19 June 2017

Unproven, uncomfortable, devilish faith.

James 2.18-19.

More than once in these James articles, I’ve mentioned Christians who don’t realize sola fide means justification by faith alone; who think it means salvation by faith alone. And because they know we’re not saved by works, Ep 2.9 they therefore insist faith isn’t a work. Can’t be. ’Cause we’re not saved by works.

I don’t know that James suffered from Christians who believed the same way for the same reason. More likely he was just dealing with people who don’t understand what faith is. Lotta Christians have that problem. Some of us still think it’s the magic ability to wish so hard, stuff comes true. Which is what’ll happen when you base your theology on Disney princess movies instead of your bible.

It’s why James had to demonstrate, from the bible, why this sort of thinking was all wet. But first his comment about how even demons, the lesser gods of Greek mythology and the fake gods behind idolatry, also have faith—for all the good it does ’em.

James 2.17-19 KWL
17 This “faith,” when it’s all by itself and takes no action, is dead.
18 But someone’ll say you have faith—and I have works.
Show me your workless “faith.” I’ll show you, from my works, faith.
19 You have faith that God is One. Good job!
The demons also have this faith—and it grates on them.

I should first point out my translation differs from the usual way bibles render verse 18:

James 2.18 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.

Historically su pístin ékheis kagó érga ékho/“you have faith and I have works” has been translated as a quote, as stated by this hypothetical tis/“someone” James brought up.

The reason I don’t translate it as a quote, is because if you believed faith and works were two different things, would you argue, “You have faith and I have works”? Aren’t you trying to argue you’re the one with the faith? “You have faith” is a concession; you’d lose your argument immediately. You wouldn’t say, “You have faith”; you’d say “I have faith,” the exact opposite. Taking the quotes off means you did say you have faith.

The reason other translators do translate it as a quote, is because it’s better Greek. James should’ve phrased it aftós pístin ékhei—“But someone’ll say he has faith—and I have works.” Writing su pístin ékheis/“you have faith” makes it feel like the pronoun su/“you” has no connection with the pronoun tis/“someone.”

Because we translators have to know and follow the rules of Greek grammar, we forget sometimes the writers of the New Testament didn’t follow them. (Like us, Greek wasn’t necessarily their first language.) If they suddenly look like they’ve contradicted themselves, it might be a grammar problem. Translators need to remember the meaning of the text is infallible, but the grammar of the text is flexible. Grammar’s rules are a human invention, not a divine one. If the NT writers break those rules, it’s okay. Adjust for that, and make sure they get their point across.

All right, back to the demons.

Ever heard of childlike faith? This’d be demon-like faith.

In my article on demons, I pointed out how we tend to think of ’em as evil, unclean spirits, but the ancient Greeks and Romans thought of ’em as gods. And yeah they were evil, considering how they trick people into worshiping them instead of the One God.

These “gods” know there’s One God, of course; he created ’em. Judged them too, for mistreating his people:

Psalm 82.1-7 KWL
1 In the god-council, our God stands up. In their middle, God judges them all:
2 “For how long must you judge people wrong, lifting up wicked faces?” Selah.
3 “Judge the weak, orphaned, troubled—be fair! 4 Save the needy and weak from cruel hands.
5 They don’t fathom they walk in the dark. All foundations are cracked in their lands.
6 I have said you are gods, every one—all of you, children of the Most High.
7 But like one of the princes, you’ll fall, and like any mere human, you’ll die.”

(Yeah, I know the original doesn’t rhyme. I just like translating psalms that way.)

The demons’ deal is they know there’s a God over them, but they act like there’s not; their whole existence is denial of the fact their time is coming. They answer to their Creator same as we. It’s why they fríssusin/“feel a chill,” like when one’s hair stands on end, and get goosebumps. No, they’re not material beings; don’t start using this passage to deduce demons’ physical responses, ’cause it’s just a metaphor. But if they had blood, the thought of God would make it run cold.

If “faith” is nothing more than mere belief, obviously it does squat for the demons. They know the truth same as we; likely more than we, ’cause they’ve been around longer and seen stuff. They’ve experienced God’s might, power, and reign firsthand. They have faith out the yin-yang. But it doesn’t bring ’em hope, comfort, and confidence. It shakes ’em with cold fear. God terrifies them.

And you might notice those people who figure their beliefs save them… are also terrified of God. They’re scared to death lest they get any part of their belief system wrong. They’re convinced heresy sends people to hell. They spend way more time talking about God’s wrath than God’s grace—’cause if you don’t figure you’re saved by grace, what good is it? and it’s not a priority. Way too much time imagining the wicked exploding in geysers of blood. Way too little sympathy. Way too dark a form of Christianity.

Faith without works is more than merely dead. It’s warped. And warps those who cling to it. Warps ’em like it warps demons.