New Defender's Study Bible Notes
2:2 assembly. “Assembly” here is actually the same word translated as “synagogue” (in fact, transliterated from the Greek). This is further indication of the very early date of James’ epistle. The Jewish Christians evidently continued to call their assemblies by the same name they had known before, even though now they were Christian “synagogues.” Eventually, with increasing hostility by non-Christian Jews, along with more Gentiles coming into the assemblies, the “church” name became adopted everywhere.
2:8 according to the scripture. This law was first set forth in Scripture in Leviticus 19:18. It was cited by Christ as a parallel law to that of loving God (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). It is also quoted in Matthew 5:43; 19:19; and Galatians 5:14 (where Paul says it sums up the whole body of the Mosaic laws as they deal with human behavior and relationships). Thus the Bible cites it specifically eight times. No wonder it is called the royal law.
2:10 offend in one point. James no doubt realized that his Jewish readers, accustomed as they had been to trusting in the law for salvation, needed to realize fully that they could never be justified before God by keeping the law, since no one could ever keep it perfectly. Not only Jews, however, but all men need to realize that they can never be saved by their good works (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16). One unforgiven sin is enough for condemnation.
2:12 law of liberty. This felicitous phrase is used only by James (see also James 1:25). Liberty is not license, but is freedom in Christ, under grace and the law of Christian love.
2:14 can faith save him. Every one has faith of some kind—even atheists. However, the object of faith, and the results of that faith, measure its validity.
2:18 faith by my works. Genuine faith in Christ for salvation inevitably produces works that demonstrate its reality (note Ephesians 2:8-10). James never says that works produce salvation, nor even that faith plus works can save, but that good works always accompany true saving faith.
2:19 there is one God. James is writing primarily to Jews, whose main religious distinctive was monotheism, as opposed to the pantheistic polytheism that characterized all the pagan religions of the day. Even now, there are only three monotheistic religions (orthodox Judaism, orthodox Islam and orthodox Christianity); all others are, to one degree or another, structured around evolutionary pantheism, and nowhere in Scripture is such pagan belief commended, or even condoned. In this verse, monotheism is commended by James, but even that is not sufficient to save. Only true Christianity acknowledges that the Creator must also be the Redeemer.
2:20 faith without works is dead. Many people have alleged that James was arguing here against Paul’s doctrine of salvation strictly by grace through faith. This idea is clearly wrong, however, because James wrote his epistle before any of Paul’s were written. Actually, there is no conflict between the two. James certainly taught that the works of the law could not save (note James 2:10; 4:17), and Paul taught clearly that genuine faith would produce good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). It is simply a semantic matter of emphasis. Salvation must be of grace, accepted by faith, since no one can earn it, but only God can know the heart and the reality of a profession of faith. But the reality of that faith can only be demonstrated to others by good works.
2:21 justified by works. At first glance, this statement does seem to be contradicted by Paul in Romans 4:2, when he denied that Abraham was justified by works. The point is that Abraham was justified by faith in the sight of God, as testified in Genesis 15:6, but he was justified in the sight of men (even in his own estimation) when he demonstrated the reality of his faith (Genesis 22:18) in his obedience to God’s command to offer up Isaac.
2:23 fulfilled which saith. This testimony in Genesis 15:6 was a prophecy until its fulfillment in Abraham’s obedience.
2:23 Friend of God. See II Chronicles 20:7 and Isaiah 41:8. Probably both were referring to God’s testimony in Genesis 18:17-19.
2:25 Rahab the harlot. It is interesting that such a woman as “Rahab the harlot” is cited in Hebrews 11:31 as an illustration of true faith and by James as evidence of justifying works. Her inclusion in the human genealogy of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 1:5) is evidence of God’s grace.