Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Nature of Saving Faith: James 2:14ff

Terms such as “false faith,” “genuine faith,” “spurious faith,” “temporal faith,” and “saving faith” may very well be confusing. Are we talking about different kinds of faith? Different classes and types of faith? Is saving faith merely a “special kind of faith” as opposed to some other type of faith that does not save? This confusion is perhaps one of the fundamental misunderstandings of the Reformed position by the “Free Grace” Movement. However, a clarification of our terminology is in order. The Reformed position does not affirm that there are different “types” of faith. There is only saving faith. Anything else is not faith. When we use words such as “temporal faith” or “false faith,” we are not alluding to a different type of faith, but to that which is utterly non-faith. You may ask, “Then why use the confusing terminology?” My answer is that we are simply placing the discussion in Biblical terms.

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

James asks, “Can that faith save him?” James is here alluding to a faith that does not produce works, a faith that is not saving faith. However, he is not writing about some other type of faith. The “faith” he is alluding to is not faith at all. In the Reformed position, perseverance, assurance, salvation–it is all achived through faith. However, the question is “What does faith look like?” Or, rather, “What is the nature of saving faith?”

Before we can answer such questions, peer into the text of James, or respond to Free Grace proponents, we must first make a very important clarification. When discussing such things, it is important to make sure that we are carefully distinguishing between what is being spoken prescriptively and what is being spoken descriptively. Below I will show that saving faith produces genuine works. But this is a description of saving faith, not a prescription. It is meant to describe saving faith, not qualify it. In other words, works are not a prerequisite for saving faith, but they are the necessary byproduct of saving faith. It is as the Reformers have always stated, “Faith alone saves, but faith that saves is never alone.” A Free Grace propenent might continue to say that the “logical conclusion” of the Reformed position is to deny sola fide. But this requires simple ignorance what has been stated here.

Antonio asked me, “What makes saving faith saving?” He assumed that I would answer, “Saving faith is saving because of the works it produces.” But that would be false, and it was not how I answered. Yes, saving faith, by definition, produces works. But the reason it saves (or rather, is the conduit for the salvation that Christ has given us) is because it has been imparted to us by the sovereign author of the plan of redemption. It is God who gives us faith in the perfect Savior Jesus Christ, and it is for this reason that it is the channel for our salvation. We can rephrase this by asking two questions, “What is the prescription for saving faith?” and “What is the description of saving faith?” The prescription for saving faith is that it 1) is given to the elect by God, and 2) has its object in the person of Jesus Christ. However, the description of saving faith is that it will necessarily produce genuinely good works. The same must be emphasized when it comes to perseverance. In light of perseverance, what is the prescription for saving faith, and what is the description of saving faith? The prescription for saving faith in regards to assurance is God’s decision to securely preserve his elect in faith. On the other hand, the description of saving faith in regards to assurance is that saving faith will persevere to the end. The prescriptive/descriptive distinction is one that must be emphatically affirmed over and over again because it, more than any other Reformed distinctive, is continually misrepresented by the Free Grace Movement. The Reformed position is accused of adding works and perseverance to faith. It is accused of denying sola fide. I hope I have made this distinction quite clear, but I will without a doubt need to restate it in the future. Concerning this prescriptive/descriptive distinction, Jodie Sawyer comments:

But surely you would admit, Evan, that historically Calvinists and especially their flocks have failed to enjoy the distinction between the descriptive and prescriptive, however valid that distinction maybe.

Well, to be honest, there weren’t people going around claiming that the very Reformers who coined the phrase sola fide were somehow denying sola fide! Their enemy was a works-based, Roman Catholic position, not some “Free Grace” one. In any case, as Sawyer notes, this does not invalidate the argument. Simply because the distinction may or may not have been made in the past has nothing to do with its truth in this relevant situation. Nevertheless, while the Reformed writers may not have used the words “prescriptive” and “descriptive,” the concept is evident in their theology and in statements such as the oft-repeated “Faith alone saves, but faith that saves is never alone.”

Concerning what has been presented above, Antonio has asked a few questions in the comments section of my last post:

Where does the Bible speak of “false faith”? If false faith is not faith at all, what is it? Please both describe and define “false faith”.

To answer the first question, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). For the second question, “false faith” refers to a confession (that is, declaration) of faith by someone who does not actually possess faith. Makes sense, huh?

Moving back to the text of James, let’s begin our exposition at 2:14. We will go no further than this verse in this post. Rather, we will establish the meaning of v. 14 as well as respond to Antonio da Rosa’s handling of v. 14.

James White states correctly, “The entire purpose of James 2:14-26 can be summarized by the words ’show me.’” I believe that Antonio and I are in agreement over the fact that James (the Biblical author, that is) was not intending to present how one is saved. He presents no ordo salutis, no “Ephesians 2:1-9,” so to speak. It is not a soteriological passage. But what I affirm, and Antonio may or may not agree, is that James, though not presenting the core of the gospel itself, is portraying what it looks like when the gospel is applied to the life of the believer, how what has been worked within is displayed outwardly. This is shown by the preceding context (2:1-13), where James describes how you must act “as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (v. 1).

Antonio starts off with some necessary notes concerning translation:

James 2:14
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims [lego] to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (NIV)

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? (RSV)

What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (NAS)

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (NKJV)

Thus begins our consideration of James 2:14ff. Noted here are four common yet differing versions of our text. Excluding the so-called “dynamic equivalence” of the NIV, where it takes obvious liberty translating “lege” (from “lego”) as “claim” (1343 occurrences in the Greek text, all but a handful being translated with “say” and its cognates, the others translated as “named”; never translated “claim” in NKJV, NASB, ASV, and RSV), the first question is fundamentally the same in the given instances.

