A few days ago I highlighted a “shocking Bible contradiction.” I’ve listened here and on Facebook to some great points that have helped me consider these two passages and how they fit together. I want to share a fundamental issue that will help us as we study these passages (and all others).
How to Read a Book
Back in 1940 Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren wrote one of the best books I’ve ever read: How to Read a Book. One of the most important chapters is “Chapter 8: Coming to Terms with an Author.” If you want to know the primary principle that will help you resolve the Romans 4/James 2 problem, read this entire chapter. I’d like to include some quotes to give us a little help.
“Unless the reader comes to terms with the author, the communication of knowledge from one to the other does not take place. For a term is the basic element of communicable knowledge.”
“A term is not a word–at least, not just a word without further qualifications. If a term and a word were exactly the same, you would only have to find the important words in a book in order to come to terms with it. But a word can have many meanings, especially an important word. If the author uses a word in one meaning, and the reader reads it in another, words have passed between them, but they have not come to terms. Where there is unresolved ambiguity in the communication, there is no communication, or at best communication must be incomplete.”
“When there is ambiguity in the communication of knowledge, all that is in common are the words that one person speaks or writes and another hears or reads. So long as ambiguity persists, there is no meaning in common between writer and reader. For the communication to be successfully completed, therefore, it is necessary for the two parties to use the same words with the same meanings–in short, to come to terms. When that happens, communication happens, the miracle of two minds with but a single thought.”
“We are now ready to state the fifth rule of reading (an expository work). Stated roughly, it is this: You must spot the important words in a book and figure out how the author is using them. But we can make that a little more precise and elegant: Rule 5. Find the important words and through them come to terms with the author. Note that the rule has two parts. The first part is to locate the important words, the words that make a difference. The second part is to determine the meaning of these words, as used, with precision.”
There is so much more helpful information in that chapter. I wish I could simply quote the entire chapter for you. But, I’m sure there is some kind of law against that. And, I’m already worried that someone will be upset with me because I’ve included affiliate links in the post, I don’t want to also get in trouble for copyright infringements.
What This Means for Our Study
We need to come to terms with the authors we are considering. We also need to recognize we are talking about two different authors. That means that while they use the same words, they may be using different terms. Before we decide they contradict, we need to come to terms with them. And perhaps, in this case, allow them to come to terms with each other.
And please, don’t say, “But Edwin, ultimately God is the author of both.” Of course He is. But God did not open their heads and pour His terms into them. God used these men with their varying backgrounds, vocabularies, experiences, audiences, and purposes. God got what He wanted in these books, but He filtered His message through the vessels He used to put His message on to paper. So opening a concordance and finding all the places that use the same words is not the same as coming to terms with these two different authors that God used.
By the way, an author can also use the same word in multiple ways depending on his audience and purpose. So, let’s take care not to just run a concordance search on each author, but make sure we are looking in the immediate context of the passages we are dealing with first.
Coming to Terms with Paul and James
The first step in coming to terms with Paul and James in the various chapters is to discover the key words these men used in the passages we are considering. I’ll take a stab at the ones I think are key. If you think there are other key words, let me know in the comments below.
Key words in Romans 4:1-12
Key words in James 2:14-26
I’m continuing to study this passage. I look forward to more ongoing discussion. I would love to hear how you come to terms with these authors. Let me know in the comments section below.
P.S. As stated above, this post does contain affiliate links. If you haven’t read How to Read a Book, you should purchase it today.