What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has loyalty/faith but does not have works?
In the last couple of posts I have been dealing rather broadly with the subject of faith. First we looked at the apparent contradiction between faith and intellectual humility, and then we examined the meaning of the New Testament words associated with faith
There is an important subtlety here that is easy to overlook. I am not simply suggesting that we replace the word faith, with the word loyalty. You will remember from last week I said words are not pins in a map but are more like nations. They cover areas of meaning. Words in one language rarely cover exactly the same area of meaning as words in another language.
This is the origin of the saying “all translators are lairs.” Remember that the English word “faith” does encompass the meaning of loyalty. Our problem is that it is only a minor component of the word, and is not immediately apparent in everyday use.
It is my contention that while there are cognitive aspects attached to the biblical words translated as faith and believe, this is not where the emphasis usually lies. In English faith is usually associated with believing something without proof. In Greek, the equivalent word, pistos (πιστός) carries a much stronger connotation of loyalty.
It is not uncommon to see faith and works pitted against each other, and many words have been spent trying to explain the apparent discrepancy between the words of James and Paul. I suspect that many of those apparent discrepancies will appear much less significant if we can learn to hear scripture with first century ears. Notice how different our opening passage sounds as we start to emphasize the loyalty aspects of pistos.
Faith/loyalty versus works
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has loyalty/faith but does not have works? Can that loyalty/faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also loyalty/faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:14-17