Actually, “claim” (translated by the NET as well) conveys quite accurately what is being stated in this passage. Yes, literally the text reads “says” (λεγη) rather than “claims,” but what is most clarifying is the literal infinitival form “to have” that we see retained in versions such as the NET (”says to have faith” is hardly a smooth and modern way of translating the text, and “claims” conveys the meaning that is set in “to have”). In other words, regardless of “claims” or “says,” the emphasis is on the confession of the faith, not actual faith itself. “What is the gain, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but does not have deeds?”

The following verses show that this is indeed what James is conveying. His emphasis, as is expanded upon throughout this section, is on the mere claim to have faith. This is a “faith” that exists only in the realm of words, only in the confession, but it isn’t true faith that has been imparted to a genuine believer. We will show that “claims” fits the argument of the passage as a whole, carrying the idea of an empty profession.

Antonio states that the NIV takes “obvious liberty” in translating λεγη as “claims.” In a sense, he is right, in that this isn’t the most literal translation possible. However, it does not confuse the meaning of the text. Rather, as is shown above and as we will see in light of the passage as a whole, it portrays accurately the thinking of James in his emphasis in profession rather than in possession. Why does this matter? Because if James is merely referring to an empty profession of faith, then this completely destroys Antonio’s position on the text. From the beginning we can see that Antonio is on sinking ground.

One last thing that we should note concerning this first question in verse 14 is the translation of ἔργα (erga) as “deeds.” While “works” certainly portrays James’ meaning in this passage, “deeds” separates James’ usage of the word from Paul’s usage of “works” in the negative sense. We should note that Paul’s normative use of ἔργα matches James’ use in v. 14. In several places, Paul speaks of deeds done in righteousness, these flowing from a heart that has been changed by the Holy Spirit. Similarly, he teaches us that we are saved unto good works that we might walk in them (Eph. 2:8-10). Why does this matter? Because Antonio will, without a doubt, launch his canard-ish assault upon the Reformed position, claiming that its interpretation of this passage somehow denies sola gratia or sola fide. With “deeds” we note that we are not talking about works in the context of justification, but good deeds that flow from justification in the context of sanctification.

Yet in the second question we find different and important variations that weigh heavily upon its interpretation. In the above examples we are met with three modifiers to “faith” and one with no modifier at all. Respectively we have “such faith”, “his faith”, “that faith”, and merely “faith”.

That commentators have painted this someone’s faith as merely professed and spurious should be surprising to no one. This has been the overwhelming tradition (with a few notable exceptions). It is unfortunate that the theology of the pundits (and the translators) have colored their interpretation. They bolster their claims here by the insertion of the modifiers “such” or “that” to “faith”. Is this a legitamate understanding and translation? The introduction of words like “that” or “such” as qualifiers for “faith” is really an evasion of the text. The Greek does not support this sort of translation. There really is no corresponding Greek word for either or these.

Nevertheless, support for the renderings “such faith” or “that faith” is usually said to be found in the presence of the Greek definite article with the word “faith”. But in this very passage, the definite article also occurs with “faith” in verses 17, 18, 20, 22, and 26 (in verse 22 the reference is to Abraham’s faith!). In none of these places are the words “such” or “that” proposed as natural translations. As is well known, the Greek language, like Spanish and French, often employed the definite article with abstract nouns (like faith, hope, love, etc.) where English cannot do so. In such cases we leave the Greek article untranslated. The attempt to single out 2:14 for specialized treatment carries its own refutation on its face. It must be classed as a truly desperate effort to support an insupportable interpretation.

1. The phrase begins with μὴ, indicating that the answer to this rhetorical question is negative: “No, that kind of faith cannot save.” Would the answer, “No, faith cannot save” make any sense in the Free Grace position? (Antonio forces it to make sense by redefining “save,” as we will see in future posts).

2. So “that faith” (NASB), “that faith” (ESV), “such faith” (NIV), “the faith” (LITV) “this kind of faith” (NET), “that faith” (ASV), “that kind of faith” (NLT), “such faith” (ALT) “such faith” (AMP), “that kind of faith” (CEV), “that kind of faith” (NLV) etc. are all mistranslations? As far as I know, it is only the KJV and the NKJV that simply render it “Can faith save him,” and these are translated from the Textus Recptus which also contains the definite article. Antonio brushes off the definite article based upon how it is handled in the other verses. It may very well be true that the article with πιστις is anaphoric in these verses. However, the antecedent must be examined based upon its own immediate context. The Biblical scholars involved in the translation of the versions above knew very well what James was conveying in v. 14 in light of the entire passage. The distinction is between a faith that is demonstrated in deeds, and one that is demonstrated in words alone. It is between a faith that is alive, saving faith, and a faith that is “dead” (v. 26). Every discovery that we will make in this text from this point forward will absolutely affirm what the translators knew that James was conveying in v. 14.

3. The distinction made in this section is not between faith and works, but between dead faith and alive faith. Faith without deeds is dead faith. Dead faith cannot save. The answer to the rhetorical question in v.14, therefore, is “No, that kind of faith (dead faith, faith without deeds) cannot save.”

4. Antonio’s theological bias is undeniably evident. While he may claim that we “add to the text by including modifiers to ‘faith’ that both the context and Greek language do not support” (a claim that, at face value, sounds convincing, but once we look at the actual text, amounts to nothing), but he is the one that is twisting the meaning of the text. The translation “such faith” (the type of translation that is found in all versions other than the KJV and the NKJV) ruins Antonio’s claims on the passage, and, therefore, he must reject it. While he may sound convincing, in reality, this is nonsense coming from someone who, frankly, does not know what he is talking about.

Why must the Lordship Salvation advocates so intensly defend their position that the faith in view here must be spurious? For two reasons: 1) to evade the text and 2) in order to propagate their view that eternal salvation is not by faith alone apart from works. They dodge the text here. LS has desired this passage to be talking about eternal salvation (salvation from hell) so that they can promulgate their heresy of faith works (a faith that is not apart from works) being necessary for final salvation. Yet, is this passage truly talking about it?

