faith through good works; indeed, in a fully Jewish way, his letters contain whole chapters full of advice on which good works to do, and when and how to do them.

In vv. 14-20 Ya'akov employs deep irony. After giving an example of the shallow intellectual faith that can ignore obvious human need (vv. 14-17), he shows up the inability of such "faith" to prove its existence (v. 18), characterizes it as no better than that of demons (v. 19), and calls a person who holds such faith foolish (v. 20). But then he asks whether such a person might be willing to learn something (v. 20), and, assuming the possibility of a positive answer, leaves irony behind to offer two examples from Scripture — Abraham (vv. 21-24) and Rahab (vv. 25-26) — demonstrating that true faith must be accompanied by actions. 

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