First of all, I know it's ultimately not up to me what people believe.
Secondly, I'm surely no great expert. However, there a few things I believe are important to consider when quoting from different parts of the Bible – especially when quoting what Jesus said to the Jews pre-cross, and what Paul said to us, the nations. Also in that mix is that James was writing solely to Jewish Christians, new converts out of Judaism.
**Important scrip for context; But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
This from www.centralcal.com
explains the James/Paul thing in greater detail, with scriptural comparisons;
James makes it clear in the opening verses that this book was meant specifically for Jewish Christians. It is therefore not a general epistle for all Christians, but it is specifically and intentionally written
solely for "the Twelve tribes scattered abroad"
, and as such it is not a book which Gentile Christians can glean sound doctrine from without a thorough understanding of 1st century Jewish culture and theology.
Below are the passages that have caused so much confusion throughout church history because, unlike the writings of Paul, a superficial reading without understanding the background that they come from, doesn't convey a clear understanding of salvation through faith in the same way as Paul's writings.
**CHART COMPARING TRANSLATIONS OF JAMES' VERSES. It's just down from top of page: http://www.centralcal.com/christ4a.htm
These passages, at first glance, might seem to suggest that we're not actually Saved by faith alone but that "Works" play a part in salvation. Because of this misunderstanding of what was written, different denominations have based their salvation theology on these passages and concluded different things:
The Jehovah's Witnesses conclude that we're Saved by "faith", but unless we add Good Works to the faith we will lose our salvation, for what will determine our ultimately gaining Heaven will be God's reviewing our earthly Works at the Last Judgment and (hopefully) declaring them to be righteous.
The Mormons--along with many other denominations--conclude that we're Saved by faith plus Good Works (i.e. obedience to the commandments).
The Catholics conclude we're Saved by grace, and that grace produces faith infused with Good Works in the life of the believer, and that these works, done under the unction of the Holy Spirit, are counted by God as righteous acts of atonement for our misdeeds.
Now you see how this one book has caused innumerable problems amongst denominations for many years. To deal with the confusion, we must determine something: Do the writings of Paul and James agree with each other or do they contradict each other?
Since true Bible scripture must harmonize without contradicting itself, James' idea of salvation must not contradict Paul's; they must be in agreement. Either both must believe we're Saved by faith, or both must believe we're Saved by Works, or both must believe we're Saved by a combination of faith plus Works. If they disagree, then either the book of James or the writings of Paul fail the test of inerrancy and must be removed from the New Testament.
This is exactly what Martin Luther wrestled with. He concluded that the writings of James were anti-Paul, and thought that James should be dropped from the Bible altogether. If Luther was correct, then he would be right--James' one book must go in favor of Paul's 12 or 13. But for the sake of argument, let's assume both James and Paul were writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Both must therefore be in agreement. If they are in agreement than we should arrive at the same conclusions by reading the writings of either man. So first let us determine whether James and Paul believe that we're Saved by faith, Works, or a combination thereof. To do this, let's completely remove all the writings of Paul from the Bible and adapt our salvation theology solely from the writings of James. What would we conclude from the above passages? Well, since the book of James is small and does not fully develop a variety of Christian theology we'd still be left with a confusing series of statements which, by themselves, would leave us arguing over whether or not we are Saved by faith, by good Works, or by good Works plus faith because the book of James, by itself, isn't abundantly clear on the issue.
Now remove the book of James from the Bible and reference only the writings of Paul. Over and over again--in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians--Paul never retreats from one central theme of salvation: that it is the free gift of God, obtained through faith alone, without relying on good deeds or blind obedience to a set of rules and regulations, and thus is granted freely apart from anything we can do to merit it. It is impossible to read the books of Paul, by themselves, and conclude that Works play a direct part, rather than a peripheral role, in our salvation, as teach the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. Only by adding a misunderstanding of the writings of James by forcibly interpreting everything Paul wrote through the philosophies of James' one book, rather than by interpreting James one book through Paul's 12, can you reach the false salvation doctrine they arrive at.
In fact, once you accept the truth of Paul's idea of salvation, and you read the passages in James in the light of Paul's writings and not at superficial face value, you discover that James is ultimately agreeing with Paul that we're Saved from sin by faith! The confusion occurs because James and Paul, while they use similar terminology, such as "justified", are writing about different subjects to different groups. Paul is usually writing to Gentiles who have come out of paganism to embrace Christ, or else to Jews outside of Palestine who have grown up in a theological environment of legalism, and thus he intentionally outlines, over and over again, the true formula of salvation, making clear that it is by faith, apart from obeying commandments or doing good deeds. James, however, is writing solely to Jews
, who from infancy have been raised with the Scriptures and knew what they taught...who were likely impacted by the ministry of John the Baptist...who may have heard the teachings of Christ Himself...and who had enjoyed the benefit of at least 15 years of Apostolic teaching. Believers such as this were held to a higher standard than the Gentile or Jewish converts outside of Palestine, and reasonably were expected by now to show the proper fruits of true salvation based on the teaching they would have received. His reason for writing is not, as in the case of Paul, to outline the formula of salvation, adding the need for Works which Paul apparently fails to convey clearly (remember James was writing to educated Jewish converts, who presumably already knew the basis of soul-saving salvation was God's forgiveness of sin through blood atonement achieved by faith in Messiah's sacrifice); what he's actually doing is illustrating what sort of faith actually Saves a person by rebuking hypocrites in the church who claimed to have faith in Christ as Messiah but yet had no visible evidence of that faith in their lives. This to James marked them as Christians in name only, just as Jesus rebuked hypocrites within the Pharisee movement who, while they obeyed every commandment of God they could find, lacked the light and love of God in their lives on a practical level. James understood that true Christians should display the love of God in their lives by their actions, but while these so-called believers paid lip service to Christianity, their lifestyles weren't adding up. James is thus doing no differently than Paul, in the book of 1st Corinthians, who is rebuking the church for tolerating open sin in the fellowship. He is, however, coming at the subject on a slightly different path than Paul, emphasizing that true faith demonstrates itself by a change in lifestyle and that, absent this evidence by what he calls "Works", the sort of faith had by the individual obviously lacks the ability to actually Save the person from God's wrath.