Allow me to paraphrase 2:14: “Suppose that someone admits to faith yet he cannot point to acts of obedience (the kind that James has been discussing in 1:26-2:13), what then? Can he expect salvation (of the kind in which James is talking about) to come through his faith if he is not a ‘doer of work’ (1:21)?” In other words, as per the Greek text (and the NKJV), “Can faith save him?” Notice James’ stark, clear, and poignant question! Can faith alone save the man?

Actually the question in Greek implies its own answer and might be better translated, “Faith can’t save him, can it?” The expected response is, “No, it can’t!” But, of course, faith can and does save when we are speaking of eternal salvation (e.g. Ephesians 2:8, 9). But here -as James makes plain- faith cannot save under the conditions he has in mind.

Thus in James 2, the writer plainly makes works a condition for the salvation he here is describing. The failure to admit this is the chief source of the problems supposedly arising from this passage for most evangelicals. We ought to start by admitting it. And we ought then to admit that James cannot be discussing salvation BY GRACE! But instead of admitting these points, most interpreters dodge them, as we have shown.

…James is manifestly speaking of a “salvation” that is not by faith alone (”Can faith save him?” implied and intended answer in Greek, as per construction, is “NO!”). James’ statements cannot be willed away. As clearly as language can express it, faith by itself does not “save,” acording to James. But save from what?

We can begin to see where Antonio is going with this passage. He is going to remove “save” from an eternally salvific context. I must say that this did not surprise me when I saw it. Antonio’s warrantless rejection of “that faith” or “such faith” would make the text confusing. Is James saying that faith cannot save? Next post will look further in this passage, as well as consider Antonio’s interpretation of “save.”

Antonio’s mishandling of the text is becoming quite evident. Unfortunately, this particular post was necessarily long because he brought his mishandling to the translational level. We can see how far he must go to propagate his theology. While Antonio may continually accuse the Reformed position of having a theological agenda that is imposed upon the text, it is again and again evident that he is the one who must make a mess out of the text. As we continue to look at this passage, everything that will be established in the future will affirm what we have established here.

Book Recommendation: The God Who Justifies by James R. White. (BHP)

Evan May.

25 comments:

  1. I didn't quite see how anything I said in my post was proven false by you in this post of yours.

    You beg the question and apply circular logic. You used your translation of the article in 2:14 as a proof that the translation is correct. You appealed to popularity rather than demonstrating by the grammar and syntax that your translation was correct. And you imported your theology into the text so as to warrant your translation.

    You did not answer the fact that the article shows up with "faith" many times after in the same passage and the same context where it is not natural to translate it as an adjective or a far demonstrative pronoun. Nor answer to the fact that the article in that culture and language was a extremely common and much used occurrence in front of abstract nouns, nor answer to the fact that James indeed knew the Greek words for "that", "such", "that kind", yet chose not to employ them. The original readers of the epistle would not assume nor react to the article the way you dogmatically have.

    Here you show that you build your theology in this passage on an undetectable grammatical nuance.

    To get 2:14 wrong, Evan, is to get the whole passage wrong, and you have not at all demonstrated that mine is wrong and yours is right. Your critique here is very poor.

    I also see that you skipped over my post that deals with the intended audience of James, that the audience he writes for is regenerate, as this is an extremely important consideration as well.

    The whole epistle has the context of the trials and tribulations of regenerate people. Men in such circumstances will not be saved from their circumstances by faith alone, they will not be saved from the deadly consequences of sin by faith alone.

    You import into this text a concern of James that is most definitly not his concern. His concern is for regenerate people being saved from both the consequences of their trials and sins. How they are to do that is to add works to their faith.

    Gee whiz! The whole passage deals with James' exhortation to his readership to do works so that they can be saved! They are to add works to their faith.

    And it is interesting that he provides no remedy to the poor man who has a "false faith" unless he is to be told that he is to work for his justification (which is indeed what the passage says).

    In your estimation, James is confronting an error that he doesn't choose to address to remedy! he doesn't say "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved". He is saying to do works for faith alone IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE is useless, like the exhortation to be warmed and filled to a naked and hungry person.

    Wow, that you can't see these things is boggling. James' pastoral interest in his readership is that they are profitable in their Christian lives, it is not so that they can prove that they have eternal life! He had already AFFIRMED that they had eternal life in 1:18!!!

    Jimanee, you are so off and you lead so many astray! This is a terrible, terrible predicament!

    Antonio

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  2. I suppose giving you an A+ is worth giving you, in spite of all the crow I must eat from all those debates we had on theonomy.

    As I have once stated before though. You understand this well.

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  3. In verses (James) 2:8-11 James is showing how we are all convicted as transgressors of the law. I believe he's meaning, in those verses, that we are all convicted of sin, inescapably and forever, against the law, by virtue of our being in the flesh here on earth. That means we will sin whether we like it or not. Does that mean the Holy Spirit is in and out of us according to our consistant sinning and thus our salvation is as well, as we go about our business? Your theology seems to demand that conclusion.

    In chapter two, James is talking about "partiality" as being criteria for being guilty of sin. How do we avoid that sin when it is not always possible to know if you are truly acting impartial or not? That would certainly affect our salvation in a potentially devastating way according to your theology.


    And then in verses 12-13, James says to act as people who will be judged by the Law that brings us liberty or, more simply put, being in Christ, who has saved us from condemnation for all of our sins if we let Him. Are we constantly in and out of the body of Christ according to our sins?


    What are genuinely good works? You say he tells us what those are in chapter 2, but he tells us almost nothing about "saving works" and what he does is very general and vague, unusable to any degree of confidence or assurance. If they are indeed "saving works" then it would be critical and perhaps the most important point for him to enlighten us with, and he tells us virtually nothing. How can that be? Are they only what he said in chapter two? If not then where are the rest of them?


