Bags of Bran


The Ballad of Abraham and Rahab
May 23, 2015, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Bible

I’ve been working through James lately, and I’ve found him rather challenging. It is tantalizingly easy to call his language hyperbolic, but he’s not actually kidding. No, some people’s faith really is worthless, only as good as that of demons, and probably less accurate! James’ use of OT characters to prove his point in 2:14-26 demonstrates the kind of challenge he tosses in our collective face.

We might readily acknowledge that James selected an important figure, Abraham, to appeal to his primarily Jewish readership. After all, despite Abraham’s imperfections, he is part of the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob triumvirate, and his faith would no doubt have been held up as a model to young Jewish children, as we ought to hold him up to our own.

I also think it proper to hold up Rahab the harlot’s faith. That she seldom if ever (Matthew 1:5 is disputed, but I think it’s the same Rahab) appears without reference to her former profession is not necessarily problematic. In fact, it is the very depravity of her past that creates somewhat of a merism for James. The greats of the faith need to prove their mettle; but those from whom we would expect no such evidence of faith might come along and surprise us. We might recall that Jesus declared that he had not found so great faith as that which was displayed by the centurion who understood authority. These are indeed some of the most pleasant surprises.

This is good stuff, but there is another angle to it, I believe. What makes lofty Abraham and lowly Rahab useful for James’ argument is that both of their exemplar decisions are inexplicable apart from faith. This, I think, is where it gets challenging. James essentially says that our faith is unproven unless it has actually been proved.

Let that sink in for a moment, American Christian.

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