Thursday, August 20, 2009

Erasmus' paraphrase of the Book of James

Today I am going to have a bit of a lazy day and let others do the speaking. This is Erasmus’ paraphrase of James. I read this last night and I liked it so much I wanted to share it.

Now Martin Luther did not like the Book of James at all. And I can understand why. For a person who was big on the whole ‘faith, not works’ things, it does jar a bit. However, I think the very reasons why Martin Luther disliked James is what makes me like it so much.

But just because we are saved through faith, not works, does not mean we should just be turn our back on everything that God wants us to do. We can’t simply say ‘Well I’m saved through faith’ and therefore I do not even need to think about doing anything to please him. As this paraphrase makes clear, our professions of faith should not just be meaningless words. Our faith needs to be acted out in our lives.

The book of James and this paraphrase reminds us that being a Christian is not just a matter of going to church every week and looking spiritual and thinking we are saved because we have faith. We also need to be doing God wants. Not to earn our salvation. But because we love Him.

Erasmus’ paraphrase of the Book of James

But what is faith without love? Love moreover is a living thing; it does not go on holiday; it is not idle; it expresses itself in kind acts wherever it is present. If these acts are lacking, my brothers, I ask you, will the empty word ‘faith’ save a person? Faith which does not work through love is unproductive; no, it is faith in name only. An example here will make clear what I mean. If someone says blandly to a brother or a sister who lacks clothing or daily food, ‘Depart in peace, keep warm, and remember to eat well,’ and after saying this, gives him or her none of the things the body needs, will his fine talk be of any use to the ones in need? They will be no less cold and hungry for all his fine talk, which is of no help to their need. He gives him only verbal support, but does nothing in actual fact. A profession of faith will certainly be equally useless if it consists only of words and does nothing except remain inactive as though dead. It should no more be called faith than a human corpse merits the name of human being. Love is to faith what the soul is to the body. Take away love and the word faith is like something dead and inert. It will do you no more good before God to confess in words an idle faith than fine speech benefits a neighbour in need when he must be helped with action. People think they are being mocked when you say to them, ‘Keep warm and well fed,’ and give them neither food nor clothing. Just so the person who offers no tangible proofs of his faith but repeats every day, ‘I believe in God, I believe in God,’ seems to be mocking God. A person who gives lip service to love possesses a fruitless charity. In the same way a person whose belief is only a matter of words possesses a faith that serves no purpose.

(Image details: Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger. Courtesty of Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the public domain.)


  1. I have come to understand this better in my Catholic journey too.

    I used to think works were just an "outward sign of inward faith" as all god Protestants are taught. What I never considered is that it's a two-way street. At times I find my works inspire my faith too! So my faith inspires my works, AND those works inspire my faith. Now the proposition of being saved "by faith alone" might still stand, but that saving faith is itself composed of works just as much as beliefs.

  2. I think faith and works are two sides of the same coin, in a way. The two great commandments were love God and love others, not love God and don't worry about helping people because you're already saved. :) I do think that sometimes the whole 'faith, not works' thing can be used as an excuse.

    I tend to use my children a lot to try and grasp spiritual truths. And I was thinking about how my children are always my children. They don't need to do anything to 'become' my children. But in a way, they do have to do things because they 'are' my children.



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