    How many works of saving faith (saving works)are necessary for it to consumate in salvation? What would the "sin to works ratio" be. Certainly there would be some wild variations between people. How can we know? How could James leave out something so critical if it is indeed critical? A theology like this is may be simply unworkable.



    One of your answers to what makes "saving faith" saving was "because it has been imparted to us" and "God gives it to us in the person of Christ". And then you tell us where it comes from(prescriptive) and what it looks like "descriptive". You will truly succeed at your task of creating/implementing theology when you can put it into common vernacular, which Christ did and which James did also. You simply cannot take things which are not clear and start to apply fancily designed formulae to them. Your definitions fit, in my opinion, only when you limit the data on which they are based.


    Where does the word "genuinely" you use come from in James text? What is the difference between a genuinely good work and one that is not? Are they black and white? Or can we extract a useable definition at all in the bible? I don't think we can. Where exactly are you getting it that word "genuinely" from?

    You say:
    "The distinction is between a faith that is demonstrated in deeds, and one that is demonstrated in words alone."
    But:
    Paul seems to state clearly in Romans that faith reveals itself in a way where, "with the heart a person believes...and with the mouth he confesses...".
    So that "distinction" you mentioned does not hold up


    This faith schematic you present seems to bring up all sorts of problematic questions in my mind with what I've come to know about our Holy Spirit. Is He in and out of you all day long as you may hastily or carelessly act outside of His prescriptions? I don't see how your proposition could work any differently than just that, that is, that the Holy Spirit is coming and going almost continuously with these "works of faith" that the Reformed have put forward. Not tenable in their entirety to me.

    Your positon is clear but, to me, it is very unclear how the bible is able to bear it out. Thanks for considering these criticisms.

    You say alot in your post so you'll have to forgive my long comment. Thank you.

    Sharing in the faith,
    Todd

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  4. Nice post. But what everyone should be clear about, is how someone should go about having genuine faith. Per Christ, having faith is the practice of: saying what you want and believing it will happen, or asking God for things, and believing you will receive them - Mark 11:22-24. Having faith, practically works by someone persisting at 'asking and believing' over things, until he actually receives them, and by increasing his faith. (You can read more on the subject here and here.) It is the above form of (having) faith that is genuine: which leads to the natural production of good works.

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  5. Todd:

    I did not use the phrase "saving works," and I believe you misunderstand my position on good deeds.

    "Genuinely" was simply to tell us that these works were indeed good works. It was not, however, to argue that a work can be "good," but not "genuinely good."

    Please tell me specifically where you disagree with me concerning the text of James.

    Thanks,
    Evan.

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  6. Hi Evan,

    Evan, with regards to James quote:
    James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?

    You say:
    "James is alluding to a faith that does not produce works, a faith that is not a saving faith".

    He is. But then you go on to build a doctrine on the nature of faith that, I don't think is there. Here I will try to explain why.

    If, as you say, "works are not a prerequisite for saving faith, but they are a necessary byproduct of saving faith", then those works would indeed become a requisite for that faith, "necessary" as you say, before it can become saving faith. Not a prerequisite, but a requisite all the same. I think that would then make them required "works of faith". I think that's problematic.

    By the same token, by saying "works...are a necessarily a byproduct of saving faith", then you are saying that, without the necessary byproduct of works, then you do not have saving faith. Or no works, then no necessary byproduct, so no faith, so no salvation.

    I don't think there should be any question in any Christians mind that "faith produces works". "Saving faith produces works" as well, but they are not necessary for your faith to get you to salvation. That is not born out in the rest of scripture nor in the rest of James.

    Tell me what you think. Thanks Todd

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  7. Todd:

    Look at my recent post on the subject.

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  8. Oh my goodness, and such a short and to the point inquiry I made as to how you would explain two inconsistencies I see in what you've said. Well, o.k. if I must. But if you've said the same things, can I ask the same questions? I guess time will tell. Thanks, Todd

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  9. Todd,

    It is important to make a distinction between works that you pursue directly, and works that are produced naturally because you have faith. Galatians 5:4 warns against engaging in the first type of works; and for there to be consistency among the scriptures, James 2:17 has to be talking about the second type of works. Remember, every creature acts according to his nature, it is because we have been given God's divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4), we are to produce good works in a natural fashion. (You can read more on the subject here.)

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  10. P. Douglas,
    I read your post and while your reading of the scripture seems sincere, It seems like you stretch a little bit to much and create another concept that is really quite subjective and another person reading scripture may have a hard time accepting that as what scripture is saying.

    Evan,
    I've read your other posts and the answer to my inquiries about works being a necessary byproduct for the faith that saves was not there. Can you give it another try? Thanks, Todd

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  11. Todd,

    Can you be more specific?

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  12. Sure P.D.

    You said:
    "In other words, when someone has faith, even though he does not directly pursue righteousness, he behaves in a righteous manner consistent with the law."

    Sure he does, but if we were able to behave in a righteous enough manner then he would not need Christ. You have, let's take many catholics all over the world, bless them, all trying to act in righteous enough behavior to be consistent with the law because they believe in salvation through works. It's not doing them a bit of good is it. So it's your "natural" works theory that you present in your blog(which I really have no desire to talk about)that is unique and not really sound as you present it. We are told in the bible anything that comes from a natural body is perishable, dishonorable, weak, as opposed to the spiritual. So anything that acts in a "natural manner", as you say, is driven by the flesh and is,I believe, of no eternal use to God.
    It sounds more like some man-made theology to me.

    But I am anxious to hear Evan's response once he has done a little research and reflected on my curiosity about what he posted.

    Thanks,
    Todd

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  13. Todd:

    I just now returned to check on these comments. Please tell me specifically what you disagree with concerning my exegesis of James 2:14ff. It is best to dialogue on an exegetical level, rather than simply to assume what the nature of faith is.

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  14. Hi Evan,
    I thought you were making exegetical statements concerning James 2:14 and that they were as follows.

    With regards to James quote:
    James 2:14 "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?"

    You say:
    "James is alluding to a faith that does not produce works, a faith that is not a saving faith".

    He is. But then you go on to build a doctrine on the nature of faith in your following staements that Iim not convinced is there. I'll explain.

    You say:
    "Works are not a prerequisite for saving faith, but they are a necessary byproduct of saving faith", then those works, if their presence is necessary to make it saving faith, would indeed become a requirement for that faith to truly be saving faith. Not a prerequisite, but a requisite all the same. I think that would then make them required "works of faith". Which I think presents a contradiction to other scripture which separates faith from any works.

    By the same token, by saying "works...are necessarily a byproduct of saving faith", then you are saying, that without the necessary byproduct of works, then, you do not have saving faith. Or, no works, then no necessary byproduct, so no faith, so no salvation.


    I don't think there should be any question in any Christians mind that "faith produces works". "Saving faith produces works" as well, but there are no saving works that are necessary for your faith to be complete unto your salvation. You couple them together in the statements I cited above. James emphasizes the role of works and deeds in a faithful life, and how they should and need to be there but does not hinge your salvation on it those works or deeds. Or does he?

    Thanks Todd

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  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  16. I affirm, with James, that faith without works is dead "faith." Only saving faith can save, and only saving faith produces works. Faith that does not produce deeds is not saving faith, because dead faith cannot save. How, specifically, does this disagree with James?

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  17. Evan,
    By saying:

    "I affirm, with James, that faith without works is dead "faith."
    Then you affirm a verse which, when left by itself without the rest of James to explain it, refutes the remainder of scripture.


    When James says in 2:21,"Was not Abraham our father justified by works...?" Did he mean it? Noone is justified by works. Scripture refutes that Abraham was justified by works. James could only have been giving them a stern admonishment in the harshest possible language.

    Is he making a point here (in 2:17)to these members of his congregation, as well as indirectly to a wider listening audience, in harsh terms, or is he pronouncing a death sentence to them?

    The remainder of what you said, when you sai "I affirm with James", does not agree with James either. Let me explain.


    You say:
    "Only saving faith can save, and only saving faith produces works. Faith that does not produce deeds is not saving faith, because dead faith cannot save. How, specifically, does this disagree with James?"

    That does not agree with James. It seems to me you would have to be drawing inferences from James to get to that conclusion. Because James does not say, "only saving faith can save and only saving faith produces works". Nor, "faith that does not produce deeds is not saving faith, because dead faith cannot save".
    These things would have to be embellishments to what he is saying because it is not text which he states.

    Which can only lead us back to the exegetics of some of the assertions you made in your post that I am curious about.

    And those are, with regards to James quote:
    James 2:14 "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?"

    You say:
    "James is alluding to a faith that does not produce works, a faith that is not a saving faith".

    He is. But then you go on to build a doctrine on the nature of faith in your following staements that Iim not convinced is there. I'll explain.

    You say:
    "Works are not a prerequisite for saving faith, but they are a necessary byproduct of saving faith", then those works, if their presence is necessary to make it saving faith, would indeed become a requirement for that faith to truly be saving faith. Not a prerequisite, but a requisite all the same. I think that would then make them required "works of faith". Which I think presents a contradiction to other scripture which separates faith from any works.

    By the same token, by saying "works...are necessarily a byproduct of saving faith", then you are saying, that without the necessary byproduct of works, then, you do not have saving faith. Or, no works, then no necessary byproduct, so no faith, so no salvation.


    I don't think there should be any question in any Christians mind that "faith produces works". "Saving faith produces works" as well, but there are no saving works that are necessary for your faith to be complete unto your salvation. You couple them together in the statements I cited above. James emphasizes the role of works and deeds in a faithful life, and how they should and need to be there but does not hinge your salvation on it those works or deeds.

    I'm curious to know what you make of these seeming inconsistencies. Thanks again, Todd

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  18. By the way Evan, there is no rush here. If you are out for the day, as I will be, don't worry about it.
    No hurry. Looking forward to your thoughts!

    Trying also to abide in the peace, Todd

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  19. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  20. Todd:

    Your statements show that you did not read my exegesis carefully. You state:

    [quote]When James says in 2:21,"Was not Abraham our father justified by works...?" Did he mean it? Noone is justified by works. Scripture refutes that Abraham was justified by works. James could only have been giving them a stern admonishment in the harshest possible language.[/quote]

    1. What matters is what James said, not whether or not we think it makes sense.

    2. Nevertheless, it is simply a semantic fallacy to take Paul's usage of "justified" and equate it with James'. Abraham was, as some translations render, shown to be righteous in his works. In other words, his deeds demonstrated his faith. This is what I am saying the passage is discussing.

    [quote]That does not agree with James. It seems to me you would have to be drawing inferences from James to get to that conclusion.[/quote]

    How so? I believe what I have said has come directly from the text:

    James 2 14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and 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? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

    We see that James repeats “what good is that?” in v. 16, showing that this is one unit. Verses 15-16 illustrate James’ statement in v. 14. In the described situation, the statement alone is not “good enough.” We could say, “Go and peace, be warmed and filled,” but that has no profit unless we actually give the warmth and food to the brother in need. Compare these two:

    What gain is it if someone claims to have faith but does not have works?

    What gain is it if someone offers help in words but does not act upon it?

    Verses 15-16 offer a direct parallel of v. 14. We know very well that Antonio does not like the word “claims” (even though “says to have faith” hardly makes sense in the English language). This is because Antonio’s take on this passage is that this is not merely an issue of the confession (i.e., declaration) of faith, but faith itself. Verses 15-16, however, have us reject Antonio’s interpretation, and affirm our original statement that this concerns profession rather than possession. This also begins to further affirm our translation of v. 14 because v.14 compares a faith in words alone with a faith that is demonstrated in deeds, just as v. 15 compares a help in words alone with a help that is demonstrated in deeds. The terms “Be warmed!” and “Be filled!” are ones that require action in order to be meaningful. Without the actions, they are meaningless words, dead words.

    Verse 17 states with “So also” that just as the words “Be warmed” and “Be filled” are meaningless if they do not possess the required action, faith that is not demonstrated in deeds is equally dead. In fact, the NEB translates this as “So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is in itself a lifeless thing.” The reverse of this is that faith, if it is demonstrated in action, is indeed a living thing and can indeed save. The distinction, once again, is not between faith and works, but between dead faith and living faith. The original question was, “Can such faith save him?” Dead faith cannot save. Living faith can save. Deedless faith is dead faith. Faith that can be demonstrated in deeds is living faith. Since the answer to the rhetorical question is “no,” we know that James is talking about dead faith. Dead faith cannot save. This, once again, affirms our translation of “such faith” or “that faith.” The text as a whole continues to compare faith in words with faith demonstrated in action, faith that is living with faith that is dead. The “faith” that does not have deeds to demonstrate it in v. 14 is dead faith. This is why James asks, “Can that faith save him?” This is what we call having an exegetical basis for an interpretation. Antonio’s assertions concerning v. 14 are not exegetical assertions, but dogmatic ones.


    As far as the nature of saving faith in regards of deeds:

    1. I never use the phrase "saving works"

    2. I affirm with James that faith that does not produce works is not saving faith.

    3. Read my latest post concerning justification, sanctification, and glorification.

    Other than that, I don't have the time to repeat what I have already said in posts. They have been quite clear.

    Thanks,
    Evan

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  21. Todd,

    You wrote the following:

    Sure P.D.

    You said:
    "In other words, when someone has faith, even though he does not directly pursue righteousness, he behaves in a righteous manner consistent with the law."

    Sure he does, but if we were able to behave in a righteous enough manner then he would not need Christ.


    Doesn’t someone gain the Holy Spirit - who is the power of Christ - by having faith (Galatians 3:14)? Therefore if someone has faith and is able to live righteously in a natural manner (something he cannot do otherwise – John 8:34), isn’t he able to do so because of God’s power that resides inside of him (Romans 8:9)? Why then do you suggest that someone is able to behave righteously without needing Christ?

    We are told in the bible anything that comes from a natural body is perishable, dishonorable, weak, as opposed to the spiritual. So anything that acts in a "natural manner", as you say, is driven by the flesh and is,I believe, of no eternal use to God.
    It sounds more like some man-made theology to me.


    Behavior that is caused or influenced by the flesh or sinful nature is weak. However behavior that is caused or influenced by the Spirit is righteous. That is what the following scriptures mean:

    Romans 8

    8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
    9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

    Galatians 5

    19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;
    20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions
    21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
    22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
    23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.


    When someone acts due to the controlling influence of the flesh (Romans 7:18, 22-23) he acts unrighteously in a natural manner - since he acts according to the sinful nature. When someone acts due to the controlling influence of the Spirit (Romans 8:9) he acts righteously in a natural manner (2 Peter 1:3-4) - since he acts according to God's divine nature. Therefore it is erroneous to believe that someone cannot act righteously under the power of the Holy Spirit.

    You have, let's take many catholics all over the world, bless them, all trying to act in righteous enough behavior to be consistent with the law because they believe in salvation through works. It's not doing them a bit of good is it. So it's your "natural" works theory that you present in your blog(which I really have no desire to talk about)that is unique and not really sound as you present it.

    The reason why the Catholics’ direct pursuit of righteousness has not lead them to achieve righteousness, is the same reason the Jews’ direct pursuit of righteousness did not lead them to achieve righteousness either: because both sets of individuals do not have genuine faith. That is the point of the James 2:17, and that is the point of the following scripture:

    Romans 9

    30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith;
    31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.
    32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.
    They stumbled over the "stumbling stone."
    33 As it is written:
    "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall,
    and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."


    Therefore the notion of a natural goodness seen in someone who has faith, seems alien, because most people don’t have the genuine faith that produces it. The fact that there are so many diverse and contradicting doctrines in the Church, is just one indicator that this is so.

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  22. P.D.
    You just made a comment which should be just above this one. In your opening remark you showed me quoting something that you had said, followed by my remark "sure he does". Meaning, he does behave in a manner consistent with the law to the best of his abilities but not enough to fullfill the requirements of the law. I just didn't say it very well. The whole theme of the bible, I think as you know, revolves around our inability to behave in a manner consistent with the law. We cannot, even with the help of the Spirit, behave in a manner consistent with the law because we are still in the flesh. The Spirit does not allow our flesh to fulfill the law. No one has ever fulfilled the requirements of the law, in the flesh, and been saved by there own behavior. That is why I used the word "enough". To disprove statement above it, in sort of a slipshod way. Noone can behave in a righteous "enough" manner to satisfy the law. Christ had to do that for us all. Remember "noone is righteous, no not one". So if a man, as you say, "acted in a manner consistent with the law" then he would be perfect. And no such man exists, because he cannot act in a consistent "enough" manner. Not the greatest choice of words on my part but I think it gets it done. I fear you may not be able to understand my plainspeak. The apostles were not semantic experts. Nor were they always semantically consistent. They spoke in plain speak. Not as semantic formulae experts. We are not that fortunate. But we are fortunate to have a mode of communication which is very effective, and that cannot be tracked by science. The science of semantics can be of much practical use but will never render our exegetics perfectly. Many of us do wish, however, to that end. How many of the greatest semantic experts in the world are there that cannot agree. And so they never will. So do the best you can to follow my plain speak. And reject it as you so desire. I think I can point to the comments in this blog and say with all certainty that though we speak to each other in the same language, we understand each other not. So after that, we resort to go into other languages even farther from our own understanding, expecting that they will help clear things up? To help decipher our own semantically inconsistent apostles. Can't solve all of the problems with it though. They spoke in plain everyday language of the time, and therein the truth will be grasped. It was universal, timmeless, plain speak. But it's no fun, and we must go into what they said and parse it, and dissect it, and reprocess it, so the exact truth will be known, so that we can be greatly empowerd. And the body of Christ becomes further and further divided. And unempowering.

    I'm convinced that you are going to have to qualify that word "natural" that you use, when you use it, because when used alone, it has too specific of a meaning, during a biblical discussion. That's just my opinion. Only because the divine nature and carnal nature are so opposed to each other and when the word "natural" is used it's usually refering to the carnal nature, and the natural world as opposed to the spiritual world. Just my thoughts. Take them for whatever they are worth to you. When you say "he acts righteously in a natural manner", I would say "he acts according to his spiritual nature". Maybe you are using a translation that phrases it that way. If a translation used the phraseology of the former, I would suggest that that translation is adding elements that are not in a good literal translation of the original plain speak text. Don't forget, that's how they spoke back then. Plainly. Just as we should be speaking today. Just more of my thoughts. I'm not really into man made theologies and the authors of this blog are, so the chances are that there is not much we will agree on. I was hoping, however, to have a good exchange on our differences and that did not happen. So I will have some closing thoughts tomorrow or the next day and leave the inconsistencies I brought up remain where they are. I'll be left with a much greater puzzelment about the Reformist tradition. And a greater understading of scripture. See you. Todd

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  23. You just made a comment which should be just above this one. In your opening remark you showed me quoting something that you had said, followed by my remark "sure he does". Meaning, he does behave in a manner consistent with the law to the best of his abilities but not enough to fullfill the requirements of the law. I just didn't say it very well. The whole theme of the bible, I think as you know, revolves around our inability to behave in a manner consistent with the law. We cannot, even with the help of the Spirit, behave in a manner consistent with the law because we are still in the flesh.

    Technically when someone has faith, he behaves in a manner consistent with the law. That is why when someone has faith he is saved from the judgment of the law (Ephesians 2:9-8), he is deemed righteous (Romans 3:28) with respect to the law, and he suffers no condemnation from the law (Romans 8:1). How does this work? Two things. When someone has faith, he acts more and more righteously (Romans 8:13), due to the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). It is this controlling influence that shows up as naturally occurring good works in a person (Galatians 5:22-23, James 2:17). On the other hand, the sinful nature is also active in someone who has faith as well, and causes him to sin (Romans 7:18, 22-23). Further, these two natures fight to gain increased control over the person’s behavior (Galatians 5:17). The solution to the problem of the sinful nature causing someone to sin, is shown in the following scripture.

    Romans 8

    1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
    2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
    3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,
    4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.


    Christ’s sin offering is what indemnifies us from condemnation from the law, when we act under the influence of the sinful nature. Therefore if someone acts sinfully because the sinful nature causes him to do so, that person is none-the-less accounted as righteous by the law, because of Christ’s sin offering. Therefore a combination of a person’s naturally occurring righteous behavior, and Christ’s sin offering, is what makes a person sinless. That is why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12 that all things were lawful to him, meaning that he could technically do anything, and still be held righteous because of his faith.

    Therefore when the scriptures say that a person is righteous by faith, and not by works, they mean that a person is accounted righteous due to a combination of the naturally occurring good works that appear in him, as well Christ’s sin offering which indemnifies him from condemnation from the law - which are made possible by his faith.

    The Spirit does not allow our flesh to fulfill the law.

    Technically, the flesh is your sinful nature. The Spirit does not try to change the sinful nature or vice versa. Rather both these entities are focused on causing you to act in their respective ways.

    No one has ever fulfilled the requirements of the law, in the flesh, and been saved by there own behavior. That is why I used the word "enough". To disprove statement above it, in sort of a slipshod way. Noone can behave in a righteous "enough" manner to satisfy the law. Christ had to do that for us all. Remember "noone is righteous, no not one". So if a man, as you say, "acted in a manner consistent with the law" then he would be perfect. And no such man exists, because he cannot act in a consistent "enough" manner.

    Everyone who has faith is perfect with respect to the law, because of his faith for the reasons I discussed above: 1) his naturally occurring good works; and 2) Christ’s sin offering.

    I'm convinced that you are going to have to qualify that word "natural" that you use, when you use it, because when used alone, it has too specific of a meaning, during a biblical discussion. That's just my opinion. Only because the divine nature and carnal nature are so opposed to each other and when the word "natural" is used it's usually refering to the carnal nature, and the natural world as opposed to the spiritual world. Just my thoughts. Take them for whatever they are worth to you. When you say "he acts righteously in a natural manner", I would say "he acts according to his spiritual nature".

    When someone has faith, he acts increasingly good in a natural manner. In other words, when someone has faith, without even without thinking about what he is doing, or without fighting with himself, he acts righteously - because it is in his nature to do so. That is what I mean.

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  24. Todd said...
    Evan,

    Well, finally you’ve responded with some substance. You do start out with a meaningless rhetorical snit. But I have some important information for you so let me get started.
    ______________________

    You said “what matters is what James said, not whether or not we think it makes sense”.

    I think what James said makes sense. If what he says does not make sense then it is our
    own understanding and not James fault. You give me a chance to explain below shortly when you give your definition of the “nature saving faith”.

    And then in your accompaying point labeled #2 in your first remarks, you turn again to semantics. Wrong place to go. First of all, the apostles are oftentimes semantically incorrect. But then, in all cases, they go on to make up for their semantic shortcomings
    with an adequate explanation of their intended meaning. They were not semantic experts. Thankfully, because even semantic experts do not agree on what is semantically correct.
    But where Paul is talking about Abraham’s righteousnes, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”, Paul is talking about Abraham’s being brought into the right relationship with God by his faith in God. Not his righteous behavior. That is Paul’s entire context and meaning in his statements surrounding this remark of his. And Paul's remark is most likely the remark James is referring to when James quotes it
    in 2:23. If Paul used the word “righteous” in a semantically incorect way then he went on to remove any doubt about his real intended meaning with his surrounding remarks. Therefore, when James says in 2:21,"Was not Abraham our father justified by works...?", he is agreeing with Paul, whose conclusion was that, no it was not Abraham’s works that
    saved him, it was his faith, his striving for righteousness through his faith, which he was prepared to show by his works. Therefore, James is simply teaching that faith must accompany works. And that works compliment, improve and help perfect faith. Faith does not need to “produce” works or be dead. You see James never uses a verb that gives oportunity for the word “produce”. That is your word, not his. That is the inferring which I was pointing out that you were doing in my previous comment of yesterday. That is the embellishing that I was referring to. James says(2:22) “You see that faith was working with his works...”. , then it was “working with his works”, accompanying his works, at best. Nowhere does he entertain the concept that faith was “producing” anybodys works, as you claim.

    _______________________________

    Now then. Is it exegetically correct to establish an “exegetical interpretation” which is built on a question, as you have done? It is not. Cannot be good science. But that’s what
    you proposed in your following statement.

    These are your words:
    “The text as a whole continues to compare faith in words with faith demonstrated in action, faith that is living with faith that is dead. The “faith” that does not have deeds to demonstrate it in v. 14 is dead faith. This is why James asks, “Can that faith save him?”
    This is what we call having an exegetical basis for an interpretation”.

    So this is what we call having an exegetical basis for an interpretation?.

    This is an exegetical basis for an interpretation based on a question. Not a factual statement. So let’s go to the factual answer.

    You say above that, “This is why James asks, ‘Can that faith save him’?. Using for your exegetical basis a question. What James does in reality, is he asks a question (2:14). And then in answering that question, cites an example of an act of someone who says they have faith. Then concludes that the faith out of which the act was done is useless. And then defines that faith as, “having no works, is dead, being by itself”. DEAD! And dead indeed. Is he implying that the subjects in that example are dead because their faith in that particular example is dead? Or that the faith in the example is dead? He’s saying that faith in that example shows itself to be dead. Useless. But presumably, as he says elsewhere, you should “persevere” in striving to perfect your faith through your deeds and not merely your thoughts. He is not pronouncing a death sentence on the people in his modest example. He is not producing the death sentence on those whose faith, therby, does not render their behavior perfect. So he must be saying something else. He is for sure, at the very least, giving them a harsh admonishment to live what they say they believe. If the people whom James was addressing took his meaning as you do, then those people would be running around trying like mad to produce faithful works and deeds that would assure their entrance into salvation. Whereas we’ve not had that sort of burden placed on us by Christ.

    _________________________

    Finally, while you seem to enjoy reciting your exegesis on the “nature of saving faith”, you get very quiet when it comes to answering to its inconsistencies.

    Your question to me is:
    "Only saving faith can save, and only saving faith produces works. Faith that does not produce deeds is not saving faith, because dead faith cannot save. How, specifically, does this disagree with James?"

    And the answer is:
    Nowhere does James agree with the use of your word “produce”. That is your word, not his. His words are, “faith working with his works”. He also uses the words “has no works”, and, faith “being by itself”, when referring to faith in relation to works and deeds. But nothing that would suggest agreeing with your word “produce”. And, granted, in
    those instances where faith has no works, it is truly useless, dead. But not because the faith is “producing “ or not “producing” any works as you would have it. At least not according to James. My point here is that he does not give the opportunity for your use
    of the word “produce”. That means your exegesis on “the nature of saving faith” fails.

    _________________________

    Furthermore you say:
    "Works are not a prerequisite for saving faith, but they are a necessary byproduct of saving faith".

    Therefore, if that is true, that the presence of those “works” in your staement, are “necessary”, as you said, to make that faith “saving faith”, (“not a prerequisite”, but still
    “necessary”nonetheless), then by virtue of their being “necessary”, they would indeed become a “requirement” for that faith to be “saving faith”, and therefore a work upon which your “saving faith”, and thus your salvation, would be based. And you would be
    doomed. Your language demands that. True, they would not be a “prerequisite”, as you say, but they would be necessary all the same, and therefore , according to your theology, works that are necessary unto salvation. Or “saving works” as I think I can appropriately call them.

    By the same token, when you say, "works...are ‘necessarily a byproduct’ of saving faith", then you are using the word, ‘ byproduct', as a euphemism, or another variation, on the word “work”. You unwittingly are saying, that without the ‘necessary byproduct’ or ‘work’, then, you do not have ‘saving faith’. Or... no works, then no necessary byproduct,
    consequently no saving faith, therefore no salvation. Which I think presents a contradiction to other scripture which separates faith from any works.

    __________________

    You keep saying “I never use the phrase ‘saving works’ ”. Now as I’ve shown you, you should start, because it would save you precious space in expounding your exegetics on the nature of faith.

    I can tell you really don’t see the importance of reponding to these inconsistencies I cite.
    Nor does it seem to me like you are equipt to. If you chose to respond then please do not
    answer by telling me to read more of the same faulty exegetis elsewhere amongst the posts you’ve made in your blog. If your heart is not in to reconciling these
    inconsistencies that appear to be in your exegetics on faith then that is your perogative not to respond. But don’t embarrass yourself any further by responding with the cheap rhetoric and condescension that I’ve seen you wielding elsewhere in this blog. Without a serious explanation the inconsistencies are still clear and will still remain in the
    end. Good luck. Todd.

    This did not transfer real well from my word processor to you comment page. I tried to clean it up a little bit. My apologies. If it's not greatly improved with the second filing, I will clean it up somemore.

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